Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash-Movie-Poster-2

Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Production Companies: Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions, Right of Way Films
Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Genre: Drama

What It’s About: A first-year student at a prestigious music school struggles to meet his full potential while under the guidance of an overly demanding mentor.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Andrew (Teller) is a drummer, but being any drummer just won’t do. He wants to be one of the greats–he wants to be the next Buddy Rich. He thinks that he’ll stop at nothing…and then he meets Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher has a unique way of pushing someone past their limits to help them achieve greatness. The question is: where do you draw the line?

Wow. Ya know…there’s really not a lot to this story if you think about it. A fresh-blooded freshman pushes himself to achieve the unreachable, and then a hard-ass mentor comes in and takes him to limits that he never knew existed before. That’s really the core of it. There’s lots of music, and the practicing of music, and some slight views of backstory…but holy fucking hell does this movie keep you glued to the screen. This isn’t someone trying to learn “Wipeout”, so hold on to your butts.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

The title of the film is attributed to a jazz piece played by the Studio Band in the film, but it references so much more than that. The way the film was directed and shot, makes you feel as though you’re being whip-lashed yourself. While sometimes, the camera work was actually jerking back and forth to create this feel, the performances are what really makes you feel it. J.K. Simmons’ constant state of being positive, and then negative, leave you in a constant state of disquiet. I think my neck may actually hurt a little bit, but in a good way.

Alright. Acting.
HOLY FUCKING J.K. SIMMONS. I know he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor, and that man deserved it and so much more. I’ve been a fan of J.K. for a while now, but he’s always sort of been a “that guy” in films…never really someone at the forefront. His performance was top-fucking-notch. I could honestly not read his character from one minute to the next. I felt as though I was being harassed just as much as Andrew while watching. On the surface, he plays uppity-music-know-it-all-asshole extremely well. He’s never satisfied and is always looking for more, and he demands that his students keep up or get left behind. But what really sold me on his portrayal of Fletcher was how well he walked the fine line of showing that he cared. He cares more about these kids and about the music than anyone else–he may be hesitant to show it–but it bleeds through every once in a while. The scene where he’s telling his band about the former student who had passed away almost killed me. Ugh. Ku-dos, Mr. Simmons.

I’ve had high hopes for Miles Teller ever since I saw him in the film adaptation of the David Lindsay-Abaire play Rabbit Hole. He’s a brilliant young actor, and I look forward to him taking on more dramatic roles like this one. I’m not sure how much actually drumming he had to learn for this role, but he managed to sell it even if he wasn’t actually doing all of the performing. And I don’t mean to judge, but he does have quite the “drummer face”, but that’s good–makes it seem more realistic. There were some scenes in this movie (which I’ll save for spoilers) that I just wanted to give this guy a hug. There was so much passion and determination in his performance, and I bought every second of it.

Let’s talk soundtrack for a minute. The title song “Whiplash” was composed by Hank Levy. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of scholar when it comes to Jazz music, but there are some pretty great tunes on this soundtrack. A few of the tracks were classics gathered for the film, while others were composed by heavyweight Tim Simonec, who’s had his hands in several film scores. Justin Hurwitz contributed quite a bit as well, but he appears to be fairly new to the game…his only other credits are for writing some TV episodes including an episode for The Simpsons and several for The League. Hmm. Weird.

My Rating: Huzzah!!
Such a brilliantly acted and directed film. I think my brain hurts a bit from the whiplash-like motion of the story, but it was totally worth it.

Where Can I Watch It?: Rent it on Amazon or iTunes, or stop by a local rental store or library.

Life After Beth (2014)

life-after-beth

Director: Jeff Baena
Writer: Jeff Baena
Production Companies: Abbolita Productions, American Zoetrope, Destro Films, Starstream Entertainment
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Matthew Gray Gubler, Anna Kendrick
Genre: Comedy/Horror/Drama

What It’s About: Zach’s recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead…but she’s not quite what he remembered.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: We start out the film with Beth (Plaza) walking in the woods. She thinks she hears something, and looks back…then continues on.  Fade out.

Flash forward a few days, to Zach (DeHaan) in a supermarket purchasing napkins. They’re for Beth’s funeral.  Apparently she received a fatal snake bite out on her hike. The funeral is really very awkward, but we get introduced to nearly all of the key players here. This movie starts out in a very dramatic way, but seeing actors such as John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon and Cheryl Hines makes you rethink that.

One night, when Zach is going over to visit Beth’s parents (Reilly and Shannon), he can’t get anyone to answer the door. He goes around the house peaking into windows, trying to figure out what’s going on. Much to his surprise, he spots who appears to be Beth in one of the windows. Unable to believe his eyes, Zach busts into the house through a window and confronts them. There stands Beth. Looking just as beautiful as he remembered. However, she couldn’t remember a thing. She didn’t even remember that just before her alleged death, they had actually broken up. Beth has no recollection of what happened to her.

Instead of being completely weirded out by this, they all carry on like it never happened. Occasionally, Zach becomes concerned that maybe she’s becoming a zombie. Lots of things that Beth does now, are uncharacteristic of her usual self. For one, she wants to live in the attic (perhaps to be as far above ground as possible?). She breaks out into violent spurts…which can only be calmed by listening to smooth jazz. She bears un-human strength. Oh, and she’s slowly but surely rotting inside and out. I think Zach can start to worry now.

Aubrey Plaza’s performance as a zombie is…interesting. There were times when I found her really hilarious–a lot of those times being very reminiscent of her role as April Ludgate on Parks and Rec. Other times, she just seemed to…growl and act like either an animal, or insane child.

Whatevs.

Whatevs.

Eventually, we discover that Beth isn’t the only one of the local dead walking the earth. We get glimpses through the film of people who look pretty zombie-ish, but eventually long-lost relatives start returning home and everyone takes notice. It’s time to put an end to the madness…and thus begins a somewhat comedic apocalypse scenario: the living killing the living dead to reclaim the earth.

This movie is a VERY dark and subtle comedy. This isn’t your slapstick zombie comedy. I think that the supporting cast is what really sells this movie for me. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon play perfectly concerned parents with a heavy dose of denial. There’s a scene toward the end when Beth is in full-zombie mode, that Shannon is actually feeding Beth her own fingers because she’s concerned about her being hungry.  XD

Zach’s family is pretty hilarious as well.  Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser team up to play the unbelieving parents. Then we have Matthew Gray Gubler playing the older brother who has an unhealthy obsession with firearms. Gubler’s part was one of my favorites, even though he played the douche-tastic military wanna-be.  He did it well.

My Rating: Meh.

While I love dark comedies, this one had a hard time holding my interest. The star-studded cast adds some flavor, but ultimately doesn’t pay off as well as I would have hoped. I was sort of on the line about this movie. Part of me wants to say that I like it, but it didn’t quite tip my meter one way or the other.

How Can I Watch It?: Available on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.  I rented this from the local Family Video.