This Week at the Movies: ‘American Ultra,’ ‘Grandma,’ ‘She’s Funny That Way’

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You can tell we’re in the back half of August, and not just by looking at the calendar. This week’s new releases from the majors all have the wiff of, “Ah, fuggit, just bury it at the end of the summer”: the wholly unnecessary and critically reviled Sinister sequel, the wholly unnecessary and critically reviled Hitman reboot, and American Ultra (more on that later). But that’s not to say there’s nothing new and good to see this weekend.

  • Another giant, impressive cast gives a boost to Digging for Fire, which finds prolific indie director Joe Swanberg going full Altman, with more than a dash of Cassavetes. Its meandering style and fuzzy storytelling won’t cotton to all audiences easily, but your film editor found its jettisoning of conventions refreshing; here’s my review of the film from its premiere at Sundance.
  • John Magary’s The Mend has been kicking around for a while—I first saw it nearly a year and a half ago, at SXSW 2014—but all that really says is that even indie distributors aren’t sure what to make of a picture as unique and challenging as this one. Read more about it in this month’s indie guide.
  • Notorious daredevil and ‘70s personification Evel Knievel was so colorful, so goofy, and (by the end of his brief reign) such a mess, it’s a little surprising we haven’t seen a full-scale biographical documentary before now. But now we have one; it’s called Being Evel, a stylish, energetic, and frequently funny tribute from director Daniel Junge. Read more about it in this month’s indie guide.
  • And finally, our pick of the week is Grandma, Paul Weitz’s valentine to Lily Tomlin—who hasn’t starred in a feature film since 1988, perhaps because she was waiting for one this good. It’s a narratively slight but formally frisky picture, in which Tomlin’s “marginally well-known” poet tries to help her granddaughter scrounge up a few bucks for an abortion and ends up taking a bit of a journey through her own past. Here’s our rave review from the Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the highlights of Tomlin and Weitz’s Film Society of Lincoln Center talk this week, and our roundup of other films and television shows that dare concern the subject of shashmortion.

Happy viewing!