Who Killed Captain Alex?, and a few more movies


Who Killed Captain Alex?

Streaming free on YouTube

This was made by an English-speaking Ugandan man named Nabwana I G G, with help from friends in their village of Wakaliga. Shot on VHS, it's the first feature film made in Uganda, and was intended to be shown only in the village, but instead it played all across the country, and made its way to America and around the world.

Captain Alex is a super-commando tasked with toppling the evil Tiger Mafia, a group of baddies led by one of the most over-the-top lunatic antagonists ever. When he learns that the police have his brother in custody, this guy starts shooting people at random, in front of a reporter, on live television, demanding, "I want my brother!"

It would be fibbing to say the movie is good, and having watched it twice I'm still not sure who killed Captain Alex. But hey, I watched it twice, laughed a lot, and it's unlike any movie you've seen before.

It's all narrated by an off-screen "Video Joker" who lovably cheers the movie along, in a manner more akin to a DVD commentary track than a movie. "Action is coming, I promise you," he says over a talkative scene, and when a fight starts, he yells, "Action-packed movie!" He also hums along with the soundtrack and says "good music," and he's right.

The dialogue mentions a Ugandan Shaolin temple, where everyone's learned martial arts, and perhaps it's real — the chop socky here isn't bad. The explosions and helicopters and such are very bad, like what junior high kids might've made using equipment in the school A/V room in the 1980s.

The movie is dedicated to Nabwana's grandmother, and a loving song about her is sung over the closing credits, while everyone in the cast dances and mugs for the camera.

After the credits, the director stands on-screen asking you to give to their kickstarter for a long list of planned coming attractions, including Ugandan Ninja, Eaten Alive in Uganda ("true story!"), and Plan 9 from Uganda ("this one's a lie").

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hit! (1973) 

Streaming for the usual price at the usual sites, or free on DVD at the public library

Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor star, so blaxploitation is the expectation, but it's really not. They're the only tall dark & handsomes among the major players, and only a few minutes of the film are set in the familiar neighborhoods of the genre.

Williams plays a DEA agent, and in the opening sequence his young and innocent daughter is killed by a new heroin variant called "Mother's Love."

After that, Williams seeks vengeance, first by savagely beating the pusher who sold the drug. Then he somehow ascertains that Mother's Love is distributed by a syndicate headquartered in Marseilles, so that's where the action ends up.

(Mother's Love, by the way, would've been a better, more poetically intriguing title than the stupid, generic "Hit!" they hung on this movie.)

Of course, nobody in Williams' chain of command will sanction his vigilantism, so one by one he approaches crooks and ex-crooks, anyone with a grudge, to join his assassination squad. There's nice guy Pryor, full of rage because some druggie raped and murdered his wife. There's a sweet old white couple who are both ex-cons gone straight. There's a pretty redhead, herself addicted but she knows the inside angles.

On and on goes Williams' recruitment, until he has enough accomplices to execute the attack — emphasis on execute. The targets are "nine rich, elegant Frenchmen" who run the drug business, and none of them are going to be arrested. The plan is simply to kill them, which will presumably win the war on drugs, and there'll be a ticker-tape victory parade down Broadway in New York City.

The film looks and feels like The French Connection, and it's clearly an homage/rip-off, but with a whole gang instead of just one balding white guy breaking all the rules and laws. 

Much of it was shot in France, with other chunks filmed in and around my home town of Seattle. There's a short scene on a ferry that's actually sailing across Puget Sound as it was filmed, and an exhilarating chase sequence on rural roads instead of the usual urban highways.

Pausing the movie to pee, I was honestly surprised that it wasn't even half over — the mayhem here runs for more than two hours, but never slows much.

The writers have Bullitt, The original Thomas Crown Affair, and The Untouchables on their résumés. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Directed by Sidney J. Furie, who's made almost nothing else that's particularly good, but he's still working at age 90.

Billy Dee does his simmering laconic look, and it's only racism that kept him off the A-list. There's nothing Harrison Ford or Robert De Niro does that Mr Williams doesn't do just as well.

You'll wonder what McDonald's paid to buy a character — a police-brutality-loving cop who's always chomping McD, and even delivers dialogue about how good the burgers are. When the film goes to France, he runs from restaurant to restaurant asking the waiters whether they sell hamburgers. Guess they didn't yet have golden arches under the Basilique Notre Dame.

Obviously, Hit! is an anti-drug movie, and features yet another cop who breaks all the rules. I abhor both halves of that cliché, and this is an extreme example — the good guys know no rule of law, and there's even an impassioned speech about the evils about addiction, and complaints about the DEA's alleged unwillingness to be tough on drug dealers. Yeah, this movie is philosophically godawful in every way.

It's kinda fun, though, if you leave your brain switched off.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Invisible Man (1933) 

Saw this several times on Channel 7's "Nightmare Theater" when I was a kid, and numerous times in repertory cinemas in Seattle and San Francisco, but it's been twenty years and I'd forgotten how seriously excellent this movie is. Sometimes the classics are considered classics because they're classics.

Claude Rains stars (but is little seen) as a mad scientist who's discovered the formula for invisibility, but hasn't yet discovered how to make himself visible again. He runs around naked so nobody can see him, but to rent a room he needs to be seen, so he wraps himself in clothes and bandages head to foot. 

"The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain. Suddenly I realized the power I held, the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet."

The ingredients of his invisibility cocktail have driven him mad, or maybe he was kooky already, but it's a wild and strangely likable kooky-mad. He taunts people out of thin air, insults them, knocks their hats off for fun because hey, nobody can see him. He topples a baby-carriage, robs a bank, wrecks a train, and has a grand time doing so, gleefully cackling and singing a chipper song. Watching, you're repulsed on one level, but also you want to sing along.

The invisible visual effects still trick the eye 90 years on, all accomplished without CGI, and the story works very well, too, with laughs and chills.

Directed by James Whale, who also, of course, made Frankenstein and his Bride, as well as the original Show Boat with Paul Robeson singing "Old Man River." 

Gloria Stuart (Titanic) plays Rains' fiancée who wonders where he is and why he's left her. All-time scream queen Una O'Connor will repeatedly shatter your glassware if you don't turn the volume down.

Assuming the train was even half-full, orchestrating its derailment makes the Invisible Man the most murderous of all Universal's famed gang of classic movie monsters. He's also the most endearing, for which credit is due Mr Rains.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

• Coming attractions •

The Corporation (2003) 

Delicatessen (1991)

District 9 (2009)

Inherent Vice (2014) 

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

Naked (1993) 

Nichols (debut episode; 1971) 

They Live (1988)

Upstream Color (2013) 

Within Our Gates (1920) 

(plus occasional schlock as needed)

    • And then •

The Cook (1918)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

QI (2003)

The Scarecrow (1920)

We Steal Secrets (2013)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.
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  1. I just finished watching Who Killed Captain Alex, what a trip.

    THIS is why I read the reviews, you find movies I've never even heard of and usually if you like them I like them.

    "I'm making German food. We found German tourists and we're cooking them."

    1. Thanks man.

      If that last line is a quote from the movie I missed it, and I was paying attention too.


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