Review: Whiplash 2

TL;DR: 4/10
Go for: The Music
Skip: Everything Else

I can sum up Whiplash in this sentence: It is what happens when you play to be the best, but not because you enjoy what you do.

And I really cannot think of anything far more oppressive.

The plot of Whiplash is simple; student drummer Neiman lands a dream placing in the top band at his school. The band’s conductor/teacher, Fletcher who leads the top band, is revealed from being an encouraging teacher to actually quite the abusive bastard. He bullies Neiman and the rest of the band in an attempt to get them to be the next jazz legends. This eventually leads to Neiman being expelled, and subsequently, because of his testimony, Fletcher being dismissed from his teaching position.

What follows is a slice of life drama (done well, mind you!), and an ending that is deliberately left ambiguous, which I appreciated.

JK Simmons plays Terence Fletcher to a T. He is basically a bully, but the worst kind; the one who is a bully because he believes being one will help his students achieve greatness. Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a first year drummer who finds himself being elevated, then degraded, abused, and the cycle repeats, in turn.

The thing about Whiplash is that you get the feeling that the characters are in it to be great. Not so much about what they love to do, but because they happened to have a talent and they figured they could live off it.

Nothing wrong with that, but this left an empty and dead feeling in me.

There’s no real joy in the pursuit of perfection in this movie, or at least that is what I felt. The characters pursue perfection because it is what is expected of them, and it is the accolades of others they seek. When Neiman nails a piece or outperforms himself, there’s no sense of “yes, I did it!” but more of “hah, take that you bastard!” towards his teacher.

I suppose for me, that’s one of the biggest issues I have with Whiplash. Perhaps there is no harm in pursuing greatness, but you need to have a reason for doing so.

And in Whiplash, the reason left me feeling very disturbed. Of course, it doesn’t help that some people believe that being unreasonable is really the best way to encourage students, or that destroying a person’s emotional well being means spurring them to greater heights.

If you seek approval from an external source that is determined to erode your self-respect and confidence, I don’t see how long you can last (and indeed, a mention is made of this in the movie itself). It is both depressing and enraging.

That said, Simmons is fantastic as Fletcher, and I want to punch his character in the face. The music, as forgotten as they usually are, is pretty good. The direction is fantastic in creating an oppressive feel and tense scenes.

I just wish it wouldn’t have left me feeling so despondent.

Procrastinating (aka I’m alive!) 2

It was a dark and stormy night
Or at the very least, a noisy one
So sat the writer at her desk
Procrastinating, as she does.

Fingers energetic
Mind procrastinating
Pick up the pen
Pick up the quill
And let the characters live again

It is hard to write when there’s distractions
Harder still to write when the background’s white
So back to Q10 I go
I will miss this when Windows 10 Launches

Learning to write again. I have learnt a few things since buying this computer:

  1. Not having Q10 or any sort of minimal writing editor actually is quite a bummer. And I really end up procrastinating more than I should
  2. I haven’t gamed in a while. My phone distracts me on the bed
  3. Losing my train of thought is very easy nowadays

[Review] The Imitation Game

Imitation Game Poster
Image from Wikipedia

Been feeling quite itchy over the past few weeks. As it turns out, all I really wanted was to watch something. So I bugged the Bear to catch Jupiter Ascending, but the moment we saw they were showing The Imitation Game we had no second thoughts. Both of us are computer geeks, of a sort. We both knew about Turing, knew that he was a brilliant mind cut short because of homophobia.

What we were not expecting was for the depth of emotions the movie would bring.

Let’s put it simply; The Imitation Game is a depressing movie. It does NOT end on a good note, and if you know Turing’s story you will be able to guess at what I am talking about. There’s quite a bit of exaggeration that was not part of Turing’s life, but it’s not unbelievable. There were also parts of Turing’s work that did not get mentioned in the movie (here is where Wiki spoils me) but to see Turing’s life brought to the big screen and tell a beautiful story?

This movie did it. On so many counts.

My first introduction to Turing was his “Turing test,” long held to be the gold standard to test artificial intelligence. It was only later that I learnt of his story, that he agreed to chemical castration in exchange for his freedom. His crime? Being a homosexual.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Despite people playing up his sexuality, what the Imitation Game celebrates is not Turing’s sexuality, but his brilliant mind. His determination. His like-minded colleagues.

And the fact that this was one of the greatest minds of the 21st Century.

The movie focuses mainly on Turing and the creation of “Christopher,” a machine that was first built to break the Enigma code, and then subsequently as a forerunner to Google Now. It celebrates the men and woman who worked tirelessly to break the cipher, and the toll it took on them. In it, we also glimpse his past and what could have been his future, had it not been so cruelly taken away.

For this, credit must go to the actors, writers and directors. The movie is, in my opinion, far more subtle than most movies I’ve seen today. There’s no need to spell out, or show certain scenes; it is implied, in the looks the characters give, in the way they hold themselves, in the aura they project.

I would dare say there’s none of the flashiness, the “in your face let me show you people having sex to prove a point that these characters are sexual beings” so often loved by Hollywood. This movie relies on subtlety, on implications, on restraint to get their points across.

How do we know that Turing is a sexual being? By his words. Yet how do we know that he is accepted by his colleagues? By their ease about him.

And yet, the part that I loved the most, is that Benedict Cumberbatch is possibly one of the few actors I know who can depict a human being driven by logic, yet show that same human to be full of emotion.

What he did with Sherlock is nothing compared to what he did with Turing. I saw Turing descend into despair, saw him struggling with the secrets he had to keep, and clinging to his logical sense to save the woman he cared about, even at the expense of her respect of him.

The greatest actors are the ones where you forget who they are in real life, and are swept into the story, believing them to be the character they portray. Cumberbatch does this with Turing, and exceptionally well. It may be tempting to think he is using his Sherlock persona to do so, but that shatters pretty quickly.

Note, I am biased towards Cumberbatch as an actor, but I have utmost respect for him after watching him in The Imitation Game.

That said, the rest of the cast must be commended as well! Keira is quite adept as Joan Clarke, as a woman who struggles to find herself being accepted in a man’s world, Matthew Goode is wonderful as Hugh Alexander and Allen Leech makes me loathe his character John Cairncross for his about turn. Mark Strong’s portrayal of Menzies is another masterful stroke, and the scene where Turing almost breaks down talking to him stabbed me in the heart.