So, I’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick. Man, I missed my calling!
See, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Zip across enemy lines and leave napalm in my wake. Every 1 October, I run onto the streets to wave at the fighter jets streaking across the sky. I saw myself one day in one of those jets. But somehow, I ended up in Brand Management. Yet my father was good to our village people.
Now, I don’t want to hear the tosh that I have a gift for writing and my gift will make a way for me. First, that Scripture is always quoted out of context. Second, let me ask you: have you been privileged to see me in a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II? That’s right, you haven’t. Because no one sees me coming! Swoosh and your base is cinder.
So, I was on a sabbatical from Netflix and enjoying the company of myself, when the children of men besieged me for my opinion of Blood Sisters. My first thought was to flee from anything blood. Blood money, blood moon, Bloody Mary. But I was bewitched by the ask. What do you know: some people do value my movie reviews! So, I decided to watch the Limited Series.
I say ‘decided’ because I’d been weighing whether to continue writing reviews of Nollywood movies or series. I suspect I was developing a loathsome reputation as a Nollywood hater. A delusional romanticist that judges Nollywood productions through a Hollywood lens.
This hurts my feelings. You should never mock a man’s condition. Delusion is not contagious. And it is curable. I am taking my meds. Besides, I like Nollywood.
Okay, that’s a lie. I don’t enjoy most Nollywood movies. Not because I’m too critical – OK, I am – but Nollywood hurts me time and again. It knows I love movies and it sets about denying me that pleasure. Its weapon of abuse is poor screenplays, poor production design and poor acting. But I’m not unmindful of the progress the industry is making. From the middling days of Domitilla and Ta lo pa Chief, it’s now Nollywood 3.0. Suave, spiffy and a pocket-full of cash. So, I return to my abuser. I will make this relationship work. However, on the sword of excellence I fall! I will duel with Mediocrates till he slays me or I slay him.
So, what do I think of Blood Sisters? Let’s start with Entertainment Value, which is what a movie is all about.
1. Entertainment Value – 7/10
A movie or series must be entertaining. That is its only job. It must not be a waste of your time. It could make you cry, make you laugh, educate you or make us reflect. By whatever vehicle it chooses, it must justify its existence by being entertaining.
And Blood Sisters is entertaining. I needed something to put me to sleep so I chose it. It was a bad idea. I stayed up to finish it. Obviously, being a 4-episode series helped but each episode was stacked with enough grist to see the next. Not one, long-winded and insufferable moment. I appreciated that. I’m an impatient guy. Well done, Aunty Mo! Blood Sisters is just atonement for Chief Daddy 2. I accept the offering.
2. Plot (Storyline) – 7./10
Your husband-to-be is an abuser. But you are still going ahead to marry him. Your family is indebted to his family. His family is powerful. The mother detests you. Justling for company headship, your brother-in-law-to-be hired an assassin to knock off your beau. Then you and your girlfriend kill him by accident. On your wedding day. You both flee. There’s a manhunt. You get caught. Your coked-up, lascivious sister-in-law-to-be saved your behinds (and they have big behinds). Turns out your mother-in-law-to-be had also knocked off her husband to conceal her adulterous affair. Oh yea, there’s a decent amount of intrigue in Blood Sisters to keep you watching.
Plausibility is the key requirement of a plot. That means the movie should be plausible (believable). Note that the plot doesn’t have to be rational or logical. It only has to be imaginable. As far as we know, there is no alien race called the Omaticaya, or an element called Unobtanium. But in Avatar, and on the planet Pandora, it was plausible for such existed. Similarly, in Tunde Kelani’s Ti Oluwa Ni Ile, we could believe the premise of the movie – if you sell land that belongs to the gods, there will be fatal consequences.
It may be me and my asinine love for dramatic endings, but I expected the bride and her friend to die. You live by the sword; you die by the sword. It’ll make for a stronger ending. After all, we are all involved in the suspension of disbelief when we watch a work of fiction. But as my wife often chides, ‘Thank goodness you’re not the scriptwriter! Everybody but you love a happy ending!’
Yen, yen, yen.
No Country for Old Men. The Harder They Fall. Queen & Slim. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. That’s how you end a movie. Bad things happen to good people. Ask Pumbaa and Timon.
3. Characterization – 7/10
The characters are the main reason why a movie is enjoyable or not. Identifying with a character is a common reason people love a certain movie. When a character mirrors reality or is probable, we connect with it. We can understand and sympathize with a villain like Thanos. We instantly loathe Warden Norton and love Red in The Shawshank Redemption. We can understand the conflicted Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart and the aggrieved Eniola Badmus in King of Boys. Characters make a movie.
The characterization in Blood Sisters is not too shabby. Uncle B (Ramsey Nouah), the henchman. You could count the number of words he spoke in the movie, yet you knew what he was about. The Ademola couple (Gabriel Afolayan and Kehinde Bankole). What libidinous pair! These randy duo can shag in front of an altar! What vixen of a wife Kehinde Bankole was! Her dialogue, appearance and questionable morals were credible. The small physical frame of Gabriel Afolayan and his unremarkable presence matched the character of a weakling. Even I won’t make him head a company of ants.
On many occasions, I got angry with Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie). How can she be that clueless and weak! You felt she was going to screw up everything. And that was precisely who she was meant to be. A lost person without Kemi (Nancy Isime) who was strong for both of them.
I hear this Nancy Isime chick bench presses 100kg easy. Bet she can lift me up before the LORD.
Now, here’s a peeve. Whose idea was it to always dress Uduak Ademola (Kate Henshaw) for the Met Gala? Even when she’s in her house? Come on, guys! Don’t strain our credulity. Yes, there is such a thing as creative license. But there is also such a thing as good art direction. She can look wealthy without looking like a prize idiot.
I also have a bone to pick with the character of Blade, the assassin. My, you could make out the guy from a mile away! He was manifestly a goon, angry and artless. Thankfully, I have never met an assassin and hope never to, but I bet you never see them coming.
That unseemliness arose because of untidy and weak scripting in the arc. I suspect that because the writer wanted Kola Ademola(Deyemi Okanlawon) to make out the assassin in other to duel with him, thereby showing the former’s physical ability, he wrote to make the assassin obvious. Come on, amigo, you are better than this!
4. Art Direction/Craft – 6.5/10
One of the reasons we enjoy Hollywood movies is their attention to details and craft. If a head is decapitated, even if you have not seen a decapitated body before, you’ll believe the effect. The fight sequence in the Jason Bourne movies was gritty and involving. The sinisterness of Paranormal Activity will tingle the hair on your neck. Because effort was put into making everything credible.
How I love the shack set ablaze in Makoko! Simple and credible. The fire burns on Uncle B and the gash on Sarah’s thigh were very well executed. Kola also got into a waiting helicopter and the helo lifted. It was convincing even if in fact there was no passenger in the helo. I am stoked at the attention to detail and improvement in craft Nollywood is exhibiting.
But I must dock Blood Sisters points for some careless lapses.
Can anyone explain to me how Kola Ademola’s fila didn’t fall off while he fought Blade? The fila was snug right on his head. What are you, Steven Seagal?
‘Oh, snap, we missed that.’
Yes, you did, Mr. Continuity and Art Director.
Also, I don’t know about ya’ll but my voice mail stopped working since 1869. So how come Uduak and Sarah are able to leave voice mail messages? MTN, Airtel, Glo, is there something they know that I don’t?
You might all think I’m nitpicking. No, I’m not. The problem is my eyes. Despite my efforts to restrain them, they can’t unsee these things. It’s why I wear glasses.
5. The “It Factor” – 5.5/10
What is the “It Factor”? It is simple. It’s when a movie is unique, groundbreaking or blazes a new trail. It could be in the form of cinematography, directing, editing, effects, sound design or scale of the production. Remember the monochrome visual style of Sin City? Or the eclectic music score of Django Unchained? The Harder They Fall? Bet you didn’t expect to hear rap music and a Fela track in a black-oriented American Western set in the 1800s. That is “It Factor.” It’s going above and beyond. It’s notoriously difficult to achieve, even in Hollywood. Therefore, it is perhaps unkind to expect a Nollywood movie to rate highly on it. But still, I’m hopeful. It’s Nollywood 3.0.
The indices by which a movie is appraised are as subjective as they are varied. So, feel free to toss this review on the ash heap. I’ve not gone into technical details, because let’s face it, audiences don’t consume cinema like movie critics do. They don’t go ‘Oh, I love the story arc and suspension of disbelief of the movie.’ Only party poopers like me do that. The only feeling audiences feel when they watch a movie is whether they like it or not. But I was minding my business when you children of men asked me for a review. So, deal with it!
I’ll probably not watch Blood Sisters a second time. But it is enjoyable. There are very good moments in the series. It’s been a while a Nolly flick made me feel some emotion. Sarah and Kemi did. Bravo, yous two!
And now that EbonyLife has set the stage for a sequel, it’d better be better than the first!
Let me tell you about one of my favorite philosophers, some bloke called Mediocrates.
You may wonder what a Greek philosopher has to do with Chief Daddy2. But I assure you, Nollywood worship at the feet of this bloke.
You see, Mediocrates is the Patron Saint of Mediocrity. If you were stuck in an evil vortex of excellence, Mediocrates has the hack to break you free and set you merrily on your way to Humdrumville. I’m positive your eminent self has been a student of Medicrates at various times. I know I have.
Some of the deep wisdom Mediocrates bequeathed us is expressed in time-honored maxims like “whatever,” “it is what it is,” and “it is good enough.” One of my favorite maxims from the bloke is “if the minimum wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum.”
Proper bloke, this chap. He is not hypocritical like the horde who condemn him. You’d usually find him drinking palm wine from 6 am with his chums Idiocrates and Moronicus. It is what it is. It’s probably why nobody talks about him and why you’ve never heard of him.
But Nollywood has. And oh, how they lap up his philosophy! The only status worth aspiring to is the status quo. It is Latin and exotic.
You see where I’m going? Chief Daddy 2 may well have been produced by Mediocrates.
I call a piece of creative work mediocre with a deep sense of humility. Because myself, I’m in the creative business. Be it writing a TV commercial, a song or a book, creative work is a deeply personal and emotional affair. You are creating something that doesn’t exist. And there is no guaranteed formula for success. As such the process is often attended by dollops of anxiety and fear. Will the reception be great? Will the reviews be kind? Will it make money? Will the financiers be happy? Obviously, if you are Mo Abudu and Ebony Life, your angst and fear quotient will be lower. This isn’t Aunty Mo’s first rodeo. Or second. Or third. She’s a big name in TV and movies. Still, a lot is riding on the name. No matter how objective we claim to be, nobody likes criticisms. It bruises our pride. I am therefore not unmindful that my criticisms may not have understanding ears. Still, I choose to fall by that sword.
Besides, let me remind you all that Jide’s Life Matter too. Seeing that movie cost me something too. First, I have to pay for an expensive unlimited internet plan. Second, I must pay for a Netflix premium subscription – which I should stress – is more expensive than my Amazon Prime and Apple TV subscriptions. Then I have anticipations – an emotional investment – about the movie. I look forward to it, raising my endorphin level. Last, I have to make out time to see it, ignoring some important stuff in my life. So, you see, Aunty Mo and Netflix, I have skin in the game too. It’s my money, my time and my emotion. And I am not pleased.
I’ll spare you all the technical details. I’ll summarize my review of the movie in three metaphysical sentences.
It is all sizzle but no steak.
It is heavy-metal sound but no music.
It was a script going somewhere but it forgot where.
I’m not hating. Just saying.
The characters and performances were underwhelming. Assembling an A-lister cast should add oomph to the story and not be a hollow shortcut to mass appeal. After drawing us in to watch, the stars should sustain our interest. But that didn’t happen.
I am not against big names in a movie. I am against big names in a movie for no reason.
The only character I found entertaining in the movie was the Stormzy wanna-be Famzy. Man is laughable.
The dialogue in the movie was corny, the plot and story arch unconvincing and production design meh. Guys, if you can’t simulate an authentic crowd scene in a stadium or an arena, don’t insult us with the pathetic attempts often on display.
In all, I rate the entertainment value as 4/10. The “it” factor would be a 2/10.
And what is it with Ebony Life selling us Dubai at every opportunity? Yea, we get it, the emirate put down some cheddar. But enough with the cheese! You don’t see 007 brushing his teeth with Heineken or wearing Aston Martin boxers.
I know that sequels are notoriously hard to pull off. Even Marvel has to think carefully about sequels, or prequels. I understand Netflix needs to mitigate risks by plopping behind known assets like Chief Daddy, Castle & Castle, King of Boys or How To Ruin Christmas. Africa after all is still a developing market. You’ve got to hedge your bets. I get all that.
But what I don’t get is why Netflix isn’t rigorous about the quality of the script, ergo, the story, it finances in Nigeria.
The biggest problem with Nollywood is the quality of scriptwriting and screenplay. It is usually bereft of nous and imagination.
I refuse to countenance that Netflix is kosher with a minimum viable product in Africa. I don’t know about you, but if I’m putting down serious cheddar on a project, I’d be interested in its quality.
I maintain that the added value Netflix must bring to Nollywood is to raise the quality of scripting and production. It is not to populate our screens with half-wit Nollywood movies. DSTV does that already.
Now, if you are the perceptive reader I know you are, you can and should challenge my assertion about Nolly’s scriptwriting being bereft of nous and imagination. Is it really? Or snobs and faux connoisseurs like me have unrealistic and unjustified expectations?
But how can I not demand the sky when I see Fireboy DML ft Ed Sheeran rack up 13 million views in nine days. Wiz Kid sold out the O2 Arena for two consecutive days! I know that the dynamics of producing a music video and a movie are different and not comparable. But what I see in our music industry is the desire to best one another. To be the biggest hit. This spurs them on to have quality productions and associations. The industry is so competitive, that the words of Mediocrates are drowned out by rhythmic beats.
I don’t see this desire in Nollywood. Yet it has been around long before Naija’s hip-hop sauntered onto the scene.
But here’s a thought: maybe whining people like me are not Netflix’s bulls-eye audience in Nigeria. If Netflix’s emphasis in Nigeria is on Nollywood, I can’t be. I don’t subscribe to Netflix to watch Nollywood. I subscribe to Netflix to watch The Harder They Fall, The Power of the Dog and The Dig.
I’m not disdainful of Nollywood. No. I want Nollywood to get onboard a rocket and go intergalactic. But I am frustrated. This adolescent should be eating goat-meat pepper soup by now and drinking Gulder. But it is still clinging to its mother’s bosom and sucking breast.
Get down boy and be a man!
As far as market segmentation goes, I understand if I’m not the primary target audience. But I’m dying to know who is. Almost all my colleagues and friends don’t care much for Nollywood movies on Netflix either. I mean, they do watch Nollywood movies on Netflix but only out of curiosity and recommendation. They don’t cartwheels or do the chicken dance because A Naija Christmas is coming to Netflix. I obviously can’t generalize for the market based on my own viewership behavior. At best, it is anecdotal evidence. But I am intrigued to know the psychography of the segment Netflix is after in this market. I’m eager to know the viewership pattern for Nigeria. What is the amount of viewership hours Nollywood commands? Is the viewership of Nollywood movies highest amongst Nigerians in Nigeria or Nigerians in the diaspora?
Maybe it is time Netflix tried existential mood pieces in Nigeria. We’ve seen the attempts at comedic drama. They are not funny. Maybe it’s time to experiment with different themes and genres.
My money is on Ayo Makun (AY) joining the Netflix family in 2022 with his “30 Days In…” and “Trip To…” franchise. Right up Netflix’s alley.
Sigh. It is what it is.
Anyway, Happy New Year everybody! I pray beautiful things happen to you this year.
It stands to reason that in a country where life expectancy is 55 years, every minute counts. And I’ve just wasted 128 minutes watching Swallow. So, if I die before 55 years, look no further than Mr. Afolayan and Netflix. Both have conspired to abbreviate my life through the malicious purloining of 128 minutes.
Look, I’m pissed. Really pissed. I had high expectations. This was no random guy making a movie. This was Kunle Afolayan. The Kunle Afolayan. The guy who gave us The Figurine, Irapada, Roti and October 1. I don’t care what you lot think, but he is the best storyteller in Nigeria in the modern era. His plots are riveting and his appreciation for craft is unmatched.
And he teamed up with Netflix. The Netflix. The Two Popes, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Roma and Marriage Story. That Netflix. You can therefore understand why I expect Swallow to be awesome.
I was quite excited that Swallow was not going to be a series. I don’t like series much. The first series I ever saw was The Crown. Followed by The Queen’s Gambit. Since then I’ve seen Amend, Lupin and Clickbait. I can tolerate limited series if the first two episodes pique and sustain my interest. But multi-season flicks? Ain’t nobody got time for Downton Abbey.
But the purported joy Swallow gave by not being a series, it took away by being a miserable sop.
For emerging markets like Africa, Netflix tends to shun existential mood pieces. They tend to favour comedy, action dramas or remakes of proven hits. You know, hedge their bets. So I found it curious that they went with Swallow. I suppose the brand equity of Kunle Afolayan persuaded them to bite. Their teeth must be on edge now.
Is Swallow that bad? Yup. I don’t know about you, but the reason I watch a movie is to be entertained. Or be confronted with new perspectives. Swallow isn’t the least entertaining. I might as well watch Arsenal.
Kunle Afolayan is the master of the thrilling plot. Of riveting twists and turns. The plot of Swallow is however so linear a ruler probably drew it. Yea, people swallowed cocaine in the 1980s, so what? We know there have been reported cases of the cocaine wraps bursting in the bellies of carriers. We know about the danger of that trade. But Swallow doesn’t take us further. It gives us no new information, neither does it strum on the cords of our heart as we would expect a cocaine story to. There was so much foreplay yet an underwhelming climax.
There is, of course, the subplot of misogyny and female sexual harassment. The scene between Mr. Salako and Tolani (Niyola) was more comical than anger-arousing. Mr. Afolayan tried to draw a line between sexual harassment and drug trafficking. It’s an unconvincing line.
And Niyola can’t act to save her life. Well, as far as creative license goes, you can’t fault the characterisation of a movie. But you can fault the performance. And the performance was dreadful in many places. I know the movie was trying to situate Tolani and give us proper context. But I’d question if the characters of Mrs. Durojaiye (Eniola Badmus) or Mama Chidi (Chioma Akpotha) added any substantive value to the story.
I suppose there’s always something good in every bad happenstance. For Swallow, it is the production design and cinematography. Production design is creating the look and feel of a movie. It is creating the physical world of the story. Put in other words, it handles all the visual elements of a movie. Production designers work with props, costumes, set, locations department, and cinematographers to create a credible milieu for the movie.
Kunle Afolayan excels in this space. He tried to recreate a Lagos and Osogbo of 1985 and he executed it rather well. From the danfos, molues and taxis, to the rooms and offices. From the costume to the temperament of the period, the production design was brilliant. The icing on the cake would have been to see a bottle of Tandi Guarana or Green Sands Shandy.
Oh, I did see a plastic telephone in Mr. Salako’s office though. That orange rotary dial telephone. Very plastic.
Yea, I’m that type of guy. Art direction OCD.
The cinematography was good too. I like the camera angles. I loved it where the camera moved between roofs and descended to ground level in Tolani’s compound. It was beautiful.
But in the end, Swallow missed the forest for the tree. A movie is not stellar only because of good production design or cinematography. All other elements like plot, characters, dialogue, sound design come to play. The plot, characters and dialogue in this flick were especially weak.
Which brings me to the role of Netflix in all these.
Now, I don’t know the inner workings of streaming services. I don’t know how they license, agree on the copyright or manage creative control. But it seems to me that in Nigeria, Netflix’s role is limited to putting down the moolah. I would hazard a guess they are not as interested in the quality of story and output as they are in producing “content for Africans by Africans.”
If I look at King of Boys 2 and now Swallow, save for the money required to produce those content, Kemi Adetiba and Kunle Afolayan could well have produced those work themselves. In cinematography, sound design, special effects and other artistic nous, KOB2 was not significantly better than King of Boys. Neither was Swallow creatively better than October 1 or Roti. Yet those are areas I’d expect Netflix to bring its influence to bear.
If there’s an awesome cinematographer in Papua New Guinea, strap him in a plane and ferry him to Kemi or Kunle. If there’s a great sound or special effect studio in Berlin, hire them for productions in Nigeria. You see, Nigerian movies are beginning to mint money on their own through cinemas. It’s hard work but the penny is dropping. What we now need are best-in-class production values and compelling stories. Areas of strength for Netflix.
Look, I get it. There’s a limit to the investments Netflix can make in Africa. Subscribers in the whole of the continent are projected to hit 2.6 million by end of 2021. South Korea alone is over 4 million subscribers and Poland has 2 million.
South Africa accounts for the lion’s share of Africa’s subscriber base with estimates of 300K – 400K subscribers. Nigeria is obviously less than 300K subs. An estimate puts our numbers at around 60K. Which is of course laughable.
And don’t come at me with a “since-Nigerian-movies-are-on- Netflix, other-regions-of-the-world-will-watch-it-too” repartee. No, they won’t. Have you seen the home screen of Netflix US, Brazil, UK or India? Nigerian movies don’t figure. You have to search for them. Like Nigerian churches abroad, the only peeps who attend are Nigerians and Africans. I will hazard similar viewership demography for Nollywood flicks outside Nigeria.
Which does no favours to Netflix’s “Made by Africans, Watched by the World” battle cry.
My point in all this is that eyeballs have to justify the investment. Will you spend $2m on a Nigerian production if only 300,000 people are going to watch it? Maybe not. But if Nigeria’s viewership numbers get to say 2 million subscribers, then we can talk about Hans Zimmer. The maths has to make sense and I’m with Netflix on this.
Of course, I may be talking rot and have no clue what goes on between Netflix and Nigerian film producers. You’ll have to humour me. Swallow got to me so bad that I’m seeing enemies in every shadow.
Well, if Netflix can’t give us Hollywood-type production, they can at least ensure they produce only great stories. They have to be interested in the quality of the story. Clickbait wasn’t stellar because of the production values. It was stellar because of the story and plot.
We’ve got a good thing going on in Nollywood. Netflix should take us higher and further.
What do you know, it’s the last day of 2018! How time flies. If you are not in prison, that is. Many good things happened to me this year. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, I made my first Creamy Shrimp Alfredo Pasta and I saw BlacKKlansman. Yes, it’s been a good year.