|We Come as Friends|
This week, with eight titles to cover, I’m going to try to keep each to 50 words or less:
Max Landis’ script for “American Ultra” mashes up sarcastic stoner comedy with a highly unpleasant sleeper-agent action plot in which dozens of operatives and civilians are killed in video-game style. Flick wastes Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart; only Connie Britton scores laughs, remains above the fray… Hubert Sauper begins his South Sudan documentary “We Come as Friends” with voice-over: “When you arrive here, you are an alien.” This unhelpful, offensive dehumanization of Africans is reinforced by the fragmentary, decontextualized footage that follows. I should have known better; Sundance created a whole new award for Sauper… Peter Bogdanovich’s walkout-worthy “She’s Funny That Way” offers an object lesson in the difficulty of farce. Jennifer Aniston fares worst as a misanthropic shrink, but even personal favorites Kathryn Hahn and Owen Wilson flounder. Imogen Poots survives as the escort-turned-actress who throws their new play into chaos… Committed performances by a twinkle-eyed Ben Kingsley and in particular the incandescent Patricia Clarkson allow Isabel Coixet’s “Learning to Drive” to transcend its overly metaphorical script. Sarita Choudhury also impresses as Kingsley’s arranged bride. Delight in the company of two greats and be surprised by the number of laughs… “Grandma” writer-director Paul Weitz has given Lily Tomlin plenty of comic ammunition, but she finds grace notes among Elle’s misanthropy. Julia Garner, Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden and suddenly busy Sam Elliott lend strong support in her daylong odyssey to rustle up $630 for her pregnant granddaughter’s abortion… Joe Swanberg’s “Digging for Fire” falls short of his 2013 “Drinking Buddies” and never approaches the brilliance of last year’s “Happy Christmas,” but contains its share of truths. It works primarily as a showcase for the compulsively watchable Rosemarie DeWitt and brings together virtually every young actor in independent film… The German art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Beltracchi) merits a tighter documentary than Arne Birkenstock’s “Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery,” whose most compelling figure is his wife and co-conspirator Helene. She gives rare voice to the enjoyment of crime, the pleasure of hoodwinking experts and gallerists across Europe… Finally, the clear pick of the week, Mina Son and Sara Newens’ documentary “Top Spin,” about three American teenagers training for the Olympic team trials in table tennis. The kids are amazingly talented, dedicated and level-headed, their parents exceptionally supportive. Here’s the feel-good movie you’ve been waiting for.