In the documentary King of Kong video game rapscallion Billy Mitchell states, “When you want your name written into history you have to pay the price.” Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) pays the price in Whiplash to become the best jazz player in the world, but it’s the audience that reaps the rewards. Simply put, Whiplash is a hell of an experience.
Neiman bleeds for his art, but regardless, his talent falls far below the expectations of his incredibly abusive instructor Terence Fletcher, played masterfully by J. K. Simmons. Let us thank the Hollywood gods for whoever decided to cast Simmons. Fletcher’s methods are despicable, his ego is overblown, and yet his motivations and moments of vulnerability flesh him out as a real person who, in his own twisted way, cares. Simmons may have earned himself an Oscar, and at this pace, it won’t be long until the young Teller wins one of his own.
The antagonistic buildup between Fletcher and Neiman is so potent that Whiplash can be forgiven for slowing down a bit too much after an incredible midpoint climax. But the cymbals crash once more for a second, somehow superior climax that’s more cathartic than perhaps any film climax of the past decade. The blood Neiman sheds stains more than just his drum kit; it spills on the audience and calls into question the cost of art.
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Release Date: May 7, 2010 (USA)
Iron Man 2 should have been great. Robert Downey Jr. has proven he's the perfect actor to play charismatic billionaire Tony Stark, and with the predictable origin story out of the way, the sequel was free to move forward in any number of directions. So what went wrong? Iron Man 2 does present a number of new changes and challenges for Stark, but they are jumbled together to create the kind of story you can find in an average (not extraordinary) comic book. The lull that sets in during the middle of the movie could be explained as a dark period for Stark, but this is a Marvel movie; any kind of seriousness is undercut by inherent corniness. Humor does have a place in the Iron Man franchise, with the best comedic moments coming from RDJ's dialogue as the always witty Stark. It's unfortunate that Sam Rockwell's character, Justin Hammer, shoulders much of the comedic weight in Iron Man 2. One-liners just don't have the same impact coming from a Tony Stark-lite.
There are more shortcomings that can be singled out (including the Black Widow), but lets just sum it up. Iron Man's adventures aren't as fun the second time around, and the sequel's complexities don't amount to depth. Since the first Iron Man has been the most promising Marvel movie to date, the mediocrity of Iron Man 2 makes me at least a little less excited for the Avengers movie that Marvel loves to tease us with. At least there is one thing that Iron Man 2 gets very right - War Machine looks like a complete bad ass.
A black and white film focusing on twelve men in a room, simply talking. There's a bit of shoving, and some physical demonstrations, but as far as production value is concerned, 12 Angry Men is as bareboned as dramas come. I have to admit the set-up for this 1957 film doesn't sound too enticing, but it's almost unbelievable how well 12 Angry Men has aged. The dialogue, the blocking, the wit of the insults (I laughed out loud and "ooooh'd" on multiple occasions), the production minimalism - it's all film gold. It's a real shame that this film didn't win Best Picture; I'd pick it over The Bridge on the River Kwai. I wonder if this tale of twelve jurors debating the fate of a young man will still be this captivating for someone fifty years from now. I'm betting on yes.
I finally got around to watching the two newest James Bond movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. I'm a fan of quality action movies - the Jason Bourne series comes to mind - so I had high expectations for this new Bond series. I remember when I first heard Daniel Craig was cast as the title character, I thought he didn't visually suit the part. He won me over about two minutes into the first film. After finishing up Casino Royale, I was hesitant to jump into Quantum of Solace. I know it wasn't received as well as the first film, but I was not let down at all. Actually, I think it benefits from better pacing than its predecessor. Either way, these new Bond films are fantastic, and I'm ready for a third one right now.
I recently put together some of my favorite movie soundtracks for Adam Pfleider's (aka duffmanrxbandit) "Five and Alive" blog feature. You can find my picks here, and be sure to keep up with Adam's blog regularly -- it's one of the best on the site.
The Format deserve a couple spots on the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack. Their pop melodies dealing with joyous sentimentality and crippling heartbreak are very much akin to the relationship shared by onscreen couple Tom and Summer. I hesitate to call (500) Days of Summer a romantic comedy, because that genre is generally predictable and crusted in cotton candy. This film is definitely funny - more so than Funny People - and there is heartfelt romance. But it's also creative and more honest than most romantic comedies care to be. Tracing the highs and lows of Tom and Summer's relationship, it's easy to sympathize (let's say empathize), to feel pieces of yourself projected. (500) Days of Summer is a sweet film, one of my favorites this year.
If you love love, you love being in love, and you don't care what it does to you, you need some Summer in your life.
A film starring Brad Pitt as the leader of a band of Nazi hunters should be amazing, but Inglourious Basterds is only okay. I expected Quentin Tarantino to really deliver with this one, to remind me why I love Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but the film's just not at that level. Rather than hanging on every word of dialogue, I found myself waiting for the Basterds to show up again, because they're easily the most entertaining part of the movie. The film is long, it sort of drags, but at least Lieutenant Aldo Raine can be remembered alongside such greats as Jules Winnfield. This quote courtesy of Kirk Honeycutt sums things up pretty well:
"The film is by no means terrible -- its two hours and 32 minutes running time races by -- but those things we think of as being Tarantino-esque, the long stretches of wickedly funny dialogue, the humor in the violence and outsized characters strutting across the screen, are largely missing."
As it stands, District 9 was a better way to spend my $8.75, and I'm still looking forward to 9.
After first watching the trailer for Kong of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I knew the documentary was something I had to see. A rivalry to determine the true champion of the arcade classic Donkey Kong may sound trivial, but it makes for a much more engaging film than you might expect. A big reason for this is who's involved in the competition - an all around good guy named Steve Wiebe and the reigning classic gaming king Billy Mitchell, a cocky type-A personality who bears a personality resemblance to Dwight Schrute. It took me a while to finally rent Kong of Kong, but I'm very glad I did. Even if you're not a big fan of video games, this documentary will pull you in. Netflix it or buy it if you haven't already.
If I had to pick my favorite scene in cinema history, this would probably be it. I love the unexpected song kicking in; I love Ferris Bueller's mirthful spirit and slacker lifestyle; I love the youthful exuberance shared by just about everyone in parade attendance (notwithstanding the young lad covering his ears); I love the singing, the dancing, the clapping, the Beatles, the cheering, the buildup of "ahhh's", everything. Well shake it shake it shake it baby now.
Optimus Prime is the only reason to watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Seeing him tear apart Decepticons using his impossible robot agility and sword-arms is pure nerd bliss. I wouldn't say the rest of the movie is trash, but a lot of it is. Really, the story has plot holes so big a semi truck could breeze through them. It is fun reviewing the Revenge of the Fallen experience though.
If Food, Inc. is playing in a theater near you, go watch it. The film answers questions regarding America's food production industry many of us wouldn't think to ask. It's enlightening, disturbing, and it will make you think - sure signs that a documentary has done its job.
Pixar does it again. It would be too predictable to review Up. Just like before, the story is creative, the protagonists are likable (or lovable), and the movie is full of heart. Watch it, love it, then head out on your own adventures.
Heath Ledger is so great as the "pirate" Skip in the biographical skateboarding film Lords of Dogtown. Skip is a surf shop owner who organizes the Zephyr Skate Team and helps launch the team's young skateboarders to fame and fortune. Unfortunately for Skip, his self-destructive habits and outside corporate influences break the team apart, and he is left with nothing. After the rise and fall comes this scene (one of my personal favorites), which shows Skip working for the man and mixing the right kind of medicine -- courtesy of Rod Stewart -- with poison he should avoid.
There's something splendid about watching Heath sing along to the radio while crafting a surfboard.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks laughably bad, but I find myself tempted to watch it. It's like my head says "what the hell are you thinking?" and my heart says "what the hell, it might be good for a laugh."
More than likely I'll probably end up watching Star Trek again with a friend who hasn't seen it yet. It's been a few years since I watched a movie more than once at the theater (I can't remember when the last time was), but it'll be cool to see Sulu looking like a badass again.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Gene Roddenberry (television series Star Trek)
Release Date: May 8, 2009 (USA)
It may sound impossible, but J.J. Abrams has made the Star Trek franchise cool. Those who have never seen a Star Trek film or TV episode have nothing to fear with Abrams' latest installment of the science fiction series - this re-imagining welcomes new viewers while still providing classic references for longtime Trekkies (live long and prosper, my friends). Fans of previous Star Trek films, Star Wars, Independence Day, and action/adventure movies in general should all see Star Trek in theaters, because it is quite the summer blockbuster.
As far as space operas go, Star Trek is superb. Chris Pine is instantly likable as the charismatic and stubborn leader James T. Kirk, with Zachary Quinto providing a great foil to the lead character as the logical yet impassioned Spock. Though Kirk and Spock are the focal points of the narrative, the supporting characters are given plenty of opportunities to shine, largely due to the strength and wit of the dialogue. Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) is comically cynical, Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) is surprisingly proficient in battle, and Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg) is a regular scene stealer. It's always a good sign in any story when it's difficult to decide on a favorite character.
The success of Star Trek begins with the serendipitous teaming of the main characters and continues with their interactions. The adventure is fast paced and interesting, though there's always time for a bit of humor and some interdepartmental clashing. Eric Bana is almost unrecognizable as the villain Nero, who, unfortunately, is not as compelling as those he seeks to destroy. His presence is enough to propel the story forward, but Nero lacks the depth of Kirk or Spock. It's an acceptable trade off, because Star Trek is more about the USS Enterprise crew than the looming enemy. Future installments should provide more engrossing villainy.
Perhaps the most important theme of Star Trek is unity through teamwork. The next time you watch the movie, count how many times someone is saved by an ally. There is always a sense of the greatness that can be achieved when the right crew comes together to accomplish a difficult goal, even (or especially) when death seems a certainty. You don't want to miss out on this opportunity to cheer for the good guys.
If any Trekkies get laid tonight, it's because of Chris Pine in Star Trek.