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Playbox Brings Game-changing Coaches into Your Living Room


Playbox has just launched in South Africa and offers a kind of entertainment aimed at helping you reach your full potential. The platform has taken inspiration from popular lesson plan formats like Masterclass to compile a series of coaching lessons from experts in their respective fields. Their launch offer entitles new subscribers to a 50% off discount through July and based on their pricing plans, which start from R199 per month, you get a lot of bang for your buck with new coaching sessions in the pipeline.

Ryan Sandes Ultra Marathon RunnerGeared around play as in the title Playbox, these coaching sessions are casual, upbeat and infotaining. Catering for most special interests, there's a course with your name on it, whether you're looking to get pro tips from ultra marathon runner Ryan Sandes, advice on how to position yourself in the music biz with Yvonne Chaka Chaka or steps on how to reach your dream of becoming a stand up comedian with Joey Rasdien.

One-on-one

Taking a personal approach, many of these videos are shot in the coach's living or work space. Getting an inside angle also makes the coaching lessons more intimate with the feel of a one-on-one session, as each personality tends to address the camera. At times functioning like a documentary in introducing each coach and why they're at the top of their game, you get to know who they are, how they got started and what drives them. It's a way for you to become more familiar with some of the stepping stones involved in making your dream job come true.

You got this!

Self-belief is a major factor, having the will power to pursue your dream passionately and that's what many of these local celebrity coaches profess. They needed the chutzpah to get over the first few hurdles and encourage their students to take the necessary steps to follow their lead. Beyond the coach's nod of approval and "you got this" fist bump, the lesson plans are broken down into smaller video segments ranging from 6 to 15 minutes with most checking in at just under 2 hours.

Wax on, wax off

In these lessons, there's time to drill down into the nitty gritty of what it takes to essentially *be* your coach. You'll learn about gear, what to do, what not to do and a bit about the philosophy behind the expertise. While you may watch the videos several times over to glean as much as you can or just for the fun of it, there's also a handy and attractive Playbook PDF for you to download. Print it out, review the course material or just follow the videos on screen share to help you absorb as much insider intel as humanly possible with some practical exercises to drive the lessons home.

Stand Up for Yourself with Joey

Watching Joey Rasdien's course on stand up, the rich insights are accompanied by actual material to give you a feel for the profession with examples. It's incredibly difficult to dissect comedy and still be funny, yet Rasdien's up to the task, injecting many of his own stories into the mix. From accessing your true self, mining material from your own life, mic technique and finding rapport with a crowd, it's a valuable series for stand up comedy, building self-confidence and even just public speaking. The classic red curtains and mic stand set up are totally on point but it would've been nice to see a few more scenarios.

Joey Rasdien Playbox

The on-screen text and cutaways do help with explanations of South African slang, key points and there are some amusing sound effects to accompany the video series. Rasdien's energy is upbeat, fun-loving and his honesty is refreshing, doing much of what he's explaining as a real-time exercise. The rich insights are delivered with warmth and understanding, showing why he's no longer a fund manager but living the dream as a full-time comic. If you want to get some of the nuts and bolts on how to get started in comedy, Rasdien's course is a great launchpad.

The coaches and lesson videos vary quite drastically as evidenced by the ultra marathon runner series with Ryan Sandes. While stand up comedy is all about filling night clubs and theatres, marathon running is all about the great outdoors. Doing more out and about videos, Sandes begins with footage from his pristine home and then branches out to equipment breakdowns, route maps, training and trails.

Using documented archives and newer footage, the videos are vibrant and appealing with candid engagement from Sandes on his own life experiences and what it takes to get through an ultra marathon, both physically and mentally. Yvonne Chaka Chaka gives you the lowdown from her home but it's good to note that while she offers some notes, the Playbox focus is less on the practical aspects of singing and more on what it takes to make it and how to get there.

Meet the Coaches

Other sections include art & design, food, fashion and sport with a number of high profile celebrity coaches in the wings. The Lazy Makoti coaches viewers on iconic local dishes, Tshepo "The Jean Maker" waxs lyrical about fashion, Lucas Radebe talks sporting discipline and Jodi Bieber immerses us in the world of photography.

Yvonne Chaka ChakaAiming to continue adding new courses to the Playbox platform, you can also catch Santie Botha's insights on business, a humanity series featuring Albie Sachs and Lwando Xaso and Maps Maponyane's secrets about managing a career across music and television.

Wish list

Playbox is still brand new and its promising to see the overarching concept in action. The idea for Playbox may have been born over lockdown when professionals were trying to find a way to keep doing what they love. Shooting videos focused on one person was a fantastic way to go and being in a country where education has become more important than ever, it's great to offer these coaching "clinics" on an easily accessible platform where budding artists, entertainers, designers, chefs and sportspeople can get a leg up.

While there are a few things on the wish list probably derived from being spoiled with things like 'Skip Intro' on Netflix, one has to imagine that these will be attended to as feedback arrives and the subscriber base grows. While Playbox doesn't work on Opera browsers currently, this nice-to-have and other minor kinks will probably be ironed out as things go from good to great.

How to watch

The video lessons are pre-recorded (not live), so you can return to watch a series whenever you feel the urge as long as you're actively subscribed. Being under 2 hours, there's enough content to digest and even rewatch. While it's probably best served one or two videos at a time for a bit of self-reflection, there's nothing stopping you from binge-watching or if you're really pushed for time, you can speed up playback.

The bottom line

Playbox is a great concept, modelled on a solid working example in Masterclass, yet available in a much more accessible and homegrown style. Keeping things light means that learning and discovering new insights into your special interests can be fun and the price plans are reasonable enough for you to keep coming back for new courses.

Let's hope that the platform continues to grow and attracts even more of your favourite local celebrities, industry leaders and personalities. Whether it's practical wisdom or a spark of inspiration, this kind of entertainment with a purpose is just the tonic to get South Africans thinking about how they can change their country and the world for the better. Visit myplaybox.co.za to get started!

 
Do We Need Film Critics?


First off, this article is written by a film critic - so there's obviously a frame of reference and a certain slant that you may need to take into account when reading this opinion piece. In this day and age, you've got to question everything you read in terms of where it's coming from, who it's written by and what they're asking of you. So please by all means, be on the alert and don't stop here. Get that magnifying glass out when reading or watching anything!

So back to the title 'Do We Need Film Critics?'. *Spoiler alert* Whether you love or hate them - we do! You'd probably expect something like we need film critics because they watch a lot of movies, have cinema street smarts and serve as film barometers when it comes to getting a level of consistency in terms of opinion. That they help keep filmmakers honest, prevent the slow rot of check box filmmaking, cater for more sophisticated palates, review the non-blockbuster stuff and give indie films much-needed coverage and support when everyone's looking to the juggernaut remake, reboots and fandom empire expansions of the box office.

Do We Need Film Critics?

Okay, all of those things are actually great reasons. The problem is that the concept of a film critic has become a bit stale and has been proliferated by the rise of the sentiment that "everyone's a movie critic". The demographic of your average film critic has not changed with the times and in a word, movie pundits have become a bit irrelevant... an overhang from another era. The stereotypical movie critic is an older white guy who's lost touch with the Average Joe(y) and has developed a special kind of film snobbery that sets him apart from the audience, set far far away in his own lofty farming-on-the-inside-of-a-ping-pong-ball kingdom.

Print media has lost a great many of these toffee-nosed tyrants who were able to expound their pretentious film views without being answerable to anyone other than their overworked editor. Being primarily published in newspapers or magazines, the readership was forced to endure whatever came from up on high and without the Internet... there was very little in the way of competition to reference or sharpen one's own views by way of contrast.

The glorious Interweb brought with it a wave of information, making it possible to get varying opinions quickly and opening up the floodgates to anyone willing to unleash their thoughts upon the world. Blogs, chat rooms, social media... while algorithms are becoming the new gatekeeper, it's so much easier to get your opinion out there... to reach consensus by way of mass rating systems and search.

While this awakening has opened a sea of possibilities when it comes to getting an opinion and minimising the inky power of the traditional critic, it's also created its own set of unique problems. Getting a percentage on Rotten Tomatoes or a rating on IMDb is all good and well but what started as a useful gauge is becoming somewhat problematic.

These meters were prized in the early days but now that they've been institutionalised, the Internet's all-access freedom is actually becoming a hinderance and limitation. Nowadays with these ratings and percentages becoming so powerful and valuable especially in the wake of a film release, the system is open to corruption. The ideals of the earliest days of the Internet expected everyone to be a good neighbour and didn't account for trolls or click farms.

Nowadays these kinds of consensus ratings actually have to devise clever ways to bypass or counter fake ratings and reviews. Having a system where every film is acknowledged and ranked publicly is a problem because users start to use their rating as a corrective tool rather than an objective analysis in order to swing their vote. Seeing the results and being able to easily manipulate them without much accountability, it's no wonder these platforms are being manipulated for giggles, popularity, capital or vigilantism.

Every film is political in nature but becomes even more of a pawn when users are trying to determine it's overall standing against the Top 250 films of all-time according to the Independent Movie Database, especially if it shows much promise. There's no verification to prove you've seen the movie but as a registered user you can vote irrespectively.

Some filmmakers get their cast, crew and family to ratchet up votes in the earliest days of a film's release and even plant amazing reviews. Looking at the breakdown of an aggregated rating, you'll see 10/10 and 1/10 ratings for almost every film. Ranging from well wishes to petty trolling, it's actually the middle range ratings that should eventually hold the most weight since most films fall between a worthless 1 and a timeless 10 if you're working with the SPL!NG-O-METER.

Giving the masses the deciding factor is problematic in determining a film's intrinsic value. If we allowed mainstream audiences to rule absolutely, we'd see even more "roller-coaster" superhero and muscle car speedster movies ad nauseum. This would obviously infuriate and frustrate some high-end directors but if they were honest they'd at the very least admit to it being "a necessary evil". Don't worry, some of them are just jealous.

This isn't a bad thing because these films do have their own level of magic in getting audiences and fans excited about the spectacle of film and even rescuing the very institutions designed to screen the more artful stuff. They rake in millions at the box office and while some directors may question their artistic value in pandering to fan service and satisfaction, they do have merit and their place even if the creative process is more geared around the audience than the artist.

So, while the Internet has created a hive mind... a place where thousands upon millions can have their say... it's also created a lot of clutter. This noise is a mix of agendas and misinformation, which has forced the pure to work even harder and clouded the voice of integrity in the middle. Opening up the floor has made it very quick, convenient and easy to get an opinion. The problem is that there are too many opinionistas in the kitchen.

Having crested on this wave of unlimited information, it's once again settling to the point that real movie pundits or people who have written about the subject long enough are getting more recognition. Countries like China are realising how critical it is to regulate information, especially in light of medicine and science following the Covid-19 pandemic. There are now moves to verify credentials before people are able to shout their mouth off.

This may seem like it's clamping down on freedom of expression but on the flip side having too much freedom can be just as detrimental if bad information is weaponised. This is a pretty dramatic thing to talk about as relates to film but the underlying sentiment should carry... we should give more precedence to the experts.

While movie critics are famously used as an example of people not taking the mantle of creativity but heckling from the sidelines, they are generally more knowledgeable and passionate about the medium and their opinions should naturally carry more weight. Nowadays with a film critic on just about every possible media platform, it does seem as though filmgoers are spoiled for choice.

Opening up the space to everyone with an Internet connection means that anyone is able to cultivate their opinion when it comes to the magic of cinema. This is fantastic news in terms of garnering widespread sentiment and more voices as to what constitutes a great film. Slowly losing the traditional financial model of film critics attached to fixed print publications means that many reviewers are actually in it for love more than the money.

So before you dismiss movie critics as irrelevant, consider all the stuff in the second paragraph and look at them through the lens of the digital age. There are dinosaurs of course but lets hope that the place of the film critic, much like the role of critics and whistleblowers in any industry or realm even, remains robust and steadfast enough to keep our society self-aware and honest enough to constantly aim for greatness.

 
The Paradoxical Emma Thompson


While we hear about Dame Judi Dench all the time, it's not all that surprising to learn that Emma Thompson is also Dame. In keeping with her attitude towards her work, she continues to apply her talent without waiting to be showered by roses. Easily one of the best actors of her generation, her many accolades include Academy Awards, BAFTAs, Golden Globes and an Emmy or two. Who's really counting? It doesn't seem like she is.

Essentially Britain's answer to Meryl Streep, Thompson embodies a strength and vulnerability that makes her a bit of an enigma. This slow-burning unpredictability fuels her dramatic performances and keeps us guessing when it comes to comedy.

The Paradoxical Emma Thompson

Thompson was born in London to actor parents and while studying at Cambridge became a member of the Footlights troupe alongside Hugh Lawrie, Stephen Fry and Robbie Coltrane. Collaborating with husband, actor and director Kenneth Branagh in what has been described as the "British cinematic onslaught" in the '90s, the two collaborated on such films as Henry V, Dead Again, Peter's Friends and Much Ado about Nothing.

In 1992 she achieved worldwide recognition by winning an Academy Award for her performance in Howards End, following this up with a dual nomination for The Remains of the Day and In the Name of the Father. One of a handful of actors to manage this feat, she is the only person in history to win Academy Awards for both acting and writing, thanks to her screenwriting work on Sense and Sensibility, one of the most popular and authentic adaptations of Jane Austen's novels directed by Ang Lee.

Thompson has developed a fine reputation for her dramatic performances, embodying an intelligent, observant, quiet and willful fortitude. Her earliest performances and accolades speak to her establishment as a serious actor, best known for Sense and Sensibility, Saving Mr. Banks, The Remains of the Day and Love Actually. However, she has a much lighter side to her canon of work as evidenced by roles as early as playing a goofy doctor opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito (a crucial part of an earlier adaptation of Matilda) in the concept comedy, Junior.

Moving away from leading roles to adopt more supporting performances in the late '90s, Thompson lent her voice to Treasure Planet before slowly reintegrating herself into Hollywood. Playing opposite Alan Rickman once again in Love Actually, the heartwarming Richard Curtis Christmas classic continues to remind us of her tremendous acting abilities with a heart-wrenching and deeply moving turn.

After relaunching her career, Thompson turned to the world of fantasy with a recurring role in Harry Potter as Prof Sybil Trelawney and as Nanny McPhee in the family comedy based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand. As screenwriter, she was able to craft an anti-Mary Poppins, playing a governess who uses magic instead of a spoonful of sugar possibly inspired by echoes of that "Scary Mary" retrailer.

Playing supporting roles in the odd drama, Thompson's acting career leaned into fantasy with the Men in Black series, Stranger Than Fiction, Brave, Beautiful Creatures, Dolittle, Cruella, Beauty and the Beast and now set to play Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.

Often playing doctors and glorified cameos, even serving as a narrator from time to time, her varied career has a humility to it, bowing to the work and able to act in almost any capacity without tripping over her own ego. This counterpoint made her performance as Catherine Newbury in Late Night a delightful antithesis and inside joke. While tending towards the periphery in an attempt to downplay her stature, it's still an absolute pleasure to see her take up more screen time including roles in films such as The Children Act, Saving Mr. Banks and even Last Chance Harvey.

Prone to self-deprecation and maintaining that trademark mix of vulnerability and strength, she had the audacity to essentially dress like a parrot for her appearance on the Graham Norton Show. A real statement and spoof, trying to connect her outfit with her role as Poly in the subpar Robert Downey Jr. family-friendly adventure Dolittle, her seesawing between drama and comedy over the years means that people have lost their read on the great actor.

The beloved Roald Dahl book turned stage show 'Matilda' featured an iconic and militant headmistress in Miss Trunchbull. Creating an imposing villain, Dahl spared little mercy in crafting a nightmarish mountain of a woman to cast a long shadow and menacing atmosphere at Matilda's school. An audacious move, Emma Thompson has been cast to play this role, which will give her another opportunity to immerse herself in the world of fantasy. Early images have drawn some controversy over the use of a "fat suit", which enhances her character's intimidation factor and scale.

While Thompson has led a well-respected, illustrious and curious acting career, one thing's for sure, it's always a pleasure to see her perform whether chiming in with a brief uncredited surprise role as a doctor or leading from the front. Our deep respect for the actor may muddy the waters when it comes to seeing the lighter side of Emma Thompson but with time and enough poking fun at herself, there's no doubt that we will have a much fuller understanding of her paradoxical brilliance.

 
John and the Hole Truth

John and the Hole is a psychological thriller starring Charlie Shotwell, a directorial debut for Pascual Sisto from Birdman's screenwriter, Nicolás Giacobone. The title sounds a bit clunky but don't let it fool you, this isn't any ordinary film. You'd think that based on the young actor and title it's the equivalent of little Timmy who got stuck in the well but that would be a stab in the dark.

The truth is that John and the Hole is actually a surprisingly artful thriller that plays like a mix of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Don't Tell a Soul. The "Kevin" aspect is quite obvious as the film progresses, channeling seriously creepy vibrations from what could have turned into a school shooter into something equally unsettling as cold, calculated and psychotic precision unfurls. The gloomy Rainn Wilson thriller Don't Tell a Soul also hinged on a young actor and dealt with a similar situation where a perpetrator becomes a warden to their hostage(s).

John and the Hole takes its time, using many extended shots to compose an otherwise peaceful situation where a wealthy family's estate becomes their prison as a domestic situation turns dramatically sour. The school shooter element comes through in the sense of pointlessness that belies the act and while not immediately violent shows a cold-blooded side to the character. Casting Michael C. Hall who's best known for playing Dexter in the iconic serial killer series is a masterstroke. Playing a distant father, the blood red apple doesn't drop far from the tree as son of Dexter rises up. It's less a blood lust and more of an apathy that dictates this undercurrent, which centres the audience on the wayward son.

Following a little creep who recalls the film Thumbsucker but actually comes from Captain Fantastic, The Nightingale and The Glass Castle, it's quite a responsibility for Shotwell. Keeping the dialogue fairly sparse, there's not too much heavy lifting and trying to go for a more naturalistic edge and spontaneity, his performance and styling make for an unsettling character portrait. He's not as likeable or charming as a McCauley Culkin and the film's not as accessible as Home Alone but these choices are very intentional. Not knowing John's true motivations helps keep a sense of intrigue as we too like his family ponder why he's doing it and what his true intentions will finally reveal.

John and the Hole

An elegantly shot production destined, John and the Hole counterbalances the sleek lines of a modern mansion against its lush natural environment and dilapidated bunker. Mucking about at home without any supervision, John gets a chance to bask in the privileges of being an adult. Offering a perspective on medicated America, there's a strange numbness to his actions as he himself starts to believe his family are just away for a while. This provocative concept keeps John and the Hole edgy as audiences wonder just how eerie and haunting Giacobone will allow the psychological thriller to become.

Teasing at possibilities, the outcome is much tamer than one would expect, diverting expectations but also serving as an anti-climax. Taking so much time to offer a slow-burn and slow-build of suspense, one would expect something much more sinister. John and the Hole's resolution has its own haunting quality that will linger with more question marks around a subplot but apart from some majestic moments, the net result is that it feels like it falls short of its true potential.

Not every film has to be predictable or violent and perhaps there's something to be said for the viewer's own blood lust in this instance where there's almost a disappointment in John following through like his tennis coach would have him do 300 times. While the darkness threatens to run amok, it's strange how our judgement of the boy's deranged behaviour isn't actually as far removed from our own as we would like to believe. John and the Hole may get more in-depth analysis and credit depending on where Sisto's career takes him but right now the feeling is that it underdelivers on promises - especially after dangling such a creepy-looking carrot.

 
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