Tuesday, December 09, 2014

WHIPLASH -- It's got a good beat and you can dance to it

Now that I’ve seen WHIPLASH, I think back to those Farmers Insurance commercials featuring J.K. Simmons as a teacher at “Farmers University” and wonder what hell he put his students through. “Write up that claim, you pansy-ass worthless piece of shit! Faster! FASTER!  Are you waiting for the muse to strike, you sensitive little fucking insignificant mama’s boy whiner?!” And I picture the agent wannabes marching in perfect formation for fifty miles while singing “We are Farmers, bump be-dee-bump, bump bump bump!”

J.K. Simmons, a gifted comic actor most of the time, plays a terrifying but absolutely riveting music teacher in WHIPLASH, easily one of the best movies of the year. It’s FAME meets THE GREAT SANTANI with a little ROCKY, HOOSIERS, and FULL METAL JACKET thrown in for spice. Or THE BLACK SWAN without any eating disorders. The music is heart-pounding and thrilling. Ladies and gentleman, the beat REALLY goes on. And yes, it’s a movie about jazz music but there’s more blood than in JAWS.

I could really relate because that's my teaching style at USC. 

Simmons has played bad-ass before -- anyone who’s seen him in OZ knows not to say anything that might hurt his feelings. But here he takes “tough love teacher” to a whole ‘nother place – Guantanamo I think. Oscar nomination? A lock.

So imagine having to co-star with such a magnetic, forceful actor. Newcomer Miles Teller holds his own and more as the young drum student who is pushed to levels one step beyond Travis Bickle. At times Teller reminded me of young a Dustin Hoffman, but way more intense. And wow, can he play drums. Think: Buddy Rich not Ringo. Oscar nomination? I hope so.

Paul Reiser played Teller’s father and didn’t talk incessantly so it was his best performance since DINER.

In a movie that celebrates extraordinary talent, Damien Chazelle proves to be just that as both a writer and director. While Hollywood is fawning all over the Michael Bay’s of the world, people like Chazelle is who they should really be going after. It’s a shame to think that for a movie this good to get any distribution it has to be made independently and win a bunch of awards at film festivals. And then it gets booked into art houses. I wonder how many of you are in small towns where this movie isn’t even playing while DUMBER AND DUMBER TO is showing on fifteen screens.

If you get a chance, see WHIPLASH. Oh, and if you play an instrument – practice.

My Kindle version of THE ME GENERATION... BY ME (GROWING UP IN THE '60S) remains on sale for $.99, which is way less than a dollar.   If you don't want to relive your youth then at least relive mine.  Here's where you go.  Thanks.


MikeK.Pa. said...

Always liked J.K. Simmons back to when he was the shrink on Law and Order. Very steady supporting performer like Chris Cooper. This year's Oscar competition, at least in male lead, should be riveting with two comedic actors - Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) - leading the way in dramatic roles.

Wonder if J.K.'s character used this Todd Rundgren song for some inspiration?

Hamid said...

I love JK Simmons and I love Paul Reiser, so this will definitely be a must-watch for me.

Reiser is one of my favourite character actors. His Carter Burke in Aliens is an all time great performance, which is all the more impressive in how starkly it contrasts with his loveable role as Jeffrey in Beverly Hills Cop ("This is not my locker!).

Talking of best films of the year, the AFI have revealed their top films for 2014 and Whiplash is in there.

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Into The Woods

I've seen three of those (Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game and Interstellar and loved all three). The others haven't been released in the UK yet apart from Boyhood, which didn't appeal to me.

Daniel said...

I hope the Oscar buzz turns out to be true. I'm still thinking about the film, months after I saw it.

And I'm going to ask the off-topic but inevitable question: Ken, what do you think about the Alena Smith controversy? She was removed from the Newsroom writing room because she argued with Aaron Sorkin about a rape storyline and wouldn't back down.

I'm wondering how she'll be treated if she applies to work on other shows. Do you think she'll be considered unprofessional, because she impeded the writing process, or because she posted details about the writers' room on Twitter? (Sorkin says that violated confidentiality.)

Or do you think she'll be considered heroic, because she stood up for her principles and tried to salvage an episode that many people have now criticized?

Charles H. Bryan said...

Love this line: "If you don't want to relive your youth then at least relive mine."

To anyone who hasn't read Ken's books, do yourself a favor and do so. If you like his columns, you'll love the books. Really. No bullshit. I speak as a satisfied consumer, like one of those people in the personal-injury-lawyer commercials. "Ken Levine made me laugh -- and he got me one million dollars! Thanks, Ken!"

(If someone gets injured shooting one of those commercials, who takes the case?)

Scooter Schechtman said...

I always kind of liked the Farmers commercials, more than Flo, The Lizard, or "Six callers ahead of us, Jimmy!"

Michael said...

Friday question: Is there significant money in first-look deals such as this one: http://deadline.com/2014/12/olivia-munn-inks-first-look-deal-with-cbs-studios-1201317180/

I assume these deals with actors and actresses are mostly vanity-deals as compared to ones that CBS expects to see a return on their investment, so wondering how much money they would spend on it.

Brian Doan said...

Ken, a Friday question: This week, a writer on THE NEWSROOM shot off a series of tweets talking about this week's episode, which dealt with campus rape. She said she was disappointed in the episode, and was kicked out of the writer's room. Aaron Sorkin issued a statement giving his side of the story, and expressing disappointment that

"I was even more surprised that she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writers room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private and intimate details of their lives in the hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. That’s what happens in writers rooms and while ours was the first one Alena ever worked in, the importance of privacy was made clear to everyone on our first day of work and was reinforced constantly. I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust."

(His full statement is here: http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/12/08/aaron-sorkin-statement-newsroom-writer-campus-rape-plot/)

Quality of the episode aside-- I haven't seen it yet, and have no opinion--my real question is about Sorkin's comment regarding writers' room privacy. Is what he describes your experience, being on staff and/or running rooms yourself? What are your thoughts about what the NEWSROOM writer tweeted, and Sorkin's disappointment?

Ken Levine said...


My entire post tomorrow will be addressing this subject and controversy. Check back.

Chris said...

The movie may be seen as even more impressive as I believe it was shot in 18 days. I'd love someone to confirm that.

Dean Minderman said...

Actual jazz musicians and teachers are mocking this film as a ridiculously sensationalized depiction of the relationship between teacher and student. For the most part, students tend not to stay with teachers who act like gigantic assholes, and though J.K Simmons is a fine actor, the behavior of his character likely would be unacceptable to the administration of any legit music school.

Also, Teller's drum "performance" is mostly a product of editing: http://www.nola.com/movies/index.ssf/2014/11/is_miles_teller_really_playing.html

For a film about a real relationship between an aspiring jazz musician and his teacher, check out "Keep On Keepin' On," the new documentary about 93-year-old trumpeter Clark Terry and his student, the 20-something blind pianist Justin Kauflin.

Carolyn said...

Off topic. I thought you might enjoy this. I saw it on imgur. (No idea of the source.)

Dumb, Smart, and Weird

Tom said...

I liked the first paragraph of today's post. I didn't like the UPS advert that replaced this page if left open for more than about five seconds. I have so far been unable to get as far as the second paragraph.

Ken Levine said...

I don't understand how that is happening. Nothing from my end. I don't know why you get ads. Try a different server and see if that eliminates the problem. It's never happened to me. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Anonymous said...

This is the url of the pop up ad. Happens on my iPad on different browsers. First time it's happened on your page in my experience.


Johnny Walker said...

I've been getting weird things pop up on this blog for a long time. Every time I visit on my iPad it asks if MySpace can have my location. There's some sort of weird advert hidden away somewhere.

Re: Sorkin. Don't forget that Sorkin himself once took to the Internet to denigrate one of his own staff writers, claiming he did nothing for the show he worked on, and even less on the Emmy winning script he co-wrote with Sorkin.

When everyone spotted what Sorkin had written, including the original writer -- who responded to these accusations, he apologised and stopped posting online.

Read their brief exchange here: http://ww-renaissance.livejournal.com/39987.html

I haven't read what's been written yet, but I'm guessing things must have gotten incredibly bad for this writer to deliberately risk ending her own career.

gottacook said...

I've actually attended several music schools (not just the two I have degrees from) that were large enough to have jazz departments, etc. I haven't yet seen the movie - although I'm sure I will because of Mr. Simmons - but everything I've read about how it differs from actual instruction conforms to my own experience. But this sort of exaggeration is nothing new in movies.

Hamid said...

To those getting pop-ups, ad-blocker is your friend. Just get the plug-in for your browser and all will be well. It also blocks ads on Youtube, so no more waiting 30 seconds for an annoying commercial to finish before you can boogie to Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift's latest shit, I mean hit.

tb said...

I'm impressed with the Travis Bickle reference. Ken is hipper than I thought!

Diane D. said...

Dean Minderman,
"Students tend not to stay with teachers who are gigantic assholes."
"The behavior of this character would likely be unacceptable to any legit music school."

I never, never understand this kind of comment about a movie. Movies should not be made (and books not written) about ordinary people and ordinary situations.

What you say is true, most teacher/student relationships are more benevolent than this
one---but not all of them. And most music schools would not tolerate this type of sadistic behavior---but there are exceptions. From those exceptions come the movies (and books) that keep you on the edge of your seat, barely able to breathe. What a wonderful way to spend 2 hours.

Regarding your comment that Teller's drum performance is mostly the result of editing: I wonder who you thought wouldn't know that. It's a testament to the art of film-editing, however, that one can get completely lost to anything but the music.

I loved this movie.