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Chill, Binge and Cringe... Netflix's Greatest Original Hits

We're talking about Netflix's Top 10 most watched originals based on views in the first four weeks. When they refer to views they mean even if someone just clicked on the title and watched for a few seconds that still counts. So if you didn't manage to get to the end of a film like The Irishman and only managed to get a few minutes in, that counts.

Netflix is priding themselves on their original movies and has been spending a lot of money on getting heaps of original content. This is so that they actually hold the complete license to that content. It's not just filler, even though a lot of the films are kind of middling... it's to have something if all of their licensed content were to revert back to the originators. In other words, they want to be able to provide their own tailormade content so that you subscribe to something if all else fails. This may just be a fall back guarantee so that after a couple years when a license eventually returns to its nest, they have their own streaming content to showcase.

So in reverse order at number 10 is The Perfect Date. It's a romcom all about a guy who's realising that he can create an app to essentially become a professional boyfriend. It's an interesting idea when you consider the notion of there being an app for everything, which also taps into the entrepreneurial spirit. Romcoms are usually a safe bet so it's not surprising to have one in the most-viewed list.

At number 9 is The Platform. Many still have to see this but it's an excellent horror film. It's quite interesting because this one had about 56 million views and it's a foreign film with subtitles, which makes its Top 10 placement even more impressive. Beyond cracking a top spot, the concept and quality of the film managed to spread like wildfire. They probably had a substantial marketing push behind it as with many of their other original titles, but this one really has won against the odds and works on a number of "levels". You'll see...

At number 8 is The Wrong Missy. Everyone wants a David Spade comeback because he's been around... he's part of Hollywood history with some interesting outings as the lovable fool, Joe Dirt, as a sidekick to Chris Farley in Black Sheep and who can forget Finch from Just Shoot Me. Unfortunately, The Wrong Missy is not the movie that was going to signal his comeback but it is showing that he's got some serious pop culture capital.

At number 7 is Triple Frontier. It's the guy from The Office and he's huge! John Krasinski is now very much a part of the Hollywood machine with films like A Quiet Place and the sequel coming out. He's a great act, is very charming and it's cool to see him up there. It certainly doesn't hurt that he's married to Emily Blunt.

At number 6, The Irishman. These guys have still sorta got it! Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci you know these guys are luminaries when it comes to gangster films in Hollywood. I was really shocked to hear that this is the first time Al Pacino is working with Scorsese since they've both been in Hollywood for decades and for them not to have crossed paths seemed like a crazy thing to happen.

A lot of Oscar hopes were dashed on this film. The Irishman is one of the biggest kind of Oscar losses when you consider it was nominated for 10 Oscars and went home empty-handed. I thought that actor Robert De Niro did a great job. His movement could have been a little bit better with him playing such a wide range of ages. I really enjoyed this film and even at three hours I thought it was terrific and a little bit sad they didn't pull any Oscar gold on the night. It was great to see a return to form for Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It's one of those films on a streaming platform that should have actually gone into cinema for a limited release. The Irishman is one of those those game-changers that will affect how we see the streaming industry when it comes to Oscar nominations. They've obviously proved their worth and their mettle with films like Roma already but The Irishman was a chance for Scorsese to put his hand up and show his stuff. He was able to have the liberty to make the movie he really wanted to make so I really love that film and I'm glad that it's in the Top 10. Even though most people probably would've adopted that meme where it broke the film down into several episodes rather than having to watch it in one go...

At number 5, Murder Mystery. Whodunnit's are back! We've got Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston who were a great team in Just Go with It and it's cool to see them doing something again. It's popularity also signals that people are interested in murder mysteries. Knives Out was a great film with Daniel Craig really turning up the heat on that one. Murder Mystery just shows there's a spark of interest in that kind of genre again. I've seen a lot of '80s stuff being remade and maybe it's because the filmmakers who were kids and influenced at the time are now actually wielding enough power relive their childhood through nostalgia. It's an interesting cycle.

At number 4, we've got 6 Underground. Ryan Reynolds knows Deadpool. He's a charming actor who's come through the ranks of comedy but has realised there's still a place for him in action comedy. 6 Underground made it seem like Michael Bay was trying to put together a new kind of franchise in the vein of Fast and Furious, which is still going strong and shows there's a market, even though they're gravitating towards becoming James Bond meets Hot Wheels based on the most recent entries.

Ryan Reynolds is fun to watch in just about anything and I think Deadpool's definitely converted him to the other side of the spectrum when it comes to action. He broke ground in the superhero world as Green Lantern and got some experience as a superhero playing Weapon X in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. So he's always been nipping at the edges but now we can say that he's completely graduated. 6 Underground is over-the-top, brash, colourful and excessive - the kind of film as we've come to expect from Michael Bay. It seemed like there was a lot of hype but it didn't have much follow-through.

Then at number 3, Spenser Confidential. In Mark Wahlberg we trust. This guy is an everyman who's been in so many different films. He's committed to his roles and the kind of guy you'd want to grab a beer with... so accessible. He's a great guy and we believe that and are just happy to spend two hours with him in just about anything. Whether he's dealing with a talking bear in Ted or trying to save people from an explosive oil rig in Deepwater Horizon, he's the man and it's wonderful to watch any Mark Wahlberg film these days. You know you're in for at least a 6 going 7/10 kind of experience. The angle with the Transformers was a misstep, possibly an attempt to save that whole franchise from Michael Bay's quest for CGI overload because it's just become even more over-the-top in recent years. But it's Marky Mark, right?

At number 2, is Birdbox starring Sandra Bullock. It's a surprise hit but not really all that surprising since it followed closely in the wake of another sensory high concept horror in A Quiet Place. Sandra Bullock is a phenomenal actress and that obviously drew a lot of interest for this film. Using blindfolds, there's a similar sensory thing at play to A Quiet Place and it got a lot of publicity because of the concept and a great trailer. Unfortunately, it really didn't follow through and felt as though they were setting up for a TV series and then salvaged it by turning it into an open-ended film. I don't know where they are with a sequel but it was ultimately underwhelming, despite a good start. Birdbox had an interesting premise and was quite edgy in its own way but got a bit muddled at the end of the day.

At number 1, Chris "Killsworth" in Extraction. Hemsworth is best known for his role as Thor and he's got a lot of draw as a result. Extraction has been compared to John Wick with Keanu Reeves, another film with a lot of kills. John Wick could be described as gun ballet based on the action choreography and echo of Matrix gunplay. Extraction works on a similar level of excessive violence with a really high body count.

Overall these blockbuster films are quite mixed and interesting in terms of going from The Irishman, which is three hours and a gangster epic to an overcooked lightweight comedy like The Wrong Missy with David Spade. It does show you that many entries are not necessarily of a high standard and many people still make their viewing decisions based on big stars. So star power is alive and well on Netflix and the streaming world. Obviously massive marketing campaigns behind these productions help because you've got a captive audience checking into their Netflix home screen on a regular basis.

You're always going to be able to push the next big thing to them and this has a major bearing on what people decide to watch. All of these titles would have appeared on your home screen at some point and who knows how they adjust the weighting of each of their originals when it comes out? Garnering millions of views, Netflix is really changing things up and you can also see this in terms of older films that didn't get a proper airing essentially getting a "new release" roll out. It reinforces the idea that we're actually just overwhelmed with entertainment content these days when many viewers don't even get a chance to realise they've missed a film release.

Spling Interviews Francis Annan and Tim Jenkin on 'Escape From Pretoria'

Spling recently had the pleasure of interviewing Escape from Pretoria writer-director Francis Annan and the man who inspired it all - Tim Jenkin. Conducted and recorded via video conference, Spling was able to get some of the nitty gritty details of what went into making the film and living the story.

Escape from Pretoria recently premiered on TNT Africa, a prison break thriller that tells the remarkable true story of Tim Jenkin. An anti-apartheid activist, Jenkin was incarcerated at Pretoria Central Prison... known as "white man's Robben Island" at the time. He and Stephen Lee were working for the ANC distributing propaganda in a bid to topple the apartheid regime. After being arrested and imprisoned, Jenkin began work on a meticulous escape plan. One of the greatest true jailbreak stories of all-time, it defies expectations with a story that could have inspired MacGyver and The A-Team, two popular TV series that followed only a few years later.

Jenkin documented his amazing story in a gripping and equally meticulous autobiography 'Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison', which is being re-released by Jacana Media with the film's title. This book formed the basis for a long-awaited adaptation that almost didn't happen when the filmmakers were confronted with relocating the entire production to Australia or not doing it at all. At this point, writer-director Francis Annan had joined the project and was interested in translating what he believed to be a "visually dominant" story to screen.

While Escape from Pretoria has been criticised by South Africans for its iffy accents and international casting decisions, the film has received rave reviews around the globe. Topping the box office in Korea, it's the powerful story, Jenkin's genius and Radcliffe's determination that underwrite a masterclass in suspense. Using a compelling soundtrack, crisp sound design and crafting some tense moments around the escape plan, Annan uses his feature film debut to showcase his ability. While it starts off with a few awkward moments, it quickly gets into gear as soon as the prison break thriller dynamic clicks into place like key in a lock.

From this point, you're hooked and the superficial flaws cease to matter turning in an exhilarating and important story about a man committed to a much greater overarching cause. Putting the needs of others ahead of yourself is not natural and this heroic sense of altruism at the heart of Escape from Pretoria gives it a purity and raw power.

The Rise of Digital Arts & Culture in South Africa

In the last few months the entire entertainment industry has changed drastically. While things seem to be slowly opening up again with new restrictions around seating, cleanliness and capacity percentages, most festivals are reinventing themselves by going digital. Able to simply pick whichever show and not having to book at physical venues in order to reach an audience, it's going to bring about a new set of challenges.

Normally live events have a completely different make up to readily available digital entertainment. Subverting the opportunity to get a night out and allowing people to have a night in with traditionally live events means it all funnels into consuming digital entertainment wherever you are in the world from your couch. Perhaps this new digital space requires more precise thinking and service offerings from a facilitation service, which can provide a more accurate and safer way for entertainment to be shared and accounted for when it comes to ticketing and box office takings.

The National Arts Festival

One of the first South African festival organisations to announce a digital or virtual reinvention was the National Arts Festival, which has been held in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) for decades. A cultural hub and a calendar event in the town's schedule, it brings in business opportunities for locals. Bringing arts, craft, entertainment, theatre, film and bustling trade into the town, it's been a highlight and recommended festival, which attracts many festivalgoers travelling into Makhanda to enjoy the festivities. Regarded as one of the most preeminent art and culture festivals in the country, they've had to change things up by going virtual.

The virtual National Arts Festival is currently underway. The NAF portal offers day and festival passes in order to facilitate viewing, allowing you to get access to the show's you've booked for. If you're interested in seeing what's happening... it's running until 5 July 2020. Yet, it still remains to be seen whether the move to digital is going to be a step forward or back for the festival. While it's feasible for theatre productions and films to find an audience online, which is much more widespread, it still requires some clever marketing and re-engineering in order to attach to these new online platforms. While people are much more digitally-aware now, there are certain hoops and checkpoints that are still not quite mainstream. The idea of paying for one uninterrupted screening of a film or theatre piece can present some problems both technically based on screening hardware and ticket management.

It's easy enough to go through a ticketing company like Webtickets in order to purchase an online ticket, which essentially emails you a specialised link or QR code ticket. However, this doesn't manage the online streaming situation accurately with those who can't play a production or those sharing the link or getting 10 people in on 1 ticket.

The Labia Theatre's Home Screen

The Labia Theatre have now released their Home Screen. Essentially a streaming site where you can watch specific art house film releases by paying an admission fee in order to stream them. They've definitely embraced the change brought about by the pandemic. Having to adapt and evolve to continue presenting movies, they've effectively attached a fifth screen to their four screen cineplex by enabling patrons to watch some of their film selection from the comfort of their home. As an intermediary solution this makes a lot of sense, yet still has to deal with some of the overriding issues relating to a digital tickets for an online service.

Labia Home Screen

When someone buys access to a screening or streaming event, the provider needs to ensure that it's limited to one screen. If the link is the only thing you need in order to access the event, you could see how people sharing that same link with their friends could present a problem. Moreover, when pricing tickets event organisers have to also take into account that they don't need to provide a venue, seating, parking and a safe space for the audience. These bricks and mortar additional costs form part of the equation, which means that technically a digital experience ticket price should be reduced. Having said that, they also need to factor in that a single ticket equates to a single screen, which can be viewed by an entire household or as many people that can fit into a lounge.

The Labia's pay-per-view service gives registered user's 6 hours in order to watch a film title for R60. This gives them some level of control over which account is being used and some limits in terms of access. It's a great idea, which can continue to run parallel with the cineplex once everything returns to a new normal. What's also good is that it could eventually transition into a mainline offering. Their loyal audience will be keen to support the new Home Screen so let's hope it's able to grow.

Encounters Documentary Film Festival

The Encounters Documentary Film Festival is also going digital, yet they're taking on more of a hybrid approach by enabling those who want to go into cinemas to watch films to be able to do continue doing so. Perhaps this double whammy approach is the best way to handle the gradual changes and shift to digital. With so many performers, productions and projects taking a digital route, this will inevitably put all the power with the ticket-buying audience. Hopefully lower ticket prices will eventually equate to more purchases.

Encounters 2020

Taking place between 20 and 30 August 2020, they're responding to the changes over the last few months by making the festival available to "everyone, everywhere in South Africa". Encounters will be offering most of their documentary films free-of-charge with select paid events in Cape Town and Johannesburg over this time. The idea is to make films available online or on the big screen and the festival organisers will be outlining their plan for going digital shortly.

The film festival has been running for over two decades and will be opening with the timely documentary, Influence, a profile of ‘morally slippery British reputation manager’ Lord Timothy Bell of PR firm Bell Pottinger. Those interested in getting more information on the upcoming schedule and line-up of documentary films on offer can visit the Encounters website.

This arts and culture digital revolution will enable people to catch shows that they ordinarily wouldn't have access to from around the world, which was the case with Marc Lottering's My Fellow South Africans. His first live-streaming comedy show must have made an absolute fortune if you consider the number of tickets sold. Enabling even more people than he would be able to fit into a theatre to see and perform, many of which would have been accessing the show from outside the country (at a fraction of the cost when you consider the exchange rate), he was able to leverage his fan base to great effect. So while new territory is being explored with a sharp learning curve, the time brings to mind Albert Einstein's comment that "in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity".

Spling Reviews TNT Original 'Escape from Pretoria'

Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling is a film fanatic and movie critic, who has become something of a film authority in South Africa. That's why TNT Africa got in touch to get his take on the first of their slate of TNT Originals, Escape from Pretoria. Put a red circle around 4 July on your calendar because this prison break thriller is set to premiere then at 8pm. Set to release the first Saturday of every month, TNT Africa are bringing premieres and international stars into your living room on TNT, channel 137 on DStv and channel 16 on GOtv.

Escape from Pretoria starring Daniel Radcliffe and Daniel Webber is about a trio of young political prisoners who made it their do-or-die mission to escape from the maximum security wing of Pretoria Central Prison in 1978. It's based on the real-life story of Tim Jenkin, an anti-apartheid activist whose ANC propaganda leaflet distribution landed him in prison. Using his cunning and ingenuity, the man concocted one of the most daring and meticulous jailbreaks of all-time.

This pulsating prison break thriller is directed by Francis Annan, who has taken the same level of locksmith precision to his film-making, turning in a nail-biting and suspenseful film. In this video review, Spling unpacks Escape from Pretoria, the first of many TNT Originals produced by WarnerMedia's Particular Crowd. Other films such as Buffaloed, Human Capital and Guns Akimbo are also lined up for release, featuring the likes of Liev Schreiber and Daniel Radcliffe.

Spling is also hosting a Bingeing with Spling online watch party to tie in with the premiere of Escape from Pretoria, so make sure your cellphone's charged and you're stocked up on popcorn! You can join in the action right from your couch by following #BingeingWithSpling, #EscapeFromPretoria and #TNTOriginal to track the conversation across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the night. Banter, prizes, movie trivia and an action-packed movie... it's gearing up to a whole lot of fun and the perfect way to spend movie night!

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