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5 True Crime Shock Docs

We've come across our fair share of shock docs in the new age of streaming, where these compelling documentaries get a much broader release platform and ultimately reach more people. Documenting incredible true crime stories that seem too wild to possibly be real, one wonders just how long some of the most recent news stories will take to get the documentary treatment.

5 True Crime Shock Docs

Based on the on-going saga around Thabo Bester, who was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty on several murder and rape charges and later escaped prison by faking his own death... a true crime documentary seems imminent. While this eye-opening and undoubtedly shocking chronicle of events will probably be adapted into a fugitive crime thriller, it's worth taking a look at several other mouth-dropping stories that have been captured by way of documentary.

The Tinder Swindler

The Tinder Swindler, based on a viral investigative story, follows the escapades of several women who were duped out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Simon Leviev, the sly jet-setting suspect at the heart of this narrative was unavailable for an interview, but his social media accounts and interactions have been preserved, revived, and referenced for the purposes of this slick crime documentary.

The Tinder Swindler relays the highs and lows of this perilous dating game from the perspective of a confessional as the buzz of connecting with a vulnerable yet handsome and superrich suitor implodes in each his victim's lives.

Phoenix Rising

Evan Rachel Wood and her close activist friend Illma Gore cobble together a case against her former boyfriend, Marilyn Manson, who reportedly groomed, secluded, and mistreated her throughout the course of their turbulent relationship. Phoenix Rising tells the story of Wood's acting career, Warner's harmful influence, their twisted connection, and court battles to prolong California's reporting limit on such abuse.

Manson's freak show antics and debauched stage presence depict a troubled artist who translates his rough background and inner trauma into a persona that pervades real life. Phoenix Rising is revelatory and timely, yet its demonization of a man who openly admits to his dark side comes out as one-sided.

Our Father

Our Father is an eerie and strange medical crime documentary about a doctor who used his own sample to inseminate patients over the course of his career. A startling revelation, the Blumhouse documentary uses horror elements and dramatic license to emphasize the incredible small-town medical mystery that appears to grow sporadically.

Our Father portrays a burgeoning pool of psychological instability as more and more people realize their lives have been a lie by interviewing coworkers, staff, patients, and their children. Our Father is a gripping and persistent expose of one doctor's dishonest and inhumane conduct, as parents grapple with their love for their children, children grapple with self-love as impostors, and both strive to realize the scope of a crime that is not yet completely recognized by law.

Athlete A

This frightening and violent sports documentary examines a watershed moment in the campaign to speak out about sexual assaults and cover-ups. Over 500 women reportedly came forward after some prominent athletes took the subject further with the assistance of journalists and legal representatives. At the heart of the controversy is team doctor Larry Nassar, whose cover-up, deception, and friendly demeanor allowed him to continue mistreating young gymnasts for years.

Athlete A gives USA Gymnastics the third degree in this eye-opening and horrifying criminal documentary, representing the sports talent, the history of USAG, the coaching philosophy, and the organization's attempt to divert any reports of sexual assault. A powderkeg documentary with far-reaching implications, Athlete A re-examines America's foundational dedication to winning at any cost.

Bikram: Yogi, Predator, Guru

Bikram Choudhary built a reputation for himself in the United States by leading hundreds of yoga sessions. His altruistic mission gave way to avarice after his guru position made him a celebrity, and he vowed to share his discoveries with the rest of the world. The eccentric yogi used his celebrity to train hundreds of fresh recruits as part of a grueling 9-week training program, forcing himself on some of his students.

Oscar-winning documentarian Eva Orner covers the yogi's history, effect, methods, and celebrity before delving into specific episodes of abuse that plague him now in the eye-opening, riveting, and unsettling documentary, Bikram: Yogi, Predator, Guru. We gather a better understanding of the scenario through interviews, archive news footage, depositions, and in-studio films by way of a documented character assassination, as the title Bikram: Yogi, Predator, Guru suggests.

The Many Avenues, Offshoots and Roles of a Film Critic

Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling has been a film critic since 2007 when he decided to test the extent of his passion for movies by writing a review a day for a year. The experimental challenge proved his undying love for the multi-disciplined art form and led to Spling becoming 2Oceansvibe.com's first guest author after a 14-year stint of writing the weekly featured movie review.

Aspeling grew up watching Barry Ronge wax lyrical about movies on various TV shows and Leon van Nierop on Good Morning South Africa (G.M.S.A.). The blend of art and English made the idea of becoming a movie critic especially enticing but even though Spling watched these South African movie critic luminaries on television, he never in his wildest dreams could've anticipated just how many different avenues and roles being a film critic could and would lead to.

Writing for his blog over a year, the pursuit seemed to be tied up in the written word, so it came as some surprise when Spling considered the idea of broadcasting the spoken word as a radio presenter too. Having reviewed film as Fine Music Radio's resident movie critic over the last decade with 500+ episodes to date, it's been quite the trip. However, Spling's journey initially started as a guest expert interviewee for ad hoc live phoner or regular in-studio interviews for other community and national radio stations.

The Many Avenues, Offshoots and Roles of a Film Critic

Spling's review style proves invaluable to filmmakers, since he doesn't simply slam movies but tries to unpack how the film could have been better. Having advised on the second cut of a film that required some reshoots and fixes, this avenue became more feasible as a creative consultant. One director stated that he'd basically prefer to get Spling's review when he's still got the opportunity to make changes, prompting more developmental work and the origination of script consultancy reviewmyscript.com.

Spling started in his advisory capacity as more of an oversight, viewing the movie as laid out in the script and making creative suggestions from this standpoint. However, as useful as these notes proved to be to filmmakers, it appeared that having a more practical hands-on involvement could be even more beneficial. This prompted Aspeling to complement his experiential knowledge with more practical scriptwriting skills. Serving as a script editor enabled him to not only make suggestions but put them into action. Having honed these skills over a few years, script polishes and rewrites have often turned into full-fledged pursuits as a screenwriter.

Having accumulated a great deal of film reviews via multiple platforms, including SPL!NG, Aspeling became a go-to film writer for numerous online platforms. This proving ground led to Spling writing reviews and film sections for print publications such as The Herald and Techsmart magazine. A columnist for the streaming platform DEOD and a features writer and film critic for The Plum List, Aspeling has come to write articles for Showmax.

The idea of being a resident movie critic took root at Galileo Open Air Cinema for two seasons where Spling identified the Pick of the Week in terms of screenings. His role as a screening host took off when he oversaw the Cape Town leg of the national Movie Buffs initiative via Ster-Kinekor. Following this stint, which even landed a billboard announcing the screenings, Spling hosted a number of other pre-screening events - even his own lockdown online event, Bingeing with Spling.

As a podcaster, Spling has continued to see the conversion of the Talking Movies broadcast to online platforms, whilst heading Confessions of a Movie Critic for a season or two, serving as the host of The Three Wells of Screenwriting. Must Love Movies found Spling hosting interviewees at the 12 Apostles Hotel for a screening and lunch, which was curtailed by the pandemic.

Being a copywriter in his previous job, taking the odd contract from time to time, the jump to writing film synopses was fairly organic. Having done this for a major cinema chain, it also extended to building content calendars and custom campaigns for film promotions via SPL!NG channels.

Spling has experience as a substitute communications and information technology lecturer for CPUT but only really put this into action when called upon to guest lecture for a film school. His involvement with film schools has typically revolved around serving on critic's panels as a judge and speaking at graduation ceremonies but he has also done some work as an invigilator.

Speaking of panels, Spling has been called upon to serve as a panelist for open discussions as part of film festivals. He's also served as a juror for the Encounters Documentary Film Festival and is hoping to do more of this kind of film college evaluation work at international festivals in the future as part of FIPRESCI.

Having reviewed film for over 15 years, Spling decided to turn a selection of movie reviews into a book to ratchet up his first credit as an author. The Essence of Dreams: An Anthology of Film Reviews covers some of the best and most immersive films Spling's reviewed over the years, which is accompanied by sketches inspired by these films.

Having immersed himself in various film roles over the years without slowing down on his primary role as a movie critic, Spling has amassed invaluable experiential learning. More intimately involved in the developmental side of filmmaking, Spling is finding screenwriters and filmmakers are in a space where they can use Spling's aerial perspective to greater effect. This has prompted Spling to further his ambitions as a screenwriter with a view to becoming an executive or creative producer.

So while Spling initially had a very narrow view of where film criticism would take him, he's managed to accumulate a spectrum of film-related roles. This broadening of the horizon remains exciting as Spling checks items off the bucket list and becomes more integral to the actual filmmaking process. Having started on one side of the screen, it's going to be interesting for the movie critic to be on the flipside and have his creative endeavours open to deeper analysis and public scrutiny.

For a fuller picture of Spling's affiliations and various roles over the years, get the lowdown on his film critic adventures via SPL!NG.

Spling Celebrates 10 Years of Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio

Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling has been resident movie critic at Fine Music Radio without missing a week of Talking Movies in 10 years.

The first broadcast of Talking Movies with Spling was on 10 May 2013, which means that it will have been more than ten years by the time of next week's episode. Having commemorated 500 episodes of Talking Movies by making a donation of just as many DVDs to TEARS animal welfare charity stores, Spling crafted a special show to countdown his top 10 favoutie movies of all-time. This made it all the more special to see someone in the checkout queue clutching a Monty Python & The Holy Grail DVD (a title Spling donated), which made #1 on his list.

The 500 consecutive weekly episodes milestone was a significant achievement, having not missed a single week's broadcast, and Spling's pleased to announce that he hasn't missed one week of Talking Movies in 10 years! The show's remained largely the same in its three review format but to celebrate ten years at Fine Music Radio, Spling is opening up the show to the audience by fielding questions to answer in next week's episode.

Having announced the 10th year across SPL!NG social media channels, Spling's hoping to reach fans who may have burning questions for the movie critic or the movie review show. While the film pundit will try to answer as many questions as possible as part of the broadcast, he'll be sure to respond to any and all questions whether they feature or not.

So join Spling in marking the milestone of 10 years of Talking Movies and Fine Music Radio. Being one of the only dedicated movie review radio programmes in South Africa, Spling's made it his mission to enrich the understanding of cinema and expand his audience's love for the art form. Aiming to establish a conversational tone to keep his reviews accessible and relatable without downplaying the writing, Spling's tried to keep listeners informed, entertained and inspired.

Whether listening for his way with words, to get an inside scoop, his unique insights or waiting for him to finally rate something 10/10, this ongoing passion project has run 10 years strong. Spling realises that it may be time to give the time-honoured Talking Movies show a refresh, which is why he's going to be looking to introduce new types of shows in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned for the Q&A broadcast to mark 10 years and look out for Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling's reviews in the digital ether.

Crossing off an item on his bucket list, Spling has recently published a book called 'The Essence of Dreams: An Anthology of Film Reviews' and is hoping to create an audiobook to accompany this project. Also heading up script services consultancy, reviewmyscript.com, Spling is not just talking or writing about movies that have already been made, but helping them reach their full potential in the developmental stages too. So, whether you're only hearing about Spling for the first time or have caught every one of his Talking Movies episodes from the get-go, it's a big thank you.

'Beau Is Afraid' is a Kafkaesque Odyssey

Beau Is Afraid is a dark horror comedy drama starring Joaquin Phoenix from the mind of Ari Aster, a horror aficionado turned director, who's become synonymous with horror. His latest horror injects a welcome dose of comedy, a mind-bending film filled with enough symbolism, riddles and clues to make your head spin.

Ari Aster has made a name for himself as a writer-director on the back of iconic horror films, Hereditary and Midsommar. The grand cult matriarchy of Hereditary conjured echoes of Rosemary's Baby and The Shining as the auteur aimed for the realm of horror masterpiece. While a final flutter almost derailed this edgy and pitch black horror, Toni Collette's brilliant performance and the film's haunting aftereffects are well-documented. Aster also pushed the limits with Midsommar, eliciting a strong performance from Florence Pugh in a devastating cult folk horror to rival The Wicker Man. Presenting the horror in broad daylight, the eerie undertow is still felt, even if the cold light of day presentation may have been a double-edged sword.

The director has ascribed serious impact value, enough to get people talking and make virtually any one of his films an event. This can be said for his latest offering Beau Is Afraid, starring Joaquin Phoenix. Teaming up with Phoenix, whose recent success with Joker has reinvigorated his acting career with a well-deserved and long overdue Oscar for Best Actor, the two have a similar bent. Fiercely committed to delivering excellent films, there's a twinge of irony to the sentiment of the title considering just how fearless these filmmakers are.

Aster's well-versed in horror, making his detour into the avenue of horror comedy curious rather than unusual. Going for edge over humour in Hereditary and Midsommar, his latest movie must serve as a welcome refresh for the film-maker and fans in the insane dark comedy, Beau is Afraid. A Kafkaesque odyssey, our guide is mild-mannered yet anxiety-riddled Beau, who must face his darkest fears on his homeward bound escapade following his mother's untimely death.

Based on the poster, one has to imagine there could be some cross-over with Alex Garland's eerie horror thriller, Men and not far from Charlie Kaufman's I'm Thinking of Ending Things. Both visionary film-makers are compelled by similar unsettling visually-charged stories and are comfortable to confront abstract elements without feeling the need to over-explain. Garland and Kaufman's influences may be slightly more difficult to distinguish than Aster's horror inspirations but all three represent some of the most exciting film-making happening in what's become a heavily-throttled and safe bet Hollywood.

Beau Is Afraid

Having starred in Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, Phoenix is no stranger to strange. He may not have had the opportunity to star in a David Lynch film but his appetite for dark, weird and wonderful makes him a strong choice for directors with a penchant for the darker side of humanity. This explains his affinity for Ari Aster's work and makes their partnership exciting, even if Beau Is Afraid's trailer trades in a bizarre sort of artifice.

Having so much trust in both Aster and Phoenix, their combination is almost enough to bank on in Beau Is Afraid, whatever your thoughts on the outlandishly surreal trailer. This intoxicating treat features the acting talents of Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan and Parker Posey. A cult-friendly ensemble, Lane's involvement automatically spells funny if his filmography is anything to go by. However, under Aster's direction one has to wonder just how warped the film's sense of humour is going to get. One audience member likened the cinema experience and its haunting after-effects as being "punched in the face". So as much as you'd like to prepare for Beau Is Afraid, which releases in cinemas on 5 May, your efforts may be futile.

Book tickets now: Ster-Kinekor / Nu Metro
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