The opening-night movie at the Sundance Film Festival is often, almost by design, a mild, light, forgettable affair. A lof of filmmakers don’t want the opening slot, and the basic idea is that the bar can’t be raised too high, because then you’ll risk making all the movies that come afterward look disappointing. But Whiplash, which opened the 30th anniversary edition of Sundance last night, didn’t just raise the bar — it electrified the spirits of everyone who saw it, including me. It stars Miles Teller, who had his breakthrough role in last year’s Sundance favorite The Spectacular Now (and will soon be seen in Divergent), and Whiplash confirms that he’s truly a spectacular actor, with a slightly damaged glamour and a face you can’t stop watching because of all the feelings it registers. Last year, I said that Teller reminded me of Elvis Presley. In Whiplash, he’s more like the young John Cusack, but with a cockiness that never hardens into attitude; it’s open and shifting. He plays Andrew Neiman, a brilliant, driven young jazz drummer who is attending the Schaffer Academy in Manhattan, a (fictional) performing-arts institution that, as presented, is one of the best music schools in the country. There, he comes under the tutelage of the school’s fearsome and legendary taskmaster — a scarily exacting maestro of jazz named Terence Fletcher, played, in a bravura performance, by J.K. Simmons. This isn’t the cuddly, twinkly Simmons we’ve grown used to in recent years. In skin-tight black T-shirts, his shaved head set off by mad-dog eyes and a squiggly vein running down the side of his temple like an electric wire, he’s more like Bruce Willis with three times the ferocity. READ FULL STORY
Tag: J.K. Simmons (1-5 of 5)
It’s going to be a memorable Sundance Film Festival if the rest of the movies can keep up with the beat that Whiplash laid down last night. The opening-night premiere from 28-year-old director Damien Chazelle tells the story of an ambitious jazz-drummer prodigy (Miles Teller) who bumps up against an intimidating tyrant of a music teacher played by J.K. Simmons. Bad-ass bald, with bulging biceps that fill his fashionable black t-shirts, Simmons’ Terrence Fletcher is a cruel taskmaster who bludgeons his students with torrents of mocking, often homophobic, invective in his mission to create true genius. Fletcher toys with them psychologically and bullies them physically, like some musical Bobby Knight. “I remember when I first met [J.K.], I just sort of told him, “Remember how you were in Oz? I want to make that guy look like the teacher in Mr. Holland’s Opus,” Chazelle said to the audience after last night’s premiere.
Chazelle himself was a serious jazz drummer in high school, and he based the poisenous relationship on one he had with one of his own mentors. “Drums had always been like a fun hobby for me, and for four years, when I was in that ensemble, it became just a source of constant dread,” he said last night. “Just looking back, it was an interesting experience because I became a much better drummer than I know I ever would’ve, but I also didn’t enjoy it at all. And maybe for people who feel that music should be about joy and fun, it was missing the point. So those were certain questions that I was grasping with and I just wanted to write about it.”
That Whiplash — which refers to a jazz composition composed by Hank Levy — got a prime Sundance showcase is a great tribute to Chazelle’s crew, and an honor to the festival’s spirit. Last year, Whiplash won the Sundance price for Best Short film, and Chazelle spent the last 12 months turning an 18 minute short, that was specially created as a sample to show potential investors, into a deeper, richer two-hander that questions all the blood, sweat, and tears that seem to be the price of greatness. Sony Pictures quickly picked up the distribution rights to some international markets. A big number for the price of the domestic rights would not surprise anyone who witnessed last night’s premiere. (Though if the film becomes a hit, Simmons’ future as a comforting, vest-wearing pitch-man for Farmers Insurance might soon need to be rethought.)
The savage Sundance-winning short Whiplash, about a young drummer facing down a brutally antagonizing music instructor, is about to become a feature film.
Writer and director Damien Chazelle adapted the 18-minute short from several scenes in the full-length script with the hope that it would attract investors for the complete version.
Now Bold Films, the production company behind Drive and the upcoming Only God Forgives, has stepped forward to fill out the undisclosed budget. The company will make Whiplash as a joint production with Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions, who teamed up to create the short.
In the video above, EW debuted the first clip from Whiplash, which went on to win Sundance’s short film jury award for fiction.
The movie focuses on a drummer (Johnny Simmons) in an elite jazz orchestra conservatory as he struggles to impress a merciless teacher, played by J.K. Simmons (Juno and Spider-Man.)
Casting Net: Anne Hathaway and Chloe Moretz might play best friends; Plus, Kate Mara, Peter Fonda, more
• Things have been pretty quiet for Anne Hathaway on the casting front since her Best Supporting Actress win, but we just assumed that she was waiting to line up the perfect post-Oscar project. She may have found that in Lynn Shelton’s (Your Sister’s Sister) next project Laggies — a dark comedy about a late 20-something afraid of growing up. Chloë Moretz, Sam Rockwell, and Mark Webber are also in talks to star. With a script by Like the Red Panda author Andrea Siegel, Hathaway would play Megan, the 20-something in question. When her boyfriend (potentially Webber) proposes to her, she decides to hide from life with her 16-year-old best friend Annika (Moretz). [Deadline]
• House of Cards’ Kate Mara is coming back to the big screen to join Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall in Wally Pfister’s Transcendence. No word yet on her role, but we continue to be very excited for Pfister’s directorial debut. He’s even got the support of his longtime collaborator Christopher Nolan who is serving as a producer on the project along Emma Thomas (Nolan’s wife and producer). Pfister has tapped Jess Hall (Brideshead Revisited) to serve as cinematographer. [Deadline]
Casting Net: Jason Bateman to star in and direct spelling bee comedy. Plus: Channing Tatum circling Evel Knievel biopic, and 'The Wolverine' gets villain
• Channing Tatum is in talks to produce and star in an untitled biopic about famed daredevil Evel Knievel. Tatum’s producing partner Reid Carolin (Magic Mike) penned the script, based on the Stuart Barker book Life of Evel. No director is attached. [THR]
• Hiroyuki Sanada (Lost, Revenge, Rush Hour 3) will play Big Bad yakuza crime boss Lord Shingen opposite Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine. James Mangold is directing. [Deadline]
• Melissa Leo and Rick Yune (Die Another Day) have signed onto the White House thriller Olympus Has Fallen (this is the one starring Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent, and Aaron Eckhart as the president, with Antoine Fuqua directing). Leo will play the Secretary of Defense, and Yune will play the mastermind behind the North Korean takeover of the White House. [THR]
• Rob Corddry is negotiating to join the untitled Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy cop comedy. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) is directing. [Variety]
• The Steve Jobs biopic jOBS added a raft of new actors to its cast, the filmmakers announced today, including JK Simmons (as Apple investor Arthur Rock), Victor Rasuk (as Apple’s first employee Bill Fernandez), and Kevin Dunn (as Apple chairman Gil Amelio). Also joining the cast about the Apple Computer co-founder (played by Ashton Kutcher) are Elden Henson (The Butterfly Effect), Lenny Jacobson (Nurse Jackie), Giles Matthey (True Blood), and Ahna O’Reilly (The Help).
Casting Net: Michael Fassbender taking on ‘Assassin’s Creed.’ Plus: Anthony Hopkins, Chris Cooper, James Woods
‘The Wolverine’ to begin shooting in Australia this August, then move to Japan
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