Music Discipline

Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash (2014)

In “Whiplash,” Juilliard-esque Shaffer Conservatory of Music freshman Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) gets handpicked by exacting and much-feared teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), to be an alternate drummer in a jazz ensemble intended for the competition circuit.

Fletcher sizes Neyman up while exchanging pleasantries, and quickly proceeds to humiliate and bully him with what little biographical information he has gathered. Mr. Simmons hurls orders, insults and obscenities like a cross between Armin Mueller-Stahl’s tyrannical father from “Shine,” R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket” and his own Aryan leader from “Oz.”

Continue reading "Music Discipline" »

Unloving Memory

Laurie Sparham/Studiocanal

Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

Nicole Kidman spends the bulk of "Before I Go to Sleep" in a state of high anxiety, although only an audience prepared to leave all skepticism at the door will be able to say the same. Despite the best efforts of Colin Firth to seem mysterious and Mark Strong to inspire trust – so a bit of a stretch for both of them – what vitality there is in the film comes from Ms. Kidman's cowering, shrieking and panicking; and even that's not really the actor's strong suit.

Continue reading "Unloving Memory" »

Jacked in the Box

Universal Pictures

The Boxtrolls (2014)

“The Boxtrolls” is a movie aimed at children. It is also disgusting and immoral. It breaches a line that should not have been crossed — and it’s been rated PG in both Britain and the United States. What the hell are the rating boards thinking? Plain and simple, “The Boxtrolls” is propaganda for the war machine. The normalization of torture in cinema — and most especially cinema for children — has got to stop. Someone has to say it.

Continue reading "Jacked in the Box" »

Notre technologie

Wild Bunch

Goodbye to Language (2014)

The unveiling of a new Jean-Luc Godard film always incites circlejerks among elitist cinephiles, who collectively muster as many pretentious fancy words and insufferable exclamation marks for the occasion as their copy editors will tolerate. Never mind that they've been punk’d — encore — by the biggest troll working in cinema. When Gaspar Noé splices in a gratuitous insert of hard-core sex, it’s the tantrum of an enfant terrible. When Mr. Godard does the same thing, it's poetry! Whatever, dude.

Continue reading "Notre technologie" »

Labor Pains

Christine Plenus/Sundance Selects

Two Days, One Night (2014)

The arrival of Marion Cotillard's star wattage into the midst of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's template of realist urban travails in "Two Days, One Night" turns out to have little effect on the brothers' business model, which trundles merrily onward as if nothing untoward had happened. It does though bring to mind some fresh questions about their success rate, especially for any refuseniks already inclined to wonder how reliably they succeed at all.

Continue reading "Labor Pains" »

Mo Money Mo Problems

Nicole Rivelli/Vértigo Films

Welcome to New York (2014)

The pre-emptive disclaimer opening Abel Ferrara's "Welcome to New York" urges that no one interpret the film as commenting on any real-life events in particular; but its lines are so far apart that reading between them and detecting the name of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is taken for granted. Duly primed, the audience is then dealt a disorientating conversation between Gérard Depardieu and three rapt listeners, in which he gnomically ponders why he, the actor, took the part. "I'm an anarchist," he growls. "I don't like politicians. I hate them. I prefer acting where I don't like the guy." Then you notice that one of the folks paying rapt attention is Shanyn Leigh: a Ferrara regular, memorable in "4:44 Last Day on Earth," a face in "Go Go Tales." She's billed as female journalist. What is going on? Are they holding an acting seminar? Is Mr. Ferrara making a point about life and performance being a hair's breadth apart? The cloying fakery of the rich and shameless? Or just a way to hang the audience by the heels? Ninety seconds in, and it's straight down the rabbit hole.

Continue reading "Mo Money Mo Problems" »

A Civil Union

Nicola Dove/Pathé Films

Pride (2014)

Bookended by the London Pride parades of 1984 and 1985, “Pride” dramatizes the real-life Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign to raise funds for the Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys’ Miners Support Group in Wales during a yearlong strike.

Continue reading "A Civil Union" »

Stretch, No Imagination

James Dittger/Summit Entertainment

Step Up All In (2014)

The adorable “Step Up” series of movies has made a lot of money by doing something very simple: holding the camera still and letting very good dancers do their thing. They are mostly filmed in wide shots so we can see exactly what they are doing. The camera doesn’t move too much so we can focus on how great the dancers are. The mood and music are upbeat; and nothing is more important than one’s crew. “Step Up All In” doesn’t deviate from this formula — and that’s great.

Continue reading "Stretch, No Imagination" »

Friday Night Blights

Tracy Bennett/TriStar Pictures

When the Game Stands Tall (2014)

“When the Game Stands Tall” centers on the real-life Spartans football team of De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., under its legendary former coach Bob Ladouceur, here played by Jim Caviezel. It isn’t about how the team achieved its storied 151-game winning streak, however; but rather how it ultimately fumbled that winning streak and then recovered.

Continue reading "Friday Night Blights" »

A Frenemy in Need


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Risky: It’s a word that’s been used almost relentlessly in relation to Marvel’s new kids on the block — a huge gamble on a part of the Marvel universe that until now was considered niche, unknown to all but the hard-core fans and tricky to translate onto film.

The universe is complex; the factions many and varied; and the characters are more than a little eccentric. It was an accident waiting to happen, but sometimes wonderful things happen in the most unexpected of places.

Let’s cut to the chase — “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a riot. Blistering action, sometimes dizzying especially in 3-D, a smart script and the kind of love-hate relationships and whip-crack dialogue you might find in an episode of “Firefly.”

Continue reading "A Frenemy in Need" »

© 2008-2014 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on Twitter | Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions