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MILES TELLER & J.K. SIMMONS IN WHIPLASH

2014 rating: ***1/2
When J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, a hard-nosed teacher at a prestigious music conservatory, mentions how jazz is practically dead thanks to "Starbucks Jazz," it’s the one time he really connects with the audience, because it’s true: That genre has been practically done away with, at this point sounding more like a spy flick or game show than the kind of pioneering improvisational genius that took blood, sweat and tears to create, and perfect.

J.K. Simmons
Well it's blood, sweat and one tough tear that Andrew, played by Mills Teller, sheds to make the cut in Fletcher’s band room, an intentionally claustrophobic setting where most of the movie's set. From Simmons we experience screeching commands and furious tantrums reminiscent of cinematic drill sergeants, ranging from Louis Gossett Jr. to Lee Ermy, and his subjects are along for the pulsating, gut-wrenching ride.

While Fletcher’s rants are as politically-incorrect as you can get away with today, and Andrew’s edgy determination brings out a terrific performance (and spot-on drum mimicking) from Teller, WHIPLASH isn't without clich├ęs, like a tacked on love interest and various sideliners, from family members to fellow musicians, catered to make our lead character seem more viable, or something. Meanwhile, no matter how many times the band plays, and the teacher scolds them for getting it wrong, it all sounds... similar. 

But what really puts WHIPLASH over the top is a standoff finale that, in a musical sense, equals if not triumphs any pulsating action movie climax – summing up both student and teacher while the theme becomes clearer than ever. COLLECTIVE RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.
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