Tag Archives: Damien Chazelle

Whiplash (2014) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

WHIPLASH.png

Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Miles Teller,  J.K. Simmons,  Melissa Benoist

I have to hold my hands up and admit I’m not a big fan of jazz but I have to say, I really enjoyed Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. The movie is about Andrew Neiman played by Miles Teller who is an ambitious young jazz drummer. Andrew is hungry and his goal is rising to the top of his elite music conservatory.

Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is an instructor known for his terrifying hardline teaching methods plucks young Andrew from a lower class to become a interim drummer in his ensemble and Andrew quickly realises the rumours about Fletcher’s teachings are very true and extreme.

The audience understands the relationship between Simmons (“Fletcher”) and Teller (“Andrew”) right from the kick off and looking back on the movie they are essentially the only characters in the film worth remembering. (That’s not a bad thing by the way) this is a result of the excellent writing from Director and Writer Chazelle.

Andrew’s dad played by the brilliant Paul Reiser and his girlfriend Melissa Benoist (Supergirl) are merely supporting characters and to be honest the movie probably shouldn’t have used these well known actors that serve little purpose other than to remind us outwith the Jazz clientele there are “normal” people out there who are not like Neiman or Fletcher. Without sounding cruel they could have really got anyone to play these roles.

The character of Andrew is insufferable at times in his attitude and his pomposity towards family members and close friends and fair play to Teller who does an amazing job of maintaining a dour and insensitive expression throughout the movie playing the dedicated student Nieman. He has the drive and the ambition to be a success, but feels his personal life must take a backseat on his pursuit of success.

Miles Teller really shows the agony and pain in his character going through to reach his dream and at times the intense drumming sequences look incredible and torturous workouts at times. He  also gives a spectacular performance as an unlikeable character who aspires to be one of the great jazz drummers and is convincing showing a great passion for what he does and I felt the actor really understood the character.

Simmons’s Fletcher is a superb sadistic maniac who thrives on filling his musicians with fear, paranoia and dread at every opportunity. He can only be described as our antihero of (kind of), Terrence Fletcher has a knack for reducing his traumatic students to the point of total mental and physical exhaustion and even depression. But his reasons for acting the way he does is for the sole purpose of finding the next big “Yardbird” Charlie Parker that will be otherwise lost, if not being pushed to the very limit by Fletcher.

I feel he manages to combine Fletcher’s distinguished persona with his terrifying unpredictability and is one of those actors that is simply great in every role he is in. At times there is signs that there is something within Fletcher that commands respect and approval. I felt Chazelle done a fantastic job in casting the two leads in Teller and Simmons. One thing I have to admit to is, I enjoy dark humour and “Whiplash” has plenty of that to go round.

Damien Chazelle directing and writing in “Whiplash” that allows the audience to enter the mindset of Andrew and Terence. I felt the script manipulated the viewer with giving Andrew little moments of success but swiping it away the very next scene and allowing us to experience the reaction of Andrew when Fletcher wanted to press or manipulate him. Each turn of the story shapes his expectations and ambitions and then escalates it to the right point.

I often think the best films are those that reach out to the most diverse and wide spectrum of film fans. Whiplash is refreshing to see, most people wouldn’t be strong minded enough to take that kind of punishment so it’s interesting to watch Andrew go through it all and see how far he was prepared to go to succeed. Director Chazelle achieved this with “Whiplash” which is full of well executed scenes and above all else, a love towards music and the challenges it often represents if you want to get to the very top. Highly recommended.

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La La Land (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

LA LA LAND

Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

After recently cleaning up at the Golden Globes, La La Land, the triumphant follow up to Whiplash from Damien Chazelle is a truly beautiful creation. Following in the footsteps of Hollywood classics; such as Singin’ in the Rain and Casablanca, the latter even getting a mention at one point. It’s an immaculately crafted piece of escapism that draws even non-musical fans like myself in with its alluring charm.

Opening with an infectious musical number performed symbolically by young commuters stuck in a gridlocked freeway headed to Los Angeles. They begin exiting their cars, one-by-one, dancing, flipping and performing all sorts of intricate choreographic acrobatics to the ear worm inducing ‘Another Day in the Sun’. The camera weaving exquisitely around, over and through the performers in one continuous take. Following this brash, Broadway-esque introduction, the film begins in earnest panning down to our two leading stars. Mia (Emma Stone); barista come aspiring actress and Seb (Ryan Gosling); a surly, jazz enthusiast and pianist. Some road rage and finger flicking ensues after Seb is trapped behind Mia, who is blissfully unaware that the traffic has began moving again, too busy reciting lines for an audition.

The film continues to follow Mia as she travels to her work at a small coffee shop within a film studio before we see a brief, comically bad audition unfold. Somewhat dejected looking, she arrives home to a flat shared with three other friends. Another musical number soon kicks off and all four head out to a party that proves to be rather anticlimactic. An impounded car later and she’s soon walking past a club on her miserable trek home. Hearing the somber tones of a lonely piano, curiosity gets the better of her and she heads inside. The screen fades to darkness leaving Mia standing, gazing outwardly at the pianist. Seb gets up, barging past a startled Mia and completely ignoring her attempts to talk as he leaves. The film then flips perspective into Sebastian’s life. Just like Mia, he’s pursuing a dream, though not for stardom, but to resurrect an old jazz club to its former glory. He’s living in a grubby apartment, driving without a licence and practising steadfastly on his piano whilst doing small gigs in restaurants and clubs just to get by. “I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired then I’m going to hit back” he tells his sister after the latter attempts an intervention of  sorts.

The third time our charismatic duo meet is at a pool party. Seb having been fired from his previous gig at the restaurant is now part of a dodgy, 80s tribute band and wearing an equally horrendous outfit. Mia spotting him immediately, gets her revenge following the cold shoulder treatment from the mystery man. She requests ‘I Run’ and mimes along mockingly, as Seb positively exuding surliness is forced to play the synth instrumental. Afterwards the pair finally get chatting, the great chemistry between the two becomes immediately apparent and they both end up going for a walk before diving into a cool little tap dance sequence, singing ‘A Lovely Night’ and my what a lovely night it is with the gorgeous violet sky and sparkling lights of the city forming a simply breathtaking backdrop. There’s even lamppost in there, providing a cool little nod to Singin’ in the Rain.

After this moment the pair become entangled in a relationship sprawling the four seasons in a city seemingly blessed with eternal sunshine. The names literally popping up at various points, effectively separate the film into different acts. All seems to be well between our loved up couple. Mia encourages Seb to pursue his dream of opening the jazz club and likewise he pushes for her one-woman show to become a reality, hopefully providing a platform to further success. Though after overhearing her doubting mother and in desperate need of cash to make any of it possible, Seb decides to join an old acquaintance Keith’s (John Legend) jazz/rock band. This becomes an immediate success, earning him a decent pay check finally and he heads out touring shortly after. It’s at this point where the cracks first begin to show; highlighting the overarching theme of the film really. The seemingly incompatibility of pursuing an ambitious career in show business whilst maintaining a long term, loving relationship. There’s a fantastic scene between the two at this point the film which encapsulates this perfectly. During a surprise dinner they have a painful argument about their relationship after Mia hints at Seb selling out on his dream for success and neglecting their relationship whilst away.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are pure magic in this. The on screen chemistry between the two is palpable, which given it’s their third time starring opposite each other, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Stone puts in a fantastic performance as the down in her luck actress and Gosling plays the brooding, often moody, jazz obsessed Seb with equal excellence. Learning to play the piano parts himself over an intense three month period, he looks and sounds the part of a pianist and his heartbreaking performance of Mia and Sebastian’s theme in the final scene is filled with pure emotion. Neither are perfect singers nor dancers by any means, but they do enough in that department.

Visually, it’s a complete masterpiece. Full of rich, vibrant colours and breathtakingly beautiful wide shots. The cinematography is utterly majestic and a testament to Linus Sandgren’s talents. I genuinely didn’t think anything would touch Arrival in that department, but this comes close. Musically, the score is spectacular. The string arrangements, delicate little harp and woodwind instrumentals are pure bliss and only serve to add to the films magic. The accompanying songs such as; City of Stars and the aforementioned Mia and Seb theme are catchy and will stick in the mind for a few days afterwards.

As a person who’s not mad on musicals, I didn’t expect to enjoy this and was pleasantly surprised at just how much it managed to draw me in. I would highly recommend this to anyone.