Even those people who groan when they’re at a music concert and one of those long-winded drum solos drags on and on will be drawn into Whiplash, a riveting drama about an ambitious young jazz drummer who gets more than he bargained for when he enters the country’s most elite music school. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller, Divergent, The Spectacular Now) worships jazz legend Buddy Rich and dreams of becoming “one of the greats.” Despite his youth, Neyman is ferociously skilled and is quickly inducted into the school’s top jazz ensemble by the fearsome Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man), a psychologically manipulative tyrant whose brutal teaching style seems better suited to Marine boot camp than a swanky college.
Fletcher’s main goal is to push his students farther than they think they are capable of going, and he feels this harshness is justified because his best grads do end up getting premier jobs with the likes of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. At first we feel sorry for the shell-shocked Neyman, whose response to Fletcher’s near-constant abuse is to practise for hours till his hands are bloody. But when we see the seemingly diffident Neyman unleash a display of brash arrogance at a family dinner, it is clear these two deserve each other. And their intense and complicated relationship neatly dramatizes the question at the core of the film: What sacrifices are worth it when an unusually talented person obsessively aspires to greatness? And is a program of unremitting toughness the best way to nurture and focus that ambition?
Whiplash benefits from the powerful performances of its two leads: Simmons is totally convincing as a hard-ass who rarely fails to shock us with his pitiless bullying, while Teller is touchingly vulnerable as a young man desperate to reach beyond his limits – his struggle is almost terrifying to watch. And while the plot veers close to melodrama towards the end, the bruising battle of wills between the film’s two principals packs the punch of a good thriller. Whiplash also benefits from the directorial panache of Damien Chazelle, whose stylish film is especially effective in the way that it evokes the propulsive and syncopated nature of jazz. And the soundtrack really cooks.
Whiplash *** 1/2
Stars Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Directed by Damian Chazelle
The Theory of Everything
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The Imitation Game
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Big and black, Negroamaro is the signature grape of the Puglia region of southernmost Italy. The wines of Puglia tend to have a rustic charm and the Luccarelli Winery’s bottling of Negroamaro is a real winner, with luscious black cherry and cassis on the palate, lifted with notes of toffee and spice. Yum! Well worth $16.