“Whiplash” Movie Review

Blood. Sweat. Tears.

After Whiplash premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, it immediately drew comparisons with one film: Full Metal Jacket. On the surface, it’s an odd analogy: what does a Vietnam War film have to do with a movie about a kid at an elite music conservatory?

One word: perfection.

While Full Metal Jacket focuses on the brutal process of turning drafted teenagers into remorseless, efficient killing machines, Whiplash focuses on the brutal process of turning musical teenagers into the best musicians the world has to offer. It is the pursuit of perfection, but also of leaving a lasting legacy – of being remembered in a future sea of forgotten and anonymous souls long gone.

Brutality must come with brutes and the R. Lee Ermey of Whiplash is veteran character actor J.K. Simmons as music conductor Terence Fletcher. He is always dressed in a tight black t-shirt tucked into black pants. He stands stiff and erect, with efficient movements like a Navy SEAL. He demonstrates a type of sadistic patience, weeding out the weak… but is quick to throw a chair at someone’s head when they mess up too much.

The dubious recipient of that chair is Miles Teller’s character, Andrew Neyman, who wants to be the greatest drummer alive (and still be it after he dies). Everybody wants greatness, of course, but Neyman (and Teller) put the effort into it. There’s a lot of blood – most of it’s real from the intense drumming – and there’s sweat and tears here too.

Neyman also sacrifices a girlfriend, Nicole (portrayed by Melissa Benoist), which is unfortunate because the sequence where he asks her out was so adorable, so sweet, it actually gave me a cavity. Alas, Neyman values his future plans more – a seething desire for success that is only exacerbated by his family’s general disregard towards his career path.

The act of drumming in itself is very good at increasing adrenaline and demanding attention, but director Damien Chazelle does an exquisite job in his commercial directorial debut. The camera is very active, with a variety of different shots at different angles and distances to visually stimulate the audience.

Whiplash is one of the first movies to officially enter the Oscars conversation, and it’s a strong contender. There is very real chatter in the air for J.K. Simmons to be nominated come Oscars time, although at this point, only time (and momentum) will tell.

There’s really only one significant flaw here, and it has less to do with any technical aspects of the movie, but more with the theme: practice makes perfect. Contrary to popular belief, practice does not make perfect. But apparently, Whiplash would like you to believe that, which is somewhat connected to the notion of underdogs magically pulling ahead in the end.

In reality, the real saying is twofold. The first is from Vince Lombardi when he said, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

The second is from Bobby Robson, when he said, “Practice makes permanent.”

If you practice correctly, and diligently, you can certainly improve. But to imply that practice – no matter how vigorous – can lead to legendary status is simply a fallacy.

“Annabelle” Movie Review: Cheap Scares Galore!

Some things will always scare us. But they will never terrify us.

After The Conjuring, um, conjured up a surprising amount of critical and financial success last summer, it was inevitable that some type of follow-up film would be made. And that’s how we got Annabelle (a prequel, to be specific).

Unfortunately, Annabelle isn’t as strong as The Conjuring, but that’s a little unfair because most horror movies are pretty freaking awful to begin with, and that’s really not the case for Annabelle.

I mean, it definitely helps using a creepy doll as a prop for demonic possession. Dolls are always weird, and movie characters should know by now that something that looks weird always – ALWAYS – has heinous intentions in the works.

It really is befuddling to see a character pick up a doll and coo at it, even if it looks scary as shit. Of course, the audience has the benefit of knowing exactly what’s going to happen, but there’s a reason most of us don’t just have sketchy dolls sitting on our shelves, peering at us with their cold, empty eyes.

And by the way, I had the pleasure of watching Alien for the first time right after watching Annabelle, and it was intriguing to see an “old” film like Alien utilize horror so well, while a new movie like Annabelle attempts to use nothing BUT old tricks, and is considerably less effective.

That’s really the “problem” with Annabelle. It was pretty scary, but I didn’t actually feel terrified when I left the movie theater. Many of the scares were short, temporary bursts of sudden noises and sudden movements. Yeah, they work, but it’s certainly not a baby alien bursting out of a man’s chest.

Yes, that’s the one from Spaceballs. All in good fun, eh?

The highlights of Annabelle mostly followed the old saying “less is more.” A demon, for example, is considerably more frightening when shown lurking in the shadows. When it decides to come out and harass our protagonists in the light, the effect is considerably reduced.

Also – I have to quickly mention this – but shame on the trailer for spoiling some of the better moments of the movie. If you’ve seen the trailer, continue reading; the element of surprise is gone for you. If you have not seen the trailer yet (somehow), please skip the following lines until you reach the bold font.

Okay.

So remember that part in the trailer where the girl runs through the half-open door and reappears as a shrieking woman in a bloody, white dress? That had the potential to be one of the best scenes in the film, but was ruined thanks to the trailer.

Honestly, I’m not sure why they thought it was necessary to include that.

Welcome back.

Annabelle‘s persistent reliance on cheap scares is lame, but it’s a good source for some quick flinches and scares. The other aspects of the movie are good enough to differentiate this one from the hordes of other horrors movies out there, but it’s a shame because this could have been so much better.

It didn’t help that the actors were ridiculously generic. The Conjuring was appealing in many ways, and the cast was one such example of that. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga were both great, but more importantly, they looked distinct (even though Wilson does look a little bit like NFL quarterback Philip Rivers).

Unfortunately, a bunch of bland people showed up for the prequel: a guy that looks like Eddie Redmayne (or the founder of 4chan, according to my buddy Kevin), a girl that vaguely resembles Tina Fey depending on the angle, and a priest/pastor that HAS to be related to George Carlin.

"Pray to Joe Pesci and he'll come by with a baseball bat and smash that fucking demon's knees."

“Pray to Joe Pesci and he’ll come by with a baseball bat and smash that fucking demon’s knees.”

Their performances were flat and completely unmemorable. I could not care less about what happened to any of the characters, and even found myself actively rooting against them at times. Especially, the George Carlin wannabe, who irritated me for some confounding reason.

But really, acting isn’t quintessential in a good horror movie.

If Annabelle had continued on its original path of creepy, subtle horror, it would have been much better. Sometimes, the possibilities are more horrifying than the reality of the situation, and Annabelle decided to forgo that at a certain point.

Still, it did succeed at one aspect: it left me wanting a sequel to The Conjuring, or even some kind of midpoint entry that closes the gap between Annabelle and The Conjuring. Well, as luck would have it, a sequel to The Conjuring is already in the works, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles as the Warrens.

The problem with turning a film into an entire franchise is that there’s usually a reason why that decision was made. That means the other films have an obligation to follow certain “rules” to make sure the good traits from the first film are present in the subsequent creations.

It’s not a coincidence that the best parts of Annabelle resembled the best parts of The Conjuring, whether it was that vintage/retro feel or the cinematography. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but it wasn’t even consistent enough in this case.

For whatever reason, Annabelle is referred to as a spinoff film rather than a prequel; I’m guessing it’s the same logic that makes The Bourne Legacy a spinoff of the Matt Damon trilogy.

Unfortunately, it has the feel of a spinoff, where it’s familiar, but not consistently enough. It also tries to be different, obviously, but the good parts are good enough to make the difference more noticeable than, say, in most other horror films where the quality is consistently flat.

Having said all that, I would recommend the movie. Horror movies are pretty hard to withstand because so many of them suck so hard. Annabelle doesn’t suck – it’s an above-average horror flick.

But just an average movie.

We’ll see if the franchise rebounds in the next film. I sure hope so, because this series still has a ton of potential.

Fantasy Basketball: Horrible Trade Offer and Michael Westen’s Analysis

Some knucklehead really thought I’d give up Anthony Davis for Carlos “Screaming Lunatic” Boozer. Fortunately Michael Westen from Burn Notice is back to help me with this tactical situation.

Believe it or not, there are scenarios where Boozer would be more valuable than Anthony Davis. For example – and this is the most plausible one I’m going to offer, just FYI – Davis might get injured for half the season, never get into a rhythm, and underperform.

Boozer, on the other hand, is joining a crummy Lakers squad that is going to feature a Kobe Bryant coming back from a series of injuries. They let Pau Gasol go and Steve Nash is kind of a bum now. There’s a real chance Boozer might average 14-19 points, 7-10 rebounds, and 9-30 defensive mistakes per game.

Less plausible scenarios involve the following: spontaneous hurricane destroys New Orleans, Anthony Davis gets kidnapped by the bad guy from True Detective, and/or the world just flips.

Yeah… I’m going to assume rejecting that trade offer was the smart move here. As if it isn’t obvious enough already, Michael Westen is here to back me up and tell me exactly what Carlos Boozer’s fantasy owner is trying to do.

You can take it from here, Mike.

Let me put down my yogurt first. And Fi. I don’t know why you flew all the way to Miami to ask for help on this fantasy basketball problem, but I’ll help because I owe you one.

Barrett’s note: I saved him from expired yogurt. No big deal.

When an operative enters negotiations to exchange information or assets, it can often be more about the psychology than anything else. The world of espionage and black ops is shadowy, with deception lurking around every corner.

Lowballing is one form of deception used to gage the enemy, which is what a certain league member did by offering Carlos Boozer for Anthony Davis. Such a lopsided offer can also insert doubt into the operative, rendering his decisions less effective in the future.

An experienced operative will know that overthinking the tactical situation is exactly what the enemy wants. Going through every single option can be just as dangerous as blindly racing towards one goal, and the best operatives use that knowledge to their advantage, both to protect themselves and to gain an edge in the field.

In this case, there’s no chance this trade would work for you. Unless Anthony Davis gets injured for the season, or some other unfortunate scenario plays out, you would be wise to keep Carlos Boozer away from you.

The best operatives also know when to keep things simple. Lowballing is deadly because it causes doubt about doubt. An operative needs to keep a calm head in that situation, or will most likely end up dead.

Or, in this case, just get a really bad deal.

You’re welcome.

Holy shit! Michael Westen is a badass!

By the way, who loves yogurt more? Michael Westen or Terry Jeffords (portrayed by Terry Crews) from Brooklyn Nine-Nine?

Think about that.

And screw this horrible trade offer! Anthony Davis is a beast.