So the Golden Globes set the pace and the Oscars have now waded into the awards season fracas. As the studios all jockey for position attempting to swat aside rivals, we at least get a steady stream of interesting films. This week, you can settle down for hardcore drumming, hardcore warring and hardcore walking. Oh and there’s a little bit of British period drama and a dose of French action as well.
First to Whiplash. If you never quite got around to learning an instrument, Damien Chazelle’s film offers a crash course. Drumming for Andrew Neiman is a gruelling ordeal as J.K. Simmons pushes him well past the grounds of acceptable teaching behaviour to try and turn him into the best. A terrifying, electrifying experience, Whiplash deserves all the recognition it can get, especially for a career best Simmons. Watch this ruthless battle to be the greatest. You won’t be disappointed.
Would you believe that Clint Eastwood has now directed 34 films across his career? The latest, American Sniper, deals with the Iraq war through the eyes of Chris Kyle, America’s deadliest sniper. If you struggle with patriotism, it might be a hard slog, but Eastwood’s film is much subtler than the surface bombast suggests, focussing instead on the impact Kyle’s relentless drive to serve his country has on him. Bradley Cooper puts in another fine performance, bulking up to look like Kyle, while Eastwood’s no nonsense approach rides over the flamboyant flag waving antics that could otherwise have brought it all down.
If you find the thought of even walking to the local shop too much, look away now. In Wild, Reese Witherspoon steps (and boy does she manage a lot of them) into Cheryl Strayed’s feet to walk the coast of the Pacific. From Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallée, and British author Nick Hornby, it makes for an occasionally bland but always attractive drama. By the end you’ll admire her commitment although you might want to think twice about that walking holiday.
It’s beginning to feel like Alicia Vikander will be in every film in 2015. The first of three to go on cinematic release in the UK this month alone, she steps into Vera Brittain’s shoes in Testament of Youth, a handsome adaptation of her First World War memoirs. There’s a stately air that sometimes strays a little close to Sunday night period drama, but Vikander’s performance keeps debut director James Kent’s film on the straight and narrow. With support from the likes of Dominic West, Emily Watson and Kit Harington, it’s well worth a couple of hours of your time.
What’s that? All the awards bait too much for you. If you need something a little more numbing, Lucy is out on DVD as well. Sure, Luc Besson’s sci-fi/actioner aspires to higher things, but really it’s just Scarlett Johansson becoming God and smashing stuff. Nonsense it may be. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great ride.
That’s all for now. Enjoy this bumper week. See you soon for another one where AI’s hang out in remote retreats, New York gets mighty violent and Johnny Depp goes super spy.