Whiplash (2014)

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Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

107 mins. Rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (J.K. Simmons)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

Whiplash was a strange entry to the list of Best Picture nominees at this year’s Oscars. It kind of just came out of nowhere. Everyone was talking about this movie that came out at the beginning of the year and just sort of slipped by everyone. All of the sudden, though, people were talking about J.K. Simmons (TV’s The Legend of Korra, Spider-Man) and his riveting performance as a musical maestro with a sharp edge.

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Whiplash tells the story of Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller, The Spectacular Now, The Divergent Series: Insurgent), a fantastic drummer who dreams of entering stardom at any cost. He will do absolutely anything to become one of the greats. This brings him to the attention of Fletcher (Simmons), a bandleader at the prestigious music school Andrew attends. Fletcher has the hottest ensemble on campus and everyone wants to join, but there are costs to working with the best, as Andrew soon discovers. As relationships with his girlfriend and father (played by Paul Reiser, Aliens, Life After Beth) crumble around him, can Andrew hold it all together?

Whiplash is, to put it best, a jarring piece of art. It is difficult to watch and, in equal measures, glorious and destructive. The performances by Teller and Simmons are intense and building and emotionally draining.

The screenplay, by writer-director Damien Chazelle, is an engrossing pile of paper, with themes of stardom and loneliness worked in.

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Whiplash feels like a rock concert that you want to see but don’t necessarily want to be a part of. The stellar work from just about everyone involved is top notch. My only complaint is that it does lull for a bit in the middle, but other than that, this is a movie you need to see. Now. Seriously. Go rent it now.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Avatar (2009)

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Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver

Screenplay: James Cameron

162 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and smoking.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

Titanic was a powerhouse at the box office during its release back in 1997. I don’t think anyone could have guessed that director James Cameron (Aliens, Aliens of the Deep) would be the one to dethrone his own film as highest grossing film of all time, but as it turns out, he did in 2009 when he released Avatar, a masterpiece of science fiction and general filmmaking.

Avatar is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator: Salvation, Cake), a paraplegic grunt who takes on his dead twin’s job as explorer on the planet Pandora. Jake’s job is simple, explore and make contact with the Na’vi, a species of humanoid blue aliens living on the planet, through the use of neural link with something called an avatar. When he gets lost on the planet by himself, he is saved by Ney’tiri (Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Book of Life), a Na’vi princess who is tasked with showing Jake the ways of their community. While the science lead Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Cabin in the Woods) wants to pursue peace talks with the indigenous Na’vi, the military Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, Conan the Barbarian, A Good Marriage) is only interested in moving them elsewhere in order to mine the precious element Unobtanium which lies beneath their home.

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James Cameron should be awarded for the directing skills he has. I love the work he puts into his films. His screenplays, however, often fail to truly inspire. That’s where the controversy surrounding Avatar lies. Cameron’s screenplay was very criticized for being essentially the same movie as Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Fern Gully, and The Last Samurai. Now, I don’t see that as being a problem, because there are only essentially two stories. The first is the story of a man who leaves home and finds a mysterious place, and the second is the story of a mysterious man who comes to town. Yeah, these films are similar, but so many stories are the same. It’s how you tell them that matters, and James Cameron tells his story well.

Avatar’s cinematography deserves to be experienced, not merely seen. The environments on Pandora are so beautifully envisioned and so deeply realized. The film is edited together very tightly, though the story does run on a little longer than it needed to be. The special effects are so vivid and so well-crafted that they are the most-deserving of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year.

Let’s take a look at the performances here. Sam Worthington definitely has the look of a superstar and there was even a time when I thought he was capable of acting, but since that time has passed and I have realized that isn’t true. His work in Avatar isn’t the worst in cinema, but he is easily trounced by his fellow actors. Stephen Lang’s over-the-top performance works quite well given the out-of-this-world story here.

Can I just have a moment to proclaim Zoe Saldana as the hottest alien working in films today? She is mostly known for the incredible work in three science fiction masterpieces like Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and here as well.

I give enough props to Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious, Machete Kills) for portraying the same character she plays in every movie, and she does it well enough.

Sigourney Weaver adds that extra layer of professionalism to the film that raises the level nicely.

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Avatar isn’t a perfect film, but it comes pretty damn close for all the hype it had. I still find it quite enjoyable, even for a film with a less than stellar screenplay and a runtime a little longer than needed. Still worth it. Still a phenomenon.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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