Friday, 25 December 2015

'Who Killed Captain Alex' review.

Moviemanjames is back after a brief technical hiatus, and how better to celebrate than to recognize a smaller, more independent production. Many of you will know the trailer as 'Ugandan CGI at it's finest' or 'Wakaliwood', but who Killed Captain Alex has finally arrived in the UK! See what I thought after the jump....

Wakaliwood is doing alright for itself, isn't it? I think so at least. After a viral video, and a successful Kickstarter campaign; not to mention the Vice front page, a mini documentary, and a whole load of media attention, Isaac Nabwana's slum startup is giving the Hollywood film industry a run for it's money! Nabwana edits his films on computers built from spare parts and scrap he finds lying around, and burns his discs on a home made system to boot. Using a DIY blend of practical effects, cheap CGI, low-res equipment, and homemade props; Wakaliwood creates some truly unique films.

Fortunately, being Facebook friends with Nabwana, and Alan Ssali Hofmanis (his New York prodigy), I was made aware of the limited edition Wakaliwood range, released just in time for Christmas! Ramon Film Productions (Nabwana's company) was releasing a limited run of 500 multiple-signature copies of the full 'Who Killed Captain Alex' on DVD. Considering the only other option is to watch a depressingly low resolution effort on Youtube, I was sold. Take my money! (all £10 of it). So it arrived, in wonderfully lo-fi packaging. And I honestly didn't expect much! Invited a few friends over, had a few snacks, and stuck it on play.

One thing that needs to be mentioned (and this seems to be the right moment) is the idea of a video joker. A VJ is a Ugandan 'tradition' in film. Where we would see a film as being interesting enough to hold our attention for a couple hours - in Uganda this is obviously a ridiculous idea. I mean, who would ever enjoy watching a FILM for god's sakes........ not me....... Instead, they have an emcee style narrator, who explains the action; advertises the studio; and just takes the general piss out of the movie. Why do I mention this? Well, you see, a video joker isn't exactly a little sideline or a quirk. The VJ overpowers the movie, to the point where (at least in Who Killed Captain Alex) he is actually the main attraction.

So what's the plot of Uganda's first action movie? I don't really know - but years of watching David Lynch films have allowed me to pull threads together; here's my best shot. Captain Alex, who is head of the 'supa soldiers' Ugandan Military, captures the evil 'Richard', whose brother runs the Tiger Mafia. Richard's brother wages vengeance, and sends a spy to capture Captain Alex - but the spy comes back with some disturbing news: Captain Alex has been assassinated! But by who? Well, Captain Alex's successor mounts an attack on the Tiger Mafia in retaliation, who are currently bombing the Shit out of Kampala...... they capture and kill Richard's brother..... and nobody actually has a flying fuck about who actually killed captain Alex! And then the film ends on the cliffhanger.... yep, you guessed it, 'Who Killed Captain Alex'?

If that plot didn't sound like compelling viewing; you'd be right. But there are some gems of culture difference in here. For instance, the immortal 'You think I'll sit back and do nothing as you try to eat me like a juicy grasshopper?' is narrated so innocently, and without irony, that it's hard not to laugh. Or the beyond - extreme level of misogyny.  A particular favorite would be when the Tiger boss finds out that his wife has been saved instead of Richard: "Instead of my brother, you saved this bitch"/"I don't need you. I have dozens of wives. I only have one brother."; before shooting her. I may add that she wakes up beside the Ugandan Bruce Lee - Bruce U - in a tree hotel in the middle of nowhere. It's that kind of movie. It had myself and three others in stitches; and that's saying something.

The effects and props are also an interesting factor. They're obviously fake, but in a way that works. It just adds another layer of DIY-ness onto the film. In the same way that the helicopter scene was obviously CGI'd in Spectre, or that in every promo shot of The Force Awakens, I can easily discern cartoonish CGI animation, we can never believe it. So, I suppose, if it's obviously fake, it doesn't make a difference. I may add that one exception, that I am particularly looking forward to, may be the Revenant. The word's out that the bear attack is the most realistic CGI achieved. But for the time being, Alex's CGI doesn't detract from the film. If anything, it gives me time to admire its craft. The CGI has clearly been done by hand, with the animations very specific to the images on screen. Basic though they may be, one suspects that the hardship that Nabwana went through to make his PC and then animate his film exceeds that of many FX studios. So yes, I admire the craft of Isaac Nabwana.

And the props are exceptionally well made. When you see the guns, or the weapons; you know they're not real. But that doesn't matter. What does matter is that I could tell that a lot of love and effort went into making them.

 I suppose the circumstances elevate it above it's premise. We were watching a DVD burned on scrap equipment, in the slums of Uganda. Nabwana had made the film, and a studio, out of poverty. He had learned computer skills, CGI, editing techniques, camera angles, created his own green screen, made props, trained actors. From nothing. It's almost like the beginnings of cinema all over again; a new industry just finding it's footing. It felt magical just to be watching such a humble and wonderful endeavor. 

But then there was the Video Joker. VJ 'Emmie', as he was called, had to be the highlight of the show. Really, some of his lines were absolutely hilarious (a perfectly timed "What da fuuuuuuuuuuu...." or a "Dis is da commando. He fights drugs, and he uses drugs" added a comic edge non-present in many major comedies). His presence was definitely felt by all of us; not least because it kept us laughing constantly for the film's brief run-time.

All in all, there's a lot of threads put together. The film must be worth around two stars judged on it's own; and I'm going to give it 3 for it's craftsmanship and circumstance. But then, the VJ elevates it to 4. That's right, 'Who Killed Captain Alex' is a better film than 'Spy', or 'Ant-Man', or any other film I've ever given 3, 2, or 1 stars. And, 100%, 'Who Killed Captain Alex' is a better watch than 'Avengers: Age of Ultron', so save your cash; and contribute to the most exciting industry explosion since... well... 1900.
Who Killed Captain Alex gets 4 stars!

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