Sean K. Cureton

The End Of The Tour: A Portrait Of The Artist As He May Have Been

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on May 5, 2019 at 11:24 am
The End of the Tour

A24

The End of the Tour (2015)
Directed by James Ponsoldt
VOD Rating: Really Liked It

Any filmmaker, screenwriter, or actor who would attempt the making of a film about the life and works of American novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace is seemingly setting themselves up for near-unavoidable failure. Wallace, who in life was an intimately private, conservative, and intensely troubled talent and creative voice, was also quite self-conscious of how his image was being projected and taken in by an audience of starving consumers eager for a picture and byline to apply to the enigmatic writer of a book as monolithic as Infinite Jest. But in the hands of director James Ponsoldt (The Circle), screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies (Dinner with Friends), and actor Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), The End of the Tour manages said feat not just capably, but with a remarkable respect and sincerity towards the film’s romanticized subject pulled from the pages of life itself. Similar to the way in which James Joyce could be seen as the literary figurehead of the twentieth century, Wallace is the voice largely authorial over the early twenty-first. In Ponsoldt’s drama we have our new portrait of the artist as he may have been, at least according to the transcribed conversation compiled and posthumously published by contemporary writer David Lipsky.

As Wallace, Segel exudes a certain cagey self-defensiveness masquerading as self-confidence, and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as Lipsky proves a more than capable match for Margulies’ adapted meeting of the minds. In the space of what is depicted in Ponsoldt’s film as what was a brief, transitory, and impermanent exchange between two people on opposite ends of a spectrum of professional, personal, and creative fulfillment, Segel and Eisenberg both repel and attract one another, the former engaged in a brief interview with a man similar to himself. Both fast friends and brutal rivals towards one another’s successes in life and work. Wallace and Lipsky as depicted in The End of the Tour are largely consistent with the unedited transcript posthumously published under the title Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace by Lipsky in 2010, only two years after Wallace tragically took his own life in 2008. The entire production is tinged with the remorse and longing for the man whom Ponsoldt, Margulies, Segel, and Eisenberg by extension all feel intellectually responsible for representing accurately.

The End of the Tour is thus backed up by the compassion held in the two actors’ performances, articulated by Ponsodlt’s visually tactful distancing of himself from his subject, and finally through Margulies’ minute attention to relaying only what was presented in Lipsky’s publication of 2010. Instead of exploiting or manipulating the image of the film’s subject in order to stroke the collective ego of the production’s inherent precocity, The End of the Tour is an honest and utterly unglamorous depiction of its author. Wallace is as pissy and defensive about his own well documented personal and professional failings as Lipsky is reedy and preening in wanting to be liked, accepted, and quite probably enveloped by a talent that he sees as being far greater than his own. Neither character is superficially appealing, which is a large part of what makes them compelling and human in the first place. Thanks to Margulies’ impeccably written script, the act undertaken in the becoming of themselves appropriately becomes the film’s true thematic catharsis.

Following the climax of Ponsoldt’s film, there is one final confrontation between the two great minds that find themselves at odds in The End of the Tour. Cornered in the living room of Wallace’s home after returning, beleaguered and angry, from the final leg of the Infinite Jest book tour, Eisenberg’s Lipsky goads Segel’s Wallace into extolling on a pervasive rumor regarding the late great American novelist’s alleged heroin use. After admitting to his struggles with alcoholism, an affliction that Segel as Wallace describes in the film as being an anesthetizing experience from which he derived no joy, the film leaves the viewer on an ambiguous note. Despite revealing his own struggles in finding some other alternatives for how to live, the next day the late author is depicted happily walking his dogs and calling an old car his friend with a grin on his face.  Ponsoldt, Margulies, Segel, and Eisenberg achieve the unthinkable in bringing their enigmatic and intensely private post-modern author to the big screen, and do so without reducing his legacy to romantic caricature, and the film is an entertainment worthy of the infinite jester himself in its anticlimactic themes and realistic tone.

The End of the Tour is currently available to stream on Netflix and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week. This review is an expanded version of an article that was originally published by Audiences Everywhere.

Advertisements

Hellboy: Damned From The Start

In Movie Reviews: 2019 on April 28, 2019 at 11:24 am
Hellboy

Lionsgate

Hellboy
Directed by Neil Marshall
2 out of 4 stars

Hellboy has a peculiar relationship with theatrical adaptation. In 2004, Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro took the reins of an 2000s era superhero caper starring frequent collaborator Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) as the titular antihero. Despite being plagued by studio doubts over Perlman’s ability to be the face of a potential franchise, del Toro’s first film went on to become a minor box office success and garnered considerable critical praise. Four years later, del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army was released to further acclaim and a bigger box office. In the time since, series creator Mike Mignola and del Toro have been hard at work behind the scenes in the development of a third script to complete del Toro’s ambitious superhero trilogy. But somewhere along the way a reboot of the character for moviegoing audiences became decidedly more attractive to Mignola, and del Toro was forced to admit defeat to his most devoted fans.

Enter the new Hellboy movie in 2019. Directed by frequent Game of Thrones and The Descent auteur Neil Marshall, the new version of Mignola’s Lovecraftian epic fantasy trades del Toro’s tenderhearted romanticism for a run-and-gun B movie romp. As the third feature length production for a franchise with a troubled history, Marshall’s film saw a third change of hands in terms of distribution for the franchise and dwindling box office returns. As of the time of this writing, Marshall and company have made back $39.4 million worldwide against a $50 million budget. What’s worse, Marshall’s film can’t escape being compared to the unfinished del Toro trilogy, which has cursed Hellboy 2019 with a lackluster critical response overall.

By all accounts, Mignola believe’s Marshall’s film to be the most true to the comic books, and lead actor David Harbour (Stranger Things) provides for a more gnarly take on the character than movie fans have seen before. And the new Hellboy can be a lot of fun, with plenty of horrific movie monsters, bloody R-rated carnage, and awe inspiring world building fit to please hardcore fans of the comics and movie buffs alike. Yet the entire production feels half-cooked and a little brain dead, offering none of the pathos that oozes out of del Toro’s films from 2004 and 2008. Separated by the distance of an entire decade, the Hellboy film franchise struggles to keep the ball rolling in a genre whose rules have changed since the iconic Right Hand of Doom last graced the silver screen. In an age of interconnected superhero movie universes and post-modern deconstructive takes on the formula, Mignola in particular seems to be out of his depth in bringing his comic book vision to the blockbuster arena.

Backed by a distracting heavy metal soundtrack, misguided casting decisions, and a lack of supporting characters with the chops to hold their own against Harbour, Marshall’s Hellboy was damned from the start. Losing sight of what makes the character interesting, or at least different as was the case with del Toro’s two preceding features, Marshall struggles to build a compelling superhero narrative. Plagued by origin story retreading and sometimes goofy satanic imagery, the latest iteration of Mignola’s magnum opus never comes off as bad ass as the movie’s marketing campaign would lead you to believe. There are moments in Marshall’s latest that revel in Mignola’s dreary comic book panel style, but far too few of them linger very long on any sense of mystery and wonder before pummeling the viewer with another big budget distraction. At the end of the day, watching Big Red duke it out against a whole new host of baddies while Mötley Crüe plays on full blast in the background as the end credits role really makes you miss when Perlman sang karaoke Barry Manilow instead some ten years prior.

All About Nina: Comedienne Too

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on April 21, 2019 at 1:12 pm
All About Nina

The Orchard

All About Nina (2018)
Directed by Eva Vives
VOD Rating: Liked It

The Me Too movement has become an unavoidable facet of the popular culture over the course of the past few years, though its impact on the entertainment industry has perhaps remained the most impacted facet of it. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, gross abuses of power have been laid bare for all to see and the old joke of the “casting couch” has lost its power to hide sexual misconduct under the rug with a condescending guffaw. Even the most venerated Hollywood performers have been laid low, and none with a more resounding surprise than stand-up comedian Louis C.K. Granted, word of his specific crimes and misdemeanors had been speculated upon in the past, but when the prime time cable super-producer and arena showman personally came forward to admit to his guilt and remorse there was no denying any outstanding rumors. Stand up comedy, previously a closed-door boys club of indiscriminate debauchery, was going to have to address its own issues with systemic sexism.

Enter All About Nina, the feature length directorial debut from Eva Vives, a film that seeks to set to right some of the carnage left in the wake of C.K. and countless others before him. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as the titular comedienne, All About Nina flirts with several unsavory male characters while retaining its bleary-eyed focus on a beleaguered alcoholic Winstead. Forced to contend with the clumsy passes of a comically doughy Jay Mohr (Saturday Night Live), in addition to an abusive private relationship held behind closed doors, Vives paints the New York comedy scene as a thoroughly dysfunctional affair. True, Nina willfully chooses to spend her evenings with whichever suitable bachelor she finds the most attractive depending on the effects of whatever cocktail she has been imbibing on any given evening, but her coupling never culminates in true joy. And when one particular mate proves to be too dangerous to keep around, the young comedienne makes the decision to migrate to Los Angeles.

At the core of Vives’ new film is an unlikely romance held between Nina and the soft-spoken barfly Rafe (Common), whose uncommon kindness takes Winstead by surprise. Unused to being treated with the kind of mutual respect that is usually reserved only for other men in her line of work, Nina is surprised when a one-night-stand slowly turns into something else. The grip of misogyny in the New York comedy scene in particular provides for an unrelenting aura of personal invasion, especially when Nina reveals the real reason for her mistrust of men and her willingness to endure abusive relationships. By the end of the film, Nina finds herself closer than ever to success, but after unburdening herself of her demons in an especially public way finds that the timber of her creative voice has changed entirely. Forced to sing the same song in a different key, Nina moves beyond prickly evasion to sentimental memoir as a stand-up comedienne.

It’s only been a little over a year since Louis C.K. admitted to his own guilt as a serial abuser of women, and in that time the comedy scene has changed only a very little. While many are open to addressing systemic injustice in what is a very minute facet of the entertainment industry at large, there are just as many outliers who remain un-eager to address the issue personally or professionally. From Chris Hardwick to Kevin Hart, there are many in what is still by-and-large a boys club who continue to enjoy the prestige of their biological sex as a totem of domination over their fellow comics. All About Nina thus serves as an open-ended appeal to keep the conversation open and ongoing. In short, Vives’ film further extends the Me Too movement’s rhetorical motto to include an adjoining Comedienne Too subtitle.

All About Nina is currently available on Netflix and is My Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week.