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'Monster'... Twenty Years Later

Charlize Theron is one of the best actors working today. Fiercely independent, she's commanded fear and respect more than charm and likability, injecting much of her personal verve into her roles - often an extension of her own convictions. This resonance has made her film career curiously political as her performances have become vehicles for change as well as entertainment. Living with purpose and picking roles for their ripple effect with just as much intention, it's no wonder she's become such a force and influence in Hollywood.

Monster... Twenty Years Later

Twenty years ago, Monster was the performance that changed Theron's film career, a landmark role that underscored some of the hypocrisies of the star system and its long enduring legacy. A place of double meanings and standards, it's not all that strange for Theron to only get acknowledged for her true talents without her Helen of Troy visage getting in the way. While you could argue that this prosthetic "mask" made it easier for her to be Aileen Wuornos, the nuances of her performance became more noticeable, undeterred by our culture's insatiable magpie appetite for beauty and symmetry. Before Hirokazu Kore-eda's Monster drama from Japan vies for quintessential name rights, it's worth taking a look at the after-effects of Theron's pivotal role.

Once you win an Oscar, the ultimate recognition for an actor, there's not all that much more to accomplish in that silo. This mirage is what keeps many high profile actors in a never-ending pursuit of the statuette. It could be the reason the Academy kept the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese hungry, hoping to unearth a miracle before the just-give-them-a-damn-Oscar-already pressure got to them. Unfortunately, for some... it's also cause for reckless abandon, tending towards pay days and using the Oscar winner flag to tentpole forthcoming attractions.

Thankfully for Charlize, this was not the case. A consummate professional, she wasn't content to rest on her former glories, chalking the Oscar up in the win column. Instead of seeing this lofty red carpet moment as the height of her film career, she saw this trophy as license to go after bigger and better roles. Since 2003, Theron has been more concerned with the long game... leaving a reputable body of work in her wake. Admittedly, there have been a few hiccups along the way, but even in playing Cipher in The Fast and the Furious 8, she commands dignity, refusing to phone it in and probably retaining a great deal of sway in signing on to such a juggernaut of a franchise.

She's amassed many excellent and unforgettable performances over the years, typically taking on a producer role in the process. Among her finest outings are Tully, Bombshell, North Country, Mad Max: Fury Road and Snow White and The Huntsman. This is testament to her versatility, able to span multi-genre films without flinching and delivering performances that would have got more recognition if it weren't for the genre stigma. Once a purist who actively avoided the concept of a sequel, Theron's changed tack in recent years with sequels lined up for Atomic Blonde and The Old Guard.

It took Theron twenty films before she landed her coveted Oscar and while she's come close to adding another award to her collection with Oscar nominations for North Country and Bombshell, it seems more than unfortunate that her talents haven't been acknowledged more. Snubbed for transformative performances in Tully and Mad Max: Fury Road, even her complete reinvention as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell wasn't enough. Curiously, Theron's leaning into more action-intensive physical roles - possibly to prove she's still got it. Arguably, the Queen of Film, it will be interesting to see how she fights systemic prejudice or reinvents her acting career going into her 50s. As a producer, it seems as though Theron will happily continue to back and/or star in projects that appeal to her for many years to come.

The Popcornification of Hollywood

If Barbie and Oppenheimer showed us one thing it's that we need to get more excited about movies. Both box office success stories, much of their overwhelming domination can be attributed to capturing the public's attention. News is often attached or tailored to what's trending and being talked about, so it follows that these movies would've attributed much more press coverage. Beyond the celluloid, the movies had lives in the media, sensational in the way they summoned up anticipation and mostly followed through on expectation.

Using their same-day release as a clever marketing gimmmick, what could have been fierce competition for viewers turned into a shared drive to see both films generate opening weekend hype and ultimately succeed. It's easy to see how the films didn't really pose much threat to each other with a marked difference in target audiences and the hope of piquing enough interest to warrant cross-pollination.

Popcornification of Hollywood

Coming from Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan, now both event film-makers, the double feature proved to be a smash hit... showing that there's an appetite for big concept art films outside of the cinema. Wearing pink and championing the Barbie movement made Barbie more than just a movie. Perforating the pop culture bubble, nostalgia played a big role in its revival with a long build-up in the wake of that Margot Robbie as Barbie first look. Having been in the pipeline for close on a decade, the suspense must have been killing just about everyone attached to it.

This is to say that cinema needs more of these kinds of event movies in order to reclaim the ground lost over the pandemic years. Big ideas, spectacle and enough excitement to loosen tongues and inspire audiences is what's required to reinvigorate movie-watching. While the Marvel universe, Fast and Furious and Top Gun sequel have played their part in keeping cinemas alive, it's not enough. Superhero fatigue, overlong franchises, one hit wonders and the popcornification of properties are not enough to sustain the industry. As much as we repackage, reboot, spin-off, remake or hear upper echelon auteurs complain... the spark of inspiration seems to be missing, making us realise just how much we miss it when something truly captivating sweeps us up.

It's easy to understand how the movie business has become more about the bottom line and more averse to gut feels and uncalculated risk. Perhaps our reporting systems have just become too refined, not fudging the facts enough for one or two studio execs to roll the dice on threat of their heads on dark horse or knife's edge movie ideas. Latching onto pre-existing fandoms, activating dormant products and remarketing has become so much easier than "reinventing the wheel". Maybe... just maybe it's time for more tax-incentivised productions to emerge with nobler intentions. How do we get the money to the film-makers who have the passion and integrity to deliver? Why isn't there a film body whose intermediary role is to connect people with money to those wanting to make great films?

The French take a percentage of each ticket sold and reinvest it into their film industry, which is a great way to ensure that the art of film has more chance of survival. Unfortunately, reversing the process and giving the people exactly what they want may actually be bad for the industry and eventually mind-numbing for the audience. On the back of soulless cookie-cutter Netflix movies like Red Notice and burgeoning superhero franchises, the arena is becoming overstuffed with films that exist to simply satisfy instead of challenge. Style is getting precedence over substance and this popcornification is not leaving much breathing room for art, up-and-coming film-makers, independent gems and next generation stars.

Beyond buying a movie ticket for films that matter, it's incumbent upon us to convert our excitement into word-of-mouth campaigns. To paraphrase a quote from Cloud Atlas, an enterprising film going in the right direction, you may be a drop in the ocean... but isn't the ocean a multitude of droplets? Champion the entities that don't have the marketing budget to speak to the world in order to get more of the movies you like.

Much like the idea of clean energy, the more you support it and vote with your butt, the more commercially viable and accessible it becomes to all. As insulated as we've become in our social media silos, the movie experience and film industry needs you to get excited about the stuff you like. The blockbuster franchises have enough momentum, so now's the time to get behind local productions and fire up independent releases. You may only think you're a Tom Thumb firecracker... but it's time to make some noise.

Do We Still Need Movie Trailers?

This is a bit of a tricky topic to cover. Are movie trailers still necessary? The short answer is 'yes'. Movie trailers are essential to a film's marketing campaign and form a major prong in a film promotion's getting the word out there. A teaser for adoring fans to write blog posts or salivate over the details and reveals, it's become a precursor to the big superhero movie releases in recent years. While it may sell the blockbusters with a sneak peek or promise of what's to come, movie trailers also enable smaller independent releases to get the word out there about original films where there's no point of reference.

do we still need movie trailers

The problem with trailers is that they often give away too much of the story or spoil the best moments. As a film critic who often attends press screenings where there aren't any trailers, it's actually quite easy to avoid these kinds of spoilers. Watching the film trailer often sets expectations, which can add some prejudice to the actual movie-watching experience. Watching from a blank slate, you get the full extent of the vision for the film, allowing every moment to land with maximum impact value.

Often movie trailers include clips that weren't used in the final product, which can also be misleading. This can be in a bid to complete a fuller picture of the trailer's concept, simply use cutting room footage that's worth saving or to serve as a red herring by throwing the audience off in a bid to keep the film experience fresh. There are many tactics employed in the making of a trailer depending on what angle needs to be pushed or disguised. Often it's what you're not seeing that becomes most telling.

Trailers are essentially adverts, which means they're obviously going to portray the film in the best possible light. This means that whoever's cutting the trailer is going to accentuate the best moments, edit in such a way to improve comedic lines and allow the movie to put its best foot forward to create hype and instill curiousity. Much like advertising, this can result in misrepresentation, improving the sense of pacing... redirecting the actual genre territory or even making a depressing or unfunny film seem less so in order to get more people through the doors.

The proof is in watching the film and finding out how it measures up to your initial expectations based on the trailer. While it takes a while for the movie to unfold and give you a sense of its essence, there's inevitably a snapshot of how the original trailer made you feel or how it registered in terms of your excitement for the movie itself. It's already too late if you're having any misgivings as the opening credits roll and even worse if you're watching the closing credits scroll up. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were more trailers like the one from the live-action Cinderella?

A movie trailer has a number of functions. As a sampler, it's a quick way for audiences to see if they connect with the film or story beyond the point of who's starring. As an announcement, it also signals a film's imminent release in the build-up typically highlighting the date it hits cinemas or streaming platforms. Nowadays films have even been known to release the first 10 minutes of a movie as the fullest expression of their confidence, allowing the viewer to be drawn into the film without all the gimmickry and smoke-and-mirrors showmanship a trailer magician can conjure up.

While we still need them, the rise of streaming platforms has lessened the importance of a movie trailer. Having a captive audience, these services are able to do a great deal of in-house marketing without having to rely on trailers in their traditional form. Netflix's home screen will notify viewers of big release dates by pushing these films front of house. Automatically playing a scene to give subscribers the big idea, it's almost unnecessary to throw up a full-blown trailer in order to rope viewers in.

Cinemas are known for throwing up a few forthcoming attraction trailers in the build-up to the main feature. An opportunity for a range of advertising for audiences to get into movie-watching mode, it can be fun to see what else is coming to a cinema near you. Not having the luxury of being plugged into your living room, this is an opportunity for remarketing of the movie experience, enabling a full-blown sample of what they can expect without having to pay admission.

So it really comes down to the context and the eye of the beholder. For some, trailers would be better served to give a hint of what's to come rather than spilling the beans while others will relish the rush of getting a 2 minute foretaste. Your local movie house needs to hit you while you're in the dark while streaming platforms have more contact points. One thing's for sure, we're living in a time where there are so many different contact points across the media spectrum that it's sometimes difficult to know just which ones to target. Maybe physical media and things can billboards are going to be making a comeback on the crest of 3D visualisations.

Talking Movies Is Now Also on MFM 92.6

Stephen "Spling" Aspeling, the host of the long-running film review radio programme Talking Movies on FMR 101.3, is pleased to announce that his show is now being broadcast on Stellenbosch campus radio station, MFM 92.6. Talking Movies is a weekly show that features reviews of movies on circuit, streaming, on-demand or at festivals.


A well-known and respected film critic and entertainment journalist, Spling and his show have been praised for its reviews, insights and ability to give listeners a succinct overview of films worth seeing. Talking Movies on Fine Music Radio is a popular programme with a loyal listenership on a radio station regarded as a bastion of arts and culture in Cape Town. Having broadcast over 500 episodes in 10 years, Spling recently changed the three-review formula to make Talking Movies more versatile, adapting the show to cover timely films, specific movie themes or film events in more depth and without a fixed format.

Wanting to reach even more people, Spling has syndicated Talking Movies to MFM 92.6. Based in Stellenbosch, the home of Stellenbosch University, MFM is a 24/7 youth-orientated radio station covering a radius of 20km to an audience of 35,000. One of the last campus radio stations, MFM broadcasts a variety of music genres and features a number of talk shows and news programmes, covering local and international news and events. Spling is excited to be able to share his film review show with this new audience. Talking Movies will air on MFM 92.6 on the Wednesday lunchtime show at 13:15.

Spling has a long history of radio broadcasting with regular live interview slots and programmes on CapeTalk, Radio 702, Chai FM, UCT Radio and 2Oceansvibe Radio over the years with a host of interviews from film news and obituaries to discussions about his new book, The Essence of Dreams: An Anthology of Film Reviews. While Talking Movies has become synonymous with Fine Music Radio, Spling is hoping to grow the show in the hopes of reaching new listeners within the Cape Metropole, nationwide and even internationally.

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