Segel’s performance as brilliant but troubled Infinite Jest novelist David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, opening July 31, could be forgotten under the thundering hooves of autumn Telluride and Toronto Oscar vehicles. Think of Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown in Get on Up, an Oscar worthy performance that opened last year on August 1 and was all-but-forgotten in last year’s competitive Best Actor race.
Appreciating the bromantic duet between Segel’s Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg’s (compelling) Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky for a second time at the Nantucket Film Festival increased my passion for Segel’s performance. He restores Wallace not as that author you should have read (and probably didn’t) but as a brilliant writer who might not have been the most brilliant conversationalist or company.
With very little action, and articulating lines that are often intentionally inarticulate (Donald Margulies wrote the emotionally satisfying script), Segel creates a multi-layered portrait of a petty, generous, dog loving, soul searching, depression coping, American TV addict. His bandana-wearing Wallace struggles to carve out an authentic life in Bloomington, Indiana far away from the Manhattan literary buzz, which his character describes as the sound of egos rising and falling. What’s strong about the performance is that very lack of ego. It doesn’t take long before Segel loses himself in Wallace, alternately charming and antagonizing both Eisenberg’s Lipsky and the audience.
It will be an uphill battle for Segel. And one fought previously by actors who have made their reputations first as comedians: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Will Forte (Nebraska), Robin Williams (One Hour Photo), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls), Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (The Skelton Twins), Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple) and even Jerry Lewis (The King of Comedy). The buzz that started at Sundance continues here.
It is difficult to read Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir and not have my impressions be impacted by the huge expectations raised by the MacArthur Fellowship and the Tony for the musical adaptation, which I have yet to see. Having grown up on radical cartoonists like R. Crumb, I found Bechdel’s graphic novel oddly subdued. The images are often skim-able and rarely arresting. There is a good core narrative: Dad was a closeted perpetual renovator while the author herself comes out as a freshman in college. A natural structure, the stuff of pretty typical memoir. What slowed me down a bit was that the literary references that Bechdel uses as touchstones — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Proust, Joyce — seem musty and an ill-fit for the form (even if they may be historically true). They seem too canonical, even if I appreciate the authors themselves. Even more Nin and Collette would have been welcome, although they, too, are a little fusty, as would have been Henry Miller. What I circle back to is my desire to be deeply moved because it is memoir, and I would say that I was only mildly interested Bechdel, to her credit, is lucid and fluid but I, personally, did not see enough blood on the page. Still, it was enough to send me waddling toward “Are You My Mother?” in which she addresses the problem of many memoirists: how do you maintain a relationships with the parent whose lockbox secret you have revealed? Maybe she’ll have an answer for my own relationships with my mother and siblings.
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The book is even more shocking because we are inside Cersei’s head. And her moment of self-realization is shattering. What the daring HBO series refused to do was to show the naked Cersei as anything but attractive. After all, this is Lena Headey, whose breasts may not be as high as they once were, or of equal size, but the carpet matches the drapes and her hips are thin, her rear pleasantly round. She’s naked and humiliated but she’s still hot. What added insult to injury to the Cersei of the book was the realization that she was no longer the fairest in the land. After giving birth to three children and a steady diet of red wine, she is no longer an object of desire but repulsive in her nakedness. And this is something that she discovers reflected in the squinty eyes of her subjects. She has become closer to crone than sex goddess, and she realizes that as a woman she has lost her sexual power even as her political power is in jeopardy. Remember: this is the woman who recoiled from her lover/brother Jamie because he had lost a hand and was no longer perfect. Her self-loathing at the discovery of her fallen flesh is even more damning than the repulsion she sees on the faces of her subjects.
As terrible as is Cersei’s fecal-filled walk of shame through the narrow streets, the deeper comeuppance is that of her self image: she is not longer a desirable beauty but a hag left alone with all the foul deeds she has committed — her outside now matches her inside. The horror! HBO lacked the guts to go that far. Even though the series continually pushes the envelope of what we see on screen, the image of a misshapen, possibly menopausal nude is not one they will venture to display, opting instead for the whitewash of Headey’s undeniable attractive form, even though the camera angles attempt to show her body as grotesque. With her golden cap of hair, she’s a little too St. Joan than incestuous, homicidal Queen Cersei.
I despite websites when they function as straight ahead marketing, riding on the back of poster reveals or new trailers fed to them by the studio publicity machines. It means that journalists that rely on the page view spikes become more beholden to the industry they should hold at arm’s length. Which brings me to Pan, which happens to be directed by Joe Wright, who made a movie out of Anna Karenina and arguably the best Pride and Prejudice. But, do we really need another Pan? The trailer, with a glancing look at Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily (that she is not a Native American is a rant for the more literal minded), seems to owe a debt to Terry Gilliam:
What I’d love is a Peter Pan reboot that investigates the enduring power of the Peter Pan complex by focusing on Wendy Darling, maybe with Alicia Vikander in the role (and Mads Mikkelsen as Captain Hook?). In my novel, Playdate, I wrote:
“When had it become so hard just to sit still and play? Men had Peter Pan complexes, but women had the Wendy Darlings. The Wendys wanted to fly a little and be dazzled by pixie dust, but they were consumed with relationships and caretaking and what the neighbors thought. Wendy’s lost boys were content to fly; Wendy had to civilize. She couldn’t abandon herself to wild dancing by firelight with the Indian braves; she had to funnel them all back into London middle-class respectability. Wendy was in such haste to grow up and become the mother, that central domestic figure; to children, their mother’s skirts were the world.”
I feel an essay coming on — do you have any strong feelings about Wendy? Did you pretend to be her in make-believe childhood role-playing games?
Actor Joaquin Phoenix and director James Gray have one of Hollywood’s most successful codependent relationships. The pair have been collaborating for more than 15 years, first with the city-corruption tale The Yards (2000), then on dramas We Own the Night (2007) and Two Lovers (2008). Their fourth joint effort, the lush historical tale The Immigrant, opens May 16  in limited release and features Phoenix as a hustler and pimp in 1920s New York who lures a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant (Marion Cotillard) into his girlie show.
Yahoo Movies sat down with Gray and Phoenix (who next stars in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice) in the courtyard of the Greenwich Hotel in New York City, so that a mercurial Phoenix — his hair a modified mullet dusted with gray — could inhale American Spirits and exhale asides. Not surprisingly, Gray did a lot of the talking, answering questions with a scholar’s precision and prompting responses from Phoenix that gave a good sense of their long-nurtured creative relationship, one that has become brotherly in every sense of the word.
Did you meet cute?
James Gray: We met at a restaurant [in New York City] called Piadina. Joaquin apparently read the script to The Yards. I had seen To Die For. And I said, “Who is this guy?” And that is when I said we should meet. I liked him instantly.
And, Joaquin, had you seen James’  debut, Little Odessa?
Gray: He didn’t like it.
Joaquin Phoenix: I didn’t.
I love it.
Gray: Did you hear that? I really do appreciate that.
Phoenix: [Deadpans] I don’t like her taste.