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How Spling Became A Movie Critic...

Spling has been reviewing film since 2007, but what led him to want to become a movie critic? Check out Spling's Confessions of a Movie Critic podcast for a breezier version.

When kids are asked what they want to be when they're older... most will say something cool like astronaut, pirate or pro wrestler. I wasn't quite that young when I decided "movie critic" but it's a pretty far-fetched idea to think that you could say you "watch movies for a living". Now years into the dream job, I'd still love to say "I watch movies for a living".

Everyone seems to automatically think this is all it takes, but nowadays more than ever, there's no set financial model for a movie critic. Gone are the days when your affiliated publication would cover your contribution to the paper. With entertainment sections shrinking and syndication thriving, it's more about belting out content than delivering thoughtful opinion. Movie critics have to carve their own path or be subjected to a general entertainment job title like showbiz ninja.

Before it gets too depressing, it was probably Barry Ronge who inspired Spling to want to become a film critic. The famous bearded film critic and entertainment journalist featured on TV art and talk shows, radio and had his own magazine column. An iconic and easily recognisable public figure with a trademark waistcoat, he was prolific, respected and entertaining even if you didn't entirely agree with his estimation of films. His gift of the gab, the way he wrote reviews and his multi-pronged fame made him an influential figure.

Watching and pontificating about film seemed like a great idea to Spling, whose favourite subjects were Art and English. The profession essentially centred on reviewing many art forms, which came together to form a single illusion. The illusion of film, similar to the art of magic, required careful suspense of disbelief and sleight of hand to immerse an audience in a dream state. Who wouldn't want to be able to slip in and out of dreams all day?

Spling's art history helped steady his art marks through school, writing essays based on the artworks featured during the art class slideshows. Unpacking the artist's meaning, the medium's efficacy, the material and the method enabled him to flex both his creativity and analytical side in piecing together an argument. Since English and creative writing were another favourite aspect of his education, Spling loved deconstructing a creative work through reasoning.

While he hardly ever read any of the set work books besides Lord of the Flies right through university, he was still able to wrestle with the themes and use external references to build a decent essay. Perhaps the dense writing of Passage to India and The Great Gatsby put him off the whole idea of novels. Having been a keen reader of Douglas Hill, Roald Dahl and Willard Price up till the age of 15, perhaps the academic works were a bit too boring. After all, he was that kid who would almost always pick page-turners like Asterix and Tintin from the local library.

Graduating from high school with academic honours based on his marks for Art and English, the presumptuous and premeditated photo of the year's glut of prospective honours students had to be trashed. They didn't have mad Photoshop skills back then and inserts and exclusions would've made it look like a nasty scrap book. It seemed like a bit of a fluke, especially when you consider mathematics, but Spling applied himself in his matric year working out a disciplined exercise, napping and study regime.

While Spling opted to do a bachelors degree in the Film, Media & Visuals Studies stream at UCT, it was only years later that he truly committed to film. Having muddled his way through a possible business information systems Masters in the productivity enhancement of speech recognition software, he quickly realised that without a proper supervisor it wouldn't be possible. This led Spling to accept a job as a copywriter to pursue a more creative role.

He had acrylic paints and an easel to continue his artwork after school, but he wanted to make it more than a hobby. Writing creative copy wasn't a bad option to leverage that creative energy and after coming up with catchy product names, mailers and overseeing some of the creative from art work to sound - he changed course. Working from home he was able to ply his skills elsewhere. Reviewing a film a day for a year, Spling started renting movies and writing at his blog, spling.co.za.

'The Unfamiliar' Drops First Trailer

Henk Pretorius is the South Africa film-maker who brought us Bakgat, Fanie Fourie's Lobola and Leading Lady. His latest film, The Unfamiliar, sees him shifting focus onto a brand new genre in horror. While best known for comedy, the gear change has seen the director wrestling with what makes people love horror. Tapping into the horror family, the film's first trailer has landed and promises to be an unsettling immersion into Hawaii's ancient culture and secrets. Take a look for yourself...

When a British army doctor returns from war to rekindle her relationship with her estranged family, strange things start happening in her house. Her husband believes she's suffering from PTSD but Izzy militantly pieces the daunting puzzle together to reveal a terrifying, invisible enemy that has infested her household.

The chilling horror mystery thriller stars Jemima West, Christopher Dane, Rebecca Hanssen, Rachel Lin and Harry McMillan-Hunt. Spling discussed The Unfamiliar with Henk - check out the interview.

The Unfamiliar will release on 21 August 2020 with Vertical Entertainment in North America, followed by Lionsgate UK (digital) in the United Kingdom on 11 September 2020 and by Filmfinity just in time for Halloween in South Africa on 28 October 2020.

Chill, Binge and Cringe... Netflix's Greatest Original Hits

We're talking about Netflix's Top 10 most watched originals based on views in the first four weeks. When they refer to views they mean even if someone just clicked on the title and watched for a few seconds that still counts. So if you didn't manage to get to the end of a film like The Irishman and only managed to get a few minutes in, that counts.

Netflix is priding themselves on their original movies and has been spending a lot of money on getting heaps of original content. This is so that they actually hold the complete license to that content. It's not just filler, even though a lot of the films are kind of middling... it's to have something if all of their licensed content were to revert back to the originators. In other words, they want to be able to provide their own tailormade content so that you subscribe to something if all else fails. This may just be a fall back guarantee so that after a couple years when a license eventually returns to its nest, they have their own streaming content to showcase.

So in reverse order at number 10 is The Perfect Date. It's a romcom all about a guy who's realising that he can create an app to essentially become a professional boyfriend. It's an interesting idea when you consider the notion of there being an app for everything, which also taps into the entrepreneurial spirit. Romcoms are usually a safe bet so it's not surprising to have one in the most-viewed list.

At number 9 is The Platform. Many still have to see this but it's an excellent horror film. It's quite interesting because this one had about 56 million views and it's a foreign film with subtitles, which makes its Top 10 placement even more impressive. Beyond cracking a top spot, the concept and quality of the film managed to spread like wildfire. They probably had a substantial marketing push behind it as with many of their other original titles, but this one really has won against the odds and works on a number of "levels". You'll see...

At number 8 is The Wrong Missy. Everyone wants a David Spade comeback because he's been around... he's part of Hollywood history with some interesting outings as the lovable fool, Joe Dirt, as a sidekick to Chris Farley in Black Sheep and who can forget Finch from Just Shoot Me. Unfortunately, The Wrong Missy is not the movie that was going to signal his comeback but it is showing that he's got some serious pop culture capital.

At number 7 is Triple Frontier. It's the guy from The Office and he's huge! John Krasinski is now very much a part of the Hollywood machine with films like A Quiet Place and the sequel coming out. He's a great act, is very charming and it's cool to see him up there. It certainly doesn't hurt that he's married to Emily Blunt.

At number 6, The Irishman. These guys have still sorta got it! Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci you know these guys are luminaries when it comes to gangster films in Hollywood. I was really shocked to hear that this is the first time Al Pacino is working with Scorsese since they've both been in Hollywood for decades and for them not to have crossed paths seemed like a crazy thing to happen.

A lot of Oscar hopes were dashed on this film. The Irishman is one of the biggest kind of Oscar losses when you consider it was nominated for 10 Oscars and went home empty-handed. I thought that actor Robert De Niro did a great job. His movement could have been a little bit better with him playing such a wide range of ages. I really enjoyed this film and even at three hours I thought it was terrific and a little bit sad they didn't pull any Oscar gold on the night. It was great to see a return to form for Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It's one of those films on a streaming platform that should have actually gone into cinema for a limited release. The Irishman is one of those those game-changers that will affect how we see the streaming industry when it comes to Oscar nominations. They've obviously proved their worth and their mettle with films like Roma already but The Irishman was a chance for Scorsese to put his hand up and show his stuff. He was able to have the liberty to make the movie he really wanted to make so I really love that film and I'm glad that it's in the Top 10. Even though most people probably would've adopted that meme where it broke the film down into several episodes rather than having to watch it in one go...

At number 5, Murder Mystery. Whodunnit's are back! We've got Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston who were a great team in Just Go with It and it's cool to see them doing something again. It's popularity also signals that people are interested in murder mysteries. Knives Out was a great film with Daniel Craig really turning up the heat on that one. Murder Mystery just shows there's a spark of interest in that kind of genre again. I've seen a lot of '80s stuff being remade and maybe it's because the filmmakers who were kids and influenced at the time are now actually wielding enough power relive their childhood through nostalgia. It's an interesting cycle.

At number 4, we've got 6 Underground. Ryan Reynolds knows Deadpool. He's a charming actor who's come through the ranks of comedy but has realised there's still a place for him in action comedy. 6 Underground made it seem like Michael Bay was trying to put together a new kind of franchise in the vein of Fast and Furious, which is still going strong and shows there's a market, even though they're gravitating towards becoming James Bond meets Hot Wheels based on the most recent entries.

Ryan Reynolds is fun to watch in just about anything and I think Deadpool's definitely converted him to the other side of the spectrum when it comes to action. He broke ground in the superhero world as Green Lantern and got some experience as a superhero playing Weapon X in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. So he's always been nipping at the edges but now we can say that he's completely graduated. 6 Underground is over-the-top, brash, colourful and excessive - the kind of film as we've come to expect from Michael Bay. It seemed like there was a lot of hype but it didn't have much follow-through.

Then at number 3, Spenser Confidential. In Mark Wahlberg we trust. This guy is an everyman who's been in so many different films. He's committed to his roles and the kind of guy you'd want to grab a beer with... so accessible. He's a great guy and we believe that and are just happy to spend two hours with him in just about anything. Whether he's dealing with a talking bear in Ted or trying to save people from an explosive oil rig in Deepwater Horizon, he's the man and it's wonderful to watch any Mark Wahlberg film these days. You know you're in for at least a 6 going 7/10 kind of experience. The angle with the Transformers was a misstep, possibly an attempt to save that whole franchise from Michael Bay's quest for CGI overload because it's just become even more over-the-top in recent years. But it's Marky Mark, right?

At number 2, is Birdbox starring Sandra Bullock. It's a surprise hit but not really all that surprising since it followed closely in the wake of another sensory high concept horror in A Quiet Place. Sandra Bullock is a phenomenal actress and that obviously drew a lot of interest for this film. Using blindfolds, there's a similar sensory thing at play to A Quiet Place and it got a lot of publicity because of the concept and a great trailer. Unfortunately, it really didn't follow through and felt as though they were setting up for a TV series and then salvaged it by turning it into an open-ended film. I don't know where they are with a sequel but it was ultimately underwhelming, despite a good start. Birdbox had an interesting premise and was quite edgy in its own way but got a bit muddled at the end of the day.

At number 1, Chris "Killsworth" in Extraction. Hemsworth is best known for his role as Thor and he's got a lot of draw as a result. Extraction has been compared to John Wick with Keanu Reeves, another film with a lot of kills. John Wick could be described as gun ballet based on the action choreography and echo of Matrix gunplay. Extraction works on a similar level of excessive violence with a really high body count.

Overall these blockbuster films are quite mixed and interesting in terms of going from The Irishman, which is three hours and a gangster epic to an overcooked lightweight comedy like The Wrong Missy with David Spade. It does show you that many entries are not necessarily of a high standard and many people still make their viewing decisions based on big stars. So star power is alive and well on Netflix and the streaming world. Obviously massive marketing campaigns behind these productions help because you've got a captive audience checking into their Netflix home screen on a regular basis.

You're always going to be able to push the next big thing to them and this has a major bearing on what people decide to watch. All of these titles would have appeared on your home screen at some point and who knows how they adjust the weighting of each of their originals when it comes out? Garnering millions of views, Netflix is really changing things up and you can also see this in terms of older films that didn't get a proper airing essentially getting a "new release" roll out. It reinforces the idea that we're actually just overwhelmed with entertainment content these days when many viewers don't even get a chance to realise they've missed a film release.

Spling Interviews Francis Annan and Tim Jenkin on 'Escape From Pretoria'

Spling recently had the pleasure of interviewing Escape from Pretoria writer-director Francis Annan and the man who inspired it all - Tim Jenkin. Conducted and recorded via video conference, Spling was able to get some of the nitty gritty details of what went into making the film and living the story.

Escape from Pretoria recently premiered on TNT Africa, a prison break thriller that tells the remarkable true story of Tim Jenkin. An anti-apartheid activist, Jenkin was incarcerated at Pretoria Central Prison... known as "white man's Robben Island" at the time. He and Stephen Lee were working for the ANC distributing propaganda in a bid to topple the apartheid regime. After being arrested and imprisoned, Jenkin began work on a meticulous escape plan. One of the greatest true jailbreak stories of all-time, it defies expectations with a story that could have inspired MacGyver and The A-Team, two popular TV series that followed only a few years later.

Jenkin documented his amazing story in a gripping and equally meticulous autobiography 'Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison', which is being re-released by Jacana Media with the film's title. This book formed the basis for a long-awaited adaptation that almost didn't happen when the filmmakers were confronted with relocating the entire production to Australia or not doing it at all. At this point, writer-director Francis Annan had joined the project and was interested in translating what he believed to be a "visually dominant" story to screen.

While Escape from Pretoria has been criticised by South Africans for its iffy accents and international casting decisions, the film has received rave reviews around the globe. Topping the box office in Korea, it's the powerful story, Jenkin's genius and Radcliffe's determination that underwrite a masterclass in suspense. Using a compelling soundtrack, crisp sound design and crafting some tense moments around the escape plan, Annan uses his feature film debut to showcase his ability. While it starts off with a few awkward moments, it quickly gets into gear as soon as the prison break thriller dynamic clicks into place like key in a lock.

From this point, you're hooked and the superficial flaws cease to matter turning in an exhilarating and important story about a man committed to a much greater overarching cause. Putting the needs of others ahead of yourself is not natural and this heroic sense of altruism at the heart of Escape from Pretoria gives it a purity and raw power.

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