Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sex, Love and God




More than fifty years after its release, The Night of the Iguana (1964), still has the power to move, amuse and shock us in its frank examination of how the human animal deals with sex, love and its belief in God. A journey into one man's hell and ultimately his resurrection, Iguana may not fully answer the questions it raises, but it is a film that takes us along a bumpy ride (literally and figuratively) that challenges us to refocus our ideas about our everyday existence.

Directed by John Huston and based on the famous 1961 Tennessee Williams play, Iguana tells the story of the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton), an Episcopal minister who, after suffering a nervous breakdown, has taken a sabbatical from his religious duties and now leads tours in Mexico and the southwest United States. In the film's memorable opening scene, Shannon gives a sermon to his congregation that has packed the small church. After a few minutes, he understands they are in attendance not to listen to the word of God, but rather as a curiosity, as they have heard rumors that he had sexual affairs with a young woman. Shannon lashes out at them, and the crowd rushes out of the small worship room. We soon learn that Shannon was locked out of his church after this; we next see him, asleep in a square in a small town in Mexico, where he is overseeing a tour of mostly middle-aged women from a Baptist female college in America.

While the majority of the women are in their 40s or 50s, there is one 16 year-old named Charlotte (Sue Lyon, who had played the role of Lolita in the Stanley Kubrick film two years earlier) that has a crush on Shannon. Having been pushed out the door of his parish for his previous behavior, Shannon nominally wants no part of this young blond nymph, but he is tempted nonetheless. This is immediately noticed by Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall), who is the den mother of the group; her attitude toward Shannon, a bit unsure from the start, becomes more untrusting as the journey continues.

Knowing that he is losing control, Shannon takes over the tour and drives the bus not to their appointed hotel in Puerto Vallarta, but instead to a oceanside resort run by an old friend Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner). He is expecting to find her husband Fred, but is told by Maxine that he died; she now runs the resort, which is nominally closed as it is summer, the down time for travel in this part of Mexico. 

Into this scenario comes a self-described New England spinster Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly grandfather Nonno (Cyril Delevanti), whom we are told is "the world's oldest living poet." Nonno is at work on his latest poem and Hannah is a sketch artist; neither has a peso to their name, so they must appeal to Maxine's kindness for a room.



A publicity photo for The Night of the Iguana - Richard Burton with (l. to r.), Sue Lyon, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner


This mix of characters is a memorable clash of wills, from the feisty Maxine and the lustful Charlotte to the repressed, angry Miss Fellowes (Shannon at one point calls her a "butch vocal teacher") as well as the turned-down Hannah, who is more or less, the moral center of this tale. It is Shannon's uneasy relationship with each of these women that give the story its passion and occasional fireworks. 

Huston, who adapted the script along with Anthony Veiller, keeps turning up the heat and venom, while directing appropriately (he was spectacularly aided by the stark, moody, black and white photography of Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figeuroa). The helmsman elicited some wonderful performances here, especially in the scenes between Miss Fellowes and Shannon (Burton was rarely better, while Hall was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress). She hates his supposed moral looseness and never lets an opportunity to threaten him slip by; he does his best to deflect her criticism, assuring her that things will be fine. Also, he must thwart the advances of Charlotte as well as help Hannah and Nonno in their plight, while also enlisting the trust of Maxine.




A major focus in this story is how each of the main characters has difficulties in dealing with sexual behavior. A brief analysis reveals:

Shannon - A man of the cloth - "the grandson of two bishops" we are told - should be above earthly temptations, but he is weak of flesh, tempted especially by young women. "People need human contact," he tells Maxine at one point.

Miss Fellowes - Humorless and uptight, the screenplay makes no bones that she is a lesbian (this is 1964, remember, so this is done somewhat discreetly). Her disgust toward Shannon's behavior with Charlotte may have to do with the fact that she herself is attracted to - and desires - Charlotte.

Maxine - Her sexual frustrations arise from the fact that her late husband, more than 25 years older than she, rarely made love to her late in their marriage; he preferred spending his time fishing (an obvious phallic reference). "I still got my biological urges," she tells Hannah; this is evidenced by her two young, tanned beach boys who serve the cravings of this saucy 40 year-old. 

Charlotte - All of 16, he sexual awakening began with a young man at her hometown in America; that failed and now she does everything in her power to lure Shannon.

Hannah - Never married, she has no need for sex in her life. In one of the film's most telling scenes, she reveals to Shannon her previous sexual "encounters," which were rather tame and more than a little sad. 





It seems that sex is a destroyer of human relationships for these individuals and that love is secondary, if achievable at all. A more immediate problem is conquering one's inner turmoil. When Shannon dives into the sea - "the long swim to China", as he calls it, his path of escape from his demons - he is captured and then tied up on a hammock at the resort. While both Maxine and Hannah try to settle him down as he struggles with his restraints, it is Hannah who tells him that in order to bring his life back to some sort of order, he must face his own problems and encounter them head on. She refers to "the blue devil" she once encountered and how she "showed him I could endure him." This explanation seems a bit simple, given the complexities of her - and everyone's life in this story - but it has given her inner peace. 


The symbolism of God is a strong one in this tale. On the surface level, Shannon is an Episcopalian minister and the women in the tour group are from a Baptist college - there is a natural struggle between these two (one wonders if Williams was arguing against religion in general here). Beyond that, Shannon talks of playing God when he agrees to cut loose an iguana that has been tied up at the resort, much as he himself was constrained a few moments earlier. He is cutting loose "one of God's creatures at the end of his rope," he tells Hannah. His life - and perhaps the lives of everyone here - is similar to a jungle animal, moving about any which way, yearning only for freedom. For the iguana, this freedom is spatial, while for the humans, it is freedom from failure and disappointment. Each character carries around a trunk load of baggage, and as they open up to each other, we see that only Hannah and her father, who yearns to finish his final poem, have freed themselves from their daily inner struggles; they are clearly at peace with themselves and the world. 


The scene of capitulation between Shannon and Maxine that marks the end of the film - how will she manage the resort following the death of her husband - is elegantly handled; the final shot is one of the most touching in all of Huston's films. Shannon's night of self discovery, under the lightning strikes (the hand of God?), tied up, listening to Hannah explain her path to inner peace, has given him a clear vision of the road ahead. That in turn lets Maxine transform her anger - she is mad at the world for any number of matters, not the least of which is her turning 40 - and see her future in simple, loving terms. 

The closing lines of dialogue between Maxine and Shannon are quite touching and serve as a lovely conclusion to this film. Now at peace, she tells him that they should go down to the beach, as the temperature is not too hot. "Well, I can get down the hill, but I'm not sure about getting back up," Shannon remarks. "I'll get you back up," says Maxine. "I'll always get you back up."









Monday, March 30, 2015

Great Movie Quotes - Part Seven





It's been some time, but back by popular demand (well, popular to me) - is my collection of Great Movie Quotes. You know, not the "Here's looking at you, kid" type of quote, but ones that are perfect for the moment in the movie and deserve to be better known.

So without further ado...


"No man can ever know a woman as much as he can love her." - John Royer (Spencer Tracy) - Malaya (1949)


"Modern marriage... Once it was see somebody, get excited, get married. Now it's read a lot of books, use a lot of four-syllable words, psychoanalyze each other until you can't tell the difference between a petting party and a civil service exam." - Stella (Thelma Ritter) - Rear Window (1954)




"A man that gives away $26,000 you can't talk to. "I'm going to tell you one more thing. I wouldn't give 26 cents for your future." - Nick (Rod Steiger) - The Harder They Fall (1956)


"There's much else to be done, Mr. Wilson, but if I may say so, the question of death selection may be the most important decision in your life." - Mr. Ruby (Jeff Corey) - Seconds (1966)


"God, you people are just like the mob - there's no difference." Angela de Marco (Michele Pfeiffer), speaking to an FBI agent

- "Oh, there's a big difference, Mrs. de Marco. The mob is run by murdering, thieving, lying, cheating psychopaths. We work for the President of the United States." - FBI Regional Director Franklin (Trey Wilson) - Married to the Mob (1988)



"Tell me one good thing that's a secret." - Jean Tatlock (Natasha Richardson) - Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)





"You think there's goodness in everybody, but there ain't." - Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix) - The Immigrant (2013)


"You know how you know can tell you're really getting old? No one ever says the word 'death' around you anymore." -The Writer (M. Emmet Walsh) - Calvary (2014)


"Sometimes it's the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." - Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) - The Imitation Game (2014)





"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job.'" - Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) - Whiplash (2014)



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

International Online Film Critics Poll- The Winners Are...




Here are the results of the International Online Film Critics Poll, which I voted in for the first time this year. These film awards are different than most, as they are for two years - not one- of films; thus this year's awards were for films from 2013 and 2014.

The winners are listed in bold - my selections are in italics.


Best Picture

12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street


Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paolo Sorrentino - The Great Beauty
Roman Polanski - Venus in Fur


Best Actor

Michael Keaton - Birdman

Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mads Mikkelsen - The Hunt
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street


Best Actress

Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine

Adele Exarchopolous - Blue is the Warmest Color
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Marillon Cotillard - The Immigrant





Best Supporting Actor

Edward Norton - Birdman
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash (My vote meshed with that of the final results)


Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
Emma Stone - Birdman
Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
June Squibb - Nebraska


Best Ensemble Cast

12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel (another category where my vote and the final result were the same)
The Imitation Game


Best Original Screenplay

Birdman
Boyhood
Calvary
Her
The Grand Budapest Hotel


Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave (I voted for the same film the other critics did)
Gone Girl
Snowpiercer
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street


Best Cinematography

Birdman
Gravity (again, I agree with the other critics)
Ida
Nebraska
The Great Beauty


Best Production Design

Gravity
Her
Mr. Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel (another agreement with the other critics and myself)
The Imitation Game


Best Editing

Birdman
Boyhood
Gravity (ditto)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game


Best Original Score

Gravity
Her
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel 
The Imitation Game I voted for The Imitation Game- the winner was Grand Budapest - both scores written by Alexandre Desplat!)


Best Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Interstellar
Gravity (concurrence with the other critics)
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


Top Ten Films (alphabetical list)

12 Years a Slave
Blue is the Warmest Color
Birdman
Boyhood
Her
Ida
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Great Beauty
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Online Film Critics' Poll - The Nominees Are...


Just after the Golden Globes ceremony and only a few days before Oscar nominations are announced, we have the nominees for the International Online Film Critics' Poll. These film awards like the others mentioned, award excellence in all the major categories, such as Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Cinematography, etc. But what makes them different is the fact that this is a biannual award, so for this year, the eligible films are from 2013 and 2014. That means along with such current films as The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher and Birdman, such celebrated films from last year such as 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska and Her are also eligible.

This is the fourth time for these awards and this is the first time I have been asked to vote for them. I'm honored to be part of this process and it was quite a difficult decision coming up with only five nominees for each of the 14 categories. It was even more difficult to select a winner in many of these categories, although a few of them were relatively easy choices for me (such as Best Editing, see below). As a critic involved in these awards, I was able to nominate the films a few weeks ago and now this week, vote on the final nominees. Again, with only five nominees from each category over the course of two years, there were going to be numerous omissions. Take Best Actor for example. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner) were not even among the final five choices - talk about a strong category!


So without further ado, here are the nominees. My selection is in bold:


Best Picture

12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street


Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu - Birdman
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paolo Sorrentino - The Great Beauty
Roman Polanski - Venus in Fur


Best Actor

Michael Keaton - Birdman
Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mads Mikkelsen - The Hunt
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street


Best Actress

Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
Adele Exarchopolous - Blue is the Warmest Color
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Marillon Cotillard - The Immigrant


Best Supporting Actor

Edward Norton - Birdman
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash


Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
Emma Stone - Birdman
Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
June Squibb - Nebraska


Best Ensemble Cast

12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game


Best Original Screenplay

Birdman
Boyhood
Calvary
Her
The Grand Budapest Hotel


Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years a Slave
Gone Girl
Snowpiercer
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street


Best Cinematography

Birdman
Gravity
Ida
Nebraska
The Great Beauty


Best Production Design

Gravity
Her
Mr. Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game


Best Editing

Birdman
Boyhood
Gravity
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game


Best Original Score

Gravity
Her
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game


Best Visual Effects

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Interstellar
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies



I'll report on the winners when they are announced in late January.







Friday, January 2, 2015

Genius at Work



Mr. Turner is a film about the energy and passion that drives a creative genius. For this film, that description refers both to its titular subject, J.M.W. Turner, famed 19th century British painter, as well as the film's director, Mike Leigh.

For most filmgoers - myself included - this is a work about an artist who will be a bit of a mysterious figure, as Turner is largely unknown outside of Britain. Born in 1775, he was a renowned painter of landscapes, often focusing on the subject of seascapes and ships. He was an artistic and to some degree, a financial success early in his career.

Interestingly, Leigh made the decision to only look at the last two decades of Turner's life in this film. We see a brute of a man, one who goes about his daily work with a certain flair, be it at his studio at home or at a gallery with his colleagues. He has great self-assurance of who he is as an artist, but his personal relationships, save for his father, are less than cordial. He has little time for his daughters, while he treats his devoted housekeeper with disdain.

One of the most fascinating things about this film is the focus on the work of Turner; reportedly Timothy Spall, who portrays the artist, spent more than a year learning how to paint. Turner is seen at every available moment either drawing something in his sketch pad or painting in his own distinctive way, sometimes spitting on the canvas, to add a bit of tone to the work.




The love of this period's paintings is detailed in great degree in the film. There is one marvelous scene in which Turner enters a gallery filled with canvases that line every wall, some of the works even approaching the ceiling. Other painters are there, some to view and debate the works of their colleagues, while others make final touches to their paintings. Ladders and wooden planks are part of this busy scene; this is a look at the beauty as well as the frenzy of the artistic scene in Britain at this time. This is one of the most revealing scenes in the film; it's also one of the most visually remarkable as well. The production design of Suzie Davies on this film is first-rate and marvelously detailed; her work is as much a part of the success of this film as anyone's efforts.

This film would not work however without a steady hand by the director and Mike Leigh provides such talent. At two and one-half hours, this is a movie that takes its time, yet it never feels dull or slow. We get to know Turner's work along with his relationships with others and it's the conflict in these scenes that give us an understanding into what he was all about. His scenes with his father, whom he dearly loved, are quite touching, as are the moments he spends with Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey, in a natural, engaging performance), an innkeeper whom he falls in love with. 

Leigh gives us a world of complex colors; you're as likely to see a beautiful countryside shot as you are the muted tones of an artist's studio. Working with cinematographer Dick Pope, the director has created a stunning looking work that is always arresting. One particularly beautiful moment has Turner walking by himself in a field while a few hundred or so yards away, several wild horses gingerly make their way up a small hill; it's a scene worthy of a painting.


As Turner, Timothy Spall is brilliant - I'm not sure I can praise him enough for his work in this film. He grunts and deliberately ambles his large frame though many of his scenes; he's a big man, often seemingly ill-willed, one who goes through life with utter assurance of his brilliance. Yet he is not an egotistical man; at one point he turns down a fortune to sell his paintings. He wanted others to see his work after his death, so money meant little to him, as long as he was able to afford his lifestyle. Spall is utterly convincing at giving us a multi-layered character.

We do see him let down his guard and become a more tender human when he meets Booth; she understands his intensity and is attracted to him. His transformation is quite touching, especially as it's not stated in night and day terms; it's more subtle than that. Their relationship helps Turner grow and expand his vision as an artist, as well as letting him find happiness in his life. Spall gives us a Turner of some humor as well as gentle affection in these scenes and he's equally convincing here as in the rest of the film. 

One other performance deserves praise - that of Dorothy Atkinson as Turner's housekeeper Hannah Danby. She is a quiet woman, physically troubled with psoriasis, going through her daily routine of tending to Turner's whims and needs, speaking only a few well-chosen words. She is in love with Turner, yet the only affection we see from him directed toward her are brief moments of lust. It's as though she is a human canvas to Turner, someone - or something - he can do what he wants to with. The fact that we are so moved by her performance in this unglamorous role is a testament to the work of Atkinson.


Mr. Turner is the work of a director at the height of his powers, one who makes us empathize with a man who displayed extraordinary talent while going through life with a less than sunny disposition. Mike Leigh treats us to a portrait of a unique individual who loved life and could find inspiration in simple beauty. After watching this film, one can say the same for Leigh; it's rare for a film biography to reach the emotional understanding this work has and we the audience should treasure it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Unraveling Mysteries



The Imitation Game is an engrossing film that deals with solving mysteries of various sorts. On the surface level, there is the puzzle of the German war code that must be solved if England and the Allies are to win World War ll. There is also the mystery of how Alan Turing, the leader of the team assigned to unraveling this code, has to deal with the fact that he is a homosexual, who must, for all intents and purposes, hide this fact, for fear of retribution and possible punishment. It's a valuable film experience, one that has its slip ups at times, but one that ultimately succeeds in its quest to tell the story of this complex and troubled individual.

Right from the beginning of this story, Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) lets his superior know how valuable he is as a brilliant mathematician for the ultimate goal of solving the German Enigma machine that sends out coded messages that have proven impossible to decipher, as there are tens of millions of possible combinations of letters. Cocky and moody, Turing is disliked by his fellow team members; Turing himself believes that some of them are not worthy of this demanding task. He takes the step of contacting Winston Churchill to request that he be the leader of this project, thus enabling him to fire and hire others as he pleases. He is granted this request, as well as an appeal for funds, so he can build a machine that will read the coded messages; this machine was one of the first computers.

His method of hiring new agents for his project is to run a difficult crossword puzzle in the newspaper; those who solve it are invited to come on for another word test. One of the individuals who passes this test - in record time - is Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who will soon win the heart of Turing. It is her intellect and charm that win Turing over and help him continue with his work. She convinces Turing to be a bit more understanding with his fellow code solvers, so as to win their trust. Their relationship is at the heart of this film.





There have been any number of critics that have complained about historical inaccuracies in this film. For my part, I don't care if there has been some alteration of specific events; this is a filmed version of this story and not a documentary. The filmmakers are most interested in Turing's story and personality - how did he create his machine, how does he, as a gay man, handle himself in a relationship with a woman? Yes, I would have liked to learn more about the inner details of his machine - the reproduction is fascinating with all those wheels and wires - what is going on here and how does it work? That is a problem, but the screenplay more than makes up for this shortcoming by focusing more on Turing himself.

As Turing, Cumberbatch is brilliant portraying this complex and troubled man. His face captures us and makes us feel empathy for the mathematician; his voice is quiet, yet assured and his mannerisms avoid the usual clichés. He walks a tightrope between self-assuredness and doubt that he can solve this project; when he has moments of success, they are quiet triumphs for the most part; Cumberbatch communicates Turing's emotions beautifully, either by a subtle shift in posture or movement of his eyes. This is an outstanding performance - the actor's work is the strongest recommendation of this film. You never see his acting technique on display - he's simply believable every moment he's on the screen.

The other notable performance is by Knightley. The camera loves her face; she is able to win us over the first time we see her on screen. She has excellent chemistry with Cumberbatch (and in reality, everyone else in her scenes) and is the voice of reason and well as a warm ray of light as opposed to the coldness of Turing in many scenes. One wishes however, that she was given more to do than what's written for her in the screenplay.

The one major fault I have with the film is the implementation of flashbacks of Turing's school days as a young man. We learn that he was mistreated by many of his classmates, who found him an outsider, based on his odd behavior (one scene has him separating the peas from the carrots on his plate). We also discover his relationship with another quiet boy who has an intellect similar to that of Turing. These scenes really explain little - save for one defining moment; it would have been better to eliminate these scenes, as the screenplay as well as Cumberbatch's performance tell us all we need to know how singular the character of Alan Turing truly is.


Thankfully the strengths of The Imitation Game far outweigh its flaws. Morton Tyldum's direction is effective and concise, while the cinematography of Oscar Faura and the costume designs of Sammy Sheldon are particularly handsome and appropriate. This is a film of priorities; Turing had to sacrifice his personal pleasures for the good of his country; ironically, his country punished him later in his life. This idea carries the film and carries it well; life for all of us is full of disappointments. It's how we deal with them that makes the difference.








Friday, December 19, 2014

An Emotional Jolt - and an Amazing Film




When the final image of Whiplash faded to black, my head hit the back of my chair and I was jolted back into my seat - it was as though I was hit in the stomach. Whiplash has that type of emotional punch; it's pure cinema that grabs the viewer from the first frame and never lets go. It's the best film I've seen this year.

The story is quite simple, which is fitting for a film that is not plot-driven, but rather, one that makes the most of the emotions of its two main characters. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a college-aged young man who enrolls in the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Manhattan (the actual name of the school is fictional, but certainly based on Julliard). He's a very talented jazz drummer with dreams of becoming the next Buddy Rich (we hear and watch old tapes of Rich performing at various times in the film; Neyman listens to these tapes and memorizes every note).

His instructor at the school is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a crazed madman/genius, who instills fear and discipline in his students. He doesn't see that what he's doing is anything out of the ordinary, believing that he can drive a musician to his personal best, "beyond his limits" as he says in the film. One scene of Fletcher barking orders to Neyman about playing a particular section of one jazz composition faster and faster until it hardly seems humanly possible is a riveting moment in this film and a clear sign of both Fletcher's method as well as Neyman's drive to be the best.







Writer/director Damien Chazelle takes us on a wild roller coaster of a ride in this film; the title "Whiplash" a well-chosen one (it's also the name of a jazz composition heard several times in the film). Not only are the class sessions frantically hypnotic in the cross-cutting between the images of Fletcher hurling insults at Neyman and the young drummer doing all he can to follow his instructions, the mood shifts of the film are quite startling as well (editor Tom Cross performed brilliantly on this film).

"His bark is worse than his bite," is what one student tells Neyman, referring to Fletcher and indeed, there are two scenes in the film where we see a softer side of the man. He may be a bit of a madman, but he is human. Likewise, there are scenes of Neyman setting aside his drums for a moment or two, to attend a movie with his father or to nervously approach a young woman he has had his eyes on for some time.

But it is the relationship of teacher and student and the scenes in the classroom that form the heart of this film. Think of the most intense, the most difficult teacher you've ever had - and now multiply that times six - and you'll start to get an idea of the aura of Fletcher. His motives are clear - he demands the best from his students and if he has to, he'll belittle them. His insults are largely unprintable here, the sexual connotations and humiliating language he uses are extreme. He's also not above getting right in someone's face, at one point, reducing Neyman to tears. Simmons has a field day in this role, dressed in black turtleneck and slacks, his bald head giving him the look of a driven madman. It's a tour-de-force performance.

Teller has a less flashy role, but he is excellent, especially when we witness his confusion. Is he really willing to take all the abuse of his teacher? Teller is believable throughout the film, almost always presenting an air of remarkable self-confidence. That will alienate him from almost everyone in his life, but he realizes the sacrifices he must make if he is to be the best. This is a determined, yet scared individual and Teller brings this across very well in his portrayal.



The big band jazz performances in Whiplash are excellent; if you only went to see this film for its music, you'd probably be satisfied. But the process of how the final performances come about are what gives this film its drive and inner core. The relationship of teacher and student has rarely been more intensely examined on film.

Besides being a powerful, emotional, primal experience that succeeds brilliantly - the final musical sequence, some twelve to fifteen minutes in length is wonderfully realized - this is a film with a rich message. It asks all of us how far we are willing to go to realize our dreams. True success may actually result in us falling a bit short of those dreams - then again, we may realize out highest goals after all. Whiplash certainly poses the thought that whether or not we reach our ultimate goal, the journey, no matter how anguished or stress-filled, is an examination in our lives that helps us better understand who we really are. This is not the first film to ever make this type of analysis, but it's easily one of the best to ever do so. Bravo to Damien Chazelle for making such a powerful story that's told with such cinematic flair. I can't wait to see Whiplash again!