Opening here this weekend:
Kill Your Darlings—The title is a maxim from literature and journalism. The “darlings” here are the beautiful words, phrases and passages you’ve written; the advice is to cut them cold-heartedly if they aren’t absolutely necessary to the piece overall.
Most writers have a hard time with this rule, and in particular it’s not a literary philosophy with which the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs are especially associated (although Burroughs’ lean, excellent early works reflect the style, his more famous later stuff doesn’t). Nonetheless, that’s who this movie is about: The initial meeting, at Columbia University in the mid-‘40s, between these three men who eventually became celebrated as “The Beats,” as well as Lucien Carr, the rebellious, literary-minded rich kid who introduced them.
Carr never became a famous novelist or poet (though his son, Caleb Carr, wrote The Alienist). But his dramatic life makes for a much juicier movie than that of his iconic friends, who were on the fringe of a lurid murder case in which he was implicated. The movie’s focus is on Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), his fascination with Carr (Dane DeHaan), and their attempt to create a “New Vision” for stodgy American lit.
It could be argued that they achieved this, in the long run. I don’t know how closely Kill Your Darlings follows the record, but the movie seems to suggest that they revolutionized midcentury literature not by writing striking works that deflated aesthetic orthodoxies but rather by needling professors, playing pranks in the library, hanging out in jazz clubs, vandalizing old books and getting drunk. And we’re expected to cheer as they crap on the Western canonical tradition without which their counterculture would have been not only meaningless but impossible.
Kill Your Darlings is nicely directed, by John Krokidas, and very well acted, but it really brought out the (small “c”) conservative in me. I say this as somebody who treasures at least some work by Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs: I spent this movie thinking “Get the hell back to class, you little pricks, learn to write a proper sonnet and quit wasting your parents’ tuition money.”
Like I said, though, the ensemble cast is strong. Radcliffe seemed like odd casting to me as Ginsberg, but he’s creditably serious. In the flashier role of Carr, DeHaan is quite the glamorous object—he looks like a hybrid of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. I mean, that's really exactly what he looks like. The movie presents Carr as a narcissistic, manipulative tease and possibly a sociopath, which may be unfair, but DeHaan’s performance is gripping.
Jack Huston (great-nephew of John Huston) is solid as Kerouac, and the always-interesting Ben Foster is interesting as Burroughs, though both of these roles are recessive compared to Ginsberg and Carr. Michael C. Hall is both scary and pitiable as Carr’s obsessed would-be mentor David Kammerer, and Elizabeth Olsen makes an impression in the small role of Edie Parker. There is also a fine gallery of character actors as the older generation—David Cross as Allen’s father, the poet Louis Ginsberg, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as his mentally shattered mother, Kyra Sedgwick as Carr’s mother and John Cullum and David Rasche as buffoonish Columbia faculty.
Most of these grown-up roles are presented with a hint of caricature, especially the academic stuffed shirts. But I must admit that, as they dealt with these punks, I empathized with them. Boy, did this movie make me feel old.
Thor: The Dark World—Chris Hemsworth is once again agreeable as the Marvel Comics version of the hammer-bearing Norse deity. This time the McGuffin is an amorphous something or other called “The Aether” that has invaded the body of Thor’s mortal love interest Jane (Natalie Portman), and is coveted by a race of trolls or goblins or something because it would allow them to take the Universe from Light to Darkness. Or something like that.
The makers of Thor: The Dark World—director Alan Taylor, the cast, which includes Anthony Hopkins as cranky Old Man Odin and Rene Russo as Frigga, and the special effects and design folks—work hard to put on a show for us, deploying otherwordly armies and strange cosmic forces with gusto, like kids playing with action figures. In the course of the movie, Thor must place trust in his shifty brother Loki, who’s locked up in Asgard’s rather elegant dungeon. Sly, droll Tom Hiddleston steals the movie effortlessly in this role, and when his strand of the story is satisfyingly resolved the movie was, for me, effectively over.
But the demands of the blockbuster are such that we’re dragged through another interminable round of fistfights and explosions and rubble and sifting ash, just like the finales of The Avengers and Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. Do they all have to end like that? I can’t claim that I didn’t sit there enjoying large chunks of this movie’s spectacle, but as usual with these big superhero or action movies, I was ready for it to be over at least a half-hour before the filmmakers were done pummeling me.