Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: movie review



The director aiming to film real life events faces an arduous task, which gets harder when the events are recent history. One part of the problem is convincing the audience this is what transpired; another is particularly apparent when the event is tragic: the audience knows the end, there can be no suspense.

It is hard to tell if Obi Emelonye, the director of Last Flight to Abuja (LFTA), is fortunate to have slated the release of his air-disaster film weeks after the last air crash in the country. On the one hand there is the curiosity of the audience to see the cinematic version of events, a curiosity that is bound to fuel high box-office numbers; on the other hand, his motives must be called into question—though filmmakers are far from the most moral people on the planet. Thankfully, he has given an interview where he explains the timing is coincidence. Sadly, not a lot of people have seen that interview, thus the misconception persists. The start of the film—featuring a shaky plane in flames—seems to lend credence to this view; by the end, however, it becomes obvious he has sidestepped these problems by creating an entirely fictional story with the existence of a plane crash as the only connection to the recent event.

LFTA is a story about ordinary men and women caught in unusual circumstances: Suzie (Omotola Jolade-Ekeinde) plans a surprise for her fiancé but gets surprised by another woman; a company grants a holiday to its staff one of whom has a secret; a young footballer has just gotten signed apparently by English Premier League side, Arsenal; and an elderly man is going for a medical operation. All of these characters get on the plane with luggage—more emotional than physical—for possibly their last flight. Suzie’s calm frustration and the company worker’s guilt are perhaps the more perceptible emotions aboard the plane mainly because these are the only stories the script allows some back story, the rest of the characters are met abruptly at the airport.

At just over an hour, it is obvious there is not enough time for appreciable characterization especially as in typical Nollywood style, a significant part of screen time is taken up by needless camera shots: the most unnecessary being the endless shots of awkward computer generated images of the plane.

The film does not disappoint, as the characters end up as unfamiliar as the actors playing them who, with the exception of the Jide Kosoko as company CEO, Hakeem Kae Kazeem (who overcompensates his ‘foreigness’ with some funny sounding pidgin words) as Adesola the company employee with a secret, and Anthony Monjaro as pilot, read their lines as from a teleprompter in a foreign language. Yes, the culprits include AMAA nominated actress Omotola Jolade-Ekeinde whose scenes and dialogue with fiancé (Ali Nuhu) are a stilted, chemistry-less disaster. Though, in fairness to the cast, the script is not strong on flowing dialogue, a lot of it recalls the infamous Harrison Ford remark: “George, you can type that s**t, but you sure as hell can’t say it.”

Some chemistry finally develops between Omotola and an impressively subdued Jim Iyke (another company employee) but it is much too late.

The cinematography features scenes in Lagos contrasted with Abuja, inviting the viewer to note the differences between the cities, a brilliant use of camera detail which renders the subsequent dialogue comparing the cities—the latter city, according to the script, is endowed with “good roads, nice houses, clean babes”—redundant. Peculiar details abound: the airline is called Flamingo, a flightless bird and functions as a much better foreshadowing device if used as confidently as the child-seer; the pilot’s wife works in PWS Clinic- an apt acronym for Pilot’s Wife Syndrome which she is said to be afflicted with; and when the co-pilot (who manages to substitute ‘illegible’ for ‘eligible’) speaks about the perception of pilots in society, it is difficult to ignore that the principal actress is married to a pilot in real life.

Whether these are intentional details is not known but their presence lends an interesting angle to the proceedings.


The film has substantial sponsors, and luckily advert placements are more artfully done than in most films of such magnitude of investment. It is an inventive piece of trickery to satisfy rich sponsors and yet minimize intrusion unlike, say, the commercial crudity of the ads in the last Jenifa film, the assured conspicuousness of placements in Afolayan’s Phone Swap or the incessant Mtn plugs in Balogun’s Tango With Me, all with a surfeit of big sponsors. All over the film are elements of good intentions but somehow something lets the director down: there is use of a clumsy foreshadowing device when a child warns a father to not board the plane after purchasing a ticket that is much too easily sold to the heartbroken Suzie; the plane crash is done heavy-handedly and is not likely to fool anyone despite the sweaty agonies of the crew on board—it almost squandered every ounce of goodwill the novelty of staging multiple lives in a Nollywood film had created. (Side note: how come the sky outside the cockpit is near dusk and outside the aisle the sun shines brightly?)

Eventually, it comes down to motivation. What exactly is Emelonye trying to say, if anything at all? What guided him here? Is LFTA a paean to the recent victims? A protest with cinema as medium? Is it a meditation on the inevitability of death? Or a reminder that mankind’s pressing worries are ephemeral? Or is he a businessman with a camera merely aiming for the dramatic? The answers to these questions are varied and different viewers will come to different conclusions—there is a scene or a stretch of dialogue to support each of the proposed motivations—and whatever the actual answers are, LFTA does not supply them: it appears unsure, and ends too quickly to give a definite statement. As a lot of filmmakers love lengthy discussions to linger long after the credits roll, that may be a sign of strength, especially if one is reclining in the director’s chair; but while the flexibility of answers or lack thereof, is not a weakness, it is arguable that those watching from aisle seats will consider it anything loftier than an evasion.





Kenneth Gyang’s Confusion Na Wa is the result of a progression, an evolution of film making in Nollywood. It is the most important film in Nollywood as the industry enters a new phase in its (generally acknowledged) third decade.

The film, a blend of western humour and a Nigerian sensibility, is from a director who came of age as the Nigerian film industry was making first steps— both Kenneth Gyang, 27, and Nollywood took first steps to an external consciousness together. This means Nollywood’s ethos, starting to gain a visibility by 1993, was part of the man’s childhood cinema experience.

However, to fully appreciate the influences so evident in Confusion Na Wa, another milestone in cinema history, happening just a year later, has to be noted. At the Cannes Film Festival, in 1994, a former video clerk’s film earned high praise, culminating in its win of the scriptwriting award at the Academy Awards. So, within a year, there was Nollywood and there was Pulp Fiction made by former video clerk Quentin Tarantino.

Twenty years later, both events would reshape and relaunch Nollywood.

The parallels between Confusion Na Wa and Pulp Fiction are apparent: both films were shot with manageable budgets, both have overlapping, if circular storylines or what David Denby of The New Yorker called a ‘collateral narration’ where every action causes a reaction in another character’s life. Both have major stars who took a pay cut to star in them. And perhaps most importantly, both have reprobates at the centre of their narratives. Gene Siskel, a popular American film critic in the 90’s, placing Pulp Fiction alongside great violent films like Psycho and A Clockwork Orange, said, “Each film shook up a tired, bloated film industry and used a world of lively lowlifes to reflect how dull other movies had become.”

Confusion Na Wa follows 24 hours, in some fictional city, of some six lives; the stories overlap in the style of Pulp Fiction, which influenced later films like, Innaritu’s Amores Perros, and Meirelles’ Babel. Mr Gyang’s film springs from a collision of chaos and order. The stories collide externally and within these stories, characters collide.

An old world newspaper publisher with the rather phallic newspaper name, The Righteous Trumpet, has strong machismo ideals at odds with his son’s flexible notions of morality; an adulterer’s view of theft collides with two layabouts’ who believe things change owners because of the ‘cycle of life’. Humour collides with tragedy; Tarantino collides with Disney. All of these are bound effectively by both Hollywood and Nollywood tropes and influences.

The film starts with Emeka (Ramsey Nouah) losing his phone to Charles and Chichi (OC Ukeje and Gold Ikponmwosa,) the pair of layabouts at the centre of the narrative. The pair decides to blackmail him when they discover he is having an affair with the often poetic Isabella (Tunde Aladese) whose feckless husband Bello (Ali Nuhu) has a bad day plummeting to its nadir when he is jailed after smashing the rear windshield of the aforementioned publisher. There is also a story involving this publisher’s son and his sister’s friend who is raped on a night out; the consequence of that act brings the story full circle.

At first the viewer is perplexed as to the power handed to him by the director’s skilful use of dramatic irony. The suspense is at a higher level from the storied predictability of old Nollywood— it used to be that the alert, or sometimes the somnolent, viewer could foretell plot resolutions, but in Confusion Na Wa the audience is in collusion with the director. This oblique complicity, adds to a visceral thrill, an intellectual gratification.

The film’s dialogue is quickened by chicanery and misdirection. Like in Tarantino, you get the feeling people don’t talk like this for long stretches— it is dialogue if everyone were endowed with wit and (mental) fortitude.

There is a confidence and intellectual swagger implicit in the script that is commendable if shocking, for its self-assuredness, and for the confidence it reposes in the audience’s ability to get a joke without condescension, and without drawing attention through the use of a telling soundtrack. For example, in a scene where Charles, tells a girl whose drink he has spiked, to call him Sadiq; drunk and disoriented, she asks if she is a British knight, seeming to imply she has heard his name as Sir Dick. Brushing it away, Charles kisses and then rapes her, thus literalizing the confusion she has had of his name.

It is arguable which is more impressive: the creation of a two-step pun that employs both wordplay and a visual element, or that a failure to understand this exchange takes away nothing from the enjoyment of the film.


This enjoyable responsibility given to the audience occurs throughout the film as the audience is always several steps of the characters, knowing that an action here, a line there, offers more than the mostly hapless characters realise. The director and the audience become one, a little prescient, a little wiser than the owner of the lives themselves.

Several themes are embedded under this great cover of collisions; sexuality, retribution, rape, the culpability of complicity simmers beneath, unresolved as the script offers no homilies or any answers; it gives questions, difficult questions couched in humour. Characters change, characters become none the wiser. Although wittier, the characters are like real people: foolish and grope blindly in daylight.

Like the early films of that former video clerk, it leaves compassion to the audience. Empathise with any character, it implores; but whomever the viewer bestows judgement, whomever the viewer grants forgiveness says something of the viewer’s own understanding of life. By foregoing Nollywood’s need to preach, it embraces cinema’s ideal.

Yet Nollywood looms. Some scenes derive humour from slapstick comedic situations: Ramsey Nouah’s character is slapped four times in an unrealistic scene, saved by humour. Also, Mr Nouah’s philandering husband is a variation of his Nollywood stereotype, that of the seducer; although as opposed to his erstwhile roles, his character doesn’t revel as much as broods over his self-inflicted predicament.

(A meta-significance of Mr Nouah’s presence is the near-aloofness of his character in relation to OC Ukeje’s own immersion in the film. If the film has a lead character it is Charles, whose story binds all of the others together. This suggests a transfer from the old to the new. It is uncanny how much of the circle of life alluded to in the film is taking place outside of the film, as Mr Ukeje is now what Mr Nouah represented for more than a decade in Nollywood. The leading man baton has changed hands just as the phone in the film changed owners.)

With this combination, Confusion Na Wa ushers in a new Nollywood, complete with new leading man and director.


Although the film does mark a watershed in Nollywood, before Mr Gyang, there was Kunle Afolayan whose Figurine and Phone Swap were delightful. Others include, Mahmoud Balogun, Chineze Anyaene, and Obi Emelonye. Desmond Elliot may be added to the list.

This raises the question: why can’t anyone of these directors be said to be the harbingers of a new phase in our national cinema— weren’t their own films events?

Perhaps they were; but only as far as transition can be considered an event of itself.

Also, films from those directors were either standard Nollywood produce with some level of technical mastery, or they were vastly westernised with only a hint of Nigeria.

Mahmoud Balogun’s Tango With Me dazzled with rabid marketing, but the film itself was a series of close-ups and faux-contentious issues capped with a uniquely Nollywood denouement. Anyaene’s Ije was shot mainly overseas—a Nollywood film without much of Nigeria.

Emelonye’s films consistently have the appearance of being made for profit without much thought given to continuity and artistic integrity. Desmond Eliott is the emperor in new clothes—old Nollywood with a new camera, he takes the spirit of Mr Balogun’s airbrushed close-ups of stars to the extreme and clothes his stars with snazzy, garish outfits. Eliott’s films are extended music videos with flimsy clothing and flimsier storylines.

And pertinently, these films come with the announcement of huge budgets.

This is Afolayan’s albatross. He is a technical master, armed with good screenplays, and great cinematography— he uses same director of photography as Mr Gyang, Yinka Edwards, who is one-third of Cinema Kpatakpata, the production outfit completed by Gyang himself and a Brit, Tom Rowlands-Rees.

Mr. Afolayan’s difference to Mr Gyang— beside being such a Goliath that when he announces a film big companies line up— is his prohibitive budget. Nollywood got to audiences mainly through small budgets, from Kenneth Nnebue through Opa Williams to the Ejiro brothers. Mr Afolayan nonetheless deserves praise, as the tremendous budget of Emelonye is yet to produce anything as competent as The Figurine. But Afolayan isn’t playing on the same field as most up-and-coming filmmakers.

Mr. Gyang has announced a smaller budget, somewhere around the region of four million naira, paltry compared to the loud and shiny proclamations of Nollywood. Nowadays, a small budget is the anomaly, the novelty. With Gyang’s conservative budget, it would be a shame if companies interested in cinema paying attention.

At the just concluded Light, Camera, Africa!!! Film Festival, where Confusion Na Wa played publicly for the first time, Mr Gyang spoke of Nollywood and was particularly interested in distribution. This awareness of the problems and history of the industry comes up in Confusion Na Wa when Charles asks of his friend Chichi, “Nollywood? Them dey make film for there?”

(To draw another parallel to Quentin Tarantino, in the aforementioned review of Pulp Fiction, Gene Siskel noted that, “like all great films, it criticises other movies.”)

This sneering tone also functions as self-criticism, because Mr. Gyang has welcomed, and insisted on the Nollywood label for his work. The title, Confusion Na Wa, is an attempt to not run away from its Nigeria-ness; it is a self-imposed homing device. No matter where it is played, the title, derived from Fela’s Confusion, and with titular evocations of ’90s comedy, Lagos Na Wa, the film is instantly identifiable as Nollywood.

It is a one-man rebranding act, one that hopefully would halt the snobbery young cinema goers regard Nollywood, even where the alternative are not exactly great films but middling chick flicks and abject action flicks. Confusion Na Wa is a Nigerian story—or several Nigerian stories—told superbly.

The novelist, Chimamanda Adichie has spoken about not believing people with lives like hers and colour like hers could exist in books because for a long time she read only books by Caucasians. The cinema going public—and, especially, kids—like Adichie once was, are in a similar peril at the moment; a peril that sees Nigerians believing that they live unremarkable lives, and that the country’s local cinema equals mediocrity, while a film of any quality by an English, an Italian, an Indian, a South African director is superior.


The only way this may be halted is for the country to make it easier for those inclined, to grow into filmmaking so they can erase the budding inferiority complex in our national cinema. Filmmakers of Gyang’s generation would need encouragement of the financial kind to succeed and overcome the status quo that has made films like Confusion Na Wa a novelty and curiosity. For while curiosity may be good for the bottom line now, acceptance is better on the whole: the industry needs to get to a level where films like Confusion Na Wa can be routinely made, and made available to the public without foreign funding as is the case with Confusion Na Wa.

It cannot be said enough. The grant-for-film-production model is not viable in the long run; and Nollywood films of high quality have to be self sustaining.

The obstacle to this viability may be the leap required of the cinema audience who have grown accustomed to films depending on emotional blackmail, and often dipping into bathos. A film that caters to the head over the heart is several steps forward.

This is not to say Confusion Na Wa is a robot’s enterprise. The filmmaker Branwen Okpako called it clever after its inaugural public screening, but she was correct only by half. The film’s emotional core, the character Bello, appears slight at first, but his stature is magnified after repeated viewing. On subsequent showing, the viewer’s piecing together of the story done, Bello’s quandary, and perhaps the illicit desperation of his wife, Isabella come through.

It is a worthy challenge, one needed at this stage of our cinema culture. Cinema would, of course, remain popular entertainment; but, like in France of the late 1950’s, like in the Czech republic of the 1960’s, like in the US of the 70’s, it is time for something more.

In 2013, twenty years after the disputed Nollywood spearhead, Living in Bondage, Confusion Na Wa may prove to be important, radical as Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris was to American cinema in the eyes of Pauline Kael who remarked of the 1972 film, “the movie breakthrough has finally come”. Or, to each viewer, what Van Morrison’s 1968 album Astral Weeks meant to rock critic Lester Bangs: “it was proof that there was something left to express artistically.” Or it would expand the cramped frontiers of the film making industry, akin to what Plantashun Boiz’ 2000 album, Body and Soul, did for pop music.

However, the eventual legacies of these touchstones in popular culture must be taken into account. Last Tango in Paris never quite brought the breakthrough in American cinema Ms Kael foresaw, as Richard Brody, writing in the New Yorker, recently, pointed out. Astral Weeks took more than three decades to go gold. And Body and Soul can be said to have propelled enthusiastic youngsters with minor music making talent toward making inferior music—the group itself could never quite replicate the early acclaim on subsequent efforts.

Film critic for Time, Richard Corliss said of Pulp Fiction in 1994: “If good directors accept Tarantino’s implicit challenge, the movie theatre could again be a great place to live in.”

In 2013, in Nollywood, same is true of Confusion Na Wa because while Mr. Gyang has created art, he has not invented an art form. The legacy of Confusion Na Wa is dependent on Nollywood scriptwriters, producers, directors; its legacy is reliant on their acceptance of the challenge the film represents merely by existing. The audience has to see Confusion Na Wa as well: as has been written about the brilliant, but not quite famous novelist James Salter, “there is no greatness without recognition…one must be read widely to qualify.”

The lesson is inherent in the praise: Confusion Na Wa is indeed a turning point, a blessing to the industry even. But in the end, there is only so much one man can do. The film has created a great image for Nollywood; it is the industry’s turn to reflect.





Hollywood’s first vice is the franchise, a stream of films aping the first in the series while offering fleeting variations of set pieces. A close second is the remake, a mostly scene by scene recreation of an earlier film, released year later.

Films like Jason vs Freddy and Alien vs Predator, mean a third one, a hybrid of aforementioned vices, is budding. Ideally confined to video games and comics, for fans boasting an untested superiority, this third features outsized villains.

Peter Segal’s Grudge Match alters the format by using two recognisably human, if Hollywood kissed, heroes. Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone play Billy McDonnen and Henry Sharp, aged and retired boxers who come back to the ring.

In other words, De Niro reprises his role in “Raging Bull” and Stallone continues his post-Expendable career with an incarnation of “Rocky”.

A series of scenes alert us to the fact of their rivalry. Many years past each won a bout but Stallone’s Sharp retired before a deciding match could be staged. De Niro’s McDonnen has seethed ever since, baying for a decider. When a young fight promoter (Kevin Hart) convinces both to star in a video game and an ensuing squabble gets online, a fight is scheduled.

Their motivations differ: McDonnen wants to know why Sharp cancelled the rematch. And Sharp is broke and caring for an old friend (Alan Arkin, who gets the best lines.) But what would a grudge between two old mean be without a woman? So, the script introduces Sally Rose (Kim Bassinger) a woman with whom both boxers have a history.

Aware of its shamelessness, the film shows it’s in on the joke. De Niro after watching an old commercial featuring a young McDonnen turns to his co-viewers and says, “I never had jock itch, I’m just a great actor.”

“Grudge Match” story skewers in favour of Stallone. His “Rocky” was action; De Niro’s “Raging Bull” was drama. Grudge match is more action than drama. And the acting is invariably measured with both actors neither flailing nor truly pulling weight. Old age and loss are explored but not so much as to obscure the sheer absurdity of two old men not acting their age.

The audience can see this, but may still forgive. That is, as long as both actors don’t make it a habit.

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