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The Rise, Fall and Sorta Rise of MacCaulay Culkin...

Acting by age 4, child star MacCaulay Culkin did light supporting work in several un-acclaimed movies, basically as a prop, getting his first real burst of attention for Uncle Buck. Another go at a heart-warming film of the sort where lost adults learn from the kids in their lives. There happen to be other kids in the movie too, but don't let that stop you. Still, Culkin was a born star, and any movie that didn't rely heavily on his draw was misusing him.

Best remembered for the cartoony violence of its final sequence, a lot more of Home Alone is just Culkin plotlessly going about his business as a kid left home alone. Eating junk food, snooping, and now that the nags are away: Trying out hygiene and chores that responsibility-phobic kids his age hate to be told to do, but feel satisfied to have done on their own.

It's not just the best film he's ever been in, but easily his best performance. Kevin has to be scared, ecstatic, devious, funny, and all mostly without anyone around to help carry the scenes. That Home Alone is a holiday classic, in the traditional canon (Miracle on 34th Street, not Die Hard), is because the film's spirit relies on his talent and beaming innocence. But everybody grows up eventually.

He was reliable in the carbon copy that is Home Alone 2, but Culkin's next few films would misuse him terribly. The Good Son tried to make him into a psychopath, and in Richie Rich, playing a billionaire's son making friends with ‘normal kids’, he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself much at all. As it turned out, MacCaulay felt a lot like Richie, having been shot into stratospheric fame, hosting Saturday Night Live, working with Michael Jackson and the like. After the film's release, he retired to finish his childhood in normalcy.

Returning to acting in 2000, in something of a Miley Cyrus move, Culkin leaned towards disturbed and unpleasant characters; drug addict murderers (Party Monster), pessimists (Saved) and jealous mopes (Sex and Breakfast), to mark his quality as a full-bodied actor. It was a respectable second debut, but he hadn't exactly made waves. This extended absence from the public consciousness might be why, once he began having his own trouble with the law, publicity so readily contrasted the almost emaciated adult with the evergreen youngster their readers had remembered. Culkin received probation for drug offences, and the story is often paired with details surrounding his divorce, affiliation with Michael Jackson, and the death of his family members into a never-ending stream of “The Tragic Story of MacCaulay Culkin” articles.

But, in the years since, the powerful force of Millennial nostalgia has afforded him the chance to redefine his image online by doing just about whatever interests him. A fascination with Andy Warhol lead him to painting, eating a slice of pizza on camera for about 5 minutes, and starting a now defunct Velvet Underground parody band called The Pizza Underground. Most successfully, he's entrenched himself into internet culture that still regards him with a sort of reverence for his status as a child star, often making appearances on YouTube shows (AVGN, Red Letter Media) drawing attention to the absurdity of it all. He hosts a podcast called Bunny Ears, but still sees his best engagement when playing up the fact that he's the kid from Home Alone (in commercials, but mostly on Twitter, reminding followers how old he, and therefore they, are). He's turned his image into that of a goofball, willing to legally change his name at his followers' request (He is now officially MacCaulay MacCaulay Culkin Culkin).

I don't foresee that sort of passive endorsement fading anytime soon, especially when tons of households remind themselves he exists every year by watching Home Alone for Christmas. As for if he'll ever wow general audiences again, he's slated to be in the next season of American Horror Story. Fingers crossed.

Cinemas: Adapt or Die

The Covid-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst to technology, forcing businesses to adopt more flexible working arrangements with their employees and transforming retail with a greater demand for home deliveries. The film industry, more specifically exhibitors, have been much slower to adapt to the changes brought on by lockdown conditions.

To be fair, the moviegoing experience hasn't really changed that much over the last 30 years. In South Africa, exhibitors are still primarily based in shopping malls, have between 6 and 20 screens, rely on ticket sales at the box office, preview and foyer advertising as well as confectionery stand sales. While some of the technology around booking and even screening has been adopted in order to facilitate a more immersive experience, sharper image or high fidelity, these have been mostly superficial changes.

Cinema: Adapt or Die

While this traditional model has certainly worked for some time, it's quite surprising there haven't been more continuous improvements in order to compete with the rise of streaming services. While there have been more campaigns or events in order to stimulate more active participation at cineplexes, it's generally been more of the same. If you're in your 30s or older, you'll know that the general movie experience you had in the '80s has remained the same. People see what's showing, buy tickets, get popcorn, watch the movie after a number of forthcoming attractions and adverts before being ushered out of the cinema only to repeat the cycle.

The big screen experience certainly has its charms and it's important as Inception director Christopher Nolan suggests that we find a way to save the traditional theatre experience. Films are designed to be seen in this format, making it a shame if they had to be relegated to small screens exclusively. More recently Ang Lee, director of Life of Pi, has said that theatres need to work towards a more active participation with moviegoers. While speculation is that he's probably talking more about more immersive technology in order to offer an unrivalled experience in contrast to what you can achieve with your home theatre system, there needs to be more out-of-the-box thinking. Projectors are getting cheaper, 3D technology is available to home theatres... why keep the competition based on technology?

More recently, cinemas have adopted a VIP model when it comes to the movie-going experience. Being able to have snacks served on a platter, get a comfortable reclining chair and enough room to kick your feet up is great. But these more expensive "first-class" tickets are a way of upselling more than capturing the mainstream audience and demographic, which is what is needed in order to secure a healthy future. It seems that cinemas rely on the latest Fast and Furious or Marvel blockbuster to sustain a few months of good business once per ticket percentages improve.

While some cinemas have adjusted their offering to include drive-in experiences to weather the pandemic or test out other options when it comes to exhibiting films, it's something that should have been done months ago - possibly even in empty mall parking garages. As the continual delay of new releases indicates, most would have probably expected things to return to a new normal by now, enabling cinemas to operate as they have for decades. Unfortunately this is not the case, delayed by vaccine rollouts, second wave spikes and much uncertainty about the future of many hard hit industries, especially cinema.

During this down time, exhibitors have obviously had to align with protocols when it comes to safety, reducing the capacity, distancing patrons and ensuring everyone complies. Visiting the movie house has become a chore and as safe as they would have you believe, there's always a risk. Not to mention, who wants to sit in a room that gets disinfected several times a day and watch a movie with a mask on... does Ghostface's mask count? One would hope that beyond the strategic thinking around salvaging what business it can, some fresh thinking would have been applied in order to adapt to trends and meet the ever-evolving nuances of modern audiences. While there have been some surveys and general return to the movies campaigns, it's a great time for a shake up.

If Spling were to rescue the theatre experience, he'd be turning cineplexes into entertainment hubs. Creating exclusive content that can only be seen in a cinema is a great way of hooking audiences. Ster-Kinekor had a brilliant advert where the careful teaser build-up wasn't resolved anywhere but in the theatre. Having several large vehicles carrying all manner of paraphernalia including fireworks were converging towards a busy intersection. Using suspense, this was further heightened by leaving TV and YouTube audiences in anticipation... what happens next? Using a similar approach to current advertising efforts could lure audiences back to cinemas. Yet, there's so much more. Having a special Q&A with the director or cast following the movie, would also be a great bonus.

Activating community is another must in this post-pandemic economy. Cineplexes have the theatres and seating, so why reserve them exclusively for screening content. Another way of drawing audiences in would be to partner with musicians, comedians, magicians or other live performance artists. Most of these artists have been hit by the pandemic and could help get people to live shows at cineplexes, which are designed to facilitate audiences. Whether having a full show or limiting their performances as guest appearances with thematic tie-ins to open certain movies, mystery guests or special performances could create some much-neeeded excitement. This kind of edge is what modern cinemas should be adopting. Look after the community and they'll look after you.

Spling did this for Movie Buffs screenings through Ster-Kinekor and they were well-received. Breaking the fourth wall makes it so much more than just a movie. Turning a passive experience into an engaging one makes it that much richer and more rewarding. Watching Neill Blomkamp's Elysium possibly sitting next to Vanessa Haywood from District 9, seeing sleight-of-hand illusionist Stuart Lightbody open Now You See Me, watching instrumental guitarist Jonny Dose perform Aerosmith's 'Living on the Edge' to open Edge of Tomorrow, getting to see Gravity with an astrophysicist to answer questions afterwards... these are just some of the ways you can turn movie night into something much more special and memorable.

Audiences are looking to be engaged and participate, which is why it's important that cinemas remain relevant. Simply reflecting dreams offers some magic but more advanced viewers are expecting something more. Creating exclusive and special performance content can help reinvent the movie experience, turning it from a 2-hour escape to a big night out. For many, watching a movie on a cellphone is becoming acceptable so there really has to be something incredible to form a new movie-going habit. Let's hope that cinemas are taking up the challenge and not facing collapse like so many other industries that didn't adapt in the face of disruptors or global trends.

5 Fun Christmas Movies Now Streaming

Spling reviews 5 fun Christmas movies now streaming on Netflix and Showmax to help get you in the spirit of the celebration! Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, A Boere-Krismas, The Christmas Chronicles, Herb & Moon and Elf.

Celebrate Christmas at 7th Bingeing with Spling Watch Party

It's that time of year again... can you believe it!? After an upside down year, many people are glad to be crossing (or coasting) over the finish line. Now with the holiday season upon us, it's time to think of fun things like Christmas. To help get you in the Christmas spirit, Spling is hosting a watch party around the holiday classic Elf starring Will Ferrell and directed by Jon Favreau. The comedy tracks with a human raised by elves who's much taller than his brothers before being led on an adventure to New York City!

Here's Santa (you know it's Spling) to give you more on what to expect on Sunday 20 December from 5pm!

We'll be hitting play on Netflix (or that dusty DVD) at a fixed time so that we can watch the movie together. Using the Live Event Tracker on splingmovies.com participants can watch all the special features! Check out the itinerary for the start times of certain videos and then plan your evening by clicking on each of the links at the right time. Restock the popcorn or eggnog in between viewings and join the conversation via socials using the #BingeingWithSpling hashtag or joining one of the watch party groups!

Singer/songwriter and guitarist Charles Tertiens... better known to some as Karl Ahari. Spling got the chance to interview the one and only Santa Claus! Then, to wrap things up... Spling will be chatting to director, actress and musician Dominique Mabille, the director of the short film, Christmas Spirit. This short dark comedy centres around a family where grandpa is a real-life Grinch... and it'll play when kiddies have gone to bed after 8pm.

With prizes, movie trivia, live commentary from Spling and a whole bunch of Christmas fun, it's a great way to spend a Sunday evening. The watch party turned movie night festival is great fun and there's no admission fee... but we'd encourage those with more than enough to consider supporting Santa Shoe Box.

Bingeing with Spling: Christmas Edition

It's almost Christmas again and what a year it's been! Just as everyone's getting ready to coast over the finish line into 2021, we've got Christmas to remind us of the important things in life. It's a wonderful reminder of goodwill to fellow man and the importance of relationships in a year characterised by polar opposites.

To get you in the festive spirit, Spling has created a Christmas edition of Bingeing with Spling on Sunday 20 December... here's what you can expect:

Special Guest, Charles Tertiens

Charles Tertiens is a comedy magician who's probably best known for his TV appearances as Karl Ahari and the Cash Crusader. A handsome chap with a twinkle in his eye, he's full of fun, eager to entertain and will be sharing some of his charm and magic with us on the night. Joining the watch party fun and in conversation with Spling, there will be plenty of opportunities to smile, laugh and hopefully warm some cockles!

Natasha Meister's Christmas Medley

Natasha Meister will be kicking things off with a special Christmas medley to get the watch party started. Usually playing her guitar, this is a showcase of the Canadian artist's powerful voice. Singing well known Christmas carols with Laura Cavacece, it's a fun and Christmassy collection of all-time favourites to get you in the mood for Christmas trees, candy canes and all that goes with the holiday.

Short Film: Christmas Spirit

Dominique Mabille is the director who brought us Christmas Spirit, a dysfunctional family dark comedy that centres on the annual celebration. Centring on a suburban family who have a tough time dealing with their crotchety grandfather, Christmas takes on a completely different tone when the old geezer croaks.

We'll be enjoying this twisted comedy after the main feature, which will be followed by an interview with the director herself. A 3rd year AFDA graduation film, Mabille will be giving us the behind-the-scenes story of this quirky blend of Little Miss Sunshine, Home Alone and... you've just got to see it!

Santa's Coming to Town

Spling has the honour of welcoming Santa to the next watch party! While the jolly guy is working overtime to ensure nice kids get their gifts this year, tinkering away at the North Pole with his army of elves, he cut out some time to chat with Spling. It's a rare occurrence for the guy to make guest appearances but luckily through the magic of the Interweb, we're making it possible to get some burning questions answered!

The Main Feature: Elf

Jon Favreau may be famous thanks to movies like Iron Man and The Jungle Book, but before he became all that he directed a little Christmas comedy called Elf. Now a holiday classic, the Will Ferrell vehicle has become a staple movie for many people wanting to get into the swing of Christmas.

The film follows Buddy, a human raised among elves at the North Pole who discovers he's not an elf before embarking on a journey to New York to find his biological father. An over-the-top yet heartwarming comedy, it's a feel-good movie that will generate a few chuckles and maybe shed a tear. Tune in via Netflix or dust off a DVD, because Elf's coming to town too!

Christmas Celebration Video

Whether you've been naughty or nice, we want you to send us your Christmas video messages, carol singing or special messages to friends and family. Spling will be compiling a video that will premiere at the next Bingeing with Spling watch party. Surprise someone and make their year by sneaking in a special video or message into this fun video and help support Santa Shoebox. Get in touch with us via our contact page or our social media feeds in order to submit your message or video.

So Much More...

Bingeing with Spling online watch parties make it possible for just about anyone from anywhere to participate. Time zone difficulties aside, you can patch in with friends or family from all over the world. Get them to follow the fun at splingmovies.com using the Live Event Tracker and you're in for a fun night in.

Prizes, movie trivia, social media banter, live commentary from Spling... it's a wonderful way to connect with other movie lovers without leaving the comfort of your couch!

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