Whiplash, review

Damien Chazzelle’s (seriously, where has this guy been hiding?) Whiplash is a piece of cinema for true film fans. While not for everyone, Chazzelle has masterfully created not just a feature film, but a cinematic experience. The director is  believed to of said that he wanted Whiplash to be a film that did for music what Scorsese’s Raging Bull did for boxing. He succeeded. Shot in nineteen days and edited in just ten the film looks aesthetically pristine and carries with it an edgy atmospheric tone that gives way to this sense of, well, you never really know what, but something pretty meaningful.

Miles Teller (the new actor on the block, who performed all of the drumming scenes himself – seriously, that talent?!) and J. K. Simmons are at the centre of Chazzelle’s masterpiece and individually stand out as a force all of their own. Simmons was just graced with the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and boy, was it deserved. As Terrence Fletcher, the actor exudes a sense of self-appreciation and pigheadedness as he demands excellence and absolute perfection (his version of it, anyway) from his jazz students at the New York Shaffer Music Academy. Teller’s Andrew becomes Fletcher‘s new student when spotted working his magic on the drums and the pair embark on a tumultuous teacher-student relationship.

Simmons’ Fletcher is ruthless and unforgiving and the extremes to which he pushes his students is at the focus of Whiplash. The physical extremities that the conductor puts Andrew through time and again garners a genuine reaction from those watching and by the final moments you find yourself experiencing a kind of unfeigned hope that the young student can overcome the brutal methods of Fletcher‘s teaching and demonstrate his gift as a drummer. Both Simmons and Teller, who differ in age by about thirty years, exhibit what power each possesses as an actor and its incredibly exciting to see what comes next for both. More importantly, they work well as a duo, representing different morals and divergent views on life.

j. k. simmons as terrence fletcher in whiplash

j. k. simmons as terrence fletcher in whiplash

While generally a strong feature, there are one or two weaknesses. The background story of Fletcher is seriously underdeveloped and a scene or two explaining how he came to be this way (which the current running time would certainly allow) would of been welcomed. Similar to this, Melissa Benoist as Nicole is featured prominently in the trailer yet is present in only three scenes, and her dialogue is limited. Benoist is clearly a natural and to see more of her and Teller together would of added a new dimension to a male-dominated, masculine film.

Its actually pretty hard to articulate what you experience when seeing Whiplash, and its taken me two days to finally write this review. Chazelles direction is faultless, and his editing of the drumming sequences are some of the best this genre has seen in years. The diegetic score is a treat all of its own, and the final scene (which lasts around fifteen minutes) is the stand out – Teller beats the drums at incredible speed, the sound of the jazz beat is immensely enjoyable and the added elements of sweat drops on the symbols and blood splatters on the drums make it all the more authentic. While not a whole lot happens, and you are never sure if you are particularly inclined to like either Fletcher or Andrew, Whiplash still manages to finish with the thought in ones mind of what a treat that viewing just was.

A considerable portion of the mainstream viewing audience will undervalue Chazelle’s film, unable to see beyond the narrative of a drumming student and his tutor. For the section of theatregoers who appreciate cinema for all of its unique and life-changing quirks Whiplash will swiftly be placed in the top ten. A second watch is needed, and further contemplation on this work of art will continue for some time, but for now all you need to know is that this is probably one of the best films you will see all year. And its only January.

The Spectacular Now, review

Often you will stumble upon a film, watch the trailer and think ‘Yeah, let’s give that a go, it looks decent.‘ Only occasionally will that stumbled upon piece of cinema be a game-changer. A think about your life feature that has you in tears, for reasons beyond what you have just seen on screen. Said film, in this case, and as the title indicates is The Spectacular Now. Released in 2013 and shot on a humble budget of $2.5 million, James Ponsoldt’s film hits you straight in the feels. Those feels, are real. The power of Miles Teller as eighteen year old Sutter Keely is almost indescribable and his transition from adolescence to adulthood is incredibly poignant. Shailene Woodley, while not as central to the narrative as one might think is just a great force and wonderfully likeable as Aimee Finecky who has a glorious lust for life and is adamant to see only the good in Sutter.

Firstly, Ponsoldt directs Woodley and Teller with such a loving eye, but one that never enters cliched romantic-drama territory. This story feels one hundred percent real, what you are watching is not a glorified over-exaggeration of made up relationships  but a fictional portrayal of a relatable partnership. Intimate scenes are not covered up by a non-diegetic acoustic soundtrack, refreshingly they focus on the event unfolding and viewers will be transported back to a time when they felt just like that. The romantic element never takes over from what is at the centre here – Sutter‘s reluctance to graduate high school entwined with the surreal image he carries of his absent Father and obvious commitment issues. Oh, and the underlying drinking habit which the audience are reminded of in almost every scene. Sutter comes with baggage (which is initially hidden), but we can deal with that. What unwinds in the 95 minutes is a story of revelations, a little heartache, and a look into this teenagers life who – come the end – is no longer just a character in a film.

promotional poster for the spectacular now

promotional poster for the spectacular now

Teller narrates the film at appropriate intervals and Ponsoldt gives us a swiftly edited, genuinely funny opening scene which paints a clear picture of the situation we are going into. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber the screenplay is written with enough quirk to comfortably fit within an indie production but screams out with intelligence and sharp wit which is often missed in contemporary cinema. There are so many positives to this inspiring feature, which will genuinely have an impact on you, but to truly understand why this is possibly one of the best films you will ever see – you just have to sit your bum down and watch for yourself. Rather magnificently, The Spectacular Now will hold different meanings for each individual viewing, and that power is something to be applauded.

A domestic story (to a certain extent at least), Ponsoldt’s film captures the wonderment and difficulties of growing up. A beautifully told story that deserves to be watched time and again. Damn near perfect.