Tag Archives: Project X

“WHIPLASH” Review (✫✫✫✫)

You won’t know what hit you.

I was a junior in high school when my dad took me out to a cabin in Montana for a “vacation.” I put “vacation” in quotations because we practiced music for nearly three hours every single day. I was a tuba player back then, and I practiced with my dad so I could make it into the All-Region band. One day, I wasn’t playing a single measure correctly. The notes I was supposed to play were on the downbeat, and I kept playing them on the upbeat. My dad made me play that verse over, and over, and over, and over again. He would get frustrated at me, yell at me, and push me harder and harder until I played that verse perfectly 100 times. I played that same frothy, infuriating verse for all three hours that day.

I say this to show you that the stuff you see in Whiplash isn’t fiction. It’s as feasible as the music you see, as vibrant as the drum beats you hear in a song, and as real as the passion that drives any musician, writer, and aspiring artist out there. Whiplash is special not just because it’s unique, but because it carries an uncanny truth for those who aspire to greatness. Perfection is never good enough. You’re pushing yourself over the edge just as much as the people around you are.

The kid aspiring to greatness in this story is Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a mild-mannered college musician who aspires to be the next Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich on the drums. The man he thinks can make him great is Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but brash and at times violent instructor who will throw a chair at you if you’re either rushing or dragging the tempo.

If you think I’m saying that figuratively, I’m not. That literally happens to Neiman during his first rehearsal with Fletcher in the movie.

Neiman aims to be the best drummer out in the world. Fletcher aims to be the best instructor in the world. These two men and their intense passions for their goals builds into a riveting, thrilling, and emotionally vigorous journey that is more involving and exciting than most of the year’s biggest action blockbusters. Yes, I am placing this above the likes of Transformers, Godzilla, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s that good.

How is it that this movie leaves such a lasting impact, when most people haven’t seen it, let alone heard about it? One of the biggest reasons, I think, is conflict. This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s sophomore effort into film, his debut feature being the 2009 jazz film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Both films are about jazz musicians, both are about people aspiring to other’s aspirations, and both are about never being good enough for those end goals.

There, however, is a sharp difference in tone between both pictures. One is a romantic drama about two lovers struggling to reconnect after slowly growing apart from each other. The other is an unconventional thriller that poses two musicians opposite one another to build a steady sense of unease and tension between the two. The result is a severely nail-biting, teeth-grating, and heart-pounding experience because of it.

Again, going back to conflict. My college screenwriting professor once told us that conflict is what compels story, and character’s struggling with conflict compels their development in the story. I am reminded of this no better than when I watch Whiplash, and that’s just because Chazelle sets up conflict really well in the movie. In the film, Neiman is desperate to prove himself as a musician. He moves his bed out of his dorm room in the place of a drum set. When he goes to sleep, he listens to the music that he’s practicing in his ipod. When he knows he’s not playing fast enough, he pushes harder until his hand bleeds. When his hand bleeds, he puts a bandaid on and keeps playing. When his bandaid falls off, he presses his hand in ice water, turning the clean liquid into an ugly shade of red.

Yet, despite all of his passion and initiative, Fletcher continues to press him and push him harder not necessarily to make him a better musician, but just because it’s never good enough for him. The level of intensity Fletcher shows in the movie makes you wonder where all of this anger comes from. Did he have his own version of Fletcher when he was a music major in college?

Which brings me to the next point: the performances. Teller and Simmons give two of the best performances out of the year in their roles, fully inhabiting their characters to the point where we become entranced in full immersion. Teller, who before this has starred in a string of bad raunchy comedies (Project X, 21 and Over, That Awkard Moment), re-establishes himself as a finer actor here. He shows that he has more acting chops than he lets on and proves that he’s more than just a pretty face. Simmons is on a whole another level. He was so scary, intimidating and maddening as this arrogant, hard-headed music professor that he made wind ensemble feel like drill camp.

I can only name one moment I didn’t like in the film, and that is that the ending is far too abrupt. It’s a perfect film otherwise. Chazelle wrote and directed this film as a reaction to writer’s block, and while he pulled inspiration from being a drummer in high school, I think the film is universal as far as its language and messages go. We are both Neiman and Fletcher for the things that we are passionate about. We aspire to do great things, and we beat ourselves up when we don’t do those great things. We will push ourselves to and over the edge when we don’t measure up to our own expectations. But what’s the point of doing all of those great things if you’ve lost the joy in doing them? I quote my dad, who has always pushed me in a better way than Fletcher has: “You don’t have to be number one to be amazing.”

Post-script: In defense of my dad, some people might say he was going too hard on me, or that I didn’t deserve all of the strain that he would put me through. You would be wrong. I made third chair in the Texas All State band because he didn’t give up on me.

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“THE WORLD’S END” Review (✫✫✫)

These poor dims have had too much to drink.

We’ve all known that kid somewhere in our high school years. Yes, you know who I’m talking about. That kid. That kid as in, the troublemaker. The smart talker. The womanizer. The drinker. The guy who turns heads and raises eyebrows, the guy whose only concerned with having a good time and not much else. They act on impulse, spontaneity, paying no second thoughts to doubt or common sense. They don’t think about their future or what they’re going to do after high school. They don’t live in the future. They live in the moment.

That same trouble-making, lady-loving, drink-guzzling, bad-mouthed rebel is known in this movie as Gary King (Simon Pegg), a poor old sap in rehab who misses the old days and just wants them back again. In order to do this, he reaches out to his old british friends from high school to go and complete “The Golden Mile”, a long pub crawl of twelve different pubs in his old town of Newhaven, where the crawl ends at the most popular pub of all, appropriately called “The Worlds End.”

His friends are now all estranged successful businessmen, but they all lack the energy and perhaps foolhardy excitement that Gary loves to constantly express. Perhaps the best of his friends, however, is one Andy Knighly (Nick Frost), a once-cheerful young fellow, now an old, depressed office worker trying to win back the affections of his wife and children. The last thing he needs is to go on this trip with Gary, but if there’s one thing Andy knows, its that you don’t say no to the King.

They go to their hometown where they started the Golden Mile, and they notice a lot of things have changed since they were last there. Why? Well, that’s because alien robots have taken the town over.

……WHAT?!?!?!? No, dear reader, I am not drunk. Alien robots took over Newhaven, and Gary King discovers this by knocking one’s head off after he slid on his own urine in the bathroom. When he recoups with his friends later on at the bar, they decide that they need to keep going on their route so as not to raise suspicion, and later quietly slip out of town. Sounds pretty simple, right? Not when you have four drunk guys traveling along a total fool. Good luck with that, fellas.

Co-written and directed by Edgar Wright, The World’s End is the birth child of an unofficial trilogy of Pegg, Wright, and Frost’s previous work together, including Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz. For those who’ve seen those previous movies and are expecting a pompous, outlandish experience just like those pictures, you’re not far off. The World’s End is, by every definition, a ridiculous, ludicrous, and far-out experience, a preposterous and purposefully silly picture to the point where it surpasses being stupid and starts being funny. It’s like those older television skits by Monty Python: they undeniably immature and stupid by nature, but there’s an inherent wit and silliness to them that can’t help but make them so much fun.

Case in point: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s chemistry. In the past, their character’s relationship involved a budding romance in a cheesy “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” type of ordeal. Here, the relationship is more strained, almost like Frost is a babysitter and its his turn to supervise little baby Simon so he doesn’t eat sand from the playground. Their characters are hilarious because they’re polar opposites: because Pegg plays the ambitious, over-the-top party boy while Frost is the more conserved, more easily frustrated business man.  Remember the chemistry between John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, where the frustrated business guy (Martin) keeps having to monitor the guy (Candy) who is oblivious, foolish and hopeless? Same case here, although the roles are more or less switched between the two actors.

And then the robots. Oh my God, are they hilarious. In Shaun Of The Dead we had zombies, and in Hot Fuzz we had crooked cops. Now, we have supernatural alien robots, although they hilariously keep insisting that they are not robots because they have sentiment and free will. Anyhow, the funniest thing is how the group reacts to them, tearing off their body parts, whacking themselves with their arms, legs, and anything else they can pull off of their bodies. It’s like someone combined the Lego minifigures with Whack-A-Mole and then decided to throw blue kool-aid somewhere into the mix. Just trust me, it gets messy.

I’m overanalyzing this. The question I should be answering is this: did it make me laugh? The answer: Yes it did, consistently and abundantly, and what’s even more important is that it had something more to offer than simply entertainment. It had a deeper message to tell its audience, and instead of celebrating foolishness and drunkenness, it decided to touch upon a deeper subject involving friendship and true happiness.

I won’t spoil the segment for you, because for me it was the best scene out of the whole movie. I will say this though: most movies, including Project X, 21 And Over, and the dreaded Hangover series take alcoholism and play it out like its fun, like a big party with no consequences or repercussions to the people involved with them. This movie had the opportunity to play it out in that same fashion, but it chose a different direction. It decided to take alcoholism and show it in a more realistic light, maybe even a tragic one. This sequence genuinely touched me, as well as the conversation two characters shared about their life and what exactly they mean to each other. It did more than entertained me: it genuinely surprised me.

As far as comedy and drama goes, I can name a number of films this year that have both made me laugh harder and feel more, among them including the explicit Don Jon, the tamer Monsters University and the other horror-comedy Warm Bodies. Should I take off points, however, if the movie doesn’t match up to the standard of other pictures? The point is that this is a good movie. It had more to offer than just pointless swearing and debauchery: the movie is funny, touching, and original, and there’s a lot of moral truth to it, aside from all of the alien robots mucking everything up.

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