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Catching Up! Josh Reviews Whiplash, The One I Love, and A Million Ways to Die in the West

I’m catching up with reviews of movies I’ve seen over the past several months!  Onward:

Whiplash (2014) — Every bit as compelling as I’d heard.  Miles Teller first came to my attention in the excellent film The Spectacular Now (click here for my review), which made me eager to see his follow-up work.  He shines in writer/director Damien Chazelle’s film, playing Andrew, a drum student looking to stand out at an elite music conservatory in New York.  Andrew catches the eye of the brutally tough instructor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), who invites him to join his studio band.  What seems at first like great fortune for Andrew sours as we the audience experience, along with Andrew, the vicious way in which Fletcher pushes the student musicians who idolize him.  The film is a fascinating exploration of a teacher-student relationship and the tough questions of where is the line between a teacher taking someone with the potential for greatness and pushing him/her hard to achieve that greatness, versus crossing the line into abuse.  These are thorny questions, and the film leaves a lot of room for an audience to reach their own conclusions, which I enjoyed.  There is some spectacular music in the film, which is a delight.  But the real reason to see this film is to relish J. K. Simmons’ barn-busting performance.  Mr. Simmons grabs every iota of the viewer’s attention every second he is on screen.  It’s a bravura performance and deserving of every ounce of praise that Mr. Simmons has received.  This is a great film.

The One I Love (2014) — This is a delightfully weird film, an indie relationship film with a sci-fi twist.  Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play Ethan and Sophie, a married couple having trouble in their marriage.  Their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends that they visit a place he knows, where they can have a romantic weekend together.  When they arrive there, they find the estate has a mysterious cottage in which they each encounter what appears to be an idealized version of the other.  But these doppelgängers only appear when either Ethan or Sophie are in the cottage alone — they vanish if both Ethan and Sophie enter together.  While at first their instinct is to flee the estate, eventually Ethan and Sophie agree to stay for the remainder of their weekend and see where these interactions with these idealized versions of one another go.  Things get twister from there but I fear I have already told you too much.  The One I Love is an intriguing investigation of a troubled relationship, using the sci-fi device as a hook into the story.  Both Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are wonderful.  I loved seeing the two play off of one another.  (Which is good, because other than a few minutes with Ted Danson, for the majority of the movie they’re the only two actors on screen.)  This unsettling film isn’t for everyone, but I quite enjoyed it.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) — I mostly liked Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s first film (click here for my review), and so I was interested in seeing his follow-up, a spoofy take on a Western.  MacFarlane plays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer in 1882.  The main joke of the film is that MacFarlane plays Stark as a thoroughly modern man, and so he’s not at all at home in the tough, uncivilized Wild West, and he’s able to ironically comment on everything happening around him.  It’s a fairly thin premise, but MacFarlane is a likable enough performer that I was willing to go with the flow.  It helps that Mr. MacFarlane surrounded himself with a great supporting cast, including Neil Patrick Harris as his rival Foy, Amanda Seyfried as his ex-girlfriend Louise, Giovanni Ribisi as his best friend Edward, and Sarah Silverman as Edward’s prostitute girlfriend.  Charlize Theron plays Anna, the tough girlfriend of Clinch Edward, the outlaw gunslinger played by Liam Neeson.  The whole ensemble has a lot of fun, especially Liam Neeson who gets to chew a lot of scenery, and Neil Patrick Harris who is perfectly cast as the arrogant foil for MacFarlane’s Albert.  But I was particularly impressed with Charlize Theron, who has been turning in some really terrific work these past few years in a variety of wildly different films, including Young Adult and Prometheus.  She’s terrific in this film — she’s far better than the film deserves, I think!  She’s got a lot of energy and great comic timing, and I enjoyed her chemistry with MacFarlane.  Her growing friendship with Albert makes me care about his story far more than I would otherwise.  The film is funny though I wouldn’t say spectacularly so.  It’s a little longer than it needs to be.  I enjoyed it, but I doubt this will be a film I’ll be rushing to revisit any time soon.

Have a great weekend everyone!  I’ll be back soon with more!

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