Jazz-fuelled jitters, loft-space liaisons and hijacked heating oil – 200 not out for Paignton’s favourite film critic!
Whiplash (Sony) tells the story of Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller, Divergent), an ambitious young jazz drummer, who is determined to rise to the top of the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York. Tormented by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew yearns to become one of the jazz greats of his generation, and is determined to do whatever it takes. A chance encounter with Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons, Spider-Man) – an instructor notorious for his brutal teaching methods – sees Andrew plucked out of obscurity and thrust into the school’s top jazz ensemble. However, Fletcher’s uncompromising approach pushes him to the brink of his ability—and his sanity.
Any viewers only familiar with JK Simmons from his genial turn as Ellen Page’s Dad in Juno will be in for a surprise here, as his Terence Fletcher is one of the most memorably unhinged movie villains in recent memory. For my money, Fletcher is even more fearsome than Simmons’ Vern Schillinger character in cult HBO prison drama Oz. By way of comparison, Schillinger was a neo-Nazi and jail-house rapist! The flashes of Fletcher’s humanity that emerge as the film progresses only serve to make his jazz despot more terrifying. That said, Simmons quite literally meets his match in Miles Teller, whose blood, sweat and tears performance will take some beating.
On paper, Whiplash sounds like a fairly ghastly proposition, but director Damien Chazelle has concocted a bizarrely thrilling little movie out of the unlikeliest material. Excellent stuff.
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A remake of the 2008 Dutch language Belgian movie of the same name, The Loft (Signature) examines the toxic fallout that follows the discovery of a murdered woman at a penthouse apartment shared by five married men. The illicit loft-space is the brainchild of high-flying architect Vincent (Karl Urban, Dredd), who invites his best friends to use the building as an illicit bolt-hole for extramarital liaisons. However, the sleazy fantasy is ruptured when Luke (Wentworth Miller, Prison Break) discovers a woman’s dead body handcuffed to the bed, leading the five friends to suspect one another of her murder. As the interrogation unfolds, the number of potential suspects increases dramatically, and the men’s respective agendas come into play.
Part erotic thriller, part murder mystery, The Loft is a generally watchable, occasionally awkward drama that should find a receptive audience on DVD. As the film reaches its conclusion the backlog of twists feels slightly unwieldy, but the lead actors are compelling enough to keep you watching. Interestingly, Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust & Bone) – arguably one of the standout performers here – reprises his menacing role from the Belgian original. All in all: sleazy, but worth a look.
Set in New York City during the crime-ridden winter of 1981, A Most Violent Year (StudioCanal) follows heating and oil firm proprietor Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis) as he struggles to protect his business interests. Always looking for a way to expand his business, Abel does things by the book. However, when he becomes the target of opportunistic thieves, and a number of his trucks go missing, he takes matters into his own hands and decides to track down those responsible. Frustratingly lacking in actual violence, the latest film from JC Chandor (All Is Lost) is a low-key thriller that prizes elaborately constructed moral dilemmas over visceral action. The attention to detail is hugely impressive, but the narrative fails to ignite, and the film suffers as a result. Impeccably crafted, but ultimately underwhelming.
Set in Brighton, The Sleeping Room (Second Sight) tells the story of young prostitute Blue (Leila Mimmack), whose visits to an old Victorian house to meet her client yield a dark secret involving an ancient brothel and a Mutoscope (an early motion picture device) showing homemade snuff movies. Blue attempts to uncover the mystery of the hooded figure committing the crimes, only to end up in a queasy world of pain… The Sleeping Room is a respectable exercise in Brit-horror, albeit one that suffers from some frustratingly erratic plotting. Despite its brisk 75 minute run-time, The Sleeping Room still manages to out-stay its welcome. Inside The Sleeping Room is a shorter, better movie, fighting to get out!