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Oscar Isaac Heads Into Chaos & Corruption: ‘A Most Violent Year’ Review

Oscar Isaac Heads Into Chaos & Corruption: ‘A Most Violent Year’ Review

Oscar Isaac Heads Into Chaos & Corruption: ‘A Most Violent Year’ Review

A Most Violent Year begins with a driver for Abel Morales’ (Oscar Isaac) Standard Oil Co. being robbed of his truck for fuel and beaten to the point of a broken jaw. This has been a frequent occurrence for Standard, leaving Abel to ponder whether he can continue to play it straight in a corrupt New York in 1981. With the mob, law enforcement and even his own wife (Jessica Chastain) serving as potential rivals to his methods, Abel may have to stand alone while risking his entire savings in trying to close the most important deal of his career in the next month.

Writer-director JC Chandor brings Year to life by placing a good guy in a nefarious environment. Abel tries to buy a property he can’t afford that is critical for Standard’s expansion while balancing a life in complete chaos. The violence is as much inner as outer for him. He must track down the money he needs and discover why his company and family are being harassed before the deadline. Balancing big business and a family can be tough when you are trying to play it straight.

The violence referred to in 'A Most Violent Year' is often within Abel.

The violence referred to in ‘A Most Violent Year’ is often within Abel.

Isaac first raised my eyebrows in Sucker Punch. In a role not worthy of being noticed, he stood out and remained etched in my memory as a talent to look out for. Here he plays to his strengths, acting like a pot of water on boil. He holds in rage with occasional bursts that indicate the pressure that weighs on Abel and the severity of the circumstances he’s in. His work is such that I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is at least thrown in a hat come awards season.

Chastain’s wife shows sex appeal, strength and vulnerability at apropos times. Her collection of credits continues to impress. Throw in Albert Brooks and nice work from relative unknown, Elyes Gabel and you have the makings of a fine, brooding piece. Chandor shoots the film in dark shadows to convey the sense of struggle building upon Abel. Fresh off of Robert Redford’s All is Lost, Chandor remains a talent worth checking on. His diminutive body of work is diverse and off to strong results.

Where Year stumbles is in the aftermath of its conclusion. There are many questions left unanswered about where the characters go from here and what is still to come. While the film brings satisfactory resolution while you watch, my thoughts quickly turned towards what happens next. In some ways, that can take place with almost any film. It’s fine when the beauty and the nerd decide to have a relationship and we cheer at the end but do they really have staying power? In this case, the questions are more realistically tied to the events we just witnessed which caused me a bit of head scratching. Still, A Most Violent Year is an interesting and telling title; it’s a film that simmers with rage and deserves to be seen.

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AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Korea’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Submission ‘Haemoo’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Korea’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Submission ‘Haemoo’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Korea’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Submission ‘Haemoo’ Review

On his 2009 stand-up album, “Midlife Vices,” comedian Greg Giraldo has a running gag using “…but in this economy” as the punchline. He talks about how thankful Americans were at the time if they were still employed, no matter how much they may have hated their jobs. It then devolves into a guy who gets anally raped while all his possessions were torched, “but in this economy” he was happy to even have stuff to burn.

The 2008 economic crisis has been covered by many American films, such as Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” J.C. Chandor’s “Margin Call” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” All those movies happen to focus completely on, well, Wall Street. In 1997, the Korean government was in a similar situation, requiring $55 billion in bailout money – mainly from the International Monetary Fund – in order to restore financial order. The entire country felt the brunt, as unemployment within the nation’s borders nearly tripled. “Haemoo” takes place during the heart of this economic climate. Though it has nothing to do with anyone who controls the money, it’s about how such hardships can warp moral character.

While things on land are in a state of disrepair, things at sea aren’t doing much better for Captain Cheol-joo (Kim Yoon-seok). His fishing vessel is old and broken down, but more importantly the fish just aren’t leaping into the nets at any rate which would allow him or his crew to provide for their families. In order to make ends meet, Cheol-joo agrees to smuggle a large group of Korean-Chinese immigrants from China into South Korea. The crew is not particularly excited about the idea, but with their financial fate in their captain’s hands, money is money.

Anxiety is high on the seas, with the illegal activity and constant threat of being caught by the coastal authorities, added to the general nature of the ocean making its inhabitants sick, both physically and mentally. When an unforeseen disaster occurs, all the characters cope and react in different ways.

If Michelangelo set "The Creation of Adam" in Seattle.

If Michelangelo set “The Creation of Adam” in Seattle.

The title of the film translates literally as “sea fog,” and co-writer/director, Shim Sung-bo (the other co-writer is “Snowpiercer”’s Bong Joon-ho), makes this natural element just as dangerous to his characters as John Carpenter or M. Night Shyamalan managed. The “haemoo” (I’m going to assume I’m using the word correctly) infects the seaman aboard the floating coyote transport to the degree where when bad things happen, bad choices are made.

Like a mixture of “Titanic” and “Lifeboat,” Shim’s film contains a forbidden romance in the midst of tragedy, which grounds some of the more reprehensible actions which take place with something a little more relatable. Though it’s Shim’s first time in the director’s chair, he’s no novice within the medium, having written Bong’s great serial killer drama, “Memories of Murder.” The writing is where the film stands out like a light amidst the fog of other dramas. It’s a beautiful marriage of a fictional concept tied to a true-to-life event, which still happens to retain a bit of that beautiful Korean bloodletting.

As Giraldo has proven, tragedy plus time equals comedy. Though there’s nary a laugh in “Haemoo,” it proves an equation just as potent: tragedy plus time plus Shim Sung-bo equals fantastic filmmaking. Though I wish ill on no one, if something terrible befalls South Korea, like an economic collapse or a crazed serial killer, it may be worth enduring to later experience Shim’s spin on the subject.

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AFI Fest Movie Screenings: The Amazing One Shot Movie ‘Fish & Cat’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: The Amazing One Shot Movie ‘Fish & Cat’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: The Amazing One Shot Movie ‘Fish & Cat’ Review

The majority of American states just transitioned from daylight savings to standard time. Everyone got some extra sleep because we set our clocks back an hour. This’ll usually be done prior to going to sleep or after waking up, but the time switch technically happens at 2:00 a.m. when most people are asleep. But what happens during that hour when knowing it’s necessary to know the exact time? If a doctor pronounces someone dead at 2:01 a.m., he can also pronounce someone dead at 2:02 a.m., but their deaths can actually be an hour apart. There’s a 60-minute period where time is a Mobius strip, repeating itself. Now imagine that Mobius strip of time lasts for 2:15 and there are about eight different strips in one. That’s “Fish & Cat.”

Written and directed by Shahram Mokri, “Fish & Cat” is an Iranian film which takes place near a fairly-secluded lake where college-aged students meet up each year for a kite festival, showing off their colorful models while camping and hanging out with their friends. The film begins with a warning to set the scene with a true tale. There is a restaurant near the lake which was shut down for serving non-animal meat. The movie opens just outside the establishment in question and follows the couple of restaurateurs as they meet a couple of lost students looking for directions to the kite festival. If you think this sounds like the set-up of another teen slasher flick, you’d be right. But it’s not. At least that’s not the way it’s executed. Either way, the film is not necessarily interesting for what it’s about, but for how it’s about.

I now know how “Shawshank’s” Warden Norton felt (“I’d like to think the last thing that went through his head, other than that bullet….”), as my mind was blown. If this film was directed by Michel Gondry, it would finally serve as the cinematic encore we all wanted him to make after taking the leap from his improbably gorgeous music videos to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”  Alas, Gondry’s name is not in the credits as the man behind the camera. Those accolades behind to Mokri. Allow me to explain.

We’ve touched upon the art of the one-shot film before for “Silent House” and “Rope,” and the technique was most recently just deployed again in “Birdman.” Whereas Alfred Hitchcock had to make cuts in “Rope” as film reels were only so long and “Silent House” and “Birdman” had hidden cuts in them preventing a true one-take flubbed-line-loses-all style. “Fish & Cat” is the real deal. Mokri set up his camera, made a movie for two-plus hours and he was done. Though this sounds impressive enough, shooting something in one-shot isn’t necessarily all that challenging (after all, you could conceivably set up a camera in front of a stage, have a play performed in front of it and that could be called a “one-shot film,” too), it’s what Mokri does with that initial concept that expands the creativity and ups the difficulty factor to an almost unbelievable level.

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What are the preferable contents of that bag? Borat-style poo or human flesh?

Similar to the Doug Liman-directed “Go,” “Fish & Cat” tells the same story from different points of view. How does it do that with no cuts? Are you saying that only each point-of-view story is done in one take? No. That’s where the brilliance comes in. At times, the camera follows a set of characters having a conversation as they walk along the bank of the lake, they’ll encounter another character and follow that person’s journey. That person’s journey will loop back around to where the camera first picked up those initial two characters. Confused? This is where the Mobius strip analogy makes the most sense. It’s largely all one big loop, just with multiple diversions within it.

I’ve never encountered this type of storytelling trickery on a large scale outside of a time-travel film. Duncan Jones, the director of “Source Code” had to create a diagram to figure out the time-twisting storyline of that film. I can’t wait to watch “Fish & Cat” multiple times in order to draw such a diagram for myself to determine if what I saw truly worked in the way it was presented. It’s like the end of “The Sixth Sense.” M. Night Shyamalan understands you probably don’t trust his twist ending, so he goes back and does a quick recap of the film, showing you how he pulled the wool over your eyes. “Fish & Cat” can’t do so due to its technique, leaving it up to you to trust your eyes.

Outside of perhaps “Primer” (which is a time-travel film, so there’s obviously an insane logic to it), Mokri has created the biggest brain-bending “how did he do that?” since Michel Gondry’s video for Cibo Matto’s “Sugar Water.” It’s an awe-inspiring achievement which elevates the somewhat blasé story and it’s one that truly needs to be experienced. A lot of “challenging” films don’t completely connect the dots, “Fish & Cat” traces through all of them. For his latest feature, Mokri learned how to bend time. For his next trick, he might be able to stop it. He already left me breathless.

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AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Penn State Football’s ‘Happy Valley’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Penn State Football’s ‘Happy Valley’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Penn State Football’s ‘Happy Valley’ Review

I have no love for Penn State. They aren’t my college’s biggest rival, so there are schools and teams I hate more, but unless Penn State is playing one of those schools, you’ll never see me root for them. If those first two sentences didn’t spell it out completely, I’m a big college sports fan. And when sports scandals arise around a team I don’t root for (I strangely become uninterested when my team becomes embroiled), I’m hooked. In 2013, when the Miami Dolphins had a locker room bullying scandal, I was all over it. I read every word of the 200-page report that was issued. And I read every character of every text message exchanged between Jonathan Martin and Ritchie Incognito. It provides an inside look at something I love, even if I’d prefer the seedy underbelly didn’t exist.

The 2011 Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal that emerged at Penn State was no different in terms of attracting my attention. I remember listening to pundits on the radio and driving around aimlessly in the car just to completely capture their take.

For the uninitiated, Jerry Sandusky, a longtime Penn State assistant football coach (and Jesus to legendary head coach Joe Paterno’s God, as one interviewee in “Happy Valley” puts it), was accused by multiple victims of sexual abuse when they were children. Sandusky was the founder of a youth sports camp and used this foundation to lure young boys.

An artists removes Sandusky by painting him out of a mural, as a jury removes him from society by sentencing him to prison.

Naturally, none of this was supposedly known by Penn State officials until 2001, when a graduate assistant and former Penn State quarterback, Mike McQueary, reportedly saw Sandusky fondling a boy in one of the Penn State showers. McQueary told Paterno what he saw. Paterno in-turn told his “boss” (in title only, as again, Paterno was “God” in State College, Pennsylvania) and no one ever did anything about it in terms of reporting the incident to law enforcement.

Paterno, who for years was deified, was, all of a sudden, vilified. He was fired after more than 60 years on the job. He died of cancer soon after and a bronze statue of his image was ripped from the campus ground. Penn State had to look itself in the mirror and consider the character of the man they revered.

The director, Amir Bar-Lev (who apparently likes sports-related documentaries, as he had currently directed “The Tillman Story”; he is to documentary-making as I am to documentary-watching), presents complete objectivity throughout “Happy Valley,” as it’s clear he has no answers for the actions that played out regarding the aftermath of the scandal. What he does is present the complex facts of what took place and allows the viewer to draw their own feelings toward the events depicted and issues raised.

I’ve already had numerous discussions about what happened at Penn State, which have essentially been dormant for two years, but the film makes me want to rekindle those talks. Not just about what I think those involve should have done, but what I would have done. I want to  try concocting scenarios that would be analogous in my life and determine if I would have acted any differently.

Bar-Lev does something wise in not making “Happy Valley” a crime film. What Sandusky had done carries no filmic requirement. Instead, Bar-Lev presents how the criminal accusations facing Sandusky affected State College. It’s a document of the time surrounding Penn State and its carries a journalistic integrity, putting the viewer in opinion’s driver’s seat.  It will provoke discussion, which is largely the goal for any documentarian showing “this is the world in which we live.” My feelings regarding what took place after the Sandusky charges are still very much mixed. I do know one thing though. I’m still not going to root for Penn State.

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AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Hot Director Damian Szifron’s ‘Wild Tales’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Hot Director Damian Szifron’s ‘Wild Tales’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Hot Director Damian Szifron’s ‘Wild Tales’ Review

Anthology films seem to have made a bit of a comeback in recent years. These have mainly been in the horror genre, with franchises like “V/H/S” and the “ABCs of Horror,” but even the Farrelly brothers combined with other comedy directors to create “Movie 43.” Perhaps that’s the problem with these anthologies. They’re all written and/or directed by different people. They’re truly just short films slapped together in an attempt to make one cohesive whole. A skit or short film is usually what they should have remained, but under the guise of a feature film, they’ll almost certainly attract more eyeballs than the alternative.

Enter Argentinian filmmaker, Damián Szifron’s, “Wild Tales.” It’s an anthology film written and directed all by the same man. There are six segments varying in degrees of humor and tension with no real connective tissue other than a loose theme of “the joy of losing control” and their uniform excellence.

The individual parts making up the film are: a plane of crazy coincidence, a restaurant where revenge is the dish-of-the-day, a “Duel”-like tete-a-tete gone wrong (probably redundant as “Duel” itself went wrong), a “Falling Down”-esque frustration with societal norms, a negotiation gone haywire and a wedding where love truly conquers all. Providing any more details about individual plots would spoil the fun.

It’s “Duel.” It’s “Breakdown.” No, it’s “Wild Tales.” And it’s great.

Though the characters and storylines don’t connect and only an actor or two crosses over, all shorts feel of one piece – as they came from the same mind – both structurally and visually. Each story is lengthy enough to flesh out its initial premise, so the viewer never feels short-changed or wanting. Where Szifron’s storytelling skills excel is in his ability to pile on and escalate situations. One kernel of an idea will expand upon itself, snowballing and gathering more debris in its wake until it finally bursts apart for all the audience to enjoy.

As previously mentioned, all shorts have some degree of humor to them. However, Szifron’s comic sensibilities are certainly different from any segment from the likes of “Movie 43.” While that film deals in the comedy of the ridiculous, “Wild Tales” takes reality and spins it just slightly in the direction of the absurd. It’s as if “Curb Your Enthusiasm” had a bit of Latin American bent. Though each short has a similar theme in mind, they aren’t so wildly similar that any segment feels like a retread of another. Each is wholly original and as the film progresses, each new installment is met with rapt anticipation.

Like his story structure, Szifon’s visual style is not cookie-cutter basic, either. He places the camera in some unique places, providing scenic delight. However, it’s the combination of both his writing and directing skills (and admittedly, his Latin American heritage) which causes one to believe he could be the next Alejandro Gonazalez Inarritu or Fernando Meirelles, as the film brought to mind the debuts (“Amores Perros” and “City of God,” respectively) of those filmmakers. Though Meirelles has failed to live up to the extremely lofty standard he set out of the gate, Inarritu just made “Birdman.” Szifron is one to keep an eye out for, but “Wild Tales” shouldn’t be overlooked on its own. It’s, without question, one of the most enjoyable watches of the year.

 

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AFI Fest Movie Screenings: ‘The Tribe’ Review (in Pictures)

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: ‘The Tribe’ Review (in Pictures)

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: ‘The Tribe’ Review (in Pictures)

“The Tribe” is a Ukrainian film which contains no dialogue, no subtitles and no voice-over. It stars deaf actors playing deaf characters who communicate purely through the use of sign language. In honor of this concept, this review will be told in pictures only.

The Movie:

 

Reaction:

 

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AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Russian National Hockey Team Depicted On Film – ‘Red Army’ Review

AFI Fest Movie Screenings: Russian National Hockey Team Depicted On Film – ‘Red Army’ Review

AFI Movie Screenings: Russian National Hockey Team Depicted On Film – ‘Red Army’ Review

Russians angry at their government is essentially the sentiment of “Red Army,” a documentary chronicling the Russian national hockey teams which succeeded under an oppressive regime throughout the Cold War. The main subject is a defenseman named Slava Fetisov. He’s one of the most decorated players to ever step onto the ice. A list of his accomplishments are so many the screen can’t contain them at one point. He’s now a Russian politician given the title of Minister of Sport. He’s a perfect figure for recalling the past, providing an informative backdrop for the film’s narrative to build upon.

You may remember from Disney’s “Miracle,” that in 1980, Russia (then known as the Soviet Union) was the most feared national hockey team on the globe. It all started in the previous decade with the man behind the bench, their coach, Anatoli Tarasov. He scoured the Soviet Union for young hockey talent while the players were the age of kindergartners. With the help of the government and their desire for domination, Tarasov created a national team camp where the players would live and train 11 months of the year.

Through this isolation and dedication, the bond between the players as men and teammates was unparalleled. Their constant access to each other helped develop their skills as a unit, allowing them to devastate their opponents, without them knowing what hit them. This is a similar story to the Spanish national soccer team (which would be a better comparison if they hadn’t gagged in the 2014 World Cup). Sometimes even bonds can break.

red army movie pic

Though the 1980 US Olympic win over Russia is rightly celebrated, it did not lead to the fall of Russian hockey. It was merely a hiccup. A five-man top line consisting of Igor Larianov, Sergei Makarov, Anton Krutov, Alexei Kasatonov and Slava Fetisov kept the Big Red Machine rolling for years to come.

It’s interesting to examine the enemy from their point-of-view, as a number of films have provided audiences with the opportunity. Typically, these are war films like “Tora! Tora! Tora!” or “Letters from Iwo Jima.” What this reversal allows is the chance to realize the humanity in the opposition. “Red Army” does just that, in addition to giving the audience the chance to marvel at the enemy’s hockey prowess. There are clips of legendary coach, Scotty Bowman, and Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky, gushing about how unbeatable the Russian players and their style of play were.

However, this is not purely a talking head film. One of director, Gabe Polsky’s, intentions was to show rarely seen footage as opposed to the same few clips Americans may be familiar with (I’m not just surmising this, he spoke at a Q&A afterward). Under a lock-and-key government, you’d imagine this would be most. He unearths a treasure trove of images, enabling the viewer to get a peak behind the iron curtain.

What led to the downfall of Russian hockey dominance can essentially be boiled down to the end of the Cold War. The oppression under which all Russian citizens lived (including their sports stars), slowly began to crumble and the allure of the NHL eventually proved to be too strong for the country to keep their players away.

It’s a timeless tale which keeps Americans feeling good about themselves and superior to other countries. We would far more have our individual freedoms than excel under government rule. Many countries have tried the opposite, but in the end, individual freedoms and desire will win out (cue Mel Gibson in “Braveheart,” here). Like the below-zero tundra on which it resides, Russia is harsh.

I’m looking forward to the next oppressive regime to open its doors to a sports documentary. The movie about North Korea’s golf game promises to be incredible.

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‘Whiplash’ Movie Review: JK Simmons Pushes Miles Teller Past His Limits

‘Whiplash’ Movie Review: JK Simmons Pushes Miles Teller Past His Limits

‘Whiplash’ Movie Review: JK Simmons Pushes Miles Teller Past His Limits

What does it take to be great at something? In his book, “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell posits it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. He references the Beatles played gigs all over London and a young Bill Gates spending his youthful downtime tinkering with supercomputers he just happened to have access to by way of circumstance. Hell, by Gladwell’s measure, you’d think Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” would be the Wilt Chamberlain story.

Though the old adage is “practice makes perfect,” coaching and mentorship also play an incredible part in individual achievement, as any sports fan can attest. A great coach takes the talent of his/her players and is able to maximize their ability through scheme and training.  With the right leader, a band of misfits can be turned into world-beaters as depicted in so many sports films. Of course, the mentor/mentee relationship requires equal amounts of talent as any anti-fan of the Oakland Raiders would be happy to tell you. Their carousel of wrong coaches paired with wrong players will never make a right, yet they keep trying anyway, god bless ‘em.

“Whiplash” is really just a sports film where the athletic feats are performed by young musicians attempting to lure their instruments into creating a harmonic noise. Yes, I feel about jazz the way your grandfather feels about rap music. But music is not the point of “Whiplash.” It’s about the abuse one is willing to endure in order to achieve promised greatness.

Contrary to what the title may have you believe, the film is not a misguided confederate sequel to “Django Unchained” following the Brittle brothers’ request for revenge. Instead, Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first-year drummer at a music conservatory who aims to achieve his dreams of being the next Charlie Parker (if you’ve never heard of Charlie Parker before, this movie will provide you with an education through repetition of the name, that he was a great jazz drummer). In order to reach such heights, Andrew hopes to be taken under the wing of Terrance Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), the school’s studio band instructor. Imagine Gny. Sergeant Hartman training soldiers to tune instead of torture and you have a good idea of Fletcher’s demeanor.

Whiplash pic

“I should bang chicks, not drums.” Miles Teller’s Andrew sits before his drum set in ‘Whiplash.’

Fletcher abuses his members more than a teenager post-masturbation discovery, but saves a special brand of slapping, screaming, belittling and bullying for the kid with the drumsticks. If Fletcher was teaching at a military musical conservatory, Andrew would be Private Pyle of Shit (which I didn’t know they stacked that high). Andrew’s father (Paul Reiser in a thankless role that’ll receive accolades purely because it’s Paul Reiser) recognizes the abuse, but is powerless to keep it from happening. He doesn’t seem to understand Andrew’s drive to be a jazz drummer, which is perhaps why Andrew is so keen on winning Fletcher’s approval, even if it’s inherently impossible. As Fletcher tells him at one point, “the two most harmful words in the English language are ‘good job.’” I’d have suggested “q*eer n*gger,” but in the character’s mind, praise is far worse than hate-speech.

Writer-director Damien Chazelle throws in a little subplot about Andrew and a budding relationship with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), which he eschews in order to concentrate fully on his drumming, afraid she’ll be a hindrance to him reaching his goal (this is the part where if the movie was about rap music I’d quote Jeru Da Damaja’s “Me or the Papes,” “Ain’t no fiends/ coming in between/ me and my dreams,” but I fear Andrew knows as much about this line as I do Charlie Parker’s hits). This is a theme ripe for a film of its own. Though this story exists solely in the shadow of Fletcher and his tyrannical timpani, Chazelle dares to display what so many filmmakers shy away from in the form of an actualized “ask her out” scene. No punches were pulled, as he (and his characters) would continue to show throughout the rest of the film.

Teller is an actor who’s gained steady esteem since I first saw him in a small role as the supposed cool guy in the eternally amoral “Project X.” His rise is certainly not uncalled for as he apparently trained for two months to become a competent enough drummer to pull off the close-ups Chazelle required. His dogged determination mirrors his character’s drive. Chazelle lets his actor show off the acrobatics he’s acquired, allowing us to marvel at both he and the character. Even then, with Fletcher in the mix, it’s the musical equivalent of Paul Dano having a tete-a-tete with Daniel Day Lewis. Simmons embodies the larger-than-life monster that is Fletcher with a rage unseen since perhaps Daniel Plainview mined the west of black gold.  His clothes and shirt and bald head give the sense that his body was tuned tightly, probably by his asshole (which of course is his personality). His is the more demonstrable role, though Chazelle ensures Teller gets to be better than a board and hit back. It’s a marvelous mano a mano, with the performances serving to ratchet up tension throughout.

The story of an abusive mentor/mentee relationship is certainly well-worn in cinema. Chazelle just happens to dress it up in a unique world. However, the execution is anything but well-worn. The film is crafted with a precision of which Fletcher himself would approve. Though the film seems to take a cue from “Return of the King” and end a few different times, the final ending proves to be the most satisfying.

An affinity for jazz music probably won’t be the takeaway, but neither was it the intent. Instead, there’s a respect for the skill involved in order to play those instruments. The talent it takes to make art. This is only Chazelle’s second credit, so he undoubtedly has a long way to get to the 10,000-hour mark. However, from the looks of it, he may hit mastery level before he gets there. Must’ve had a really good teacher.

 

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