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Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 9/10

The eternal underdog.

Director Bert Marcus steps inside the ring to run a deep and critical status check on the boxing world. Champs (2014) might initially be perceived as your average run-of-the-mill boxing doc, but scene after scene and interview after interview it reveals to be so much more.

Pivoting between the legendary sporting careers of heavyweight powerhouses Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins, Champs keeps its distance from the glossy fables of success we usually stumble upon within the genre. Instead, it tries to make sense of a business in desperate need of deconstructing and self re-evaluation.

Boxing as a sport is rooted deeply in the American culture, it may have become the ultimate representation of the American dream: young people raised in poverty, coming from humble neighborhoods and having no role models. Surrounded by bullies, pimps, drugs and gangs. Those who might strike gold inside the ring lose it just as fast at the hands of their managers, layers and ultimately their own incapability of grasping the harsh side of the business. Which raises the question: why is this system still running?

An A-list of boxers, trainers, promoters, journalists, biographers, movie directors and actors share their thoughts on this unforgiving sport, where everybody learns their lesson the hard way and rising up can be just as easy as falling down.

The documentary builds its narrative around the different profiles of Tyson, Holyfield and Hopkins both inside and outside the ring: Tyson as the uncontrollable force of nature that spins out of control, Holyfield as the methodic sportsman and Hopkins as the underdog that turned his life around. The singularities of the three character’s careers and their charismatic personalities blend with Marcus’s masterplan of shining a light over the most controversial issues of the boxing world.

As usual in Marcus’s body of work, the archive material plays a key role. Footage from fights, training and excerpts of all the media frenzy surrounding a boxer’s everyday life paints a chaotic and accurate picture rarely seen in a sports documentary.

One of the most interesting things in Champs is the way it keeps focus on the social aspect embedded in the boxing culture. It emphasizes the fatherly role of trainers, the broken homes as the textbook origin point and the false perception of winning as the only way to escape from poverty and violence. The inefficiency of the incarceration system in the United States -which no longer has the capability or the programs to re-educate individuals and simply turns them into something worse- is also portrayed as a problem that hits society but has also a severe impact in the boxing circuit.

When you win, everybody wins, but when you lose, you lose alone. That seems to be the toughest lesson. But Tyson, Holyfield and Hopkins testimonies work as a silver lining, sharing the hopeful idea that the love for the game -in its purest form- which is ingrained in the fabric of the country, may one day elevate the sport and all of those involved, in order to make it fair and safe for everyone. I guess a boxer can only hope, right?

Foto Ale TN_2018 Ale Turdó —Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine

What We Started

Review by Ale Turdó

RATING: 8/10

Pushing up the tempo.

Writing and directing duo Bert Marcus and Cyrus Saidi came up with a solid (re)telling of Electronic Dance Music’s past, present and future in their feature documentary What We Started (2017). Household names such as Tiësto, Paul Oakenfold, Steve Angello and David Guetta -among several other DJs, producers and promoters- share their thoughts and first hand testimonies of 30+ years of EDM.

But just like any story that makes its way into the screen, What We Started develops its narrative focusing on two pivotal and opposing characters: Veteran DJ and producer legend Carl Cox, and the upcoming dutch sensation Martin Garrix. Fifty-five year old Cox is about to wrap his 15 year tenure as the main DJ in Ibiza’s hottest club called Space, while eighteen year old Garrix tries to pull it together as he prepares to open Ultra Festival in Miami, being the youngest DJ to do so ever in the history of the festival.

The smart thing about What We Started, is the way it blends Cox and Garrix career paths with a detailed reconstruction of EDM’s close-to-official History: from New York’s disco days to the house scene in Chicago, Detroit’s techno and Manchester’s acid house scene, revisiting all the fundamental stops from dark crowded basements to neon crowded arenas. 

The narration tries to make its most honest effort not to avoid sensitive issues inherently attached to the nightclubbing culture – mainly drugs and alcohol- and the way illegal activities seem to latch on this scenario.

Documentary-wise, the producers take an enormous advantage out of the fact that EDM is still a “young” musical and cultural phenomenon, meaning they can get their hands on lots and lots of footage -mostly from the digital era- to help paint the most accurate picture of this movement thru the decades, from close to illegality to standard industry professionalism. The exact same way it happens with pretty much every music genre.

Contrary to other genres, like Rock-n-Roll or Pop for example, there seems to be no room in EDM’s environment for egocentric feuds or vanity beefs. What We Started tries to portrait this singularity as utopic as possible. It is only accurate to say that it succeeds most of the time, except when small arguments arise, dividing old school-vinyl-scratching DJs and young-USB-button-pushing upcomers. That’s pretty much as far as rivalry goes in this domains.

There is a lot of detail and effort put into pointing out the craftmanship of the DJ as a creative artist and not just a mere extension of its turntable, a character that started out in the darkest corner of the shadiest clubs and now has a prominent place on the main stages of the world. While the electronic movement continues to develop decade after decade, the documentary stresses the importance of considering the figure of the DJ as the equivalent of a lead singer or lead guitar player from the Pop/Rock Music universe.

But without a doubt the biggest achievement of What We Started ends up being its ability to tell a thorough and solid chronicle of EDM’s journey that entices both the fan and the non-initiated, coming from out of the mouths -and tracks- of the top players of a genre that keeps on writing its own history.

Foto Ale TN_2018

Ale TurdóBased in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Alejandro is a film critic and movie enthusiast that has been writing about movies for the past 7 years, covering everything from blockbusters to indie gems and all in between. He majored in Sound Design and Cinematography in college and is a full time digital content producer. He’s the kind of guy that thinks that even the worst movie can have something interesting to write about. Additionally, he writes for Escribiendo Cine and A Sala Llena. Twitter: @aleturdo and IG: @hoysalecine

Slamdance: Big Fur

by Ally Russell

Big Fur chronicles World Champion Taxidermist Ken Walker’s attempt to build a believable Bigfoot replica—specifically the “Patty” from the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film, which shocked viewers back in 1967 when it showed an unidentified bipedal hominid walking along a riverbank in northern California. Home videos and interviews with Ken’s family, friends, and colleagues give viewers an intimate look at his personal life and beliefs, all while he builds his monstrous masterpiece in the background.

Director and producer Dan Wayne became interested in the subject of taxidermy because of its unique blend of art and science. It wasn’t until Dan met former Roy Orbison impersonator turned Bigfoot believer and Taxidermist Ken Walker that he decided to film a documentary to shine a spotlight on an underappreciated art form and its misunderstood artists. Not only did he spend five years researching, camping in the secluded wilderness, and filming Ken as he built Patty, but Dan also began practicing taxidermy. Big Fur is Dan’s first feature documentary, and it was made in collaboration with producer and award-winning writer and filmmaker Jon Niccum, and writer and editor George Langworthy, producer and director of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees (2009)—a project on which Dan also collaborated.

Ken Walker creates a life-sized Bigfoot in the feature documentary Big Fur. – Photo Courtesy Millennial PR
Ken Walker stands next to a tree structure, possibly built by Bigfoot, in the feature documentary Big Fur. – Photo Courtesy Millennial PR

For those looking for an intimate and educational look at the art and science of taxidermy, Big Fur covers the subject with extreme care and attention to detail. Skeptics beware—you’ll find no Bigfoot mockery in this documentary. Considering that the main subject of the film believes in Bigfoot (so fervently that he keeps not one but TWO bags of alleged sasquatch scat in his freezer), it was a bit of a disappointment that Ken never shared his encounters on screen. Its creators describe the film as a “comical portrait of an eccentric artist-hero.” Sure, there are funny moments—like Ken singing Hello! Ma Baby! while stomping around his workshop with two Styrofoam sasquatch legs—but other moments, like the revelation of a very questionable personal relationship with another subject featured in the film, feel tacked on and detract from the focus of the main storyline. Watching Ken build his rendition of Patty is certainly enjoyable, but the task lacks tension. Ken alludes to hurdles, but viewers don’t get to witness those hairy moments. Perhaps Big Fur’s most important subplot is its insightful commentary from author and naturalist Robert Pyle and retired outfitter and activist Mike Judd as they call for hunters and environmentalist to collaborate because of their mutual goal of preserving and protecting the wilderness from industry. Overall, Big Fur may lack tension and focus as it nears its conclusion, but the film is still a worthwhile watch for those with a healthy interest in taxidermy and cryptozoology.

A quiet and thoughtful film that heralds the importance of environmentalism, art… and Bigfoot. An enjoyable watch for Bigfoot believers, taxidermy enthusiasts, and environmentalists.

About the reviewer: Ally Russell occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE, and she hosts the FlashFrights podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works at an independent children’s publisher. She enjoys talking about cryptids in her free time. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Big Fur is screening at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival as part of their Documentary Features series. Learn more about this film by visiting the official website.


guest review by Daniel Eagan

Shakespeare’s famously mad victim gets to tell her story in a visually sumptuous adaptation of Lisa Klein’s novel.

Flipping the point of view of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia redefines a character who rarely gets her due. Handsomely mounted, and with a strong cast, the film is ideally positioned to profit from a new alignment in cultural sensitivities.

Adapted by Semi Challas from a young adult novel by Lisa Klein, the script starts years before Hamlet, with Ophelia (played by Mia Quiney) a youngster roaming the castle Elsinore with her brother Laertes. Surprised that Ophelia can read, and has her own opinions, Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) takes her into her court.

It’s a dangerously unsettled court, with Claudius (Clive Owen) angling to remove his brother as king and take Gertrude for himself. Once in her teens, Ophelia (now played by Daisy Ridley) is hemmed in by intrigues, bickering among rivals, and the attentions of a love-sick Hamlet (George MacKay).

Finding her way without being assaulted, exiled, or losing her head requires the kind of quick reflexes and sullen courage Ridley displayed so well in her recent Star Wars outings. In fact Star Wars fans will feel at home with the plot’s infighting, hidden family relationships, and hurled imprecations.

Director Claire McCarthy seems to be aiming for a Game of Thrones vibe as well, but a carefully PG one that skims over the seriously sick doings at Elsinore. Shakespeare purists, meanwhile, will gnash their teeth over Ophelia’s liberties, like evil twin sisters and one-too-many scenes by the river.

Rethinking Hamlet from a feminist perspective makes sense enough. It’s just that McCarthy opted for a far sunnier take than the story warrants. Compare the sun-decked corridors, lissome dances and dewy glances here to the cold, stark, yet bustling and undeniably funny world Yorgos Lanthimos imagined for The Favourite.

Ophelia unfolds in a smooth, polished way, always pleasing to look at, not very demanding. Instead of facing mounting terror leading to irrevocable choices, Ridley’s character strides serenely through her scenes, always confident that her happy ending will arrive on time. But as each piece of Shakespeare’s play clicks into place, and the corpses pile up, Ophelia does manage to become an improbable survivor.

About the author: Daniel Eagan lives in New York City and writes for Film Journal, Filmmaker, American Cinematographer, and other outlets He has finished two books on the National Film Registry for Bloomsbury Press and is currently working on a biography of Sylvia Chang.

Follow Daniel Eagan on Twitter: @Film_Legacy 

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