Indie Gems Galore at the Movies this Weekend
August is upon us. That will mean a lot of crap movies the studios didn’t deem strong enough to compete in the summer blockbuster season, but they want to be rid of before autumn’s awards consideration flicks start vying for our attention.
Relatedly, this week in miracles: a 28-year-old male standup comic near-perfectly brings the life of a lonesome adolescent 13-year-old girl to life in Eighth Grade. Meanwhile, another first-time filmmaker opens our eyes to a wildly different coming of age in I Am Not a Witch; and an almost flawless documentary dives into the world of a fashion icon.
by Hope Madden
Who would have thought that the most truthful, painful, lovely, unflinching and adorable tween dramedy in eons would have sprung from the mind of 28-year-old comic Bo Burnham? Or that the first-time feature director could so compassionately and honestly depict the inner life of a cripplingly shy adolescent girl?
But there you have it.
Elsie Fisher’s flawless performance doesn’t hurt. She is Kayla, and we are with her, immersed in her world, for the last week of the eighth grade. God help us.
In Fisher, Burnham has certainly found the ideal vehicle for his story, but his own skill in putting the pieces together is equally impressive. Burnham’s as keen to the strangulating social anxieties of middle school as he is to the shape-shifting effects of technology.
Eighth Grade depicts both the normal that we all must tragically know, of being wildly out of your element even in your own skin, and the new normal that feels beyond bizarre. If your greatest ineptitude is human contact, how much harder to hone that skill when your only practice is in a virtual world?
Still, the best scene in the film—one that’s as uplifting as it is genuine—casts aside the glow of the phone for starlight and bonfire as Kayla and her dad, beautifully brought to life by Josh Hamilton, share a moment that will just kill you.
Seriously, Burnham was never a 13-year-old girl nor has he ever been father to one. How the hell did he get all of this so insanely right?
I don’t know, man, but good for him. Good for all of us.
by George Wolf
Pooh! Who doesn’t love him?
Winnie T. Pooh and the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood have endured for decades, and now the second Pooh film is fewer than 12 months brings all the furry friends to live-action life.
Mr. Robin (Ewan McGregor, charming as always) has put the Hundred Acre Wood long behind him, with a wife (Hayley Atwell), a young daughter (Bronte Carmichael — great name!) and a working-class job as an efficiency expert at a London luggage company.
He’s lost sight of the joy in life, and when a crisis at work means Christopher will miss another weekend family getaway, fate intervenes with a much-needed Pooh crew reunion.
The CGI effects that bring the animals to life are wonderful; the voice work (including Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, Dr. Who‘s Peter Capaldi and voice acting veteran Jim Cummings) is spot on; the humor warm and the message fuzzy.
What’s missing is depth. There’s no real attempt to find any, and that’s a bit surprising with the filmmaking talent involved.
Christopher Robin is sweeter than the “hunny” jars Pooh dives into, but nearly as empty as he leaves them. In trying to fill Christopher Robin with simple wonders, the film settles awkwardly between a child’s fable and wistful remembrances from grandparents.
I Am Not a Witch
by Christie Robb
Zambian-born Welsh writer/director Rungano Nyoni’s first feature film is like Monty Python’s witch trial scene shot through lenses of patriarchy and economic exploitation.
It centers on a displaced young girl named Shula (Maggie Mulubwa), accused of witchcraft by members of her community.
Found guilty, she’s turned over to a government-run witch zoo filled with old women tied by ribbons to enormous spools who are by turns photographed by tourists and rented out as agricultural laborers. Thrilled to have a “young and fresh” witch in town, the Boss (Henry B.J. Phiri) selects her for choice assignments. Shula functions as a judge of sorts in a small claims court and takes a stab at predicting the weather before Boss brings her on national television as a mascot for an egg-selling scheme.
At first, Shula seems to try to make the best of it. After she successfully outs a thief, the Boss takes her home for a taste of the good life. Shula sees bougie furniture, nice clothes, an electric chandelier, and the Boss’s Wife—a former witch. Wife tells Shula that if she does everything she’s told, Shula might end up just like her and achieve “respectability.”
But, as it turns out, a wedding ring and a veneer of dignity aren’t all they are cracked up to be.
Satirical and quietly devastating, I Am Not a Witch is a fairy tale rooted in the dust.
I Am Not a Witch screens this weekend only at Wexner Center for the Arts
by Rachel Willis
The life of iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen is the subject of director Ian Bonhôte’s documentary, McQueen. With writer and co-director Peter Ettedgui, Bonhôte creates a richly artistic portrait of McQueen’s life and art.
“I would go to the far reaches of my dark side and pull these horrors out of my soul and put them on the catwalk,” he tells us. Fashion is an expression of his experiences, and Bonhôte conveys this with sensitivity and warmth.
The fondness with which people speak of McQueen in the documentary’s many interviews gives the audience a picture of someone who made an impact beyond his creative output. His friends, many of whom were part of his design team, speak of the dedication and drive behind his designs. There is a love for McQueen that shines throughout the film.
However, his darkness, at first kept to the catwalk, begins to come through in his personal life. It’s unclear if McQueen’s inner turmoil drove him to work nonstop or if his work drove his inner chaos.
Bonhôte and Ettedgui produce a mesmerizing narrative. From McQueen’s start working with tailors learning the craft to his meteoric rise as one of the most sought-after designers, the filmmakers cultivate an interest in a subject that many may be unfamiliar with. They highlight the art in fashion design, utilizing footage from many of McQueen’s collections to show this artistry.
Coupling the fashion world and McQueen’s creativity with a captivating score, the documentary pulls the viewer in from the first moment and never lets go. It’s a fascinating, compassionate portrait of an imaginative genius.
Also opening in Columbus:
The Darkest Minds (PG13)
Death of a Nation (PG13)
The Elephant and the Butterfly (NR)
Fanney Khan (NR)
Generation Wealth (NR)
Our House (PG13)
The Spy Who Dumped Me (R)
Read more from Hope and team at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly film podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.