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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Susan Granger at the Movies: ‘The End of the Tour,’ ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl,’ ‘Hitman: Agent 47’

By Susan Granger

“The End of the Tour” documents the final five days of David Foster Wallace’s 1996 book tour for his epic 1,079-page novel “Infinite Jest” by ambitious Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky.

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Jason Segel is Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg is Lipsky. They chat about a variety of subjects, the most interesting of which is how reclusive Wallace has tried to adjust to his sudden fame and celebrity.

Not so coincidentally, Lipsky’s own first novel, “The Art Fair,” was just published when he convinced his Rolling Stone editor (Ron Livingston) that he felt a genuine kinship with Wallace, although what comes across in his profile is a curiously intoxicating combination of envy and adulation.

Lipskey journeyed to Bloomington, Indiana, to meet Wallace in his ranch-style home. They go to a bookstore and do a Minneapolis-based publicity jaunt, where Joan Cusack is their no-nonsense driver.

There’s also a casual interlude with Julie (Mamie Gummer) and Betsy (Mickey Sumner), Wallace’s former girlfriend. And when Wallace observes Lipsky flirting with Betsy, he’s quite offended.

Ironically, the interview was never published. Lipsky’s audio tapes were stashed in a closet until Wallace committed suicide in 2008 at age 46. They were subsequently printed as “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.”

Adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Donald Margulies as a tenuous yet intense relationship/character study, it’s deftly directed by James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”).

Delving into Wallace’s complicated psyche, Jason Segel’s understated, yet nuanced performance is remarkable; best known for affable comedies (“Sex Tape,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), this is a real break-out dramatic role.

In contrast, Jesse Eisenberg (“American Ultra”) reveals Lipsky as a sleazy, sycophantic journalist, determined to burrow beneath Wallace’s protective exterior.

There’s not much revealing insight, however, and the challenge for the audience is deciding which of these men is the more authentic – and honest.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10 “The End of the Tour” is a compassionate, conversational 7, reminiscent of “American Splendor” about underground comic-book writer Harvey Pekar.

“I just had sex!” proclaims precocious 15-year-old Minnie Goetz in “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” as she strides through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in her high-waisted bell-bottoms and platform shoes.

Set in 1976, as Patty Hearst’s kidnapping/bank robbery dominates TV-viewing, the story revolves around Minnie (Bel Powley), her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), and Charlotte’s boy-friend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard).

A flashback reveals how Minnie lost her virginity. Since her mother’s divorce, Minnie and her younger sister (Abigail Wait) have had little parental supervision. Charlotte’s a bohemian, hosting cocaine-fueled parties and urging Minnie to wear make-up and sexy clothes, saying, “You’ve got a kind of power. You don’t know it, but you do.”

So confused Minnie impulsively makes the first move on 35-year-old Monroe, sucking on his finger. When he pulls away, she insists on fondling his genitals. While she subsequently romanticizes their relationship, it’s a secret that cannot stay hidden.

Inspired by the controversial work of underground cartoonist Aline Kominsky (R. Crumb’s future wife), Minnie records her thoughts, dreams and desires, augmented by vividly animated drawings.

Covering much the same territory explored in “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “An Education,” “Little Darlings,” “Foxes,” and “The To Do List,” it’s a female-focused coming-of-age story. Think of Minnie as a feminine Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”

First-time film-maker Marianne Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical journal is far brighter in tone than its source material, diluting its exploitive, psycho-social context. While the book stresses Monroe’s coercion/molestation of Minnie, the movie depicts Minnie’s seduction of Monroe.

Although Powley was 21 at the time of filming, she’s convincing as the emotionally vulnerable teen, learning that love and sex are not the same thing and that having self-respect is better than a boyfriend.

On the Granger Gauge, “Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a sensitive 7, a candid sexual awakening.

Even in August’s dog days, there’s no excuse for “Hitman: Agent 47,” a dreadful, mind-numbing reboot!

Based on a videogame, it updates Timothy Olyphant’s 2007 film, casting British actor Rupert Friend (TV’s “Homeland”) as the elite, elusive assassin, who is genetically engineered to be the perfect killing machine, identified only by the last two digits on the barcode tattooed on the back of his bald head.

Over-medicated Katia (Hannah Ware) is on-the-run in Berlin, searching for her scientist father, Dr. Livenko (Ciaran Hinds), who devised the first Agent program and is now in hiding.

Although she’s ostensibly clairvoyant, she doesn’t realize she’s being targeted until she encounters an American named John Smith (Zachary Quinto) who serves as her ostensible protector – or is he?

Endowed with strength, speed and stamina, Agent 47 is after an evil Syndicate that plans to unlock the secret of his past to create a super-military force whose powers will surpass even his own.

Problem is: early in the fight between Agent 47 and John Smith in the Engine Testing facility, the face of Zachary Quinto’s stuntman is clearly visible, breaking any semblance of continuity.

Incoherently scripted, it’s senselessly helmed by Aleksander Bach, making his directing debut with a multitude of uber-violent fight scenes and explosive car crashes.

Audi must have paid mightily for product placement, and astute spotters report there’s even a reference to the popular Danish videogame when a yellow rubber duck is shown floating in a bathtub along with a partially submerged toaster.

FYI: Paul Walker was cast in the title role, building on the success of his “Fast and Furious” franchise, before his sudden death in November, 2013.

On the Granger Gauge, “Hitman: Agent 47” is a tedious, idiotic 2. But obviously, there were hopes for a sequel, since there’s the introduction of yet another clone.


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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 08/27/15 at 04:11 PM  Permalink



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