Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Director Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) has given us a spellbinding quasi-autobiography with "Whiplash", zeroing in on a young music student with heart, intensity and a squeamish sense of detail.
The terrified and drooling Andrew crosses paths with the snarling and militant Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) Fletcher makes "Bad Santa" into Mister Rogers. He is uncompromising, violent and frenetically scary. He would be right at home in "Apocalypse Now".
An earnest and diligent pupil is no match for the beast that is Fletcher who just misses being dressed in the smoke of satan.
Enduring insult after insult to the point of collapse, Andrew drums on, sweating and puffy like a refugee from war.
In a few brilliant strokes like an angry Expressionist painting there are gobs of blood on cymbals. The student tapes his hands like Jake LaMotta before a fight. Andrew becomes a machine to the point of callously dismissing his girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist)
As tense as this story is, there are moments of beauty. The drum set is as much of a sorcerer's conjuring box that pulses with valentine life as it is something to be feared and conquered.
The music itself is a force in this film which features Hank Levy's Whiplash and Ellington's Caravan.
While it at times it flirts with a malevolent toxicity and harshness that is very nearly grotesque, this is J.K. Simmons's best film to date. Just when you think Fletcher is about to grow permanent horns, he backs away and becomes human.
Andrew too is very, very vulnerable with a kind of Black Majick within as he becomes an absolute Judge Dredd of drumming, bloody and deliberate.
While such scenes veer into acidic comedy in the tradition of the gore soaked Amy in the recent "Gone Girl," with the kid just short of leaving his skin by his drum box, the moments of Andrew leaving an empty and dim hall, his shoulders whittled down in exhaustion recall the solitary of Edward Hopper or a painting of the ashcan school.
These painterly moments of melancholy and heroic motion is reason enough to guard your neck and see "Whiplash", despite a Grand Guignol shade of Buddy Rich.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org