Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Film: 'Whiplash'

Before writing about this film I might point out that yesterday, on the way to the cinema, I suffered yet another physical mishap. Preparing to alight from the moving bus, making my way downstairs I missed my footing and twist-wrenched my knee. Painful it was too, and is still so after one night. I'd already been limping because of a callous on my right sole, which was supposed to have been removed at the local podiatry clinic a couple of weeks ago (free under our Socialist-inspired National Health Service!), but it's still there and causing pain. Now I'm hobbling about with incapacities in both legs and can only take flights of stairs one step at a time. I mention this because once again it's going to mean missing films which I'd intended to see. Looks like the first casualty will be day after tomorrow's 'The Homesman' (Tommy Lee Jones) - and that may well not be the last. Will try an ice compress shortly but as at now things don't exactly look rosy.

Watching this in considerable discomfort could not detract from my recognition that this film has real clout. It's an unusual scenario in that I don't recall any other fictional film where the focus is on a drummer - with a tutor from the depths of hell itself. It's also remarkable for its utterly blistering two central performances.
The plain-faced Miles Teller plays a first year student jazz drummer at a music conservatory where J.K.Simmons ('Spiderman', 'Juno') is already scaring the bejeesus out of his class, he being an horrific martinet of a professor whose mood can turn on a sixpence from all sweetness and light to yelling and barking his head off, sometimes with snarls and put-downs, as well as flinging conveniently-snatched missiles at members of class who displease him, cowing them into submission. Talk about 'blood, sweat and tears' - it's precisely all three of those things!

I'd call the music 'Big Band' - here with a group of a dozen wind players plus piano, guitar, bass and drums - though I'm happy to be corrected as to the category into which it falls. It worked for me even though this kind of music fails to achieve any 'inner response in my soul' - unlike classical, popular, musicals, as well as folk and even some pop. I've never really 'got' jazz, despite lifelong efforts to remedy that and discover why so many are emotionally moved by it, wanting to share the experience. There's seems to be something of a mental block there for me. Anyway, that being the case, it was even more astonishing that this film managed to hold my attention with ease.

The conservatory class is up for a competition (who would have thought it!) and no one,  but no one,  is going to get in the way of the tutor getting his class to win. His regular tirades are littered with profanities - all the expected ones, of course - although quite a number of them do also have a measure of wit attached. He does make a brief, sexist put-down to the only female member of the group, who is only rarely in shot. But afterwards I was wondering why, out of all the ones he selected for his ritual humiliation, he didn't once choose to abuse any of the several African-Americans there.
Of course it wouldn't have been the film it was if the story hadn't focussed on the relationship between tutor and the new drummer member - and from the very off it's no-holds-barred. The mild-mannered Teller's feeble attempts to stand up for himself very quickly fizzle out into accepting his degradation.
It won't be any surprise to learn that among the insults used against him is homophobic language ('faggot' and 'cocksucker', of course), those expressions being, predictably and regrettably, of first resort to anyone wishing to humiliate. (There's no suggestion at all that the Teller character might be gay. Anyway, he's got a girlfriend for at least part of the story, so there!.) However it's a measure of the writer's restraint (Damian Chazelle, also the film's Director) that these particular words are used so sparingly among all the other invectives. I counted only three instances. But that got me also wondering whether, if he had chosen to rail against one of the African-Americans, would his language also have been in-your-face, thick with racist epithets? Or would that be beyond-the-pale unacceptable - both to the character's position as being on the conservatory staff, as well as to the film-makers in selling their product? Food for thought.

Just when we thought the film was starting to glide to its conclusion with a level of smoothness having been attained between the two main characters, who seemed to have come to some mutual understanding, something nasty occurs between them. The film ends with the expected virtuoso display - a performance which succeeded in taking my breath away, despite my not appreciating to the fullest that genre of music.
(The title of 'Whiplash', by the way, is the name of one of the pieces the band is rehearsing).

A highly recommended film. Although the general line of the story might be familiar, the means it employs, a young drummer, is certainly unusual - and the two lead actors carry it off forcefully,  penetratingly and convincingly.....................7.5


  1. :(

    the pussies won't mind you being around to do their bidding.

    when can you get to the clinic?

    1. It's true that THEY don't mind, A.M., but it's painful just to bend down to place their food trays on the floor - and this morning next door's Heckie was misbehaving, even doing a wee on my magazines, and I had to limp around trying to shoo him out. Right now he's back here again trying my patience beyond measure.

      At moment not seeking medical help as I simply dare not after a year in which I've been to various medical institutions more times than, probably, the last twenty years put together - or all my life even.

  2. Oh no, not another mishap! If memory serves me correctly, it is nearly a year since you suffered another mishap on your way to the cinema. When you're on your own, it is so difficult to get through the daily routine that must be done. I hope you heal quickly. In the meantime, enjoy lots of cuddle time with the pussies.

    It's a certainty that J. K. Simmons will pick up Oscar Gold as best supporting actor. He is winning everything. I have read your review and the reviews of others, and it seems to me that Teller and Simmons are equally matched and he should have been nominated in the Best Actor category instead of Best Supporting. What is your opinion?

    PS. This weekend, Bradley Cooper's "American Sniper" set a record at the box office. Who would have thought? I normally don't see films like this, but I did. I do not know if Bradley was nominated, but if he was, it could be a game-changer at the Oscars. That is how good he is.

    1. Paul, it's actually only five months since I took a tumble on the street shortly after coming out of a cinema, though it feels that more than like five YEARS has been added to my age - and I STILL haven't got full use back of the left arm which I landed on. It's now looking possible that I never will.
      This latest mini-disaster is just what I could have done without. Apart from the constant, though tolerable, pain I'm concerned that come Friday I won't be able to carry my usual shopping load, so I'll have to go twice, tomorrow as well as Friday. (Most of the weight is, incidentally, food for you-know-whos) Anyway, apart from that I don't know if I dare try to go on a bus again so soon, apart from the fact that a number of cinemas also have stairs up to their screens. All most annoying, it really is..

      Re 'Whiplash': I wasn't sire about Simmons being Best Actor or Supporting. Although he and Teller are counterweights to each other in the film it's Teller who has the lion's share of screen time, so I suppose 'Supporting' is fair enough. Simmons without doubt deserves to scoop it. I've never ever seen such a devastating performance of such, frankly, psychotic behaviour on screen, far outstripping all those maniacal senior army officers we've seen over the decades. Frightening as hell in his ability to reduce anyone to a blubbering idiot, he's also completely mesmerising. I hadn't noticed his name or presence in any previous films of his, but he's bound to be noticed after this gem.

      Seeing Mr Cooper sans beard being interviewed (because of 'Elephant Man' obviously) makes me long for him to grow it again. From the yet-to-be-seen-here 'American Sniper' there are shades of the yummy figure I long to cosy up to, so I'll have to make do with that until he gets back his growth. You say he's exceptionally fine in the film. Will make a change for me to evaluate his acting instead of my mind wandering elsewhere when he's visible. Thanks for the hint. Only hope I can get to see it, dammit!

  3. Ray,
    I have a mental block of the name of that Chef from Hell that has a popular "reality" program. I never watched it but couldn't help but see snippets of his cruel tirades towards trainee chefs. Gordan Ramsey of something like that? I despise him and that type of show. I have seen a preview of "Whiplash" and it seems to me to be a variation of the cruel and abusive treatment for entertainment of someone trying to learn. I wouldn't watch that kind of movie under any circumstances. Just seems to me like a cheap and easy way to "entertain." Sadism for the masses. Of course I'm probably being too judgmental (I am of course) but I will pass this movie regardless of how outstanding the performances are. Know why? I could act like either one of these characters but it wouldn't be acting now would it? It was be using my basest instincts. But there is always a market for this kind of movie just as there is for overt slasher movies of sex (all that swallowing of faces, etc). I'm not a prude or against violence or harsh behavior being portrayed in films (witness my fondness for the series "The Wire") but I like to see it in the context of human relationships, not just the prurient aspect of what I call "Coliseum Entertainment" of feeding the Christians to the lions.

    1. (Yes, Gordon Ramsay is that very one.)

      Ron, you make a valid point and I'm totally with you in that if this was a true life scenario in, say, a 'reality' TV show there's no way I'd want to watch it. It makes me squirm to see people being humiliated in real life - even, would you believe, criminals being caught. If I happen to catch such a thing by accident I need to switch channels.
      In 'Whiplash' I suppose there's sort of mental 'safety-cushion' in being aware at some level that all the characters are acting their part, and getting well-paid for doing it, so it's their choice. Actually while the film was playing I was amusing myself thinking how this horror of a tutor would go down in an S/M club. I've no doubt he'd be genuinely popular with 'victims' queuing up to take their turn to grovel at his feet and eat dirt. To take your analogy further, seeing violence on film where one knows it's contrived is far removed from seeing it in reality, which I would find unwatchable. You already know my utter distaste of seeing violence towards animals, but in that case even on film where it is, one hopes, artificially made up, though even if it is the animal has no say in any mental anxiety it may go through.
      There's no doubt that 'Whiplash' is a film for particular-minded people who can take it. I 'enjoyed' it, but it's certainly not one for everybody.
      Thanks again for your thoughts.

    2. Jay,
      Certainly my response was no criticism of you or your tastes in movies. I see too much of such "tough love" in my own life (the owner of the hotel where I work who won't see this comment) is much like the character in this film and Gordon Ramsay. I just think you get a lot more accomplished by being respectful and caring to the person you're teaching. I know there are people who go through life acting this way and it does get them to a certain point but not with me. I fail to see the entertainment value in the Gordon Ramsays of this world. That's another whole genre of folk to me who I stay away from. And as far as cruelly to animals, made up or not . . . . I definitely do not approve.

    3. I didn't for one second think that you were criticising me or my tastes, Ron - and it really wouldn't matter if you had - well, not agreeing with my tastes anyway. We've all known authoritarians who think they can produce success with an iron fist. It MAY succeed but it won't be long-lasting and won't make anyone do even a little bit more than the bare minimum - and will certainly fail to get any respect at all. (I think in particular of my school deputy headmaster, a priest, whose moods could switch like turning a light bulb on and off - and who every one of the boy pupils hated with a passion.) Such people must be very sad and inadequate individuals even when in solitude reflecting on themselves.
      Regarding treatment towards animals, well, we're totally in accord there.

  4. Most importantly, mend quickly! This film came and went quickly here so I have not seen it. With the awards season giving it new life, I hope it well get wider distribution now.

    1. Thanks, HK. Knee is mending, but at snail's pace. Going up and down stairs is still greatest difficulty - as well as putting sock on in morning. But at least it's not getting worse.

      'Whiplash' should, by rights. be more widely seen as a result of the awards season - and if Simmons doesn't pick up the 'best supporting' Oscar I'd like to see who does get it. But even apart from that the unusualness of a story with a drummer as the central figure is pretty remarkable in any case.