Whiplash (2014)

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Warning: After watching this movie, you will listen to jazz music everyday and wish that you didn’t quit band in middle school.  Well, maybe not the last part.

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first year student at the Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York.  Andrew auditions and makes it into the studio band, which is led by Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).  Fletcher is an intense (to say the least) band director that using profanity and sometimes physical abuse to push his band students.

Simmons performance in this film was just unbelievable.  He perfectly emulated everyone’s hardest coach, boss, parent and teacher by cursing at Andrew and played multiple mind games to arguably help Andrew’s career.  Simmons was unbelievably harsh to say the very least.  His character was incredibly believably because anyone in the audience can have war flashbacks to that mentor that they have had in their lives that pushed them so far off the edge that they began to lose themselves.  In fact, throughout the movie Andrew started to lose himself the further and further he got into the studio band program.

It was just absolutely insane what Fletcher did to his students to have them become “one of the greats.” I mean think about the worst teacher that you have ever had, times ten, plus the pressure of winning a competition and trying to also maintain other relationships in your life.  Andrew really pushed himself to the point where he would be drumming so hard that he started bleeding on the set.  This movie is so realistic and that is partially because the screenplay is based off of Damien Chazelle‘s, the writer of Whiplash, life experiences from his years in music schools.  Yikes.  But, writers write what they know, right?  I mean it works out for him because this movie is unbelievably good.

One of my favorite motifs of the whole movie is the constant theme of musicality.  There is always a drum set, clarinet, horns and other jazz instruments playing in the background.  It really helps aid the plot along as well as stress you the bleep out when more serious scenes happen.  My friend that saw this movie with me said that she isn’t even this stressed while watching a horror or action film.  I’ll admit that I was mildly sweating throughout this film.  But don’t let the intensity discourage you because this is easily one of my favorite movies in a long time.

Oscar prediction:  It’s hard to say.  I think J.K Simmons absolutely has a chance to get the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but I think that this year it is a particularly hard category to be in.  When you are up against Ethan Hawke in Boyhood, Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher and Edward Norton in Birdman, it’s really any man’s game.  Any of those nominees could win the award and deserve it.  I personally am happy with any of those guy winning, but I definitely think Simmons has a chance.  However, I don’t think the film was “wow” enough for the Academy to give it Best Picture.  I mean it just isn’t what the Academy gives the Best Picture to (cough cough World War II biopics cough.)  I would love it to, but there are just a lot of solid movies on the list this season.

Overall:

Whiplash is phenomenal.  It is captivating in the sense that any person who has been severely pushed to succeed at something, whether that is in music, to get into your dream college or department or to have your dream job, can relate to this film.  It is even painful to watch how far Andrew is willing to go to prove that he is the best.  It is one of the “realest” films I have seen in a while.  If you haven’t seen it yet, definitely try to before awards season.

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

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The Final Stop: Rome (Days Nineteen through Twenty-One)

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So Rome is amazing and everyone needs to spend at least a week there at some point in their lives. Before I went on this trip, people told me that Rome is a walking museum and it truly is.

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The weather is beautiful, the food is to die for, the wine is cheaper than water and all the leather goods are just fan-freaking-tastic. I could go on and on and on about this city. Now I could never live here, but I would love to spend a month in a villa with a bottle of wine and a fat plate of pasta. Dream big, right?!

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Our group pretty much spent the first two days in the Vatican learning literally everything there probably is to know about it. Places like St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel were unbelievable. There is so much symbolism in the smallest country in the world.

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However, all of us had three back-to-back two hour walking tours so we were all pretty much done with the Vatican. And the worst part was that the Pope wasn’t even there!

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The Pantheon was my favorite area. It was surrounded by bunch of local shops, fountains and street performers. At night they had some guitarists while people drank coffee in little restaurants.

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Best cappuccino in the world was at this shop by the Pantheon called Sant Eustachio. It was £3 for two cappuccinos. Perfection. All my money either went to food or leather goods. We also were in Italy when they were having their post-Christmas sales where stuff was at least 50 percent off. But every five people in the city are trying to sell a selfie stick. I mean like every seven seconds someone would come up to me and say “Selfie? Selfie?” If I hear that word again, I might scream.

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But the best landmark is definitely the Coliseum. Pictures do not do it justice. When you start to think about how many people built it, watched gladiators and toured it, it just becomes unreal.

Now, after a couple days of hell-ish travel and still waiting for my suitcase, I am back state side and already miss Europe. After touring all of the cities, I definitely want to live abroad in Europe and hopefully London. My two favorite cities so far were London and Rome, but for two different reasons. London is an actual, semi-tangible place for me to live while Rome is the dream place to live. That and I think I could only do Rome for a couple months.

Anyway, if you are still reading thanks. And if you have been reading this series since the beginning, thank you even more! Adventure is out there!

Day Twelve through Seventeen

Bonjour from Brussels. Well that is only partially right because Belgium has an equal split of French and Dutch culture. One half of the country speaks only Dutch and practices the Dutch culture, the other half only speaks French lives in that culture. They read different news sources, eat different meals and different ideals.

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It is interesting because street signs are either in french, dutch, english or all three. It’s always a gamble if I’m going to try to speak to a stranger in french or dutch because Brussels acts as the melting pot of this weird de facto split.

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We left Paris just before the huge Charlie Hebdo march with all of the various European world leaders (minus someone big from the US…whoops). The crowds were just beginning to organize in the square. We then took a fast train to Brussels. I have never been on a train like that before, so I was interested to see how we all would like it. God, why aren’t there things like this in the US?!!?! They are so efficient and more comfortable than airplanes and it only took an hour for us to take the train from the two cities.

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We only had a free afternoon when we got to our hotel, and because it was a Sunday everything was closed. Next day, we went to the US State Department Media Hub. I knew nothing about foreign service especially how that ties to journalism, so it just about blew my mind. I can’t imagine doing tours in multiple countries where I don’t speak the language, but hey, to each their own.

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We they practically sprinted to Cantillion brewery to have a tour of one of the oldest breweries in Brussels. Our tour guide was precious and said “Drink water? No no no no. Water is for ducks.” That’s Brussels for yeah.

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We had another tour of Thompson Reuters. I got to talk to one of their staff photographer i.e. I stared googly-eyed at a real life photographer working overseas. Dream job in a nut shell. I have some friends studying here for a semester from my school and I actually ran into two of them at Reuters. They are interning there for the semester…in Brussels. K.

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We grabbed lunch then headed for the Parlimentarium. This is probably one the most interactive museums I have ever been to. You get a iPod Touch and you just hold it up to various scanners all around the museum and it gives an explanation of the exhibit in your language. Super cool.

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What is a trip to Brussels without chocolate and beer. It is really that good I promise. I liked the chocolate at Mary’s and it’s not as expensive as other shops in the Grand Place. Chocolate just doesn’t compare anymore after that experience.

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One our last day we had a walking tour of the Grand Place and the infamous Manneken Pis statue. But fun fact: It was 20 degrees out, raining and windy. It was probably the worst day to have a walking tour, so we made it a speed-walking tour.

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Yep. That’s it. Brussels’ pride and joy. It’s super tiny by the way. I personally don’t understand why people come from all over the world to see it, yet here I am from America seeing a peeing boy statue. Plus side: There was a waffle bar and a Hard Rock cafe nearby. All was not lost. That night I also met up with some friends who are studying here. It was lovely to see a familiar, American face. Then we went to Delirium and got plenty of cherry beers. Go to Brussels just for that experience alone; forget the peeing statue.

Our flight from Brussels to Amsterdam to Rome had a maintenance problem, so I am typing from the Brussels airport, which I now know very well. But we are finally going to the final destination of this passport series: Rome.

Day Thirteen

One of my best friends studied in Paris last year, so naturally I hounded her for all the best places to eat and see while I’m here. (Check out her blog here, so pretty cool)

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For my last day in Paris, I decided to have a food crawl with all of her suggestions.

Sam told me that I should not go anywhere else for crepes than Creperie Josselin. It is located on a tiny side street. I walked past it probably six times only to see that there was this sign saying that they were closed for the month. Tragic. If you are in Paris and go to this Creperie, please tell me how it is!

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I decided to try to find a local cafe to grab a light breakfast and coffee. Low and behold I stumble on a local, french farmer’s market. I couldn’t even tell you how, to be honest. Everything was here: Fresh fruit, raw meat, seafood, strange vegetables, truly everything.

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You can tell it was super local because of everyone only speaking french to me and each other. Everyone was so nice, friendly and patient with my terrible french. I grabbed a mini quiche and two clementines and sat at a coffee shop to listen to a jazz street band. Like how does this happen? This was probably my favorite part of Paris because it was such a local insight to the culture of the city.

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My next stop on Sam’s list was Coffee Parisian. Unlike Josselin, it was super easy to find. It is only a two minute walk from a Metro station in a nice shopping area. I was there 30 minutes before it opened, because of course, so I shopped a little. And by shopping, I mean that I bought a pair of socks and a necklace; so adventurous I know.

Behold: The Obama burger. A double cheeseburger with this amazing sauce. French people love Obama. I mean every time I told someone I was American, their first reaction was “Texas?!” or “Obama. ‘Yes We Can'”. They love him. The burger was actually pretty good, but medium-rare doesn’t really transfer well here so it was pretty much moo-ing on my plate. I would totally order it again though. The wait staff were also so nice and speak great english. I got a milkshake there to because at this point, why not?

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As a pit stop in my food crawling, I decided to go to Moulin Rouge to take a touristy photo of the famous windmill. Little did I realize was that Moulin Rouge is near all the live sex clubs in Paris. It was so sketchy and not worth going out there. This guy also kept trying to talk to me in the creepy “I’m A Nice Guy I Promise, Just Come Home With Me” sort of way. No thank you, sir.

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The metro in that area also doesn’t have a lot of stations were you can just get a single fare ticket, which is the kinds of tickets we were buying all week. This lovely French man swiped me in. I was still kind of freaked out by that guy trying to follow me into the subway station, so I am eternally grateful for his kindness. I then took the metro to the eiffel tower to have a little afternoon snack there. A coco-cola lite can save the world, I swear.

Sam’s suggestion is to grab some wine, food and a corkscrew and sit under the Eiffel Tower for dinner. Sadly, I had to meet up with the group for dinner, so I couldn’t do it. Very sad. But the food crawl as a whole was a success.

Day Eleven and Twelve

Bonjour from Paris! The City of Love, and now known as the city of Je Suis Charlie. Weirdly enough a group of journalism students we Paris bound the morning of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. It’s a very weird parallel.

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But Paris as a whole has been pretty calm about this. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are signs everywhere with the Je Suis Charlie logo. It is obvious that this is the biggest events to happen to France is recent history. Yet, the city still functions on. Our group has not really been effected by the shooting. It is both a strange and exciting time to be in Paris.

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After a tour with a university here, we went to Notre Dame. It was a windy, rainy day so all of us where mainly busy trying to buy umbrellas and hats to help with the weather. The inside was massive. I mean it just kept going and going, and it was so dark because of the weather so it was very gothic. I lit a couple candles for my family and started to make our way to the Louvre.

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The Louvre is huge. It has three floors and spreads for several blocks. It is separated by country rather than time period because that’s how much art is in it.

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But just go to the museum just to see the Mona Lisa. Everything else is way too overwhelming and repetitive. If you like that 17th and early century art, then by all means go. I like more modern stuff, so this wasn’t my cup of tea. Also, the Mona Lisa is really crowded and filled with people with iPads taking no joke 50 photos. If you skip it, I won’t tell anyone.

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Now the d’Orsay is the best museum in Paris. It has all of Monet, van Gogh and other impressionist work. I mean I was giddy when I saw all of Monet’s work. D’Orsay used to be a train station so it is very open and has a really cool, artistic vibe. They don’t allow photos so know what you want to take a picture of and make it sneaky; they will yell at you very loudly in french. Don’t leave Paris without doing this.

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Before the Eiffel Tower, we went to Cafe Constant. It was a little cafe that one of our chaperon’s read about in a bunch of guide books and it was phenomenal. The wait staff is so nice and we had an amazing meal. I think I had a religious experience with my dessert.

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After we toured a TV station, we went to the Eiffel Tower. It is so much bigger than I imagined. Definitely a wonderful section of the city. Someone got a text from their mom that there was a hostage situation in the city so we left the tower to go to a cafe to get WiFi and try to figure some stuff out.

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If there is Paris in a photo, I think it would be this one. We got some wine and half of us went to the lock bridge and half went to the Arc de Triomphe Etoile.

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Massive. Just unreal. It is also in the fashion section of Paris, so it was cool to walk by the YSL offices and the Louis Vuitton store. So far, Paris is really starting to grow on me.

Days Eight through Ten-Prague

Fear not Adventurers (yeah I know, I’m working on it), I have not abandoned y’all: Prague just doesn’t believe in continuous free WiFi. My hotel room seems to only have WiFi at 3 a.m. and for only 30 seconds. It has been a struggle for all. Hold on to your hats because this is going to be a long post.

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But anyway, yes I am in Prague. The winter wonderland of Prague. Not going to lie, at first I was a little underwhelmed by this former Communism, Czech city, but I have warmed up to it after all. (Naturally before I leave for Paris.)

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I flew from London to Prague on Sunday and met up with my group. Because of this long post, I’m being very blasé about this experience but it was frightening to go a city where I have clue about the language, to an airport without any WiFi (see intro paragraph), try to find my school group who is in another terminal (which I only found out halfway through a panicked scan of my screenshot emails) and my luggage missing for 20 minutes. But luck was on my side because I found the group right as they landed. Truly hashtag blessed.

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We got to our hotel around 4ish and for those in the States that means sundown. Because it was late and my poor school group spent the past 48 hours flying and landing and flying and landing, we took it easy. Prague is known for their beer and Czech people are super proud of this. As they should. Pilsner is the main one that you can get literally anywhere. I saw people ordering them at McDonalds that’s how much Czechs love their beer. Definitely a must have if you ever come here. It’s also super cheap (like a dollar for a pint), which is a huge plus. To put it in perspective: My water was more expensive than the beer here. Water falls free from the sky for god’s sake.

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This is some weird statue that Czech people made to mildly make fun of the Christians around the 18th Century. It’s a man riding a dead horse by the way.

The next day we visited a strategic communication firm and Charles University. This was of course after we got lost about ten times. The most used phrases so far has been “Look WiFi!” and “Where the BLEEP are we?!”

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Czechs drink all day. I mean like beer all throughout the day, so the bar scene was super fun. Old American music from the 70s through 90s is strangely popular here. Our first bar was called Ice Bar, which was a bar completely made from ice: glasses, couches, etc. They gave you a warm parka and 30 minutes to go inside. Very touristy, but super fun. Our other favorite bar was James Dean. It plays all old music and their napkins have his signature on it. We always had fun and met a ton of people from all over the world.

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Prague has only about a million people in it, so it’s pretty quiet compared to London, New York or Miami. I always felt pretty safe in the city even in the bars and streets at night. The older Czechs don’t really like Americans, but everyone our age was super nice and friendly.

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The second day was our free day, so it was mainly spent trying to see everything in Prague. We went to the monastery, Prague Castle, Lennon Wall and the Astrological Clock. If you are planning to go to Prague, definitely go to the monastery and castle. The wall and clock can be done really quickly. The cathedral in the castle was stunning. The detail work in the mirrors, the doors and steeple is unreal.

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There are a bunch of tombs or dead royalty and saints there as well. Kind of cool. Kind of creepy. Either way, definitely worth seeing. We bought a ticket that allowed us to five locations in the palace. Side note: bring your student ID overseas!!!! A ton of museums in Europe offer student discounts at museums with your university ID. We at lunch at this cool local restaurant at the bottom of the hill of the castle.

Czech food can be summarized in one word: Dense. It’s really good, but just super rich. Lots of meat and potatoes kind of thing. I have loved every meal, but feel so stuffed at the end of it.

Overview

So if you are still reading this, gold star for you. Thanks a lot for your time.

Anyway, Prague is a great city to have as an extension of your trip. For instance, if you are going to Germany you can easy do everything in Prague in three days. It’s a super cheap city with great beer culture and tons of history. The castle was awesome, but can easily be done in one afternoon. It is a lot more efficient to do Prague in a couple days rather than a week.

Food is really rich and really meaty, so Vegans, vegetarians, etc. beware. The majority of the food is potato based so all the gluten-free people can come here without a problem.

A lot people speak English, so it was easy to get around and ask for help. As always, you get a lot farther with a smile when you travel and that completely applies to Prague. Hold doors open for people, give up your seat at the train station, people here really appreciated that and were more willing to help us out.

Prague is super small and I was able to walk to all the major places in one afternoon. Transportation is super cheap, except be careful with cabs they tend to rip you off. But all in all, I really liked the city.

Day Seven

Naturally, my last day in London would be cold and rainy. So why not go on not one but TWO London Walks today?

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My first tour was the Notting Hill and Portobello Road walking tour. I have seen the movie Notting Hill more times than I would like to admit (ok like more than five) and have always wanted to go to the Portobello Road market.

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The walk was a great tour. I love how London Walks has a nice mix of need-to-know information with some nice fun facts. For instance, our tour guide Tom told us all about the history of Notting Hill when it was first founded as well as show us some celebrity houses (like Richard Curtis…I LOVE YOUR WORK). It is interesting how Notting Hill was one of the worst slums and now properties sell for £7 million. My head was spinning when I was trying to convert that to American dollars.

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The market was also amazing. I decided to have lunch here and had a falafel and a banana, Nutella crepe. Clearly, the crepe stole the show because I never looked up while eating it. If you ever plan to go to London, please try to plan your trip to be able to see the market on Saturday morning. There are tons of antique, food and clothing stands all along the market. Everyone is so colorful both in personality and in their fashion. I love how Notting Hill has still preserved their bohemian style even though more families are moving to the area.

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My mom’s one request when she went back home was to try to make it to Kensington Palace. I was in the area and had about an hour to spend, so off I went. I honestly did not think that Kensington Palace would be that large. It is near the Kensington Park entrance, so the palace is surrounded by green grass and a mini, well kept forest. There was even geese flying; it looked like a Jane Austen movie.

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I was only going to just look outside and around the garden, but I saw that the palace has an exhibit about certain dresses the Queen, Princess Diana and Princess Margaret wore over the years. They are so tiny! Like any other American, I love Princess Diana so it was cool to see some of the dresses she wore, but they didn’t have the dress that she wore in the photo with her dancing with John Travolta so that was a mild let down.

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I then realized that I had 15 minutes to get to the Tower Hill tube station for my Jack the Ripper tour, so I practically ran to the High Street station. The Circle Line moves at a glacially pace fair warning, so if you ever late for something that requires to take that line plan 45 minutes before you go. The walking tour to be honest was kind of a let down. I heard so many good things about this specific walk and I wasn’t that impressed. This could be because I was exhausted and hungry, but I thought there would be just a little bit more. I loved the Notting Hill and Harry Potter walks better. But it was interesting to learn about “the original serial killer”.

Tonight is my last night in London and tomorrow I fly to Prague, so here is my overview of London.

I absolutely love this city and it is almost heartbreaking that I am already leaving. I would love to live here if possibly because London is both a cosmopolitan hub and a historical landmark. The city is super developed, but still pays tribute to its older roots. The tube is phenomenal. It’s easy to get around with all the multiple forms of transport.

Things to for sure see: Tower of London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Fortnum and Mason, Spitalfield Market, Natural History Museum (but only first thing in the morning), Notting Hill, Portobello Market and Southbank Centre.

Things to maybe skip if you don’t have enough time: Jack the Ripper Walk, Tate Modern, Kensington Palace, Liberty of London, and St. James.