BACKSPOT (SXSW2024) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Backspot invites comparisons to 2014’s Whiplash, among other films featuring ambitious strivers and harsh mentors. But Backspot is more a of character study, showing a teenage cheerleader’s interactions not just with her coach but her girlfriend, her mom, and others. Riley is a backspot—a position on a cheer squad that monitors others for safety and balance during lifts. Incredibly driven, she’s also sympathetic, plucking out her eyebrows in private while she watches phone videos at night of that day’s practice. No one should be this high-strung, let alone a teenager. Overall, Backspot is a portrait of a young athlete that doesn’t stick the landing.

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WEIRD: THE AL YANKOVIC STORY – Review by Martha K Baker

Story in the subtitle is accurate. Weird tells a story as it follows the lines of most biographies of musicians: the hatred by parents of the new music, the outlying adolescence, the instrument that annoys, the success that surprises, the love interests that aren’t interested, and the adulation in spite of it all.

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PHOENIX RISING – Review by Liz Braun

You might feel the need to shower after watching Amy Berg’s new two-part documentary, Phoenix Rising. The film focuses on Evan Rachel Wood, 34, and chronicles her past abusive relationship with Brian Warner, 53, better known to the world as shock rocker Marilyn Manson. Over the course of two 70-odd minute features, Wood claims that Warner groomed her when she was just a teenager and lured her into an abusive relationship that involved threats, sexual mistreatment and physical and emotional violence. The films offer a relentless pile-on of grisly detail.

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