by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 3, 2015

The very first shot in Damien Chazelle's exhilarating second feature, "Whiplash," is of young, ambitious drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) seen in a long shot, practicing his craft with a dogged ferocity. As the camera zooms in we can see the enigmatic emotions registering on Andrew's face, including determination, alienation and, once renowned conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) enters the room, a desperate desire to be accepted and adored. Fletcher dismisses him outright, but that won't stop Andrew. He'll just rehearse his fingers to bloody bits until he finally impresses the impresario or dies trying.

How much abuse is Andrew willing to take from the unrelentingly insulting Fletcher in order to reach the elusive perfection in his craft he so craves?

"I was there to push people beyond what's expected of them." For Fletcher fear and shame begets the determination needed to achieve genius.

Andrew has a cocky confidence that, like most teens, can be easily toyed with and undermined because deep down he's lacking in self-esteem.

"Whiplash" brings up a number of themes and issues, and it never gives us black and white answers. Viewers who appreciate nuance and intriguing debate and aren't bogged down with bullshit notions of likeability will appreciate the dense and complicated ideas being put forth.

Chazelle is to be commended as writer, for penning a truly gritty and marvelous script devoid of much melodrama. As director, he knows how to stage scenes that captivate and tell the story in an electrifyingly cinematic manner. And as a jazz aficionado, he's deft at infusing each moment with the precision that art form demands -- even the dialogue and filmic cuts feel jazzy.

And he's cast the film perfectly.

Winner of three deserved Oscars, "Whiplash" was the 2014 little feature that could, charming critics and the industry. Hopefully, now, it will find its audience on the small screen as well.

Teller has that nasty blend of charm and arrogance, but allows the viewer to feel so much more just under the compulsive surface. Chazelle's remarkable script takes the boy into manhood while exploring which traits he sheds and which are seared into his being-mostly by Fletcher.

Simmons's Fletcher is a fearless hornet's nest of cruel sadism, ridiculous ego and dictatorial delusion. It's such a bracing, refreshing performance, with only hints of humanity; you can't help but be astonished by its chutzpah. It's no wonder Simmons won every possible Supporting Actor Award in creation for this immersive turn.

The remarkable1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks sleek with dynamic color contrasts dazzled by Tom Cross's Oscar winning editing. The film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix explodes with the most singular and euphoric jazz score since "The Fabulous Baker Boys."

The disc is loaded with a slew of awesome Special Features including an energetic Audio Commentary with Chazelle and Simmons, a 43-minute doc called "Timekeepers" that focuses on professional drummers, an 8-minute Q&A excerpt from the Toronto Film Festival with Teller, Simmons and Chazelle and one short but potent Deleted Scene involving Fletcher at home.

The pièce de résistance is the 18-minute original short film (with optional commentary) that was made to generate interest in the project. It's fascinating to watch how the film evolved from this worthwhile whistle whetter into such a towering achievement.

Winner of three deserved Oscars, "Whiplash" was the 2014 little feature that could, charming critics and the industry. Hopefully, now, it will find its audience on the small screen as well.

Blu-ray/Digital HD


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Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute