Miles Ahead (2016)

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I’m going to plead ignorance here, but I went into this film not knowing anything about the musician Miles Davis. Upon exiting this American biopic I feel I know more about his lifestyle but if anything it didn’t really explain much for the common place audience member. It’s as if it didn’t really capture all essences of who this man was and how he got there.

Apparent Rolling Stones writer Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) is interviewing famous jazz icon Miles Davis (Don Cheadle). This leads us back to how they first met and what Dave discovers is that Davis has a mix-tape (reel) of new material after a long absence. Everyone wants it but Davis doesn’t want to hand it in to Columbia Records, he starts thinking back on his music and his relationship with Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) as everything racks up.

Now, I honestly don’t know what of this movie was real, based on real events or typically altered hugely by the big Hollywood machine. Maybe this sounds stupid but I think this could have dealt with including more pandering to help push along people like myself who don’t know anything about Miles Davis. Because for all I know, what I saw in the heated action and gun fighting of trying to get a mix-tape (reel) is 100% accurate. Also the ending in an obviously now I realise poetic way for his legacy states Miles’ name, then 1926 -, as if he’s still alive, which after checking I can verify he isn’t. So it makes me wonder how much of this admittedly stylish and interesting movie was over exaggerated. Not a good point for a biographical movie.

Don Cheadle is a sturdy War Machine as director, actor, writer, additional composer and producer for this 2015 New York Film Festival closer. He does a great job in all fields and so much so as the director. The way scenes meld into each other or cut sharply into a later/earlier version of Miles or Dave is seamless and cool. It helps the story move along nicely and keep this gangster-esque vibe at sleek levels. It’s mostly a flashback and we flash further back in places, each time arriving with a piece of audio or image that effortlessly transports us to the next moment, which in a way stands for a brilliant statement of Miles Davis’ timeless persona.

It’s not like other biopics I’ve seen before which both is a good and bad thing. It’s good because it’s engaging and not boring, unlike the more conventional ‘Jersey Boys’. It has a musicality at all times, I swear there was a jazz or brassy beat behind all scenes which gave it a coffee shop lift. Then on the flip side, having it flick back and forth and meld possible untrue sequences makes it difficult to buy into and I still feel like I know zilch about the trumpet player, heck even one moment near the end made me think he couldn’t even play the instrument.

Cheadle is a powerhouse as the man behind the golden trumpet, he brings a swagger and electric edge to the role, his physicality dominating the screen and making Miles feel like a force of nature as well as music. The times when he’s more subdued and reminiscing are played nicely, showing the more broken side of Davis. Ewan McGregor is a fun part of the cast, playing a Scots fraud with a buzz kill side in the hope to scoop some story on Miles, but he plays the likable factor well as their odd friendship grows. Emayatzy Corinealdi is beautiful and human as the least cartoonish figure. She provides the drama and shattered dreams of life to great heights that help show the damage Miles can create. Michael Stuhlbarg is once again a fascinating watch, his moustached Harper Hamilton being shady and like a 1920’s honcho with a tricksy manner in his voice and look.

The plot may be hard to jump on board with and it skids off into a weird bio-pic wasteland of trying something new but it’s got style and Don Cheadle rocking the house with an expressive and enjoyable performance.

6/10

My Favourite Film of the Year….so far.

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So far, and yep I know it’s early days, this film is my favourite movie to hit screens and hit screens it does, it smashes across them with drum beats and blistering battles of ego in such a cool and musically slick way. I can already see this film being in my top ten of 2015 by the time 2016 rolls on around. That’s testament of how good I feel all factors of ‘Whiplash’ are.

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Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are hitting every high note planted on their song sheet (scripts) and pit off against each other with a suitable and perfect ending, the jazz ride there is fierce and brutal, a contained thriller set around drumming never looks the part on paper but trust me if you still haven’t seen it, it’s worth the entry fee.

To see what else I said about Damien Chazelle’s energetic original and Oscar winning film, click on WHIPLASH.

Whiplash (2015)

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This film is more than just a “good job” and if you’re on the movie’s time you’ll love the wonderful frenetic energy drummed up from start to finish. It’s shot and more precisely edited spectacularly to fit the core theme of the story and it’s major acting talents are majorly talented actors.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is 19 and into playing drums big time. He gets invited to play jazz drum for Shaffer Conservatory and teacher Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) but soon his musical talent is tested to the absolute limit as Fletcher pushes Neiman to breaking point and beyond in the quest to find a new star.

Damien Chazelle excels here, in only his second feature film. The simplicity and stress of the story are more than enough to leave room for blossoming ballsy acting and racked up tension. The shots of the band have a fluidity that gets broken up nicely from time to time with widening frames or quick cuts to fit in motion with the progression of the song being played. An in car camera makes for a more real shocking cinematic decision that pays off in immersing you into an impacting moment and in general the feel and look of the film grips you at the collar from the beginning and never really lets go.

As expected, with a film centered on music and the world of jazz, a lot of this review must square on the music involved and wow oh wow, does it do a grand job. Justin Hurwitz masters a score that goes from smooth to unbreakable in brutality. The title of the film comes from a song called ‘Whiplash’ where brass and piano make beautiful backing for it and through it the focus of drum beats is subtle but effective. Then ‘Caravan’ showcases more expertise of drumming that smashes in a good way…a perfect way…at least when not rushed or dragged. Double swing time of ‘Caravan’ rockets the the tempo of drumming to the stratosphere and Neiman pours his heart and soul onto the drum kit and you can feel that passion of music power through the speakers. Normally the sound of drums could infuriate without suitable accompaniment but here drum solos however loud are damn exciting and pump you up as you watch adding to the empowering mood this film leaves you with. The sticks blaze over the drum skins with furious intent and not one musical section of this movie is out of place or lacking.

The intensity of the story by Chazelle is more than worthy of it’s Academy Award Adapted Screenplay nomination. It’s crammed with pulsating tension and the level of intensity in both narrative and character traits is unyielding. The desire to be the best is understandable and the tutor/student relationship is harsh and believable. The drive Fletcher tries to instill into Neiman is constant and through one ups and reversals the story comes to a natural conclusion of how Fletcher really is and it’s a brilliant ending with no need for cheesy wrap ups.

J.K. Simmons is a ferocious figure throughout and his Golden Globe win and now Oscar nod are fully deserved. He brings a bullying degree of musical terror to proceedings but isn’t the panto villain he could have been as there’s softening touches to his character and his sharp superb remarks dotted throughout the script are genuinely funny or ouch that’s harsh reaction grabbing. Miles Teller is presented as alone, gifted and somewhat self righteous to his path but the practice route is pushed through Teller’s graft of sweat and non-stop attitude of getting to the top. I know not everyone can be nominated for an award but honestly Teller is amazing. Melissa Benoist who has a small amount of screen time as potential love interest Nicole is the perfect pretty distraction to give more humanity and real world problems to the self-entrapping life of Neiman.

Most people will surely leave the cinema upon watching ‘Whiplash’ with a real burst in their step and a thumping in their mental psyche as it’s such a raw look at music and the compelling back and forth between Neiman and Fletcher. Pacy, tense, funny and just out and out fantastic.

8.5/10