Friday, January 30, 2015

Grudgement Day: Whiplash

Being a movie lover people assume I follow the Oscars but I actually think they're kinda bullshit.  Why?  Because I don't have the tastes of a 70 year old white man, the presiding demographic in the Academy.  Of course their choices for Best Picture are usually easy to spot in the sense of a movie having some social merit, being based on a true story, being about stuffy British people or an underdog fighting for a cause.  Men lose weight or change their image to play against type and women get fat to ugly themselves up.  Blockbusters are usually left in the cold and if you want any chance of winning, you've got to hit the campaign trail attending special events, taking out ads and making sure there's suitable heat to your project.  In 2008, The Dark Knight made a mint at the box office and won critics over but the superhero film via Michael Mann's Heat was left without a 2009 Best Picture nomination.  Why?  Because it was about Batman and the Joker.  In a bid to make it look like they weren't entirely out of sync with the movie going public, The Academy opened up the number of Best Pic nominations from 5 to 10 in 2010.  While a movie about long established comic book heroes in costume wasn't celebrated, James Cameron's tall blue aliens would as Avatar picked up 9 nominations.  Go figure.

This year I enjoyed Birdman and The Imitation Game but one extremely undeserving Best Picture nominee really ruffled my feathers, the music drama Whiplash.  Made for a few million bucks by usual horror and genre label Blumhouse, Whip follows young wanna be drumming prodigy Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) and his physically and emotionally abusive instructor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).  We see Neimann try to balance life, love and his drive for greatness as he's berated, slapped and pushed by Fletcher.  Pretty typical underdog stuff, right?  Suffice to say, I thought this movie was bullshit.  I didn't even want to finish it. First off, I don't understand the appeal of Teller.  Some compare him to a young John Cusack because they're white and have the same kind of chin but Cusack at least had a quirky likeability in Say Anything, Better Off Dead and later Con Air, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity.  Teller just comes off as blank and forced to me.  Simmons, the likeable supporting actor from films like Juno, Spider-Man and I Love You, Man gets the showy role as the loud, abusive teacher.  He insults students for being fat, homosexual and stupid but strangely doesn't go racist.  If you're going to make him a total asshole why not have some balls and make him an asshole to EVERYONE?  Remember The Departed where all Boston cops and crooks were racist, homophobic and misogynist?  It won Best Picture.  Why exactly is playing an outright prick that impressive?  Because Simmons is usually a nice guy and here he plays an asshole?  That's notable?  Please.

Then don't get me started on how uneven this film is.  SPOILERS.  From Teller's character being this driven young man who practices long into the night, literally bleeding for his passion but then can't wake up on time for his big break.  Or the competition scene where he puts down the music folder to buy a drink and it gets stolen.  Who the fuck stole the folder?!  It's oh so convenient as it gives him the chance to step up but give me a fucking break.  At least show one of the other competing bands stealing it or reveal that Fletcher took it to teach someone a lesson.  But nope, nada.  Bullshit.  Then there's his uneven character who starts out as quiet, meek and awkward for the first act.  Then all of a sudden turns into The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg and has a stinging one liner for everyone at the dinner table who minimizes his musical aspirations.  We never see that version of the character again.  How about the next competition where his bus gets delayed, he rents a car, forgets his stuff at the dealer, goes back then gets hits by a semi?!  Fletcher keeps harping about not letting the students fuck up his chances of winning competitions but he certainly puts them into compromising positions every chance he gets.  And how about that ending where Fletcher sets Neimann up during a prestigious show by giving him the wrong music, thus making the young drummer look foolish in front of an audience that could make or break his future career.  You're telling me that Fletcher is willing to risk the futures of the ENTIRE band to take his revenge on one kid?  Then of course Neimann picks himself up and goes into a show stopping drum solo that earns Fletcher's respect.  Just what the fuck man.  END SPOILERS.

I was quite surprised at the backlash Christopher Nolan's Interstellar received this year.  For some reason people thought it was going to be some kind of defining documentary on space travel when it's still a frigging movie that preserved the history of cinema and had ambition to spare.  Perhaps it reached too far and wasn't quite successful in blending the science and cinema but you had to admire the effort and the experience.  Did you see Nightcrawler?  What a terrific performance by Jake Gllynehaal as a creepy, funny and driven young man in the world of shock journalism.   Even that crazy Korean flick Snowpiercer was an unsettling, off the wall yet oddly charming observation of class told in a unique way.  With films like that overlooked for shit like Whiplash, it's just another reminder as to why I don't get into the Oscars.  Movies are supposed to be at their best entertaining, educational, emotional, enlightening, intriguing and/or inspirational.  I got none of those from this flick. Frustrating, man.

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