Eighth Grade (dir: Bo Burnham, 2019, cert. 15)
Eighth Grade is one of the few American coming-of-age school dramas that feels real. The characters are awkward, spotty and social-media obsessed. Elsie Fisher is incredibly convincing in her portrayal of 13-year-old Kayla, an anxious teenager who feels more confident talking on YouTube than to her peers. Kayla has one week left of middle-school, meaning that she will soon have to face the even more frightening world of high-school, where she and her fellow eighth-graders will make up the bottom of the school hierarchy. One particularly stressful pool party scene captures the intensity of awkward social interaction at this age, taking on the trepidation of a thriller as she navigates the party. Eighth Grade will often make you cringe - the social interactions are painful to watch, but the film will leave you with a sense of hope, rooting for Kayla as she embarks on her new journey.
24-30 May, The Mockingbird Cinema & Kitchen, The Custard Factory, Gibb Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, B9 4AA, ticketing.eu.veezi.com, tel: 0121 224 7456
Woman at War (dir: Benedickt Erlingsson, 2019, cert. 12A)
Woman at War is an Icelandic comedy-drama that could not be more relevant today. The film's protagonist, Halla, is known to most as a choir conductor, but in her spare time is an eco-terrorist who sets out to destroy an aluminium plant in the Icelandic Highlands. The film follows Halla grappling with her desire to save the earth through any means possible and her possible new identity as a mother, as she learns that she may be adopting an orphaned Ukrainian girl. Woman at War is refreshing, with an angry middle-aged female activist as its hero, and a focus on the environment that inspires change without the bleak, often dystopian tone of the environmental catastrophe genre. Erlingsson's use of comedy does not romanticise or take away from the serious threat of environmental disaster- he incites us to want to join Halla's mission, especially after watching 104 minutes of beautiful Icelandic scenery. This is the film about global warming we didn't know we needed and may re-engage those who have become disillusioned with catastrophe films.
Fri 7- Wed 12 June, Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH macbirmingham.co.uk, £8.35-£9.25, tel: 0121 446 3250
Styx (dir: Wolfgang Fischer, 2019, cert. 12a)
In this new politically-relevant film, Fischer confronts the viewer with a moral dilemma. Rike (Susanne Wolff), a German doctor, embarks on a journey to Ascension Island, half way between South America and Africa. She seeks to find a quiet existence in the untouched natural surrounding, removed from the modern world, following an idealistic adventure inspired by Charles Darwin. However, this tranquil journey is violently interrupted, first by a storm. As the storm eventually clears, however, her peace is not restored. Rike comes into contact with an overcrowded boat, with passengers frantically signalling for help. We realise that this is a refugee boat, and here Rike has to make a moral decision- does she intervene to help them, possibly putting herself at risk, or continue her individualistic journey? The image of the European woman seeking to leave behind her privileged lifestyle in pursuit of freedom presents a thought-provoking contrast to the overcrowded boat of African refugees, who are forced into this dangerous world in which Rike seeks adventure. The main focus of the film becomes the relationship between Rike and one surviving refugee, Kingsley and the dangers they face together.
Mon 3- Wed 5 June, Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH £8.35-£9.25, macbirmingham.co.uk, tel: 0121 446 3250
High Life (dir: Claire Denis, 2019, cert 18)
Claire Denis' English-language debut blends science-fiction and horror. The film follows a group of prisoners on Death Row, who are offered the chance of freedom if they undertake a dangerous space mission. Their task is to extract energy from a black hole, and their success begins to feel increasingly unlikely. There is another threat to the passengers though, as the ship's doctor, Dibs, has ulterior motives. The setting is sci-fi but the themes of the film are distinctly human- focusing the human body and human desire. The space setting creates a terrifying background, confronting us with the insignificance of human life in contrast to the cavernous black hole. Starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin and Mia Goth.
Fri 31 May- Wed 5 June, at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, £8.35- £9.25, macbirmingham.co.uk, tel: 0121 446 3250
Amazing Grace (dir: Sydney Pollack, Alan Elliott)
Following world-renowned soul-singer Aretha Franklin's death in 2018, this new music documentary follows the live recording of her gospel album Amazing Grace. The album was recorded at Los Angeles' New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972, with support from the Southern California Community Choir and Reverend James Cleveland. Franklin's music was hugely influenced by the gospel music she grew up singing in church and Amazing Grace celebrates this influence. The film was originally captured by Pollack during her 1972 live recording. Pollack was not able to release the footage in 1972 due to difficulties syncing the audio. The footage has now been purchased by Alan Elliot, who was given the permission to use Pollack's incredible footage to make this film. There is also a touching address by Franklin's father, Reverend CL Franklin, talking proudly of his daughter's great talent.
Sat 8- Tue 11 June, at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, £8.35- £9.25, macbirmingham.co.uk, tel: 0121 446 3250