While you all were watching Gravity this past weekend, I was at Chris Kelly’s Modern Cinema festival. It’s good to have this annual event back, and we can look forward to enjoying it year round now, as the former Star-Telegram film critic announced that the festival will hold monthly screenings starting next month, skipping December, but returning in January. I missed the opening selection, A.C.O.D. (which is supposed to be quite funny), but I saw plenty of other notable films.
Daniel Radcliffe plays a college-age Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, and Chris Kelly was selling his performance as a total transformation from Harry Potter. I’m not so sure about that; the Ginsberg we see in this movie is quite a bit like the boy wizard, smart and studious but willing to break the rules. (Compare Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower — there’s a total transformation from her role in the Potter movies.) Still, Radcliffe is very good playing a gay Jewish American poet, and he has quite a bit of company in this movie based on an episode in Ginsberg’s life when Lucien Carr, a fellow student whom he had fallen for, murdered his ex-boyfriend. First-time director John Krokidas gets some terrific performances from Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan as Carr (he’s usually cast as creepy loners, but here he’s playing someone more seductive and charming, and he’s good). There’s also Ben Foster as William Burroughs, mumbling unintelligibly in a very Burroughsian way, an unrecognizable and bearded Michael C. Hall as the ill-fated and somewhat pathetic ex, and Elizabeth Olsen providing some welcome female presence as Jack Kerouac’s put-upon girlfriend. Krokidas has to juggle the murder plot with the boys’ school hijinks, and he doesn’t pull that off very smoothly, but he gets so much else right (including the stifling moralistic atmosphere of the period) that you can let it go. This is a filmmaker to watch.
The Broken Circle Breakdown begins with five bearded guys on a stage, wearing Stetsons, playing guitars, fiddles, and banjos, and singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” with a credible twang. Look at them and you think, they could be from around here. But then we see the lead singer in a hospital talking to his daughter in Dutch, and you realize that they’re in Belgium. The movie’s based on a stage play co-written by lead actor Johan Heldenbergh, who portrays a bluegrass musician in Ghent. The story hops around in time showing his courtship and marriage to a tattoo artist/singer (Veerle Baetens) and their struggle to cope as their six-year-old girl (Nell Cattrysse) is stricken with cancer. The film reminded me of Declaration of War, Valérie Donzelli’s French drama from last year, a similarly themed piece that also had a musical number. Director Felix van Groeningen takes a much more somber approach to the material here. The English-language numbers like “Country in My Genes” do much to keep the proceedings from becoming too heavy, but towards the end this thing just becomes an extended wallow in misery. Then again, this movie isn’t like anything else you’ve probably seen, and it’s the best musical I’ve seen all year.