THE EXCHANGE (UK/Canada 2021) ***1/2
Directed by Dan Mazer
This relatively unknown new teen comedy arrives with the caption that the film is directed by Dan Mazer, the co-writer of the Sasha Baron Cohen hit BORAT. If one examines the claim carefully, one would notice that THE EXCHANGE is not written by Mazer but a guy called Tim Long who creates the protagonist in the story, an awkward teen, bullied and with no friends also named Tim Long.
The film is about a French exchange student that comes to live with Tim (Ed Oxenbould) and his family. Unfortunately they live in what Tim himself calls, God’s most forsaken place in the world, in a horrid small town called Hobart, Ontario, Canada where it is awfully cold and snowing (in fact there is a blizzard) when the film opens. The town is so forsaken that in Tim’s words, there isn't a McDonald’s in the town.
The French exchange all begins in a French class where the students are asked, in French to name their favourite film (le film prefere). One student picks PORKY’S TROIS - PORKY’S REVENGE while Tim picks a Jean-Pierre Melville film. Impressed, the teacher gives Tim the pamphlet and he writes an essay which results in the successful French exchange for him.
THE EXCHANGE is a silly comedy with silly characters and silly fun. Fortunately, this low aiming comedy succeeds and is able to produce enough laughs to qualify as a moderate success.
JUNGLE CRUISE (USA 2021) **
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
JUNGLE CRUISE is based on a Disney theme park attraction. With that said, one should not expect too much from Disney’s new action adventure, supposedly set in the Amazon jungle of Brazil.
The film throws authenticity to the wind. Brazil is a country where hardly any English is spoken. But one rarely hears any Portuguese spoken in the dialogue except by a few villains at the midpoint of the film. The characters are all dressed in full garb. Skipper Frank was in a sweater and hat and Lily in a dress and hat. All the gentlemen and ladies wear suits and dresses in the extremely hot and humid weather of the Equatorial climate. No one complains about the heat. No one seems to be perspiring either.
Spanish director Collet-Serra who won international acclaim for his horror films ORPHAN and THE SHALLOWS has recently been hired for action adventure films like Liam Neeson’s NON-STOP and UNKNOWN. His prowess in the field still shows in JUNGLE CRUISE as witnessed in the film’s action sequence at the very start of the film when Lily escapes his pursuers in the book library with lots of action antics taking place both in the library and outside with the exterior showing a period Piccadilly Circus , London with all the vintage vehicles including the two-storey double decker with the winding staircase at the back of it.
Disney films remain particularly racist in the guise of fun and action. Disney’s SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON is renowned to treat the Japanese intruders to the island as stupid villains falling into al the man made traps set by the family. In JUNGLE CRUISE, the Germans are treated with racism depicting them as Nazis in the form of Prince Joachim (played by Jesse Plemons sporting a false German accent). This is just as bad as Mickey Rooney sporting slanted eyes and doing a fake Chinese accent in Blake Edwards’ horribly racist BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. The type of racism seen in Plemons depiction of German Nazis has got to stop.
JUNGLE CRUISE runs over 2 hours. At the one hour mark, the cruise runs out of steam, not surprising as the film is based on a theme park attraction. The script adds in some mythical element with Frank being unable to die. He is seen, to everyone’s surprise, still living after a spear has entered his body. The ploy does not really work as the story not only turns silly but more unbelievable. Despite director Collet-Serra moving his action sequences at break-neck speed, the film lags.
The special effects are impressive. Sometimes, the sequences move along too fast, a habit for director Collet-Serra, and the details can be missed. Snakes seem to be plentiful. One of the villains also drips with honey for some silly reason. At this point the messiness seen on screen (the dripping honey and the creepy snakes) reflect the script’s own mess.
JUNGLE CRUISE follows the familiar tread of PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN. The filmmakers can keep adding on junk to the expensive franchise but it will still make money. It would not be surprising to see JUNGLE CRUISE exist as a similar franchise.
LORELEI (USA 2020) ***
Directed by Sabrina Doyle
While watching LORELEI, one notices that there is no character in the story known by that name. So where does the name come from? The best guess is from the Marvel Universe. There, Lorelei is a Savage Land native until Magneto turns her into a mutated siren, whose voice can put men into a hypnotic trance, and she is placed in his Savage Land Mutates group. One has to wait till the ending as the ending gives the reason the film is entitled LORELEI.
LORELEI follows the path of redemption of a sorry ex-biker gang member named Wayland (Pablo Schreiber). The film opens with his release after serving his time in prison. It is revealed later in the film that he was put there for trafficking drugs for the biker gang. He never snitched on any member, so the gang is kind towards him upon release. Wayland stays at a halfway house run by a smart talking Pastor Gail (Trish Egan).
The script loves to poke humour at ‘time’. Pastor Gail: “This will feel strange at first, when she welcomes Wayland to her home. Give it time.” When his girl Dolores comments that time flies with her children growing up so fast, Wayland comments: “Not when you are in prison.” And the comment of if there is no time for self care, then one has to make time.
LORELEI gives a lot of credit to its story’s protagonist. Wayland appears to be a good guy with everything nicely handed to him. His ex-flame and current girlfriend, Dolores (Jena Malone) takes him in. Her three children grow attached to him. Pastor Gail is extra nice to him, even helping him out. His parole officer gives him many chances including a pass to leave the State. Even his ex-gang members help him out.
Written and directed by Sabrina Doyle, the film’s female touch is apparent. There is a softer touch to the story than if written or directed by a male. Family values are stressed. Though mother Dolores, is not the best mother in the world, she still understands the importance of her children. There is also kindness that is present throughout the film. The good people do not get hurt. This is reminiscent of director Francois Truffaut where the innocent in his films never get punished or handed out a bad deal. Truffaut goes out of the way to show this. It is for this very reason that it is difficult to dislike this ‘kind’ film.
Oddly, the film’s actors have a lot of lookalikes. One (Schreiber) looks like Adam Sandler, another (Malone) like Meryl Streep and yet another like Helen Hunt.
The film has a disappointing open ending. After so much investment put into the rest of the film to ground it in reality, the tacked on open happy and surreal (and partial fantasy ending) goes against the flow of the whole film.
LORELEI opens in Select Theatres & On Demand July 30, 2021.
NEMESIS (UK 2020) ***
Directed by Jim Crow
NEMESIS is the typical British crime thriller that delivers what is not normally expected from a tough British crime thriller. There is no crime committed on screen - no exciting bank robbery or gold heist. All the evil or crime had been completed in the past. What occurs in this film is the aftermath - and the aftermath is not good.
The film begins with a millionaire, John Morgan (Billy Murray) attending a charity gala with his wife, Sadie (Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott). His speech is interrupted by a person he calls a cheap drunk. But the cheap drunk is copper Frank Conway (Nick Moran). Frank accuses him of past crimes and threatens him. Frank is eventually removed from the gathering and his badge is also removed from him as a result of the embarrassment he had caused. It is later revealed that Frank has a personal vendetta with John Morgan as he believes that Morgan is the one responsible for his father’s death. There is a hilarious scene when Conway confronts Morgan with this fact later on in the film, when Morgan teases him about it like a child in the playground.
An underworld kingpin, John Morgan returns to London from semi-retirement in Turkey, along with his wife, triggering a cataclysm of violence, retribution and murder, beginning with the confrontation with Conway. The confrontation is not welcomed by crime boss Damien Osbourne (Bruce Payne) and is the catalyst for bickering between his brother Richard (Frank Harper, who seems to be in every single gangster film since the 90’s) and nephew Eddie (Danny Bear). John endeavours to reconcile his family at a party in his apartment, where they are set to meet his daughter Kate’s (Ambra Moore) new girlfriend Zoe (Lucy Aarden), but the family become trapped in their own home by a gang of heavily armed intruders.
Performances-wise, Murray should get a star billing above Moran as he is in more scenes than Moran. Harper is a staple in British gangster films with his heavy working class British accent. He is good here as he always is. And who is this Jeanine Nerissa Sothcott, that no one can take their eyes off. She is the most tackiest actress seen for a decade, always too eager to show off her boob job. She has the smoothest complexion, perfectly smooth, no doubt due to plastic surgery as is totally evident from her looks. There is also a mark a character makes on her lips. She plays Sadie, the wife, as if she is the sexiest person in the world, which makes her screen presence totally 100% absorbing. (I can watch her forever.)
Director Crow’s film is more talk than action though a little action is found near the end of the film. The film contains a few excellent dramatic and cheesy set pieces like the confrontation between Morgan and his brother, between Morgan and Conway and the dinner table scene.
NEMESIS is tacky as hell, bordering on the edge of silliness and camp which ironically makes the film also a terribly entertaining and an absorbing watch.
PRAY AWAY (USA 2021) ***
Directed by Kristina Stolakis
Ex-gays and Ex-Ex-gays. An Ex-gay is one who has gone through the Christian conversion program where they are taught that homosexuality is wrong and has denounced their sexual behaviour. An ex-ex-gay is one of those who have realized that conversion therapy is f***ing bullshit that has harmed individuals and are speaking out against the Christian conversion programs.
The subject of Christian anti-gay doctrinarian is an extremely intriguing and controversial subject. There are three kinds of audiences. Gay people who are for their Netflix original documentary. Then there are ex-gays and pro-ex-gays who are totally against this film. Then there are straight people that are the least affected by the subject. Regardless, the curiosity of people indoctrinated to change their lives, not once but twice make intriguing fodder and indeed an interesting documentary as well.
Point to note is that this reviewer is openly gay, who came out late at the late age of 27 or so, but had known since the age of 12 that he was gay. The reviewer is therefore, pro-PRAY AWAY. It would also be interesting to read reviews of the film who are either pro-Christian conversion or straight by sexual orientation.
In the 1970s, five men struggling with being gay in their Evangelical church started a Bible study to help each other leave the "homosexual lifestyle." They quickly received over 25,000 letters from people asking for help and formalized as Exodus International, the largest and most controversial conversion therapy organization in the world. But leaders struggled with a secret: their own “same-sex attractions” never went away. An important lesson to be learnt here is that sexual orientation is inborn, and can never go away. After years as Christian superstars in the religious right, many of these men and women have come out as LGBTQ, disavowing the very movement they helped start. Focusing on the dramatic journeys of former conversion therapy leaders, current members, and a survivor, PRAY AWAY chronicles the “ex gay" movement’s rise to power, persistent influence, and the profound harm it causes.
Director Stolakis makes her point by enlisting many ex-ex-gays to tell their stories. These are powerful stories. These people used to work in high positions in companies like Exodus International and Living Hope that tied to and indeed converted many homosexuals to be ex-gays. Their confessions that what they had done was wrong and that they have hurt countless people are moving testimonies. Ex-gays change their sexual behaviour not their sexual feelings as one of the interviews points out.
The topic of gay rights has been tackled before by director Stolakis. Her directorial debut THE TYPIST (Hot Docs 2015) cracks open the untold story of a closeted Korean War veteran tasked with writing the military dishonourable discharges of outed LGBTQ seamen. It was released by KQED and is currently a Vimeo Staff Pick. WHERE WE STAND (DOC NYC 2015) chronicles a group of Mormon women fighting for equal rights inside their church. Hooray for Stolaki.
TAILGATE (Bumperkleef) (Netherlands/Belgium 2019) ***
Directed by Lodewijk Crijns
TAILGATE is a horror thriller from the Netherlands. It comes with accolades after being voted the Best Dutch Film of 2019 by the Dutch Critics Association. As cheesy or cliche ridden as the film may be, it must be worth a look after winning the Critics approval.
The premise is road rage. A demented motorist is angered by another impatient one. Crazy and obsessed with revenge, this demented motorist goes all out to teach the impatient one a lesson hat he or she can never forth - a lesson that involves violence and killings. It is just last year (2020) that Russell Crowe in Derrick Borte’s UNHINGED, terrorizes a family when the mother honks at him at a stop light. Crowes’s predator character was indeed unhinged. So is the angered driver in TAILGATE.
The angered driver was already angry and impatient before the incident. He is late for a family dinner with his parents. His wife forgets her sunglasses, is tardy in packing etc. The kids are arguing and fighting in back of the car. So when the car in front moves at a slow pace, the driver loses it.
A film with such a simple premise as TAILGATE needs subplots or side incidents to keep the story interesting. To director Crijn’s credit, he succeeds. The incidents are not isolated ones but are all connected to the main premise and they also escalate the intensity and drama of the case. One of these involves the wife taking over the wheel and driving the car frantically around a residential estate where children are playing at a speed way above the legal limit. When their car is stopped, it is stormed a whole lot of very angry incidents. The story is taken one step further when the predator decides to take a break and enter into the diver’s family’s house. Director Crijns ups the angst by creating solid charters of the parents. The father has dementia while the mother is a strong headed woman.
In the midst of all the terror, the family dynamics are shown to be realistic and credible. There is friction between the husband and wife. At one point, she threatens to take the children to stay at a hotel, unable to cope with his anger issues. The husband is shown to be human with strengths and vulnerability. He loves his family, but is prone to anger outbursts, thus getting not only himself but the family in trouble. This fact enhances the story above the normal horror terror flick. The husband also has to right his wrong.
TAILGATE is exciting enough with the added bonus of many confrontation scenes. The best one of these is the driver’s encounter with the predator at the gas station. The same scenario is present in TAILGATE and in UNHINGED. The problem would not have arisen if the road rage was controlled. Once heated words have been exchanged, no apology can be accepted.
TAILGATE ends up an absorbing, entertaining and suspenseful watch with the obvious lesson that one should always consider the consequence of anger outbursts.
TWIST (UK 2020) *
Directed by Martin Owen
TWIST tells the story of an orphan named Oliver Twist set in the city of present London. He is taken in by a bunch of your thieves under the guidance of an older gentleman named Fagin. If all this sounds familiar, it should, as the story of TWIST is shamefully derived from Charles Dickens’ beloved classic OLIVER TWIST. And should one shrug at this idea? A 100% yes. And with reason.
TWIST is described as a modern twist of Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’. Free adaptation of classics seldom work and this film is no exception. One wonders the reason the filmmakers think the project would be a worthwhile one.
TWIST begins with a youth stealing an envelope and escaping after a parkour escape from his pursuers. He then has the envelope stolen by some lady. The film moves to a different time where the audience sees a boy with his mother before the mother abruptly is put out of the picture. This beginning is bad - both muddled and confusing. It is a warning that what is to come is a really bad movie. And TWIST IS an extremely awful piece of shoddy work, if one can call it work, confirmed with its unbelievable and senseless climax.
In Dicken’s OLIVER TWIST are the characters of Bill Sykes and Nancy. Bill Sykes is arguably the greatest villain ever known to literary readers and film audiences. Why? Because Sykes killed Nancy, the love and kind girl who looked after the boy Oliver Twist. In this film, Sykes is gender switched to a female played by Lena Heady and the character looks silly and misplaced, more camp rather than menacing. The character of Nancy, a key in the Dickens novel showing that there is some compassion and love in the cruddy world is reduced to Syke’s same-sex lover.
Continuity is poor at best. Besides the story jumping in time, there are details that defy explanation. One is when Twist spray paints a traffic warden’s van as he gives a ticket to a driver. No one is ale to spray paint such a picture in such a short period of time. The switching of many scenes is clumsy rather than stylist and ends up annoying and distracting.
Performance are awful. Raff Law’s (son of Jude Law) acting is amateurish at best, he thinking that he is the sexiest thing on the planet. What was Academy Award Winner Michael Caine thinking when he agreed to do the role of Fagin?
TWIST is a SKY original For those unfamiliar with British media, Sky is a streaming service in the U.K. similar to Netflix. Giving TWIST a one star in this review is already quite generous. At the time of writing, the film has a 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film begins with a voiceover saying that this story has no music or singing (referring to the Oscar winning best picture OLIVER! by Carol Reed). This film is nothing much of anything else.