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Is 'Blood Psalms' an African 'Game of Thrones'?

The first two episodes of Blood Psalms, the first Showmax Original fantasy series, are now streaming. Early reviews are glowing, with TVMzansi calling it, “Without doubt, the best TV show ever created in Africa”; film critic Leon van Nierop saying it's “the biggest and most spectacular production of a local series yet” and TimesLive echoing the sentiment that it's “African fantasy at its finest.”

Blood Psalms African Game of Thrones

Set in ancient Africa, the action-packed series follows Princess Zazi (Bokang Phelane) as she battles a world-ending prophecy to navigate her people through ancient curses, long-standing tribal vendettas, and godly wrath. A sprawling story encompassing many tribes in an ancient world with a burgeoning cast, it's easy to see why it's been compared with Game of Thrones.

The fantasy series is epic, something echoed by local entertainment journalists such as TV Plus' Genevieve Terblanche who says "the scope of Blood Psalms is astounding" and that "watching it feels as exciting as being an astronaut exploring new worlds."

"What Jahmil XT Qubeka and Layla Swart have achieved with Blood Psalms is something that will go down in South African TV history books like the Yizo Yizo and Intersexions of the world, series that came and changed the game when folks least expected it," writes Movies And Things With Tha-Bang on TVSA.

Swart and Qubeka were the creative force behind South African Oscar submissions Knuckle City, Sew The Winter To My Skin and Of Good Report, which won seven SAFTAs, including Best Film and Best Director.

Qubeka says he has always been fascinated Africa, the uncertainty surrounding the continent's history, providing a great platform from which to build the world of Blood Psalms. This sweeping action-adventure series is set 11,000 years ago, before the Great Flood, following tribes that moved south, fleeing the disaster that was engulfing Kemet and Kush (northern Sudan). The process of building "a world that doesn't exist" has been a font of creativity for Swart, reiterating that every single costume and piece of the set had to be designed and built from the ground up.

Based on the factions and scale, the show has been called an African Game of Thrones, a title Qubeka gladly accepts with the caveat that their real focus is to "create heroic archetypes for African children", something sadly lacking from the cinema and television landscape right now.

The cast boasts nine SAFTA winners - Bongile Mantsai, Hamilton Dlamini, Hlubi Mboya, Mothusi Magano, S'dumo Mtshali, Siv Ngesi, Thishiwe Ziqubu, Warren Masemola, and Zolisa Xaluva - and features all of your favorites, including Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa to Lemogang Tsipa, Faith Baloyi to Faniswa Yisa, Mandisa Nduna to Niza Jay, Richard Lukunku to Sello Maake Ka Ncube, Thabo Rametsi to Thando Thabethe, Thembikile Komani to Zikhona Sodlaka, and many more.

Radio Reflections: Talking About Movies on Air

As the host of Talking Movies, as part of a movie review programme that has been running for almost 10 years, there are a few things one will pick up along the way. Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling better known as Spling on Fine Music Radio is heading towards 500 episodes of Talking Movies, a milestone considering the Cape Town movie reviewer hasn't missed a single broadcast in 478 weeks and counting...

Radio Reflections

Here are some thoughts and reflections on Talking Movies, the movie review show, and on talking movies on radio... something Spling has done on and off for many years. From getting called up to talk about this week's latest film releases, Spling's Top 5 Movies of the Year, the latest Bond movie, the South African film industry, being a movie critic, film celebrity obituaries or even as a special guest... it's always fun to have your film conversation broadcast far and wide.

The Origins

The Talking Movies segment was adopted at a point in time when Fine Music Radio was seeking a presenter to take over the show after the slot had been open for a several weeks. Connecting with the station at a time when they were eager to onboard a replacement reviewer, Spling stepped up to the plate without much more than a weekly 5-6 minute slot called Talking Movies broadcast on a Friday morning at 8:20am.

There wasn't a format, which gave Spling a good deal of creative license in crafting a weekly episode consisting of three film reviews of titles coming to screen, now showing and available on rental. In its infancy, Spling actually used his notes to create a more spontaneous feel to the segment so that it wasn't too robotic. Over time, he moved from using key notes to formulating a fixed format and script. Nowadays, the "transcript" appears before the recording and makes it easier to ensure everything's there and that there's a good sense of how long each show will run - aiming for a word count of under 1,000 to land close on six minutes. Each episode takes roughly 9-10 hours to create from start to finish.

The Zeitgeist

This introduction to Talking Movies and Fine Music Radio was before the advent of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Showmax - a time when walk-in video stores were in the early stages of their slow and steady decline. DVD was still a contender with Blu-ray trying to establish itself as the go-to optical media product of choice. Netflix was a DVD delivery service under revolutionary digital transformation set to change the industry forever, which prompted such local startups like PushPlay and even DVD vending machines.

The changeover happened so abruptly that its ripple effects were soon felt in South Africa as the video rental store exodus began and faster Internet speeds made it only a matter of months before even the technology behind DVD delivery and vending machines obsolete. Places such as DVD Nouveau continued, aided by their incredible depth of selection with a few die hard video stores dotted around Cape Town. Who would have thought that Spling's "rental" reviews would eventually come to encompass the bulk of his film review segment?

Again and Again

While an avid film fan who turned his lifelong passion into a profession, making the trek through to press screenings two to three times a week is easier said than done. It's so much better to watch a film in the scenario it was designed for and it's even easier to have your arm twisted when the pre-screening comes with a complimentary Coke and popcorn. Admittedly, the Coke turned into soda water but the time commitment and logistics make it difficult to keep up with the demand - even if you live within a few minutes of the screening venue.

Unable to make it into studio at 8:20am on a Friday, it was decided to pre-record Talking Movies. Radio's dirty little secret is that not everything you hear is live on air all the time. There are many interviews and segments that are pre-recorded and edited down to sound better and Talking Movies is one such thing. There's much more control. You can cut out mistakes, lip smacks, odd clicks, stammers and practice getting difficult-to-pronounce words and names right. The beauty of being able to pre-record is in just repeating your line after an error... again and again until you get a good take. The reason it's important to do this is so that you can keep the momentum, remember the intonation and offer a sense of continuity in terms of energy. You get to prepare a show that is to your liking.

Chasing the News

The Covid-19 pandemic forced cinemas to shut their doors and this drove a wedge into the lives of film critics and entertainment journalists who were used to visiting the cinema up to four times per week. Think about it. There were at least three to six films releasing each and every week, most of which came with the promise of a press screening in order to drive traffic and sell more tickets. Since our culture is all about the "toast of the day", the latest film releases are always given more importance and there's no space for yesterday's news - even if we were getting some "new releases" weeks if not months after their international debut (it's cheaper to license the longer you wait).

So, the pandemic was a major shake up, disrupting the lives of movie reviewers who were used to getting film releases served up on a silver platter. For Spling, a film critic whose audience ranges from fanboys to aficionados, the hunt for the right kind of films has always been a challenge. Ideally, he tries to find movies that can appease both arthouse and commercial tastes so that it's not a case of talking to a variety of audiences with their own custom film selection. This would be preferable but almost impossible given the nature of the job and that doing this would eventually run dry if you're constantly after new-ish films.

Is this Thing On?

Having had years of live phone-in movie review interview experience with weekly slots on ChaiFM, 2Oceansvibe Radio, CapeTalk and 702 - it wasn't all that difficult to do Talking Movies. Being able to write a single script and using this as your notes to appease several different call-in scenarios across just as many stations makes absolute sense. The problem is that being a weekly opportunity, this does of course mean one needs to be available and prepared enough not to make a fool of yourself on national radio on a regular basis.

To his credit, Spling was always prepared and even if it involved some last minute prep - even sitting in his car after a screening, there was enough to talk about to keep it entertaining and interesting. Pro tip: cars are reasonable makeshift sound studios if you can't find a quiet space where you are and consider keeping a thick blanket nearby if you really want to optimise your sound. While it's not often spoken about, this under a duvet trick works remarkably well when you're in a bind.

Please Standby

The problem with regular live phone in "what's new at the movies" type interviews is usually a mix of time and remuneration. The time factor is normally not so important. If you're usually at your desk, work in a quiet or manageable sound environment and already have your notes, then you've got the greenlight. The problem sneaks in when you're more on-the-go, have several different hats and have little to no control over your sound environment.

You're basically caught wherever you are, which can prove to be a bit of a challenge when you're nipping out to do an interview between press screenings at a busy mall. The no-pay factor can be mitigated by being able to mention your website as a trade exchange for exposure, but then you're assuming those extra click-throughs are eventually going to lead to more income or jobs somehow. You've got to get a handle and full appreciation of what the foothold's really worth at the end of the day.

Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio started at a time when Spling had two weekly movie review phoner interviews already. One was during the late afternoon ChaiFM drive on Thursdays and the other was on Cape Talk/702's Friday night. While doable, it's quite a thing being prepared to do a five to ten minute interview twice a week. Think about it, you need to have your wits about you, have your notes down, be ready to receive a call, keep a good rapport with the presenter and try not to become infamous overnight week in and week out. What's trickier is the time slot because lets face it, taking an interview on Fridays at 9:45pm means your weekend only starts at 10pm.

Write and Record

So doing a pre-recorded show is so much easier - even though you don't have the rush or excitement associated with the live broadcast, offering your opinions on the latest films and making jokes on air that could go horribly wrong. The other benefit is that you get to sound the way you want to sound. The best thing about pre-recorded shows is that you can do them at your convenience and have a final mix before they air. Having constantly been involved with multi-person interview movie segments, it's actually quite liberating to do all the talking.

Talking Movies has a 5 minute 45 second limit, which is quite long for this broadcast length during weekday shows. This time limit protects audiences from getting bored, switching stations and knowing that the worst case scenario is that things will probably have moved on in a few minutes. While fairly long for a talk segment, it's even longer if you're listening to one voice. The benefit is that the speaker has the floor, won't be interrupted or overpowered by an eager or egotistical interviewer and this allows you to get to say what you really want to say about the films you're reviewing.

Find Your Comfort Zone

These movie interview segments don't usually run much longer than 7-10 minutes, which means that if there's too much banter or dialogue that you tend to offer a fairly superficial review. This can be derailed by the film's theme, cast or other superfluous elements. Radio is obviously entertainment and like television speaking to a broad audience can make the review fairly frothy and geared primarily around infotainment rather than in-depth analysis. This is just part of the trade off. You want to be able to convey authority without becoming overly self-indulgent or too technical. Speaking about the mis-en-scene or cinematography of a film when the audience literally want you to cut to the car chase means you have to read the room.

So, in many ways Talking Movies has been a perfect vessel to review film. What's made the movie review show even more enjoyable for a film critic like Spling, it that Fine Music Radio is regarded as an arts and culture hub. This means he can review movies in such a way that the craft and finesse of the film become important. So important that you won't be mocked (much) but actually encouraged to discuss the finer points and nuances that make and break films. This isn't to say that you're instantly talking in such a way that listeners can hear your nose is up in the air or that you talk over people's heads but that you can review with a degree of freedom.

Read the Room

Having said that, there are still limitations depending on the make up of the audience you're speaking to. For instance and this is generally-speaking, Fine Music Radio is not a radio station for what's referred to as "skiet, skop and donner" (shoot, kick and punch) movies. Anything that's too action-orientated without much in the way of cerebral grounding, tending towards gratuitous sex, blood-letting and ultra-violence is not tolerated. Sadly, many action, superhero and horror movies that focus primarily on spectacle find themselves lumped into this category too.

When it comes to Talking Movies, it's a joy to be able to speak to people about film without talking down to them. Even if the review goes over their heads, it's not so much a case of asserting some form of pretentiousness as it is in encouraging viewers to watch, discuss and wrestle with film more readily. Spling's review style is to point out the good, the bad and even the ugly without becoming irrelevant or preachy - building a case for each film based on both its flaws and merits. Hopefully the show's format and Spling's unique insights have made spending 5-6 minutes a week in his company worthwhile.

The Cast of 'The Devil's Advocate'... 25 Years Later

The Devil's Advocate is a horror fantasy thriller and courtroom drama starring Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron and Al Pacino. Following the shooting star trajectory of Kevin Lomax, a hot shot attorney gets headhunted by a big international law firm in New York where the shadowy founding partner wants much more than his inability to lose a case.

The Cast of the Devil's Advocate - 25 Years Later

Released in 1997, it's quite fascinating to watch the movie a quarter of a century later. Living in an age where people tend to invest any time saved from productivity tools back into work, the themes of The Devil's Advocate still resound. This precarious balance between work and play, career and marriage as well as pride and humility makes this horror thriller more relevant than ever.

While the visual effects are used sparingly, they haven't aged particularly well. Luckily, the film's strange darkly comic undertone softens this somewhat. Consider the "used car salesman" quip from Al Pacino to cue 'Paint It, Black' by The Rolling Stones with the closing credits. Taking place in another paradigm gives it license to bend the confines of reality and the twisty ending signals a thought-provoking and tragic damned if you do/damned if you don't sentiment.

The Devil's Advocate is not a great film but its a surprisingly stellar and enjoyable watch. Stylistic, mysterious and touching on timely issues with thoughtful character interplay, it remains entertaining - trading on some big twists to power home. The undercurrent of sleaze makes sense in a world of constant temptation, so there aren't any surprise there, but the battle for a promising young lawyer's soul does strike at the heart of workplace ethics and family values.

Keanu Reeves

At the time of its release, Keanu Reeves had nothing to do with The Matrix. Known for his roles in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures, the versatile actor was on the rise with hits like Point Break and gathering momentum with roles in films such as Much Ado About Nothing and Speed.

Reeves has had a more recent renaissance with John Wick but The Devil's Advocate came about at a time when the young actor was still becoming a leading actor and force in Hollywood. It's a typically reflective performance from Keanu, who manages to carry the role as Kevin Lomax with energy and flair but not inhabiting it so strongly as to be anchored by it. While Reeves never quite wrangles the Gainesville accent, his intensity and panache do enough to keep things on the burn. It would have been interesting to see how casting A Time to Kill's Matthew McConaughey would have changed things.

Charlize Theron

The Devil's Advocate was released in the same year as Dharma & Greg. One can only imagine this was a coincidence or inspiration that there's an episode where Greg has to sport a sketchy Southern drawl to impress a judge alongside his flower child wife, Dharma. If Reeves is the straight arrow as Greg, his Dharma is Charlize Theron who comes to take on an attention-grabbing breakthrough performance.

At age 22, Theron was only starting to become a film icon at the time of landing the part of Mary Ann Lomax. She modeled before and after a knee injury at a New York ballet academy ultimately sent her on to become a star in Hollywood. Having featured in That Thing You Do and stolen scenes left, right and centre with a supporting role in Trial and Error, The Devil's Advocate was a big step up for the budding actor. While her Southern twang fluctuates as dramatically as her character's growing paranoia, this star-making role showcased the South African beauty, her complete commitment to the craft with a full range performance.

Often outplaying Reeves in a challenging role about the disintegration of a marriage, the two remained on friendly enough terms to rekindle their on-screen chemistry for a similar dynamic about a workaholic in Sweet November.

Al Pacino

There's an intensity to Al Pacino that makes him gravitate towards crime drama with his most memorable turns in Serpico, The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon. Having made a name for himself in this subgenre, it's quite incredible that his first collaboration with another stalwart in Martin Scorsese only happened recently in The Irishman.

Taking place several years after Wall Street and The Firm, The Devil's Advocate has aspects from both movies in creating an atmosphere where an evil mentor and oppressive legal firm fight for a man's soul. The Devil's Advocate is much more pronounced, swathing the familiar trappings of these stories in the fantasy horror genre to offer one of the more contemplative and smart horrors of the '90s.

The role of John Milton is a tricky balancing act, requiring the actor to be level-headed enough not to let the proverbial cat out of the bag too soon. The title and movie poster are a dead giveaway, but the degree to which the idiom is embraced becomes the film's hook as things progressively get worse. Luckily director Taylor Hackford had the presence of mind not to give Pacino a set of prosthetic horns, using a roaring fire and transformative mural in his office to give audiences the idea that what's happening is not just in Kevin and Mary Ann's mind.

Pacino is informed by his famed role as Tony Montana in Scarface. Instead of losing his mind in a drug-riddled inferno only to go down in a blaze of glory, he opts to literally command the inferno as a battle of free will plays out. Uses his demons and sirens to tempt or trick Kevin into infidelity, The Devil's Advocate comes to centre on vanity as Lomax has to choose between career and family.

National Geographic Celebrates the Spirit of Exploration in HD

The National Geographic and National Geographic Wild programming schedule was unveiled with several new natural history series, feature documentaries, and programming stunts will highlight the wonder of the natural world, take viewers on thrilling adventures, and illuminate historical figures who best represent the strength and triumphs of nature.

“The exciting line up of National Geographic programming delivers on our core purpose to tell exceptional stories that ignite wonder and inspiration for people of all ages,” said Christine Service, Senior Vice President and General Manager of The Walt Disney Company Africa. “We can’t wait to bring these wildly entertaining documentary series, feature documentary films and extraordinary natural history shows from the best storytellers in the world to viewers across the continent.”

Spectacular high definition will be available to viewers across the continent for the very first time with a pledge to inspire the explorer in each of us in keeping with National Geographic's 133-year legacy.

September Highlights

In Team Sayari, National Geographic's first locally produced pan-African children's production, viewers will follow a group of young conservationists as they defend Africa from their Sayari basecamp, where they work with Akili, an AI computer shaped like a large DNA helix. The first episode of Team Sayari explores the fascinating ecological relationship between African elephants and bees. Each episode promises adventures and sleuthing tasks, as well as trips to exciting locations across Africa, encounters with fascinating people, and discussions about the need to become champions for conservation.

Secrets of the Crocodile

Special surprise guest Bear Grylls was available for questions around his new celebrity guest adventure series, Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge. Playing mentor to a host of superstars, he believes "adventure is a state of mind". When the beloved survival explorer and fan favourite was asked about which survivalist skills are most important, he said creating fire, being calm, moving efficiently, being resourceful and having a resilient attitude and spirit are tops.

Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge scheduled to premiere on National Geographic. Bear ups the ante by teaching celebrity participants, including Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Simu Liu, Florence Pugh, Rob Riggle and Anthony Anderson, crucial survival skills they must master and then demonstrate in a high-stress situation.

Through the varying seasons throughout the year set in Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Romania, viewers will see a different viewpoint of Europe. When Season 4 of Europe from Above debuts it will include Serbia and Scotland. This lively portrayal of the region and the people who maintain it will show how tradition, engineering, and natural wonders have fashioned this fascinating continent.

October Highlights

We look into AlUla's unsolved secrets and reveal the numerous dramas that took place at this old theater in Lost Treasures of Arabia. This television special explores the city's rich history, stunning natural beauty, and enormous artistic legacy, all of which continue to inspire new generations.

Tut's Toxic Tomb

Prior to Howard Carter's discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, or King Tut as he is widely known today, the world knew nothing about him. In order to better explore the many dimensions of the great Pharaoh's life and legacy, National Geographic will debut Tut's Toxic Tomb, along with library content such as King Tut in Color, Tut's Treasures, and The Golden Pharaoh, on the 100th anniversary of this astounding discovery.

November Highlights

Two delicious programmes will move the adventure from the woods to the kitchen in November. The multi-Michelin star chef and Ironman competitor Gordon Ramsay squares up against individuals closest to him in Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Showdown. This will see him compete against his daughter Tilly in a cooking competition. Then, former navy man Big Moe Cason abandons his favorite foods in favour of an epic trip to find the tastiest foods prepared over an open flame. In World of Flavour with Big Moe Cason, connections between American BBQ and various cultures are examined.

Alaska The Next Generation

Meanwhile, 100 miles south of Atlanta, Dr. Hodges and Dr. Ferguson are two longtime friends who own and operate the Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospital. Between emergency visits to the office and farm calls throughout rural Georgia, the Critter Fixers and their loving staff are constantly bombarded with unique cases only seen in the country.

December Highlights

For the world’s top adventure athletes, the line between triumph and tragedy is sometimes razor-thin. The epic 10-part series, Edge Of The Unknown by Academy Award®-Winning executive producers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, will takes audiences inside the minds of pioneering adventure athletes as they recount the biggest moments of their lives on their journey to perfect their craft.

Access the full National Geographic viewing schedule.
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