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This Movie is Not For You: A Review of “The End of the Tour”

the-end-of-the-tour-poster It was at the 41-minute mark of “The End of the Tour” when my wife, who was not familiar with the author David Foster Wallace—but whom I dearly wanted her to get to know—turned to me, smiled, and said, “Honey, I’m sorry, but this movie is painful to watch.” She apologized again, grabbed a pack of cigarettes, went outside, and called her cousin. I can’t think of another time in our twelve-year history that my wife had bailed on a movie that I had asked her to watch. But despite Rotten Tomatoes 91% approval rating, the movie was just that bad1.

“The End of the Tour” was based on David Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which chronicled Lipsky’s five-day road trip with late author David Foster Wallace. The beginning of the movie took place in 2008 when Lipsky, a failed author and journalist (portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg), heard of Wallace’s passing. The film rushed through the news and into a flashback that began the bulk of the story: Lipsky giving a reading of his newly released novel to about seven spectators, eventually learning about Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and then getting the idea to interview Wallace for Rolling Stone magazine. I thought the film would slow down here, but it continued to rush through, glossing over Lipsky’s failure as a novelist and his envy turned curiosity of the prodigious author Wallace. This entire sequence of events comprised only three minutes and thirty seconds of the entire movie—that’s how freaking fast it moved. The film really didn’t slow down until Lipsky met Wallace (portrayed by Jason Segel), and then the movie hit the brakes and became barely anything more than a 90-minute crawl full of chopped up conversations that were a bit obfuscated for anyone unfamiliar with Wallace or had yet to read Lipsky’s book. The awkward exchange between interviewer and interviewee was tough to watch, mainly because the dramatization was flat out boring, yet I held out hope that something meaningful would develop. It didn’t. The film dragged along into what resembled its third act, a tiff between Wallace and Lipsky over Wallace’s ex-grad-school girlfriend they had met up with at Wallace’s final reading for the Infinite Jest book tour in Minnesota. Wallace and Lipsky sat for long stretches of awkward silence before suddenly diving back into deep conversations about esoteric topics. They returned to Wallace’s home (the trip concluded), the quarrel eventually ended and Lipsky departed. There’s a flash-forward to Lipsky giving a eulogy on Wallace, where he stated that his conversations with Wallace were the best he ever had—unfortunately, none of it came through in the film.

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My only hope going into the viewing of “The End of the Tour” was that the movie would be interesting enough so to deliver a desire in my wife to read something David had written. Ironically enough, the fault of this film doesn’t fall on Jason Segel’s performance of the late author (I write ironically because I was convinced he was going to blow it); he actually provided some of the only bright spots in this flat, sunless film; it was Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of David Lipsky that was so hellaciously bad. He was about as unlikable of a character as one could imagine. It was Eisenberg who sent this film into flat fiery spin. And it wasn’t as if Eisenberg was an outright asshole, or some kind of nefarious villain, it was that he was so damn awkward and annoying with his twerpy little laugh, and pushy and immature. And at times he was downright creepy (Lipsky tried to hug Wallace near the end of the film, during a cringe-worthy goodbye), but mostly Eisenberg was just annoying and unlikable2.

the-end-of-the-tour-2Yet, in all actuality, it might be unfair to blame Eisenberg for all of the film’s faults, for which there are many, because a lot of it (if not all of it) belongs to the director, James Ponsoldt (“The Fault in Our Stars”). Ponsoldt amicably tried to create a very true and authentic telling of the five-day interview; however, who wants to watch a reenactment of a very unremarkable five-day interview? I’ve read Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself two times, and as a Wallace fan I find the interview and the conversations fascinating, but nothing happens during these conversations that remotely resembles something filmable, which was a major concern of mine when this movie was officially announced last year (2014). And I think Ponsoldt and cast realized this at some point during filming and decided to spice up pieces of the dialog with tense performances, which really came across as forced and relatively untrue to the book. There was virtually no story arch (which, again, the book doesn’t have either) and yet there was this bizarre, shallow attempt to create one with the riff over the girl. It was like Ponsoldt was both reaching out and recoiling from the idea of fictionalizing drama for the sake of creating compelling content. And it doesn’t take a student of film to understand the catastrophic effects this so-so commitment can cause. Maybe if the film was at least visually interesting it could have held my attention, but visually there was nothing to cling to. Just about every shot was handheld (trying to create the documentary feel), which is pretty cliché for independent films, and just about every scene was either a medium shot of both Segel and Eisenberg, or a close up of one of their faces, the latter shot being unflattering for both actors, particularly Segel who wore Wallace’s signature bandana with fake stringy hair pouring out its sides. Segel did a fair job portraying Wallace, but he was really one shade away from looking like some Saturday Night Live parody of the man. And honestly it sucks that I even have to write these mean sounding things, because I really wanted this movie to be great despite my reservations about its existence. But I can’t ignore that “The End of the Tour” really came across as some film-school fan boy’s senior thesis, which seemed nothing more than an attempt to be taken serious while fully indulging in one’s obsession of a relatively obscure author. At the very least, Ponsoldt should have succeeded in creating a curiosity into who Wallace really was and what he had written, but unfortunately for me (and for anyone else who was hoping to use this movie as a device to introduce the author to someone else) he completely failed.

I don’t want this 1,484-word review to be entirely negative; there were a couple of moments in the film that did bring me some sort of pleasure, like when Lipsky and Wallace were at a small grocery and Wallace grabbed an arm full of junk food (which was one of Wallace’s charming quirks) or when . . .

I’m sure there was something else, but I’m drawing a blank. However, I freaking love the movie poster.

But aside from the cool art, “The End of the Tour” was nothing more than a stripped down version of David Lipsky’s book, which was purely written and filmed for David Foster Wallace fans. This view was further supported by Ponsoldt’s use of Brian Eno’s “Big Ship” at the end of the film without any previous mention that the song was Wallace’s favorite. I could go on and on about how Ponsoldt barely scratched the surface with regards to Wallace’s addictions and depression, or how he both loved and despised media attention, but I think film reviewer Jackson Cuidon stated it best when he wrote in his review of this film, “Having characters say things in a movie does not make your movie ‘about’ those things.” and “[I] worry that people will mistake what is essentially an arrow pointing toward meaningfulness for meaningfulness itself.”■

Footnotes in honor of David Foster Wallace:

(91% approval rating is a curious thing to me, because I can’t imagine that serious, professional film critics could honestly sit through this movie and truly believe it’s a four-star film, and yet almost all of them agreed that it was outstanding. I have a theory on this, too: I think it’s still vogue to think that anything touching David Foster Wallace is gold, just like magazines and literary journals used to publish every damn short story he’d submit to them despite his stretching the stories length beyond their limits. These kinds of things happen all of the time with artsy folk heroes: just look at how many Nirvana and Tupac singles had appeared posthumously. I mean seriously look, a lot of them are dreck.) Go Back

(Please don’t mistake me for being a Jesse Eisenberg hater, because I’m really not. I thought he was wonderful in “The Social Network” and “The Village,” and I look forward to seeing him as Lex Luthor in the upcoming “Batman v Superman.” I just think he was horribly miscast as David Lipsky.) Go Back

The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugI saw this with my son this past Saturday; it was a fine Christmas present. The movie met and exceeded my expectations, which probably wasn’t too difficult to achieve; my only desire was to see something entertaining, and my only hope was that the film carried some resemblance of the book; and as already mentioned, it met those expectations quite easily.

Some things I found disappointing

I’ve long ago recognized an idiosyncrasy in Peter Jackson’s action sequences, they always push past the borders of my suspended disbelief.  In this particular film, a dwarf rolling in a barrel and crashing into roughly ten or twelve (possibly more) orcs, flattening, disarming, and in some cases killing them, before landing back into the river and in sync with his fellow dwarfs also fighting orcs as they flow down the river was a bit much for me to handle (and it’s not beyond my self-observation that I’m caviling about the absurdity inside an already absurd scenario that involves an imaginary land filled with imaginary types of things, beasts, and races of bipedal beings that I have absolutely no problem accepting—which of course is ironic—but for some reason, the line was drawn at barrel-pummeling).

Legolas (or “Leg-less,” as it was heard by my son, who has not read the books or watched any of the previous movies, and who was terribly confused because Legolas clearly has two legs) continues to wreak havoc on orcs with such relative ease that it leaves this viewer in wonder why he doesn’t just kill all the orcs in Middle-Earth and spare millions of lives, because he obviously can.  Continue reading

The Divine Invasion

The Divine Invasion is book two in what is known as the Valis Trilogy (a name given posthumously to P.K. Dick’s last three books). Even though The Divine Invasion is considered the second volume of this trilogy, it bears next to no resemblance to Valis (book one) other than that it deals with God’s place on Earth and a divine device created by God known as Valis that transmits beams of enlightenment to specific people.

In case you haven’t read the book, which I imagine many have not in recent times, I will spare you the book summary and just address the major theme of the story, which is the concept that God has been pushed out of our world by the forces of evil and literrally has to try to sneak back unnoticed in order to wage war against Satan. It’s a concept I’ve never crossed before and wholly found interesting.

Since God’s removal from Earth (in Dick’s novel), religion was under the total influence of Satan and played a key role in keeping God out. As matter of fact, when God (referred to as Yah) made his attempt to return, the Cardinal Fulton Statler Harms, wanted to destroy the people responsible for bringing him. The Cardinal believed that it wasn’t God returning, but Satan, which tied in how corrupted the world had become. His attempt at stopping God failed, however, and the war for salvation began. P.K. Dick gave his readers a TBD on its outcome.

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O, V-2, Where Art Thou? Pynchon’s Rainbow

Somehow I managed to tackle Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow—or I should say, I was tackled by Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow; because, I mean, who really tackles Pynchon? Some superior intellect that would talk circles around me—that’s who. Or maybe even that person would be kidding him or herself.

Overall, I don’t know if—or how—I can comment on the plot of the story. Is there a plot? I’m sure there is, but it’s about as unconventional as any other out there. I think Richard Locke wrote it best with the title of his 1973 New York Times review: “One of the Longest, Most Difficult, Most Ambitious Novels in Years.” You can read the review here. It’s worth the read. Locke did a much better job than I ever could at breaking down the book and its themes.

I try to imagine the general reader today—The Hunger Games fan or the Twilight Series guru—trying to embrace Pynchon’s behemoth, and all I see is the book being shut—or turned off (for you eReaders)—before page five. And I can’t say that I would blame them. With the limited time we all have today, and the ridiculously short attention span, how can I expect the average person to withstand Pynchon’s beautiful, yet complicated prose? And it is beautiful.  Continue reading

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