Review: The Hip-Hop Fellow

THEHIPHOPFELLOW Hip-hop culture has permeated its way into the mainstream. No matter what the genre, its influences can be seen in the way we speak, the clothes we wear and the music we listen to. It has proven itself to be more than a passing fad to the point where many institutions of higher learning offer courses in its rich history. This is the subject of the Kenneth Price directed documentary The Hip-Hop Fellow. The film follows artist/producer 9th Wonder who, in 2012, received a one-year fellowship at Harvard University. There, he assisted in the establishment of the Hip-hop Archive and teaches a class entitled “The Standards of Hip-Hop.” In addition he worked on a research project called “These are the Breaks” in which he takes his top 10 hip-hop albums and tracks down the original records that lead them to being the seminal works they are today.

Scenes of him instructing his students effectively convey 9th Wonder’s passion for both music and education. Through 9th Wonder and an array of Harvard professors (including Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Dr. Marcyliena Morgan) and hip-hop artists (including Kendrick Lamar and DJ Premier), we get an inside look into the history of the art of sound sampling. The look on his students’ faces as 9th Wonder is able to identify specific notes and passages in hip-hop songs then reveals the original record from which they came is priceless.

9th Wonder's own ability to connect with intellectuals of the caliber Gates and Morgan while simultaneously connecting with his students all under the guise of hip-hop is a marvel to behold. While not having a degree himself, 9th Wonder fits in perfectly with the Harvard educated and the non-Harvard educated alike. Bridging worlds or education, influence, and multi-levels of privilege without batting an eye. The dichotomies that are presented in the film are the heart of it, and make you yearn for even more.

This is a great look into how hip-hop has been influenced and how it will influence our modern society and is highly recommended for fans of all type of music.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Hip-Hop Fellow" cat1title="Micah's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5.0" overall= false]

Review: Fight Church

FightChurch A documentary about two seemingly obvious opposing topics, Christianity and Mixed Martial Arts, Fight Church takes on the herculean task of showing these two worlds melding together. For full disclosure, I am a fan of the sport but I am not a religious person. Directors Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel do a great job of presenting the subject matter objectively the vast majority of the time. Fight Church is certainly the type of subject matter that will garner strong reactions on either side of the debate. The film follows several men of the cloth as they pursue an interest in Mixed Martial Arts, otherwise known as cage fighting. Undeniably a brutal sport, but finding its way into more and more homes every week. Combining wrestling, traditional boxing, jiu jitsu, muay thai boxing, and a whole host of other martial arts together for a gladiator type sport. The main focus of the documentary is Paul Burress, a pastor who doubles as a well trained MMA guy. Teaching his techniques to the men and women of his congregation who want to learn is a real passion for Paul. He takes things seriously both at the pulpit and in the ring. He is a solid choice for the main focus as he is easily the most stable of characters we have the pleasure of meeting. We also meet a handful of other pastors who practice the same balance between both worlds, some even wish to go professional in the fight careers. A strange balance is attempted to be struck that comes off genuine but misguided to me. In a documentary like this its very difficult to not let your personal opinions of the subject matter influence how you see the film. While I didn’t agree with such moments of young children (approximately 8 years old) doing full contact cage fighting, the documentary presents them with a sense of neutrality that I appreciate. Allowing the audience to garner its own joy, rage, or something in between towards what it saw.

The film works to show another side of the religiosity of its subject matter that early on was being conveniently ignored. There is a moment when one of the film’s subjects goes on a rant about how “mainstream Christianity has effeminized men.” This is a highly important moment to the entirety of the subject matter. Up until this point the men being filmed all were being shown in a pure positive light. The directors made a seemingly concession effort to show you the darker side of the issue, and it was very effective. Had this gentleman not been in the film I would have felt a very serious, and frankly frustrating, agenda was trying to be portrayed. There is however a so called villain in the movie, but he isn’t the gun-totting-at-church-anti-effeminizing guy, but rather a Catholic priest. Father John Duffell is a priest hoping to keep MMA illegal in the entirety of New York State. He sees the sport as too violent and anti-Christian. These views aren’t particularly shocking, but juxtaposed to the pastors who are fighting one another during a cage match and proselytizing afterwards to the crowd plays particularly well.

In the end, Fight Church might change some minds or it might not but what it will do is spark interesting and likely heated debate. Fitting religion into neat modern day boxes will cause conflicts to arise. I found myself shaking my head at the manipulation of the meaning of biblical text, but at the same time the arguments to ban the sport in New York were shallow and completely misguided. The film does a good job of keeping you going back and forth to each side of the argument. Any documentary worth it’s salt will spark an intelligent conversation between filmgoers, Fight Church did just that.

[easyreview title= "Review of Fight Church" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]

Review: The Case Against 8

TheCaseAgainst8 The Case Against 8 is the 2014 documentary about the legal battle to overturn the controversial California Proposition 8, which made same sex marriage illegal in the entire state. Directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, the movie works to create an emotional tie to both the plaintiffs and the high profile lawyers who are hired to work for them. The film tells the events of the hard fought legal battle from 2009 until its resolution in 2013. Normally in this type of documentary there are generally one or two main characters that the directors focus on, but here we get six. Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, a lesbian couple and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, a gay couple are the plaintiffs in this landmark case. Representing them are two of the countries most high profile legal minds, David Boies and Ted Olson. The documentary can be broken up into two major sections quite easily seemingly to mirror the very issue the documentary purports to show. The heart and mind of the issue at hand. The 2 couples are the heart of the film. They pluck at your heartstrings and bring in the most human of elements. Their involvement makes the viewer relate to a topic that they might not even have a directly vested interest in. Perry and Stier, both mothers of 2 boys each from previous marriages are the perfect example of what LGBT couples with children must endure in this time of judicial uncertainty. They connect with you, the audience, as parents first. This was an important highlight to bring about whether you agree with their desire to be married on not. All documentaries are designed to put forth a particular point of view, and we must judge it based on that fact, not based on personal biases. The second couple, Katami and Zarrillo represent the future and the breaking of stereotypes. Two young gay men who are fighting against the notion of the gay community being anti-monogamy. They too play the role of the heart of the film. Interviews with their parents who just want their sons to be happy is a heartfelt moment of humanity. Zarrillo, especially, stands out with his speeches to the public prior to the case beginning.

Every socio-political topic has heart behind it, but it also needs the mind to get pass the legal hurdles that may arise. David Boies and Ted Olson are the mind behind this entire case. Their history with one another is what makes this story even more compelling. Boies worked as the lead counsel for the Al Gore team during the Bush v. Gore fiasco of 2000. What is even more interesting that across from him as the lead counsel from George W. Bush’s team was Ted Olson. Ultimately, Olson won the case, but the two men became close friends rather than enemies due to mutual respect for the other’s skills and presence in the courtroom. So when the American Foundation for Equal Rights was looking for co-counsel for Boies they decided to get the one man from the right that was not only on Boies' level but felt strongly in overturning Proposition 8 as well.

Now that all six main “cast members” are in place, the documentary begins to really hit its stride, showing courtroom scenes, deposition dialogues, and such that lead up to the actual arguments in front of the Supreme Court. Even though I knew the outcome of the case, there was never a time where it felt for sure. Credit goes to directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White for still being able to garner a level of suspense from past known events. They also were able to shed light on some internal topics that I was unaware of while this case was going on.

One thing that socio-political documentaries sometimes do that is damaging to them is the issue of the other side. How do you make a pro-marriage equality documentary without coming off bashing the other side? Cotner and White handles this well by just showing video of the defendants and quoting actual material they had written. Taking away any arguments of misleading the public on the issue via this movie. Its not perfect, but it comes close to sidestepping the issue in its entirety, which I appreciated. I don’t need a two hour sermon as to why the other side is the worse. Just show us what your side is doing, and the directors did just that.

In conclusion, The Case Against 8, is a well handled documentary about a very sensitive topic. Concluding with emotionally jarring scenes of not only the plaintiffs, but Boies and Olsen as well was a fantastic touch. The movie worked on many levels, but no minds will be ultimately changed due to it. However, at the end of the day was that even the point? Cotner and White clearly wanted you to see the journey by which these six people made history. Nothing more nothing less, and for that level of simplicity the film works exactly the way it was designed.

[easyreview title= "Review of The Case Against 8" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]