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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.

6 Classic South African Movie Snacks Ranked

The United States probably has the widest selection of movie snacks to pick from... after all that's where Hollywood is based, right? Cookie dough bites, M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, soft pretzels, gummy bears, Skittles, Junior Mints, Twizzlers, Sno-Caps, Milk Duds, pizza, nachos, hot dogs and chips may rate high on the list, but what about South African movie goer tastes? Having been to the cinema on many occasions, there are some distinct differences between what you can and can't eat in a local cinema.

Most of these choices have been dictated by the bigger cinema chains who tailor popcorn and soda fountain combos with a few featured chocolates or sweet treats. South Africans have a sweet tooth and when it comes to movie night... it's absolute carnage, a place where you definitely don't want to run into your dentist. Sweets from Heaven or Hell, here are some of the most popular movie treats in South Africa, which often accompany combo deals to lure people into paying Astro-nomical prices... get it? Astro... never mind.

popcorn movie snack

1. Popcorn

When it comes to watching movies, there's nothing quite as iconic as popcorn. Quite easily the #1 movie snack, it's become inextricably linked with the act of going to the movies. Whether we've been indoctrinated to just link popcorn and movies or it just makes sense, one of the cheapest and easy-to-produce confectionery stand items remains steadfast. Being healthier than other snacks (depending on how heavily you sprinkle), popcorn is quick, easy and fun. You may only really taste the first and last mouthful or finish your box before the movie even starts, but it seems popcorn will continue to pop as long as cineplexes continue to screen movies.

Dressing it up in your favourite sprinkle or just going for plain salt, this old favourite seems destined to remain. Remember not to inhale the salt and vinegar sprinkle. For those who are finding popcorn to be more of the same... why not mix things up with some Tabasco hot sauce instead of sprinkle or add some Astros or Smarties into the mix. If you're unlucky enough to sit next to someone who crunches their popcorn loudly with their mouth wide open, you may wish that cinemas revisited the viability of this classic snack in a bucket. Although it's much easier to beat 'em by joining them with your own loud munching. Turn it into a competition.

2. Chocolate Balls with a Honeycomb Centre (Whispers or Chuckles)

If you want a delicious chocolate treat look no further than honeycomb-centred Whispers. These melt-in-your-mouth favourites have had staying power because they seem to be one step ahead of the pack. Typically more expensive than most sweet treats at the stand, they're a real spoil. A great option to share for date night or simply indulge in for a sugar rush during movie night with your friends, Whispers have been a hit since the very beginning.

Woolworths created their version of malted puffs called Chuckles, which is... and it's no secret - basically a Whisper. At some point, Woolworths were so gosh-darn exclusive they didn't stock generic brand chocolates. They had their own version of pretty much everything. Maybe this gave them exclusive licence to do whatever they please, in most cases not quite hitting the mark. Realising that the other guys were blasting the bliss point with more accuracy... and the old adage "why reinvent the wheel" - they caved. However, Chuckles - a thing all Woolworths customers will be familiar with - are devilishly good. Served in mostly big packs, they're the more approachable and cheerful honeycomb-centred chocolate ball. Be warned - if you open either a packet of Chuckles or Whispers - chances are, you will finish it singlehandedly whatever the size!

3. Candy-coated Chocolate (Astros or Smarties or M&Ms)

Astros are candy-coated chocolates with a biscuit centre. When they arrived in 1997, Smarties were still top of the pops. However, it wasn't long before the new choc on the block (sorry) had made inroads. Kids love Smarties, which unfortunately did not improve grades automatically as the logo suggested but could serve as a good incentive to do homework. Astros became a cooler option, obviously punting their out-of-this-world taste at a time when The X-Files was still huge and competing when it came to value packs.

Many still prefer the sweet chocolate delight that is Smarties or more recently M&Ms, but the taste sensation of Astros, which features an extra biscuit dimension gives it the edge. The candy-covered snack is still popular, even if not as wild as its heyday when it first arrived with added novelty. Still a main feature with the added benefit of the box design that allows consumers to load up the box's wedge like a construction vehicle, it's a staple in South Africa. Just don't look up shellac, the stuff that gives some candies their shine.

4. Jellies (Wine Gums or Jelly Tots)

France may be asking the rest of the world to cool it with naming their vino after their regions but they're probably not getting as heavy with gelatine-based sweets. Don't worry, these treats are only packed with sugar and not alcohol. Chewy, named after wines and probably trying to unsuccessfully emulate the flavour of their namesakes, Wine Gums have been a staple of cinema-going in South Africa for many years.

Originally packed in a box, these sweets were regarded as a classy option when it came to loading up at the confectionery stand. While the jelly sweets have dropped the box they're still a firm favourite. They're deliciously fragrant, more-ish and soft enough to avoid becoming a nuisance to others around you if you don't jiggle the packet too loudly. A great choice for date night and people wishing to eat in a polite fashion, wine gums are a cinema classic.

Jelly Tots are more playful sugar-coated jellies. Maybe it's their size or that they're often associated with kids, but these little jellies are a nostalgic treat that few would refuse if offered twice. It's a bit tricky buying them as a self-respecting full-grown adult but once the bag's open... anything goes. The alternative to Smarties for a long time, these fun little sugary jellies haven't changed much at all over the years... besides the packaging.

smarties movie snack

5. Chocolate Bars and Slabs (Pretty Much Whatever's Available)

Having a wide selection of chocolate bars and slabs in South Africa, you'll only realise just how spoiled you are if and when you visit another country (not the US). Somehow it's become a tradition or socially acceptable en masse for chocolate bars to line check outs at all major supermarkets. To say you have at least 10 options on the counter lines is an understatement. This means that we've almost got too many chocolates to mention as favourites... there's even a selection called Favourites!

So under this grouping, it's whatever the cinema chain is offering. Lunch Bar, Dairy Milk, Snickers, Bubbly... there's a wide array of chocolate bars and slabs that make their way into combo deals. There's no standard in this category as long as it's chocolatey. While Beacon and Nestle is seen as a step below Cadbury's in the cheap and cheerful chocolate slab game, its said that blind taste tests are much trickier to separate one from another. Challenge accepted? Either way you look at it... chocolate is chocolate. Even more so in the days before palm oil became so prolific.

6. Hot Food (Pizza and Nachos)

South Africa has tried to go down the nachos and pizza route when it comes to cinema snacks but they haven't quite taken off. Perhaps it's the cheesiness that has exhibitors a bit worried with trying to clean cinemas in-between screenings. There must be nothing worse than sliding your hand over the arm rest in the dark not to find someone else's arm lingering but a gooey non-descript residue. Some have managed to smuggle entire takeaway orders into cinemas but it really comes down to just how inconsiderate the food you're consuming will be for the rest of the audience.

As spacious as it may be, it's a closed room and exotic smells tend to travel. We know why seafood doesn't make it onto the menu for movie snacks but it seems there have been some gravitation to canapes... especially with the fancy pants VIP screenings where you can have your selection of snacks brought to you while you recline in an over-sized chair.

Food for thought... is all this salt and sugar good for us? What are healthier movie snack alternatives? Is munching on a carrot really going to beat all of the above? Have you ever watched a movie without swinging past the sugar rush kiosk? Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of its tube? Check out our article on 10 rules to make movie-going great again!

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