Whiplash – A Movie Review

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Mar 152015
 

Whiplash_Movie_PosterAndrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his élite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity.

Director: Damien Chazelle; Writer: Damien Chazelle; Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist; Runtime: 107 min; Rated: R; Genre: Drama, Music; Released: 2014-10-15

We actually went to see this a couple of weeks ago at Veteran’s 24 theater. My expectations were not too high, and I was surprised that Lay was interested at all. I was in the band in high school, a great band at that, with a tough (but nothing like the J.K. Simmons character, Terence Fletcher) band director. I just didn’t see how it could be that compelling. Boy, was I wrong. Everything about this film was stellar; casting, writing, acting, directing, music and cinematography all came together to just tell an incredible story.

Nineteen year old Andrew Nieman wants to be the greatest jazz drummer in the world, in a league with Buddy Rich. Andrew is starting his first year at Shaffer Conservatory of Music, the best music school in the United States. At Shaffer, being the best means being accepted to study under Terence Fletcher, and being asked to play in his studio band. Based on their less than positive first meeting, Andrew is surprised that Fletcher asks him to join the band, albeit in the alternate drummer position which he is more than happy to do initially. Andrew quickly learns that Fletcher operates on fear and intimidation, never settling for what he considers less than the best each and every time.

I don’t know who impressed me more Miles Teller in the lead as Andrew Nieman or Simmons playing Band teacher Terence Fletcher. Both did so great that had either been a lesser actor they would have been out shined by the other. Simmons’ character could have easily been cartoonish and 2 dimensional but Simmons gave him such depth that through the whole film I kept feeling wisps of compassion for him, and even understood his motives before he lays them out for Nieman in the third act. For a younger actor, Miles Teller,  who I haven’t seen in much, played his role like a seasoned actor. His performance just wrapped me up, and to find out he did much of the drumming himself is insane. Whilst watching some of the intense scenes I felt like I was watching him be executed, and other times it feels like the fight in Rocky, you feel like you are just watching him get demolished, except all of this is emotional and not  physical. Whether it is the discouragement, the social awkwardness, the single parent household, the internal conflict, the hubris, the arrogance, and at times the mental torture that he put himself through, all just blew me away. Teller had the charisma and electricity to connect to the audience.

The writing was outstanding. Often you kind of know where a movie is headed, but this movie stayed very unpredictable. Just when you think for certain how a scene or sequence of scenes will play out they take a hard left, and it keeps you off-balance (in a good way). It was so refreshing, a few times I thought the ending was near, but then something disrupts how “it should go or end”.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (1 votes, average: 9.00 out of 10)
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Inside Llewyn Davis-A Movie Review

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Jun 022014
 
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis poster Rating: 7.4/10 (103,246 votes)
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Ethan Phillips
Runtime: 104 min
Rated: R
Genre: Drama, Music
Released: 10 Jan 2014
Plot: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

We watched this from Redbox on March 30.

Wow, not sure what to say about this one. I really expected I would enjoy this movie, as did Lay. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it at all. Lay would rate a little higher, but we were both disappointed.

The reason I saw this film is that it’s a Coen Brothers film–and I nearly always love their films–whether they are comedies or dramas. However, “Inside Llewyn Davis” was, for me, a completely boring film with very little to recommend it. If I hadn’t known it was a Coen film, I never would have guessed it aside from having John Goodman in an odd little role and a reference to Ulysses. It has received many good reviews, so if you’re a fan of the Coen brothers, or like their style, by all means, see it. Continue reading »

And The Hits Just Keep Coming

 Culture, Entertainment, Featured Video, Gay Issues, Legislature, Music, Society  Comments Off on And The Hits Just Keep Coming
Apr 042011
 

I had occasion to hear the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus several times when I lived in Dayton. In fact, it seemed their Christmas Concert and that of the Cincinnati Gay Men’s Chorus were often the same weekend, so I’d do Cincinnati Saturday evening, and then go to Columbus for their Sunday afternoon concert. Both were excellent choruses, and they both had very different styles, so it was a great fun.

Here the Columbus Chorus provides a youtube for the “It Gets Better Project” with the Columbus Youth Choir. I’ll just let the music speak for itself.

Pirate Radio – A Movie Review

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May 162010
 

In the 1960s a group of 8 rogue DJs on a boat in the middle of the Northern Atlantic, played rock records and broke the law all for the love of music. The songs they played united and defined an entire generation and drove the British government crazy. By playing rock ‘n roll they were standing up against the British government who did everything in their power to shut them down.

Genres: Art/Foreign and Comedy; Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.; Release Date: November 13th 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: R for language, and some sexual content including brief nudity.

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh
Directed by: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis’ first ‘non romantic comedy film’ is really another romantic comedy film- it’s just that the romantic bit gets swamped within 20 other sub-plots so you try and not notice.

The Boat That Rocked sees Carl (Tom Surridge) go aboard Radio Rock- a pirate radio station owned by Quentin (Bill Nighy) whose DJ’s (Phillip Semour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Chris O’ Dowd, Rhys Darby, etc.) broadcast 24-hour rock and roll music to the UK. They are adored by the populace but hated by the government, including the Minister of Communications and his chief subordinate who aim to shut them down.

If that was the extent of the plot then it would probably be a 90 minute film. However the Boat That Rocked has so many little sub-plots- many seeming like excuses to put in another montage or cameo cast appearance that the time has ballooned out to 154mins and it does tell at times. Furthermore.

But these faults are more than made up for in the performances; all of which are good- and some are outstanding. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Count is a lovable character who approaches everything with great gusto, while Chris O’ Dowd’s Simple Simon has a wonderful part in the middle section of the movie which brings a little bit of emotion to what is a pretty emotionally vacant movie. Nick Frost is cheeky as Dr Dave and finally Rhys Darby- fresh from Flight of the Conchords- simply shines in his role as the unpopular and daggy Angus who nonetheless gets arguably the best line in the whole movie.

I have been wanting to see this movie since I saw the trailer for the very first time. We finally watched it as a download a couple of weeks ago. The plot sounded interesting and I was hoping to see a comedy that wasn’t as predictable and forced romantic as a lot of comedies are. I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, this isn’t the most profound story ever told, but I wanted to have fun, and this movie definitely gave it to me. Another bonus is the great soundtrack, which carries the whole movie. After leaving the cinema you will want to listen to the songs featured in this film, just so you can enjoy the feeling of it a little longer. This film is funny from the beginning to the end, and there were moments when I couldn’t stop laughing. If you want to see a feel-good movie with a plot that was, at least as far as I know, not used before, than this is the right film for you.

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Apr 262009
 

Movie Poster for The SoloistJournalist Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers , a former classical music prodigy, playing his violin on the streets of L.A. As Lopez endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives.

Genres: Drama, Musical/Performing Arts, Adaptation and Biopic; Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.; Release Date: April 24th, 2009 (wide); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some drug use and language.

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Nelsan Ellis, Michael Bunin, Robert Downey Jr., Rachael Harris

Directed by: Joe Wright

While we’d both been anxious to see this movie, Lay was especially looking forward to it. We decided to take it in at an afternoon showing yesterday, to avoid a packed theater. We did avoid the crowds, but unfortunately at least two groups (at least was two older ladies) did manage to talk quite a bit throughout the movie (where have manners gone).

That was hardly enough to spoil a great movie though, and I was completely sucked into the story. This is a powerful, heartfelt, emotionally moving, human drama with two very talented actors who pour themselves into the story. It lives up to it’s promises, and is definitely one of the best films of the year. If you’re looking for an inspiring story, then look no further. This is Director Joe Wright’s best film. I’ve always known Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. are two great actors respectively but the mix of two is like combining two different formulas that compliment each other and create an atomic chemistry only described as something that no one else will ever manage to replicate.

Downey and Foxx play a newspaper columnist and homeless man who come together in a most unusual way. Downey is a newspaper columnist looking for something original and interesting to write about it. He finds it when he sees Foxx beautifully playing a battered two-stringed violin along 3rd street in downtown L.A. Foxx has been there for years but on this day grabs the eye of the columnist because the columnist himself is experiencing hardship and doubt related to his own position. He begins to write about this talented but troubled man who fills the thick air around him with harmony. They become friends but keep in mind this is not fiction. The friendship hits many bumps that continue to this day. Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx’s character) may be a brilliant, educated musician, but he suffers from bouts of schizophrenia that manifest at any time. Downey’s character accepts this as it adds more intrigue to his columns. Then he accepts it on a personal level. Their friendship ultimately becomes real and meaningful. You sense that Downey’s character needs the friendship even more than Foxx’s homeless man does. In the end, Downey’s Lopez can see the positive effect his work has brought to the plight of the homeless, yet he wonders personally how much better he has made Nathaniel. His reflections make us think also.

As someone who’s volunteered at a homeless shelter, I’ve seen much of this story play out. I even remember one of the clients as a young man who could sit down at the piano they had in the shelter, and play nearly any song you could name, and play it beautifully. There is no great final climax to this film, as is usually the case in life, and as with many people who find themselves in Ayers’ situation, the story is complex and difficult, and rarely resolves itself to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s important to remember that “normal” is something relative.

It’s also important to remember that these are real people, still alive today, and still friends. So the story continues to play out.

This is Jamie Foxx’s best performance since Ray, and I’d vouch for a second nomination on the horizon. Robert Downey Jr. proves that he’s versatile, that he’s more than just Tony Stark, Superhero. Wright’s directing is superb. He understands the plot and how the actors should respond to whatever conflict that may surface. The locations chosen or how a scene would play out, his vision of it all is borderline perfect. The portrayal of the skid row and how the camera moves from one homeless guy to another and take us on this view of the forgotten little kingdom is quite humbling. Those of us who’ve seen the real LA would not find this to be an exaggeration.

It is an extremely well told story, and worth every minute you spend in the theater.

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A Prairie Home Companion

 Culture, Fun Stuff, Movies, Movies I Own, Music  Comments Off on A Prairie Home Companion
Jul 092006
 

Prairie_Home_Companion.jpgA look at what goes on backstage during the last broadcast of America’s most celebrated radio show, where singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty, a country music siren (Streep), and a host of others hold court.

Directed by
Robert Altman

Genres
Comedy, Music

Cast
Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Marylouise Burke, L.Q. Jones, Sue Scott, Tim Russell, Tom Keith

I went to see this movie yesterday by myself, as I knew it was not a movie Lay would enjoy. Although I think he secretly enjoys the radio show, as I often have it on when we are heading Saturday evenings.

If there is anyone more laid back or brighter than Garrison Keillor in show business, let me know, because Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion, based on Keillor’s long-running Minnesota Public Radio saga, shows Keillor as an audience sees him each week?like a god gently guiding an eccentric ensemble through excellent performances made to look as easy as his demeanor. This film stands as a testimony to the director’s gift for sustaining strong characters in layers of dialogue approximating overlapping conversations at an interesting party.

Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the singing country Johnson sisters bring back memories of Reese Witherspoon’s amazing turn as June Carter and Streep’s own previous country singer in Postcards. Ditto Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as the singing and joking Dusty and Lefty. But best of all is Kevin Kline as Keillor’s real radio creation, Guy Noir, the ’40’s dapper, inquisitive, naughty narrator and security head for the production. Klein embodies the melancholic mood always at least hidden underneath any show’s last show, despite Keillor’s nonchalant assertion that every show is your “last show.” Around this realistic, charming premise of talented performers at their last performance, writer Keillor interjects a ghostly beauty in a white leather trench coat, Virginia Madsen playing Dangerous Woman, the spirit of death, gently accompanying those about to die and the moribund show itself. The character is a lyrical embodiment of the theme that nothing lasts but the love shared in any experience. Keillor remains in character after someone dies by stating he doesn’t “do eulogies.” Nor does he do one for the show, which in real life still lasts in St. Paul from 1974.

So enjoyable are Altman, his ubiquitous HD camera, and his busy dialogue that you feel a part of the proceedings, catching the sweet smell of success for everyone attached to this thoroughly realized song of love to theater, music, and creativity.

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Basic Decency and Goodness

 Deep Thoughts, Society  Comments Off on Basic Decency and Goodness
May 282006
 

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. –Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals was a virtuoso cello player (and later conductor). He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but Casals is best remembered for the recording of Bach’s Cello Suites he made from 1936 to 1939.

Like with the previous quote by Mother Teresa, Casals is calling on us to act on basic instincts to do good. The world is improved when we do. The world is better for us having been here.

Ever Wonder Who Wrote Happy Birthday To You?

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Mar 022006
 

No birthday party is complete without cake, candles, and a performance of “Happy Birthday to You.” The song is quick, painless, and everyone knows the words. But while the lyrics are familiar to all, their author remains a mystery.The timeless tune’s melody (aka the musical notes) was penned in the late 19th century by two sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill. Originally, the lyrics were different — instead of “happy birthday to you,” it was “good morning to all.” The sisters, both teachers, used their tune as a kind of classroom greeting.

As we learned from the urban legend experts at Snopes.com, nobody knows who wrote the words for “Happy Birthday to You.” In 1924, the lyrics were published in a songbook edited by Robert H. Coleman. First, they were just another verse. But eventually, thanks to radio and “talkie” movies, the birthday verse became its own ditty. Now it’s considered to be the best-known song in the world. And, irony of ironies, nobody knows who wrote it.

Before you start drawing comparisons to an unclaimed lottery ticket, know that people do collect royalties. Right now, the song’s rights belong to Warner Chappell Music, who remind you that if you sing their intellectual property in public, kindly mail them a check.

Walk the Line

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Nov 302005
 

Walk the Line (2005)

A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Directed by
James Mangold

Genres
Biography, Drama, Music

Cast
Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Payne, Shooter Jennings, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Dan Beene, Clay Steakley, Johnathan Rice

Lay and I went to see this film Wednesday night before Thanksgiving up in North Carolina. Lay was too excited about, but I thought it was very well done.

First, this is an excellent film. Second, it is formulaic, but not to a fault. The film is two great performances. Luckily, they’re the right two. Phoenix has done an excellent job capturing Cash, the man. Not the legend and not what everyone thought he would be. What made Johnny Cash such an icon was that he was an “everyman” and Phoenix gives his all to not only capture every subtle nuance but also to make him believable as a flawed human being. Watch, in particular, the performance sequences, and I’d argue that it’s equal to Foxx’s Ray Charles without nearly as much caricature.

There’s no attempts on behalf of the filmmakers at the predestination of Cash as a superstar. They simply show how he learned to sing with a radio and a hymnal. The back story given before his career started is essential to the way his life unfolds and, for the most part, is kept in well-shot and brief sequences. There are few attempts to over-glamourize or over-dramatize the events that shaped Cash’s life and career.

Reese Witherspoon’s performance, as well, is surprisingly good. There are precious few points in the film where you remember she was in Legally Blonde, and her vocals and live performances are stronger than many I’ve seen from Hollywood actresses in recent years.

So, with all this greatness, what could be wrong? Nothing, really. This is a solid film, but it is completely conventional. It doesn’t go for the weepy Oscar moments that drown many films and it doesn’t try to cover too much of the man’s life focusing mostly on his years between his Sun Records contract and his “At Folsom Prison” album. If you have no love for the man himself, or his music, you may walk away underwhelmed, but otherwise you’ll be pleased.

“Walk the Line” is a well-made movie. Mangold’s direction is capable, and the script stays fairly true to the biographies upon which it was based. It does have excellent performances, but barring a groundswell of support for Cash’s legacy (which could arise) I don’t see it running away with any awards. It will contend for some due to excellent performances. Considering “Ray” was about a half-hour too long, I’d even go so far as to say it has an excellent shot at a Best Picture nomination. But a win may be difficult.

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Be Cool

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Nov 132005
 

Be Cool (2005)Disenchanted with the movie industry, Chili Palmer (John Travolta) tries the music industry, meeting and romancing a widow of a music exec (Uma Thurman) on the way.

Directed by
F. Gary Gray

Genres
Comedy, Crime, Music

Cast
John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric the Entertainer, Andr? Benjamin, Steven Tyler, Robert Pastorelli, Christina Milian, Paul Adelstein, Debi Mazar, Gregory Alan Williams, Harvey Keitel, The Rock, Danny DeVito, James Woods

Get Shorty was an excellent film. It was funny and had the perfect balance of highly comical acting and a serious plot. Be Cool is like some cheap knock-off trying to pass for a sequel. John Travolta as Chili Palmer seems to have forgotten that he was ever in the mob. He plays it like he’s a bored movie exec, rather than a bored movie exec who used to be a Shylock. Uma Thurman, great in nearly every role she’s ever played, comes off as strained and confusing. Is she supposed to be ditzy or clever? The chemistry between her and Travolta is strained and uncomfortable. Other than that, just add every movie clich? you can think of. A well-educated rap producer by Cedric the Entertainer, an inept gangster wannabe in Andre 3000, the girl with heart, soul, and a good set of pipes in Christina Milian, a gimmicky black dude wannabe in Vince Vaughn, and a stupid celebrity cameo by Stephen Tyler. The only funny part was the Rock, who invents his own new clich? as a gay Samoan bodyguard actor wannabe. Probably the biggest crime is the plot: IT MAKES NO SENSE. Get Shorty was clever with Chili playing one group against another and coming out on top. But this film tries that with about a million different characters. And even Chili doesn’t seem to know what’s going on. Fans of Get Shorty be warned: this is a very different, very worse movie.

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