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Recent Movies: Whiplash; Wild; Winter Sleep

January 21, 2015

Recent Movies

Whiplash

In New York, a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) is enrolled in a prestigious music school.  His ambitions are tested and manipulated by a sadistic, perfectionist music instructor (J.K. Simmons).

There are occasional moments in the film that seem far-fetched and over-the-top.  But these are forgiven due to the edgy execution by director-writer Damien Chazelle and the acting.

Teller is very believable as someone whose obsession to succeed overrides his sense of safety.  This is partly explained in a useful scene at the beginning of an extended family gathering where one-upmanship seemed to be the traditional form of communicating.

However, the movie belongs to Simmons who is the epitome of the authority-from-hell.  He has rightly won many awards for this performance and he is likely to win more.  He is so frightening when he is dominating the students that, even in the audience, there is a sigh of relief felt when he is acting more at-ease and human.  His presence is that strong.

“Whiplash” ably presents the question of whether attaining genius is worth the price – at least in certain circumstances.  It also succeeds as a psychological horror movie.  The Simmons character is likely to be mentioned in the future as one of the movies’ most memorable villains.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

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Wild

Reese Witherspoon portrays Cheryl Strayed who wrote the autobiography on which this film is based.  The story follows Strayed on her inner and outer journeys as she hikes the U.S. Pacific Crest Trail after a series of setbacks in her young life.

“Wild” ably meets the challenges of maintaining an audience’s interest while focusing on one person’s journey as she reflects on her life with occasional inner-dialogue and flashback memories.  There are various reasons why this works.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée provides the right balance of hiking adventure with flashbacks while keeping the inner-dialogue to just the right minimum, ensuring the movie is more than just a narration.

Likewise, Witherspoon easily takes on the challenge of maintaining viewer interest while being in almost every frame of the movie.  She comes off as a likeable protagonist who faces occasional drama but is mostly engaged in the day-to-day challenges of being out of her comfort zone.

The film has a couple of scenes where danger is anticipated but not realized.  In sticking to the true story, there is even greater impact and surprise by avoiding the worst possible outcome.

Another notable performance, even if rather brief, is Laura Dern as Cheryl’s mother who is shown in various flashbacks.  At first, she comes off as gently naive but shows later that she can truly find the best attitude about life no matter the circumstances.

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the beautiful scenery.

RATING:   * * *

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Winter Sleep

In the Cappadocian region of Anatolia, Turkey, Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a retired actor who runs a mountaintop inn and owns many local properties that are rented.  He is indifferent to the many who are less well-off than he.  The film centres around his desires to write while dealing with crumbling relations with his much younger wife (Melisa Sozen)  and his divorced sister (Demet Akgag) who lives with them (the inn was inherited as a family property).

At over three hours with no intermission, this film demands a lot from its audience especially as it is mostly dialogue.  Luckily, director/co-writer (with Ebru Ceylan) Nuri Bilge Ceylan makes the best of this fine cast to make the long journey worthwhile.

There are three two-way conversations among the three main characters which are long and all of them reveal the depth and sadness of many human relationships.

There is also a subplot involving a poor extended family who are among Aydin’s tenants.  The storyline was the crux of the film’s beginning but suddenly disappears until an heartbreaking encounter near the end.

Some reviewers have rightly compared this film to the better works of Ingmar Bergman.  Bilginer, Sozen, and Akgag all do a great job in keeping the audience engaged especially during their long dialogue scenes.  Also, the beautiful and unique formations of the mountains, some of which are made into homes and other building, are a sight to behold.

RATING:   * * *

 

Dennis Bowman

 

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