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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Posted on Friday, January 17th, 2014 by Angie Han
The best that can be said about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is that it’s mostly competent. The worst that can be said about it is that it’s nothing more than that. This is a slick, shiny film without an ounce of personality or depth. Its protagonist may hold a doctorate degree from the London School of Economics, but the film around him is the cinematic equivalent of the preppy frat boy who does just enough homework to pull a C- average.
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Posted on Friday, January 3rd, 2014 by Angie Han
In truth, there wasn’t really anywhere for the Paranormal Activity franchise to go but up after 2012′s abysmal fourth installment. Even so, it’s a relief to report that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a springy step up on every level. The spinoff functions exactly as a spinoff should, offering enough of the same-old to satisfy longtime fans while introducing enough new elements to keep the concepts feeling fresh and original.
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Posted on Monday, December 30th, 2013 by Angie Han
Thanksgiving was over a month ago, but now seems as good a time as any to thank the cinema gods for the fantastic films we got in 2013. With the usual caveats that this is more of a personal “favorites” list than an objective “best of” list, and that there are plenty of great films that weren’t included for the simple and shameful reason that I never got around to seeing them, here are the movies that made me laugh, howl, jump, and/or weep over the last twelve months.
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Looking back on 2013, it’s hard to spot one overriding trend other than “great.” Like any other year, the superhero movies, sequels, adaptations and remakes were present, but most of them were disposable and forgettable. The greatness in 2013, not surprisingly, was from the original and unexpected movies. Films born out of the mind of talented, creative people which were executed to delightful and sometimes heartbreaking perfection. Those unique wonders of cinema make up the majority of my top films of the year, but don’t fret. There are some adaptations and sequels on there too. It’s a list that hopefully represents 2013 as one of the best in recent memory.
Over the course of the year, I saw almost 150 films that had theatrical releases. Below you can read about my ten favorites. Read More »
Posted on Friday, December 13th, 2013 by David Chen
With the next 2.5 hour iteration of The Hobbit (see Germain’s review) now hitting theaters amidst a wave of non-stop publicity and hype, it’s easy to forget how awe-inspiring Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy was, both critically and commercially. Back in 2003, Return of the King scored a whopping 94% on Rottentomatoes, made over a billion dollars at the box office and won all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated,
This week, as I crammed myself into an outlandishly packed screening of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I realized that for me, and for a few other critics, these films have lost their feeling of wonder and anticipation. And I began to think: why did this happen? I try to explore this in this week’s video essay reviewing the film. Check it out after the jump.
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The second of Peter Jackson‘s trilogy of films adapting The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug, both improves on the previous film, and regresses from some of its achievements. In 2012′s An Unexpected Journey, Jackson stretched the story of The Hobbit to a breaking point. Sequences that were mere blips in the book became much longer, hurting the pacing immensely. At the start of this second film, Jackson picks up the pace considerably and, in just over an hour, our characters are at their final destination: The Lonely Mountain. Unfortunately, there’s still an hour and a half to go (plus another movie) which means that briefly improved, upbeat pace comes to a screeching halt. Plus that rushed first hour glosses over some of the most famous scenes in J.R.R. Tolkien‘s book.
Besides the major pacing problems, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has lots of good things going for it, including more rousing action, great performances by new characters, and several beautiful new settings. But all of those don’t save the film from being considerably divisive.
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Posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 by David Chen
Writer/director David O. Russell’s new film American Hustle, opens in New York and LA next weekend (with a nationwide release on 12/20), but I had a chance to see it on Monday night. It’s an intoxicating mix of love triangles, grifting, and amazing hair. I think it’s one of Russell’s best films, anchored by a marvelous performance by Christian Bale, who has now likely set a record for “Most Weight Gained And Lost During an Acting Career”. Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld is a perfect mix of confident and insecure, brilliant but prone to terrible decisions.
See more of my thoughts on the film in my video review after the jump.
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