If this cautionary tale keeps just one kid from selling his soul in the name of artistic greatness, then it will have done its job. What's that? It's not a cautionary tale? It's a searing exploration of the sacrifices demanded by art, as exemplified by a driven jazz student (Miles Teller) and the sadistic drill-sergeant teacher (J.K. Simmons) who drives him? Says you. At least we can agree on this: Simmons plays the hell out of his part, beating on wannabe drummer Teller's psyche far harder and faster than Teller can possibly pound the skins. The ordinary world, including Teller's thoroughly decent dad (a subdued Paul Reiser), can only watch in confused horror as the boy delves into his chosen niche, searching after immortality. Writer-director Damien Chazelle's short-film version of the story won at Sundance, and he makes the most of his expanded runtime and budget. (The jazz even looks great.) Think of Simmons' verbal tirades as extended riffs, virtuoso variations on the theme of trial by ordeal. (2014) — Matthew Lickona
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