Whiplash is our pick of the week…

Do we need remakes? Kinda. Just not all remakes, eh…

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That was the week in which…

Gone Girl team David Fincher, Ben Affleck and Gillian Flynn are plotting a remake of Hitchcock’s classic thriller Strangers On A Train. 

There’s an old adage which goes something like this: “Those who have forgotten about Gus Van Sant’s Psycho are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” That’s a misnomer, of sorts, for Fincher and friends have hatched a cunning plan. This time, the action is transferred to a plane on which Affleck – seemingly playing himself in some kind of baffling reverse meta-irony – leads as an actor who hitches a flight with a stranger after his private plane breaks down in the midst of his Oscar campaign.

All three parties will be well aware that tarnishing Sir Alf’s legacy will leave their credibility hanging on a rope. But think of the benefits: successfully recreating his finest work AND turning a profit would really be a monumental success. Even more so if it sparks a “Fincher remasters the Master of Suspense” mini-franchise.

And yet people are eternally suspicious of the cinematic remake. Perhaps it’s the bullshit language – “inspired by”, “reimagined”, “rebooted” – that leads to such scepticism, as the conventional arguments really don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Does a rank remake discredit the original? Of course not, for the original remains the exact film that it was beforehand. At worst, it just reinforces the feeling that the initial cultural context that made the precursor worthwhile is slipping further behind us in the mists of time.

Couldn’t the budget for this be used for original filmmaking? No. Even if all such projects were shelved for eternity, the suits wouldn’t hand Shane Carruth XX million dollars with a brief to do whatever the hell he wanted. You might, however, get Police Academy 8: Pensioners On Parole.

Are they automatically worse than their source? It can certainly feel that way when you’re sitting through a photocopy of a film you already know, but there are numerous exceptions for a plethora of reasons: The Departed appealed to a wider English-speaking audience than Infernal Affairs ever could; Cape Fear reignited a classic story three decades later; and Airplane! was Shirley a successful approximation of Zero Hour!

Are they pointless? No, for in most cases it results in a surfeit of $$$$$$$.

But that cynicism lurks for a good reason. And that reason is this: Michael Bay is producing a remake of The Birds

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The Big Film: Whiplash

Young jazz drummer Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller – interviewed here) has the cocksure arrogance of someone who knows he has the potential for greatness. His tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is haunted by his failure to uncover the genre’s next big thing. The result? Fletcher pushes Neyman to breaking point and beyond in what often feels like an ill-judged push for perfection.

Much like jazz musicians need to establish an unspoken interactive connection to each other to fully realise their improvisational skills, Teller and Simmons deliver a masterful display of feeding off each other’s performances. Simmons’ facial expressions are monstrous: his steadfast stare strikes merciless stabs at the soul and his venomous words are delivered with unpredictable lashings of violence. In contrast, Teller’s character grows before our eyes: first vulnerable, later defiant, and almost constantly perching on breaking point.

The trajectory of the student / mentor narrative pulls few surprises – self-doubt, personal sacrifice and rising against the odds are narrative traits which are all obvious, present and current – but the duo’s emotional dynamic really is something different. Is Fletcher evil incarnate or is he doing what’s best for Neyman? Is striving for perfection worth the pain it inflicts upon the rest of your life? These are questions that possess a greater relevance with the slow realisation that these two apparently polar characters are more similar than they first appear.

Whiplash hurtles forward with a manic sense of pacing that not only demands attention but also allows the plot’s more far-fetched excesses to be hidden in plain sight. In reflection, such moments are definitely a weakness, but as the pulverising intro to Hank Levy’s jazz standard rolls once more you’ll be too lost in the moment to care. This is an early contender for 2015’s most thrilling film.

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Also Out: American Sniper

Clint Eastwood gets behind the camera (replacing friend Steven Spielberg, who dropped out due to budget reasons) in this portrayal of real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper. The film follows him through training to earning ‘legend’ status as the most prolific sniper in US history during his four tours in Iraq.

The plethora of flags, patriotism and “OOH-RAA”s may lead you to believe this is a right-leaning commercial for the army. In reality, A-list Republican Eastwood is even-handed with the story, revealing the motivations and passion that pervades amongst soldiers, but also the heavy psychological toll it takes on these men, and their families.

The action in Iraq is just as powerful. Often putting the viewer right in Kyle’s shoes (or, perhaps more accurately, rifle sights), the unthinkable choices and violence that punctuate the everyday routines of him and his colleagues is filmed in a grainy, unflinching fashion which lets the events speak for themselves.

Thick-necked and with a southern drawl, Cooper is sincere and charismatic in the lead, portraying Kyle’s PTSD with subtlety, which makes it all the more affecting. Sienna Miller (nearly invisible in last week’s Foxcatcher) provides a great counterpoint as Kyle’s wife Taya, showing the struggle from outside the theatre of war.

A reluctance to comment on the political side of things may frustrate some, but in many ways that isn’t the point. Strong performances and a gut-wrenching ending make for an apt dramatisation of an intriguing story, crafted by one of Hollywood’s best. Words: James Luxford

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Also Out: Testament Of Youth

We may only be just over two weeks in, but 2015 is already shaping up to be quite the year for Alicia Vikander. Following her recent starring role in Alex Garland’s sci-fi curio Ex-Machina and myriad projects in the pipeline working alongside the likes of directors Derek Cianfrance and Guy Ritchie, Testament Of Youth marks yet another tonal shift in genre for the highly in-demand Swedish actress.

Based on Vera Brittain’s classic memoir of the same name, Testament Of Youth recalls the author’s own harrowing experiences of the First World War, which saw her postponing a hard-earned education at Oxford University in favour of serving voluntarily as a nurse – all this in spite, or indeed because of the tragic losses she had personally faced herself as a result of the conflict.

Glossy British costume offerings may be ten a penny, but Vikander’s powerhouse performance elevates this far beyond a run-of-the-mill historical drama. Director James Kent’s film is a poignantly understated affair that rightfully puts character depth ahead of spectacle, resulting in a film that’s both hugely engaging and quietly affecting.

Bolstered by strong supporting performances from the likes of Kit Harrington, Emily Watson and Dominic West, Vikander’s warm and effortless performance is no small revelation. With an impressive list of credits to her name already, including the criminally under-seen Danish period drama A Royal Affair, 2015 rightfully looks set to be her year. Words: Paul Weedon

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The Oscar nominations were announced, with Birdman (pictured, obviously) and The Grand Budapest Hotel leading the pack. As usual it sparked some controversy, most obviously with the lack of a nomination for David Oyelowo’s searing performance as Martin Luther King, Jr in next month’s Selma. Current odds in the big categories suggest that Richard Linklater and Boyhood will claim Best Director and Best Picture; Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne will fight for Best Actor; and that Julianne Moore already has Best Actress for Still Alice in the bag.

If you’d like to know a whole lot more about the statistics and finances behind the Oscars, Stephen Follows’ research is a fascinating read, with info on the breakdown of eligible voters, the pay rise that the Best Actor can expect to earn, and a whole lot more.

Everyone mocked Bryan Mills’ bad luck with the emergence of Taken 3, but Liam Neeson and his creative pals have had the last laugh as it hit the top of last weekend’s UK box office with a gross of £6.7 million. Into The Woods took less than half of that in second place, and Foxcatcher was the only other new entry in the upper echelons at #6.

Finally, British composer Harry Gregson-Williams is a solid choice if you need a score for a big movie. This week he sat down to see how he music worked within the context of Michael Mann’s Blackhat and his reaction – which he later deleted – can be seen below:

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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