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.

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‘Mud’ worth more than his name

John Badcock — the Brit who compiled “Slang, the Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon-Ton, and the Varieties of Life” in 1823 — defined “mud” as “a stupid twaddling fellow,” as worthless as the brown-colored dirt. He was the doctor who patched up Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Boothe. And he’s the titular character in Jeff Nichols’ latest film, “Mud.”

Perhaps Mud (Matthew McConaughey), with his Southern drawl and mud-colored skin, is “a stupid twaddling fellow,” but don’t you dare call him a bum. That’s one of the first things 14-year-olds Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) learn when they find Mud on an island near the Mississippi River and the boating town of DeWitt, Arkansas.

“You can call me a hobo ‘cuz I’m homeless, but call me a bum again and I’m gonna teach you something about respect your daddy never did,” Mud says.

Perhaps Ellis and Neckbone listen to him because he’s built “lean and hungry” like Cassius from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” gobbling cans of beans like he’s starved. A .45 pistol is tucked behind his belt and a snake tattoo wraps around his tanned arm and neck.

“That guy’s crazy,” Neckbone says.

Or perhaps they listen to him because stupid is great, even admirable, in the eyes of pubescent boys looking for adventure. Mud is crazy, but isn’t that what love does to people? It injects venom into their veins like the snakebite that inspired Mud’s tattoo.

“You can’t trust love, Ellis,” warns Ellis’ father, Senior (Ray McKinnon). “You’re not careful, it’ll run out on you.”

Ellis’ mom (Sarah Paulson) and dad are going through a divorce and Ellis wants to believe in love. That’s why he and his pal, Neckbone, try to help Mud reunite with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the girl Mud killed and stole for: the reason he’s a fugitive.

Nichols, who wrote and directed the film, is a master storyteller, crafting a poetic coming-of-age drama. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald did with “The Great Gatsby,” Nichols makes us voyeurs to a tale of hopeless romance.

But Nichols isn’t alone in making “Mud” great. Sheridan’s charismatic with boyish idealistic charm, smoothing the rough edges surrounding Lofland’s loyal and cynical character. Witherspoon’s kind motherly eyes is enough to keep men up at night. And McConaughey makes us care for Mud, whose dangerous and hard shell masks an undying belief in love. Like Ellis, or Nick Carraway, we’re hopeless romantics, fascinated by watching the boats against the current, wishing that beneath those murky waters, we’ll find more than mud.

“Mud” was written and directed by Jeff Nichols. 

The Great ‘Charlie Bartlett’

Who ever said you can’t buy friends? Well, as seventeen-year-old Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) finds out, popularity isn’t as “priceless” as the MasterCard commercials would have you believe.

The film, “Charlie Bartlett,” follows a wealthy, enterprising teenager and his quest to be well-liked. When no fancy prep school would take him anymore (the last one expelled him for creating and distributing fake I.D.’s), Charlie is sent to public school — where he gets beat up. That is, until he discovers that obtaining and dealing prescription medications (from Ritalin to Xanax) — and giving advice to other misunderstood, teenagers — can become quite a lucrative business.

For playing a posh, rich kid, Anton Yelchin is quite earnest and likeable as Charlie Bartlett. Perhaps it’s his friendly smile and the manner and number of times in which he would repeat, “Hi, I’m Charlie.” (If Yelchin wasn’t quite so charming and charismatic, he might be mistaken for remedial.) Or perhaps it’s how he could seamlessly rattle off Latin and French; sing and play the piano; and recite a monologue of how he got his period. Yelchin is like the “Great Gatsby” from Nick Carraway’s eyes (only Yelchin doesn’t call everyone, “old sport.”) He’s talented, excelling in the ability of making the audience feel empathy for a poor, rich kid. He has this boyish, All-American, Tom Sawyer quality about him — that if you talked to him long enough, he could probably get you to whitewash the white-picket fence for him. Yet at the same time, Yelchin can be very mature, offering proper insight and sage advice on the inner workings of the teenaged mind.

Yelchin, and the excellent actors in the cast, carry the film. Robert Downey Jr. is the antagonistic Principal Rooney character to Yechin’s Ferris Bueller. However, Downey Jr., as Principal Gardner, brings very real issues (like depression and alcoholism) to this Wiley E. Coyote/Roadrunner relationship. Hope Davis, who is most recently known for playing tabloid writer Nina Harper in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” is also excellent as Yelchin’s flighty mother who’s been depressed since her husband went to jail. The rest of the characters also hit their notes (i.e. Tyler Hilton of “One Tree Hill” fame resembles “Glee”‘s bully Noah Puckerman, played by Mark Sailing; while Kat Dennings has this Drew Barrymore, girl next door quality about her), but aren’t as memorable next to Yelchin, Downey Jr. and Davis’ nuanced performances.

The juxtaposition of the charm and sincerity of the film brings the playful and deeper nature of “Charlie Bartlett” to life. Director Jon Poll’s film captures some of the themes and nostalgia of John Hughes’ classics. “Charlie Bartlett” seems to be a cross between “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club,” portraying Yelchin as a trouble-making Ferris Bueller-type character, while showing that its OK for teenagers to break away from their stereotypical cliques. (For example, the football captain really wants to go to Paris and study art, while the school bully wants to take the most popular girl in school to a dinner and movie.) And although popularity isn’t priceless, perhaps being able to talk to someone about your problems is.

“Charlie Bartlett” was written by Gustin Nash and directed by Jon Poll.

Woody Allen paints a ‘Midnight in Paris’ masterpiece

The Eiffel Tower. The Moulin Rouge. Water lilies floating in the pond. “There’s no city like this in the world,” Owen Wilson’s “Midnight in Paris” character, Gil, said within the first five minutes of the latest Woody Allen film. And perhaps there isn’t.

Following the story of a young, engaged couple in Paris, the premise of “Midnight in Paris” seems like it would be an overwritten cliche. Gil (Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter working on his first novel. Inez (Rachel McAdams) is his fiance, who accompanies Gil to Paris. But while “Midnight in Paris” is a love story, it’s nothing like the romantic comedy “Wedding Crashers,” which also featured the budding developing romance between Wilson and McAdams’ characters.

“Midnight in Paris” has a more mature feel to it, and both Wilson and McAdams rise to the challenge. Wilson, known for his playful antics in “Wedding Crashers” and for voicing animated characters like Lightning McQueen from Pixar’s “Cars” franchise, captures the nostalgic dreamer, fascinated by the 1920s Paris culture and past legacy of renowned writers like Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Meanwhile, McAdams is the realist in this relationship, grounded in the present and future (she wants to live in Malibu, California, while her to-be-husband works in Hollywood). As one can imagine, this causes tension between the two, and Woody Allen’s beautifully crafted screenplay uses Wilson and McAdams’ relationship as a foil for Wilson’s musings of what it would be like to live in Paris during the roaring twenties — interacting with the legendary greats like Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).

Allen’s Oscar-winning screenplay lends itself to brilliance. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald are charming — like Gatsby and Daisy from F. Scott’s novel “The Great Gatsby.” Mr. Dali is just as eccentric his surrealist paintings. And Hemingway is witty and wise, offering insight to a fellow writer.

In addition, “Midnight in Paris” shows off the gorgeous, romantic scenery of the French capital — the cobblestone streets, the bridges over tranquil waters, the rain. It’s the city of artists, writers and intellectuals. Stephane Wrembel’s music is enchanting. Each backdrop is a work of art. The irony is, Allen’s masterpiece shows off the artists we know and love through their parting gifts to the world. Perhaps like Fitzgerald and Hemingway’s books and Dali and Picasso’s paintings, Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” will also survive the test of time and remain as timeless as the classic memories it portrays.

With Willie and Gatsby and Jesus and all the King’s Men, why can’t we put ‘Humpty Dumpty’ back together again?

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall…

They say that even with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, they couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together ever again. Who knew that lessons from Mother Goose would last lifetimes?

My English professor once told me there are five great stories in the world. Sitting there, watching Steven Zaillian’s film All the King’s Men based on Robert Penn Warren’s novel of the same title, I am starting to believe that is true.

For Willie Stark (Sean Penn), he may have been Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a wall to be adored as governor of the good people of 1950s Louisiana. Or perhaps newly elected Governor Willie Stark was Jay Gatsby, someone who was “great” in a corrupt world because he was the only one who held true to pure goals. Stark wanted to build roads and bridges and schools and hospitals for the “hicks” like himself. Like Gatsby, Stark came from a humble background, but whereas Gatsby made a point of blending in with the genteel wealthy society in the West Egg of New York, like another man from over 2,000-plus-years-old, Stark made a point of sticking out. And like that man of Nazareth, born in a little town of Bethlehem, Willie Stark was crucified for it.

It’s funny, because Stark said that he would nail up anyone who stood in his way in one of his many Scarlett O’Hara inspired never-go-hungry-again speeches: “Nail up Joe Harrison! Nail up McMurphy! Nail up any bastard who gets between you and the roads and bridges and the schools you need!  If they don’t deliver, give me the hammer and I’ll do it.”

Willie Stark promised that he would break anyone who got between his promises to the people, the other poor “hicks” of Louisiana: “Your will is my strength, and your need is my justice, and I shall live in your right and your will. And if any man tries to stop me from fulfilling that right and that will, I’ll break him.”

No one would get between a man and his promises.

Oh, but Governor Stark, they did. They did get between you and your promises. Who are “they”? Why, Governor Stark, they are the wealthy, the upper class that did not vote you into office. They are the big corporations who wonder where you will get the money to build your roads and bridges and schools. They are the judges and the conservatives who are crying for your impeachment. And who are you, Mr. Stark, but a man with a promise? Who are you to say that state money should go to the schools and hospitals and not the big oil companies?

Who are you, Mr. Stark, but a man?

If Mr. Stark was a man as great as Gatsby himself, Jack Burden (Jude Law) is the quiet and reflective Nick Carraway of All the King’s Men, an accomplished journalist narrating the story of an unconventional governor. Like Nick Carraway, Burden comes from money, with the powerful Judge Irwin (Anthony Hopkins) who is the deciding judge to Stark’s impeachment as Burden’s surrogate father and the preceding governor’s children Anne (Kate Winslet) and Adam (Mark Ruffalo) Stanton as his childhood friends. Burden was a newspaper columnist for The Chronicle, writing about Willie Stark, the guy next door.

“As I watched him shake his big fist and listened to his words boom out across that field, I had the feeling that here was a man with a will of iron,” said Burden. “I had the feeling that Willie Stark would neither be steered away nor scared away from his purpose. I had the feeling that in Willie Stark, Kanoma County had found that rare thing: an honest man with courage.”

Burden claims that he doesn’t know how he got mixed into Stark’s life, a renowned journalist becoming Stark’s personal assistant. Sure, Stark doesn’t call everyone “old sport” or drive a yellow car, but while working for Stark, Burden finds himself opening the skeleton key into his past.

Behind the door and down the rabbit hole, Burden found his father who did more than teach him how to hold a gun and launch catapults. He found that the one and only girl he loved wasn’t as perfect as he always thought she was. He found that his best friend who couldn’t look at anything broke without fixing it was capable of breaking a lot more than imaginable.

In the end, we learn that there is no green light over the horizon and everything is as fragile as an egg sitting precariously on a pedestal. Any goals or plans or dreams can fall to pieces with a gunshot. And even with all the king’s horses and all the kings men, that hope, that dream, can never but put together again. It makes us wonder if there really is such a thing as “good.”

“Do you know what good comes out of?” asked Stark. “… Out of bad. That’s what good comes out of. Because you can’t make it out of anything else. You didn’t know that, did you?”