Rabbit Hole (2010)

Rabbit_Hole_PosterRabbit Hole is a modest film — a film based off of David Lindsay-Abaire’s original play that he adapted for the screen. However, that is not to discount the big performances that fill up the screen from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart to Miles Teller.

The film finds its drama in the story of a seemingly perfectly successful couple Becca and Howie, except the pair is still trying to get over the death of their four-year-old son. It’s been 8 months now, but Becca still seems far from ready to move on with her life.

She doesn’t want another kid. She can’t bear to see the dog that Danny was chasing into the street. She does not want to go to a support group, and she remains mostly aloof with her mother and sister, who hardly run in her same circles.

The moment the story takes a turn begins when Kidman’s character takes a great deal of interest in a boy. This is not some strange obsession or desire for a tryst. It’s nothing like that at all, but we begin to wonder why is she so interested in this seemingly ordinary high school student on the bus.

It might be clear to some right off the bat, but for others, it will take a few moments…Yes, that’s right. He was the one driving the car! He was there when it happened. That’s horrible. That’s awful. How are you even supposed to deal with that? How can you handle meeting face to face? Except Becca does meet with him in the park, and it may not seem like therapy, but it is just what both of them needed. They want things to be made right again, but they can never quite go back to the way they were before. They want someone to talk to and so they do, about whatever they want, whether it’s comic books, prom, or something else.

However, the news of their meetings finally becomes too much for Howie. The roles get switched as she becomes the cool and collected one while he seems to be losing it himself. It even gets to the edge of a precipice that almost drops into the chasm of an affair. But he doesn’t fall in. He and Becca slowly begin to patch things together, and their life slowly begins to fall in place.

Rabbit Hole is engaging because it speaks of how to cope with death and the kind of loss that tears your life apart. It considers what it is to mourn well and how we still must move on with our lives in a healthy way. The hard part is that there is hardly an easy progression, and sometimes it feels very subjective as to what a “healthy” way to grieve even entails.

Honestly, I watched this film out of curiosity in Miles Teller’s performance, thanks to Whiplash and especially The Spectacular Now, but I ended up being treated to two turns by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart that really commanded my attention.

3.5/5 Stars

Whiplash (2014)

2b478-whiplash_posterIf ever there was the Devil’s incarnate, it isn’t Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), he’s probably meaner and harder to nail down. In the world of musicians, there is no school more prestigious than Shaffer Conservatory in New York and that’s where young drumming prodigy Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) finds himself learning the ropes. Like most of the people there, music is his life and it’s what drives him. His dream is to be the next Buddy Rich. Most people don’t know who that is, but he does and that’s enough.

Nieman thinks he’s made the big time when he gets made the alternative drummer in the orchestra of conductor Terrence Fletcher, a man who seems strict, but still highly passionate about music. Andrew looks to prove himself and let his talent shine through.

He has no idea what he’s getting himself into. He watches with surprise as Fletcher tosses a member of his band out for being out of tune in a rehearsal of Whiplash. Except it was the other guy, but Fletcher feels it’s just as well since the guy didn’t know he wasn’t out of tune. Obviously, he was not a true musician.

Thus, Andrew gets a taste of this sadistic treatment all in the name of art and music. He gets a chair hurled at him. He gets repeatedly slapped for being off tempo. It becomes clear all too soon that Fletcher is a merciless two-faced monster who does everything in his power to improve HIS band at all costs. He never ceases berating, belittling, cursing like a sailor, name-calling, and inducing physical harm. He doesn’t care as long as it leads to results improving overall performance.

About this time Andrew awkwardly asks out the cute girl at the movie theater, and they share an awkward date at a 2nd rate pizza joint. It’s a cute beginning with some real promise. As far as family goes, his dad is a loving man, but Andrew has some real familial conflict with his relatives. They see his aspirations as small potatoes, and he, likewise, sees them as nobodies who are full of themselves. It’s mutual distaste.

Andrew’s education continues on an intense path when, by a fluke, he becomes core drummer. Fletcher also calls Andrew out saying he needs to practice harder, and it becomes a game of survival of the fittest. Kill or be killed. Dog eat dog. Fletcher has no sympathy or emotional attachment. All that matters is fielding the best band he can. He works his three drummers to the point of pure exhaustion, hands bleeding, drenched in sweat before Andrew finally gets the tempo right just to his liking.

He has his chance once more, but on the day of the big Jazz competition, Andrew runs into some roadblocks and since he is hardly capable of playing, Fletcher gives Andrew the boot. The enraged drummer tackles him to the floor. Days later he is expelled from Shaffer while a lawyer is also digging around about Fletcher’s conduct. Andrew reluctantly agrees to blow the whistle on him and he has to go from there.

By this point, the question must be asked. Who is truly insane here? Yes, Fletcher is a nightmare and a tyrant of epic proportions. But what drives someone to do what Andrew does? He drums until his fingers are so ripped up they bleed through bandages. He breaks up with his girlfriend Nicole, all in the name of progress in his career. Perhaps craziest of all, he continues to follow Fletcher until his expulsion. It got to the point that he was losing all touch with reality because drumming was everything. Completely blinded by obsession, spiraling further and further into the abyss that was consuming him.

In many ways, those two were made for each other, and one day they meet on the outside. Andrew no longer a student and Fletcher now fired from his position. Now they just want to play music for the sake of music. Fletcher needs a drummer for a jazz festival he is competing in and Andrew obliges because he cannot stay away from it forever. Of course, his nemesis pulls one last dirty trick, but it was out of this scheme that Andrew realizes himself as a true musical artist letting his hands lead him on an emotional Odyssey of snares and cymbals. For one instant he has Fletcher’s approval and the euphoria of the beats rushes over him. This is all he ever wanted.

Whiplash is a film that is squirm-inducing. Utterly painful and terrifying to watch, thanks in part to the performances of J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller. Teller is inherently likable and that’s what made his turn in the Spectacular Now (2013) so gratifying. His character Andrew is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, however. He’s utterly friendless and singly-minded, geared towards one thing and one thing only. Teller proved that he could play this role, and it is purposely left ambiguous what happens next. He lost his girlfriend and he got expelled, but what are we supposed to feel for him? Pity, sadness or disapproval?

J.K. Simmons was just WOW… Director Damien Chazelle did a remarkable job and likewise the editing of Whiplash exquisitely fit the theme of drumming. It is completely on form with its frenetic fury to its merciless cutting. It will not give us a break or let us relax as an audience, underlying the generally insane tempo of this film. The name “Whiplash” from Hank Levy’s composition was perfect. Melodious but completely unnerving.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: The Spectacular Now (2013)

Looking back a year later…

The moment Aimee Finicky appears onscreen is perhaps the most remarkable instant out of many great moments in this film. The light must have been exactly perfect and everything seems calm and serene. The only thing we focus on is the initial meeting between two individuals, and that’s all that matters. That anxious face obscured by the light. That voice tinged with worry and relief. As an audience, we have our first encounter with the girl that the same Sutter who is sprawled on the ground, will fall for over the course of the film. However, right now he can’t remember who she is. There could not have been a better meet cute.

Fast forward to the ending of The Spectacular Now. So much has taken place in a short span of 90 minutes, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Just like much of the high school experience. Aimee and Sutter have been on an emotional roller coaster which Sutter has succeeded in derailing, but he has a new resolve and he will not waste this opportunity in the now.

There she is walking down the steps of her new college. Pleasant looking as always, undoubtedly with thoughts of academia swirling around pushing her past memories into the back of her mind. Then, all of a sudden they’re all right in front of her again in the form of Sutter.

There is a look on her face that is almost indescribable and it seems apparent that words are about to form on her lips, and the film cuts away. It is absolutely maddening as an audience who has become so invested in the story of these two high schoolers.

For some reason, this final shot of Aimee reminds me of The Tramp’s final reaction in City Lights. It might be a stretch but in both situations, there is a tinge of hope, but there is still this uncomfortable feeling of the unknown. And yet if we had known the resolution both these films would have lost some of their allure and City Lights is Chaplin’s masterpiece. As of right now The Spectacular Now is a little blimp on the radar in 2013. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller might change that with the rate they are going. They certainly do not have the weight of the one and only Charlie Chaplin, but I am sure both of them are destined for numerous other great performances.

4.5/5 Stars

The Spectacular Now (2013)

1ae0b-the_spectacular_now_filmFeaturing two rising stars in Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), this film nicely melds a rough exterior with a heartfelt core to great effect.
Sutter (Teller) is a guy who parties hard, drinks incessantly, and has a long-term relationship with a beautiful girl named Cassidy (Brie Larson). He is the self-proclaimed life of the party and people like him, but no one takes him too seriously. At home, he lives with his mom, has no idea where his dad is, and hardly ever talks with his older sister. School, much less Geometry, is of little importance to him.
Matters take a turn for the worse when he and his girlfriend have a fight. He drives home plastered one night, only to wake up the next morning on a front lawn with a girl standing over him. And that is how he meets the quiet, studious, Aimee Finicky (Woodley). They strike up a friendship instantly as he helps her with a paper route, and she soon begins helping him with math. Although he convinces himself that he is doing it just because she is nice, he genuinely begins to like her. He invites her to a party and there their relationship deepens. It comes out that she is planning to stand up to her mom so she can go to university in Philadelphia. She wants Sutter to ask his mom about his estranged father. Together the two of them go to visit his dad, and Sutter is devastated to find out the truth about his father, which he never wanted to believe. On the drive home, half intoxicated by alcohol, half by his anguish, Sutter rejects Aimee’s love and tells her to leave, with dire consequences.

High school winds down and so does Sutter’s job. The night Aimee leaves for Philadelphia, however, he gets inebriated in a bar not wanting to hurt her anymore. He returns home in a stupor and confronts his mom, but he breaks down believing that he is exactly like his father. Despite all the annoyance that had been there before, she comforts him and proves Sutter otherwise.
Finally, Sutter is able to realize that his limitation is himself because even though he might veil his fears with jokes and alcohol, he has always been afraid. He takes another trip in his car, this time to Philadelphia to see Aimee again. The film ends on the steps of the university as their gazes meet and Aimee is just about to react. Who knows how it ends, but much like “Say Anything…” we can believe what we want. Needless to say, though he wasted so many of the previous “Nows,” Sutter seems destined to make the best of his tomorrow. 
This film is engrossing because although we have seen the story before no doubt, it is made fresh by the leads. A lot of people know someone like Sutter Keely. He is a person who is rough around the edges because of family, divorce, and alcohol. He often makes the stupidest of decisions. But there is still something about him that is likable and it creates empathy. Aimee on her part could be a real individual as well. She can be shy, but she is sweet and beautiful in her own unique way. However, because they are messy and have faults, it makes these two all the more believable. Neither of them can be labeled as a one-dimensional cliché because they have a genuine human quality. As Aimee would say they are not just defined by one thing, there’s more to them than that.

Some of the best moments in the film have to be when the two leads are talking with each other. It seems so real, even commonplace, the way they go through conversations. It is wonderful to watch. First, it begins awkwardly, builds into a friendship, and finally, evolves into a full-fledged relationship. These chats that they share not only cause them to grow closer, but it causes the audience to grow closer to them. I will admit I was in shock during the climax of the film, and I also dreaded the times Sutter drove home obviously drunk. That shows an actual attachment to the characters, something that is not always present in this type of film or any film for that matter. 
For a split instant I was disappointed that the film ended where it did, but then I quickly realized that’s how it had to be and it is better for it. Already I cannot wait for more from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley especially. She is one of the most promising actresses of today along with Jennifer Lawrence. 
4.5/5 Stars