Whiplash (2014) Film. Director : Damien Chazelle

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OCT. 9, 2014

The world worships excellence and runs on mediocrity. Most of us are fated to dwell in the fat middle of the bell curve, admiring and envying those who stake out territory in the higher realms of achievement. There is a wide gulf between doing your best at something and being the best at it, a discrepancy in expended effort and anticipated reward that is the subject of “Whiplash,”Damien Chazelle’s thrilling second feature.

This story of an ambitious young striver and his difficult mentor could easily have been a sports movie, and structurally, it resembles one. There are montages of grueling practice scattered among scenes of tense competition, all of it building toward a hugely suspenseful (but also, to some extent, never in doubt) championship game moment of reckoning. But Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a jazz drummer rather than an athlete, enrolled at a highly selective Manhattan school (Juilliard in all but name) and under the sway of a charismatic and terrifying instructor, Fletcher (J. K. Simmons).

Fletcher has a first name, but nobody has the nerve to use it, and in classic drill sergeant or gym teacher fashion, he calls his students by their surnames, generally in the course of browbeating and humiliating them. Progressive pedagogical methods have not penetrated the room where his studio band practices, a virtually all-male preserve of sarcasm, sadism and enforced virtuosity. There is nowhere Andrew would rather be.

Mr. Chazelle, a 29-year-old natural-born filmmaker whose previous feature was the stylistically daring, hipster-cute musical romance “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” has an aficionado’s ear for jazz and an offbeat sense of genre. He and the director of photography, Sharone Meir, give “Whiplash” the brooding, spooky look of a horror movie, turning the New York streets and the school hallways into a realm of deep, expressive shadows. There is an atmosphere of whispery menace, and Mr. Simmons prowls the screen with a vampire’s stealth and a killer’s wry half-smile. Fletcher is a seductive monster, swiveling from charm to nonchalance to violent rage with a snap of the fingers. The scariest words a studio band player will ever hear are “not quite my tempo.”

But Andrew eagerly signs up for Fletcher’s cult of perfection, though whether in the role of acolyte or human sacrifice remains in question for most of the movie. Andrew is not one for modest aspirations: He wants to vault beyond the masses of session guys and second-stringers into the pantheon, to keep company with Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker and the other giants of the art form. This makes him a bit insufferable, and Mr. Teller, adept at finding the ambiguous middle ground between self-confident nice guy and smug jerk, is not shy about demonstrating Andrew’s arrogance. (A recent interview in The New York Times suggests that he may share his character’s seriousness and self-confidence.)

Andrew is a young man at a crossroad. He can either pursue normal activities for a person his age — dating Nicole (Melissa Benoist), a Fordham student; going to the movies with his dad (Paul Reiser) — or he can practice until blood splashes on the skins of his drums in hopes of impressing his mentor. “Whiplash,” which takes its title from one of the tunes Andrew must master, neatly maps out the nature and cost of this choice, and the anguish and exhilaration it brings him.

Maybe a little too neatly at times. For all its dexterity and assurance, the movie has its share of false notes and rhythmic stumbles. The contrast between Fletcher and Andrew’s father, who long ago gave up his dreams of literary glory to become a teacher, is drawn a little too emphatically, as if nice guy and artist were completely antithetical. A few plot twists test the limits of credibility. And there is something a little dispiriting — if sadly unsurprising — about the way Mr. Chazelle turns a historically African-American art form into the existential arena for a couple of white guys.

Still, the battle of master and disciple is exciting and terrifying to witness, and, at its best, the film can feel as wild and spontaneous, as risky and precise, as a live jam session. The music — original compositions by Justin Hurwitz, Mr. Chazelle’s collaborator on “Guy and Madeline,” supplemented by some classic jazz numbers — is potent and pungent.

You can think of the mad-mentor plot as a songbook standard, a familiar composition transformed by the distinctive interpretation of a gifted group of performers. Mr. Teller and Mr. Simmons work through a lively and complicated duet of aggression, suspicion and unspoken complicity, with spellbinding results. They know how to play serious artists, because that’s exactly what they are.

By going deeper into the details of musicianship than most such movies — by allowing us to hear things as Andrew and Fletcher do, and to understand the endless and exacting discipline of their work — this one breaks free of the constraints of realism and takes wing toward the sublime. It may get a few things wrong, but it aims at, and finally achieves, an authenticity at once more exalted and more primal than mere verisimilitude.

The long, intricate final scene transcends psychological drama with a surge of pure musical inspiration, pushing the audience’s response from curiosity to empathy to awe. Just try to sit still in your seat. “Whiplash” may not quite be a great movie, but there’s no doubt that it knows a thing or two about what greatness means.


Winter Sleep – Kis Uykusu (2014) Film. Director : Nuri Bilge Ceylan




  • Aydin, a former actor, runs a small hotel in central Anatolia with his young wife Nihal with whom he has a stormy relationship and his sister Necla who is suffering from her recent divorce. In winter as the snow begins to fall, the hotel turns into a shelter but also an inescapable place that fuels their animosities…

    Written by Cannes Film Festival  


Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep is a huge, sombre and compelling tragicomedy set in Turkey’s vast Anatolian steppe; it moves at the pace of a north Atlantic convoy. This film is avowedly inspired by Anton Chekhov, and since its appearance at this year’s Cannes film festival, critics have specifically identified in it Chekhov’s stories Excellent People (1886) and The Wife (1892), although in an interview with me, the director denied having intended or created any sort of adaptation.

Winter Sleep won the Palme d’Or, and that was a triumph about which I had complicated feelings, perhaps like those of Ian McEwan fans when Amsterdam won the Booker prize in 1998. There was a sense that this wasn’t quite the best contender, nor quite the winner’s own best work – but nevertheless clearly that of a supremely praiseworthy, prizeworthy artist.

It’s a film whose geography has a daunting grandeur: the vast and wintry plain, with its rocky forms, often looks like that of an alien planet, or a planet on which the characters we see are the last humans left. This gigantic setting creates a mesmerising, if slightly mis-matched context for the pain, pathos and absurdity of a sharply observed, intimate domestic drama.

Haluk Bilginer plays the insufferably conceited Aydin, a retired, middle-aged actor who has inherited his late parents’ provincial hotel out here, along with the freehold of surrounding cottages. Running the business and collecting rent is delegated to his manager Hidayet (Ayberk Pekcan), allowing Aydin the leisure to write a smug, preposterous column for the local paper called the Voice of the Steppe, to bore his guests with memories of having once met Omar Sharif, and to patronise his beautiful young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen) and divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag). They have come to hate Aydin – and themselves –for being dependent on his unearned wealth and trapped with him in this icy wasteland, far from the Istanbul they dream about. Bilginer’s performance shows how Aydin has cultivated the style of a worldly man. It is a mask of knowing condescension that does not conceal his own loneliness, disappointment and fear.

Winter Sleep fascinates, saddens and occasionally amuses, at various points on its vast canvas, although I couldn’t help feeling that the landscape’s enormity worked better for Ceylan’s more violently disturbing film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011), and that the bittersweet Chekhovian pastoral here might have been more intelligible in a more metropolitan or at least less isolated and more socialised setting, such as his Uzak (Distant) of 2002, although I accept the important point is that they are isolated. Tellingly, and touchingly, poor Aydin prides himself on the seriousness of his lost thespian career and on never having done a soap opera. Nihal asks the spiky and self-dramatising Necla if she hasn’t perhaps been watching too many soap operas. The awful truth is that their life is like a soap opera, but played out with a dreary and glacial slowness, even more oppressive in the hotel’s winter off-season.

The movie has an oceanic swell, or surge of emotion that appears to be building somewhere in its depths, but never quite breaks into a wave.

In fact, the film’s one real dramatic flourish, when Nihal meets Aydin’s resentful tenant Ismail (Nejat Isler), seems overstated and misjudged. The extended dialogue scenes ring truer. Aydin will have long, bitter, subdued conversations with Neclan and Nihal separately, which take place in flickering firelight, as if the end of the world has come and there is no more electricity. They are conversations for which the audience must readjust their sense of conventional dramatic pace, in order to appreciate the unbearable pain and anger that everyone is afraid to express fully, for fear of admitting to the world their own anguish.

The first shot in Winter Sleep is of a smoke or steam wispily rising from the soil (oddly, I thought of the hellish vapour coming from the grate in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver). The land is like a fen or a bayou, alternately icy and muddy, essentially hostile, habitable only at enormous human cost: a vision of its inhabitants’ mental landscape.

Ceylan paints an absorbing, compassionate portrait of people who are making a painful accommodation with each other, and with a world that rejected them long before they thought about rejecting it.





 20 Nov 2014

A beast, a beauty, a castle in the snow. Winter Sleep, the new film from the Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan, has all the key components of a fairy tale, but its magic blows in whispering breaths, raising the hairs on your arms even as you barely notice the air’s movement.

This is a bold, intently serious film, and a justified winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Festival, in which we watch a failing marriage unravel in a mountaintop hotel on the Anatolian steppe. (Think The Shining as retold by Chekhov, without the axe and spooks.)

The proprietor is Mr Aydin (veteran Turkish stage actor and sometime EastEnders cast member Haluk Bilginer), a retired thesp who carries himself like the region’s kindly baron, or a Shakespearean king, and whose many business interests pervade the village down below.

Early on, Aydin is driving to the village, where the houses nestle and burrow into the enormous rocky folds of the landscape. Then, with a low crack, a stone breaks one of the car windows. It was thrown by a boy who you assume is just a troublemaker, although Ceylan gradually reveals a motive behind this apparently unprompted attack. It turns out that most people have at least one very good reason to dislike Aydin: even his wife, whose charity fundraising efforts he dismisses laughingly, criticising the state of her bookkeeping like a teacher ticking off a particularly slow pupil.

Only one man, the obsequious imam, makes a concerted effort to get along with him, although Aydin is annoyed by his flattering talk and insincere, teeth-baring grins, and obliquely insults him in his newspaper column.

His sister is unimpressed. “It reads like the writer has adopted certain values just to make himself popular,” she says. “It stinks of sentimentality.”

“I wish my threshold of self-deception was as low as yours,” he snaps back. Over the film’s three hours and 16 minute running time, there’s a great deal of snapping and counter-snapping. Ceylan and his excellent cast the picture around conversations: long, literate, circuitous, psychologically searching, sometimes funny, almost always passive-aggressive. These unfold and refold in fire-lit rooms, covering everything from mushroom-picking to the nature of evil and guilt, each one casting another shaft of light on Aydin’s monumental, fragile ego.

In practical terms, this makes for a lot of scanning subtitles, although the closeness of Aydin’s life to a stage play is all part of the game, and Ceylan often sends its theatricality echoing crazily back on itself.

Ceylan’s films are an acquired taste, and his oddball isolation drama Uzak and masterful police procedural Once Upon A Time in Anatoliaare perhaps easier routes into his work for the curious. But this is more fiendishly intelligent stuff from the director, nudging back the limits of what we expect of cinema and also what it expects of us: a mighty tale of what becomes of a man when his heart goes into hibernation.






Coming Home – Gui lai (2014) Film. Director : Yimou Zhang



Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) and Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) are a devoted couple forced to separate when Lu is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner, just as his wife is injured in an accident. Released during the last days of the Cultural Revolution, he finally returns home only to find that his beloved wife has amnesia and remembers little of her past. Unable to recognize Lu, she patiently waits for her husband’s return. A stranger alone in the heart of his broken family, Lu Yanshi determines to resurrect their past together and reawaken his wife’s memory. Written by Anonymous




Written by , September 6, 2014


I kept trying to think about what films Zhang Yimou‘s Coming Home reminded me of while watching. Obvious ones came to mind like Away From Her and Amour where Gong Li‘s Yu was concerned and even Atonement for Huiwan Zhang‘s Dandan. But it was a fellow audience member as we walked out who said it best: 50 First Dates. The selection resonated with me because until three-quarters of the way through I thought people laughing were crazy. This is a sensitive drama with heart-wrenching performances. Around act three, though, I began to realize the humor may have been intentional after all.

The film isn’t a comedy by any means, but Yimou isn’t afraid to lighten the mood where his tragic conceit is concerned. During his TIFF North American premiere introduction he states that he hoped the work would expose a world of people to what occurred during China’s Cultural Revolution. And he does exactly that with this subtle humor able to deflect the otherwise severity of what has happened to novelist Geling Yan’s characters. Family patriarch Lu (Daoming Chen) isn’t the only one who ultimately tries to return home—everyone does. The constant is the historical backdrop that broke them apart in the first place.


Adapted by Jingzhi Zou, the story begins with Lu’s escape from political prison after ten years away. He’s barely seen his daughter who’s grown up under Mao Zedong’s regime to hate him for being a traitor to the party’s ways. So just as Yu cannot pass up the opportunity to see the man she loves, Dandan takes his potential return as a chance to get even for what he has done to the family’s name. As a headstrong young girl, temper and jealousy rule until they drive her to make a decision that will tarnish her relationship with her mother forever.

If that seems bleak, it’s only the set-up. Another three-years go by to portray a new China ready to call its political prisoners rehabilitated. While we might initially believe Lu’s legal release to be the titular “coming home,” it proves but one of a trio of examples considering those final years rendered irrevocable changes at home. I don’t believe it’s ruining anything to say that Yu now has a form of amnesia rendering her unable to recognize her husband. So even though he’s home, he isn’t truly. Couple that with Dandan’s exile for a childish mistake of grave consequences, “home” is a much heavier word than its definition.

To say more about the plot would be a disservice because the impetus for Yu’s affliction is meant to hit harder than easy assumptions. Tempering this revelation is the softer side of the second half wherein Yimou embraces the inherent comedy of the situation. Having a woman not know the husband she’s pined for over a decade is fodder for a farce and yet here it is at a time of history where a “win” is in desperate need. You’re therefore allowed to laugh when Yu opens the door a third time on Lu, asking who he is to which he must answer anything but his real name. She wouldn’t believe him anyway because she’s picking him up on the 5th in perpetuity.


Coming Home is a different Yimou then someone I discovered through Hero and House of Flying Daggers, a reassuring notion as it ensures audiences look back at the quieter classics he brought to life earlier in his career. His latest is an effective drama consisting of devastating performances. The need for forgiveness, sacrifice, and compassion on behalf of Yu, Lu, and Dandan is paramount and we must believe them all capable despite the horrific circumstances they’ve lived with during ten-plus years that left the family forever incomplete.

Zhang rises to the occasion and equals two legends in her debut. The role is very similar to Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, portraying her evolution from angry, confused child to humanity’s remorsefully fallible norm. Li will break your heart each time she lashes out thinking her husband is someone she fears and Chen’s sadness is etched onto his tired face throughout. He’s met a moment he imagined would be glorious reunion and found it depressingly unbearable. Love isn’t easily lost, though, so you better bet he’ll embrace becoming a stranger if it keeps Yu close.