Monthly Archives: November 2014


Movie:  Whiplash

Rating:  4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) aspires to be a great drummer like his idol, Buddy Rich.  He attends the Shaffer Conservatory of Music, one of the best in the country, and graduates tend to find successful careers as musicians.  Andrew is plugging along in one of the conservatory’s bands when one day he is plucked out of his seat by legendary instructor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), and told to report to his jazz band.   This surprise move is akin to a utility infielder on a AA farm team being promoted to the New York Yankees.

Andrew is delighted by this recognition of his drumming ability.  In a surge of confidence, he asks out Nicole (Melissa Benoist), a girl he has been too shy to talk to, and to his surprise, she agrees to a date!  Seems like everything is going young Mr. Neiman’s way.  That is, until he attends his first session with Terrence Fletcher and his band.  In the first thirty seconds of practice, Fletcher criticizes and berates his new drummer, and the criticism escalates until Fletcher slings a chair at Neiman’s head, which Andrew mercifully ducks in time.  Clearly this is not an easy class to pass!

How does Terrence Fletcher get away with his behavior?  He is a legend at the school, and his jazz band nearly always wins first place in national competitions.  The fact that his musicians achieve this level of excellence because of, or in spite of, Fletcher’s bullying and dictatorial conduct is overlooked because of the results.  Andrew is determined to measure up to Fletcher’s impossible standards, and drives himself mercilessly practicing until his hands bleed.  Pick your cliché:  “No pain, no gain”, or “To make an omelet you have to break a few eggs”; clearly, something is bound to eventually give in this contest between Andrew who is trying to reach his full potential and achieve greatness as a drummer, and Fletcher, the one man who may help or hinder him in this endeavor.

All I can say is OMG, what a terrific movie!  It is sad to see such amazing small independent films get ignored in a market geared for blockbuster films that are often not half as good. You know you have seen a great film when you leave the theater after watching Whiplash feeling “jazzed“, no pun intended.  The acting by the two leads in this film was not only only good, it was electric.  Even if you don’t care much for jazz music, this was a compelling story that builds and builds to a crescendo by the end of the film.  Go see it.  Please….

Actors To Watch:  This is a break out role for Miles Teller.  He has done good work in movies such as Divergent, The Spectacular Now, and was the best part of a mediocre teen flick That Awkward Moment.  Good things ahead for this young actor.

This role is the highlight of a long and distinguished career for J.K. Simmons.  Generally a character actor and supporting player, he has appeared in movies such as Spiderman, Juno, True Grit, and is best known as Chief Pope in the TV series The Closer.  In Whiplash, Simmons assumed the role of Terrence Fletcher and transformed himself into this authoritarian instructor who at times can be fatherly and soft-spoken, and then with no warning turns into a snarling angry task master who can never be satisfied  by any performance.  Simmons physically adapted to this character by shaving his head, and wearing tight black T-shirts that show off a powerful physique.   Whenever he gets in a student’s face to list their shortcomings, his laser blue eyes seem to bore right through them.  All in all, a mesmerizing performance that deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Dialogue Nuggets:   Andrew:  “I want to be one of the greats.”

Fletcher:  “We will play here all night until one of you faggots can play in time!”

Fletcher:  “That is not your boyfriend’s dick.  Do not come in early!”

Fletcher:  “Get the f**k out of my sight before I demolish you….I can still see you, Mini-Me!”

Fletcher:  “Neiman, you earned the part.  Alternate, clean the blood off my drum set.”

Fletcher:  “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”



Beyond The Lights

Movie:  Beyond The Lights

Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:    Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was a talented young girl who always wanted to be a singer.  Her mother, Macy Jean (Minnie Driver), always wanted her daughter to be a mega-star.  The only problem, Macy Jean was a tyrannical stage Mom, constantly driving her daughter harder and harder to make a name for herself in the music business.

Fast forward to the present.  Noni is on the verge of stardom, having just won her third Billboard award for best song.   She is dating rapper Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly), and a top record label is about to put out her first album amid much hullabaloo.  But hold on, an “incident” occurs on the eve of her awards and long sought after success that may derail her plans, and even her career.  Just to make things more interesting, and quite a bit more complex, Noni becomes interested in a fellow outside of her music circles, Kaz Nicole (Nate Parker), who is an aspiring politician.  Not everyone is happy about this development, especially Kaz’s father, police captain Nicol (Danny Glover).

This is a rather well travelled story, the stage mother who pushes the talented daughter to stardom for her own good.  The problem is, it was done much better in previous films, such as I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), Gypsy (1962), and recently Black Swan (2010).  The trappings of the plot have been modernized with scenes of rappers and music videos, but nothing substantial has been added to make this movie stand out.  To be honest, a 1/2 star was added to the rating just because of the lead actress, who frankly deserved a better vehicle.

Actress To Watch:  The lead actress, of course, is Gugu Mabatha-Raw, and she is one of the most talented actresses around.  She squeezed all the juice she could out of this plot to give the film some life.   She has been great in smaller film roles, such as  Larry Crowne and more recently Belle.  A delightful English actress, I see big things ahead for her.  And yes, she did her own singing in this film.

Huh, What The….:  Most police officers have a mandatory retirement at age 55.  Danny Glover is actually 68, and looked older in this movie.  Time to pull the pin!

In the credits, basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire is listed as a producer.  Seriously?  He was billed as the next NBA superstar, but pretty much is a bust on the court.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “Do you want to be a runner up, or do you want to be a winner?”

“If she doesn’t kick ass at that show, I will personally drop her from this label!”

“You just got into a brawl with a rapper on national TV!”

“Are you saying you don’t want to be a bitter, broken man?”

“There was never any we.  Your word was always gospel.”


Movie:  Interstellar

Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Earth, the foreseeable near future.  Climate change has turned the United States into a dust bowl worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.  There is world wide hunger, and the quality of air is degrading at a rapid pace.  It looks like it’s curtains for the human race.  Still, life goes on as best it can, and Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former NASA pilot, is surviving by raising corn on his farm with his dad Donald (John Lithgow) and daughter Murphy (MacKenzie Foy).  Then one day after an especially bad dust storm, Murphy shows Cooper a strange phenomenon that appears to be a form of communication, but from where?

A series of events leads Cooper to hook up again with the remnants of NASA, where he meets the eminent physicist Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), and his daughter Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway).  Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, there is a plan in the works to launch a spaceship from Earth that will leave our solar system with the mission of finding a habitable planet for humans.  Thus begins the voyage of the Endurance, with it’s crew:  Cooper, Amelia Brand, Romilly (David Gyasi), and Doyle (Wes Bentley).  It will be an amazing adventure of danger and discovery.  The human race will “rage against the dying of the light.”

This is a blockbuster movie, no two ways about it.  Nearly three bladder-busting hours long, it is packed with plot turns and impressive special effects.   I expect the film will get a Best Picture nomination.  Definitely worth seeing.  However, unless you are a science geek, you might want to get a copy of Quantum Physics For Dummies, and brush up on your knowledge of gravity, polarization of photons, qubits, quantum entanglement, string theory, and the fifth dimension.

Actor To Watch:  Michael Caine, always a pleasure to see him in any role.  He has had an amazing career.

Huh?  What the….:  If you know anything about black holes, don’t think you can power around their gravity field.  Anything near by gets sucked in and squished.  Just saying….

Unless you have the hearing of a bat, there are scenes in the movie where the background noise is just too loud to easily hear the dialogue.  Very frustrating.

Dialogue Nuggets:  “We didn’t run out of planes and machines; we ran out of food.”

Cooper:  “You don’t believe we went to the moon?”

Cooper:  “We used to look up in the sky and wonder.  Now we just look down in the dirt.”

Dr. Brand:  “We’re not meant to save the world.  We’re meant to leave it.”

“Everybody ready to say goodbye to our solar system?”

Crew Member:  “You’ll do that?”  TARS:  “Before you get all teary, remember that as a robot, I will do anything you say.”



The Nightcrawler

Movie:  The Nightcrawler

Rating:  3 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)

Review:   Louis Bloom (Jake Gylienhaal) is a 30ish guy who is just scamming his way through life, looking for a way to make real money.  He’s uneducated but smart, and unburdened by most concepts of scruples.  He is not adverse to stealing to get by, living in a squalid apartment barely the size of the average living room.  But one night as he’s cruising aimlessly, he happens upon an accident scene, and cameramen are filming it.  And Louis finds out these nightcrawlers sell the video to make decent money out of others misfortune.

A light bulb goes on in Bloom’s mind, and he decides nightcrawling is the ticket to fame and fortune for him.  Basically, nightcrawlers are independent video guys who cruise the streets waiting for any calls that go over the police radio that might be newsworthy, and then the race is on to see who can get there first, film it, and sell it to local news programs.  The Los Angeles news stations do pay for this footage, thus proving the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads”!  Bloom is awkward at first, and bumbles along making mistakes and losing out to competitors such as Joe Leder (Bill Paxton).  But Blook is street smart, sly and gutsy, and starts beating his fellow competitors to the scenes with the help of his hired assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed).  Bloom strikes up an exclusive deal with KWLA News manager Nina Romina (Rene Russo), and somehow night after night tear-asses around Los Angeles to deliver compelling video.

I really didn’t think I would care for this movie having seen the trailer, but it turned out to be a rather compelling story.  It is dark and a pretty bleak picture of the news world, but a good film nevertheless.  Good to see Rene Russo again; she is a welcome addition to the movie as a woman fighting for ratings and to hold onto her job.

Actor To Watch:  Jake Gylienhaal turns in another solid performance.  He is an actor not afraid to take risks.  His Louis Bloom character is not evil; he is just totally amoral.

Dialogue Nuggets:      Nina:  “I want something people can’t turn away from.”

Bloom:  “I want to be the guy that owns the station that owns the camera.”

Nina:  “Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

“On TV it looks so real.”

Detective:  “You filmed him dying.”   Bloom:  “That’s my job.”