Aug 31, 2015

[Movies] Whiplash (2014)

Every awards season, we end up with a list of movies that get a lot of nominations and thus seem like something worth paying attention to, however not all movies fall into our core areas of interest, so they end up getting bumped around the watching priority queue. This doesn't make the movies bad or something despite the awards nominations - they're just not movies that we can find a strong affinity for.

Whiplash is one such movie that was often cited in various Oscar-related press, but it's one that maybe we waited a bit too long before finally getting to watch. It was certainly a very intense movie, but the greatness of it is rather subtle and maybe hard for a lot of people to fully appreciate.

The movie is centered around the jazz scene, particularly focused on the education scene related to it. It's a movie about a young man trying to figure out his path and how his family tries to support him in their own way. And of course you have a rather harsh mentor figure that may or may not be good for his development. That's where the drama lies.

Synopsis: Whiplash is a 2014 drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle based on his experiences in the Princeton High School Band. The movie premiered in the US Dramatic Category of the 2014 /Sundance Film Festival and won the Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor.

Andrew Newman (Miles Teller) is a freshman at the Shaffer Conservatory in New York and is particularly focused on the drums. He has been playing since he was very young and aspires to become great like Buddy Rich. One chance evening he encounters Famed conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) while practicing his drums one day. This leads to an invitation to him to try and sitin as an alternate.

But at practice he discovers what a taskmaster Fletcher is given how he's downright abusive to his students all in the name of getting things absolutely perfect. Case in point, Andrew's very first chance to play with the full band also included a chair being thrown in his direction and several slaps to the face because he wasn't playing at the speed that Fletcher demanded. And this goes on and on throughout the movie as Fletcher seems to put Andrew through hell in order to make him possibly perform better.

J.K. Simmons is a skilled actor and one who has often been utilized as a caricature in terms of the classic "very angry boss" sort of role. And this often feels like somewhat of a waste of his talents since anyone can shout. His role in this movie really suited him and he felt much more like a lead actors than a supporting one because of the sheer intensity of his performance. It's hard to tell if he's just enjoying making the members of the band squirm or if he genuinely feels that this is the best way to get them to reach their fullest potential as musicians.

Teller was a decent casting choice for the role since he's the sort of shy, mousy figure who might invest all of himself into his craft or in an effort to seek validation and praise from his mentor, Fletcher. And given his character goes all the way to practicing a rather intense routine until his hands literally bleed, things do get rather traumatic.

The movie is rather difficult to watch at times since it involves a lot of this sort of abuse. One can only wonder why the band stayed with Fletcher for so long - perhaps the lure of the "Master" type figure and waiting to be part of his greatness is the main driver. After all, the movie establishes that Fletcher is well-known for his talents as a conductor, and so people might be willing to put more of themselves on the line in order to get a chance to perform with him.

Andrew's family as a supporting cast sort of faded into the background because of everything that went into the relationship between Andrew Newman and Terence Fletcher. Everyone else wasn't necessarily bad - they just pale in comparison to the "main" action happening there. I think they intended for the family to play a bigger role than they did, but that just didn't quite come across

Whiplash is aptly named since it hits you quickly and sharply in a manner that allows it to do this again and again. It's a story about music as artistic expression, the sacrifices that go into great music and the potential for abuse in such a world. So the movie gets 4 difficult scenes of practice out of a possible 5.

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