Whiplash Review

 Whiplash Review

Whiplash Review Whiplash (2014)

Director: Damien Chazelle 
107 Minutes/ Rated R
****½ (out of 5)

 

Whiplash Review  – “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” This phrase is spoken towards the end “Whiplash” by the intense music teacher Terence Fletcher, and I can’t think of a better way to capture the feeling of what has transpired. “Whiplash” is an extremely smart, lighting quick character study anchored by two towering performances, one by J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, and the other by Miles Teller, portraying jazz drumming prodigy Andrew Neyman. Neyman is enrolled at the Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in the country. He works diligently on his craft while trying to attract the attention of Fletcher, who is the leader of the vaunted studio band at the school. In order to do this he pushes himself both mentally and physically to the absolute breaking point throughout the film. Fletcher conducts this band much like a dictator would, constantly belittling and harassing the members in the group. There is a lot to be said about the idea of suffering in the pursuit of art, and “Whiplash” embraces this mantra wholeheartedly.

The performances of Teller and Simmons are absolutely stunning, as both give the best work of their respective careers. I would not be surprised to see both nominated come Oscar time. I can’t pretend to be an expert on jazz or jazz drumming, but by my untrained eye Teller did a phenomenal job playing/pretending on the drums. I am sure that some camera tricks were used, but Teller continually impressed me with his command of the sticks. As the film works primarily as a two person character study, there is not much room for anybody else to populate the screen. While Teller does have a few nice moments with his father played by Paul Reiser, and his girlfriend played by Melissa Benoist — these sections do no have much bearing on the final outcome of the movie. “Whiplash” is most electric when Neyman and Simmons are on-screen together, which is thankfully the majority of the run time.

There are major themes of obsession and extreme compulsion as Neyman begins his quest to become the drummer he has always wanted to be. Fletcher is a master of manipulation, and he uses Neyman’s naivete against him. Early in the film we, along with Neyman, are seduced by Fletcher’s ability to calmly soothe the ego of the young drummer. We very quickly realize that this is all a ruse, solely for Fletcher to get into the mind of Neyman, and then systematically tear him down over and over. The portions of the film set inside the starkly wooden studio that the band practices in are among my favorite in the film, as we are treated to a fascinating battle of wills between our two main characters.

While “Whiplash” does have a lot in common with many other sports films, things are handled much differently and distinctly here. I was taken aback by how laser focused the film was in its viewpoint of the characters and the city. In just about any other film set in New York City, the city would be used almost as a character in and of itself. Here, we are not privy to any cliché wide panning shots of the city that are so common these days. The focus is almost solely on Neyman as he quickly builds himself into a nervous wreck trying to please his instructor. Another aspect that I found myself focusing on was the editing, which took on an almost free-floating jazz-like form as the film went on. It is a hard thing to try to explain, but this film feels and looks different from any other I have seen this year so far.

The final aspect that I want to discuss is the music, which is outstanding throughout the film. Neyman is a superb drummer, which is plainly obvious to anyone who watches him play. Which is why it is so jarring to watch Fletcher continually berate and destroy Neyman’s playing, this also brings up the idea of the ends justifying the means. The quote at the beginning of the review is extremely important in understanding the insane levels that Fletcher goes to in order to inspire his players to be the best they can be. He believes that one must suffer to truly be a great artist. I’m not sure that I agree with that sentiment, but it certainly does seem to get results sometimes. The film builds up to a frenetic crescendo that is almost transcendent in its power to thrill and entertain. I was literally on the edge of my seat towards the climax, and I’m still thinking about the last shot of the film several days later. This is surely one of the best films of the year. Do yourself a favor and go see it if you get the chance.

Jeffrey Irvine

Life in Cinema 
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Dance Moms Boy Crazy, Mom Crazy

Dance Moms Boy Crazy, Mom Crazy

DM

Dance Moms
Lifetime
June 4, 2013

After a few weeks off, we’re back with Abby Lee Miller and the Dance Moms. Our summer premier is a two hour special which sees tension rising between Christie and Kelly, and the ALDC facing off against the Candy Apples once again.

We begin at pyramid, as per usual. Abby is not happy with how things went last season, and she hopes that everyone conducts themselves more appropriately this time. On the pyramid, we have Kendall at the bottom, followed by Mackenzie, Nia, Brooke, Chloe, Asia, Paige, and Maddie on top. Asia is in Los Angeles this week, and will not be dancing with the group this week. The only solo goes to Paige. The group number will include only four dancers (Maddie, Chloe, Nia, and Kendall). Maddie and Chloe will have a duet. Then she gives a special surprise to Brooke – she will be doing a routine with the senior dance company, and Abby warns her to do her best, because these dancers strive to be professionals. As Abby tells the girls and moms about the competition that they’ll be attending (a local event, in Pittsburg) and that Cathy and her Apple Cores will likely be attending as well. She does not want any conflict, since it’s a local event.

While Abby settles Brooke in with her senior company, Kelly is all complaints. Despite Brooke’s promotion, she sits upstairs saying things such as that she hopes the dance sucks, and she hopes they loose. She doesn’t think that it’s fair that Brooke wasn’t put into the company sooner, and that she’ll have less time to learn the dance than the others have had. Abby explains that she wants to give Brooke a taste of professional dancing, and we see from the studio camera that the other dancers have not practiced the routine much either. Jill states that Kelly is impossible to please, and that it doesn’t matter how many opportunities her children are given. She will not be happy. Judging from her behavior tonight, I am inclined to agree.

With her two most skilled dancers performing a duet together, Abby is putting a lot of pressure on it. We find out, however, that her annoyance is about more than just their dancing skills. It seems that Maddie was seen kissing a boy back stage at a competition recently, and it was none other than one of Cathy’s dancers! Abby warns her that boys are off limits, and especially boys who are the “enemy.”

Kelly is annoyed that Paige is not in the group number, but she’s happy that she has a solo, so she wants to keep her feelings to herself. Jill, however, thinks that she’s being ungrateful for her child’s opportunity, so she goes to talk to Abby about it. Abby says that Kelly should realize what a chance this is for Brooke, so she won’t point that out to her. Kelly overhears the conversation and snaps for them to stop talking about her kids. This leads to an argument when everyone goes back upstairs between her and Jill, and she says flat out that if Brooke messes up the seniors’ dance, it’s Abby’s fault, and she hopes the team loses.

Realizing that something is seriously bothering Kelly, the moms decide to have a special lunch without her and stage an intervention. Jill remarks that Kelly sees everything as the glass-half-empty, and she needs to be more optimistic. So the moms decide to hold a slumber party for Paige, to make Kelly feel that she’s more part of the team. However, when they pose the idea to Kelly, they are met with suspicion. Despite their promises that the party is just something fun for the girls, Kelly tells the audience and she isn’t stupid. She thinks that the moms went to lunch to gossip about her, and not to plan something nice for children.

Later, when Jill and Christie leave the room to “look at costumes,” Kelly explains that she wasn’t angry with Jill, but she didn’t think that it was Jill’s business to pick a fight between her and Abby. She doesn’t understand why the moms want her to be upset. When Christie and Jill return, everything blows up into a big fight, culminating in cursing and hurtful words. The mothers are so loud that they can be heard in the studio, where the senior company is rehearsing, and the dancers stop to listen. When the moms start dropping f-words, Abby gets fed up. Downstairs, Christie shouts at Paige that it wasn’t her fault, and if everyone wanted to be jealous of her 11-year-old daughter, that was their problem.

Paige is naturally hurt by her words and tone and runs upstairs to her mother, crying. Maddie explains what happened and the other mothers try to comfort her. The next day, Kelly and Christie are immediately at each other’s throats again. The fight escalates quickly, until Abby interrupts and warns her that she does not want a repeat of the night before. In the end, Christie leaves the observation room and Kelly breaks down into tears.

Down in rehearsal, Abby decides that Brooke isn’t quite grasping the dance. So she sets Brooke up with the male lead from the senior company dance, to engender trust between the two. Brooke admits that she isn’t sure that she wants a boyfriend. After their date, Brooke says that she would do another duet with the boy, but not another date.

The next morning, the moms try to mediate the fight between Christie and Kelly. Both of them, however, are tired of apologizing to each other. Abby soon notices that it’s affecting Maddie and, especially, Chloe. Chloe is visibly upset, and Abby assumes that it’s because of her mother’s behavior. She thinks that the moms need to learn to behave themselves and the girls need to get their heads in the game.

Finally, it’s the day of the competition. Since Abby is upset by Cathy being there, Holly steps forward to make sure the girls are ready. The first to compete is the duet, with Maddie and Chloe. For all of Abby’s complaints, the girls do a really good job. They look beautiful as they dance together. Melissa remarks that they look like mirrors, and that the girls are back.

After Cathy’s boys perform, Abby feels that the choreography was subpar. Since the number was a tribute to the choreographer’s late father, he and Cathy take offense to her remarks. Ironic, considering how they behaved with Paige last time. So while Abby takes her leave, the Apple Cores prepare for battle and confront Abby and her girls.

Fortunately, the choreographer decides to keep the peace and move on from the remarks without incident.

Up next are solos. One of Cathy’s boys goes first. He does well. The dance was well done. Next is Paige. It’s a cute routine and she performs what she’s given very well. Following the solos, Kelly and Christie face off once again and they admit that things might not get mended this time. After a brief confrontation with Cathy in the hallway, it’s time for the group numbers.

First up is Abby’s senior company, who usually does not attend competitions. Abby wants to see how she does performing with dancers who are older than her, rather than younger, and wants to see if she can keep up with more advanced dangers. They do very, very well and Brooke more than kept up with those older dancers. Next are the Apple Cores. Their dance is…strange. It’s about bicyclists? Hard to say. Finally, we have the girls’ group number. They do a good job. Overall, Abby’s routines had more choreography than Cathy and her choreographer’s did.

At the awards ceremony, Paige is given second place, but Cathy’s soloist gets first. Chloe and Maddie’s duet gets first place. The senior company gets first place. The girls’ group number gets first place. Overall, it is a successful day.

Back in the dressing room, Kathy is so concerned about her fight with Christie to be happy for how well her children performed. Then, one of Cathy’s parents goes to Abby and asks her to find a place for his son on her team. Shortly thereafter, Cathy kicks the man out of her team for being a mole. It looks like it’s going to be an exciting season for the ALDC! Asia’s back next week, so tune back in to see what happens next!

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Dance Moms Candy Apple Showdown

Dance Moms Candy Apple Showdown

DM

Dance Moms
Lifetime
April 30, 2013

This has been the season for extended specials on Dance Moms. My cablebox says that this is the season finale, so perhaps it’s appropriate for it to be a two-hour block tonight. Last week, we left off just before the titular show down against Cathy and her Candy Apple Dance boys. So that’s what we’re going to see a lot of tonight, I assume. I wonder if there will be any purse-assaults this time? Solos go to Chloe, Asia, Maddie and Kendall. Since Brook doesn’t have a solo, Kelly wants to take her meet with a music manager. Abby thinks it’s a joke, but agrees to dismiss her for the day so she can give it a try.

While Abby works with the girls, Christie tries to stir up trouble with Kristie. She says she would have felt like a pawn (concerning the incident with Asia, Mackenzie and The View last time), but Kristie just says that she and Asia looked at it like an audition, which they’re both used to, so neither of them were too surprised when Mackenzie was chosen instead.

Brook goes to her music producer meeting, where he complements her on the number of downloads that her single’s gotten on iTunes and introduces her to Melody Thornton, of former Pussycat Dolls fame. Thornton gives her some tips on being a recording artist and some singing tips. Brook seems to have fun.

While watching Asia rehears her solo, the moms discuss her and Mackenzie. Melissa says that Asia has a bigger stage presence, and they all agree that she’s sassier on stage. Still, Holly points out that all the girls on the team are equally talented, and being talented doesn’t necessarily make Asia better. Kristie’s talking head explains that she heard all of this from her place inside the studio, where she’s watching more closely. I think Abby was just trying to keep her and Melissa from fighting over Mackenzie’s foot again.

It’s not long before they’re fighting again. After deciding that Cathy is not the threat, but the particular combination of dancers and choreographer that she had when they got the perfect score is threatening. Some of her other dancers aren’t such big threats. When they notice that Asia is being cast as the bad guy in the dance, it somehow gets into an argument over whether or not Asia cries…? I’m very rarely certain about how we get from Topic A to Topic B with these people. Hm.

Next, the moms decide to take the girls ice-skating. Maddie doesn’t want to, but Melissa makes her. (“I am your mother. Put your skates on. Do you know what this is about? It’s about fun. So put your skates on and have fun!” Hmm…) Kristie, on the other hand, won’t let Asia skate even though she wants to because she doesn’t want to risk her getting hurt. Asia is upset to not be able to play with her friends and starts to cry, although Kristie insists that she never cries.

Then Cathy pops up. Apparently Brook is friends with one of Cathy’s boys and mentioned their adventure to him. Cathy auditioned a local girl last week (local meaning New York), and she apparently wants to psyche out Abby’s dancers because she takes advantage of this opportunity to introduce them to Victoria and let them know about her latest scheme. What’s funny, is that Kelly has no idea that Brook is the team’s mole and just thinks that Cathy is stalking them. In reality…I’d say it’s about fifty-fifty on who is responsible for Cathy’s constant presence.

It turns out that the reason Maddie was so freaked out about dancing is because they aren’t allowed to. It’s part of their contract for them not to participate in dangerous sports like ice-skating. As a result, while Asia runs her solo, the other girls do a hundred pushups, and the moms get into a fight outside that almost results in a fistfight! While they shout, curse, and almost punch each other out, Abby and the girls stand in the studio and watch them because, oops, you can hear everything in there that is said (screamed) outside.

After escaping Kristie’s wrath, Christie and Kelly take Chloe and Paige to see a talent agent. Ironic because they’re always getting angry with Melissa for doing what she can to “get Maddie ahead.” The girls audition for a part about a twelve-year-old girl and…well, the agent say they do well. I am not a professional, so I will not remark on child acting abilities.

Christie and Kelly go exploring NYC and stumble upon a bar. Some of the other moms join them and they discuss Kristie and her temper tantrums, and decide that they’re the mom team that counts. It’s a show of solidarity that I can’t blame them for considering that not long ago, Kristie was threatening to hit them…

During their next rehearsal, Abby gets frustrated with Kendall and basically tells her that she’s on her own. Jill goes in to yell at her for picking on her daughter, and Abby agrees to never say Kendall’s name again. Not in rehearsal, not to a casting agent…she’s finished trying to help if Jill is just going to keep jumping on her all the time.

As the competition begins, there is very little drama. Abby encourages the girls to do their best, so they at least don’t regret their performances, win or lose. They have a slight altercation with one of Cathy’s dads, but nothing big. No real comments on the solos, because all the girls live up to their usual quality.

Back in the dressing room, Abby is happy with the girls, but she wants to know about all the screaming at the studio the other day. This launches another fight. Abby is very confused and Jill actually makes Kendall leave the room. Abby’s not happy that Jill and Kendall left just before going on stage, with her makeup all helter-skelter. So she has an Abby Rant, and Jill comforts Kendall in the hallway.

To her credit, Kendall makes it through her solo without forgetting anything and does an impressive job. Even Abby admits that she is a contender to hold up against Maddie and Chloe. One of Cathy’s boys is performing a solo too, and he is one of her better dancers. He does some pretty impressive moves and he emotes well. Plus he’s a boy. Though I do agree with Abby that the point of the routine might be a bit confusing. Something about a stethoscope? I don’t know.

Cathy also enters a duet with two of her boys. It is…a thing. There are breakdancing magicians. I thought it was kind of funny. I don’t know if it was supposed to be. It was cute. Abby says that it was more like two solos performed side by side, rather than a duet. Then, in the hallway, Cathy’s choreographer (some guy named Anthony) starts yelling at Christie for touching one of his props. It’s a bit confusing, to be honest.

Up next are group numbers. Cathy’s group does a number about the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead. I’m not going to lie, it looks pretty cool. Though the costumes clarify what it’s about, the music and dancing work well together in their own right.

Abby’s number is about runaway children. While the girls perform, Cathy and Anthony are saying mean things about Paige loudly enough that Melissa and Abby can hear them clearly. Abby calls Paige over to address the situation, and instead of apologizing, Anthony escalates the situation. Kelly goes over to defend her child and try to defuse the situation. Abby defends Paige in her own way, too, but the damage is already done. As the adults continue their spat, Paige leaves the stage, visibly upset. Kelly and Brook follow her out, worried about her since she was obviously humiliated by a professional calling her out like that.

Kelly holds all three of them responsible, but she convinces Paige to go back for awards. Asia takes first place for her solo. Kendall gets fourth. Chloe ties for second but gets a lower technique score (and therefore third place) while Cathy’s soloist takes second. Cathy and Abby will both be all over her for that. Maddie gets first place. Cathy’s duet takes first place. Abby’s group takes second place and Cathy’s group takes first. Abby says that she can handle it since she was beat by a little girl that Cathy “stole,” three little boys that she flew in from around the country, and a guest choreographer were responsible for the win, not Cathy herself.

Still, Cathy is all too excited to go gloat to Abby. Meanwhile, Kelly tells the other moms about what happened with Paige and the others. The other moms all agree (even Kristie) that what happened was wrong and that Abby should have protected her. Abby gives her side of the story, says that it was Paige’s choice to confront Cathy and Anthony. Kelly still doesn’t approve, she’s still upset, but she doesn’t argue. Abby says that Asia is the one who ruined the group dance. Cathy comes to the door and tries to put all the blame for embarrassing Paige on Abby’s shoulders. Then, as she is leaving, Abby tells the moms that she is looking for property in LA to open a studio and might be moving. What a way to end a season!

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