Tag Archives: miles teller

Review: ‘Get a Job’

dfn-get_a_job-poster-300In Dylan Kidd’s straightforwardly titled Get a Job, the anxiety and awkward stress of finding and then maintaining a job becomes the central crux of the film’s narrative. It’s a problem faced by a variety of characters, both in age, gender and race.

And did I mention it’s also a comedy? Albeit not in the same whip smart and economically staged manner as Adam McKay’s The Big Short – a recent film that dares to put humor behind the soul crushing ills of society’s darker moments – Kidd’s film touches on some genuine fears of a world that seems too busy to stop and notice when it’s stepping on the little guy. Regrettably, Get a Job attempts to mine these unfortunate truths while also being a raunchy comedy whose misguided laughs feel like they were ripped from a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg script.

The only one of four housemates to actually have a job when the film opens, Will (Miles Teller), summarily loses it the first day he shows up for work as a non-intern. Specializing in video production and making a small name for himself via You Tube videos, Will begins looking for another job in the same field. It doesn’t help his pride when pal Charlie (Nicholas Braun) accepts a position as a high school chemistry teacher (who still smokes lots of pot, naturally) and third roommate Luke (Brandon Jackson) seals the deal for his dream job as a stockbroker. The fourth friend of the bunch, played in usual form by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, barely registers as anything more than the extension of the character he’s played in films since Superbad.

Also, Will’s girlfriend (played by Anna Kendrick in a fairly thankless role), faces her own bouts of uncertainty while trying to remain positive for him.

Lending even more fuel to Will’s despondency is the fact his own father (Bryan Cranston) also loses his job in his company after 21 years of management. In a piece of dialogue that rings true for so many people at the whim of corporate downsizing, he states that he did his job so well that he ended up streamlining himself out of a job.

Will does eventually find something with a mega corporation led by the ultra-ruthless Katherine (Marcia Gay Harden) in which he can ply his visual trade, but he struggles with the rules of compliance. You know, little things like wearing a suit and tie and not arriving as a cocky know-it-all to every staff meeting.  Get a Job follows these various tangents as the characters struggle and deal with their new found “adult” lives. Or, in the case of Cranston’s forty-something-has-been, his uncelebratory  emergence back into a job market far leaner and more cutthroat than the one he entered years ago.

Director Kidd, who scored a name for himself in the indie world almost 14 years ago with the verbose and witty Roger Dodger, doesn’t come close to the incisive nature of that film. Written by Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel and shelved for more than a couple years now, Get a Job feels oddly dated, as if it were made to capture the queasy zeitgeist of the 2008 recession without directly name-dropping it.

Even odder is the juxtaposed swings between drama and hard-edged comedy. The most egregious example lies in Will’s time at the job placement firm where he eventually finds work. One co-worker (Alison Brie) continually makes sexual advances towards Will. Gay-Harden, as the aforementioned ruthless CEO, ultimately  gets her comeuupance in ways that are easily identified early on. And numerous comments about the “size” of chairman Wilheimer’s (Bruce Davsion) certain body part all add up to cringe-inducing moments that placate the scatological humorist in the audience and nothing more. And don’t even get me started on the extremely gross acts forced upon young Luke at his stock firm, part hazing and part machismo.

All of this undercuts the tone of a film that seemed to have something serious to say about that tenuous time post-college and pre-adulthood where confidence, ability and individuality are formed. I kept thinking it’s unfortunate that a film so dead set on stressing the perils of conformity eventually becomes a conformist comedy with nothing more than puke, pot and sex on the brain.

Get a Job opens on Friday, March 25 in limited release at the Studio Movie Grill Spring Valley.




Review: ‘Whiplash’

'Whiplash' (Sony Pictures Classics)
‘Whiplash’ (Sony Pictures Classics)
Live music makes the body tingle. So does this film.

The sound of percussion instruments lays the foundation for a great performance, providing the solid backbeat that allows brass, wind, stringed, and vocal instruments to carve out melodies. When drums come to the forefront, either in composition or improvisation, it’s an altogether primal explosion of rhythm, beat, rhythm, beat that defines an altogether different kind of melodic expression.

That is the sort of creative expression explored in Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Largely contained in a rehearsal room at a prestigious Manhattan performing arts college, the film revolves around a much-respected, much-feared instructor / conductor named Fletcher. Embodied by J.K. Simmons as a mythic figure who brooks no nonsense, Fletcher instills his students with an abiding terror of being stripped naked, revealed as no-talent musicians who are mere pretenders before his mighty throne.

Chazelle reinforces the impression with near-monochromatic visuals of the rehearsal room, which resembles the lair of a great dragon, bare and forbidding. The student musicians perform on command like well-trained slaves, frightened to make an error because they know the great dragon has perfect pitch, and will instantly turn and burn offenders without regret.

Into this intimidating lair strides 19-year-old Andrew (Miles Teller), who is obsessed with Buddy Rich and a burning desire to become, not just a great musician, but one of the all-time greats, the handful whose names are spoken with reverence down through the decades. He practices, willingly, until his hands blister and then bleed, wiping off the blood so he can affix bandages and keep on drumming.

He is not alone in his fiery ambition. He is selected for the school’s jazz orchestra by Fletcher over a slightly older (and taller) fellow drummer, and then sits in the junior chair behind the primary drummer in the orchestra, impatiently waiting for his oppotunity to star, which arrives soon enough. It’s exactly what he wanted, but he finds Fletcher’s relentless perfectionism to be an exhausting challenge.

Again, surely he is not alone in his desperation and struggle, but he has chosen to isolate himself from other people in his blind ambition to be the best, shutting down possible friendships, and even closing off his relationship with his devoted father (Paul Reiser). What matters is to be the best. Andrew is convinced that the only path to achieve greatness is to devote his body and soul entirely and wholly to the task at hand.

Now in his late 20s, Teller retains a youthful look, bolstered by his average height and appearance. He is introduced in the film behind the drums, fully focused on his kit, a maniacal music man who will never voluntarily give up his sticks. Away from the drums, Teller as Andrew appears to be an ordinary young man, shy, polite, and diffident, but once he assumes his position, it becomes clear that he was born to play drums, that it’s the only place where he feels truly comfortable in the world.

For his part, Simmons crafts a frightening personality out of a lean of his head and a look in his face. His deadliest instruments are his eyes and his mouth, dispensing disgust and displeasure in varying degrees of disapproval. His hands and arms are weapons of mass destruction, able to fire off missiles that wipe out the enemy, i.e. misfiring musicians, with deadly accuracy.

Even as the action is kept tight, Chazelle accents the piece with grace notes in the variety of shots and incredibly taut editing. The film flies by at such a high pitch of anxiety and suspense that the (very occasional) slowdowns and missteps seem very much out of place, reminders that Whiplash is, after all, only a movie.

Yet movies rarely achieve the heights that Whiplash sustains, nearly throughout its running time. It’s a high cinematic and musical achievement, emblazoning the heart of a drummer on the soul of a movie screen.

The film opens today at Landmark Magnolia in Dallas and the Angelika Film Center in Plano. It expands to the Modern Art in Fort Worth on November 14.

Review: ‘The Spectacular Now’ Dares to Tell the Truth

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in 'The Spectacular Now'
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in ‘The Spectacular Now’

A rare coming-of-age film that dares to tell the truth, The Spectacular Now is rough and uneven, yet it feels like the authentic experience of one young man.

That young man is named Sutter (Miles Teller), and his deeper conflicts are hidden, he thinks, beneath his likable, pleasant, ‘no worries’ demeanor. He doesn’t take anything seriously, and that’s served him well, he thinks, until the morning he wakes up, hungover, lying outside somebody else’s house.

Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a schoolmate, wakes him up as she’s heading out for her early-morning job delivering newspapers, and the two begin a slowly whirling friendship that eventually deepens into a romantic relationship. It’s the summer after high school graduation, and Aimee is heading away to college, but Sutter is a good-looking boy and no one has ever paid much attention to her before.

Frankly, Sutter is not interested in cultivating a relationship with Aimee. On the surface, he’s kind and gentle and softly flirtatious toward her, yet he’s harboring a tremendous amount of repressed anger that is bound to burst forth at some inopportune moment and ruin everything. He’s not happy with his mother (Jennifer Jason Leight), who has kept him from seeing his father for years. He kinda resents the happiness enjoyed by his older sister Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and the comfortable existence she has with her husband. And he blithely disregards the genuine, patient concern expressed by Mr. Aster (the great Andre Royo), the school counselor.

So, Sutter spends time with Aimee just to have something to do while he pines for his ex-girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), who dumped him for no apparent reason, according to his way of thinking. And he drinks, often by himself, from flasks and bottles and cups, as much as is humanly possible.

Sutter’s deep-seated issues eventually come to the surface when he is finally reunited with his father (Kyle Chandler), but he still has a great deal of growing up to do before he can actually be said to “come of age” in any meaningful sense. That’s, especially, where and how The Spectacular Now distinguishes itself from run-of-the-mill teen coming-of-age movies.

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who previously collaborated on the script for (500) Days of Summer, have adapted Tim Tharp’s 2010 novel with keen insight. The film, directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed), is paced beautifully; it unfolds gracefully, allowing the characters to breathe and the story to proceed in a logical manner — for someone who is looking back with a touch of distance.

Sutter encourages Aimee to loosen up, and talks constantly about ‘living in the now.’ The drinking and the partying and the relaxed attitudes certainly look like the fabled good times that so many teens desire. Then the realities of making ends meet come crashing down, and, save for those living with extraordinarily wealthy and indulgent parents, life becomes less about a series of parties then a never-ending quest to get by and maybe, just maybe, enjoy a break, now and again.

Rueful yet empathetic, The Spectacular Now points to the real source of most of our troubles — hint: look in the mirror — and then suggests there is still hope for all of us. That makes it one of the most meaningful films of the year.

The film opens at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano on Friday, August 16.