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Film Critics, Reviews, Ratings and the Digital Takeover


Before the Internet, we only had newspapers, magazines, television and word of mouth for our steady supply of pop culture intrigue and information. Unfortunately, these channels didn't have the speed of delivery, sheer volume of information or the value of consensus that search engines like Google offered at the digital takeover. Having information at your fingertips is empowering and it's how consumers are making their choices these days. Why wouldn't you do a quick search or reference a website before making a decision?

Getting the nitty gritty details and best price is what makes the marketplace more competitive these days. Whether you're shopping for a smart TV or deciding which movie to watch, being able to quickly reference a trusted review authority, user reviews or get finer details about what to expect can make all the difference.

film critics reviews ratings and digital takeover

The same goes for film reviews and movie critics. There was a time when readers would only have a few voices when it came to picking the right film for movie night. While a subjective process, readers would be able to decipher or learn to trust certain voices. Figuring out the critic's special interests, favourite genre, general disposition and even their rating allocation would help make them relevant to people even if they didn't necessarily agree with their ratings. In South Africa, there are two prolific and influential film critics with long track records who have managed to appear across all forms of broadcast and print.

Barry Ronge

The most prolific film critic must surely be Barry Ronge, who was widely broadcast across TV and radio, able to disseminate his opinion on up to 5 films a week. While his tastes varied, one quickly realised that arthouse films tended to land better reviews. An iconic reviewer, he was quite daring with reviews often led by emotion.

Using an /10 system that inspired the SPL!NG-O-METER, he'd use an adjective to describe each of his ratings. This meant he could offer some spectrum to each number however limiting the alliteration was to certain ratings. Adding a bit of his flair, he'd be able to rate something a "saucy 6" or "noteworthy 9" giving each /10 rating its own sub-rating descriptor.

Leon van Nierop

An author, screenwriter, lecturer and film critic, Leon van Nierop's movie reviews were more considered and serious - a respected reviewer and now luminary for the Afrikaans film-going public. His catchphrase "dis die een" still echoes in his film reviews today whether he's reviewing on his RSG radio show Monitor or in local newspapers or magazines. As an active screenwriter, he penned Wolwedans in die Skemer based on his long-running radio show and produced Ballade vir 'n Enkeling, both of which made a splash at the local box office. Leon van Nierop's televised film review featured on GMSA (Good Morning South Africa). Having been in the entertainment industry for over 4 decades, he's an established and award-winning author and journalist.

Now that the floodgates have opened, you can get opinions on film from the well-respected RogerEbert.com right through to your buddy's latest "kiff or kak" Facebook status. Film critics are now pontificating across the spectrum of media from YouTube channels and blogs through to more traditional print media and established online publications. The main reference points are IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, website repositories that offer up-to-date film information and more importantly ratings. Movie goers now feel armed with the power of IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes who can and do guide them to better movies based on their ranking systems.

IMDb's /10 Rating

IMDb's rating system provides an /10 score based on general ratings and links to critic reviews. Giving viewers a semblance of what to expect in terms of thousands of opinions boiled down to a number, it seems like a safe bet. However, it's important to know how the system works. The Independent Movie Database (IMDb) is primarily male-orientated, which is reflected in the site's Top 250 films through voting demographics and even film choice. Respected by industry professionals and movie lovers, it's widely referenced often ranking high in Google searches. However, it's not the be all and end all, often skewed by the loyal user base's tastes and preferences. In an ideal world, the rating system would be used in a way to best represent a viewer's take... but it's subject to abuse.

Besides voting syndicates using the platform to skew public opinion about certain films, there's a dedicated bunch who try their best to protect their hallowed selection of films from being downgraded in stature. Just click through one of the /10 ratings on IMDb to see the voting allocation. Almost every film has a scattered allocation of ratings with a glut of 10/10 and 1/10 ratings. There's also no way to verify a film has been watched by a user and being based on an honesty system, there's no real way to confirm raters have even seen the movie they're trashing. Influenced by public perception, boosting a film's rating just to sell more tickets or trashing it to thwart its success makes it a flawed system that somehow ends up representing a film's overall standing.

Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer

Rotten Tomatoes is strict when it comes to accepting film critics into the fold, which makes their system seem more robust. While it's easier to get an idea of what the general critic's position is based on consensus and capsule reviews, there are some issues. For starters, most people don't understand the Tomatometer percentage score that is often referenced as the standalone component when deciding on a movie. This is the percentage of critics who gave fresh reviews of a film. It's not a sliding scale comparable with an /10 rating. You can ostensibly get a 6/10 movie that has a 100% fresh score, meaning every critic who reviewed the film thought that it was fresh but otherwise just better than average.

Another issue is determining a mean score from the film critics since each of them is working on a different rating system or none at all. How do you credit a positive review with a weighting or how do you determine a score based on an /4 rating system versus an /10 one? These discrepancies can alter ratings quite substantially when pulling from a selection of less than 100 reviews. While Rotten Tomatoes have moved away from aggregating critic scores, there does seem to be a need to anchor the Tomatometer to another element for context.

User reviews have also come into play on the website, allowing ordinary film goers to flex their film critic muscle by chiming in with a review and rating. This is more quantifiable and useful to see how the audience score matches up against the overall movie critic percentage. Submitting their opinion via the same channel makes it possible for Rotten Tomatoes to offer a considered consensus, which has more credibility when linked to a user account. Taking the time to string a few sentences together also means it's easier to sift the have-seens from the haven-not-seens. Perhaps they should really be looking into forcing critics to adopt a similar type of submission scheme.

As it stands, there isn't a perfect system since each of the consensus ratings are done on an unverifiable review or rating. While Rotten Tomatoes distinguishes super reviewers and has its certified movie critics, it seems that it's coming full circle. Since social media and faceless publications have proven to be fallible often with ulterior motives, the need for experts who have become trusted authorities on fields is on the rise again. While the power of consensus and trust has become a currency through apps with link backs to Facebook profiles for credibility, these avatar-based systems can only take one so far. What entertainment journalism and news reporting in general requires is time-honoured integrity and the transparency to win people's trust without a shadow of suspicion.

 
The Matrix: Reeveolutions - The Keanu Reeves Story


Keanu Reeves has come a long way in his career, starting with his breakthrough film River's Edge in 1986, he systematically climbed his way to the upper echelons of Hollywood. It's been a bumpy ride and not just because he's from Canada. Ranging from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure all the way through to Matrix: Resurrections, the actor has cast a spell on the world. He's played many iconic roles, many of them surprisingly named John! Johnny Mnemonic, John Constantine, Johnny Utah and John Wick, The One has really become one with the name. His actual name, Keanu, means a gentle breeze over the mountains in Hawaiian and strangely enough he was born in Lebanon, son to a showgirl/costume designer and geologist.

While the actor has been ramping up his career in recent years on the back of the critically-acclaimed John Wick franchise, which is already a trilogy with part four and part five filming and in preproduction, he's also reviving The Matrix under the watchful eye of Lana Wachowski. Matrix: Revolutions ended the trilogy in 2003, a film which was problematic because it didn't keep a foot in the ground. The series started with an 80/20 rule in terms of real versus unreal and progressively moved through to flipping that ratio so that Revolutions was largely shot against a green screen with extensive CGI. Leaving the world behind, or in fact ironically going into the actual real world, the film struggled with story and failed to meet the expectations as set by the The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded. It's been almost 20 years since the last Matrix installation, which together with Keanu's renaissance has prompted a revival.

There have been many '90s revivals lately. Just in Keanu's film stable, we've already seen a so-so remake of Point Break and Bill & Ted Face the Music. The Matrix is by far the biggest franchise remake to come out. releasing its first trailer for Matrix: Resurrections (above), after its barnstorming success and pop culture explosion in 1999. Reeves has turned it into a Reeveolution of his own with some parallels to his film career. The actor has gone through a resurrection of sorts, having been on the fringe before the household name became Internet famous. On the back of memes and discussion around his good nature as a human being, it seems as though his status has been elevated over the years. This has also been propelled by the massive success that is John Wick, action ballet if you will, which has semi-reinvented the Keanu Reeves brand.

He's always played dark characters in 47 Ronin, A Scanner Darkly and Constantine, no doubt inspired by his role as Neo and The Matrix. It's funny to imagine how The Matrix would have turned out with Will Smith who was originally considered for the lead. Now that Keanu's John Wick, it seems as though he's adopting the beard, black clothing and longish hair in almost every role he plays like a *Johnny* Cash trademark. Definitely Be My Maybe featured Reeves as "himself", which we all know is very difficult. Helen Mirren once said in a masterclass that one of the most difficult things is to play yourself on screen. Even just walking into a scene naturally is difficult and acting as yourself - just ask Jerry Seinfeld. Reeves decided to go completely over the top with his rendition of himself playing a negative, narcissistic and egotistical version of himself, which based on his current saintly reputation is completely inaccurate. However, he still maintains that John Wick look even if he's wearing glasses.

It seems as though he's trying to adopt the look of John Wick in The Matrix, where he plays Neo who's developed amnesia. It seems like one of the only ways to really reboot a series is to start over again. While set further in the future, he has to choose the red or blue pill once again - a major part of the marketing campaign. The trailer is suggesting that he has been doing that for quite some time, which means that he has to escape the digital dreamscape of the Matrix all over again. People that grew up with The Matrix will be pleased to revisit this '90s gem, a near-perfect film, and many will no doubt rewatch the trilogy in anticipation. Having greatly influenced cinema in its wake, Reeves is still fondly remembered for playing the man known as Mr. Anderson and it's quite interesting to see what has become of him opposite Trinity and Morpheus. Unfortunately Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne are not returning for this reboot. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has become the new Morpheus and Weaving has confirmed that he won't be reprising his iconic role as Agent Smith.

Based on what has been presented by the trailer, it promises to be an eye-popping visual extravaganza. While the technology has certainly come a long way, let's just hope that it doesn't turn into a Roland Emmerich style film, where CGI becomes the currency rather than the actual storytelling. Reeves probably inspired the Wachowskis to even consider another Matrix based on his newfound popularity and acclaim. Now a big-name with an ethereal kind of fame, this serves as a prelude to the subsequent John Wick sequels and let's just hope that the new Matrix: Resurrections film is good enough to revive the series and even prompt a couple of sequels of its own.

Keanu has an interesting screen presence. While mostly effective when cast in a role befitting his unique screen presence and talents, he does transpose much of his own vibration into roles. Besides his unmistakable run, he's become a conduit of sorts, not as vacuous as the chiseled Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) but able to give audiences a chance to live vicariously through his performances. >Matrix: Resurrections is only coming later in the year, so we'll just have to wait and speculate based on early trailers. Nowadays with the disruption of a global pandemic, the timing is perfect. Many have been shaken to the point that they have seen beyond their hamster wheel whilst others have seen too much and would willingly be inducted into the Matrix.

 
Christopher Guest's Six Fingers


Christopher Guest is a name that you may have heard bandied about in conversation. While he may not be a household name, the actor, writer and director is an absolute giant in the field of mockumentaries. Having risen through the ranks on the back of the career-defining mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, he's continued to ply the same comedic energy into every one of his productions. Collaborating on several occasions with Rob Reiner in This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride and A Few Good Men, he soon found a new writing partner in Eugene Levy of Schitt's Creek fame.

Christopher Guest's Six Fingers

While probably most famous for his role as the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride, Guest's become the crazy glue to each of his mockumentary productions.

Guest's Wikipedia page is a treasure trove of Easter Eggs from realising he was a Baron to being married to Jamie Lee Curtis.

A generous captain of an auteur, Guest has performed and worked alongside regular co-stars Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Parker Posey and John Michael Higgins.

While a script guides the actors and scenes, there's a strong emphasis on off-the-cuff reparte for this ensemble comedies. Some of the funniest lines and moments come as a result of improvisation, comic sparring and over-extensions.

While your appreciation of his mockumentaries will be based on your connection with the story, they often feature a group of attention-starved characters who want to be thrust into the limelight and achieve ultimate recognition in their craft.

1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)


This is Spinal Tap is a rockumentary about a band named Spinal Tap, who try to re-establish their presence as a serious rock band as they embrace their comeback tour with their heads held high. Filmed by a die-hard fan, their interviews and behind-the-scenes calamities become to add up. A mockumentary classic, this outrageously funny comedy set the bar high with many quotable lines - "crank it up to 11".




2. Waiting for Guffman (1996)


Waiting for Guffman mockuments the excitement and consternation of a Missouri small town musical production as rumours of receiving someone from Broadway come to light. Taken from the perspective of an awkward yet aspiring director, the so-so amateur cast try to up their game in anticipation of being discovered.




3. Best in Show (2000)


Best in Show lampooned the dog show circuit with a group of competitors being documented in this fun and ludicrous take about the tense build up to the Mayflower Dog Show.




4. A Mighty Wind (2003)


A Mighty Wind captured the hokey magic of folk musicians in their build-up to a reunion concert. Having never quite become famous-famous, their musical ambitions, old romances and self doubt kicks in.




5. For Your Consideration (2006)


For Your Consideration documented the award season buzz between cast and crew of an independent film, Home for Purim. After an unknown veteran's Oscar-worthy performance catches the air, nomination banter begins to snowball as the film gets called into question.




6. Mascots (2016)


Mascots sees a group of sports mascots trying to position themselves in their comeptitive world in the build up to the covetted Gold Fluffy award.

 
Beyond the Screen : Spider-Man Leak, Free Guy Boom, Petite Maman, Sonny Chiba Gone and Villeneuve in Hot Water


Every so often when we turn to cover a recent development in movie news, a week like the one behind us takes place. Rather than leave each of the stories unreported, or bother picking one and stringing it out into a suitable length, we'll be covering the five events in the world of movies making waves right now.

First Spider-man: No Way Home Trailer Leaks Online

There has been a great deal of speculation surrounding the next installment in the Spider-Man film series. Theories abound suggesting a multiverse is at play, allowing previous Spider-men (Maguire and Garfield) to enter the film, Doctor Strange co-leading, as well as the confirmed cast members Alfred Molina returning as Doc Ock and Jamie Foxx as Electro.

With all the secrecy, things have been kept thoroughly under wraps; until now. A trailer with unfinished VFX has been making the rounds all over the internet, as Sony scrambles to suppress the leak with copyright take downs. The trailer is legitimate and is even watermarked with the film's VFX artist, Wassila Lmouaci's, name. Now that the cat is out of the bag, with this being Marvel's most anticipated release since Avengers: Endgame, the studio has decided to fold and release the trailer officially, one day after the leak.

Free Guy Overperforms at the Box Office

A family friendly slant, original IP-branded marketing, and great audience reception has ensured that Ryan Reynolds' Free Guy not only opened to an above estimation $28.4 million debut, but has stayed strong in the face of new competition, crossing the $ 100 million worldwide mark over the weekend.

The film is a theatrical only release, helping its earnings drop only 34% in its second week, the best hold for a pandemic era wide release to date. This theatrical release may also be assisting in generating a healthy interest in the film, as word of mouth spreads and more and more viewers are encouraged to take the trip down to the local movie theatre, rather than add Free Guy to their endlessly expanding streaming watch list.

Céline Sciamma's New Film gets a Trailer

European festival circuit films generally receive muted but wholehearted praise, there are very few directors running in those circles who command “hype”. But with the reception of her previous film Portrait of a Lady on Fire being nothing short of rapturous, Sciamma has had eyes on her next solo directorial production since its announcement.

The film, Petite Maman, about an 8-year-old who meets a girl her own age in the woods beyond her mother's childhood home, has received exceptionally favorable reviews from critics who've seen it at the Berlin International Film Festival and via its French release, and English viewers can now expand their anticipation by watching the newly released trailer. Sciamma has said the film uses the work of Hayao Miyazaki as a “compass”.

Martial Arts Legend Sonny Chiba dies aged 82

The star known for his intense and ferocious performances died in his native Japan due to pneumonia, as a complication from Corona-virus, on the 19th of August. He had performed in over 200 films, most martial arts movies, of which he remains a patron saint. Quentin Tarantino re-introduced Chiba to modern western audiences, first through True Romance's Clarence's Sonny Chiba triple feature, and then by casting him as the mythical swordsmith Hattori Hanzō, who crafts the bride's deadly katana.

Chiba had achieved the rank of black belt in Kyokushin Karate, Ninjutsu, Goju-ryu karate, Shorinji Kempo, Judo and Kendo. If you'd like to watch a film of his as tribute, out of those 209, go for The Street Fighter from 1974, the first film ever released in America to be rated X for violent content alone. There is a moment where Chiba punches a man square on the head so hard that the film cuts to an x-ray of his skull caving in.

Denis Villeneuve In Hot Water over HBO Max Comments

Villeneuve has expressed disappointment at the prospect of audiences watching his upcoming sci-fi epic Dune on their TVs, since “It's a movie that has been made as a tribute to the big-screen experience.” He has likened watching Dune at home to putting a speedboat in your bathtub. Naturally, as the filmmaker, Villeneuve is entitled to his opinion on the best way to experience the film, but that hasn't stopped a large portion of the internet from taking the opportunity to drag another artist to defend the decisions of the studio behind them.

Some Twitter users malign that Villeneuve's comments are elitist and callous towards audience members who are weary to return to theatres as cases rise. Others suggest that the director is behind the times, that he and Martin Scorsese and all the rest of the old guard need to pipe down and let the kids watch movies on their phones if they like. One wonders how many of the users voicing their complaints would actually bother to see Dune either way.

 
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