Stephen Aspeling, better known as Spling, is a South African movie critic, who was born in Cape Town. A child of the '80s, his love for film started with animation, replaying films like Dumbo and Dot and the Kangaroo to the point that the psychedelic elephant dance and bunyip still haunt him today. The nickname "Spling" was derived at school, mostly from his surname and also from the spring in his step... (ironically, something to do with a tight Achilles tendon).
The nickname stuck and followed him to Grahamstown, where he attended Kingswood College as a boarder. Between watching the odd movie in the common room and at the old-fashioned Odeon cinema, his love for film buoyed as his dream of becoming a movie critic began to take root. After completing a B.A. degree with a focus on Film, Media & Visual Studies at UCT and getting by as a copywriter for a couple of years, Spling started Spling.co.za in 2007, reviewing a film a day for a year.
After gaining some traction as an online movie critic, he started reviewing film for the lifestyle blog 2Oceansvibe. As the years passed, his channels expanded organically to include: Talking Movies, a weekly movie review for Fine Music Radio; regular review slots on Radio 702, CapeTalk and Chai FM; hosting special previews for Ster-Kinekor; reviews in The Herald and The Weekend Post; writing Techsmart magazine's movie section; judging film festivals for AFDA and the 48 Hour Film Project; assessing local and international film productions from script to second cut and regular features on various websites.
Career highlights include: an interview with BBC 5 Live, reviewing Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom for Indiewire, an accurate Oscar predictions interview with Jeremy Maggs on eNCA and interviewing Milla Jovovich and the cast of the upcoming film, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Here is Spling's... my Top Ten Movies interview.
"I'd love to produce a David Lynch dream."
I can't watch movies without...
- ...trying to secure a seat where I don't have to share arm rests, a viewing room where the screen is the only window, a cool environment and a comfortable silence, where cellphones only glow and ring on-screen. I've been spoiled by press screenings, where audiences are generally more considerate and keep slurping, crunching and running commentaries to a minimum. You can't slip into a dream with constant distractions, which probably explains why many movie-goers opt to watch the first or last shows of the day.
Which famous people share your birthday?
- Edward Norton, Robert Redford, Christian Slater, Roman Polanski, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Denis Leary, Shelley Winters and the late Patrick Swayze form part of my birthday tribe. The list is pretty film-heavy and features some distinct talents... maybe I'm just biased. (18 Aug)
What is the first film you remember watching?
- I remember going to the Goodwood drive-in with the family in a combi, but can't remember what we saw?! One of my first cinema experiences was watching An American Tail, probably at Vincent Park in East London over the Christmas holidays... it was an animated tearjerker brought to dizzying realisation by the Somewhere Out There song, which I'd repressed until I interviewed Charles Tertiens. Then, I also remember The Land Before Time and The NeverEnding Story... but it's difficult to remember the viewing sequence?
What's the worst movie you've ever seen?
- Disaster Movie edges it as an aggressively unfunny and feeble attempt at a spoof, but The Creature Wasn't Nice is probably the worst movie I've ever finished watching. I had to... at the time it seemed like a necessary evil. Leslie Nielsen is a personal favourite, mostly thanks to The Naked Gun, so maybe I felt I owed it to him to finish what has been dubbed "Naked Space". The film is a cheesy, retro, low budget sci-fi spoof in which a spaceship crew are terrorised by a creature after a specimen mutates. You're never ever really sure if they're actually in on the joke and it's painfully silly.
Which movies have made you tearful?
- There have been many, although in terms of "highlights"... I'd have to say The Green Mile, Departures and The Music Never Stopped. I shed tears of anguish in The Green Mile as an inhumane injustice was carried out against a man on death row. In Departures, the funeral parlour dignity was a precursor to a beautifully heartbreaking moment involving a bittersweet father-son reunion. I was moved to tears the first time I watched The Music Never Stopped, but was a blubbing wreck the second time I watched it with my wife. From start-to-finish I just sat there locked into the tender tones of the true story, tears seeping from my eyes as a tough love father tries to help his prodigal son access long forgotten memories through the power of music... a sentimental and beautifully realised film.
Who is the most famous movie star you've ever met?
- It's a toss up between John Cleese and Milla Jovovich. As a Monty Python fan, it was an honour and privilege for me to meet John Cleese behind-the-scenes, while he was in hair and make up. Sitting to his left, above the big man's shoes, and discussing everything from the Spud movies to the Edict of Nantes and French Huguenots... it was just wonderful being in the legend's presence. He even commented on the excessive punctuation on my "Holy hand grenade of Antioch" t-shirt.
Milla Jovovich was a teenage crush of mine from as early as Blue Lagoon 2 to her iconic roles in The Fifth Element and Resident Evil. So when the chance for an interview came along, I had no choice. Our small press contingent interviewed the entire cast of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, which warmed us up for a final and intimate interview with her... get this... in her trailer. After about 10 minutes of anxiously waiting for a moment to ask a question... I took the gap, asking her something that prompted her to say "I wish I could think like you". Since the film only comes out next year, you'll have to stay tuned to SPL!NG to find out what I asked!
What's your favourite movie line?
- I have a few. One of my favourite lines is from The Thing, in which, Garry, the oldest crew member has been detained on suspicion and subsequently found to be a non-threat.
Garry: I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS F**KING COUCH!
Then I have a couple of ridiculous favourites from Monty Python & The Holy Grail...
An arrow with a rescue note is fired from the turret of a castle, plummeting into the chest of a knight's squire, who with his last breath says...
Squire: Message for you, sir.
In order for King Arthur and his band of knights to proceed with the holy quest, he must provide the Knights of Ni with a shrubbery. They visit a nearby village, where they chastise an old crone... only to be interrupted by a passerby.
Roger the Shrubber: Are you saying Ni to that old woman?
King Arthur: Um, yes.
Roger the Shrubber: Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say Ni at will to old ladies. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress in this period in history.
King Arthur: Did you say shrubberies?
Roger the Shrubber: Yes, shrubberies are my trade. I am a shrubber. My name is Roger the Shrubber. I arrange, design, and sell shrubberies.
Who would you choose to play you in your biopic?
- If it was possible, I'd like Mickey Rourke, James Spader or Mark Ruffalo to play me. I really admire these actors and while the role would require some serious make up and a physical transformation, I think they'd be talented enough to own the part.
If you could produce a movie, what would it be about?
- I'd love to produce a David Lynch dream. His work is always bold, brave, moody and surreal. I admire the director, he's a creative genius, a true artist and a visionary. If I was able to persuade him... it'd be an enigmatic and surreal biopic about the life and times of Billy Corgan and my all-time favourite band, The Smashing Pumpkins. He convinced Corgan to record Eye for Lost Highway, so there's already a synergy... watch this space!
Finally, your top ten movies of all-time...
- Monty Python & The Holy Grail ...this ridiculous medieval comedy misadventure is essentially a series of silly sketches under the banner of an Arthurian spoof. It's a passionate love letter to comedy from Monty Python with quotable quotes, hilarious animated sequences and infinite silliness. The film still holds up today and I recall watching it three times over in one sitting... although to be fair, the third time was in Romanian.
- Sunset Blvd. ...I believe Billie Wilder's old Hollywood meets new Hollywood masterpiece is what inspired David Lynch's career. The haunting, surreal and decaying atmosphere, the bold directorial choices and the delusional smoke-and-mirrors Hollywood story. Just talking about it makes me want to see it again.
- Chinatown ...Roman Polanski's sprawling film noir crime epic stars Jack Nicholson as a gumshoe. From the street smart detective tricks to the scandalous crime drama, Chinatown swathes you in an engrossing mystery that dangles our would-be hero over a chasm of conspiracy and heartache.
- Excalibur ...John Boorman originally wanted to direct Lord of the Rings, but decided it was too ambitious for the time, and set his sights on Camelot instead. This iconic tale has an epic mythological feel and conjures up visions of the boy with the golden mask and the lady in the water, which all fit perfectly to the overriding tune of Carl Orff's O Fortuna.
- As It Is In Heaven ...this powerful Swedish drama is the only film I've attended, which got a proper standing ovation. I was speechless when I left the cinema and all I can say is... seek it, watch it.
- Into the Wild ...Sean Penn directed the story of Christopher McCandless, a college student whose wanderlust took him on a cross-country runaway adventure. It's a tragic, nostalgic and haunting tale of ideals and survival and who can forget the enigmatic Emile Hirsch, a heartfelt Hal Holbrook and Eddie Vedder's on-the-road soundtrack?
- The Intouchables ...this feel good French buddy comedy about a carer and his aristocratic employer brims with life! It's an absolute winner, from the infectious Earth, Wind and Fire opening to the tender, unreserved odd couple bromance. The best part of all, it's based on a true story.
- Departures ...Japanese tradition and honour abounds in funeral ceremonies as this dark comedy drama grapples with life, death and everything inbetween. It's heartwarming, heartbreaking and at times hilarious... delivering a full spectrum of contemplative entertainment that inspires awe, humility and gratitude.
- Army of Darkness...Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell hit the ground running with The Evil Dead. While the grotesque cabin horror won critical acclaim and cult notoriety, it was Part 3 that took The Evil Dead into hyperdrive, transporting our comic hero Ash back in time with his "boomstick" and beat up Oldsmobile. The stop-motion effects and outrageous blend of comic book action and horror comedy made it a big surprise and an instant favourite after watching it at the Odeon in Grahamstown.
- Groundhog Day ...Bill Murray is Bill Murray and this transcendent comedy turned romance manages to entertain, grapple with the big life questions and catapult us into one man's dream turned awakening without flinching... again and again.
Picking a Top Ten is no easy feat. Here are some of my other favourites that I'd call runners up: City of God, Vertigo, Highlander, Dead Poet's Society, There Will Be Blood, The Matrix, Mulholland Dr., Donnie Darko, The Naked Gun, The Wedding Singer, Mad Max: Fury Road and Before Sunrise.
Top Ten Movies with... is a people series on SPL!NG, featuring a host of celebrities ranging from up-and-coming to established personalities from all industries including, but not limited to: Internet, Radio, TV, Film, Music, Art and Entrepreneurs. It's a chance to discover who they are, find out where they're at and to get a fun inside look at their taste in movies.
Photography: Casey Crafford - CaseyCrafford.com