Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Miles Teller and Other Musings

Back two times in a row? Within the same year? Gee whiz, what a record. I have to remember that some people I know in real life are reading this; therefore, I'll try not to embarrass myself. Probably won't work out. Anyway, I write to-day/night because I feel I was a bit cruel in my last post. I am not a cruel person, you see, so writing all that (valid) toxic waste made me feel rather rotten inside. I still enjoy it, but it makes me feel bad. Not because I fear I've offended those I criticize--in fact, I hope they read what I say about them--but because I fear you have developed some nasty impression of me. Let's face it, I've been a harsh critic the past few years that I actually wrote. When I hate something, I write with seething hatred that stems from the deep recesses of my warm and loving self. But rest assured that I am a warm and loving person, one who happens to express loath towards things she does not necessarily care for. Nicely put. Writing these nonsense introductions really gets me spirited into actually writing something worth something. And Pandora helps too. Howlin' For You by The Black Keys.

The films I have in mind right now are ones that are actually good. I use that word the simplest way possible initially to avoid confusing readers with bloated language, as I tend to do. The reviews I read by established critics (i.e., ones who matter) are often very flowery and archaic. Whether the movie is good or bad escapes the average reader by the unnecessary so-called eloquence they use. For instance: if a critic says "everything is perfectly clear and almost everything is perfectly lifeless," is this a compliment or an insult? By using the word "perfect," you introduce the notion that a film is perfect. Even if you use it as an adverb, how can you pair it with an adjective that contradicts it? I'm sure you're allowed, but it bothers me to no end. That excerpt was taken from a negative review of Labor Day, an excellent film directed by Jason Reitman. Float On by Modest Mouse. I'll mention Jason Reitman frequently in this post, considering his most recent film is a major plot point in this post. As if this post were a movie. Positive reviews can be just as puzzling, and I will use the notoriously awful-in-my-book Birdman as an example: "Birdman dares to be ambiguous, but unlike most essays in ambiguity, it is also a hell of a lot of fun." Okay. Well, I understand the ambiguity present in Birdman--since a majority of the time I was wondering what was the point of it--but I wonder whether the critic meant this as flattery or not. It was a positive review, yet the wording is strange and, again, confusing. Much like the movie. This is just a mere example, of course, and I am only criticizing critics. I am not stating that I am superior to experts. Really, I'm not.

Here’s the part of the post where I mention how long I’ve been delaying in actually finishing it. I originally started this post sometime in February, so many of the things I intended to talk about will now be omitted on account of the passing of time. That pesky time seems to really fly by, doesn’t it? Don’t it? Unfortunately, I will not be discussing Jason Reitman’s most recent films—Men, Women, and Children or Labor Day—in as much detail as I had initially planned. I have written some praise for the films already, so before I start a fresh thought, here are some stale February musings. I’ll use a different font to make the distinction.

The (original) spotlight lands on two particularly outstanding films of the past year: one is Jason Reitman's latest film, Men, Women, and Children, the other is called Whiplash. I'm sure the latter is more familiar to the ear, and why shouldn't it be? It was truly amazing, especially considering how I didn't really expect much from it. More of why later. I'd like to concentrate first on Men, Women, and Children solely because many have not heard of it, and I'd like to amend that. Also, for those who have heard of it or perhaps have seen it, the scathing reviews made by "professional" critics may have skewed your opinion of the film. Not that I'm suggesting you cannot make your own opinion of a movie and that the word of so-called experts has a profound influence on your way of thinking. Heavens no. But allow me to make my own impression of the film loud and clear. If you haven't already guessed... I loved it. Although I won't be going in-depth at all with this film, I suggest you watch it for your own benefit and betterment. The use of technology and media in the film is so profound, and I mean it when I say profound. Please please watch this movie, and determine for yourself if it's worth the praise I'm giving it or not. Either way, in the end it's my opinion.

To make this post just a little chunkier, I'll make a brief history of my relationship with Jason Reitman's filmography. The first film I've watched that he's directed was Juno, because back then I was a hipster moviegoer and watched only the weird movies no one else watched. Until the Oscars came and made those types of movies mainstream. Anyway, I wasn't as educated with cinema as I am now, so I didn't comprehend the concept of "directors" and "screenplays." (If you'll look back in my archives, you'll find a post describing my first Oscar experience, which happened to be the year Juno was present in the awards line-up.) Despite my novice status, I watched Juno like I watched any other movie. Sort of the same way I watch movies now, only different. I don't know what I'm saying. I enjoyed the movie, especially (for some twisted reason) the relationship between knocked-up teen Juno and the potential adopted father of her baby. I had a thing for older guys back then...still do truth be told. Anyway, I liked the movie. Period. 

It wasn't until after I watched more of Jason Reitman's films that I found out he directed the highly-acclaimed film about teen pregnancy. I believe Up in the Air was my initial encounter with Mr. Reitman, where I knew he was the director; also, by that time (2009) I was relatively familiar with the Academy Awards. And the vicious politics behind it as well. After that, I watched Thank You For Smoking, his debut feature film, which I absolutely loved. Just putting it out there: Aaron Eckhart is a very underrated actor, who deserves more than I, Frankenstein, I mean really. At this point, I was already impressed with Jason Reitman, and this admiration only expanded over time. You remember Young Adult? The fantastic film that went unnoticed by the Oscars, including a glaring snub for Best Actress Charlize Theron. I still maintain she was the best that year. I watched The Iron Lady, and I love Meryl Streep, but I think she's set on Oscars. Until she wins for Best Supporting this year. Just kidding. I need to stop. 
After Young Adult came yet another astounding gem: Labor Day. What makes this film all the more remarkable in my eyes is the fact that critics seemed to despise it. Once again, I do not understand their reasoning as to why they didn't enjoy it. The film was masterful cinema, from the cinematography to the art of capturing emotion and chemistry on the screen. A talent undiscovered in--wait for it--Birdman. I'll say it again and again. Ready, set, terrible. In the film, Jason Reitman grabbed your attention from the very first scene, and harnessed it until the very end. He kept you interested and alert as to what will happen next. Now that's filmmaking. Always a phenomenal actress, Kate Winslet was captivating as a melancholy mother, one who could not be as nurturing because she was a woman in need of love first and foremost. This lack of motherly love was evident in her performance, and once she had a male presence in her life, the change was striking. Such a transformation is the work of a talented actress, who deserved the Golden Globe nod even though many say she didn't. As for the leading man, Josh Brolin exhibited his expected dose of talent, reminding me of how truly underused and under appreciated he is. After seeing him in Oliver Stone's W. (pronounced dub-ya), I just really like him in movies, as a performer and as a man. Beyond his rugged attractiveness, he is absolutely on point as an actor. The dialogue was thoroughly engaging, even if Tobey Maguire is narrating with his agonizingly familiar whiney tone. Let the record show that I still cannot stand him, among many many others. 
One last thing, spoilers ahead. At the end of the film, after the characters' family formed and the suspense reached its peak, that's when the sheer tragedy struck. My heart broke when Josh Brolin was arrested, leaving Kate Winslet all alone again. While the movie could have ended there and remained a magnificent film, albeit tragic, it didn't. The ending was both touching, because she waited for him while he spent years in prison, and bittersweet, because they had to wait so long to be together. Their hug was nothing melodramatic, nothing over-the-tope passionate. Just the right amount of warmth and affection. On-screen chemistry at its finest.

Several weeks later.... Wow, I am really awful at committing to a task all in one shot. The good news is that it allows me to write about a film that resembles the indie-feel of Jason Retiman. I'll probably end up giving a brief summary of my sentiments concerning Men, Women, and Children, which does not diminish the film's excellence whatsoever. The fact that I won't be delving too into that film is solely due to my laziness. I highly recommend you enjoy it for yourself. What I will say about Reitman's direction of the film is that if he can transform Adam Sandler into a normal person, as opposed to his usual moronic donkey persona. He is a truly talented director. Watch the movie, I can't stress it enough. I could if I wrote about it.... Note: I am currently in an excruciatingly dull statistics course in a college I plan on withdrawing from next semester. Never fear, for I am transferring to a school closer to home--so close that I will be moving back in with my mother. You can't begin to know how thrilled I am with this development! I hate Baltimore.

Well, look at that. It seems I've written more than I thought! Typical, considering I make more work for myself in school-like atmospheres, turning a six-page requirement into a twelve-page monster of a (fantastic) paper. Rest assured, I do not carry on with eccentricities in academic writing, nor do I use personal pronouns. That's just unprofessional. Now that we've shamefully skimmed through two truly extraordinary films--films which, I repeat, you should make the time to enjoy for yourselves--let's segue into a variety of topics that I have been on my mind the past few weeks. Dare I use boldface titles to separate paragraphs? I'm feeling pretty daring today. For those of you who know me reading this, please don't mock my weird style of writing. I know how awful I sound.

It was hard to pick just one image, but...
I just think he's adorable here.
Miles Teller. Plain and simple, my mind has been consumed by thoughts of Miles Teller. I think there is a particular reason why I'm so interested and attracted to him, but I won't get into that. I have been infatuated with this charming and good-looking actor for months, ever since I saw him in the phenomenal Whiplash, which I will get into shortly. Something about him is so intoxicating that whenever he's on the screen, well, I become overwhelmed with how likable he is. (There's a word I can use to describe the feeling more accurately, but it's a tad inappropriate, and I am a lady.) Aside from his sarcastic wit and dashing good looks, Miles Teller is a great actor. Personally, as somewhat of a self-proclaimed film savant, I enjoy seeing potential in young actors. It's a well-known tragic fact that the magnificent actors of Hollywood, such as Robert DeNiro and Jack Nicholson, will not be around to amaze audiences forever. So when a budding young talent--who happens to be immensely attractive as well--comes to the surface, it's reassuring to know that cinema is not completely doomed. Then again, for every Miles Teller, there is a Peeta (Josh Hutchinson in The Hunger Games). For every Jennifer Lawrence, there is a Kate Mara (monkey-looking girl who's going to play Susan Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot). It's a balance to be sure.

Whiplash. I'll start here since it's been a while since I've seen it. I don't know why that's a valid reason, but I said since twice in that sentence. I included the poster because I really like it. Anyway, there's so much that can be said of this movie, and therefore so many adjectives one can use to describe it. Electrifying. Exhilarating. Rhythmic. Magnificent. And I just realized that the movie's poster boasts some of these adjectives. It's widely agreed among critics and average viewers everywhere that Whiplash is one of the greatest films of the year--which says something's rotten in the state of the Academy. Why was Birdman, that steaming pile of filth, honored above Whiplash? The reviews were far more positive for the film worthy of such praise, and it was a much more uniquely-made film. A borderline-schizo actor who's suffering some demented midlife crisis in a loud New York-jazz-fueled atmosphere? I've said it again and again over the course of this year: That film was not good. Whiplash, on the other hand, was a surprising cinematic feat from an amateur director, Damien Chazelle. I say amateur because he hasn't made many on-screen works, but his achievement in directing this year was beyond amazing. As a director, one must demand the utmost excellence from their performers without exerting tyranny. According to various interviews, Damien Chazelle is an ideal (therefore promising) director. The script, written by Chazelle, was originally posited as a short film. Not sure if posited is the right word there. Fortunately, the script transformed into an adapted screenplay for a feature-length film. The film is accurately described as building up to a "cathartic crescendo" by John Bleasdale from CineVue. (It's good to cite sources.) What's incredible about the film is how the setting and content of it translate into how the film moves on the screen. In other words, while the movie is about a jazz drummer in a cutthroat music school, the film itself moves as rhythmically and thrilling as actual fast-paced jazz. 
The fact that Miles Teller plays a jazz drummer further stimulates the film's liveliness and energy. Drumming has always been an interest of mine, when it comes to musical performance, because of how fast and difficult it seems compared to other instruments. Jazz and heavy rock drumming, to me, look like the hardest tasks one can undertake, and to see this on the screen is absolutely stunning. And to know that that's actually Miles Teller playing? Well, it just makes me love him even more. Again, I could use a word like euphoric or explosive to describe how he makes me feel, but it's not very ladylike. But I did just use those words, didn't I? The acting performances were phenomenal. Both Miles Teller and the dreadfully underused J.K. Simmons were intense in their roles, making them a captivating pair to watch on the screen. When it comes to breakout performances, or whatever you want to call them, this is the calling role for Miles Teller. While his past films were impressive, this is the one performance that captures viewers' attention that they want more of him. Also, the fact that he had genuine award buzz for his role in Whiplash doesn't hurt in this industry. Though that buzz was definitely deserved, and it's a shame he didn't get more recognition. Miles Teller plays an ambitious, vivacious jazz drummer who is thoroughly eager to please his new prestigious teacher. His passion in the role is most apparent while he feverishly plays the drums, literally sweating and bleeding before our eyes. Given that it's really him playing, the performance becomes that more authentic and, subsequently, more astounding. 

The star of the film is J.K. Simmons, in a career-best performance (according to critics) that granted him the honor of Oscar this year. Now, not to say that I'm a better person for it, but I've admired J.K. Simmons as an actor for years now, way before Whiplash. It doesn't make me special, but it does make me a dedicated student of film, one who is able to spot potential in any case of acting. I'm amazing for other reasons. To prove my point, I've enjoyed appearances by Simmons in many of Jason Reitman's films, most notably as Juno's stern but caring father; as the venerable J. Jonah Jameson in the first Spider-Man series, by far the best part of the films; and finally as the chilling, cruel Vern Schillinger in HBO's undervalued series Oz. Now, in Whiplash, Simmons takes on the role of a demanding, abrasive jazz instructor who constantly berates his students, highlighting on Miles Teller's character in the film. Before I even watched the film, I knew he would "nail" that role "spot-on" because I've seen what he can do with an aggressive role like that in Oz. I mention Oz again in the hopes that you might watch it. It's a heck of a show, really. J.K. Simmons has a natural intimidating quality about him when he assumes a certain role, so even without speaking he's giving an incredible performance based on silent brutality and vicious expressions. As he attacks and abuses Miles Teller in the film, you can feel the sting of each slap and hear the boom in each put-down. Much like the intensity of Teller's white-hot performance on the drums, Simmons's rage fuels his student with the passion to improve while it both terrifies and astonishes viewers. The performance truly was overwhelming and incredible, which makes his ultimate Oscar win a genuine triumph.
And here are two scenes capturing the immense talent of each actor:

And finally, the famous rushing-dragging scene put in for good measure:

The Spectacular Now. Again, I liked the poster. Fortunately, two blossoming actors with lots of promise starred together in a 2013 film called The Spectacular Now. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, on-screen couple extraordinaire. I really really enjoyed this movie. It was an atypical teen romance that is unusual for Hollywood because it felt so realistic. And the leading actors certainly improved the quality of the film. This is one of those movies that you just enjoy watching. There's no hidden meaning or pseudo-intellectual complexities--it's a wholesome yet deep movie that isn't out to be pretentious. I think this has a lot to do with the actors as well, which brings me back to how I hope the promise I see in them means something. To be more specific: Shailene Woodley is a beautiful actress who doesn't depend solely on her looks to be a success in film. While that sounds horribly feminist, I mean it from a more cinematic perspective. She is very demure in this film, playing the role of a shy average girl facing the confident popular guy in school; yet she asserts herself in the relationship in times when it's needed. She doesn't play a ditzy girlfriend who's in the relationship to post on social media how happy she is, but she plays an active role that gives Miles Teller's character a genuine person to be with. As for the male lead: Miles Teller, as previously stated, is a terrific actor and just as attractive as his female costar (maybe a little more, in my eyes). Throughout the film, I feel so sorry for his character--how in the end, when the party's over, he isn't as respected and liked as he thinks. He's essentially a slacker who doesn't seem to have ambition in life, which allows him to surrender to the brief bliss of alcohol. Once he gets close to Shailene Woodley's character, it's clear how he's becoming happier, yet for some reason he doesn't feel worthy of such love, so he throws it back at her. Hence the accident and justifiable (spoiler) break-up. 
Through all their hardships, the film ends on an ambiguous note: Will they or won't they get back together? It's a satisfying ending for people on all sides of the argument (if there is one) because it provides hope for people like me rooting for them and uncertainty for those who felt their relationship was unhealthy. I actually didn't realize how toxic their relationship was while I was watching because I kept rooting for them to stay together. Sure, he gets her into alcoholism and nearly causes her to die in a car accident (oh yeah, spoilers), but something about their relationship, their chemistry, made me want them to overcome the obstacles and be together. Part of me watching this movie was reminded of something personal about their relationship. I don't mean to be annoyingly vague, it's just I'd rather not say exactly what. Reading that now, it sounds very annoying, but that is all I'll say! A little mystery is good for the mind. 
And here's an adorable clip that makes me blush and smile like an idiot every time I watch it:

Boyhood. For the remaining space of this post, I'd like to talk about another indie-like film. I'm probably not the only person who was surprised to see what little love Boyhood received at the Oscars this past year. Part of me was surprised because of how critically-acclaimed it is--a perfect 100/100 score on Metacritic, ladies and gents--and another part was surprised because of how unconventional the Oscars gets a kick out of being. "Let's give the highest possible cinematic honor to a movie that took thirteen years to make, because how original and innovative is that? Plus, it's so unaware of itself, so genuine in its sentiment and filmmaking process. How awe-inspiring." Which is only what I can guess goes through the minds of Academy execs. I am a very skeptical, nasty bugger of a person. As far as pretentious goes in the film, there wasn't as much as I had dreaded. The movie started off with a tranquil scene of a blue sky and the beautiful song "Yellow" by Coldplay. Shoot, I'm listening to it right now as I write this segment of the post. I really think that song is what gave me an instant sense of "I like this movie." Anytime I hear that song now, I have the urge to sit through this monstrosity of a long movie again. Despite my tone, if you can sense one that is, I truly enjoyed the movie. Getting used to the time shifts was unsettling and difficult, considering that the same actors were used so they actually aged. However, the shifts could have been executed more gracefully than it was. It was like watching the first Harry Potter, when they were little munchkins, then the second Harry Potter, when they've already gone through puberty. It was just like that throughout the childhood portion of the movie. The kids aged way too fast, and the time-jump scenes transitioned way too jerkily, as if I skipped past a major chunk of the movie. After a while, though, the time-jumps became habitual and I accustomed to them, especially once the kids have passed into the teen years. I really liked the whole idea of the movie: following the pre-adult life of a boy as he experiences things and grows with his family. I've always enjoyed family movies, and I consider this one to be sort of an epic, based on the length of it. Boyhood is an atypical drama that is interesting to me because I haven't seen many films like it. Watching family dynamics stimulates my mind and all those psychological interests that fester within me. As for the acting, let's see. The kids were nothing special nor nothing terrible, so I won't really comment on them. They were okay is all I can say. 
Ethan Hawke really impressed me in this film. Prior to this, I haven't experienced much of his work and all I knew was that my dad didn't really care for him and I didn't really care for his creepy, lanky demeanor. I really can't describe what throws me off about his appearance, I just know that I don't care much for it. In Boyhood, Ethan Hawke plays the kids' father who visits them and acts, from where I'm sitting, like a wonderful father--because he is a wonderful father, in the movie that is. He explains things to them in a way they can understand, depending on their age, and he has no filter in a way that makes him genuine but not a profane asshole. I really liked his character in the film, which is due to his great performance I'm assuming. His Oscar nomination was surely deserved, but nothing to compete against the fiery J.K. Simmons this year. 
As for the supporting actress in the film, who garnered the only Oscar for Boyhood, Patricia Arquette was nothing special. But not in the same way the kids were nothing special. Patricia Arquette was sort of awful in the film, performance-wise. As a mother, I didn't really care for her techniques nor did I wish she was my mother. Maybe it's because she was the sole guardian of the kids and the stress of being a single mom prevented her from being the best, I really can't say. The fact that she subjected her kids to an alcoholic step-father for as long as she did is surely questionable. Character flaws aside, her acting was just not good. In many of the "bravo" scenes, she is screaming in a whiney and weak voice that prevents her from truly yelling. Slow talkers and low talkers alike cannot afford to shout without looking ridiculous, and she is a slow, low talker. It wasn't Michael Keaton-bad, but it certainly wasn't Oscar-amazing. That's all I have to say about that. No video clip.

Well, that was a fine night of writing, if I do say so myself! Exclamation point, indeed. Some additional follow-up information if you care to read on: yes, I am still in college and have found an opportune time to write where no pertinent homework was on the agenda; yes, I am still watching Desperate Housewives because I have a severe mental imbalance and I like the pain; yes, I like the pain in a variety of situations; no, I am not a feminist, I am a humanist (comedy drum beat); yes, I am moving back home to commute to a new college as a transfer student who will be pursuing accounting; yes, I want to be an accountant, preferably one who works for Disney World; yes, I have a drinking problem, and no you shouldn't worry because I really don't have a drinking problem. I'm going to call it a day. 'Til the next time I have the sudden burst of inspiration to write! Fare thee well.

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