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The Death and Resurrection of Physical Entertainment Media

It's fascinating how things have changed in the space of a few years when it comes to optical media. While DVD rental stores like Blockbusters, Mr Video and Vee's Video have been progressively disappearing for over a decade, followed by walk-in retail CD and DVD outlets like Look & Listen and Musica... one wonders just how long it will take before this age of optical media is deemed obsolete, labelled vintage and relegated to antique stores?

The Death and Resurrection of Physical Entertainment Media

VHS - A Retro Cult

VHS still has a cult following, partly owing to some of the underground stuff that made it onto tapes. While you may have warm fuzzy feelings about wandering around your local video store as a kid, trying to figure out the difference between Beta and VHS... or why the covers for It and Fright Night bothered you so much... it's still quite shocking to think some people have a VHS collection in the year 2021, let alone a video machine. Not only have hi-fi stores stopped selling VHS players around the time that dual DVD/VHS players were phased out, but that these tape-playing devices still work decades later! They don't make 'em like they used to, right?

DVD - An Audio-visual Revolution

DVDs seem to have had a good innings, offering much greater clarity of sound and picture, acceptable even by today's fussy standards. While easily scratchable and repairable if you have a machine to get rid of deeper scratches or toothpaste if you've tried a DIY solution, this optical media is still around, happily co-existing as the cheap and dispensable alternative to Blu-rays, 4K and streaming services. Granted you may struggle to find the film you're looking for if it wasn't pressed to DVD in the last year, the format's managing to hang in there.

Blu-ray - The Cinephile's Choice

Blu-ray was meant to supersede DVD and it did in audio-visual prowess. However, many had bought into DVD in such a big way that being able to upscale your DVDs in a Blu-ray player didn't make re-buying your entire collection seem all that necessary. In South Africa, paying R150 ($10) for a new release DVD made these makeshift "coasters" valuable commodities to their owners. When Blu-ray came in to take over, DVD prices bottomed out making it even more attractive to stay loyal.

While Blu-ray was far superior, undemanding viewers didn't mind the sound and picture quality they were getting and besides... the Blu-ray commercials were trying to use your home theatre to somehow prove to you what you had wasn't good enough. It just seemed a bit silly to play against the "well enough alone" principle if you were satisfied with your set up.

Mail Order DVDs

Netflix started as a DVD mail rental service at a time when this still made sense. Being able to pick the movies you want, have them delivered, collected and giving you ample time to get to them... it was a helluva lot easier than getting in the car twice to watch a movie once. Pushplay tried to model this formula in South Africa for a time with a few other competitors scratching the surface. DVD vending machines even came to the party but there just wasn't any competing with direct to Smart TV streaming. How can you beat being able to pick whatever you want to watch and hit play on demand?

Stream On Demand

While South Africa was behind the curve, partly because of internet speeds and licensing issues, the revolution eventually reached our shores. Now with a multitude of streaming options including: Acorn, Amazon Prime, Britbox, Netflix and Showmax with Disney + around the corner, it's become easy to subscribe and watch whatever's on the service.

What's incredible is that it's actually become easier (and cheaper) to subscribe than pirate movies. While this doesn't stop illegal downloads of the latest entertainment content with some legitimate-looking websites springing up to simply allow users to watch things before they've had a chance to screen at cinemas, it must have undercut a great deal of casual pirating. How these streaming services can justify charging users the price of what a DVD used to cost per month about a decade ago, just seems impossible. Brilliant but impossible.

What You See is What You Get

Services like JustWatch are making it possible for people to get a better handle on their content management, which seems to be the biggest bugbear about having too much to watch at your fingertips. Streaming providers tend to throttle the selection in an effort to show you more of what you may want to watch but if you were to use an aggregator, you'd discover just how big your viewing library actually is and be able to get a better sense for it.

There's something a bit deceptive about giving you a flashlight to find out what's in the room, making it easier for Netflix to shift titles, drop non-performers and highlight their own content. The way things are going with new streaming providers rising up like weeds, the next battle is going to be over just which streaming service to subscribe to. To make matters even more complicated, licensors are allowing their show to stream on one platform for a while before shifting over to another.

Since we're already swimming in new films and TV shows, more than we could ever hope to watch, it just all seems a bit overwhelming. As inexpensive as it is to subscribe to one provider, straddling a few can start to add up, especially when like a gym membership you don't feel as though you're using it enough to justify the cost. Trying to target certain shows, which could slip out from under you when you're half way through season 5 of 9, this digital wonderland may not be as all that and a bag of chips as you initially thought.

Our Stuff Owns Us?

Digital has taken a bit step up, now punting downloadable films, games and software. Since the pandemic, people have been confronted with their materialism and this global crisis has probably given people enough time to look themselves in the mirror and realise that their stuff may own them. Breaking free of this paradigm is more about thinking about what you actually need over what you want and this is partly why the physical media movie market has collapsed.

Streaming services give you access and that's what has become more important these days. It's not about the rich mahogany and leather-bound books that adorn your library, you know one of those ones with a ladder on rails. While your walk-in DVD store size collection may have impressed some of your film buff buddies at one point, even if it was more size than selection, it now just seems like a waste of space.

A New Generation

Add the new generation's bent towards cleaner design, more minimalistic thinking in terms of lifestyle and environment and you've got yourself a wall that needs upcycling. While low-level movie collectors have probably sold or given away their DVD collections by now, it's quite amazing just how much value these physical artefacts have lost. While many may have parted with R150 at one point to get the latest flick on DVD from a Musica or Look & Listen store, those suckers will now be looking at R5 to R20 depending on the perceived value or nostalgia the film in question is able to conjure.

A bit of a Wild West scenario has developed where many have abandoned physical media entirely. Many laptops have stopped offering optical drives and it's quickly becoming a waste of time to give someone a disc as a gift in the event they simply aren't able to play it. Perhaps storage, picking out a disc to play, putting it in the disc tray or even the diminishing returns of the film itself are making it difficult for people imagine keeping these plastic discs around the house.

If you aren't using something, sell it, give it away or loan it to someone who wants to enjoy it. What's the point of amassing a collection if it isn't being actively used, just simply gathering dust and wait to become an issue for whoever has to clean up your house. Spling tried to start #PlayIt4wd - an idea that by writing this on the cover, you'd encourage people to pass it along to another once you've finished. While gifting friends and family in the immediate circle wasn't quite the launch it needed to become a self-sustaining exercise, the thought was there.

Where to From Here?

What we may find in the future is that the depth of titles available on streaming are just not what they used to be. Trying to find a specific movie to watch may still be more possible with optical media than scouring databases. Being able to play a movie at decent resolution and with quality sound beats having a bad internet connection, which is why some people still prefer physical media over downloadable content. A strong collective of diehard DVD and Blu-ray fans will persist, exchanging movies with each other and trying to keep their love for the home video game alive. Just like cassette tapes, LPs and VHS, these retro entertainment mediums will probably come full circle to a time when it's great to be able to have a piece of cinema history, own a film in a physical form rather than simply rent it in cyberspace.

SUPP - The Home of SA's Short Films

It is an unfriendly world out there for new creative voices. A lot of things have to go right for a creator, regardless of how talented they may be, to make it. They've got to create, with whatever is at their disposal, for their potential to be recognized. To be seen and given the opportunities they require to entertain, inspire, educate, whatever it may be, takes more now then ever, most especially because of the sheer volume of content being put out there every day. The tools of communication, which should simplify the discovery process, instead have developed a never-ending stream of work, clogging up the system and making the distance between prospective film-makers, watchers, collaborators and backers more pronounced then they have been in the past. The already successful is given the luck of the algorithmic draw, and homogenic, easy to digest culture is favored for promotion online. There is too much noise. How do you, as a South African with something to offer, or looking for a talent to support, know where to begin?


Well, some entrepreneurial spirits have made an exciting solution, built for the growth and discovery of local talent through showcasing short films from South Africa. SUPP is a unique streaming platform, made with the desire to provide local artists with a platform for their work, and an opportunity to earn revenue from their productions. Projects and filmmakers are curated, with the SUPP team selecting "the best productions to ensure SUPP becomes your favourite place to hang out." Far from being just another host for content, this is an all-in-one stop for viewing, supporting, contributing, and connecting between audiences, talent, and financiers.

If your work cuts the mustard, uploading your short to the network is free, and so is becoming a member. Each time your film is watched, you'll earn revenue. Members receive a personal dashboard keeping track of their films' status, views, performance and revenue. You can submit as many films as you like.

If you haven't got a film in the bag yet, and are in need of collaborators to bolster your production, why not join or browse SUPP's Skills Database, spotlighting industry artists whose profiles list their “skills, successes and social media links”. Got a script, but not sure how to reach higher ups? There are already 52 producers on SUPP.

Not a creator? Maybe you're in a position to help out some deserving entertainers but aren't in the industry (or looking to enter it). You can provide funding to projects currently in development by browsing their crowdfunding page for films that catch your eye.

And if you're just looking to enjoy homegrown shorts, knowing that you'll be upholding local creatives, you can contribute simply as a viewer. Art is meant to be seen, and rather than clicking on the occasional link to a local production, why not help fund the platform, collectively supporting all members, and become a champion for SA talent. You can select how much you'd like to contribute, starting at R29, up to R129, and gain access to every short streaming on SUPP.

The SUPP App is available now on Google Play. This platform has a great deal of potential, and it is now up to South Africans to decide whether or not they can carve out some support for their own.

Get Snowed Under by Christmas Movies this Holiday Season

Love 'em, hate 'em or moderately tolerate 'em... Christmas movies are going to keep bubbling up around December. Cashing in on the commercialised holiday, which is about hope, peace and eggnog on the surface... the undercurrent seems to be about getting consumers to spend more in a bid to recover sales over a less than lucrative year. Cynical much?

While the subgenre has been explored with a dark comedy slant in Bad Santa and The Ice Harvest, it could quite easily be a David Lynch movie, where everything seems to be hunky-dory on a superficial level but as you sink below the surface... the ominous soundtrack tells you everything is not okay. Tinseltown's even named after one of the most iconic bits of Christmas tree decoration - a clear indication that it should get the Lynchland treatment. The festive season seems to be about excesses and over-indulgence, which is good if you're limited to popping the top button and vegetating on the couch but much more problematic when alcohol and roads blur together.

Perhaps the reason Christmas movies have become so abundant is quite simple. It's all about easy pickings and lazy afternoon movie fare. Filmmakers are essentially tying their star to a Christmas tree with a guaranteed cyclical resurrection just based on its thematic content and harvesting low-hanging fruit in the schmarmiest conditions - it's difficult to fail and who cares if you do.

This is what makes Father Christmas is Back, such an abysmal failure. While you'd be naive to think this would be the next Miracle on 34th Street being directed and produced by guys whose film credits include b-grade actioners starring latter day Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme, it's a total misfire. Centred on the idea of an estranged father by the name of Mr. Christmas returning to his family in England over the Christmas holidays, it's already pushing things, as if the punny title uninspired the screenplay and consequential picture.

Uttering steaming piles of reindeer poop (say it like April Bowlby) in the form of dialogue that simply echoes what you already know about the characters based on their wardrobe, this inane drivel is actually bland enough to be offensive. Relying on the now tarnished cast to sell the jokes, it's the kind of comedy drama where comedy and drama only just factor in - dragged kicking and screaming to force the odd grimace from its audience by the only hopeful thing in Father Christmas is Back... the cast.

Never have so many name stars been embarrassed or failed to share their new movie's arrival. Unfortunately, the film doesn't go as far as Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy, The Dead Don't Die, where Bill Murray and Adam Driver literally break character to acknowledge just how off the beaten track the film has gone. Whether Kelsey Grammer's living it up in a bar or counselling Kris Marshall in a church, there's a knowing and glassy look... one where as professional as they try to be, they know they're peddling bad lines with feeling for the pay check.

Who knows how much money changed hands for Kelsey Grammer and John Cleese to appear in this turkey of a Christmas movie? Granted they haven't been aiming for the lofty heights of Daniel Day-Lewis, but there must be a modicum of self-respect left... something in them that says, you know what - I've actually got a legacy to protect. In Hollywood, you're only as good as your last movie and while there has been some barrel-scraping... there must be a limit before you're shoveling snow.

Whether under contractual obligation or threat of death, many recognisable faces find themselves floundering about and trying to make the most of Father Christmas is Back. Playing brothers, it's a curious treat to see TV legends Cleese and Grammer from across the Atlantic rubbing shoulders... but the afterglow is as rich and rewarding as their fraternal bond and not felt in this instantly forgettable holiday movie.

Speaking of name stars... what ever happened to Elizabeth Hurley? While Hurley literally stormed the world in a Versace dress on the arm of Hugh Grant many moons ago, it seems as though the talent police were chasing her like Carmen Sandiego's dance with Interpol in the '90s. Serving Sara may have finally shown the limits of her abilities, but to her credit Hurley has remained a recognisable star... one whose presence is actually a credit to this half-assed Christmas schlock. She may only have cracked the nod because she did a movie with the producer once upon a time, but the film's spicier and more alluring based on her involvement - even if the biggest take away is how amazing she looks and notwithstanding the irony of her cleavage's substantial supporting role.

Elizabeth Hurley Father Christmas is Back

While Father Christmas is Back is desperately trying to be British, quaint and all things tea and scones, it's like they did their research watching a couple of Downton Abbey episodes. The homestead is impressive, a major plus in the film's favour as the burgeoning cast descend on this palatial country manor thing. However, the tone is all over the place... lacking the gentle ebb-and-flow and nuance of British comedy and going for broke with some outlandishly stupid comic scenarios.

Gathering another American actor besides Kelsey, the filmmakers cast April Bowlby... whose staple performance serves as a mascot for the film's somewhat cheesy and superficial quality. It's interesting to see her again after making a name for herself with a similar character in Two and a Half Men, making you wonder about her voice in a similar way to Megan Mullally from Will & Grace. When you add the spectacularly blonde Nathalie Cox to the line-up, it does seem as though the outdated tradition of leading lady film star looks still has sway. In their defence and based on the screenplay, it's difficult to decide if any character has specifically been underwritten.

Kris Marshall and Caroline Quentin, TV icons from My Family and Men Behaving Badly respectively, also seem to be there to stoke Father Christmas is Back's Britishness. It's amazing how much of the ensemble is British and still how shiny and sparkly it is... the film equivalent of bauble if you will. Thankfully it's harmless enough to remain in a space of soft targets and not turning Christmas into a JCVD action extravaganza... although his Van Damme's jack-in-the-box appearance would have come as a dull surprise and probably would've been better for it.

If the filmmakers wanted to improve the situation, they should have murdered someone. While the cast may have been secretly plotting to do this anyway, the in vogue Knives Out murder mystery genre would have given the merriment a fresh spin and not made it seem as lazy and phoned in as it currently is... is there a "Snyder Cut"? Perhaps murdering Father Christmas would've been the Christmas miracle this slapdash comedy drama and unintentional dramedy so desperately needed.

As it stands, it's a mindless and flatlining comedy with hints of drama... competently filmed with a decent film location and a blast-from-the-past ensemble... constantly restrained by its half-baked script and cash grab Christmas movie spirit. While it's difficult to always pick winners as a working actor... there must be some hints you're in for a bumpy sleigh ride. Father Christmas is Back is so bad that they released it on Netflix so that it would be quickly forgotten by the time the actual festive season kicked in. The cast are probably hoping to duck and run.

The Alienation and Genius of Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet'

Tenet is a challenging and frustrating film from writer-director, Christopher Nolan. Much like giving a Rubik's Cube a few twists and turns before finally giving up and turning it into a mocking ornament, this is probably most people's experience of Nolan's latest movie. The director has a knack for pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and seems to have a particular penchant for the flow of time in his stories as witnessed in Memento and Inception.

In this light, Tenet must surely be his boldest, most challenging and self-indulgent film to date, based in a single electron universe, where like its title suggests, time moves forward and backward through the process of inversion, toying with the Grandfather Paradox. See 'The Genius of Tenet' video (below) for a thorough investigation and insightful deconstruction.

This information isn't fully explained to audiences and there are only hints at what's actually going on with a scene involving a bullet being dropped and picked up. This is reinforced by scenes with action playing backwards and forwards simultaneously. The effects are very cool, even if borderline comical at times, keeping the story puzzle something of a secret.

The narrative progresses with a character simply known as Protagonist, played elegantly by John David Washington, moving in a linear fashion long enough to get a semblance of his one word mission and the story's main characters, doubling back on itself for us to realise that the characters have witnessed scenarios from different viewpoints in an alternate dimension.

Taking place in a "twilight world of international espionage", its vague premise and attempts to fight for the "survival of the entire world" aren't fully impressed, much like just how Inception works, sidestepping laborious explanations to try and prevent it from getting bogged down with technicality. Dealing with such hypothetical scenarios, nothing seems to be set in stone and being suspended in the air with so many questions about what we're seeing makes things seem rather inconsequential without a bevy of characters you've grown to care for or feeling part of this aloof and clinical environment.

Obviously, if Nolan over-explained the story it wouldn't be much fun and would feel like cheating. Being subtle and nuanced is his thing - he's an auteur after all, so it's much easier for the director to just serve it up without risking tripping himself up and landing in the terrain of spoilers. While this makes the nitty-gritty of the timeline fascinating to a select few who are into unlocking the secrets of sci-fi fantasy, it's more alienating as pure entertainment to others. This is the fine balancing act the contemporary great filmmaker walks, taking risks at a chance of greatness.

He's earned a place in the sun, so if anyone's allowed to just do what they please, he's certainly one of the top candidates. Much like letting David Lynch just unleash his creative genius in the form of a film or series, the same privilege can and should be awarded to Nolan. As convoluted as his film's plotting gets, crossing dimensions and trying to bend his audience's minds backwards, there's not really such a thing as a bad Nolan film.

Tenet fits into the category of almost, but not quite and watching explainer videos will definitely improve the viewing experience, making it easier to skip discovering some of these elements by fluke on the third or fifth viewing. The problem is that the detached film experience doesn't really prompt repeat viewings other than to unlock the puzzle or rewatch some of the grand action sequences.

Playing into the territory of Heat with some epic crime drama set pieces and rivalries, Tenet actually has a lot in common with Bond's panache and more recent sleek cinematography too. The strong science fiction element seems to have a Matrix appetite for interdimensional world-building, deja vu, duality and storytelling. Ironically, it was easier to understand The Matrix, a dilemma some university professors use as a classic example for building arguments. The stylish, high-end action thriller is as pristine as most of Nolan's movies are... a director who seems to be aiming for perfection.

Tenet is visually spectacular, immense and thought-provoking as a grandiose Nolan film, but it's also alienating, joyless and confusing. This duality is carried through by its stellar ensemble also including: Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and a strangely effective and distracting Kenneth Branagh. His Shakespearean background and more recent role as a director just make a fuzzy choice - probably intentionally there to break perceptions and timelines. While their performances serve their purpose, there's a deliberate attempt to downplay rather than charm.

While this may have been part of Nolan's plan all along and somehow linked to the passage of time in this world of Tenet, it doesn't add to the entertainment value. The unemotional videogame superficiality substitutes real connection with the actors, foregoing emotional contact points in favour of a flatline and rather soulless level of engagement, mostly appealing to the intellect and working on the level of eye candy. As intricate and tricky as Tenet seems, it's alienation limits immersion and its detached feel blunts emotional investment. It's an elegant and even breathtakingly beautiful film, yet this opulent and rather pretentious affair is designed almost entirely for Nolan's amusement as he tests the limits of his audience's loyalty and single-viewing film interpretation.

It may only be recommended for the most ardent Nolan fans, moviegoers who want mind-bending challenges to strike up a post-movie conversation or cinephiles who can focus on and simply appreciate the aesthetic audio-visual component of films. Tenet remains a puzzling film, which you will probably appreciate more on a repeat viewing, yet one that's so cold and uninviting it hardly seems worth it.

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