Whip It!

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a charming, coming of age, rockabilly, retro, grunge skatefest - and I loved it. I don't know anything about roller-derby, in fact, I didn't know it existed. Now I do, I need to join a team, yes, even though I bruise like a peach.

Bored, quiet and dutiful Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in a small-town in the Lone Star state and seems restless to escape. Her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) has coerced her into a world of beauty pageants and she blandly participates so not to upset her. On a chance evening out she meets the 'Hurl Scouts' a local roller-derby team, and taking her first steps towards rebellion, she tries out for the team and wins a place. In the roller-derby-drome Bliss comes of age, learning who she really is, and relishing in the freedom the games brings. However, a conflict with a rival team mate the Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) threatens to expose her world of lies to her parents and friends.

Make life happen
This film is hipster, but not too cool for school. The dialogue is slick, but (thankfully) has none of the verbal gymnastics of Juno, and was written by the original Maggie Mayhem, LA Derby Dolls star, Shauna Cross. And like the screenwriter herself, this is a sweet film about an underdog finding their place in society (Shauna grew up in Austin, moved to LA, joined a Derby team) and I think the tag line is very fitting 'Be Your Own Hero'.

In my humble secondary school teaching experience, too many teenagers are waiting for the world to pay them that favour they feel they deserve. They're bored, restless and got little confidence to do anything about it. This movie unequivocally says, no one is going to do it for you. If you're bored, do something about it. If you want to find out who you really are, then get stuck into life. If you're lonely, join a team. Travel, be rebellious, stretch yourself, be independent. The results are clearly worth is, as Bliss finds a new family (without abandoning her old) and really uncovers a new and very exciting path for her life.

Dead mother syndrome
My friend Helen complains about how many films have a 'dead mother' literally and figuratively. She feels too many film makers have to get rid of the sensible, nagging woman before the fun can really start. Not so in this film.

At first glance, Bliss's mother, seems to perpetuate the southern belle nuclear family, making her girls pretty to compete in pageants, act like 'ladies' and generally continue life as if the 1950s never ended. The problem that had no name now does, and different ideas of feminism pop up throughout the movie.

1. Maggie Mayhem is a single Mom, who is the sensible, warning voice of experience to Bliss.

2. Iron Maven is older and bemoans to Bliss that she didn't start the sport until 33, making the point that women of all ages are always trying to find their place in society. Her ultimate respect for Bliss shows that fighting other women out of envy or spite ultimately only harms women, so isn't it better to join forces? Or at least, take your revenge on the track.


3. This league is so far removed from the dainty virtues of the pageants, yet the women uphold the best aspects of femininity: caring, loyalty, courage.

4. Bliss finds her self respect through the support of the women in the league, and finds the courage to ditch her cheating, flaky boyfriend in a classy but satisfying way. Their romance is sweet and PG appropriate (a nice change) but Bliss's revenge edge, shows Hollywood can present girls to be something more than sexualised, insipid, passive people pleasers. Not your average teen-romance flick. Huzzah!

4. Finally, back to Bliss' mother. She's not the overbearing housewife stereotype, but in one touching scene, we see she is actually secret rocker, secret smoker and honest, blue collar worker with more in common with Maggie Mayhem than the starched wives of the country club pageants.

Sports training montage
This film does follow the convention of every sports movie, and trundles along (or should that be skates along?) at a pleasingly predictable pace. The joy comes not from predicting the plot (which is obvious) but in the little moments of Bliss's victory. We see her nervously uncover her Barbie skates for the try outs. Get up after her first fall. Practice for hours outside in the street. Take a secret bus ride. Stay out at a party. Have her first kiss. Stand up to her friend. Defend her choices in life. Challenge her parents, and finally come out on top, sure of her self and happy to face her future.

As we watch the growth of this young protagonist we see Bliss ultimately triumphs without trampling those around her. A perfect bildungsroman... with a rocking soundtrack.

Whiplash

Oh my. I've not seen such a tense film in a long while, especially one which doesn't involve murder, a woman in black, or some kind of heist. I sat for various set pieces of this brilliant movie, directed by Damien Chazelle, with my hands scrunched into my face, teeth set and eyes anxious.

In summary, Andrew (Miles Teller) is a talented, young musician who, having earned a place at a top music academy, finds himself chasing the mentorship of the notorious Professor Fletcher (A K Simmons). After a pressured audition, Andrew joins the prestigious 'Studio' band, where he is mercilessly pushed to succeed by Fletcher, a man who wants to achieve greatness at any cost. A man who despises student's settling for a 'good job' and not suffering and yearning for legendary status. Fletcher's mission in life is to push students further than they knew they were capable of. His teaching style makes jazz school seem like SAS training.

This is not your average, nerd-to-hero, movie. Neither is it your average kung-fu, the-student-becomes-the-master, type of film. It's not an average, full stop.

Talent Vs Grit - the cost of being a legend: I saw this flick with my Mother, who's passion for ballet is only slightly less of that of Fletcher's for jazz. Afterwards, we spoke about what it takes to become a 'legend' and decided talent is not enough. Really it's about grit.

The unseen student 'Stephen' is Fletcher's first prodigy/ victim and we hear his obvious talent at the beginning of one practice session. Movingly, Fletcher reveals Stephen died. A tragedy. But who are Fletcher's tears for: the death of a talented musician, or the death of a potential legend he could tailgate his reputation on? Andrew also has the talent, but the film is really about whether he has the grit and determination to succeed past the self doubt, exhaustion, physical pain, social isolation, bullying, torment and anxiety which ultimately claimed Stephen's life.

Mum made a parallel to Royal Ballet legend Darcey Bussell. She started late to the School, so had two years to catch up and was unusually tall for a prima. Yet she managed to become the youngest principal dancer the company ever had. Was she the only one with talent? No, but clearly she had more grit than the others.

This film makes you wonder if you are a Stephen or an Andrew. Are you motivated or depressed by being cajoled, badgered, harassed, belittled and tormented. Do you want to 'prove them wrong' or walk out in a huff. I think I'd have flounced out of that Studio after the first session and that's why I'm not a living legend, or ever will be. It doesn't mean I don't have talent, I just definitely, don't have the grit needed to sustain that sacrifice for success.

How to win a battle - the central conflict in this film is between the master and the student, one that many kung fu movie fans have seen for decades. How does the master inspire and motivate? Fletcher's tactic is a master-class in misdirection. This man goes from birthday candle to atomic bomb at breathtaking speed, adopting the poetic rhetoric of Shakespeare to fire out insults mixed with pure acid. Owch.

Andrew's naievity is heartbreaking when a couple of weeks in with the Studio band he tells his Dad 'I think he's beginning to like me'. That smile will not be wiped, but smacked off his face before he knows it. After an hour of watching this boy fail every 'test' given, you are desperate for revenge. Fisty-cuffs after his car crash isn't satisfying enough, especially when you realise he abandons his passion once his college career is halted.
So how do you win a battle? With a simple 'F*ck you' and an epic, five minute 'double swing' drum solo. That's how. And it feels so much more satisfying than any blood bath my vengeful heart wished for. Andew's revenge is to prove Fletcher is nothing more than a man waving his hand about at the front of the stage. He usurps his power, bends the band to play to his tempo and takes his time to prove his point. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.

Underdog - what I enjoyed about this film is the subtle play around with stereotypes. Andew is not Hollywood handsome, just an average looking teenager, who one could easily overlook or forget. He tells Nicole (Melissa Benoist) on one of their dates that the people at his college don't really like him, he socialises mainly with his Dad and he avoids eye contact with those he meets. He appears meek and humble in the band practices, politely turning the pages and apologising so much, he makes the English look positively rude.

This film is too clever, to have a cheesy grand reveal, where the geeky guy removes his glasses and turns into Bradley Cooper. No. There are subtle hints throughout there's more to this timid chap. He asks the hot girl at the cinema out on a date. Isolated by the stone-faced soldiers of the band, he alone answers back to Fletcher. But best of all, he's got razor sharp wit; much more devastating than the bombastic insults flung about by Fletcher. This is showcased most aptly at one family dinner party - where his obnoxious relatives dismiss his artistic talent, preferring the macho gloating of his jock cousins. Andew's slicing comebacks show this is a mouse who believes in his heart, he is a lion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. However, there are some crass stereotypes about suffering to become a genius.Sat in the bar afterwards, Mum and I couldn't decide if Fletcher was a justified barbarian, or socio-pathic masochist. It's up to you to decide if their relationship is inspirational or destructive.




Trainwreck

Not quite a Hatfield disaster, more like a 'leaves on the line' kind of Trainwreck for director Judd Apatow.

Since childhood, magazine writer Amy (Amy Schumer) has been schooled by her wayward father that monogamy doesn't work. Taking that learning, she has applied it to living a life of inhibited freedom, avoiding commitment of all kinds and generally doing what she pleases, when she pleases, with whom she pleases. Taking an assignment to write a bio on successful sports doctor, Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), she falls for his humble and honest ways. Feeling true love for the first time, she begins to question her life and debates whether now it the time to clean up her act.

First up, full disclosure: this did pass the Mark Kermode laughter test. I did laugh out loud at least five times, with many chuckles and smirks thrown in every couple of minutes. But, in the words of the previously mentioned doctor, 'here's the thing' - this film doesn't know if it's a crass ladette comedy or fairly traditional rom-com. There's too much drama for it to be the first and too many surreal moments for it to be the latter.

I saw Amy Schumer on Graham Norton a few months ago and had never seen or heard of her before but immediately liked her self-deprecating, sassy, quick fire response to his questions. They didn't feel rehearsed, she seemed to be one of the those genuinely quick and hilarious women we'd all like to have as a best mate. And the same can be said for the dialogue in Trainwreck as clearly the improvised lines drew the biggest laughs for me. 'No, he's not hot, he's like a Puerto Rican Gollum'.

However, Bill Hader is a bit of a odd casting choice for the romantic lead, as he's so well known for being the weird-out odd ball from SNL and I couldn't get beyond that. He's definitely charming, just not sure I want to see him smooching Amy (tongues and all) at the end of the film.

Taking up the 'odd ball' mantel instead if LeBron James. His fame was a bit lost on me, not being a basketball, (or for that matter sports), fan of any sort. Luckily, nether is Amy, so there is a bit of in-joke for some of the audience as she acknowledges she has no clue who he is. Nice to see a sports star without such a serious ego. His best lines are when he's acting like a teenage girl, interrogating her or Aaron about their blossoming relationship - 'when you feel the wind, do you hear his name? Well, do you?' 

Kathy Beale
But stealing the limelight is Amy's cold, cruel, callous boss played by... Tilda Swinton. Yup. The girl can do comedy. My goodness me, she's got brutally good timing for her lines. For about ten minutes I didn't recognise her, and convinced myself it was Kathy Beale. 'Fair play' I thought, 'she's broken into Hollywood' so unrecognisable is she.

Overall, this was ideal Friday night, irreverent entertainment, BUT, for the babysitters it was a bit long. I didn't really expect a rom-com to bounce the two hour mark, and frankly it didn't need to. Unlike Amy, who's 'real girl' figure is actually very trim and enviable, this film could have lost a few inches around it's baggy middle.