21st June 1954 – 19th January 2015
“I think it’s about time somebody bought me another drink.”
“Ken! Do something!”
21st June 1954 – 19th January 2015
“I think it’s about time somebody bought me another drink.”
“Ken! Do something!”
Unbeknownst to him Miles Teller and I have had a tempestuous relationship until recently. He first crossed my path when he co-starred in the remake of my beloved Footloose and then the atrocity that was Project X; neither appearance endearing him to me. In the past year he has starred in two YA adaptations with Shailene Woodley, Spectacular Now and Divergent, playing unsympathetic characters with varying degrees of complexity. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Teller; was he a good actor making not so great films or a mediocre actor in mediocre films? I couldn’t be sure until I saw Whiplash this week. Everything is different now. Miles Teller has arrived and earned his place at last.
In Whiplash Teller plays the role of Andrew, a music student and aspiring drummer studying at the country’s finest music conservatory. His dream is to impress the intimidating Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) who is known for pushing his students either to the brink of sanity or into greatness. Andrew works his way into the jazz band conducted by Fletcher and while his hero is initially encouraging Andrew soon experiences to extreme high standards demanded by the musical perfectionist. In a bid to match what Fletcher demands Andrew sacrifices all semblance of a normal life to practise to the brink of exhaustion and play the drums until he has secured a place in the band and then hopefully a career for himself in music. The question is not whether Andrew wants a career drumming badly enough but whether or not he will survive Fletcher’s unique brand of training.
Whiplash is nothing short of astonishing. The energy the film has from start to finish is literally breathtaking and the sense of release felt by the audience in my screening when the film came to a close was such that spontaneous cheering broke out. Watching Teller at work playing Andrew is exhausting as he drums and drums, and drums some more. The sheer effort of the role is self-evident and the film shows blood, sweat and tears all pouring out of Teller and onto the drum kit as his sticks flying across the screen. Effort is a key component of Whiplash; it is about not taking the easy route but about earning your dreams and demanding them when others stand in your way. Andrew sometimes comes across as entitled but he damn well earns the right to his entitlement. It’s not often that cinema shows that success requires work and sacrifice or shows it so effectively.
Opposite Teller Simmons plays the role of the surly mentor with a real vicious edge. This is not your typical irascible trainer who pushes the protagonist at first but turns out to have a heart of gold. Fletcher is a horrible man intent on bringing out the best performance at the risk of sacrificing the individual. While given a slew of amusing one-liners Simmons’ performance never lets humour outweigh the underlying nastiness of the character. Fletcher is not a nice man but he and his students believe that this is key to the success of his band. Another theme in Whiplash is ego and whether or not building it up is simply going to make it harder when you are inevitably knocked down. Fletcher is constantly undermining his students egos and stroking his own making him an absolutely fascinating character to watch.
I won’t go any further in describing what takes place in the film as it is something to experience for yourself. The journey that Fletcher forces Andrew down is a painful one and Whiplash does not follow the predictable trajectory. Writer/director Damien Chazelle has made a film of high energy, exhausting workmanship, and a real pace. Whiplash is a force of nature and I came out shaken and buzzing with energy. It’s hard to explain why without you seeing it for yourself on a big screen and a decent sound system.
The one bum note to the film is its disinterest in the sole female character. Briefly introduced as a love interest she is quickly disposed off which felty slightly wasteful and perhaps surplus to requirements. That aside Whiplash was as close to perfect as this year’s festival has gotten. Get me to a jazz bar!
Whiplash has a UK release date of 16th January 2015 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 16th & 18th of October 2014.
NOTE: For this review to work please pretend that Walk the Line never happened as I didn’t see it and forgot it existed…
As an actor you can make lots of lucrative, fun but unfulfilling films in your youth but to extend your career it helps to make the shift towards more respectable fare. Last year Jean-Marc Vallée directed Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club and took him from being the lead in mediocre romantic comedies to winning an Oscar in a single film. This year Vallée is back with Reese Witherspoon as the actor getting a career revamp, and probably an Oscar nomination, in Wild.
Based on the autobiographical novel by Cheryl Strayed, and adapted for the screen by the great Nick Hornby, Wild tells the story of Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) as she walks the 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican to Canadian border. Having lost her husband following a sex and drugs downward spiral and a family crisis Cheryl decides what she needs is time to clear her head and find herself. Alongside danger, exhaustion, and pain walking this distance offers up plenty of solitude and time for reflection. As she walks Cheryl meets mostly friendly strangers and looks back on the mistakes she has made in her life so far. The further Cheryl walks the more she grows and the greater the understanding the audience gains of her character and why she felt the need to embark on this long journey.
Witherspoon is clearly looking to put a stake in the ground and mark out a new start for her career. Far away from her Legally Blonde days Wild allows her to give a complex grown up performance as a woman who is a three-dimensional human being and not a caricature. While not a subtle film there is room for Witherspoon to demonstrate scope and depth in her acting as she plays an incredibly complicated woman who has made some truly awful decisions. The role of Cheryl does not always put Witherspoon in a flattering light and requires a certain level of exposure both emotional and physical. If nothing else Wild shows a commitment to real acting rarely seen from this particular performer. The film rests on her shoulders and she bears the burden well.
Wild is a beautifully shot film with some great performances and a witty script. While not offering anything cinematically innovative it conjures up a great sense of adventure alongside a dramatic tale of loss and errors in judgement. I am an absolute sucker for any film even remotely resembling a road trip and Wild sufficed in making me wanting to strap on a bag and walk until my feet fall off. The film earns bonus points for expertly representing the almost orgasmic relief felt when taking off hiking boots after a lengthy journey.
A solid film with a tough story to tell, Wild showcases new facets to Witherspoon’s acting chops and announces her as an actor to keep your eye on even at this stage in her career.
Wild has a UK release date of 16th January 2015 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 16th of October 2014.
This time the only thing that has been taken is Liam Neeson’s self-respect. Or whatever was left of it anyway. For shame Liam, for shame.
This film begging for an Oscar or two stars Channing Tatum in a serious role, Steve Carell in a big fake face, and Mark Ruffalo trying his hardest to bring some authenticity to proceedings. Some critics adore this slow-paced thriller but I just found it dull.
Into the Woods
Fairy tales get mashed together in this big screen Sondheim adaptation. Meryl Streep does that singing we all enjoyed in Mamma Mia, Anna Kendrick does that singing we all enjoyed in Pitch Perfect, and Johnny Depp apparently ruins the film.
The Last of the Unjust
Documentary relating to the holocaust and offering “an unprecedented insight into the genesis of the Final Solution.”
Lasting a bum-numbing three hours this Frederick Wiseman documentary allows you to sit in on staff meetings, watch the restoration of paintings, and dip into tours as the National Gallery in London is subtly unfurled on-screen. I quite liked it but struggled a bit with the length.
Erebus: Into the Unknown
The true story of eleven police officer sent to recover the victims of a jet crashing into a mountain. In broad daylight.
“A Kabaddi player rescues a young woman from an unwanted marriage and hides her in his home.”
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic wrestling gold medalist who, despite his success, is struggling to get out from under the shadow of his fellow wrestler and brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). While training for the world championships and 1988 Olympics Mark is approached by millionaire wrestling enthusiast John du Pont (Steve Carell in heavy prosthetics) with an offer he can’t refuse. Du Pont offers Mark a home on his estate, Foxcatcher Farm, where he will have excellent training facilities, a salary, and the ability to hire whoever he likes for his team. Mark readily accepts and asks Dave to join him but Dave declines as he has a family to consider and cannot be so easily bought.
Mark is a simple man of few words and is happy to have been chosen by du Pont though suffers without his brother to train with. It is clear that du Pont is lonely as despite his wealth he has no friends and his mother (astonishingly wasted Vanessa Redgrave) is his sole remaining relative. As such du Pont sees Mark as a son and insists on Mark looking up to him as a father-figure. Eventually Dave is convinced to bring his family out to Foxcatcher Farm to work as a coach under du Pont. How he is persuaded is never really clear, nor is why Mark suddenly stops talking to du Pont. Foxcatcher is a slow burning film in which nothing happens before long stretches and when something does happen there seems to be no reason for it. This is most evident in the film’s violent conclusion, a matter of public record but not one I was aware of, which the filmmakers never seek to explain.
Despite being based on real events Foxcatcher does not feel authentic or logical. While there are a series of events that definitely happened writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman have not connected the dots effectively. The gaps between what we know to have taken place are not filled with scenes attempting to provide motivation or explanation just more tedium in which du Pont is showcased as being a little bit weird, his mother so distant she doesn’t get a single line of dialogue, and Mark as a piece of meat slowly moving from room to room. The film’s only moment of consequence, that of the final ten minutes, is actually truncated rather than fleshed out as a police capture that in reality took place over two days is taken care of in minutes. Why stretch the plot so thinly elsewhere only to rush the ending?
The BFI have described the film as a nerve-jangling thriller but I would argue that as it focusses on the relationship between an almost mute athlete and an introverted millionaire there is less a sense of foreboding and more a sense of boredom. Steve Carell and Channing Tatum both put in “proper” acting performances offering subtlety not normally present in their comedic roles but they play uncharismatic characters who, when left alone in a room together, struggled to hold attention. Let’s not even talk about Carell’s facial prosthetics and the mask-like look they give him. Mark Ruffalo is gifted the only part with any character and as such I felt nothing but sympathy for Dave being pulled into the awkward atmosphere of Foxcatcher.
Director Bennett Miller has worked hard on creating a specific tone for the film and that tone is one of being slightly uncomfortable. Imagine the sensation of not being able to get comfortable in your seat for two hours before suddenly falling off it without warning or explanation. That is Foxcatcher in a nutshell.
Foxcatcher is a humourless film populated with impenetrable characters, despite some decent acting efforts, and a plot with no rhyme or reason to it. An odd, unpleasant, and often dull film.
Foxcatcher has a UK release date of 9th January 2015 and screens at the London Film Festival on the 17th of October 2014.