Saturday, August 22, 2015

The End of the Tour ***1/2

Based on the book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, The End of the Tour recounts David Lipsky's five day interview with David Foster Wallace shortly after the publication of his epochal 1996 novel, Infinite Jest.  Lipsky, on assignment for Rolling Stone, taped his conversations with Wallace. All the dialogue in the film derives directly from those tapes.  As a film, The End of the Tour is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles meets My Dinner With Andre.  Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky are compelling and do a fantastic job in their respective roles.

At its heart, the film is about the friendship between Wallace and Lipsky.  An aspiring novelist himself, Lipsky's intimidated by Infinite Jest and all the critical praise heaped upon it. His writing seemed conventional by comparison, a fact made all the more annoying when his girlfriend cannot stop praising Wallace.  Meanwhile, Wallace envies Lipsky's ability to charm his ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile Rolling Stone pressured Lipsky to prod Wallace on his struggle with addiction, creating a dramatic tension throughout.

Snarky reviewers have compared the Wallace/Lipsky relationship to Mozart and Saliari in Amadeus, the genius toying with the mediocrity.  I would disagree, the proper analogy would be James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, for when the biographer illuminates their subject they provide a great gift to future generations.

I watched the film in a packed theater.  While the audience laughed at the banter on Alanis Morissette and junk food, I sensed an uneasiness when Wallace pontificated on the dangers of technology. His words do seem prophetic as you can sense people itching to check their phones as the movie's playing. Their looks seemed to say, How could this brilliant guy with the brightest future before him feel so unhappy and lonely?  I'll credit Segel's performance for refusing to turn Wallace into a tortured artist cliche, provoking the conflicted reaction from the audience I sensed in the theater.

In addition to his fiction, Wallace shined in his non-fiction writing, most famously "A Supposedly Fun Thing, I'll Never Do Again," an uproarious chronicle of his week on a luxury cruise ship.  His journalism is a great place to start.

As a drama, The End of the Tour hits all the right notes: the bleak beauty of winter in the Midwest, the cold comfort of chain restaurants, and the millennial unease of the 90s. When they share an awkward goodbye at the end (should we hug or shake hands?) we feel a sense of loss as Lipsky drives away. The ending echoes My Dinner With Andre because we're sad to leave our friend, especially when you know they're never coming back.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Limey ***1/2 (1999)

A neo-noir from 1999, Steven Soderbergh's The Limey is a revenge tale told with verve and poignancy.  It gets better with each viewing.

The Limey begins with cockney ex-con Wilson (Terence Stamp) arriving in Los Angeles to investigate the death of his daughter. He's a stranger in a strange land. Eventually Wilson learns aging record producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) could be responsible for her death.

The passage of time figures prominently in The Limey, a theme reinforced by an editing style that evokes a spinning wheel narrative.  A circular story, instead of a linear one.

The Limey also plays upon the cultural memory of the 60s, specifically the lost hopes and ideals of the decade. Many conversations in the movie reflect on the passing of time and the need to make sense of the past. Soderbergh went as far to include clips from the 1967 film Poor Cow, which starred a younger Terence Stamp.

A combination of razor sharp editing, top notch acting, and stunning daylight cinematography mark The Limey as a modern classic.

Also, don't miss the DVD commentary track with Steven Soderbergh and veteran screenwriter Lem Dobbs. They openly discuss their creative differences and the challenge of adapting the written word to the screen.