The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I Am Not a Witch

I Am Not a Witch is a bizarre film that makes light of a rather serious issue. In fairness to writer/director Rungano Nyoni, the attempt to inject moments of humor and a tone of magical realism may have been a way of skirting heavy-handedness in depicting African witch camps. To some degree, how much you enjoy the movie may depend on whether that choice works for you or not. Maggie Mulubwa plays Shula, a young girl accused of witchcraft and sent to one of those camps. From there, she is exploited by a government official named Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), who wants her to perform a wide range of services, from helping him solve cases to making it rain for his crop-growing “clients.” Banda is portrayed as comically inept in his exploitation of her, and Shula is written as sort of a blank slate, so we never quite know how she feels about what he's doing. That proves slightly uncomfortable, as does the movie's avoidance of the worst aspects of witch camps, which force elderly and mentally ill women into lives of destitution and hard labor. A disjointed, episodic pace that lacks a clear arc for Shula similarly makes I Am Not a Witch an off-putting experience.

( 1/2 out of four)


Alpha is sort of like The Black Stallion meets The Revenant, but without the immense entertainment value of either. Set in prehistoric times, it tells the story of Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young man who is wounded and separated from his tribe during a buffalo hunt. Armed with only a few survival skills taught to him by his father, he attempts to find his way back home, through harsh conditions. Along the way, he bonds with a wolf who has also been wounded and separated. Director Albert Hughes (Menace II Society) makes Alpha visually magnificent. There are scenes that are breathtaking to look at, most notably a sequence in which Keda falls under the ice on a lake and the wolf tries to dig through it to save him. At the same time, the movie is dramatically familiar. The story hits all the notes you expect it to, and Hughes has a strange tendency to rush through the most thrilling parts, thereby robbing them of some of their excitement. Alpha is intermittently engaging, but also intermittently dull.

( out of four)

I Am Not a Witch is unrated, but contains some mature language and situations. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes. Alpha is rated PG-13 for some intense peril. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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