DVD Review - Keep On Keepin' On

On January 15, the film Whiplash received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons who is the presumptive winner. Simmons plays a bandleader for a Jazz ensemble and a teacher at a prestigious school. He is then revealed to be a brutal and possibly sadistic music mentor. The sadism has been somewhat of a criticism as to how effective that would be in real-life. The fact that he's white is another. Yet, it's upper middle-class and well-off white people who are the audience and benefactors of Jazz concerts or orchestras. To me, Whiplash instead commits the crime of feeling disconnected from history, the history of Jazz, which it uses as a highfalutin crutch. This documentary by Alan Hicks doesn't commit that crime.

The music mentor at the center here is Clark Terry, Jr., a Jazz musician, a great trumpet player who in 2010 won the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement at the age of 89. Hicks profiles Terry from the time he was a young boy, even incorporating pencil-drawing animation, showing how he came to be involved with Jazz and how he rose to prominence. Hicks proves why Terry is a mentor one would want and does so factually, which Whiplash doesn't do.

In Whiplash, the young man being mentored sadistically is a white drummer named Andrew, played by Miles Teller. Here, the young man being mentored lovingly is an Asian boy, a real-life, piano prodigy named Justin Kauflin. Kauflin is an amazing pianist, a handsome, smart, sweet, funny, loving and beautiful boy. He meets Clark Terry because Terry was a professor at William Paterson University where Kauflin was his student.

What Hicks shows is that the teacher-student relationship persists and in fact blossoms into a wonderful friendship. What bonds the two of them is the fact that both are legally blind. Kauflin lost his vision in elementary school and is now totally sight-less. Terry just recently started losing his vision due to the on-set of diabetes. Besides being blind, what also bonds them is their attitudes about it. Both take it in stride and in fact both remain upbeat and positive. Kauflin is understandable because he's been dealing with blindness all his life, so it's normal to him, but Terry is new to it but still he's always smiling and happy.

Hicks lets you know from the opening scene what the overwhelming message of the movie is. The opening scene shows the two hands of Kauflin and Terry holding one another. It's principally a blind-man thing. We see Kauflin constantly using his hands to help guide him as he walks around. Kauflin lives in New York City and he navigates so effortlessly. However, the embracing of hands is also a very loving act for them as well.

Obviously, being dedicated or tough on yourself or pushing yourself to do or be better is important. Yet, what comes through even more is the love and compassion between the two as well as those who surround them. Both Kauflin and Terry are so attractive on a spiritual and emotional level, and that's what makes the movie one of the best of 2014. It's a shame that it didn't get nominated whereas Whiplash did.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.


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