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The heart of Whiplash is a duel between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, and the weapon of choice isn’t a gun or a knife, but a drum kit. The players’ duel is a concept that cuts across musical genres. It can blaze bright in jazz, when players both complement and one-up one another in an effort to push a performance to its limits. The tendency leads to performances like the “drum battles” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.

Andrew, played by Teller, has definitely heard those battles; he idolizes Buddy Rich and wants to be the next great jazz drummer. In his first year at an elite music academy he finds the ne-plus-ultra of instructors: Fletcher (Simmons), a jazz pianist and draconian band conductor. What begins as a simple teacher/student scenario escalates into a full-on battle of wills as Fletcher deploys manipulative tricks to beat Teller into shape as a machine able to perform on cue. The teacher will hurl a chair as quickly as an insult; is he wildly unstable, or a genius?

Whiplash is structured like a jazz tune, with the duel as the central melody out from which spring scenes that attempt to flesh out both characters and inform their tactics. When that melody rises above everything else, the film is unique and viciously energetic; the side notes, however, are wan, and the whole is messy and less driven than either lead character. Read More »

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Briefly: It will come as a surprise to no one that Sony Pictures Classics has picked up North American distribution rights to Woody Allen‘s new movie Magic in the Moonlight, and along with the announcement we’ve got the first plot details for the film. We’ve known that the cast features Emma Stone and Marcia Gay Harden (seen above) with Colin FirthEileen Atkins, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurneyJacki WeaverJeremy Shamos and Erica Leerhsen. Now we know what they’ll be doing.

Specifically, the Sony Classics announcement says “Magic in the Moonlight is a romantic comedy about an Englishman brought in to help unmask a possible swindle.  Personal and professional complications ensue. The film is set in the south of France in the 1920s against a backdrop of wealthy mansions, the Côte d’Azur, jazz joints and fashionable spots for the wealthy of the Jazz Age.”

There’s no release date for the film at this point, but a Cannes debut doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect.

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The Raid was a simple, no-holds-barred action film that pitted a cop squad against a whole building full of bad guys. The sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal, features the main character from the original film as he is drawn into a city-wide conflict between the cops and two crime families. He has to go to prison to get connected undercover, but is soon involved in even more crazy violence throughout all of Jakarta.

The film premieres soon at Sundance, and we’ve got a baroque new trailer with almost all-new footage. There’s a lot of talk at the outset here, but don’t worry: when things get moving, the action hits hard, bloody, and even muddy. This is a hell of a trailer; you’re going to love the baseball bat sequence. Watch below. Read More »

Tim's Vermeer

You may have seen all the Oscar bait December releases, but here is a best of the year candidate that probably isn’t on your radar. Tim’s Vermeer is one of 2013′s best films – A funny, maddening & inspiring journey that may even change art history.

The film, crafted by Magician duo Penn & Teller, has nothing to do with magic or magicians at all (at least in the obvious sense). Remember, Penn Jillette also produced the hilarious 2005 documentary The Aristocrats. Although it should be noted that this film is Teller‘s feature directorial debut.

Tim’s Vermeer tells the story of one man’s obsession to accomplish the near impossible, and paint a Vermeer with almost no art skills what-so-ever. Along the way he may prove that one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age could have used unforeseen technology advances to create some of the greatest regarded paintings of all time. And while the film is about one man’s journey, it is also an exploration of the intersection of art and technology — If Vermeer invented and used advanced technology to help create his art, was he “cheating”? Is the art somehow less incredible knowing the process? Watch the trailer now embedded after the jump.

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‘The Raid 2′ Will Be Released March 28

The Raid 2

Gareth Evans‘ highly anticipated Indonesian action sequel, The Raid 2, will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January but general audiences won’t have to wait long after that to see it themselves. The 148-minute roller coaster ride of furious fists is now scheduled open March 28 in the United States. Read the press release below. Read More »

The Past

Two of the brightest foreign stars of 2011 have joined forces for a new movie in 2013. The Past teams Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director behind the brilliant domestic drama A Separation, with Bérénice Bejo, best known in the U.S. as the sweet-faced ingenue from The Artist. Given that pedigree, it’s not surprising that there’s Oscar buzz surrounding the project already; Iran has submitted The Past as its foreign-language entry in this year’s Oscar race.

At the center of the drama is Marie (Bejo), a French woman who asks her estranged Iranian husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) for a divorce so that she can marry her new boyfriend Samir (A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim). Once Ahmad arrives in Paris, however, secrets about the family come to light. See the new trailer from Sony Classics after the jump.

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Tom Hiddleston‘s growing legion of fans should really sink their teeth into Jim Jarmusch‘s vampire tale Only Lovers Left Alive. This one might not have the roaring energy of Thor or The Avengers, but it does pair Hiddleston with Tilda Swinton, with the two playing on and off again lovers who have hundreds of years of baggage between them.

The clips we’ve seen from the film were good, but this first trailer is so much better. It’s so careful and so arch, but I just love Hiddleston’s pitch-perfect take on the exaggerated uber-cool rocker, and Tilda Swinton’s scenes as a blood junkie are lovely. It’s almost like this was pre-conceived as Jarmusch’s strange tribute to Lou Reed. (Jarmusch explained the lead characters as ”two exceptional outsiders who, given their unusual circumstances, have a vast overview of human and natural history, including stunning achievements and tragic and brutal failures.”) Sometimes, timing can be sadly perfect.

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The last few years have seen a great career upswing for Woody Allen, as his film Midnight in Paris helped re-ignite broad audience interest in his movies, and became his greatest commercial success. Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, had a good run earlier this year, and now Allen is finishing his next film.

The new movie takes place in southern France and spans a couple of decades, roughly through the ’20s and ’30s. It stars Eileen Atkins, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Emma Stone, and Jacki Weaver. Now the title has been revealed to be Magic in the Moonlight (cringe) and the first production stills have also been unveiled. That’s one, above, and there’s a good shot of Firth below. Read More »

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