Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Table 19, The Sense of an Ending, Personal Shopper, Burning Sands, My Scientology Movie

Table 19

The Sense of an Ending

Personal Shopper

Burning Sands

My Scientology Movie

Quick capsules on a pentad of March movies:

"Table 19" isn't nearly as bad as its (inevitable?) 19% RT score would suggest - I chuckled sporadically and laughed out loud once, at a drunk mother-of-the-bride's karaoke version of "At Last" - but adorable Anna Kendrick and oddly attractive Wyatt Russell are mostly left to flail, surrounded by comic actors (June Squibb, Tony Revolori, Stephen Merchant) who keep threatening to be funny but rarely succeed. Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow, also both gifted, hold the clubhouse lead for this year's Worst Screen Couple Razzie.

The talented Jim Broadbent makes genial company in the film adaptation of "The Sense of an Ending," as a camera shop owner reminiscing about the friendships and one great lost love of his youth (Charlotte Rampling). But the characters never feel like actual humans - rather, writer's constructs - and the occasional insights into how we use memory as a palliative against the shame and pain of the past would have more impact if they emanated from genuine introspection rather than increasingly contrived plot developments.

Best of the week - and best of the year to date (though that's damning with faint praise) is "Personal Shopper," Olivier Assayas' second consecutive collaboration with actress Kristen Stewart. It never achieves the profundity of 2015's "Clouds of Sils Maria," but holds the viewer's interest throughout with its unabashedly outrƩ story of a wealthy socialite's clothes buyer who's also a medium and desperate to connect with her late twin brother, who died of the rare genetic heart defect they shared. Assayas perfectly captures the world of the wealthy and famous; as in "Clouds," there's an iPad display of a famous name wearing different outfits that makes most directors' use of technology look totally fake. The ghost story bears less fruit; the "or is it all in my head?" ending doesn't work when five minutes earlier we saw Lewis carrying and dropping a glass of orange juice from the other side.

A generous two stars for Netflix's frat-hazing flick "Burning Sands," which takes place at a black college and somehow feels more authentic than others of its genre. The chores, humiliation and physical punishment handed out by the brothers feels appropriately casual and offhand, and Trevor Jackson appeals as the lead, Zurich. (The filmmakers take time to develop each of the five pledges in the incoming class.) And special mention should be made of Nafessa Williams as Toya, a sexually self-determining young woman and the sort of strong yet soft female character more movies could use.

Finally, a mild thumbs-up for Louis Theroux's cringingly funny "My Scientology Movie." By this time, anyone who wants to knows about as much as there is to know about the pyramid scheme/cult. What this new picture offers, obliquely, is a portrait of Marty Rathbun, the former "Inspector General" of Scientology who "blew" in 2004 and has become, inevitably, persona non grata. He and Theroux, of whom a little goes a long way, interview actors to play David Miscavige (Andrew Perez is the spitting image), Tom Cruise and other Scienos in re-creations of video depositions and verbal and physical abuse in The Hole at Hemet's Gold Base. Rathbun clearly carries a lot of guilt from his former life, yet seems almost to get off on nailed reĆ«nactments.

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