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Movie Night – 'Whiplash' becomes available after Oscars (March 4, 2015 issue)

Now that the Oscars are over some of the more obscure movies that were nominated are finally available for everyone to watch. It sounds backward, but it happens that way every year. Academy-Award winner “Whiplash” is now available OnDemand.
Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a student at Shaffer Conservatory, a prestigious music academy in New York. Andrew is a drummer. He has been honing his craft since he was a young boy. More than anything else in the world, Andrew wants to be considered one of the greatest drummers ever, and Shaffer is the best place for him to reach the legendary status he craves.
There are several bands at Shaffer, but everyone wants to be a part of the studio band of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). After stumbling upon Andrew while he was practicing at the school, Fletcher invites Andrew to be the alternate drummer in his band. The alternate’s main duty seems to be flipping the sheets of music for the number one drummer as he plays.
To say that Fletcher is abusive to his students is the understatement of the year. He hurls not only some of the vilest insults imaginable, but he also literally throws objects at his students. During Neiman’s first practice he gets a chance to play a piece titled “Whiplash.” After many unsuccessful attempts to play in the right tempo Fletcher hurls a chair at Andrew’s head.
Andrew was able to duck the chair, but he couldn’t avoid the multiple slaps to his face from Fletcher in front of the entire band until Andrew finally played the right tempo. That was Andrew’s first practice as a member of the band. Things only got more difficult from there.
Andrew’s trying to cope with the demands that Fletcher places on him and the demands that Andrew places on himself. He practices alone for hours on end until his shirt is soaked with sweat and his hands bleed. He knows what it takes to be one of the greats, and he’s determined to pay whatever price is necessary.
“Whiplash” takes you into the previously unknown world of competition among jazz bands. Competition with other bands is nothing compared to the competition within players on Fletcher’s band. All of the students are dedicated, talented, and driven. They have the same goal as Andrew and will stop at nothing to achieve their dream. While the premise of the movie may not sound very interesting, due in large part to the excellent filmmaking, the movie is compelling. It demands your attention.
The subject at the heart of “Whiplash” is the style of instruction used by Fletcher. Fletcher uses tough love, there are no pats on the back and no attaboys. You know you are playing well only by the fact that you are not the focus of Fletcher’s fury. He pushes people to their limits and beyond, using anything and everything at his disposal to push harder, to make them better than they ever thought they could be.
Fletcher’s philosophy can be summarized in a single quote near the end of the movie: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’” Fletcher recognizes the talent in Andrew and pushes him to dig deeper, to be great.
Without a doubt, Simmons deserves the Oscar he received for supporting actor for his portrayal of Terrence Fletcher, one of the colossal jerks of all time in the history of film. Simmons carries himself with an air of authority necessary to the role. When he enters a room everyone immediately becomes silent. His portrayal of Fletcher is ruthless, brutal, and, at times, darkly funny.
Miles Teller is not far behind as the kid with a dream in his heart and stars in his eyes. Teller actually played the drums himself (with the help of good editing) and some of the blood in the movie is from his hands. The dedication Teller brought to the role is what makes him so believable and it takes the movie to a higher level.
While many Oscar-nominated films turn out to be boring duds, “Whiplash” is great entertainment. Other than “American Sniper,” it’s the best of the Oscar-nominated movies.
Grade: A-
Rated R for strong language including some sexual references.