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Multiple forms of Whiplash at the movies

So apparently I lied about being done with my moviegoing for the year, and this morning I ended up at the recently opened MJR cinema in Troy for a screening of Whiplash, a film I had tried to see a few times over the past month.

I think it’s very cool that MJR has their own theme song, a great nod to movie theatre traditions of the past. Here it is on YouTube:

The song reminds me greatly of the Loews Theatres jingle I grew up with, also viewable on YouTube:

Back to Whiplash

The film is much darker than what I had expected, focusing right in on promising music student Andrew Naiman (Miles Teller) and his struggle to fit in at a prestigious music conservatory in New York City. Soon after his arrival, Andrew encounters a teacher (JK Simmons) who notices his talent, and recruits him to be part of an upper-level band. But Andrew soon learns that the teacher excels at pushing his students to the brink, in order to get the most out of them, and Andrew finds himself making changes in his life and becoming increasingly, fanatically, focused on the music.

The film evokes a complicated line of thought recalling mentors and teachers one might have had, and how much they pushed you/their students to be successful. A more subtle thread in the story looks at trust and forgiveness – if we are bothered by some thing or action that a person caused, can we even speak with or trust them again? And finally, how much do you/I/we want to achieve for a lifelong dream? I know I have felt all of those sensations at different times in my life.

Native Detroiter Simmons (recently interviewed by the Free Press about the film and his hometown connections) captivates in a demanding multifaceted role. Perhaps most impressively, just when I thought the film had closed up his character, and the storyline, a third act appears that turns his character around and fills in the shadings, while also setting up a provocative finale.

I wasn’t familiar with Teller prior to this film, although I see from IMDB that he’s become quite well known thanks to several big hits aimed at audiences slightly younger than me. He scores a 10 on the music scenes, thanks to his existing musical background and a similar ferocious intensity, but I felt that he didn’t fully inhabit some of the dramatic scenes of the film. Admittedly, that may have been part of the point, where the character was getting so consumed by his work as to neglect other parts of his life.

The supporting cast includes few well – known names, save for veteran actor Paul Reiser as Andrew’s dad. Reiser hasn’t changed from his affable presence as seen on 1990’s television and several films in that decade, and I felt that touch was just what the role needed, where his son faces such high personal stakes.

The film’s story is conducted in a broadly familiar way, and so I could tell where the narrative was going, with a few exceptions. However the intensity of the story is such a surprise, with a powerful punch, that I often still was on the edge of my seat. Hope that the film continues to stay in the awards season conversation.

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Film Flashback: Insurrection

Continuing my series of posts focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation adventures on the big screen, the 16th anniversary of the crew’s third cinematic foray, Insurrection, is coming up next Thursday.

Once again I was excited to see my favorite space crew on the big screen, and proceeded to see their latest voyage three times during its original cinematic release. First up was an opening day screening at the then – new Showcase Cinemas Lowell, which was just coming up to its first anniversary of opening. I remember it was a winter concert night at my high school (which I was performing in) a few towns away from Lowell, so my dad picked me up and we rushed to the cinema and then hurried right back so I could make it to the evening event. Unfortunately, that rushed state led to me leaving my first point and shoot camera there in the movie theatre, and I was unable to recover it, which disappointed me and my parents as it contained a few photos that could not be replicated. (why did I even take it into the theatre? probably to take a picture of the poster… interesting how those things stand out in the memory…)

A week later, my dad and I caught the film a second time on Opening Night of the new and long – awaited Loews Theatres Liberty Tree Mall. I remember feeling disappointed that Insurrection was shoehorned into one of the complex’s smallest screening rooms, even though it was just in its second week of release. We would get to know the rest of the complex very well over the next several years.

This film serves as half of the answer to a regional trivia question in that it was one of the two final films to screen at the Loews Liberty Tree Mall twin cinema, which closed down after screenings on December 17, 1998, to make way for the new 20-plex.

Finally, I saw the film a third time in St. Johnsbury, VT, near the end of that month, with my mom and several other friends. I highly doubt that St. J’s Star Theater has changed much since that screening!

Insurrection DVDIt’s been awhile since I’ve actually watched Insurrection, and I’m aware that it has a bit of a “meh” reputation among fans. The film’s location photography in the Mammoth Lakes region of California stood out to me on those early viewings, with lush greenery and icy blues serving as fitting evocations of an alien planet. Veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith again delivered an expert tapestry of musical images to drum the story along and serve as a backdrop for the crew’s continuing mission. But I agree with a sentiment that I once saw somewhere indicating that this film shows the Next Generation crew at their most natural. They don’t have to ramp up the violence to show they can kick some ass and bring in box office, they don’t have to compare themselves to other Star Trek crews, and they don’t have to do a victory lap on their way out of the spotlight, they can simply be present in the story, and relate to each other with humanity and consideration. (The last point is something that the actors continue to do well in real life, as seen in writeups of their convention appearances over the last several years, and I saw for myself when I met Marina Sirtis here in Michigan a year and a half ago.)

I likely did not realize on first viewing that the “guest stars” for this installment drew heavily from the theatre world, where most of the regular cast members also have roots. It would be interesting to see some alternate universe mashup where Donna Murphy and F. Murray Abraham suddenly launched into dramatic monologue faceoffs with Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner and the rest of the cast.

Bright lights shine on a familiar cinematic story

fairlane cinemaI made a return visit to the garishly Disney World – esque AMC Fairlane Cinema (photo at right) this evening. Though this cinema is a relatively close neighbor to me in my present living situation, this was only my second time there. Their admission price of $7.25 seemed like a throwback to another era, although the average priced concessions made up for the initial cheapness.

The interior of the cinema offers a familiar design seen in many turn-of-the-millenium era Loews Theatres, which I know well from early visits to the Boston Common cinema, and I’m sure can be seen at other venues across the country. However, it doesn’t seem to have aged badly, and this particular complex has been well maintained.

This evening’s feature of choice was Beyond the Lights, a current release focusing on the story of Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a British R&B/urban singer and clear Rhianna/Katy Perry/insert your pop star here composite, who has found fame in her provocateur act and lives the high life in Los Angeles, but yearns to drop it all and go back to her more humane self. She faces conflicting guidance from an overbearing mother (Minnie Driver) and decides that she wants to get to know a noble police officer (Nate Parker) who came to her aid at a particularly challenging moment. Simultaneous to her challenges, her intense stardom tugs at her window and makes her struggle to decide which way she wants to take her life.

beyond the lightsThe film puts a pragmatic and realistic spin on a familiar story, and is really a showcase for a dynamic and revelatory performance by Mbatha-Raw (pictured at left), an actress who proved she was a talent to watch in Belle earlier this year – though I would have enjoyed seeing her Ophelia opposite Jude Law’s Hamlet a few years back on London and New York stages. She carries the film and does all of her own singing with charisma and smoldering heat through most of her scenes, creating a fully rounded character out of what could have just been a caricature. It was good to see Driver back on screen in a primary role; it feels like it has been several years since I’ve seen her in any widely released movie, though I understand she has been busy with television work. Veteran actor Danny Glover, whom I once met briefly in Massachusetts and have a 1 degree connection to in the Bay Area, appears in a supporting role as Parker’s father, and his familiar gravelly voice and committed screen presence were also a welcome sight.

I can’t recommend the film with super-enthusiasm due to its formulaic plot, but think it is worth seeking out at some point for its committed performances and the important fact that it’s made by a female filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who knows how to tell a detailed and relatable story.