The End of the Tour (2015)

endofthetour1My Dinner with Andre
was a film that was interesting in conception and not quite as engaging in practice — at least for me. The End of the Tour is another such conversation-driven story with a similar promise, but by some miracle, it really seems to pay off.

The narrative actually felt rather like a stripped down Lawrence of Arabia, because we first are introduced to our main person of interest, writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal), following news of his death. Then, with the aid of his numerous taped dialogues, Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) takes us back to the 1990s where he had a few days to interview the accomplished author. David and Dave spend a great deal of time together, and the author willingly and openly allows the other man into his life. It’s not some monumental epic, and in that way, it parts company with Lawrence of Arabia, but it is an intimate heart-to-heart.

Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the man or not, because I, in all honesty, did not know him. Under Pondsoldt’s direction, however, the film is so universal — it does feel so personal — like you’re slowly getting to know Foster Wallace bit by bit as the layers come off. He speaks into so many issues of what it means to be human, though this is only a one time interaction between two men. The conversations at times become contentious and bitter as Lipsky tries to dig in more. And that’s perfectly alright.

Foster Wallace describes himself interestingly enough as a “combination of being incredibly shy and an egomaniac.” But in this paradox lies a lot of his personal insecurities as a successful writer. Truthfully, they also put the mirror up to all those listening in, because he’s not the only with anxiety, it’s just that he’s the one voicing it.

Jason Segal does a superb job of portraying someone with obviously unfathomable talent, while also being candidly vulnerable as time progresses. There’s an understated humor to this man that is somehow warm and disarming. Underneath there obviously dwells a woundedness that gives way to a plethora of issues which also consequently becomes topics of discussion. For instance, pornography, entertainment, television, depression, loneliness, fears, doubts, and a great deal more.

We return to the present as David listens to his final audio cassettes from so many years ago now. How do you try and paint a canvas of a person’s life with all the minutiae that are involved? The soda and foods they like. How they dress. The name of their pets. Where they live and so on. David delivers a beautifully evocative memo that he speaks into his recorder in order to try and capture that moment just as it is. That time and place, in some respect, feels like hallowed ground amidst a far off realm. Now, with Wallace gone it’s only a distant wisp of a memory. Therein lies the beauty of that conversation for not only Lipsky but the entire audience. That dialogue — that human interaction just as it happened — can never happen in the same way, but you can still take solace in the memories and the words that were said. David Lipsky looks back at that one time conversation with only fond thoughts.

The End of the Tour reminds us what real life can be like, and it reminds us that we are not alone — but surrounded by a wide expanse of humanity just waiting for someone to reach out and talk with them. It’s not a radical idea, but then again if David Foster Wallace, the preeminent author that he was, had such an impact with it, then maybe we can too.

4/5 Stars

“It may be what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis or whatever. It’s just the feeling as though the entire, every axiom of your life turned out to be false, and there was actually nothing, and you were nothing, and it was all a delusion. And that you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn’t function.”~ Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace

Adventureland (2009)

AdventurelandposterOddly enough, the same year the cult favorite Zombieland came out there was another film starring Jesse Eisenberg, also set in a theme park, that did not seem to get as much acclaim. That film is, of course, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland, a coming of age comedy-drama which I actually enjoyed a lot more than his previous effort Superbad.

Adventureland is the basic graduate, boy meets girl, summer job formula. Undoubtedly we’ve seen it before in many forms, but Jesse Eisenberg makes it work again as James Brennan, a high school graduate living in Pennsylvania circa 1987. With little money under his belt and his father getting a pay cut, the only choice he has is to get a summer job. He’s an extremely bright kid. Good at mathematics and the like, but he also has little real-world experience so his last resort is the local amusement park Adventureland.

Instead of an interview or a resume, they look him over, take down his name, and hand him a t-shirt. And so begins his reign as a games booth attendant for Bobby and Paulette (SNL vets Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig playing their typically lovable weirdos).

The staff is rounded out by an eclectic mix of misfits and characters steeped in folklore. There’s the constant jerk of a best friend Tommy Frigo. The bespectacled wisenheimer Joel who also has a penchant for high-end literature. The legendary and alluring Lucy P. who is the park’s eye candy. Mike Connell the parks handyman and part-time musician who is rumored to have played with Lou Reed.

But the most important character, for the purpose of this story, is Em who also works in the games department and saves James from literally being stabbed by a shifty customer over a giant stuffed panda. There’s nothing overly romantic about it at first, and that’s what makes it so intriguing. He’s not the kind of guy who has a lot of experience. School was his forte. Em is cool, collected, and went around with a lot of boys during high school. She’s been around the block as well as watching her mother die. She’s in many ways more wise to the world than Joe.

But she openly invites him into their little community, extending an invitation to a party she is having at her place. He never could imagine being so lucky, but to Em, it’s not a big deal. His mind is racing, and he cannot help but get excited about this amazing new girl he has met. Em is sleeping with Connell who is struggling in his marriage. This looks to be very messy in the foreseeable future.

It is. Em and James share their first kiss, and it’s magical like it’s supposed to be. It all moves so fast and James has heightened feelings for her. But she wants to take it slow with all the crap still in her life. It’s seemingly understandable, but it’s not what James wants to hear.  She’s so hard for him to read.

On the advice of Connell, James accepts Lisa P’s invite on a date, because, after all, it’s any boys dream to go out with her. But afterward, being the kind of guy that he is, James feels almost unfaithful and candidly shares his actions with Em. She thanks him, but her own rendezvous now weighs on her mind. She looks to end it with Connell, but of course, James finds out and it hurts him like nothing ever has.

It’s at this point in the story that the downward spiral begins. James turns to Lisa P. as his confidante, but the news of Em gets out and she quits, moving away to New York. A downtrodden James has little more to do but get drunk, and it does not bode well. All the money he tirelessly worked for ends up going down the drain. But he ends up going to New York anyway, to take a chance on a girl, because he is overwhelmed by his feelings, but he also sees Em differently than she even sees herself. She is far from a perfect human being, but she is someone who cares about her friends and loved ones. So although she is a mess-up, James sees only the good in her.

Really the only reasons to set this film in the ’80s was nostalgia sake and then you have a better excuse to have a classic soundtrack of oldies. And it did the trick because I did enjoy the film for the most part and it reminded me somewhat of the Way Way Back.  It’s another film about a summer job at a theme park in the ’80s which would feel exactly the same if it was not for the standout characters that make the story interesting.

4/5 Stars

Zombieland (2009)

0e860-zombieland-posterI am not big on Zombie films and so I went into this one not expecting much a great deal. I still do not really like the Zombie genre but there were some decently funny moments here having to do with the rules Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has for surviving the apocalypse. The long lasting search for Twinkies, and of course a random cameo by a prominent funny man were a few more highlights. Woody Harrelson is good at playing the gruff type and Little Rock and Arkansas have a lot of personality which does the film a service. Remember rule #1: Cardio. Very important to survive during a zombie apocalypse if it ever comes to that.

3.5/5 Stars


The Social Network (2010)

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake, this film follows the rise of Facebook as well as its creator Mark Zuckerberg.

The film opens with the nerdy Harvard man getting dumped by his girlfriend and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The story flashes forward to two lawsuits where Zuckerberg is being simultaneously sued by two twins from Harvard and his former partner Eduardo. The plot shifts back and forth showcasing Zuckerberg’s programming skills as well as his difficult personality.

He then takes the initial idea of the facebook and launches it at Harvard, helping it to quickly become a trend. However, with the help of his acquaintances, he works to expand his idea to other campuses all the way to Stanford. After a falling out with Eduardo, Mark takes his team and heads out to Cali on the urging of an entrepreneur named Sean Parker. Facebook has begun to take off across the globe but not without a cost.

After coming to California, Eduardo learns his share of the company has been diluted while Sean is busted for having cocaine in his possession. We leave Zuckerberg in the present as he sits in front of his lap top, the world’s youngest billionaire, but utterly alone. I cannot attest to how much truth there is in this depiction but I do think it is highly pertinent to this generation. It is impressive that a subject that could potentially be dry, is quite engaging thanks to a great script and solid acting. More than anything I felt sorry for Zuckerberg because he wasn’t really a jerk, he just tried too hard to be one.

4.5/5 Stars