Whiplash

Whiplash

I won’t admit to being a film lover. I will, however, admit to occasionally being seduced by the charisma of film…

I watch a lot of films. I’ll confess to this. Not that it is something that should be deemed worthy of confession. I only want an excuse to sit down and do nothing for a couple of hours each day. I don’t feel guilty about it. I have even enjoyed the odd feature – as my tastes have moved on from anything involving a killer shark* (or any other kind of mutated or particularly aggressive creature bound by an unrelenting need to inflict ceaseless pain unto the human race).

As a gauge to how many films I watch, below I have compiled a list of my feats throughout the month of March – twenty-two films. Twenty-two is probably over average, though March was a busy one. It might sound contradictory that I should find time to watch more films than usual, but put simply, the more overtime and weekends that I’ve been working, the more I need to just sit down at the end of the day.

I will say now that I’m not much of a filmie. Some might argue otherwise, but I’m just not. I can’t consciously label myself so. My friends have taken to referring to me as such, though they base the notion on nothing more than the fact that I do watch a lot of films, which does extend my knowledge (and heighten my opinions), but doesn’t automatically make me any kind of buff. Besides, I don’t like enough films to constitute as a filmie…

Anyway, for those who have not hesitated in referring below (not that you should be in any rush to do so), you will already know that there is little, if any correlation from title to title more than perhaps them being mainstream/populist choices – I am not so into my films that my knowledge extents to minor studios or any kind of home production. Perhaps one day that might be different, but for now it has to be something cinematised and within the 80,000 titles of LOVEFiLM by Post, or within my dad’s ‘western draw’ (made up predominately but not entirely of pre-millennia westerns).

I’ll watch pretty much anything if it appeals, or, failing of that, if it is highly rated or recommended. So as not to completely waste my time, one thing that I will say about my lists is that I am quite strict in the fact that I only choose titles that are either highly rated or recommended (or come from my dad’s ‘western draw’). In other words, I don’t watch shit – or at least I try not to. Nobody knowingly does that, do they? I’m looking at you, Movies 24… Please could you kindly refrain from hooking the likes of my mother with your simplistically executed falsifications of eternal love and unequivocally happy endings? Release her from her cage. Let her immerse herself in real films – I’m not saying that all ‘real’ films are good, but I am saying that anything shown on Movies 24 is bad.

Am I already being overly condemning of anything that I don’t like? I think that I am. I just can’t get my head around some of the stuff that manages to get produced. Whether a film is good or not is subjective, of course, but sometimes I just can’t for the life of me see what value some of these pictures hold – anyone seen Brazil? Some films you may not absolutely love, but you can still appreciate for what they are. I am of the belief (because it would save me a hell of a lot of time), with the mass of resources available for film reviewing that we have at our disposal in this modern age, that one should be able to know that they are going to watch something of quality before they have even sat down. Why must the Tomatometer continue to lie to me?

Why must I continue to suffer in a world which inflicts increasingly high demands on screenwriters to produce nothing less than a masterpiece as a first draft? If the only scripts that are accepted by studios are pieces of work unremittingly engaging, that at the same time get a theme or message across on top of continuous character development of often multiple characters without moving the story too slowly or too fast, all within a hundred and twenty pages or less, then I should be raving about a new film every day. But these are just the ramblings of an envious, pernickety, failed screenwriter. Evidently this is not an easy thing to do, and more often than not people are happy to just settle with something presented in a form that is close enough, or at least appears so…

I think that I’ll just stick to the position of viewer. Life is simpler over here. The biggest dilemma that I will face is what film to pick tonight… So, a film needs only to be within the perceivably strict (though actually accommodating) criteria of being one of either highly rated or recommended (as a defying art of critical opinion), meaning that it can be about pretty much anything. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash was more than a ripple on my ever fluctuating scale of movie-watching.

By the time that I came around to watching it, Whiplash was already acclaimed in numbers alone by the common folk of the Internet Movie Database with a rating of 8.5/10 (acclamation indeed), but I hadn’t heard anything more about it than that. After reading the bio and adding it to my rental list, it took a seat in the ‘Normal’ priority section of the list. It wasn’t something that I could get excited about from a synopsis, but the numbers were convincing enough that it warranted a place above the ‘Low’ priority section.

I honestly didn’t think that I’d have any real interest in a film centred around the drumming aspect of a studio band, and that it would end up as just another excuse to do nothing for an hour and forty-seven minutes, to then go for a smoke as I walk to post it back. Thank God it came. I can’t exaggerate enough the effect that this film has had on me. It has since reignited a diminishing faith that the film industry is still capable of producing those special experiences every now and again. Though we may still have to bat our eyes as more and more spinoffs and sequels of Harry Potter and Avatar are thrown in our faces, it has given me hope.

And it’s a simple film; it’s not complicated, convoluted in any way more than it needs to be within this concept of pushing a person further than they’re comfortable with being pushed. I feel that that’s down to, in the most part, how it’s written. If I’ve learnt anything about screenwriting, it’s that with a good script at hand, the rest is far easier. There is no better appeal than a great prose in a great writer, whether it be in projecting words to screen or letting our imaginations run wild. I don’t say this much, but the writing is so undeniably engaging that one has no choice but to engage.

I read the screenplay after I’d watched the film for the first time. Chazelle’s work weaves a continuous silver thread which ties scene to scene seamlessly. There is something in those pages that is truly special, an artist’s swill, and it is conjoint with the final piece. Post Andrew’s loss of control, with him violently lashing out at his orchestrator and ultimately being expelled from Shaffer, seemingly the end of his and Fletcher’s affiliations, there is little more than a page of transition before we are thrown back to the on-going undulation of their relationship as Andrew wonders into a jazz club where Fletcher is on the piano.

I think that that alone is evidence enough of the point that I am trying to make. Somehow you feel that it shouldn’t work, but it just works.

As a film, some could argue that not a lot happens. As my sister put it, ‘He just plays drums for the entire thing’, but it’s so much more than that, Jones… If I go back for a moment to what I was saying about not thinking that this would be something that I would enjoy, it affirms my belief that near any idea or concept can be engaging on a widespread scale if done well.

During my research I also watched Whiplash (2013) – as opposed to Whiplash (2015) – after reading up further on Damien Chazelle. The 2013 cut was a short film, as I understand, to give potential investors/producers an idea of what they were buying into with the full-length screenplay that had been proposed to them. With Chazelle, they agreed that they would shoot a single scene to see how it looked and go from there. I’m not saying that it was bad, but I’ll say that I’m grateful that Miles Teller got on board, offering a massive hand in making Whiplash what it ultimately became, and giving us an Andrew Neiman I could never see differently.

Nothing needs to be said about J.K. Simmons’ role as Fletcher – a debutant Oscar winner for his performance.

I do watch a lot of films, and could review any one of them with enough opinion to meet the word count of a university essay, but I find that it’s better to articulate more positive than negative views, certainly in social circumstances. How am I doing so far? Because I want this to be a review that is creditable and even enjoyable, not me complaining about how bad a film is and everything that is wrong with it or could be better. For example (I know… I’ll keep it brief), I recently watched The Last of the Mohicans, an, I think it’s fair to say, well received film. W-h-a-t? The film, by all accounts, is true to George B. Seitz’s original adaption, but this is where I don’t understand critics sometimes. What are they critiquing here? Because, as a film, it has one of the most generic storylines that I have ever had to suffer the banality of following – it might just be a generational thing, but film reviewing is subjective, and I am entitled to my opinion.

Before I go on, I would hasten to add that I found the picture painted of 1757 American feeling quite real, and containing of an enormous amount of beauty to bear; but that is beside the point that I am trying to make. This is what I took form it.

  • Here are our heroes.
  • Here’s the bad guy.
  • Here’s the pretty girl.
  • Here’s how our heroes kill the bad guy and save the pretty girl.

Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that is the essence of it. [Michael] Mann sets the scene, sure, he captures a time and a place with great attention to detail, he just doesn’t have the story to accompany it in order to create a great film. He was true to the original, OK, but they cinematised it anyway, so they might as well have made it a bit more compelling. All I asked for was a twist or something unexpected— What did I read recently? …Neil Strauss’ The Rules of the Game; perhaps a strange man to quote, but, I think, relevant to my point. He said, ‘Add intrigue. Suspense occurs when a listener knows something is going to happen next but doesn’t know either what it is or how it’s going to happen.’ Mohicans did not do that…

What I did omit from my four-point overview above was that one of the good guys does die at end too, because it can’t just be the bad guys getting battered around Kill Bill style—OH! Wait! Stop! Hold the horses. TWIST ALERT. It’s not the father who dies but his son… Who saw that coming? That’s a cold reality check… Who cares? —This is what the review would be like if I didn’t like the film, see, just me complaining bitterly about every imperfection. Was all that a tad overly cynical? Ha Ha…

Did I mention that it’s rare for me to watch the same film twice? I don’t think that I did – this is also completely relevant, I promise. I don’t know about you, but I find that there are so many flicks out there, that there just isn’t the time to re-watch those which I have already seen (with a few exceptions, of course). I keep them coming on a kind of conveyor belt from LOVEFiLM, watching them the day they arrive and sending them back immediately after; anything that I’ve seen before, perhaps forgotten the title of and ordered again, is like a clog in the gears of my belt. Wasted time!

How fussy am I about this? If I can remember the plot of a film, then I can’t see much point in watching it again, besides the likes of The Lord of the Rings, for example. There are other exceptions too, but they are few and far between. One recent example would be Pulp Fiction. Cracking film. Cracking script. Whereas I might watch a film like Pulp Fiction every year or so and not again for another decade, though, I’ll probably watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy every couple of years; if I never watch them again I don’t think that I’ll ever forget a single story arc, but I’ll watch those films for different reasons, if you see what I’m saying? I certainly won’t ever again sit through all three hours of La Dolce Vita, in admiration for its timely, undulating cinematic brilliance, not for its padded, overly visualised and ultimately sedating story…

Generally, I’m one of these people who struggles to enjoy a film if he knows what’s going to happen (or thinks he does), unable to appreciate it for anything but the plot and production of said plot. Fine. Call me ignorant, whatever, that’s OK. Back to Whiplash… I’ve watched this film three times in a month. That’s a statement in itself to how good this film is. It may not sound like much, but for me it is almost unprecedented – bar Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase when I was six, which upon its release I probably proceeded to watch every day for a year.

Could it happen again? I’ll tell you that it is very, very rare that this happens, but yes, it could – and I hope it does. I just can’t shut up about this film. Everything that I say is in reference to it. If I find another, then there’s a review coming… How many films come close to Whiplash? If you’re looking for a number, then I’d say >1%, though there are still a lot of unwatched films out there, despite me having already nearly worked my way through the entirety of the IMDb top 250. Ahh, Whiplash… It left me buzzing down the street. I didn’t even feel the need to smoke I was on such a high, and for no other reason than what I had just had the joy of witnessing.

 

 

March ’17 Films:

3/3- Brazil(1985)

6/3- Die Hard(1988)

7/3- The Hunt(2012)

8/3- 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968)

9/3- Drive(2011)

12/3- Blue Valentine(2010)

13/3- Spirited Away(2001)

14/3- The General(1926)

15/3- Frequency(2000)

16/3- Captain Fantastic(2016)

17/3- East of Eden(1955)

20/3- Fast Times at Ridgemont High(1982)

21/3- The Last of the Mohicans(1992)

22/3- Pulp Fiction(1994)

23/3- The Last Castle(2001)

24/3- The Girl on the Train(2016)

27/3- Salmon Fishing in the Yemen(2011)

28/3- Let the Right One In(2008)

28/3- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid(1969)

29/3- Empire of the Sun(1987)

30/3- The Dish(2000)

31/3- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?(1993)

 

 

Just look at that list. There are a hell of a lot of films there, I know, a hell of a lot of hours of precious time; but it’s been a long month, and I’ve been working pretty much solidly. More often than not it’s been eleven hour days (excluding travel), desperately trying to get ahead. Just think about how I feel after a day of work when I can’t even enjoy a good film… Well, sigh no more, because now I have a go-to – I very generously bought my father the Blu-ray edition as a premature Father’s Day present. Though he hasn’t gotten around to watching it himself just yet, I did make him open it with me there at his side, bursting with anticipation like a child on Christmas Day. What a gift! How lucky is he? Swipe! Thanks, Dad, I’ll see you in an hour and forty-seven minutes!

A real go-to, how about that? Something of my era… not something that came out when I was seven, but something contemporary and BRILLIANT.

I hope that this makes some kind of sense, and that people do agree, because some will swear by Mohicans, I’m sure, and I didn’t completely betroth it – I do love Daniel Day-Lewis, I think that he is a very good actor – I’m just fussy, but Whiplash… Perfect. I’m a Tiger, but Whiplash has tamed me.

 

 

 

Having re-read what I have just written (especially that last sentence), I realise that I haven’t explained to the extent that I would perhaps like why Whiplash is such a good film, having such a profound effect on me. (Though it may not be) I’ll put that down to my ability to harness words to put across the point that I am trying to make being still in the process of fine-tuning…

Before I go, I just want to go back to what my sister said about it being a guy playing drums for two hours. In essence, that’s all that it is. What more can you say? I think that creating even the most seemingly uninteresting of plots wholly engaging is the art of filmmaking to a tee, and what any aspiring filmmaker should strive for.

 

 

 

Just for fun, I’ve ordered the above films from best to worst consistent with the rating given to each of them upon the time of watching. Do you agree?

 

  1. The Hunt
  2. Pulp Fiction
  3. Captain Fantastic
  4. The General
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  6. Die Hard
  7. Blue Valentine
  8. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  9. The Last Castle
  10. Spirited Away
  11. The Last of the Mohicans
  12. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  13. East of Eden
  14. Drive
  15. Let the Right One In
  16. The Dish
  17. Empire of the Sun
  18. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
  19. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  20. The Girl on the Train
  21. Brazil**
  22. Frequency

 

 

 

*As of, well, today, I have seen pretty much every shark film that at some point or another has wriggled (or thrashed) its way into production. I am not proud of this. The worst part is that I am not lying or exaggerating in any way. If you were to Google search ‘shark films’ (though they are continually broadening the criteria for this search), the only exceptions are Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, and Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens… I’m a better person than that…

I’ve seen a hell of a lot of creature-features too. I don’t know what it is. There is just something about seeing hapless people being ripped to shreds… I won’t go into it. What I will ask, though, is when are they going to make something from the perspective of the poor, unloved mutant, struggling with its addiction to kill perilous, unsuspecting men and women in an increasingly broad spectrum of unique and unfortunate ways? That’s a film that I want to see. Maybe.

 

**I found out the other day (post writing this) that Brazil was directed by one of the Pythons – Terry Gilliam. Though my knowledge is limited, what I have seen/heard from the Monty Python members I have really enjoyed – for a variety of different reasons. Did I miss something in Brazil?

 

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