J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

The high concept — boot camp at a music conservatory with J.K. Simmons doing a displaced R. Lee Ermey — gets this pretty far right out of the gate. For about 20 or 30 intense, Simmons-driven minutes, Whiplash feels like one of the best films of the year. It’s the rest of the picture that has a problem, with contrivance piled upon story-driving contrivance so high that the film lacks a believable ground-level view of young drummer Andrew’s (Miles Teller) struggle toward expertise and mastery. Instead, we see a few sessions where he works under the sadistic tutelage of bandleader Terence Fletcher, who teases out his students’ weaknesses in order to pounce on them and humiliate them over what he insists are their shortcomings.

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Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman (center) in Get On Up

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis image

My Letterboxd review of this one, written while I stood at the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue, waiting to grab some chicken and rice directly after a screening, reads like this: “The Ballad of the Unlikeable Protagonist: Coen Brothers’ Greatest Hits (CBS 2013).” I couldn’t figure out on short notice what else to do with Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s maybe the first Coen Bros. film that seems to settle into sampler territory — it has the frustrated creative protagonist from Barton Fink, the Odyssey references and period-music revivalism of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the John Goodman character role from, well, several of ’em. And its folk-singing wannabe title character really is a piece of work. Abrasive, overly serious, and a mite noxious in his sense of entitlement and estimation of self-worth, frustrated New York folkie Llewyn Davis is the epitome of problematic artistic temperament — a lost cause from square one.
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Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart, an amiable on-the-road-again yarn, showcases a singing and strumming Jeff Bridges to great, grizzled effect. Bridges plays Bad Blake, a past-his-prime, whiskey-guzzling singer-songwriter whose near-legendary status in country-music circles is no substitute for a regular paycheck. As the movie opens, he’s arriving for a gig with a pick-up band at a bowling alley in Pueblo, Colorado, where he has something of an epiphany that his career isn’t going exactly the way he had planned. (Given that I grew up in Pueblo, I found this hilarious, even though the location doesn’t look or feel anything like the real town.)

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Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience

I’ve totally reviewed Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience for Film Freak Central.

In their cutesy, aw-shucks hijinks offstage, these kids may ape The Beatles, who represented the beginning of the modern rock era, but it’s quite possible that the Jonas Brothers represent the tail-end of rock culture. Delivered into the homes of America via cable-TV, they are a group of squeaky-clean, enthusiastically unthreatening, market-focused popsters, their surname so synonymous with state-of-the-art fun that the name above the title is Walt Disney’s.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?


In trying to get a handle on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, I wrote about the Herbert Ross version of Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven, deciding that it spoke to the apparent impossibility of ever making another great Hollywood musical. Why wasn’t it obvious then that the Coens, with their innate eccentricities, flair for grand theater, and command of editing rhythms, would be just the folks to reinvent the genre? O Brother, Where Art Thou? only gets partway there — it’s not exactly a musical, and it’s only “Hollywood” in the literal sense. But it is a whimsical, lyrical journey through a national heritage suggested and fulfilled by the songs that hold it together.

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