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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Whiplash

by Andrew Hudak

Oscar winners Whiplash and Big Hero 6 now on Blu-Ray

Many of us can remember teachers who pushed our limits to help make us our best. They believed in us, stirred our passions, and taught us to see past our self-imposed limitations. In “Whiplash,” whether or not Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the most feared and revered instructor/conductor at a prestigious music academy is that type of teacher to young drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) is up for debate.

The core of Fletcher’s method comes from a story about how jazz legend Charlie Parker became a great saxophone player when Jo Jones, drummer for the hugely popular Count Basie Orchestra, threw a cymbal at Parker’s head (it was actually his feet by some counts, and stories like this get embellished quite often). Fletcher is looking for his Charlie Parker.

He does this by keeping constant pressure on his pupils. His methods aren’t just mental and emotional, they’re also physical. Though instead of throwing cymbals, Fletcher throws chairs. He pushed his drummers to play to the tempo he has inside of his head until their hands literally bleed. The question is: Does this man really have a tempo that his students are not performing, or is he doing all of this to push them, test their limits, and see who quits and who carries on?

We don’t know, and that is what is so fascinating—and so frightening—about Fletcher. How much of what he does is about the music, and how much of it is just testing his students to see how much punishment they can take? How much of it has to do with Fletcher looking for his Charlie Parker, and how much of it is done to fill his own sadistic need? Where is his line, if he even has one?

Again, we don’t know. The only insight we get that Fletcher may be genuinely and purely interested in finding his Charlie Parker comes late in the film, in a conversation with Andrew. Andrew recounts how hard he tried to make Fletcher happy, and the torture he received for his efforts. He asks Fletcher if Fletcher thinks that he could push so hard that it will make someone quit. Fletcher replies that anyone who truly, passionately, and deeply wants bad enough to be the best would not quit, no matter what.

This is the core of the debate in “Whiplash.” Is there such a thing as too far, particularly in a highly competitive, high stakes world like music? Is there a limit to what can and should be done to make someone the best? Can too much pushing go so far as to kill a dream? Or is that a way to weed out those who really don’t want it?

Agree with his methods or not, Fletcher is a fascinating character, and Simmons is absolutely electrifying in the role. He plays Fletcher with just the right amount of intensity brewing under the surface until he explodes and lashes out at his students. His shaved head and piercing gaze make him menacing, yet he has kind, relaxed features that show the humanity underneath. Regardless of right or wrong, Fletcher believes what he does and how he does it is the best way to achieve success. I highly recommend that when it comes to “Whiplash,” Buy It and judge for yourself. 

Whiplash [Blu-ray]

Also New This Week:

Big Hero 6

How San Francisco and Tokyo get combined in a U.S.-Japanese Pacific rim mash up to form the futuristic city of San Fransokyo is not explained in “Big Hero 6.” Too bad too, because I really was curious. Luckily, that has nothing to do with the plot of “Big Hero 6” in which teenage prodigy and inventor Hiro (voice of Ryan Potter) simultaneously seeks revenge for the untimely death of his older brother Tadashi (voice of Daniel Henney) and battles a mysterious man in a kabuki mask who is using Hiro’s mind controlled micro bots invention to wreak havoc on the city.

The animation is impressive, as to be expected from Walt Disney Studios. Very young ones might be a little frightened by the kabuki masked man. He is a towering and imposing figure as he rises from the ocean and rides around standing on a waves of tens of thousands of micro bots while trying to kill Hiro for getting in his way. Good thing for Hiro that he has allies, including Baymax (voice of Scott Adsit), a puffy, vinyl covered medical robot that Hiro reprograms to also be able to fight, and Wasabi (voice of Damon Wayans, Jr.), who doesn’t quite understand that during a car chase, the usual rules of the road do not apply.

In spite of its darker themes, “Big Hero 6” manages to stay light and keep things fun. It also has good messages about the difference between revenge and justice, and on the importance of friends. It’s worthwhile to Rent It.

Big Hero 6 (Plus Bonus Features) [HD]

Horrible Bosses 2

It makes sense that Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day), after the rough time they had in “Horrible Bosses,” would want to become their own bosses. They invent a showerhead that dispenses shampoo and conditioner at just the right intervals. When they try to sell it to rich industrialist Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and he screws them over, they capture Bert’s son Rex (Chris Pine) and hold him for ransom. The twist is that Rex has no love for his old man and wants in on the ransom. Cat and mouse hijinks ensue, leading to some funny cameo reappearances by “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx), Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, going for broke and making the most of it), and horny dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston). While it’s nowhere near as consistently funny as the first “Horrible Bosses,” and it rehashes some of the same gags (like inappropriate treatment of a toothbrush), it does have its moments and is a worthy sequel.

My only real piss off with it comes at the end when Dale is in a coma. Throughout the entire first movie and most of this movie, Dale thwarts Julia’s advances and stays loyal to his wife. I liked him for that. Taking advantage of Dale’s erection while he is in a coma, Julia has her way with him. I just have to put the brakes on right there and ask how that’s a joke, and not a total violation of his person? Let’s call it what it is—rape. Not the funniest of subjects, especially considering that if the sexes were reversed in that scenario, everyone would be up in arms. Matter of fact, in 2002 director Pedro Almodovar released an excellent film called “Talk to Her” on this very subject. But I won’t let one little bit of Hollywood hypocrisy ruin an otherwise decently enjoyable time. Rent It.

Horrible Bosses 2

Horrible Bosses

More New Releases: “The Majestic,” Jim Carrey gets serious in a Frank Darabont film about a man with amnesia who a small town mistakes for a deceased local war hero; “American Gigolo,” good Richard Gere movie featuring a great song by Blondie; “Black Sunday,” Mario Bava’s tale of a witch burned at the stake who returns 300 years later to seek revenge on the descendants of those who did her wrong; “New Year’s Evil,” decent enough ‘80s holiday-themed slasher flick about a killer threatening a show host that he will kill someone as midnight strikes in each time zone—and she’ll be the last one; “52 Pick Up,” tense ‘80s thriller starring Roy Scheider and Ann-Margaret; “Total Recall,” one of Schwarzenegger’s best action adventure films, even 25 years later; and “Basic Instinct,” making me jealous that this generation of teenage boys can pause a high def Blu-Ray to see under Sharon Stone’s skirt (I had to deal with VHS!).

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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