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Films I Neglected To Review: We've Got Music, We've Got Rhythm
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Rudderless" and "Whiplash"

"Rudderless" marks the film directorial debut of William H. Macy, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and while he may be one of the best actors around, he still has much to learn behind the camera based on the evidence displayed here. Billy Crudup stars as a divorced ad executive whose life falls apart when his aspiring musician son is killed in a campus shooting spree. Two years later, while going through some of his son's possessions that have been dumped on him by his ex-wife (Felicity Huffman), he comes across some recordings of his songs and impulsively decides to perform one at a local bar, where he catches the attention of another wanna-be performer (Anton Yelchin). Together, they form a band with a couple of other musicians using the dead son's songs (which Crudup passes off as his own) and begin to find unexpected personal and professional success as a result.

Like many actors who step behind the camera, Macy's key emphasis here is on the performances and he gets some decent work from Crudup, Huffman and Laurence Fishburne, who kind of steals the proceedings as a record company weasel. (The only weak spot amongst the cast is Selena Gomez, who turns up in a couple of uninspired scenes as the dead son's former girlfriend.) From a storytelling standpoint, Macy keeps everything on an even keel for the most part--perhaps too even for its own good--but is done in by a screenplay that is blandly formulaic for the first two-thirds (the kind of film that you will begin mixing up with other indies of its ilk even as you are watching it) and then kind of goes all screwy in the finale. "Rudderless" is not much of a film--if it weren't for Macy's name, it probably would not be receiving even the exceedingly meager distribution that it is currently receiving--but while it may not be particularly worth watching, it has just enough going for it to suggest that Macy might one day direct an interesting film, even if he hasn't done so here.

In "Whiplash," the other musically inspired drama opening this week, Miles Teller, he of the dead soul, stars as Andrew, a freshman at a New York performing arts school who dreams of one day being an expert jazz drummer along the lines of Buddy Rich. He unexpectedly catches the ear of the school's most notorious instructor, Terence Fletcher (J.K.Simmons), and finds himself installed as the new alternate drummer in the school's top studio band under Fletcher's direction. Before long, however, Andrew discovers that Fletcher's conducting style owes less to Richard Dreyfuss in "Mr. Holland's Opus" and more to R. Lee Ermey in "Full Metal Jacket" as the practice sessions turn into brutal endurance contests in which Andrew literally spills blood in order to satisfy Fletcher's artistic whims, even when his demands are virtually impossible to achieve. As Andrew pushes himself further and further to prove himself, the question arises as to whether Fletcher is an insane bully who gets away with his cruelties because of his artistic gifts or is there is indeed some method to his madness in that pushing people to their extremes will hopefully inspire great work.

"Whiplash" marks the feature debut of writer-director Damien Chazelle and has being winning rave reviews virtually across the board since it made its debut at Sundance earlier this year. Like many past films that have been wildly celebrated at that festival, a viewing in a less heated and more oxygen-rich atmosphere reveals a work that is a little more flawed than originally noted. There are a couple of dramatic turns that don't ring especially true and the stuff involving the ancillary characters in Andrew's life--his menschy father (Paul Reiser) and his soon-to-be-sacrificed girlfriend (Melissa Benoist)--feels especially perfunctory, though I am willing to concede that this may be the point that Chazelle is trying to make. On the other hand, there are plenty of legitimately electrifying moments on display here--the extended dialogue-free climax in which the two antagonists let it all out on the stage is a real stunner--and the editing rhythms created by do a stunning job of translating the seemingly wild but rigidly controlled syncopations of the music into visual terms. Additionally, the two central performances by Teller, an actor who has not particularly impressed me in his previous outings, and Simmons, who most certainly has, are excellent as well--they know that they have been given flashy and attention-grabbing parts to play and tear into them with the kind of excited competitive fury of a couple of hot musicians dueling on stage. Again, "Whiplash" man not be the masterpiece that some have claimed it to be but for those interested in jazz music and/ or the bold cinematic stylings of a new talent eager to prove himself to the world, it probably should not be missed.

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originally posted: 10/17/14 12:06:47
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