Watch #JasonSegel and #JesseEisenberg Have a Great Conversation in #TheEndoftheTour

poster, movie, The End of the Tour, David Foster Wallace, Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, James Ponsoldt

The first trailer for Sundance favorite, The End of the Tour, directed by James Ponsoldt and starring Jason Segel as the late David Foster Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as his erstwhile biographer (actually he’s a writer for Rolling Stone), has just been dropped by A24.
Let me start by reiterating that I am not a huge fan of Jesse Eisenberg. Anything past Zombieland, when I wasn’t all that familiar with him, including The Social Network and Now You See Me, all I ever see is Jesse Eisenberg. While it might be difficult for the actor to portray himself onscreen, and that might account for the kudos usually showered upon his performances, I never see a “character”. I never forget who I’m watching.
That out of the way, let me just say that I’ve been a Jason Segel fan since “Freaks and Geeks”. While I still mourn that show’s untimely demise (yes, fifteen years later), I take comfort in the fact that nearly every member of the cast has gone on to bigger and better things. Many of whom are even household names. (Poor Samm Levine. Quentin Tarantino put him in Inglourious Basterds, but I don’t think I’ve seen him since. Apparently, he’s done a lot of television *shrug*.)
These days Segel is probably best known for seven seasons of “How I Met Your Mother”, as well as comedic turns in Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You Man (all having at least a little something to do with Judd Apatow) and The Muppets.
Stretching toward “dramedy” in 2011, Segel did Jeff Who Lives at Home for the Duplass brothers. (It costars Ed Helms, Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon. It’s on Netflix. See it, if you haven’t) He co-wrote, co-produced (along with Apatow, among others) and starred in 2012’s The Five Year Engagement, with Emily Blunt. The cast also included Chris Pratt, Alison Brie and Jacki Weaver, and by all rights should have done better at the box office. The film’s release was delayed a number of times for various reasons, but I have to believe that not knowing which box it fit into and therefore the ability to sell it, is chief among them.
My point is that it’s not really a surprise that Segel is venturing into more serious territory. His contemporaries, most of which are also in the “Apatow Reperatory Company”, have certainly paved the way. (Sitting in the dark watching Superbad, who in their right mind would ever have predicted that Jonah Hill would now be known as a “two-time Academy Award nominee”? Insanity!)
Those who have already seen The End of the Tour, primarily at Sundance, have already put his name together with the phrase, “Best Actor contender”. Take a look:

While the movie is not about his death, knowing that Wallace committed suicide in 2008 makes all of this all the more poignant.

THE END OF THE TOUR tells the story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter (and novelist) David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, Infinite Jest. As the days go on, a tenuous yet intense relationship seems to develop between journalist and subject. The two men bob and weave around each other, sharing laughs and also possibly revealing hidden frailties – but it’s never clear how truthful they are being with each other. Ironically, the interview was never published, and five days of audio tapes were packed away in Lipsky’s closet. The two men did not meet again. The film is based on Lipsky’s critically acclaimed memoir about this unforgettable encounter, written following Wallace’s 2008 suicide. Both Segel and Eisenberg reveal great depths of emotion in their performances and the film is directed with humor and tenderness by Sundance vet James Ponsoldt from Pulitzer- Prize winner Donald Margulies’ insightful and heartbreaking screenplay.

The End of the Tour is director James Ponsoldt’s fourth feature film and is being hailed as his best to date.(I admit that while I loved Smashed from 2012, which showed Aaron Paul was much more than Jesse Pinkman, I have yet to see 2013’s, The Spectacular Now [which launched Miles Teller], or his first film, Off the Black, from 2006.) It’s been playing film festivals non-stop since January. (Including the Boston Independent Film Festival in April. Sadly, I missed it.)
The cast also includes Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer, Ron Livingston, Mickey Sumner and Joan Cusack. The film will get a (limited) release in the US on July 31. We can hope that also means a VoD release of some sort as well.

There’s More to Life Than Just Surviving in New UK Trailer for #SlowWest w #MichaelFassbender

Slow West, movie, poster, trailer, Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, John Maclean

This new trailer, just released to flog the UK release of first-feature director John Maclean‘s Slow West, is a lot more revealing, despite its short length, than the domestic version we got last month.

This time around we get Michael Fassbender‘s voice-over, as well as a better look at Ben Mendelsohn (always a good thing) and a brief glimpse of Rory McCann.

The story is a sort of Old West Romeo and Juliet/classic western mashup that sees Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Jay Cavendish travel to the American west of the late 19th century from his native Scotland, all to find the girl he loves (Caren Pistorius), whose father (McCann) has spirited her away. Of course, Cavendish is the proverbial fish out of water, stranger in a strange land, take your pick, in need of his own rescue. Enter Silas (Fassbender – who also produced, and developed the script with Maclean), who becomes his mysterious “chaperone”.

Ben Mendelsohn, doing one of the things he does so very well, is the villain of the piece. (Or at least one of them. Maybe the one who fits most squarely into that box.)

Far from giving everything away, the trailer gives us just enough new material to keep not only keep our interest piqued, but makes us eager for more. Fassbender’s performance has been compared to Clint Eastwood (of whom he’s a huge fan) as well as Burt Lancaster, both favorably I might add. Not sure I see either of those two, yet, but I can’t wait to judge for myself. A24 will release Slow West, which premiered in January at Sundance, in the US this coming Friday, May 15 (limited) and on 26th June in the UK.

Watch: Keira Knightley Plays Peter Pan in First Trailer for Laggies

Laggies, Lynn Shelton, Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Grace Moretz, movie, poster

1st Teaser Poster for Lynn Shelton’s Laggies

Laggies bowed at Sundance to great critical acclaim, landing it on many lists of the most highly anticipated films of 2014. That was in January. This is July, and those of us who weren’t in Park City are finally getting a look at it.  (Insert joke about “lagging” behind here, but the original plan was for a May 9th release.)

The best thing about this 1st trailer  is that the perpetually underrated Sam Rockwell gets to be the sane AND charming one. How refreshing. Hopefully director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) has a few more less-than-obvious choices in store for the rest of the movie as well. Since this is Shelton’s first time directing a film that she didn’t write herself, instead working from a script by first-time scribe Andrea Seigel, my guess is there would have to be something special going on here, especially given the quirky material she usually does write for herself.

A woman stuck in permanent adolescence lies to her fiancé about going on a retreat and spends the time hanging out with friends instead.

Another thing I think we can tell from the trailer is that the brief synopsis above is a little misleading. Megan may have a case of “arrested development” but saying she’s “hanging out with friends” barely scratches the surface. More to the point, she’s hanging out with Annika’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) friends….and her father. I think I need to buy a ticket to this. I have got to see how Shelton turns that warped premise into what appears to be a sweet love story, especially since the original posters promised a much darker tone.

As for Megan herself, I like Keira Knightley. But I do have to say that I think first choice Rebecca Hall would have killed this. Poor Keira was actually Shelton’s third choice. While Hall turned the role of Megan down to do Transcendence with Johnny Depp – and really, the less said about that the better. She’s probably kicking herself enough for everyone – but second choice Anne Hathaway signed on then had to leave because shooting on both Song One and Interstellar went long. (At least, by all early accounts, Interstellar will have been worth it. ) I need to see more before I can tell if this is a departure for Knightley or merely an extension of Penny from Seeking a Friend For the End of the World.

We can find out when Laggies, which also stars Ellie Kemper, Gretchen Mol and Mark Webber, opens in the US on September 26 (if you believe Box Office Mojo and Deadline or October 24 if you believe the distributor A24 Films) and 3 October in the UK.

Mud: Huck Finn for the New Millennium and the Re-Birth of McConaughey

Mud, poster, movie, Matthew McConaughey

poster via Lionsgate and imdb

Walking out of the theater in which I saw my first viewing of Mud, I was reminded of star Matthew McConaughey’s performance in John Sayles’ Lonestar, a film which, thematically, has little in common with Mud. Specifically, I remember thinking that McConaughey hadn’t been this good since that earlier film. What makes that really interesting to me is that 1. I just read that it was Lone Star that Mud director Jeff Nichols had in mind when he cast his star and 2. That movie came out in 1996. Seventeen years ago. “What the hell happened in between?” you may well ask.

Frankly, there have been some damn fine performances in between. I have to admit to being a Matty fan, but if all you know of him is  his breakthrough role as skirt-chasing stoner Wooderson in the cult classic Dazed and Confused, or lame pseudo romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch or Ghosts of Girlfriends past, you’re missing out on some very good performances in some very fine films like A Time to Kill that came out the same year as Lonestar, Contact, directed by Robert Zemeckis and costarring Jodie Foster, (One of my favorites from the 90s.) and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. In fact, even while making the aforementioned dismal comedies, there were movies like Frailty (Bill Paxton’s directorial debut. Seek it out if you’re not familiar) and We Are Marshall. Of course, I even liked Reign of Fire. (Christian Bale, Gerard Butler and dragons. C’mon!)

The real problem was that overshadowing the good performances in either iffy movies or good movies no one saw, Matty became a certified movie-star and  his private life (including liaisons with ATTK costars Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, as well as naked bongo playing) began to get more ink than his performances. He became a punch line more famous for his physique than his acting chops. (Remind you of anyone? – read that with Craig Ferguson’s voice and side-eye)

The real ‘why’ of it is anyone’s guess. It could have been the lure of the lifestyle and big paychecks or believing one’s own hype and publicity, you name it, it’s as big a mystery as what sparked the turn-around.

Was it the fact that he started wearing a shirt when he settled down and started having kids? Who knows, but the fact is that beginning with The Lincoln Lawyer, perceptions about the actor Matthew McConaughey began to change.  When that movie became a surprise hit in the spring of 2011, McConaughey was suddenly part of the conversation again, in a good way.

His extraordinary run has continued with impressive work  in four wildly different films in 2012: Bernie a black comedy based on real events involving a small-town Texas funeral director, costarring Jack Black and Shirley McLaine (it’s available on Netflix instant and definitely worth a look);  Steven Soderbergh’s penultimate film (so he says) Magic Mike, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious, the divisive The Paperboy with Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and Zac Efron that anyone who saw it either really loved or really, really hated, and William Friedkin’s screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ award winning play, Killer Joe.  Another black comedy (the blackest), this one is not for everybody. It’s violent, bloody and very twisted. (It may put you right off fried chicken.) Matty plays a lawman who moonlights as a hitman and his performance was nominated for an Independent Spirit award as Best Male Lead.  In 2013, we’ll see the actor so famous as an ideal of male pulchritude minus  more than 45 pounds, the weight dropped from his already lean frame in order to play a drug treatment crusader dying of AIDS, in the upcoming drama Dallas Buyers Club, slated for an awards-friendly fall release.  2013 will also bring Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Matty will be vying against Matty at the box office and possibly on the trophy circuit.

With Mud, which went to the Cannes Film Festival in 2012 and Sundance in 2013, the career make-over, deliberate or otherwise, continues.  McConaughey plays the title character, a drifter, a fugitive from the law risking his life and freedom for love, in a film that, to me, is nothing short of a “Huck Finn” for the new millennium.  Jeff Nichols’s subtly sweet coming-of-age tale, set on the Mississippi River, in southern Arkansas, is about an adolescent boy’s search for love and it is filled with indelible characters played by an exceptional ensemble cast that includes Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, and Reese Witherspoon.

Here’s the (somewhat spoiler-y) synopsis from Roadside Attractions:

14 year-old Ellis(Tye Sheridan) lives on a houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents, Mary Lee (Paulson) and Senior (McKinnon). His best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), also 14, lives with his uncle, Galen (Shannon), who makes a hardscrabble living diving for oysters. The two boys set out to an island on the Mississippi River, where Neckbone has discovered an unusual sight-a boat, suspended high in the trees, a remnant of an extreme flood sometime in the past. They climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and fresh footprints.Leaving, they find footprints near their boat and that’s when they meet Mud, a gritty, superstitious character with dirty clothes, a cracked tooth, and in need of help. He tells the boys he will give them the treehouse boat, his current hideout, in exchange for food. Neckbone is reluctant, but Ellis brings food to Mud, and they develop a tentative friendship.

Ellis learns that Mud has killed a man in Texas, and police and bounty hunters are looking for him, but Mud is more concerned about reuniting with his longtime love, Juniper (Witherspoon). Ellis, who has recently developed his own crush, agrees to help Mud escape with Juniper. Ellis and Neckbone carry out bold schemes in an effort to protect Mud and relay messages to Juniper, who is holed up in a fleabag motel, under constant surveillance by a Texas bounty hunter taking orders from the cold-blooded King (Joe Don Baker). As the boys risk everything to reunite the lovers, Ellis’s own ideas about love and romance are challenged by the strains in the relationships closest to him: his parents’ marriage is dissolving while he himself falters in his efforts to impress May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). Through it all, Ellis struggles to look for an example of love that he can believe in, learning about the unspoken rules and risks of love and the reality of heartbreak.

McConaughey, is definitely a version of Mark Twain’s Jim, but defies Southern caricature. He’s a combination of both Boo Radley and Boyd Crowder— the “unknown” who can strangle as easily as save, rather than say, Max Cady (either the Robert Mitchum or Robert DeNiro versions) or Long Hair (Bruce Dern in the Cowboys).

As eye-catching as McConaughey’s performance is — thanks, in large part, to a leathery suntan, body-wrapping tattoo and snaggly prosthetic teeth — Mud belongs to the two boys who cross Mud’s path, with memorably fateful results. Without the extraordinarily performances from Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland, there’d be no movie. Sheridan in particular, is in nearly every scene and you can’t take your eyes off of him.  If Sheridan’s Ellis represents youthful wonder, Lofland’s Neckbone represents a more clear-eyed reality.

Mud, Tye Sheridan, Jacon Lofland, movie

photo courtesy Facebook for Mud The Movie

Nichols uses close-ups of Sheridan’s and Lofland’s open, expressive faces to strike a balance between naturalism and more fantastical elements in telling a story in which menace and tenderness coexist,  often in the same scene, sometimes in the same sentence.

Ellis’s reality is a dilapidated houseboat, in which his parents are constantly skirmishing over his mother’s desire for something more, particularly  to move into town.  Neck, ostensibly an orphan, lives with  his well-meaning if ill-equipped, uncle Galen (Shannon).   But as we go with the boys out to the golden, sun-dappled river and to the island where that improbable boat suspended in a tree awaits, Mud shrugs off reality and becomes something more mythic and fairy-tale like.  The movie is more than half over before anyone other than the boys has any contact with Mud. Until then, he may has well have been the boys’ invisible playmate, albeit one not designed to prolong their childhoods but rather take them by the hand and lead them toward adulthood.

Mud extols the basic virtues of honesty, hard work and most of all, trust. The film’s only misstep is a preposterous, in my humble opinion, climax that not only goes on way too long, but the outcome of which is utterly predictable.  Fortunately, by the fade to black, it’s the outcome we’ve all  hoped for anyway.

Here’s the trailer from Lionsgate: