Droll ‘Nebraska,’ evocative ‘Darlings,’ bad ‘Best’

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FS, Contributing Writer

“Nebraska”

 

Luminous wide-screen black-and-white cinematography lends a haunting purity to “Nebraska” (Angelika), the new film by Alexander Payne (“About Schmidt,” “Sideways,” “The Descendants”).

The picture is essentially a road movie about a grizzled old man (Bruce Dern) and his long-estranged son (Will Forte), who drive from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim a million-dollar prize the befuddled dad thinks he’s won in a lottery, though his son knows that the contest is just an advertising scam.

Along the way the duo stops off at the family’s erstwhile hometown, where family and old acquaintances cluster around the purported prizewinner, some congratulatory but most grasping for a share in the nonexistent loot. Dern’s tart-tongued wife shows up there, too.

Once again mixing affectionate observation with light satire and some dark undercurrents, Payne delivers a beautifully photographed, superbly acted film about ordinary folks that’s rich in both humor and depth.

The actual state might not be a destination of choice, but Payne’s “Nebraska” is well worth visiting.

 

Dane DeHaan and Daniel Radcliff play college students in the 1940s in "Kill Your Darlings."  –Photo courtesy of Loyola Phoenix
Dane DeHaan and Daniel Radcliff play college students in the 1940s in “Kill Your Darlings.”
–Photo courtesy of Loyola Phoenix

“Kill Your Darlings”

 

The origins of the Beat movement at Columbia University in the ’40s is the subject of John Krokidas’ “Kill Your Darlings” (Angelika), with ex-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe starring as the young Allen Ginsberg, who starts writing as the result of a tragedy implicating his flamboyant classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), as well as William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston).

The picture is a bit too arty for its own good, but it captures the spirit of discovery that the college experience can encourage in eager young students, and the performances, including Radcliffe’s, are uniformly strong.

 

“Great Expectations”

 

Dickens’ novel has been adapted for screens big and small more times than one can count, but the newest version of “Great Expectations” (Angelika) is one of the better ones.

To be sure, it’s afflicted with entirely too many clichéd transitions – montages ­of birds flying against pure blue skies, for example.

But for the most part director Mike Newell takes a respectful approach that preserves the spirit of the novel while necessarily streamlining it for a two-hour running time.

And while Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger make a rather bland pair as Pip and Estella, Newell surrounds them with exceptional supporting players, drawn from the cast of the “Harry Potter” installments that he helmed. Ralph Fiennes (as Magwitch), Robbie Coltrane (as Jaggers) and Helena Bonham Carter (as Miss Havisham) all make indelible impressions. The rest of performers capture the richness of their characters as well.

This version of “Expectations” has the feel of a well-done BBC film and doesn’t merit the adjective in the book’s title. Nevertheless, it’s well worth a look.

 

“The Best Man Holiday”

 

Malcolm D. Lee (who happens to be Spike’s cousin) revisits his first feature in “The Best Man Holiday” (wide release).

Its 1999 predecessor, simply titled “The Best Man,” was obviously about a wedding – one marred by the groom, a football star, finding out that his bride-to-be had once enjoyed a fling with his buddy and best man, an aspiring novelist.

In this sequel, set 14 years later, the entire wedding party reunites for the Christmas holiday at the mansion of the sports icon and his wife, though the animosity between the two men still runs deep. The situation is complicated by the fact that the author wants to save his career by ghost-writing an autobiography of his old pal.

Meanwhile the men are surrounded by a bevy of their old friends, many of whom have old scores to settle among themselves.

The movie boasts an attractive ensemble, including Morris Chestnut and Taye Diggs.

But it’s tonally all over the place, with the first hour dominated by raucous humor and the second by mawkish melodrama, including an overwrought death-and-funeral sequence that’s jarringly followed by the joyful birth of a new baby whose arrival settles all old disputes.

The result is an odd mishmash that tries to mix laughter and tears but ends up a soggy mess.

 

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