The Drama Club Grab Bag
With the airing of last month's Oscars, the 2013-2014 movie awards season has now come to a close. The dust has settled, the statues have been doled out, and the studio publicity machines have a reprieve for at least a few more months. There was certainly no shortage of contenders, with some of Hollywood's hopefuls scoring the prestige they were banking on and others falling short of their goals. But now that the competition has simmered down, it seems like a good time to look at three hats that were thrown in the awards ring: Kill Your Darlings, Blue Jasmine, and Inside Llewyn Davis -- all now available on Blu-ray and DVD via Sony Home Entertainment.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS. Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) rank among the most hailed writers of their era. These young men, among many, were at the forefront of the Beat Generation, using their works to challenge authority and rebel against all forms of conformity. But before becoming the literary legends we know them as now, they got embroiled in one of the darkest chapters of their lives at Columbia University. It involved fellow classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) and a mysterious night that ended with a murder. Kill Your Darlings appears less a chronicle of how those like Ginsberg and Kerouac first found the inspiration that shaped their philosophies and more like a tawdry, attention-grabbing thriller that fudges the facts of an actual event. To be fair, director/co-writer John Krokidas effectively captures the youthful exuberance of his characters. He sells us on how easily this lot would allow itself to be swept up in the idea of changing the world, all while remaining blissfully unaware of the consequences their debauchery hath wrought. Kill Your Darlings acknowledges the dangers of affixing one's head in the clouds for too long – and focuses on the pain and suffering the individuals it depicts experienced during their artistic growth. How much of said drama actually went down in reality is up for debate, as certain details were altered to play up the story's "obsessed lover" angle. But as lurid as the picture threatens to become, it's fortunate to have an ensemble cast that's game for something big and bold while respecting the material enough to keep the plot as grounded as possible. Although the film could've done with a touch less sensationalism in particular areas, Kill Your Darlings ends up as a provocative piece of cinema with performances powerful enough to warrant at least one viewing.
BLUE JASMINE. Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett) had it all. As the wife of suave Wall Street big shot Hal (Alec Baldwin), all she had to do was hang on his arm and enjoy the riches that came with the union. But after it was revealed that many of Hal's gains were of the ill-gotten variety, Jasmine suffered a breakdown, leaving her with nowhere to go but San Francisco, where she movies into a tiny apartment with her sister (Sally Hawkins). Her affluent lifestyle now a thing of the past, Jasmine must acclimate herself to working for a living, though while she begins her journey to self-sufficiency, the details of just how she turned into such a nervous wreck are revealed layer by layer. Woody Allen has devoted his career to uniting brows both low and high, trading on his wit and powers of observation to relate any situation to any member of any class. The task at hand in his latest picture, Blue Jasmine, is nothing short of Herculean, in that Allen acquaints his viewers with the wife of a Bernie Madoff-style figure in the aftermath of a scandal. Casting the obscenely wealthy in a downtrodden light is a tall order indeed, but Allen pulls it off amazingly well, by not damning or condoning his protagonist and merely trying to understand her instead. We begin by chuckling at Jasmine as she attempts to adjust to a life where martinis are no longer at her beck and all, but as the film continues, we come to realize the amount of pain she's been carrying around with her the whole time. It's a complex character that Oscar-winner Blanchett plays to perfection, a precarious part she balances beautifully with a precise blend of humor and tragedy. Bolstered further by a great supporting cast and a delicately-assembled screenplay, Blue Jasmine emerges as one of Allen's most challenging and enriching works in recent memory.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS. Life hasn't dealt out the best hand to poor Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). As a folk singer making his way through New York in the early 1960s, Llewyn's world revolves around a succession of friends who can barely tolerate his self-destructive antics enough to let him crash for the night on their couches. Fame and stability have thus far eluded the young artist, until a word of an auditon beckons him to hit the road and reevaluate his life in the process. Inside Llewyn Davis helps to cement Joel and Ethan Coen as two of modern cinema's premier tricksters. They're masters of pulling a “bait and switch” on their viewers and consistently defying expectations, be it by finding the optimism in a tale of murder like Fargo or having Burn After Reading comment on its own story's futility. Inside Llewyn Davis shares much in common with the Coens' 2009 flick A Serious Man, with its story of a man over whose head the fates have decided to place the mother of all Charlie Brown rainclouds for no valid reason. That the film carries itself in a wistful, sentimental manner while its title character innocently digs his own grave in one trial and tribulation after the other may inspire folks to brand this one of Joel and Ethan's most cruel pictures. But though the guys are pretty tough on Llewyn, they still get us invested in his journey, making us hopeful that he won't bungle his chance at a big break for a change. This has as much to do with the clever writing as it does with Isaac's sterling performance, playing the soulful bumbler for both gallows humor and sympathy (and doing his own singing amazingly well, to boot). Inside Llewyn Davis is unusually melancholy for a Coen Brothers production, but with its handsome ensemble cast, evocative photography, and memorable soundtrack, fans should have little issue getting into the film's quirky groove.