“The End of the Tour,” “Trainwreck,” and a great summer for movies

This summer movie season is on point. Last year, I don’t think I saw a movie in the theaters between June and October. In 2015, I can’t keep myself away. And what’s better – everything I’ve seen has been terrific. Two movies I saw this weekend, The End of the Tour and Trainwreck, were especially satisfying, and they both inspired a lot of thoughts, so I’m just going to lay it all out. (Plus, one of the resolutions I made for my 25th year, which began last month, was to write about every new movie I see in that year. This post is relegated to movies I’ve seen in theaters, but I do need to get around to some new-to-me films I’ve seen recently.)

I remember thinking “oh yeah, that makes perfect sense” when I first heard Jason Segel was playing David Foster Wallace in a movie. Because it does make sense. Segel is not a dead ringer for Wallace, but he’s pretty darn reminiscent of him. Especially with the bandana. I was stoked for this movie from the get-go.

My first experience with David Foster Wallace came in college, when I was assigned part of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again in a class on travel writing. I distinctly remember reading a couple pages and then skimming only as much as would get me through the class discussion. I’m not proud of that now, but the class at least put his name in my brain. Pastors at my church reference a passage from his 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech with some frequency (“Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship….”). Most recently, Vulture re-published a short story Wallace originally wrote for Playboy in 1988, in which he writes from the perspective of a middle-aged actress appearing on Late Night with David Letterman. I fell in love with the piece and reading it marked the start of a few-week span where I seemed to hear mention of Wallace everywhere I went. This was around the time I first saw a trailer for The End of the Tour, so I’ve been anticipating the movie for a couple of months now.

Primarily because of Segel’s performance, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. That is not to say it is only good because of Segel, but that his performance is the best element of the film. You watch it and think, oh, he can do *that.* Not just How I Met Your Mother. (Marc Maron interviewed Segel for one of his episodes last week, and I wouldn’t have anticipated the thoughtfulness he revealed in that conversation, either.) David Foster Wallace in the film is a lovable dude, someone you’d love to chat with about life, writing and the expectations you set for both. The only thing about the film that kind of disappointed me was I felt the truest or deepest, especially David Foster Wallace-y observations were already revealed in the trailers (“What’s so American about what I’m doing”-type stuff). But as I write this, I realize I probably didn’t need more of that from the movie, anyway. I needed to see him play with his dogs, or devour junk food en route to the Mall of America, or explain why he decided to go by “David Foster Wallce” instead of just Dave Wallace. And that’s what the movie gives you.

I might not recommend this movie to someone who’s never heard of David Foster Wallace, but for everyone with even a basic idea of who he was and what he wrote, I’d say go. The End of the Tour brought him to life for me. It made me want to have finished Infinite Jest by the time I see Jason Segel get his Oscar nomination.

So, The End of the Tour was Friday. Saturday was kind of an aimless day and my roommate and I thought we’d try our hand at the lottery for a couple of Broadway shows. We struck out there and with rush tickets, so we wound up seeing Trainwreck, Amy Schumer’s new movie. By virtue of appreciating Amy Schumer, knew I would like Trainwreck, but I wasn’t sure if I would just like that it existed, or if I’d legitimately like the movie. I’m happy to report my feelings definitely fall in the latter category.

Amy Schumer is a gift to us as a culture. She’s hilarious and smart. Seems lovely and genuine. And now she made a terrific comedy that is packed with spot-on cultural references and finds delightful cameo roles for SNL stars. Not sure what’s not to love there. I know Trainwreck isn’t a perfect movie. It’s a little too long and sometimes makes awkward jumps. But that’s not the point. The point is that she shouts things like “You’re losing us the right to vote!” at basketball dancers, and makes an homage to Manhattan but with a serious bite, and describes her fear of someone seeing a “crime-scene tampon.” It all adds up to a comedy unlike one I’d ever seen before, and I loved it. I can’t wait to see what Amy Schumer does next.

Bill Hader deserves praise, too, for playing the doctor Amy reluctantly falls in love with. Give this man more leading movie roles! The review on Roger Ebert’s site makes a comparison between Hader in this film and a young Jack Lemmon. Thinking back on the film, that comparison is spot-on.

I’ve been seeing new stuff at a pretty good clip this summer (at least by my standards), and The End of the Tour and Trainwreck are more than worth seeing. Now, if you’ll excuse me – I still need to unpack my copy of Infinite Jest. 

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Summer Brain Dump

I have no way of prefacing this except by saying it’s July now, and I haven’t written or debriefed about life in a meaningful way since May and a lot has happened in that time. And tonight I finally felt like writing it all out.

I have to move again, which sucks. No other way to put it. Our current landlords raised our rent $900/month ($300/person/month next year) so we had to find a new place. The good news is, our new apartment is in the same neighborhood. And, our rent will be cheaper. And, I get to stay with my wonderful roommates. The bad news is, we have to move everything from one apartment to the next. Little expenses keep coming up for things we took for granted in the old place that don’t exist in the new (like a toilet paper roll holder!). Plus, it’s summer and it’s hot and miserable and all your stuff is getting moved around. I sound really grumpy about this, don’t I? Well, I am a little. I told my roommates that if, this time next year, I have to move for any dramatic reason (i.e., another massive rent hike), I will recognize it as a sign from God that I am supposed to leave New York City. No sane person can tolerate four moves in as many years.

Perhaps moving is a little bit of my motivation for writing tonight. All my stuff is in boxes. Evidence of an upcoming transition is right in front of me. I want to write down what’s happened lately so I don’t forget it once things start to change.

So, item #1. Summer obsessions. I never notice it in the moment, but with a few years, months, or even weeks in the rearview mirror, I start seeing how clearly defined a certain time was by the cultural obsessions gripping me in that moment. At the beginning of June, I started an obsession with the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, which has carried me through the entire summer so far and taken up a lot of my cultural-obsession real estate. It started with Maron’s interview with Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air. I’d known about WTF for awhile, even listened to a couple episodes, but the show re-entered my mind when I was doing some podcast research for work and I decided to listen to the Terry Gross episode on a run. They’re magic together, and it was the first time I appreciated Maron’s real skill as an interviewer. I was hooked.

The podcast has been a welcome companion on some of my summer travels. I got to visit LA for work and polished off his chats with Jason Schwartzman, Parker Posey and John Mulaney on the plane. I was in LA the same day he interviewed President Obama and relished the national conversation surrounding that episode. I started my Maron fandom just early enough that I could listen to the Obama episode as a devotee, not a bandwagoner. (Recent gems have included his interviews with Constance Zimmer, Ed Asner and Vince Gilligan, and the Obama post-mortem episode he recorded with his producer.)

Sir Ian McKellan is the guest on today’s episode, and he asks Maron about who typically listens to his podcast. “I don’t think I have a demographic; it’s more of a disposition,” Maron replied. I smiled when he said that because it made me think of a paragraph that caught me from his email newsletter earlier today: “It rained a lot here in LA the other day. We needed it. I get weird when it rains. My mind drifts. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s not great. I can’t really put into words what happens but there is sort of a romantic, hopeless feeling to it all and it’s okay. I need it. It’s a deep feel. I don’t think I could live somewhere where it rains all the time though. It would be hard not to become goth.” I pretty much identify with every sentence there, which I think means I am of the target disposition.

 

 

Another cultural interest this summer – I don’t know if I’d call it an “obsession” per se – has been the new movie crop. It’s a good summer, in my estimation. To date, I’ve seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Love and MercyInside Out and Amy and would recommend each one. (I saw Amy just this past weekend and it’s all I can think about, really. Incredibly well-told and sensitive, but watching it, your heart breaks for the brilliant Ms. Winehouse.)

To mark my 25th birthday earlier this month, I made a list of 25 things I want to accomplish in my 25th year, and one was to write about each new movie I see this year – whether it’s a new-new movie like the ones listed above, or a new-to-me movie, like Philomena, which I watched on the plane ride home from my trip to London and Paris (more on that later). I have some catching up to do in the writing department, but I feel like I’ve seen some meaningful films in the last couple months.

Item #2. The Europe trip. It was freaking amazing. I’d never been to Europe before but had been dying to visit. I really need to write a whole post about the trip – I have notes and thoughts scribbled everywhere but I should pull them together before I forget too much. Already, I find myself remembering little things here and there that I already started forgetting – meals we ate, cool subway stations I liked, that kind of thing. But the larger feeling is still intact. I hadn’t really gone somewhere new since moving to New York three years ago. I went to Disney World, or Portland, or Chicago – all places I’d already been. So it was invaluable to experience something completely new. To be somewhere with a language barrier. To spend almost two weeks away from the city, all its responsibilities and assumptions.

The place that felt newest was Versailles. Of course London and Paris felt new, but they were still cities. I could at least understand how they felt, in a way. Versailles was out of this world. I couldn’t believe I was on my own planet. There were gardens that stretched on forever and rooms walled with marble in a shade of purple that I can’t get out of my mind.

What struck me most about London was the constant juxtaposition of old and new. You get that in New York to a degree, but in London it’s amplified. It’s an awesomely designed Tube station in the shadow of a tower built in the 1000s. And it’s like that all over the city.

I fell in love with the museums in both cities. The Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate Modern especially drew me in during our London leg. In Paris, the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay. I discovered some new-to-me artists whose work I want to further explore, like the illustrator George Condo whose wry sketches fascinated me at the Tate, or the post-impressionist Felix Vallotton at the d’Orsay (that museum in particular had a layout conducive to better understanding the timeline of certain artistic movements).

There is oh-so-much-more to talk about when it comes to that trip. It whet my appetite for travel and I can’t wait to visit Europe again. In the meantime, I’m trying to take the wonder of that trip and apply the same feeling to my normal life. That’s going alright so far.

As “summer things” go, those are the biggest items. My head feels clearer having them down on the page. And now I need to finish packing.

August Things + Welcoming Fall

There was a post on the Humans of New York Facebook page a few days ago, showing the hands of an older lady as she wrote in her journal. The photo caption read:

“I write in my journal everyday.”
“Why’s that?”
“So much happens in life, I think it’s good to live it again and get some distance from it. Or else everything is in a muddle, like on a merry-go-round.”

That quote made me realize it was time to take a step back from a busy month, to get some distance from all this craziness, and write it out.  So here it goes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of summer – it’s the humidity, mostly – but this one was (or has been, since it’s technically still summer) really wonderful. August was by far the busiest month of the summer.

It started with a family vacation to Disney World. My little sister, Beth, is the perfect age for Disney – still young enough to think collecting character autographs is cool, but old enough to ride all the best roller coasters. My parents like it because you always know what you’ll get with Disney vacations. There’s something to make everybody happy. Every family is susceptible to the occasional meltdown (Beth gave custom names to each family’s meltdowns, according to the first letters of our names – if I was starting to lose it, I was having a “Peltdown”), but for the most part, you’ll all leave happy.

And we did. Over the course of five days, we made it to all four parks and one water park. There was a nice balance of attacking the parks, checking all the rides and attractions off our list, and relaxing. I abandoned my family for one afternoon and spent it reading poolside, speeding through the excellent “Rules of Civility.” Thanks for the vacay, mom and dad.

About a week after returning from Florida, my sister Hope, who interned at the Wall Street Journal this summer, left NYC and headed back to West Point. I was sad to see her go since we had an awesome summer together, but I’m always comforted by the fact that she’s still only 50 miles away from me. We spent a good deal of time this summer at the movies; neither of us is a movie buff by any means, but we like to see anything with Oscar buzz. Our final movie together this summer was “Fruitvale Station.” Heavy subject matter, no doubt, but a well-acted, well-told, and powerful story. I highly recommend. (Our other summer favorite was “The Way Way Back.”)

In the middle of August, I moved. Let me tell you: Moving in New York City is no joke. Like, seriously stressful. I’m still in Sunnyside, Queens, within walking distance of my old apartment, and I didn’t do myself any favors by gradually moving out of the old and into the new. (My leases overlapped for a couple weeks.) I hired movers to handle the big stuff like my bed and bookshelf, but left some out some smaller items. If you’re ever moving in New York, NEVER do this. Say good riddance to the old place. Just do it all in one fell swoop. I still don’t feel completely moved in to my new place, but I’m so, so glad to be out of the old one. It’s funny how simply walking out a different door in the morning can change your entire outlook; it’s a small but meaningful shift in perspective. Pretty soon, this change of pace will feel like the routine, but it hit me during the moving process that this is my first big change-within-a-change. I’ve been in New York long enough to experience a major transition within the major transition of moving here in the first place. That feels strange, but rewarding, in a way. I never want to be at a place in my life where I’m unwilling to let changes – big and small – reshape my outlook.

Other August things: Everyone at work is back from their summer hiatus! Most of the show’s production staff take a six-ish week summer hiatus, but in publicity, we work year-round. I did enjoy the slow pace of summer, but it feels like the office has returned to normal now that all my loud, collaborative, pop-culture-crazed co-workers have returned. So here’s my plug: Season 8 of Rachael Ray started taping this week and the season premieres Monday, September 16. Check it out.

Also, there is real, live COLLEGE FOOTBALL. I woke up last Saturday, turned on College GameDay, and the first thing I saw was radio host/SEC troll/new GameDay contributor Paul Finebaum saying, “I think Gene Chizik is the worst coach to ever win a National Championship.” Go Ducks.

September is off to a pretty good start: I went to my first Red Sox-Yankees game last night, and a steady stream of family and friends will be in New York for various reasons over the next few weeks. Summer, thanks for the memories. I’m ready for the new season.

Summer in the City: MLB All-Star Game and Culture for Free

Just two months ago, my humidity-hating, sweater-loving self was dreading another sticky summer in New York City. Thanks to a number of recent events, however, I’m changing my tune.

Saturday night, I went with a group of friends to the Mariah Carey/New York Philharmonic concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. I hadn’t worked myself up with excitement over this show; while I don’t dislike Mariah Carey, I don’t know much of her music beyond “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which she is unlikely to sing in July. But, it was free, the weather cooperated, and I tagged along with some Mariah-loving friends.

It turned out to be more of a New York Philharmonic concert (Mariah only sang three or four songs), but it was wonderful. Some of the Phil’s set included classic New York songs such as “New York, New York” and the song from On the Town (which I guess is also titled “New York, New York”? Never pondered that before.), and some of the score from the recently released 42.

My favorite part, though, was former Yankees manager Joe Torre reading “Casey at the Bat,” the famous baseball poem, with the New York Philharmonic providing musical accompaniment. I had no idea this would be part of the program, and when the number was announced, I winced and thought it might be a little cheesy. On the contrary. Torre delivered the poem perfectly, and the Phil’s background music – mimicking players’ movements and crowd excitement with its sound – added an element of emotion to the story I’d never felt before with just a straight reading. (My iPhone video of the last part of the performance is too big to deal with here, and I’ve had trouble uploading it to YouTube. I’m a little surprised MLB hasn’t put the entire thing online, but this clip will have to suffice for a link. Just trust me; it was great, and indelible New York memory for me.)

Hope and me at FanFest

Hope and me at FanFest

Thanks to a friend who works for a PR firm handling lots of ASG-related events, I scored two tickets to the All-Star FanFest at the Javits Center. I forced my sister, only marginally interested in baseball, to come with me (though we did clear up the difference between a no-hitter and perfect game for her, so it was a success) and we enjoyed the experience. I would have found FanFest to be the absolute coolest thing in the world if I was a wide-eyed 12-year-old, for whom baseball was a relatively new obsession, traveling to the game with my dad who’d be willing to fork over $$ for a cool new t-shirt and autographed baseball. I may be a little too old to be blown away by the spectacle, but it really was a cool set-up, and they had some especially great displays on the history of the Mets and the Negro Leagues.

Plus, since I wasn’t going to the Home Run Derby or the game itself, I loved getting to be immersed in some part of the All-Star experience while it was in New York. I live right off the 7 line, the train that’s carried thousands of fans to and from Citi Field the past few days, so it was cool to see all this – baseball-crazed kids toting loot bags through FanFest, tourists sporting their team jersey, thousands of passengers trickling onto the 7 train for the ride out to Flushing – happening in my backyard.

Aside from ASG events, I’ve also been able to enjoy a couple of NYC music events in Central Park lately. Yesterday, the New York Philharmonic played its annual show in the park, so I made another trip up to the Great Lawn to hear the performance. Then, tonight, the Metropolitan Opera performed various selections at the park’s SummerStage, and it was lovely. Just enough of the day’s heat had subsided that it wasn’t totally miserable outside, and I loved how the show featured only three singers, each performing a number of songs, like the Met was giving a few of its young stars a chance to really show their chops. My favorite part was their final number before the encore: a three-song West Side Story medley.

Both events were absolutely free, too (as was the Mariah concert)! Amazing free music, enjoyed in the company of friends on a warm summer evening, under the shadow of skyscrapers. This summer in New York is turning out to be about as perfect as it gets.

Pondering Life’s Big Questions. Or, My Last Night in NYC.

An email with this subject line just popped into my inbox: “Check in for your flight to Portland.”

That means my return flight from NYC to PDX is less than 24 hours away.

What?

When I booked the flight back in April, just leaving for New York in June seemed lightyears away. And now it’s August? What the heck?

Editor’s Note: I really don’t analyze my emotions as much as the next few paragraphs might suggest. Bear with me for one post that’s more on the “reflective” side.

But my final day in the city has arrived. And I’m not sure how to feel about it. Last year, I was legitimately homesick and ready to be back in Oregon. This year, it’s different; I’m excited because I’ll be reunited with family and friends (and Oregon football), but I’m also bummed because I’m worried that a lot of the growth I experienced this summer – personally and professionally – might be stunted once I’m back in my true comfort zone.

It’s not as though I can’t grow during the school year. I’ll be involved in a lot of different internships and activities that will undoubtedly challenge me, and I truly can’t wait for it all to begin. As much as I loved the city this summer, there were times I wished I was at home, where the pressure to be doing something all the time is lifted. But when you’re in New York for an extended period of time, you can’t imagine being anywhere else. What’s the point of living in another city when everything happens here?

Sure, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I’ve pondered the question. I think part of my nervousness stems from knowing that I only have one more year of school (and fun and wearing sweats all day and being home, if I do relocate after graduation) left before I’m tossed into the real world, and I’m scared that I won’t make the most of it.

But amidst all these larger-than-life questions, there’s real work to be done. When I get home, it’ll be time to roll up my sleeves and start preparing for the year at Allen Hall Public Relations, the student-run public relations agency at the University of Oregon, where I’ll be Firm Director. I’ve also started working with Baseball Prospectus as one of their social media interns, and my mom has informed me that I must deep-clean my room and my car before I head back to Eugene. It might not be New York, but all of the aforementioned tasks (except maybe cleaning the car) make for an exciting agenda upon my return.

Guess it’s time to print my boarding pass.

Beachy Keen

One of the perks of having a dorm-like living situation for the summer in NYC is that many touristy activities are planned for me. I’m a terrible planner when it comes to social activities, so I was more than happy to tag along when our RAs planned a fabulous excursion to Long Beach.

Disclaimer: The lack of photos in this post is due to the fact that I just synced my new iPhone 4 with my laptop. I managed to lose the seven or eight photos that I’d taken on my new phone, which included beach pics. Apologies.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I went to the beach. Beaches are not typically huge sources of enjoyment for me. If I want a tan, I can lay in my backyard at home, where I am within ten feet of a refrigerator, Wi-Fi network and a toilet that is not encrusted with sand and used by hundreds of people each day. If I want to swim…well, I don’t have easy access to a pool, but I’d rather get a tan than swim.

However, the negatives were outweighed by one huge positive: we escaped the city. As amazing and exhilarating as NYC is, there is definitely something to be said for getting away. The hustle and bustle of the city can wear on you after awhile (and if I feel this way after seven weeks, imagine how full-time New Yorkers feel) and it’s nice to be in a place where you can see the top of every building in sight without having to crane your neck.

It wasn’t oppressively hot, but it wasn’t super sunny, either. I was perfectly content to sit on my towel with various reading materials and the Mariners game streaming on my phone (they lost their 15th straight, for everyone scoring at home), but my friend Katrina and I eventually decided to head for the water. “Just as long as our hair doesn’t get wet,” we said. Two seconds later, a wave came crashing over us and we were submerged.

What was a rather pleasant afternoon went sour, though, just a few minutes before we started packing up. It started pouring. I had never before experienced such a powerful rain shower. My newspaper was soaked (as were the magazines my roommate let me borrow; sorry, Julia) and I’m not sure my beach bag will ever dry.

Despite the rain, the surprise “best part” of the day was the train ride to and from Long Beach. We took the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road), and it’s limo-quality compared to the subway. It has seats that face each other, so some of the passengers appear to be riding backwards. I still think this is the most awesome phenomenon in the world of transportation.

On the ride home, we were soaking wet from the downpour and smelled of a strange sand + saltwater + rainwater combo. On one hand, all we wanted was to get back home and take a shower. But on the other, we could have sat on that train for hours, reading and chatting. When our stop was called as the next, Katrina turned to me and said, “Ahh, bummer. I wish we had more time on this train.”

Regardless of the rain, it was a nice escape. But I’m happy to be back in a place where there’s no sand on the bathroom floor.

Baseball Games with a Football Score. Welcome to the Dog Days.

17-7. That’s not a baseball score. That’s a relatively low-scoring football game, maybe, but it’s definitely not a baseball score.

Unless it is yesterday’s Yankees-A’s game.

View from our seats in the left field bleachers. An optimal Curtis Granderson viewing section.

I was at this game (or at least, I was for 6.5 innings). A friend in my building had two friends from school coming to New York for the weekend, and they needed a fourth person in order to buy seats together on StubHub (no cheap tickets were being sold in threes). So I went. And we had a great time, but we boiled in the heat.

The phrase “dog days of summer” has never been more clear to me than it has over these past two days in New York City. A recent string of 100+ degree days (if two days counts as a string) has plagued everyone’s existence.

En route to the game, water leaked from a vent in the subway car ceiling and the lady standing underneath it said, “Oooh, that felt kind of good.” That’s how you know it’s hot.

The game was slow, but in an odd way, it was the perfect complement to a scorching Friday night. What’s more “dog days of summer” than a slow baseball game in late July where the final score is 17-7? (It was 14-7 when we left during the 7th inning stretch at 10 p.m. By then, games that started an hour later than ours were practically finished. And in case you were wondering, the Yankees won.)

We even witnessed a Mark Teixeira grand slam, and I loved knowing that just a few hundred feet away, John Sterling was yelling “You’re on the Mark, Teixeira!” into his microphone.

It was a scorcher, yes. And it wasn’t a great game. But it was the perfect way to welcome in the dog days.