Mobi’s Moscars (Part 5)

Mobi’s Moscars (Part 5)

Continuing my review of films which have received nominations for Oscars.

Here are numbers 5 and 6.

Foxcatcher

Can you believe it? Yet another bio-pic. Well, anyway, it is based on true events.

I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this film very much but almost from the start, I was hooked.

It is the fascinating story of the relationship between an upper-class, eccentric multi-millionaire, ( John du Pont), and two working-class, champion wrestlers. The two brothers are already Olympic champion wrestlers at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and Dupont wants to spearhead their bid for more medals in the 1988 Games in Seoul.

Du Pont persuades the younger of the two brothers (Mark Schultz) to join his wrestling training team, Foxcatcher, and to go and live in his state of the art training facility, which he built as annex to the family mansion. For the first time, Mark rises out of the shadow of his much wiser and revered trainer-brother, Dave.

Du Pont also wants Dave, and for a while, Dave refuses all Du Pont’s efforts to recruit him to the team along with his younger brother. After a series of ‘issues’ with Mark, DuPont eventually persuades Dave and his family to come and join his brother at the training centre.

The father/son relationship which had developed between Mark and Du Pont is shattered and Mark becomes embittered and withdraws into himself as Dave takes over his brother’s role and becomes the main trainer of the team.

The 1988 Olympics go badly for Mark and he leaves Du Pont’s training camp, later to be followed by his brother. Unfortunately, neither of them quite realised just how crazy Du Pont had become and Dave pays for it with his life.

That this is an offbeat movie , there is no doubt;  but as the good folk say, truth is much stranger than fiction and never was that more the case than in this very high-quality movie.

We have a number of fascinating relationships to saliva over: the brotherly love between Dave and Mark; the Du Pont/ Mark, father-son relationship, followed by the break-up of that relationship after Dave’s arrival in the training camp. Last, but by no means least, we have the almost Dickensian relationship between Du Pont and his mother; who he could never satisfy and who held an enormous controlling spell over him until her dying day.

It seems to be the case that once Du Pont was free of his mother’s controlling influence; his inherent mental instability went into over-drive.

The film is reasonably faithful to what  happened in real life, although the timeline in the movie has been very much shortened from the real one. I don’t believe this detracts from the integrity of the story and in most important respects, the film faithfully relates how this tragedy played out.

There is nothing in this movie with which  I can find fault and it is certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination for best movie, which it didn’t receive, along with best director, which it did.

As for the actors – all of them play blinders, but you have to single out Steve Carell as Du Pont who acts out of his skin. If he doesn’t win the gong, it will not be for lack of trying.

And an honourable mention to Vanessa Redgrave who played Du Pont’s mother.

*

Whiplash

I wrote two weeks ago that I am not a fan of drums solos. I have nothing against drums or drummers, and I understand that they are an integral, essential element of any popular band or group, but solos that last for more than about 10 seconds drive me – and many others – to distraction.

Sorry, but I fail to see anything in a drum solo which can be considered musically stimulating, or inspirational, and the only thing I like about them is when I realise, with relief, that they are about to end….

Sure, I understand very well that the likes of Buddy Rich, Ginger Baker and Keith Moon were talented geniuses and as long as they stuck to providing the background rhythm for the music, and playing together with the rest of the musicians, I enjoyed their drumming as much as the next man.

But long drum solos  are a load of old codswallop as far as I’m concerned.

In one of my many former incarnations, I used to be a pop concert promoter and I still recall that just about every ‘name’ pop group when performing a live concert, would include a long drum solo in its set. It was only included so that the rest of the musos could go off stage to have a break, down a quick beer, drag on a joint or sniff a line of coke.

The solo would last as long as it took for all these guys to return to their positions on stage, and as far as I was concerned it had little or anything to do with musical prowess but was just a time-filler.

Later in the set,  there would be the obligatory acoustic guitar/vocal duet to allow the drummer to disappear and partake of his own, personal adrenaline boosts.

So Whiplash, which is about a budding drummer being knocked into shape (in more ways than one) by a teacher in a prestigious music school, was never going to be that well received by this reviewer.

I’m probably going to invite open warfare by stating that in many respects, Whiplash is simply a superior remake of the cheesy ‘Fame’ movie franchise; albeit with a lot more gritty violence, some outstanding acting and some great jazz music.

Indeed, in spite of the darkness of the plot, there were still some sentimental, cheesy moments, especially when the teacher went off the rails when one of his former students committed suicide. Sorry, but to me it was a bit corny… seen it all before… nothing like an off-screen death of somebody not in the movie to evoke a few tears and sympathy.

Sorry, but to me it was a bit corny… seen it all before… nothing like an off-screen death of somebody not in the movie to evoke a few tears and sympathy.

As for the student walking away unscathed from a terrible car crash that would have killed most and – covered in blood – make it to his drum stool in time to perform, only to find he forgot his drumsticks,  belongs more in a cliff-hanger novel by Mobi D’Ark than in an Oscar-contending movie.

But having said all that, I have to fess up and say that it was a pretty good movie and I quite enjoyed it – only glancing at my mobile phone a couple of times, when those bloody drum solos went on too long.

It is, of course, the story of a young drummer-prodigy who is put through his paces by a sadistic music teacher, at a respected music academy who thinks nothing of slapping his student hard across his face or throwing things at him if his drumming tempo is too slow or too fast – neither of which can be discerned by the naked ear.

The underlying message, or question, is just how far anyone should go in the pursuit of greatness or perfection.

We are regaled more than once with the story about the saxophone genius, Charlie Parker, who at the age of 16, was brought down to earth with a crash as he lost his way while improvising over I Got Rhythm.

The drummer, Jo Jones, lobbed a cymbal at him in frustration, and the audience laughed and jeered. Parker stalked out of the venue and after a year of intensive practice, he returned and performed – as a character in Whiplash puts it – “the best f—in’ solo anyone in the room ever heard.”

Whiplash is the story about what happens when a teaching mentor and his student prodigy are determined to go to any lengths, no matter how painful, to achieve success.

(Sounds familiar? Fame, anyone?)

You can guess what happens in the end, but along the way there is some truly great acting by JK Simmons as the teacher, (what a voice ! Where’s he been all my life?), and the student, Miles Teller.

I have to say that the Oscar Academy have really got their work cut out to arrive at the winner for Best Actor – there’s some really great performances to choose from this year.

Whiplash is worth watching for the jazz music alone, but it might have been even better if it was about a saxophonist or a trumpet player or maybe a clarinettist – and not about a bloody drummer and his bloody drum solos…

*

Next week my final two reviews, namely:  Two Days, One night and Into the Woods

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