Sometimes you can’t ‘Kill Your Darlings’

At one point in “Kill Your Darlings” — director John Krokidas’ first feature-length film — Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) points at Columbia University’s “hall of fame,” filled with team photos, graduations and ribbon cuttings of “souvenir history. To make people think they left some mark on the world because otherwise nobody would ever know.”

“I don’t ever want to end up on this wall,” says Carr.

But despite his mostly private post-collegiate life, Carr has his place in “souvenir history.”

Some events from his life were immortalized in a series of semi-biographical fictional works from his more famous Beat Generation friends — Jack Kerouac’s first and last novels, “The Town and the City” and “Vanity of Duluoz”; Kerouac and William Burroughs’ “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks”; and Allen Ginsberg’s “The Bloodsong,” published journal entries based on events between 1943 and ’44.

Krokidas and his former Yale University roommate Austin Bunn wrote their version of the events into the screenplay “Kill Your Darlings,” which centers around the death of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), a former English professor who obsessively stalked young Carr.

The events are filtered through the lens of 17-year-old Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), who befriends his classmate Carr at Columbia University — where they discuss Whitman, Yeats and Rimbaud over a bottle of Chianti.

Later joined by Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Kerouac (Jack Houston), Ginsberg and Carr plan a literary revolution — to change the old order of rhyme, meter and form. But they can’t get away from the past. “[The past] becomes part of who you are,” says Ginsberg. “Or [it] destroys you,” says Carr.

“Kill Your Darlings” is fascinating because of the larger-than-life personalities captured on the silver screen. But despite his fame as the “boy who lived,” Radcliffe takes a backseat to DeHaan’s mysteriously alluring and seductive performance as the flamboyant Adonis Lucien Carr.

“Holy Lucien,” writes Ginsberg in “Howl and Other Poems,” was one of the “best minds…destroyed by madness.” That greatness, though, makes Carr Jay Gatsby to Ginsberg’s Nick Carraway. And while their lives intersected for only a moment, F. Scott Fitzgerald taught us that sometimes “boats beating against the current are borne ceaselessly into the past.”

“Kill Your Darlings” was directed by John Krokidas and written by Krokidas and Austin Bunn.

NBC flattens ‘About a Boy’

If NBC’s new sitcom, “About a Boy,” looks or sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve seen it more than a decade ago.

The story’s based on British writer Nick Hornby’s 1998 novel of the same name and was made into an award-winning British film in 2002, starring Hugh Grant as bachelor Will Freeman and young Nicholas Hoult as the boy Marcus.

Jason Katims’ (“Parenthood”) American TV adaption of the story stars David Walton (“New Girl,” “Bent”) as Will and Benjamin Stockham (“1600 Penn”) as Marcus. Will’s a grade-A bullshiter who loves women. His best bud Andy’s (Al Madrigal, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”) tied down with kids, but Will prefers his bachelor lifestyle.

When he runs into a beautiful blond (Leslie Bibb) on her way to a single parent support group, he tags along with her and invents a son with leukemia named Jonah. Will enlists his homely 11-year-old neighbor Marcus to pretend to be his sickly son.

The pilot, which was written by Katims and directed by “Iron Man’s” Jon Favreau, condenses the poignant 101-minute film into a superficial half-hour sitcom. Dalton’s Will resembles a slightly grown-up version of Haley Dunphy’s slacker ex-boyfriend Dylan (Reid Ewing) from “Modern Family.” Stockham’s Marcus and his mom, Fiona (Minnie Driver), seem like the aliens next door (and is perhaps NBC’s version of ABC’s “The Neighbors”). Marcus is the weirdo kid who wears weird rainbow sweaters and gets bullied in school. Fiona’s a vegan who meditates and cries all the time (plus her British accent makes her seem even more foreign). They all aren’t as sympathetic as their counterparts in the film.

Still, Dalton and Stockham have some chemistry together. Will seems good with kids, perhaps because he acts like one. Will and Marcus can be seen playing ping pong ball, squirting down bullies with a hose and singing 1D together. Dalton’s in his mid-30s. Stockham’s in middle school.

The relationship between an adult and a child isn’t a new feature in television sitcoms. For years, we’ve watch “Two and a Half Men’s” misogynistic womanizing bachelor Charlie (Charlie Sheen) and his nephew Jake Harper (Angus T. Jones). Compared to Charlie, Will almost seems like a genuine good guy. Too bad he resides in dull and one-dimensional Sitcomland, where he’s not real.

“About a Boy’s” pilot premiered after the Olympics at 11 p.m. EST on Saturday, January 22. The second episode, “About a Pool Party,” will air at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, January 25 on NBC.

Coming to Cinemapolis: Neil LaBute’s ‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep’

Anne Marie Cummings and Evan Stewart Eisenberg in "Into the Forest, Dark and Deep." Photo taken by Wendy Houseworth.

Anne Marie Cummings and Evan Stewart Eisenberg in “In the Forest, Dark and Deep.” Photo courtesy of the Readers’ Theatre of Ithaca, taken by Wendy Houseworth.

A middle-aged woman sits on a hardwood floor, marked off by black tape. In front of her is a cardboard box and a pile of books — Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Hemingway — which she packs and unpacks for the next 95 minutes.

Come March 7th through 9th, she’ll be sitting on a 16-by-4 inch platform — raised two feet in the air — in one of Cinemapolis‘s 90-seat theatres. But for now, Anne Marie Cummings of the Readers’ Theatre of Ithaca is rehearsing a dramatic staged reading of Neil LaBute’s psychological thriller “In a Forest, Dark and Deep.”

Directed by Ithaca College professor Cynthia Henderson, “In a Forest, Dark and Deep” features a sister/brother duo: Betty (Cummings), an English professor, and Bobby (Evan Stewart Eisenberg), a blue-collar carpenter. When her tenant suddenly abandons her cabin in the middle of the woods, Betty calls her estranged younger brother, Bobby, for physical and emotional support.

But siblings can be both your best friends and your worst enemies. They tease, bicker and ridicule. They know how to get under each other’s skin and how to hide the truth under a protective wrap of “maybes” and “I’m kiddings.” That’s what Betty and Bobby do, volleying barbs on everything from money to morals.

“I told them they’re almost liked caged animals,” says Henderson. “It’s like a couple of caged animals constantly trying to find out what the other is up to.”

LaBute’s funny, smart and witty dialogue lends itself to this. While Eisenberg adopts what he describes as a “guttural New York style blue-collar flow,” he articulates Bobby’s foul and astute observations. “Truth hurts,” he says early on, which quickly becomes a refrain of the play.

“I should have just called the moving guys,” says Betty. “I didn’t ask for a free hour of therapy.”

But lucky for us, she didn’t. As Bobby emotionally probes into the mind and actions of his sister, Cummings becomes LaBute’s Russian nesting doll — revealing hidden layers while illustrating her range and dexterity as an actor.

Cummings, the Readers’ Theatre’s founder and artistic director, starred as Abbey Prescott in the company’s performance of LaBute’s “Mercy Seat” last year. She said that role was a piece of cake compared to Betty.

“This is by far the most challenging role,” says Cummings. “I mean, it really calls on everything for an actor because the trick with this character is masking what’s underneath, but having what’s underneath there and having it really be there, and not forgetting, but just trusting that it is.”

To prepare her actors for the intricacies of their roles, Henderson said she asked them nosy and personal questions about their characters.

“It’s very dysfunctional, but there is a sibling love and need there that could get lost in the arguments, and so I wanted to bring forward the care they have for each other even if they don’t want to admit it,” Henderson said.

That affection is visibly there when Cummings smacks Eisenberg with her script and when Eisenberg pleads and comforts her. They dance around each other with both action and language and at one moment, Bobby compare themselves with wolves.

Like wolves, they’re at each other’s throats at various points of the play, but they also have a fierce loyalty to one another. Sure, they have their disagreements — which initially transcended the play.

“[Anne Marie Cummings] was looking at me like, ‘Is this guy out of his mind? Is he playing the role?'” says Eisenberg on their first rehearsal together. “All it was was I was just standing my ground.”

Cummings, who cast “In a Forest, Dark and Deep,” said she had Eisenberg in mind for the challenging role of Bobby. Eisenberg was the male lead in “Soul Mates,” a play written and directed by Cummings, and performed as part of the Readers’ Theatre’s 2013 summer series.

“I chose this play for the Readers’ Theatre so any play that I choose is usually a play because I think of people in the community who are going to be right for it and are going to like it,” she said.

LaBute’s “In a Forest, Dark and Deep” first premiered in 2011 at West End’s Vaudeville Theatre in London. It will be the Readers’ Theatre’s first play at their new downtown location in Cinemapolis.

“In a Forest, Dark and Deep” was written by Neil LaBute and directed by Cynthia Henderson, starring Anne Marie Cummings and Evan Stewart Eisenberg; with music by Hank Roberts. A staged reading will be performed from March 7-9 at Cinemapolis on 120 East Green Street in Ithaca, N.Y.

Tickets can be purchased at www.thereaderstheatre.com. Advance tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults. Tickets will be $12 for students (with student ID) and $15 for adults at the door.

‘Vampire Academy’ appeals to Freudian instincts

The Waters brothers are no strangers to dark comedies starring high school. Screenwriter Daniel Waters’ known for writing “Heathers.” His younger brother Mark Waters directed “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls.”

Now, the siblings have teamed up to deliver a new dark comedy: “Vampire Academy,” based on the best-selling young adult fantasy novels by Richelle Mead.

The story — which takes place in a very dumbed down version of White Wolf’s “Vampire the Masquerade” role-playing universe — follows two girls united by a bond deeper than friendship. Seventeen-year-old Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a spunky, Buffy-esque Dhampir — a half-human, half-vampire assigned to guard the mortal and magical Moroi vampire bloodline with her life. Her best friend, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), happens to be a Moroi princess and the last of the Dragomirs, (her family died in a car accident). The two attend St. Vladimir’s Academy, a posh vampire boarding school where they train in fighting or magic.

But since this is high school, and therefore (as media suggests) a microcosm of “hell,” the two are tangled in the usual gossip, backstabbing and melodrama over boys. Lissa likes Christian (Dominic Sherwood), a broody Robert Pattinson and young Christian Slater look-alike. Rose likes her Russian fighting instructor, Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky). But being a teenager’s tough, especially when boys and social popularity aren’t their only priorities. Dead animals on doorsteps and bloody messages on walls suggest you-know-who, I mean, an enemy darker than adolescent tomfoolery (Don’t worry, there aren’t any giant snakes like there are in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”).

“Vampire Academy’s” entertaining if you don’t think. Unlike “Twilight’s” weak and insipid heroine Isabella Swan, “Vampire Academy’s” Rose is brave and sassy. But despite a biting line about how Dhampirs and Moroi don’t sparkle in sunlight, “Vampire Academy” resembles every other vampire soap opera.

The appeal lies in the same vein as HBO’s “True Blood” or CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” even if we’re ashamed of them: our primitive Freudian instincts of love and death — qualities inherent in the beasts’ very nature.

“Vampire Academy” was directed by Mark Waters and written by Daniel Waters, based on Richelle Mead’s book.

‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’: Betting against AIDS

In the first few seconds of “Dallas Buyers Club,” Ron Woodroof’s (Matthew MacConaughey) safely riding a broad at a rodeo while watching and betting on bull riders. But he might as well been riding a bull himself, or standing in front of Mother Nature’s horns.

With the way he bets and gambles, parties and engages in unprotected sex, some may think he had it coming. As any bull fighter secretly knows, “It’s not a matter of if you’ll get hurt. It’s a matter of when.”

And the when comes in the form of hard coughs that wrack his entire body. It’s accompanied by a faint high-pitched ringing that never ends.

“You’ve tested positive for HIV,” the doctor tells him when he’s knocked off his feet.

It’s 1985 in Dallas. HIV’s the gay disease: a social and physical death sentence.

Based on a true story, Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Dallas Buyer’s Club” chronicles one man’s battle against the AIDS epidemic. AZT had just been released for testing in select hospitals, but it’ll take another two years before the FDA formally approves the drug. Meanwhile, people are dying and willing to do anything to survive.

Enter Ron Woodroof, whose diagnosis takes him across the border to Mexico. There, he meets Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who’s created an non-FDA approved HIV/AIDS supplement that Woodroof smuggles into the U.S. Teaming up with the transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodroof starts the Dallas Buyers Club, which distributes the unapproved formula for $400 memberships.

Although Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack’s Oscar-nominated screenplay’s somewhat formulaic (think “Moneyball” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”), “Dallas Buyer’s Club” succeeds because of its incredibly talented and committed cast. McConaughey — the normally tan Texas-native known for banging bongos while naked — lost 47 pounds and shut himself in for months in order to appear pale and sickly. Leto stopped eating, lost 40 pounds and lived as his character, Rayon.

The transformations paid off, lending to heartbreaking performances and earning both actors a much deserved Golden Globe and place on this year’s shortlist of Oscar nominees.

McConaughey’s his charming, Southern self, calling co-star Jennifer Garner (who plays a doctor who treats HIV/AIDS patients) “Nurse Ratched” one minute and giving her a painting of wildflowers in the next.

And Leto’s playful performance as the beautiful and optimistic Rayon keeps the film from becoming too depressing.

When the two begin working together, the homophobic Ron curses and threatens Rayon if she ever calls him Ronnie or hangs Boy George posters again. This initially antagonistic relationship (and the teasing banter that accompany it) provides some humor in this otherwise elegiac story.

“Been looking for you, Lonestar,” Rayon teases Ron in another scene.

“You know I could have killed ya,” Ron answers.

Rayon’s levity is refreshing in a film about AIDS.

Because deep down you know it’s not a matter of if they’ll die. It’s when.

“Dallas Buyer’s Club” was directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack. McConaughey and Leto won best actor and best supporting actor at the 2014 Golden Globes. The film was also nominated for best actor, best supporting actor, best original screenplay, best achievement in film editing, best makeup and best picture of the year in the 2014 Academy Awards.