Geniuses at Work: The End of the Tour and Listen to Me Marlon 

The smart bet is on only one of two new films

In spite of their celebrated talent, Marlon Brando (left) and David Foster Wallace (portrayed by Jason Segal, right) both distrusted celebrity. Two new films consider that dichotomy.

In spite of their celebrated talent, Marlon Brando (left) and David Foster Wallace (portrayed by Jason Segal, right) both distrusted celebrity. Two new films consider that dichotomy.

Before you think about going to see The End of the Tour, one of the most buzzed-about films of late summer, you need to answer two questions: 1. Do you love watching two people do little more than talk for two hours? 2. Do you adore David Foster Wallace? Unless you answer both with a resounding "yes," I'm compelled to tell you the new Wallace biopic, The End of the Tour, isn't worth full-price admission.

For the record, I was a great admirer of the late Mr. Wallace (who committed suicide in 2008), in particular, for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, considered by Time magazine as one of the best novels of the 20th century. Additionally, I have no issue with films containing an excessive amount of dialogue and little-to-no action (My Dinner with Andre and Frost/Nixon are two of my all-time favorites). Unfortunately, while screening The End of the Tour, I repeatedly asked myself, "Why am I watching this?" and, more importantly, "Why should I care about any of this?"

Wallace is worthy of a biopic. He was one of the greatest minds of his generation, and his literary influence will continue for decades to come.

You may have heard about Jason Segel's portrayal of Wallace in The End of the Tour—the same Jason Segel from How I Met Your Mother, Knocked Up and Sex Tape. Here, Segel's performance is committed and even career-changing. Unfortunately, his co-star Jesse Eisenberg is... well, Jesse Eisenberg, turning in the same performance we've seen a half-dozen times since we first spotted him in 2005's The Squid and Whale. Now, 20 films later, his nervous nerd character is wearing pretty thin.

Eisenberg plays journalist/author David Lipsky, known for his work in Rolling Stone, The New York Times and on National Public Radio. Lipsky shadowed Wallace near the end of a 1996 book tour, which is the centerpiece The End of the Tour. My issue with this film is that sees its two main subjects through a worshipful lens, so when either man reveals a glimpse of mortality or even absurdity (they're both obsessed with junk food, bad television and masturbation), the two celebrated writers come across as cerebral frat boys.

To be clear, my unfavorable opinion of this film is not shared by many of the nation's critics. Rotten Tomatoes has registered a 93 percent critics' approval. Rolling Stone calls the movie "riveting." The New York Times claims, "This one is just about as good as it gets."

My frustration with The End of the Tour is how its script approaches but never truly engages some ripe topics, including obsession, popular culture and literary celebrity (something Wallace vehemently distrusted). To that end, I can't help but think that the author would have despised this failed cinematic attempt.

Marlon Brando also famously defied celebrity. More than a few critics had their own pushback when it came to Brando and his Caesar-like refusal to claim the acting crown he was destined to wear. Brando refused to accept his 1973 Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, but his detractors were quick to remind us this was the same Brando who rushed to the stage to accept a 1955 Best Actor award for On the Waterfront. This is but one of the many layers of complexity explored in another film opening this week, Listen to Me Marlon, a documentary well-worth the full price of admission.

Many of my own memories of the late Mr. Brando (who died in 2004) included watching some of his cringe-worthy performances near the end of his career, as in 1992's Christopher Columbus and 1996's The Island of Dr. Moreau. And don't forget his trainwreck 1994 CNN interview with Larry King (if you haven't seen it yet, it's a YouTube classic).

By most accounts, Brando was the actor of the 20th century, barnstorming Broadway in 1947's Streetcar Named Desire, achieving motion picture superstardom in the 1950s, and causing screen sensations in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, both released in 1972.

"People were looking for rebellion," Brando once said. "I happened to be in the right place at the right time and in the right state of mind."

It's one of the countless gems we see and hear in Listen to Me Marlon, which is crafted from a treasure trove of clips found in a bunker outside of his home years after his death. This captivating documentary includes Brando musing on his early years, the highs and lows of 50 years of filmmaking and his tragic personal life—including his son's conviction for murder and his daughter's suicide.

We'll never see the likes of Brando again, but Listen to Me Marlon gives us a little something to hang on to.

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