Posts in B-sides
January 26 - THE END OF THE TOUR (2015)

"It wasn't a chemical imbalance, and it wasn't drugs and alcohol. It was that I lived an incredibly American life."

  Image credit: comingsoon.net

Image credit: comingsoon.net

THE END OF THE TOUR is a B-side from both Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, I suppose. Both are known for higher-profile works, and this seemed to be just the kind of movie that would allow both actors to stretch their muscles. There seems to be a lot of Eisenberg hate out there these days that I don't agree with, but to refer to this film as an example of him "stretching his muscles" would definitely be inaccurate. He's a board-stiff pipsqueak, equally mad at the world for not recognizing his brilliance and himself for failing to realize it, which totally works for his character (even if it's not exactly a departure from the roles he usually takes). He plays David Lipsky, a reporter at Rolling Stone who goes on assignment to interview David Foster Wallace after he publishes Infinite Jest and becomes the most talked-about writer in America. He travels to Bloomington, Illinois (where I went to undergrad for a year, albeit at a different school from where DFW taught) to meet Wallace, played by Jason Segel. Before I get to my holistic impressions of the film, I want to talk for a minute about Segel's performance. He disappears into his role from the second you hear his voice on Lipsky's tape recorder. He's phenomenal as Wallace, which really speaks to Segel's abilities as a dramatic actor. Tied with the screenplay, he's the best part of this movie.

THE END OF THE TOUR is an excellent film. Some people might be put off by some of the handheld cinematography, but I loved it. There's some really beautiful lens flare and focus adjustment that happens, and boy I love the look of 35mm film stock. The writing is great, the performances are great, the cinematography is great - this should be a great movie, right? Here's where talking about THE END OF THE TOUR gets a little bit more complicated. THE END OF THE TOUR is about a five-day interview with David Foster Wallace, and the book it's based on uses the actual tapes from those interviews between Wallace and Lipsky, so it's reasonable to expect a certain amount of truthfulness from this film about who Wallace and Lipsksy are as people. Through this movie and from what little else I know about Wallace as a person, there's the sense that he would despise being idolized or turned into some sort of hero or serve as some sort of commercial draw for a tragic biopic. It's tough to say whether or not THE END OF THE TOUR does any of these things. Obviously, it's a feature film starring two extremely well-known actors, but there's also a certain measure of care and scope to the movie that insulate it from some of those criticisms. THE END OF THE TOUR is not a biopic; it's an account of the five days Lipsky spent interviewing Wallace. It also hasn't seemed to experience widespread commercial success, so perhaps David Foster Wallace wouldn't be ashamed to make it into my B-sides category.

Tomorrow, Under the Radar. Also, I might post my list of rules for this challenge before I'm too far into 2016 just so people can have a better idea of what I'm doing.

January 19 - MISSISSIPPI GRIND (2015)
  Image credit: comingsoon.net

Image credit: comingsoon.net

Today's category is "B-sides," which is supposed to highlight lesser known movies from higher profile actors/directors/writers, etc.. Ryan Reynolds never really got the "A-list leading man" status for which he seemed destined (yet), but somehow remains supremely recognizable and likable. It seems like MISSISSIPPI GRIND has been mostly passed over for whatever reason, slipping by audiences and academies alike. That's a shame, because MISSISSIPPI GRIND is an excellent film with two phenomenal performances from its leads, Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds.

I was first introduced to Ben Mendelsohn's work through the Netflix original show BLOODLINE, where he plays a sympathetic deadbeat with a dark past. In MISSISSIPPI GRIND, he plays a very similar character, albeit with a touch more desperation brought on by his gambling addiction and less menace. Mendelsohn's performance is captivating - he simultaneously elicits sympathy, disgust, and fascination, as Ryan Reynolds counteracts him with charm and charisma. The two seem to effortlessly play off of each other, and the script is so well-written that MISSISSIPPI GRIND flies by. I loved the setting of the movie, too - a midwest roadtrip movie that isn't condescending to its environment (something I'm sensitive about as a native Iowan) is rare enough these days. I even learned something about my home state from Ryan Reynolds: "Iowa is the only state whose name begins with two vowels." Thanks, Ryan. MISSISSIPPI GRIND is a great movie that goes some dark places but grounds itself in the emotional journeys of its two main characters.

Tomorrow's category: Under the Radar.