Posts Tagged ‘music’

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Whiplash (2014)

March 30, 2015

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons,
Director: Damien Chazelle

“Can’t? When did you become a fucking expert on what I can or cannot do, you fucking weepy-willow shit sack?”

Bottom Line: My first thought concerning Whiplash was that I liked it but that I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it and my second thought was that I needed to watch it again. Immediately. For a film that doesn’t have a ton of depth for its lead characters, it still managed to pretty much blow me away. This is a story about passion and how far one is willing to go to achieve their goals. It’s a jazz-fueled version of 8 Mile with drums instead of rapping. Only better – and that’s coming from a hip-hop aficionado and Eminem fanatic that could really care less about jazz music.

Whiplash seems to be saying that greatness can be achieved if you’re willing to strive to improve despite any abuse or obstacles thrown your way. Miles Teller’s character Andrew Neimann is an aspiring drummer attending an elite music school where the top jazz ensemble is conducted by a dominating, completely unforgiving, in-your-face-and-over-the-top, totally obscene asshole named Terence Fletcher – played to absolute perfection by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher’s teaching style is 100% out of line. I really can’t imagine that a) no one on the outside knows what’s going on or b) that he could possibly get away with the abuse he constantly flings at his students. That doesn’t make it any less fun to watch though. Some of the interactions are truly horrifying, but Simmons is so good it will fill you with glee watching Fletcher terrorize these poor kids. Fletcher states that “the next Charlie Parker would never get discouraged,” but it’s a bit vague if Whiplash is advocating his teaching style as a means of reaching greatness or whether greatness can be achieved despite someone like Fletcher doing everything possible to stomp out any trace of dignity his pupils might have left. Either way, Fletcher provides a great antagonist – if not a respectable mentor – and makes the film far more enjoyable than it otherwise would be.

Whiplash is also about passion versus balance – a theme I can relate to concerning my own relationship with poker. It’s easy to imagine a life where I eat, sleep, and breathe poker and literally think of nothing else – I know I’m capable of it – but it also sounds awfully lonely. In Whiplash, Andrew Niemann chooses to devote his life to drums, at the cost of everything else: he has no friends, he tells his girlfriend that she will just get in the way of his passion, he looks down on his extended family, and even his relationship with his father – his one true ally – seems cold and distant. He might eventually gain the respect of his fellow band members, but it’s doubtful he will ever earn their fondness or support. He’s really not a very likable guy which makes rooting for him a bit difficult. I do not want to be that person – even if it means I may not reach the pinnacle of my chosen field.

Whiplash is easily one of my favorite films of 2014. J.K. Simmons is every bit deserving of the Oscar he won for his performance. Though his character is brutal and harsh, he’s also hilarious and a total joy to watch. I’m not a big Miles Teller fan, but I felt like his performance in this movie was extraordinary and highly underrated. Director Damien Chazelle deserves a ton of credit for making everything feel incredibly authentic in this film. Both lead actors look like experts – at drumming and conducting, respectively – and the editing is so crisp that each instrument is highlighted at such a precise moment that it’s clear that the filmmakers have a deep understanding of composition. Finally, Whiplash has one of the best climaxes to a film I’ve ever seen. You will literally hold your breath for 15 minutes straight.

What Whiplash lacks in character depth, it more than makes up for with amazing performances, hilarious dialogue, heart-stopping scenes, and a remarkable climax.

Replay Value: I watched it twice in a week. During my second viewing, I watched several sequences multiple times. I truly loved it.
Sequel Potential: There is more to this story, but exploring it would be a mistake, as this particular arc reaches a satisfying conclusion, and further adventures would be far less interesting.
Oscar Potential: J.K. Simmons deservedly won Best Supporting Actor; so did the editing and sound mixing teams. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Miles Teller did not get nominated and it’s difficult for me to agree that Bradley Cooper was better in American Sniper than Teller was here. Also, Damien Chazelle may have deserved more recognition for his work as director.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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Pyro – Pieces To The Puzzle Album Release Party

September 2, 2010

Download Pyro’s album here.

It’s hard to believe that only five months ago, Phil Houston was the opening act at a small hip-hop show that attracted only a handful of people. Even then, one could sense that he might be something special. At that first show, the 24 year old emcee, now better known as Pyro, got the club popping in a way that no one else could that night. With a strong circle of friends and catchy music, Pyro took the stage and had the place rocking in no time. In fact, Houston brought in so many unexpected guests that the main act, Fat Camp, decided to go on first (instead of the last slot usually reserved for a headliner) and tried to take advantage of a palpably hyped crowd. Until Pyro got on stage, however, it still looked like every other hip-hop show we’ve ever seen in Bremerton: a few people standing around, talking, barely paying attention to a couple of guys that were okay at rapping.

Saturday, August 28th, 2010, Pyro celebrated the release party of his debut album Pieces To The Puzzle and marked both the beginning and the end of a long journey. I’ve seen this man pour his blood, sweat, and tears into this album over the past half year, often wondering if it was even worth it. It’s hard to console someone that’s really got something going for them, but a fear of being unappreciated and overlooked is understandable in a city that has failed to produce a single noteworthy hip-hop act outside of Blue Scholars’ Geologic–and Geo didn’t even become well-known until he took his talents to Seattle.

Until recently, it’s been debatable what the problem is: a lack of talented rappers or a weak hip-hop market in Bremerton? Most local rappers would probably argue that it’s the latter, but Pyro’s release party proved that is simply not true. South Pacific bar, located near the Bremerton ferry, was packed, with roughly 400-500 people jammed inside, making it hard to walk around without getting a drink knocked out of your hands. During Pyro’s set, the majority of the crowd was locked into the performance, often reciting along with the lyrics, adding their own flavor to each song, and generally acting a fool.

So what does Phil Houston have that no one else in the area seems to possess? Well, for starters, he’s talented. The man is clever with wordplay, constructs multisyllable rhyme schemes, and has a rather effortless delivery over mostly infectious beats. More importantly, however, he has an uncanny ability to write hits. Nearly every song in Pyro’s set from Pieces To The Puzzle has an element of crowd involvement that ranges from the call-and-response hook on “Where Ya At?” to easy fill-in-the-blank lyrics on “Eat By Any Means.” Also, in the past five months or so, Pyro has built up a large enough following based on his performances that the crowd is already familiar with his words, despite the fact that the actual album wasn’t released until late August. While Pieces To The Puzzle is awesome in its own right, Pyro is one of those rare performers that you absolutely have to see live. His songs come alive in a way that is absent on the record and it’s impossible to get the full experience of the album without going to a show.

Quality of music is not the only hip-hop element where Pyro has exceeded the competition. The man exudes a level of swag that is absent from most performers. Before his set, Pyro was walking around the club with a microphone in his hand, entertaining the crowd with playful banter and introducing people as they walked in. Not a lot of people could get away with talking over a crowd of hundreds and avoid becoming the target of some tomato throwing. Also, in a party that was advertised as an all-black attire affair, Houston naturally showed up in an all-white outfit, making sure he stood out like a bride at a wedding ceremony. It’s a rare occurrence when an artist displays this kind of confidence and has the ability to back it up with good music.

The contrast between Houston and your average local rapper becomes evident when he decides to share the stage with his fellow HMH Entertainment cohorts. During the middle of his set, Pyro gave way to teammates Richie Rich and Push Capone and the level of interest given to the performers noticeably dimmed. This isn’t necessarily a knock on these guys–Push has as much raw talent as anyone in Bremerton and Richie Rich’s “Wanna Be My” is a hit in the making–it just goes to show that Pyro has reached a level of performing rap songs that nobody in this area has come close to touching.

It would be easy for naysayers to claim that Pyro’s popularity will only go as far as the celebrity of his best friend Marvin Williams will carry him. While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a National Champion and NBA baller plastered on your show flyers, the actual impact that Williams has on Houston’s rap career is minimal. The origin of the diamond-encrusted medallion that Pyro wears around his neck is up for debate, but Williams has nothing to do with the financing behind any of HMH Entertainment’s ventures–whether it’s studio time, producing albums, or designing and manufacturing the now ubiquitous “I Run Bremerton” shirts–all of it is self-funded from within the company. As far as getting heads in the door at a show, sure, Marvin Williams is a good draw, but spend some time at a Pyro show and it will be obvious who everyone really came to see.

It’s amazing how far Pyro has come in such a short time and it’s refreshing to see someone have a shot at realizing their dreams. At this point, it’s safe to say the young emcee has nothing left to prove in his hometown. Pieces To The Puzzle is a strong debut album that has enough mass appeal that it should at least get Pyro some buzz going in Seattle and possibly even nationwide via the internet. As long as he stays focused, there’s no reason Pyro can’t accomplish his own goal: “We run Bremerton, now it’s time to take the state.” Congratulations Young Phil, you’re a star in the making.

Download Pyro’s album here.

rap name: Pyro PiH
Album: Pieces To The Puzzle 2.0
HMH Entertainment
Twitter @pyropih
reverbnation.com/pyropih
facebook.com/pyropih