Hidden In Plain Sight – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A woman fakes her death to get away from her abusive ex-boyfriend. She moves to a small town with her young son in an attempt to disappear. Her ex-boyfriend believes she is still alive and searches for her.

Is it any good?: Hidden In Plain Sight is made-for-television nonsense and Sleeping With The Enemy lite. The acting is uneven, the script plodding and dull and the music is louder than the dialogue much of the time. Told with intermittent flashbacks, Hidden In Plain Sight is a drag of a film and a chore to watch whilst one struggles to hear the dialogue.

Spoiler territory: Katie (Victoria Barabas) is frightened, running through the woods. She is being chased by Nick (Gino Anthony Pesi). Katie is carrying an axe. Nick is close and Katie trips – of course, she does – and drops the axe. Nick gratefully picks up the axe. Katie cowers as Nick swings the axe.

A week earlier, Katie, who has changed her name to Anna, is working in a restaurant/eatery as a waitress. Her shift is about to end and she is chatting with her friend, Chloe (Jessica Meraz), who works with her. Looking forward to leaving, Anna’s joy is short-lived as a handsome stranger comes into the restaurant and sits down.

Anna approaches him, handing him a menu. The man, Lucas (Jake Allyn), tells her he recognises her from the gym. Anna, not wanting to engage in small talk, shut him down. Undeterred, Lucas asks her out because…it’s in the script. She turns him down. Surprise.

Later, Anna is out with Chloe, Chloe’s boyfriend, Leon (Jerod Meagher), Leon’s daughter, Kayla – not good enough for a credit -, and her son, Danny (Jack Fisher). They are all at the bowling alley. As Leon and the kids’ bowl, the two women ignore the Bechdel test with Chloe asking about Lucas and why Anna didn’t drop her panties for him as he was cute.

Anna points out that Danny is her priority. Chloe asks if she even wants a boyfriend as though it was the most important thing in life. What about sex? Anna tells her that perhaps she should go out with him. Chloe points out she has a boyfriend.

The next day, as Anna is preparing for work and going to drop Danny to school, she finds the boy a little melancholy. Kayla thought it strange that Danny didn’t have a father. His mother works at a restaurant, so he is not homeschooled. Had he not noticed that most of the other kids at school had fathers? Anyhoo, dopey Danny laments about this to his mother.

Anna tells him that his father is in the military and that he is on a secret mission which is why he never calls. Why she didn’t just tell him he was dead was anybody’s guess but she goes with the ‘secret agent’ story. She tells dimwitted Danny that she has a complex relationship with his father. He asks her if she misses him. She tells him no but she misses the life she had before she met him. That life was also pre-dummy Danny, so how to lowkey destroy your child psychologically.

Eight years earlier, pre-Anna is Katie and working in at an art gallery. She is still serving but has a bad fringe, a nice dress and better make-up. She puts one glass of champagne on a tray and is instantly attracted by the back of a man’s head across the room. It is Nick. He is standing looking at an abstract painting. He notices her and gives her an ‘approach me’ stare. It works because she immediately makes a beeline for him with the singular flute of champagne.

Katie asks him if he likes the painting. He does. She explains that she is only an assistant but she can introduce him to the gallery owner. He tells her that he would like her opinion on the painting. She tells him about the artist’s journey and how it is inspirational. Nick doesn’t care. He’s just being smooth. He asks for her help in picking a painting.

He buys a painting, on Katie’s advice. Which she brings out to him. She asks him where he plans to hang it. He tells her that he needs help with that as well and that gentleman is how you get a lady to come back to yours.

Back in Anna land, she drops Danny the dunce at school and gives her mother, Evelyn (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) a call. Evelyn notes that she has changed her number again. Anna says she is just being careful. Evelyn asks how Danny the dolt is, Anna mentions that he asked about his father. She tells her that she told him he was in the military. Evelyn warns that he will figure out that she is lying. She obviously has never met the genius that is Danny.

Evelyn asks when she is going to meet Danny – told you she hadn’t met him – Anna says she does not know. She has sent her a package with a new photo of dung-brain Danny. Evelyn goes to the post office box to pick up the package. She is seen by Nick who follows her. When she stops at a coffee shop, Nick surprises her by paying for her coffee.

The two talk about Katie/Anna. Nick apologises for not attending her memorial. He tells her he is engaged to be married but sometimes has a fantasy that Katie/Anna was still alive and she faked her death because she was such a clever woman. These people’s notion of cleverness is very narrow. Evelyn leaves the coffee shop. Nick scowls because he is the bad guy.

At work, Leon comes to see Chloe. Anna gets a call from her mother. Evelyn chats a lot of bollocks about missing her and wanting to drive down to see her. She casually mentions she ran into Nick. She thinks he has changed. The fact that her daughter felt the need to fake her death and change her identity and use burner phones completely forgotten.

Anna, not quite as dumb as her mother and child, wants to know what he said. Evelyn tells her that he is engaged to be married and seems changed. Anna does not buy it. She is sure that Nick must have followed her. She tells her that is why she never gave her her address – she knows her mother is as stupid as her son – it was also why she drove to the adjacent town to post her packages.

Anna remembers back when she was Katie, she was out to dinner with Nick. He always paid for the dinner with large bills, something she found amusing – I suppose different people get their giggles in different ways. She tells him she is not used to the high life. She asks him what he does for a living. He tells her he gives loans to people who get rejected by banks. A loan shark? No, it’s connected to real estate.

That’s good enough for bad fringe Katie. Nick changes the subject. He has got her a gift. He gives her a pair of diamond earrings. Katie is overwhelmed by the gift. It is too expensive. She gives them back to him. How rude! Katie feels the gift would make her somewhat obligated to him. She is only in her mid-twenties – hahahahahaha – and still wants to figure her life out.

Back at Nick’s place, they make love and Katie falls asleep. Nick is in the bathroom when a masked man (Rocky Abou-Sakher) comes and attacks Katie in the bed. He wants money. She screams for Nick. He comes and tackles the intruder, overwhelming him and strangling him with the cord of a hairdryer. Katie wants to call the police. Nick tells her not to.

Katie wants to know why she cannot call the police. Nick tells her he does not want to go back to prison. He tells her to get dressed and leave. He warns her not to tell anybody about what happened.

Nick shows up at Evelyn’s house. He sees a picture of Danny on Evelyn’s fridge. She tries to tell him that it is her godson. Nick is not a moron and does not believe her. The boy reminds him of himself as a boy. He asks Evelyn where his son is. She feigns ignorance even though she has already told him the boy’s name and age. Nick, proving what a cad he is, grabs her arm, looming over her.

Evelyn folds like a cheap deckchair vindicating her daughter’s decision not to trust her with her address and gives up the fact that she is somewhere up north. Nick takes the envelope with the photos.

At the restaurant, Lucas has returned, not at all deterred by his first encounter with Anna, to ask her out. Chloe, who is team Lucas even though she barely knows the man, volunteers to babysit the chosen child Danny, so as Lucas can go out Anna. A happy Anna leaves work to go and pick up Danny, the best kid ever, from school. She gets a call from her mother. She was right, Nick was following her.

She tells Anna that he took the envelope so knows the general area she lives in. Remembering another conversation when she was Katie, she had been confronted by Nick after ghosting him after the intruder incident. She does not want to see him anymore. He lied to her – he didn’t but okay – is he a gangster? She tells him they should not see one another anymore. Nick does not accept that.

Katie, who before her name change and fringe removal showed all the intelligence of a mop, threatens to go to the police. Nick tells her that he will destroy her life if she does and shows her a picture of her mother to prove it.

Back in the present, the wise one Danny has just got into the car. Anna asks him if he thinks he would like to move again. He immediately throws a strop. He won at dodgeball for the first time in his eight years on the planet and now she wants to move?! No. Back at home, Chloe turns up just after they get in.

Anna does not want to go out anymore and tells Chloe about her bad relationship with Nick. Chloe persuades her to go on the date with Lucas because – and he really should be paying her some sort of a commission – he is a good guy. She goes on the date. The date goes well even though Anna is evasive about lightbulb Danny’s father.

Do-it-all Danny is telling Chloe that he wants to meet his father. She tells him she never met hers until she was a teenager. A man is sneaking around outside the house. Chloe sends Danny do-good to his room and goes and investigates, kitchen knife at the ready. It turns out to be Leon. He had come to see her because she had not been returning his calls. He apologises for his flirtatiousness.

Later, Anna returns home. She and Chloe discuss how Anna will have to tell the later focused intellect that is Danny about what is going on. Chloe leaves and Anna goes to look in on her sleeping son. She remembers her distress at learning that she was pregnant. She disclosed her unwanted pregnancy news to Grace (Cherion Drakes), who worked at the gallery with her. She did not know what she was going to do to keep the news from Nick.

Grace tells her that she can get a new identity from Sergey (Bogdan Yesinski). Why Sergey would have told that he had a false identity is anyone’s guess but she tells Katie. Katie goes to see Sergey, a very gruff and taciturn Russian who seems to use watchmaking tools to forge documents. He needs her new name. Under duress, she comes up with the imaginative Anna Jones. Sergey makes the new documents.

The next day, a nervous Anna thinks she sees Nick coming into the restaurant. She picks up brainiac Danny from school after her shift. She is skittish for the rest of the day. The next day, Anna is late leaving to pick up Danny with the lightning mind. She gets to her car and finds she has a puncture. She calls the school to inform them she is running late.

Nick goes and finds he who cannot be fooled Danny waiting alone outside of the school. He tells him that he is his father. Danny the cerebellum, gets into the car. Chloe and Leon see Anna struggling to change her tyre. Leon offers to change it for her. Meanwhile, Nick, who is slicker than a snake oil salesman, bamboozles the mighty mind of Danny by buying him fast food.

Tyre changed, Anna screeches up to the school. Her son is gone. She still searches for him, banging on doors and accosting strangers as to his whereabouts. Nick takes his boy to a sketchy motel. The reception is an ornery old woman, Maggie (Eve Sigall). Nick deflects her inquiries about sharp Danny’s mother.

Anna returns home. She goes and hugs the Danny to rule them all pillow, crying. She doesn’t call the police. She gets a call from Nick. She threatens to call the police. A threat that has no effect whatsoever on Nick. Einstein Danny is allowed to speak with Anna. He doesn’t want to stay in the motel. He hasn’t got his toothbrush. Nick ends the call. He lays down the law to Danny, future Nobel Prize winner.

Anna gets a call from Lucas. Hearing she is in distress, he rushes over. They’ve been out twice. Anna tells him about her past and how she faked her death. She jumped off a bridge. Right. Lucas says that perhaps Nick just wants to get to know his son. Anna tells him that he is a dangerous criminal and was connected to a lot of murders but they could not make any of them stick.

Why that would preclude him from wanting to get to know his son I don’t know. Lucas persuades her to go to the police. She goes to report her son missing but decides against it at the last moment. She realises that her criminal record – fraud and credit card debt, plus faking her death – would probably get her in trouble. She returns home.

Danny – he actually does something intelligent – sneaks out of the motel room. He goes to Maggie at the front desk and calls his mother. Nick wakes up and realises he has gone and begins searching for him. Maggie gives Anna the address of the motel. Nick searches for Danny. Maggie does not help him but he realises that Danny was at the reception because his backpack is there.

Nick tries to threaten Maggie but she warns him she will call the police. He leaves and goes and bribes the housekeeper so as he can search the rooms. Anna and Lucas go to drive to the motel. Anna gets another call from Danny and wastes time talking to him. Nick is outside of the room Danny is hiding in. He goes into the room next door.

Anna and Lucas are racing to the motel. Danny escapes the room and hides by a vending machine. Anna arrives and they get Danny. Nick sees the car and runs after it but is stopped by Maggie pointing a shotgun at him. He disarms her easily and goes and gets his car. He goes after Anna.

Back at home, Anna tells Lucas that she is leaving. She tells Danny to get in the car but Nick arrives and blocks her car in. Anna tells Danny to go back into the house. In the house, she tells him to go to his bedroom and lock the door. She goes back outside and eyeballs Nick so that he chases her. She grabs an axe. It is the scene from the opening of the film. After she has fallen over and Nick is about to kill her with the axe because she is thought to be dead by the wider world, Lucas – yay! – dives in to save the day.

Lucas and Nick scuffle and Lucas goes to pull out a gun but Nick pushes him into a tree and he falls unconscious, dropping the gun. Nick picks up the axe to kill Lucas but Anna picks up the gun. Nick turns to face her. He tells her that she is too good a person to shoot him. She shoots him in the chest. She shoots him again on the ground to make sure he is dead.

An unspecified time later, with no consequences for the murder, Anna goes to see her mother and introduces her to her grandson and Lucas. They all go to eat. The end.

Final thoughts: Hidden in Plain Sight is rubbish. The story is lazy and poorly written, the script bollocks and the suspense non-existent. The acting is okay, especially given the material they had to work with but even by mad-for-television standards, this film is bad. Written by Jed Seidel and directed by Stacia Crawford, Hidden in Plain Sight is eighty-seven minutes of nonsense.

It is not unwatchable but you might have to watch it with subtitles as the standard made-for-television, atmospheric music, is cranked up to eleven, making some of the dialogue difficult to hear. There are a few nice directorial touches from Crawford but not enough to save this turd. Avoid.

Killer Cove -Netflix(review)

Brief synopsis: dealing with a disgruntled ex-husband after her divorce, a woman’s life is thrown into more turmoil when she is stalked by a hooded stranger. A chance meeting with a handsome private investigator seems to turn her life about but all is not as it seems with the Romeo private eye.

Is it any good?: It’s called Killer Cove on Netflix, which is just as bad as its original title, Fear Bay. I think they probably just put in a few adjectives and nouns into an online title generator and came up with those, suffice to say the film is awful. The best I can say about this film is it was in focus and the beach house is nice.

Spoiler territory: Linda (Haley Webb) is helped by colleague and friend, Carrie (Cathy Baron) whilst putting a tiny rocking chair into the back of a van. The women chat about the owner, Bob (Roy Souza), and how he is having to let staff go having let ‘Peter’, who was really nice, go. Yes, it is that kind of script.

Anyhoo, the women keep chatting, Carrie worrying about what is going to happen when they get laid off, even though it was only a stop-gap job, taken because they had been laid off from their real jobs. So, irreplaceable they are not. Bob, the owner of the hell hole – Bayside Antique shop – they are currently employed in, comes and interrupts their griping.

The cad, asks them to do an inventory. Carrie tells him they are going away for the weekend and Linda notes there are only four hours left before they close. Utter bastard that Bob is, he reminds the ladies that times are tight and he needs it done. That told them.

As Linda counts plates, Eric (Jason Alan Smith), her ex-husband, comes to see her. He has left her multiple voicemails, why hasn’t she got back to him? Did she think he wouldn’t notice she had put up the price of the house – way over market value apparently – he needs her to sell the house so as he can get his share of the money.

He tells her to drop the price and leans in threateningly. His crass coercion is interrupted by Carrie, who tells him that if he is not shopping he will have to leave. She threatens to get the manager. Eric leaves but not before telling Linda to drop the price of the house. Later, as she and Carrie enjoy after-work drinks at a local bar, Linda admits that she should drop the price.

Carrie, psychobabble genius that she is, tells her she is hanging on to the house because it is the only thing she can control at the moment. Does she want to live in a home she purchased with her ex-husband? Linda says she does not. Carrie, wise one that she is, tells her to sell the house, take the money and move to the West Coast and find another job.

Linda is not so sure she would fare any better away from Bayside. Carrie, segwaying into a cheerleader, tells her that she is a brilliant interior designer and her resume is brilliant. Linda mentions that she is turning no heads at the moment, which turns out to be the perfect opening for pretty, luscious locked Tony (Donny Boaz), to crash into the conversation.

His good looks seem to immediately make Carrie’s panties moist, even though it is perfectly clear that he is only interested in Linda. Happy to be an unwanted wing-woman, Carrie encourages the union. Tony tells them he is a private investigator. Linda, who after quipping with the sleuth decides she is tired, gets up to leave. Tony gives her his card, in case she might require his services. As she leaves, Linda notices a man in a hoodie (Shawn Fitzgibbon) watching her. He makes no attempt to hide his shady nature.

Linda goes into a convenience store and sees the dodgy – and podgy – hoodie guy. She confronts him. He denies following her and tells her she is crazy before scurrying off guiltily. Back home, in her house by the beach, Linda is out on the back porch and sees a figure watching the house from the beach. She runs into the house, up the stairs – it’s a big house – and gets her mobile to call the police. No landline in her massive house then.

The police come and take some notes but do nothing beyond that. The next day, she is telling Carrie about the incident. Carrie, remembering that she is always required to give sage advice that is ignored, tells her that maybe it is a sign and she should move. Linda, plucky woman that she is and a little bit stupid, says she does not want to be forced out of her home.

Hoodie stalker man turns up at her workplace. He tells her that he knows her name and that of her friend Carrie, as well as where they both live. The appearance of Bob causes hoodie guy to run off. Linda calls the police again. This time a detective – it has happened twice you know – Groves (Owen Miller), is on the case.

Groves tells Linda that they will look out for the guy. She wants to know if they can’t do more to find the podgy guy in a hoodie, the only description she could have given him. Groves tells her no, they do not have enough information to identify the man. Shocking. She tells him she does not feel safe. He apologises but points out the bleedin’ obvious, telling her that they have other crimes to attend to.

Linda asks him if she should hire a private investigator – no idea where she might find one of them – Groves cautions against it, saying they tend to be more trouble than they are worth. Of course, totally ignoring the detective’s advice, Linda goes to see Tony. She tells him her concerns and also tells him she was advised against getting a private investigator.

Can he help her? Tony, flowing locks and twinkly smirk, assures her he can. The two come to an arrangement, Tony reducing his fee for her because he does not like stalkers and finds her kind of hot, though he does not say the last bit. Linda returns to her vast beach house, calling Carrie to tell her that she has hired Tony. This news makes Carrie especially giddy. It has no impact on the plot.

As evening falls, hoodie guy waits outside Linda’s house. He approaches the house armed with a tyre iron. Tony springs into action. Hoodie guy hits him with the tyre iron but that barely slows Tony down, who punches him a few times and grabs his wallet out of his back pocket. Turns out his name is Carl. Tony then gives Carl a beatdown and leaves him unconscious and concussed on the beach.

Tired from his exertions, he knocks on Linda’s back porch glass door. Linda comes to the aid of the slightly disheveled Tony. He asks her if she knows a Carl Ruston? She does not. Does not matter, he won’t be coming around anymore. Linda gets some ice for Tony’s bloodied knuckles and a t-shirt of her ex-husband’s because Tony’s got torn in his scuffle – no idea how that happened.

She gives him a salmon-coloured polo, saying she thinks it will fit, obviously forgetting how much smaller her husband was than Tony. It fits of course. This is not a clever film.

Linda wants to call the police but Tony dissuades her, telling her it could be awkward for him if they got involved, him having assaulted Carl. The two are chatting when the doorbell rings. Linda is not expecting anyone. She answers the door. It’s Eric. He is still raging about the non-selling house. He needs his money.

As they argue, Eric gets a little aggressive, grabbing Linda’s arm. Tony intervenes telling him not to grab her. Eric tries to punch Tony and gets head-butted for his troubles. Eric leaves, his manhood bruised. Linda, who seemed to have missed the whole Eric-throwing-a-punch moment, comments that Tony did not have to hit him in the face. Only someone who has never had to hit someone would say that. Should he have hit his shoulder?

Tony understands her disquiet and leaves. The next day at work, Linda is recounting the night to her therapist, sorry, I mean Carrie. Carrie thinks it is a good thing. Tony has taken care of the two things in her life that had been bothering her. Linda is not so sure. There was something about the intensity in his eyes. So there is that.

Linda says she does not think she will see him again. Tony immediately walks into the shop. Carrie makes herself scarce. Tony asks Linda out to dinner as he wants to apologise for causing her problems. She accepts. Somebody – and having seen the entire film I still cannot work out who – is watching Eric.

Tony calls to take Linda to dinner. He takes her for a picnic on the beach. She is, surprisingly, impressed by this romantic gesture. Surprisingly I say, because she lives by the beach. Her ex-husband must have been a real dolt never to have done that before! On the beach, Linda tells Tony about how she came to be in Bayside, get into interior design and meet Carrie. Yawn.

They get amorous on the beach as the sun goes down. The next day, Groves goes to Eric’s home. His home has been vandalised. He doesn’t think it’s a robbery. He tells Groves about Tony, saying he does not think he likes him and that he broke his nose. At Bayside Antiques, a chipper Linda strolls into work. Carrie wants to know how the date went but Bob, the slave driver, wants her to work.

Groves comes to see Linda. She tells him about Tony and tells him that Tony hit Eric in self-defence. Groves and Tony have history. Groves does not trust Tony and tells Linda as much. The detective leaves. Linda calls Tony to tell him about her encounter with Groves. Groves goes to see Tony. He tells him that he can see a repeat of the previous encounter and he would be happy to lock him up. He asks him what happened to Carl. Tony tells him that the police presence must have scared him away.

Eric goes to the store and harasses Linda about Tony. He tells her he is going to sue her because she will not sell the house, even though it’s for sale. Bob chases a young man out of the store as Eric storms off. The young man stole a watch and Bob asks Linda why she did not stop him or see him. She apologises. Bob wants to know why Eric was there. Another personal issue? He fires her because it is the reasonable thing to do.

Tony turns up outside of the store to surprise her but Linda tells him she wants to be alone. She drives home. Tony comes to her home and grabs her, bending her arm up behind her back. He tells her to fight, to not be a victim. She looks at a kitchen knife. Doesn’t grab it but she looks. She pushes him away. He tells her that it hurts him when she does not fight, that she needs to take control of her life.

Tony tells her he was just helping her to find her inner strength but he will now leave. She stops him. Apparently twisting a woman’s arm is a bit of an aphrodisiac and she wants him. I’ll never understand women. I digress.

Tony spends the night. The next day, Linda asks why Groves does not like him. Tony tells her it is because of an old case in which an abusive spouse killed his wife and disappeared after he found out she had hired Tony. Groves, according to Tony, did a bad job in the investigation. Eric goes to get in his car. When he clicks the key fob, his car blows up.

Carrie comes to see her, now unemployed, friend. They hang out for the evening. Detective Groves comes and tells Linda that Eric’s car was blown up. He also tells her a different version of Tony’s story. He was having an affair with the client’s wife. He then tried to kill the client and the wife got caught in the crossfire. Their daughter saw the whole incident, ran off and got hit by a truck and died. The husband disappeared after that. Tony also has a background in explosives, having worked with them in the military.

Later in the evening, Tony sits outside her house listening to her and Carrie’s conversation having bugged the house. The two women decide to move to the West Coast, Carrie sick of working for Bob as well. Tony comes to see Linda. She gets Carrie to call the police from upstairs – maybe the signal only works upstairs in her house – and goes to speak to him.

Linda refuses to open the door but wants to know why he lied about his past. Tony tells her he was afraid that she would push him away. Carrie comes and tells Linda the police are on the way. Tony runs off. Carrie stays the night to keep Linda company. Linda cries at her own stupidity.

The next morning, Carrie leaves early to go and quit the antique store and begin packing her belongings. As Carrie walks back to her home, she is snatched by an unseen assailant. Linda cannot get hold of Carrie. She goes around to her home. She keeps calling her for the rest of the day. She falls asleep but is woken by a nightmare of Tony biting her like a vampire. She goes to switch a lamp on and finds the bug Tony planted.

Groves comes around in the morning and tells her they checked the entire house. There are no more bugs. Belatedly, Linda decides to mention that Carrie is missing to the detective. Groves asks if they discussed leaving town in the house. Yes. Linda realises that Tony must know and is convinced he is going to kill her. Linda goes back into her house, Groves leaves a few officers outside of her home.

She gets a call from Carrie. She is being held and Linda has to come to an abandoned warehouse. She is not to tell the police. Linda sneaks away from her home and goes to the warehouse. She finds Carrie tied up in the warehouse and frees her. Tony turns up with a gun and is looking around. Linda hits him with a brick and kicks him in the groin. She hits him again as he tries to speak to her. He drops the gun. A still disorientated Carrie tries to reach the gun but another man comes and kicks it out of her reach. He tasers Linda.

 Linda wakes first to find Eric holding her, Carrie and Tony captive. He had been embezzling money from his company and they had employed Tony to find out where the money was going. Eric realised Tony was onto him and planned to frame him for murder and get money from the sale of the house. He also had hired Carl to try and scare Linda.

As all this Scooby-Doo style exposition is going on, Tony gets a penknife out of his back pocket and begins to cut through his bonds. Eric decides he is going to kill Carrie first as he never liked her. Linda tells him if he kills Carrie she will tell the police everything. Eric says he will have to kill her too. What he was planning to do with her otherwise is anybody’s guess. Tony joins in the conversation, distracting him long enough to break his bonds. Free, he lunges and slices him with the knife.

They wrestle and fight. Eric knocks him to the floor and runs off. He leaves Tony with the gun. Kind of him. Tony frees Linda and goes after Eric, leaving Linda to free Carrie. Carrie is feeling fragile and can barely walk. They hear shots and Linda, leaving the weakened Carrie, runs towards them.

Eric has, somehow, gotten the gun again and an injured Tony is at his mercy. Eric hears Linda’s footsteps – how he knows it’s Linda and not Carrie is anybody’s guess – and begins to goad her. He points the gun at Tony. Linda creeps up on him and hits him with a breeze block.

Tony and Linda agree they are not going to work as a couple. Carrie staggers over and gets a hug. The police turn up later and give Carrie a robe whilst Groves asks a perfectly fine Linda about her physical state. An ambulance takes Tony to the hospital. Groves still thinks he’s dodgy.

Linda and Carrie pack up and leave town. Carl Ruston’s body washes up on the beach. Carrie asks Linda if she has heard from Tony since he left the hospital. Linda tells her she has not. She thinks he is trying to keep his distance. There is a bug in the car and as the car drives into the sunset, another car begins to follow them. The end.

Killer Cove is hokum and nonsense. The acting is bad, the script is worse and the premise somewhat nonexistent. There are red herrings thrown in almost by accident, a soundtrack that is pure television movie standard, half-finished characters and a script so bad I am surprised the writer, step forward James Palmer, a name strangely absent on the IMDB page for this film, let his name get on the credit roll at all.

Direction by Damian Romay is competent but nothing to rave about. This film is lazy even by made-for-television standards. You do not care about anybody in this film. Webb’s Linda is okay and you do not want her to get harmed but that is only because nobody likes a stalker.

Baron’s Carrie is in the film for exposition as is Miller’s Groves. I still have no idea who or why anybody was watching Smith’s Eric. All the acting in the film is rudimentary but it is hard to tell if they are all bad actors or if it is just that the script is so weak. I suspect it is the script.

Truth be told, I had pretty low expectations of the film – it’s called Killer Cove – and it has a score of four-point two, which I feel is a little generous. At eighty-seven minutes long, it is not a long film but it does not feel like a short one. Killer Cove is another wretched effort for the Netflix shite film graveyard. Avoid.

Extraction – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A mercenary for hire, goes to India to extract an incarcerated drug lord’s son after he is taken by a rival drug lord. The job becomes complicated when his team gets killed and the payment for the extraction does not arrive. The mercenary must battle to get the boy and himself out of the city with enemies at every turn.

Is it any good?: Extraction is a blast. Bridging both the familiar and unfamiliar – drug lords and gunplay the familiar, the Indian setting being the unfamiliar – and crafts a compelling story with an enigmatic antagonist and simple, straightforward premise – save the boy – the film hurtles through its over one-hundred-minute runtime.

Spoiler territory: a mercenary, Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), is battling against overwhelming odds on a bridge in India. He gets shot and badly wounded. As he struggles to stay alive, he remembers his young family in happier times, his baby son playing in the sand.

Two days earlier, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), is chatting with a couple of friends after school. From a rich family, he is picked up by his chauffeur and bodyguard. He and his friends go for a drink and chatter as teenagers do and then he heads home. The home is vast, reflecting the wealth he lives in. He is questioned about his dalliance after school by the head of security, Saju (Randeep Hooda). Has he not been told to come straight home after school? Ovi nods.

Ovi practices the piano in the large home. With Saju off for the evening, Ovi takes the chance to sneak out and meet his friends at a club. His friends goad him at the club, trying to get him to speak to a girl he likes. One of his friends decides that he needs a little dutch courage. Two of the boys go into an alley behind the club and light a joint.

As the friends smoke, a couple of policemen come and catch them. The boys quickly discard the joint. One of the officers shoots Ovi’s friend and they kidnap Ovi. Saju goes to see Ovi’s father, Ovi Sr. (Pankaj Tripathi). Ovi Sr. is a drug lord, hence the wealth and knows that his son has been snatched.

He admonishes Saju for allowing his son to be kidnapped by his bitter rival, Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli). He tells him to go and get his son back, warning him that his own family is in danger if he does not retrieve his son. Saju speaks to his wife, Neysa (Neha Mahajan). She says that Ovi Sr. should pay the ransom.

Saju explains that he cannot as all his assets are frozen. He does think he knows of someone who could help. In Australia, Tyler is lounging with some friends. He jumps into the water and sits at the bottom of the lake, remembering his family. When he returns home later in the day, Nik (Golshifteh Farahani), is waiting for him. They have a big job. He is to extract an Indian kid.

Nik tells him that it is a drug lord’s kid and he has been snatched by a rival drug lord. It could get complicated. The job is in Dhaka. Tyler takes the job. Nik knows that Tyler has a bit of a death wish. Nobody else would have taken such a dangerous assignment. Tyler says he needs the money, though it is obvious that he does not.

He and others that make up the team, meet up for a briefing of the job. Tyler goes to Dhaka and acts as the negotiator, getting taken by the kidnappers to the where they are holding Ovi. He tells them he wants proof of life before they receive any payment. The kidnappers show Tyler that Ovi is alive and unharmed.

As they take Tyler back to go and get the ransom, the team begin to take the kidnappers out. Tyler storms the room and kills all of the men holding Ovi. He takes the boy into his care. Elsewhere in Dhaka, on a rooftop, a group of frightened boys are being questioned by one of Amir’s thugs. He grabs one of the boys and throws him off of the roof. He returns to the cowering group. Who stole the money? One of the boys puts his hand up.

The boy, Farhad (Suraj Rikame), says that the boy who stole the money was the boy he threw off the roof. An amused Amir, who had been watching on, calls him over. He tells the other boys that Farhad is smart and knows how to think on his feet. He hands a penknife to Farhad and tells him to cut off two of his fingers.

Farhad asks why. He tells him that the boy who stole his money is dead and he wants a walking reminder of what happens to anyone who steals money from him. Before Farhad can carry out the gruesome task, Amir is interrupted by Colonel Shadek (Shataf Figar). The boy has been taken back.

Amir tells him to shut down the city. Tyler takes Ovi to a car and they change into combat gear. He begins to take him to a boat that they are to meet. He records the boy on his mobile so as the client knows that he is alive. He sends the message to Nik.

Nik and her team are tracking the operation remotely and receive Tyler’s video. They inform the client. The money is to be transferred in seven minutes. On the boat they are meeting, the two men waiting for them get killed. One of the team, who is watching the boat gets killed. The money has not been sent. The base of operations sees the police closing on Tyler’s position. Nik warns him. Tyler is forced to change his plan and go back towards the car. Saju is also after the boy and attacks Tyler. Not trusting who he is, Tyler takes Ovi away in the car.

Chased by both Saju and the corrupt police department, Tyler shoots and fights his way to safety across Dhaka. As they rest, he contacts Nik. She tells him that Ovi Sr. does not want to pay and that he should leave the boy and escape. He ends the call. Ovi, having overheard the call, asks him if he is going to leave him. Tyler tells him he is not.

Saju checks into a motel and contacts his family. He wants to speak to his son, the magnitude of the task he is facing apparent to him after the day he has had. Tyler gets a call. There is a helicopter for him at the edge of town if he can get there. He wakes Ovi up. As they go to leave, they are attacked by Farhad and a group of boys.

Tyler slaps them about a bit but does not kill any of them. He gets picked up by a friend, Gaspar (David Harbour), who tells him they can stay with him for the night before they travel. Farhad goes to see Amir. He gives him one of his fingers and says he wants to be the one to kill Tyler because he embarrassed him.

Tyler tells an inquisitive Ovi about his life and his son’s death. He had been absent when his son died and is ridden with guilt. Tyler and Gaspar drink and chat. Gaspar asks him what does he plan to do once he gets the boy back. Gaspar tells him that the boy has a large bounty on him and they could split it. They only have to kill him.

Tyler and Gaspar fight. Ovi is woken by the fighting and comes down the stairs. He shoots Gaspar who was about to kill Tyler. Tyler realises that he cannot do the job alone. He calls Saju. They meet the next morning and he gives Ovi to him and tells him he will take care of the roadblocks. They set off. Amir and the colonel watch the battle unfolding from afar.

Nik and some of the crew come to meet Tyler at the extraction point. As the two men wage separate battles to clear a path to the extraction point, Nik and her crew are helping as they arrive at the extraction point. Saju, who has Ovi in tow, is forced to get out of the vehicle they have. As they make their way to the extraction point, with Saju killing and fighting the whole way, they get separated.

Soju gets killed by a sniper bullet. The colonel is shooting from a distance away. One of Nik’s crew gets killed by the colonel. Nik, who also has a gun with a scope, looks for the shooter. Tyler reaches the bridge, near the extraction point but is wounded by there colonel. Nik sees him and kills him. Ovi finds Tyler. Tyler tells him to head to the extraction point. Tyler steels himself to kill the last few soldiers.

He kills the last few soldiers he sees and turns to come back to Nik. He is shot in the neck by Farhad. He falls off of the bridge into the river. Nik and Ovi get to the extraction point and escape. Eight months later and Ovi’s life is back to normal. Amir is still riding high in Dhaka. He goes to the bathroom. He sees Nik, whom he had never met, smiles at her because she is attractive. She shoots him dead.

Ovi jumps into a swimming pool and sits at the bottom. Something makes him think he needs to go to the surface. He looks to his right and a man who looks like Tyler is in the distance. The end.

Extraction is an entertaining thriller that blazes through its just over one hundred minute runtime. With Hemsworth the best-known name in the cast taking the lead role, he ably fills the role and physicality of the highly capable Tyler. Extraction is a thriller by the numbers, with no surprises. Not that it is a problem.

One of the strengths of the film is that you know what is going to happen. There is no working out of the plot, it is set in the first ten minutes and the action just ramps up from then on. Exactly how a thriller should be.

There is even humour when Tyler comes against Farhad and his boys and pathos when he is shot near the end. Written by Joe Russo – we know that name! – and directed by Sam Hargrave, Extraction has good performances from all concerned and the action scenes are excellent.

Truth be told, Extraction is basically the same as the much more linear and superior Denzel Washington starrer of 2004, Man on Fire, with a few more people fighting to save the child. That being said, it is not a detriment to have a similar plot to that highly entertaining film of 2004 and Extraction is entertaining and worth a watch.

Altered Carbon: Resleeved

Brief synopsis: In a future where a person’s consciousness and personality can be transferred to a new body – a sleeve – their life is housed in a small disc that is implanted into the spine at the neck called a stack. Takeshi Kovac (Ray Chase), the last envoy – an exceptional soldier with empathic abilities -, is re-sleeved in order to use his particular skillset to protect a young Yakuza tattooist, Holly (Brittany Cox) from a dangerous cabal of red-clad ninja assassins. He is also tasked with finding the killer of the Mizimoto clan’s leader.

Is it any good?: Altered Carbon: Resleeved is an anime spin-off of the successful Netflix series Altered Carbon, itself based on a book by Richard K. Morgan. The live-action, television series has fantastic visuals and the anime, with much more creative scope, follows the same visual style with the animation crisp and vibrant. It is an enjoyable anime, though probably not for the anime purist, as it does not explore the more esoteric elements normally associated with anime.

Spoiler territory: on the planet Latimer, a young woman, Holly, is running for her life. She is being chased by two burly men. At the same time, Takeshi Kovac has just been resleeved and wakes up in Latimer. Holly tries to escape into a crowd but is caught by one of the men. She just wants to escape off of the planet. As the man tries to explain it is not safe for her to be out, he gets killed. His partner is quickly dispatched with as well.

Holly tries to run but is grabbed by the assassin. Kovac intervenes. He has been employed to protect her. Kovac has been employed by Tanaseda (Doug Stone), to look into the death of his brother who was head of the Mizumoto yakuza clan. Holly is the clan tattooist. She will be able to help him infiltrate the clan and find out who might have killed his brother.

In a virtual meeting, Tanaseda explains that Holly is important to the clan because she is part of the succession ritual that ensures that no one leader can rule indefinitely. The leader of the clan undergoes a permanent death. The Mizumoto clan prides itself on this ritual as it shows the ultimate commitment to the clan.

After the meeting, Holly, who did not know that Kovac was an envoy, tries to run away again. Kovac goes after her. Holly runs into Gena (Elizabeth Maxwell), who is part of CTAC, a police/military crime division. She tells Holly that she needs to come with her. Kovac catches up with them. He tells Gena that Holly is with him. Gena’s team surround them, Gena thinks Kovac is part of the Mizumoto clan.

Before Kovac can react to the situation, the CATC team get attacked. It is the red ninja assassins. They take out the entire CATC team. Gena and Kovac kill all of the ninjas. Gena and Kovac decide to work together; Gena investigating the clan for CATC and Kovac for Tanaseda. They take a reluctant Holly back to the Mizumoto clan headquarters.

The headquarters is attached to a hotel that is run by an A.I program called Ogai (Chris Conner). Ogai appears in human form as a hologram. He tells Gena and Kovac that they are welcome to stay. The soon-to-be head of the clan, Shinji (Kaiji Tang), comes into the foyer. When Kovac talks to Shinji, his bodyguards all pull their guns. Holly explains to Shinji that they are her bodyguards.

Shinji orders his bodyguards to retreat. He welcomes them into the hotel. Now inside the hotel, Gena, who believes Genzo (Jamieson Price), the outgoing boss, is trying to take down the clan, begins to investigate. She takes a pass off of one of the guards in the hotel so as she can get access to every room. Gena also has an ulterior motive wanting to destroy the Yakuza.

Kovac talks to Tanaseda again. He tells him that there does not seem to be anything amiss about his brother’s death, him having been part of the Mizumoto succession. Tanaseda is not so sure as the code would have to have been handed down by their father and he feels it is not something his father would agree to.

Kovac finds out that one of the reasons Holly works for the Mizumoto clan is that Genzo has promised to help find her parents stacks. Her parents were killed many years before but their stacks were not destroyed. Holly wants to find them.

The ninjas are having a meeting with Shinji. He is not happy. He is behind the hunt for Holly and cannot understand why she is not dead yet. Gena finds out that the clan have Holly’s parents’ stacks and that is why she is there.

They all go to see Genzo, flanked by a team of security guards. They are attacked by the ninjas who take out all of the security team. Gena and Kovac defeat the ninjas. A second battalion attack. They run to the foyer. Ogai initialises the hotel’s defences and kills them all.

Kovac wants to know why Genzo wants Holly dead. She explains that the boss dies during the succession ceremony, never to come back. She provides the technology, through her tattoos, that kills them and she is the only one who does that sort of tattoo. Gena contacts CTAC and tells them she has enough information on Genzo. They tell her to withdraw and that she should eliminate Holly. Gena returns to the room they are all in.

Gena overhears Kovac singing a song. It is from her childhood. She realises that Kovac is her brother but she does not tell him. Kovac meets with Tanasedo again and mentions Shinji’s distinctive laugh. Tanasedo realises who is behind the hunt for Holly. Tanasedo asks Kovac to investigate something else. Gena tries to persuade Kovac to turn his back on the mission, explaining that it is too dangerous. He refuses.

Kovac finds Genzo’s cloning area. It is succession day. Holly drugs Shinji and has him taken to the succession area. The ninjas attack Gena and Kovac and the hotel security. Genzo dies during the succession ceremony and Shinji takes his mantle. Tanasedo is there to congratulate him. And expose him. It is his father. His father had always swapped bodies before the ceremony, thus always retaining leadership of the clan. He is now in the Shinji sleeve.

Holly confronts Shinji and asks for her parents’ stacks, having been told that the clan bought them some years before. Shinji smashes the stacks in front of her. Gena, Kovac and the clan come up to confront Shinji, Kovac having told the clan what had happened. Shinji pushes Holly towards them and disappears. They go after him. Shinji, now clad in a super suit, kills all of the clan’s men. He is defeating Kovac and Holly asks Ogai to intervene. The hotel tells her that he is under the rule of Shinji.

Tanasedo arrives. He has uploaded new data to Ogai that shows that even though it is Shinji’s body, it is not Shinji. Ogai attacks. The suit takes the brunt of the attack. Kovac stabs the circuitry causing the suit to fall apart. Kovac and Shinji fight and Kovac beats him to a pulp. Holly destroys his stack. Tanasedo shoots him so as his death his not prolonged.

Gena tells Holly that as far as CTAC is concerned she is dead. Tanasedo has another job for Kovac. The end.

Altered Carbon: Resleeved is an entertaining anime with breathtaking anime. With a screenplay by Dai Satô and Tsukasa Kondo and directed by Takeru Nakajima and Yoshiyuki Okada, Altered Carbon: Resleeved romps through an action-filled seventy-four minutes. As I mentioned earlier, the anime stays away from the more spiritual and mystic vibe that tends to surround anime and is more like the Netflix series in its approach.

With a relatively straight forward story and very little secondary story, the anime keeps it moving with the very graphic action set pieces. Severed limbs and blood aplenty, the directors have real fun with the angles and edits during the combat scenes. The vocal work by the English speaking actors is good and does not take you out of proceedings at any point.

The real star of the anime is the animation, however. There is a scene that involves smoke and blood and steam, plus all the movement and it is utterly brilliant. I can freely admit I am no expert when it comes to anime but I did enjoy Altered Carbon: Resleeved a lot. Admittedly, I am a big fan of the series as well. That being said, with its short runtime, it is definitely worth a watch.

Mercy Black – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: When Marina (Daniella Pineda) is reluctantly discharged from a psychiatric hospital after fifteens years, she goes to stay with her sister, Alice (Elle LaMont) and her family; partner, Will (Austin Amelio) and young son, Bryce (Miles Emmons).

Along with another girl, Rebecca (Sophianna Smith – young version), Marina (Jamy Lentz – young version) was convicted of a heinous crime, the assault of a young girl, Lilly (Elke Boucher-Depew – young version). Now grown up, Marina has horrible nightmares about the night of the crime and is haunted by visions.

Is it any good?: it’s not great. Pineda is a little too actor-y for my liking and the horror is more threat than actual but it ramps up nicely and there is genuine tension. The story is pure horror classic hokum, with the antagonist being an entity that everyone in town – it’s always a small town – believes is a myth. There is a nice twist but the story as a whole does not hang together well enough.

Spoiler territory: After fifteen years in a psychiatric hospital, Marina Hess is told by her doctor, Dr Ward (Janeane Garofalo) that she feels she is well enough to leave the facility. Marina is not so sure but Dr Ward reassures her that she is ready for the outside world. Her sister, Alice, comes and picks her up from the hospital.

She takes Marina back to her place where she lives with her son, Bryce. Later, on her own in the bathroom, Marina is haunted by images from her past. She has a nightmare whilst sleeping and wakes up to find Bryce standing next to her bed. Having heard her screaming in the night, he comes and offers her his night light.

The next evening, Alice’s boyfriend, Will, has joined them for dinner. When Alice takes Bryce up to bed, Will asks Marina about her infamous past. Marina does not want to talk about it. Will tells her that her story is notorious, how she and her friend, Rebecca, took another girl, Lilly, and stabbed her seven times because they were told to by Mercy Black. Marina insists she does not want to speak of it.

Will persists, telling her he is a true crime fan and how her crime had spanned a slew of copycat incidents. As Marina lies in her bed she remembers bits of the incident, how she and Rebecca dragged Lilly through there woods. She hears a noise and goes downstairs to check. A dummy, with a scarecrow mask, smashes into the front door window.

The next day at school, a curious Bryce asks the librarian, Mrs Bellows (Lee Eddy) about Mercy Black. Mrs Bellows tells him she does not know about it but they can look on the internet. Back at the house, Marina, having watched a woodworking video, is sanding the stairs. She is surprised by Will. He is still eager to talk to her about the Mercy Black episode.

He tells her that they can make a lot of money if she does talk shows and helps him with a book. Marina is not interested but Will keeps on about the potential of making money. Marina, who had returned to sanding the stairs, accidentally sands his knuckles off. Alice returns to find Will screaming abuse at Marina. She kicks him off of her property.

Later that evening, Alice finds her dog dead in the yard and is convinced Will is behind it. She goes to see him. Bryce asks Marina about Mercy Black. She tells him that Mercy Black was made up by her friend Rebecca, who convinced her that if they made a sacrifice to Mercy, it would save her mother’s life as her mother was terminally sick at the time.

Bryce shows her the many incidents connected to Mercy Black on the internet and asks her how can she not be real. Alice, now at Will’s home, sees he has a wall of information on Marina. He is obsessed with making money off of her story. They argue and Alice leaves. Alone in his home, Will hears noises and thinks some of his friends are messing with him. He gets killed.

Bryce’s young imagination seems to be running wild and he is convinced that he is being spoken to by Mercy Black. Marina remembers the incident and how Rebecca cut off one of an unconscious Lily’s fingers as an offering to Mercy. The next day, Marina is determined to get to the bottom of her mysterious past.

She goes to see Rebecca (Jesse Tilton). Rebecca had also been incarcerated. Time had not been kind to Rebecca and she sits by a window, catatonic from her time in the hospital. Her mother (Rochelle Robinson) is happy to see Marina and takes her to see her traumatised daughter. Rebecca is unresponsive as Marina speaks to her but when Marina begins to look around the bedroom, Rebecca grabs her ankle and screams uncontrollably.

Bryce continues to act strangely. When his friend, Sam (Dylan Gage) comes over to play with him he tricks him into putting a noose around his neck and nearly kills him. Alice calls Dr Ward to ask about Marina. Marina continues to look into her past and finds the underground area that the girls were in all those years before.

She finds enough evidence to convince herself that Mercy Black was a figment of their imaginations. Alice gets a call asking her to come to the police station. Will is dead. She goes to see Bryce and he is convinced that he is in contact with Mercy Black. His bedroom door slams and Alice falls over the bannister.

Marina returns home to see Alice being taken away by an ambulance. Bryce asks if she will sit with him whilst he falls asleep. When Marina wakes up in the night, Bryce has left his bed. Marina gets attacked and knocked to the ground.

Mrs Bellows turns up at the house and says to Bryce she is going to help him. She has a finger missing. It is Lily. She takes Bryce to the underground area. Dr Ward, who had looked into Lily’s past comes to the house and tells Marina that Lily is back in town. They both head to the underground place.

Marina goes down to look for Bryce. She tells Dr Ward to call the police. Lily comes up behind the doctor and slits her throat. Lilly goes down into the underground place and confronts Marina. Marina tells Bryce to run and fights with Lily. Lily stabs her in the stomach and goes after Bryce.

A wounded Marina gets up and is attacked by the spectre of Mercy Black but battles back defeating it. Lilly catches up with Bryce and waits for Marina to catch them. Marina tackles her to the ground and is strangling her but realises that is what Lily wants. She stops strangling her. Bryce stabs Lily through the eye, killing her. The spectre of Mercy Black looms large over him. The end.

Mercy Black is kind of bad, then moderately good, then awful. Written and directed by Owen Egerton, the film does not seem to be sure what it wants to be. The idea of it being mostly a figment of Pineda’s Marina’s imagination worked quite well and served the story even as Eddy’s Lilly is revealed as still being alive. Unfortunately, he did not leave it there. He had to complicate things.

Amelio’s Will was a story strand that went nowhere and was just an extra body to kill off which, in a horror film, is understandable but not only was it a most unsatisfactory demise, it did not push the story forward at all.

Young actor Miles Emmon is very good as Bryce and convincing as the semi-possessed child and had Egerton leaned more into that storyline this could have been a really good horror. Instead, he decided to go with the ‘mad’ Lily bollocks, her wanting to fulfil her destiny of being killed at the hand of Marina in order to satisfy the bloodlust of Mercy Black.

LaMont is great as Alice but she too just runs around doing random things and eventually getting, literally, knocked out of the picture so as to allow for the very poor conclusion. The Lily storyline was working but by deciding to make Mercy Black real, Egerton completely negates the story’s power, whilst simultaneously wrecking all credibility the film had built up.

I will say the film is ably directed and most of the jump scares work well. The tension is good and it even overcomes Pineda’s weak central performance. It is all utterly destroyed by the muddled story. Mercy Black, at eighty-eight minutes long, is not a long film and, for the most part, trundles along nicely. It is a shame that Mercy Black has so much going on because it had all the elements of a passable horror film. Unfortunately, it is a fussy mess. Give it a miss.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker – review (Netflix)

Brief Synopsis: When black washerwoman Sarah Breedlove’s (Octavia Spencer) hair begins to fall out due to life’s stresses a chance meeting with hair ointment saleswoman Addie Munroe (Carmen Ejogo) helps her to regrow her hair and regain her confidence.

When Addie refuses to accept Sarah as a salesperson, seeing her as no more than a washerwoman, Sarah strikes out on her own, working under her second husband’s name, C. J. Walker (Blair Underwood) and build an empire selling hair care products to black women across North America.

Is it any good?: Yes and no. Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker is entertaining and the acting is first-rate across the board. The story is interesting and resonates with anyone who has ever felt like an underdog.

Unfortunately, the telling of the story is somewhat uneven not only in execution but in tone. Spanning four episodes and running for just over three hours, Self Made should have had more of an emotional impact and worked better than it did.

Spoiler territory: Sarah Breedlove is a washerwoman and she is struggling to make ends meet and with hair loss. Her husband, Davis (Robert Ifedi), returns to the home a drunkard after a period in prison. He leaves her, disgusted by her appearance. At her wit’s end, Sarah is about to give up on life but then she meets Addie Munroe.

Addie takes pity on her and helps her to regain her hair by treating her scalp with a hair balm she had come to sell. In exchange for Sarah washing her clothes, Addie continues to treat her scalp. A few years into the treatment, Sarah suggest to Addie that she could sell to her community.

Addie, an attractive woman of mixed race, does not like the idea. She does not feel that Sarah has the right look to sell her products. Sarah, determined to show Addie she can sell, takes some of the tins of hair balm and sells all of them. She returns to Addie with, what she feels is, good news.

Addie is furious and tells her, in no uncertain terms, that she is not the type of look that she wants to be associated with her product. Sarah is crestfallen. She returns home and her new husband, C. J. Walker, comes in to congratulate her on becoming a new saleswoman. Sarah tells her that she never got the job and what Addie thought of her.

Sarah decides she is going to make her own hair balm. Her balm immediately takes off in St. Louis attracting the ire of Addie. Addie comes to see Sarah and tells her that she will fail and that she will have clothes waiting for her to wash. Sarah continues to go from strength to strength.

Sarah tells C. J. that they need to move to expand. C. J. does not want to move. They move to Indianapolis, with Sarah daughter, Lelia (Tiffany Haddish) and her new husband, John Robinson (J. Alphonse Nicholson). Sarah does not approve of John. She thinks he is a wastrel.

In Indianapolis, Sarah opens a hair salon. It does not go well and business is, initially, non-existent. C. J. Is ready to give up and go and work for somebody else. Sarah refuses to go back to being a washerwoman. Desperate, Sarah goes to the market and tells her story and offers black women the chance to look better, gain confidence and make their own money.

She decides to do hair for free to get the business started. The business is soon flourishing. Sarah wants to expand more. C. J. wants to be more cautious. Sarah wants to make the company legal. C. J. introduces her to Ransom (Kevin Carroll), a lawyer working as a bellhop at a local hotel. Ransom is reluctant to get involved. After an unsavoury incident at the hotel, he takes the job.

Addie follows Sarah to Indianapolis and opens a salon. The women are at war. Addie comes to the local black church and makes a play for Sarah’s customers. Sarah hits back with a better deal but it means more production. In the efforts to increase production, the little favoured John leaves the product unattended and the salon burns down.

Addie takes the opportunity to steal all of Sarah’s customers. Sarah decides that she will adopt the name Madam C. J. Walker. Sarah approaches the prominent black businessmen in Indianapolis in an effort to open a factory. The men are reluctant to back a woman, addressing C. J. during the discussions. They turn her down. Sarah realises she needs more. She is determined to get Booker T. Washington (Roger Guenveur Smith), the most prominent black man in the city, to endorse her.

Sarah is determined to get to see Booker T. Roman tells her that Theodore (Martin Roach), the mortician and most prominent businessman in town, wants to talk to her. She goes to see him but he tries to rape her in exchange for his endorsement.

C. J. gets tickets for Booker T.’s talk but tells Sarah that she can only come to be with the women. Sarah will not accept that and insists on going to the talk. At the talk, Washington introduces Addie to the stage but he does not let her speak. Sarah tries to persuade Washington’s wife, Margaret (Kimberly Huie), to put in a word but Margaret is reluctant, telling Sarah she does not involve herself with her husband’s business.

Ransom invest in Sarah’s venture, not realising that the money he got from his cousin, Sweetness (Bill Bellamy) is illicit. After being coerced by Sarah to talk to Washington whilst he was in the bathroom, C. j. tells Sarah that Washington is coming to dinner. As the night wears on and Washington does not show, Sarah gets the real story out of C. J.

Ransom rings a friend to find out about Washington’s thoughts. He tells Sarah that Washington has no interest in women’s beauty products and thinks them frivolous. An angry Sarah kicks everyone out of the house. Lelia has her sexuality challenged by Esther (Mouna Traoré).

C. J. gets this head turned by Dora (Sydney Morton), who persuades him to come to a jazz club with her. Sarah decides to try with Margaret again. She talks at Washington’s next conference but he is not pleased by her gracing his stage and talking about female enterprise and tells her so in the most chauvinistic of terms.

Sarah wants to remortgage the house to build the factory. C. J. is opposed to the idea but Sarah goes ahead with it anyway. C. J. feels emasculated. Margaret’s women group come to the rescue financing the factory opening. John goes to see Addie. He will get her information on Sarah for a price. Ransom sees Dora and C. J. getting closer.

Sarah’s business is quickly expanding and she recruits more sales agents as well as opening five more salons with her top saleswomen. Sarah suspects John is up to something. C. J. comes up with a new ad campaign. It does not look anything like Sarah who is dark-skinned. C. J.’s ad depicts a light-skinned woman.

Sarah wants to go to New York to expand the business. She wants to see the most successful store owner in the country, Winston Moreland (Michael Brown). She hopes to put her products in his stores. In New York, Sarah and Lelia are blown away by the amount of and variety of black people they see. C. J. stays back. Dora continues to seduce C. J.

John searches for Sarah’s hair balm formula. C. J.’s father, Cleophus (Garrett Morris) tries to warn him about dallying with Dora. Sarah tries to sell her products to Moreland but he is not so receptive without C. J. around.

Dora gets the other top agents to jump ship and work for Addie. Back at the restaurant, W. E. B. Dubois (Cornelius Smith Jr.), a prominent civil rights activist, comes into the restaurant. He knows of and recognises Sarah. He comments on her notoriety, having heard about her speech at Washington’s conference.

Sarah returns to find out that her top five agents have left to work with Addie. At the same time, Sweetness comes and blindsides her, telling her he is an investor in her business. Sarah goes to see Dora and catches her with C. J. Ransom fights with his cousin. Sarah kicks C. j. out.

Sarah shows the board of Moreland’s stores around the factory but a drunk C. J. interrupts the meeting ending her chance of getting her products in the stores. Cleophus tells Lelia that John has been seeing Addie. Addie goes and catches him and tells him she is going to divorce him.

Sarah decides to expand into New York. Lelia will go ahead and set up the salon. Lelia plans to go with Esther but Esther gets cold feet and does not show up for the trip. C. J. tries to get back together with Sarah. She rejects him.

Sarah opens a new salon, The Dark Tower, in Harlem. Sarah moves to New York. At a party celebrating the move, Sarah collapses. When the doctor comes and sees her, he tells her that her kidneys are failing and she only has a year to live. Sarah does not tell anybody. She decides to have a convention.

Sarah tells Leila that she wants a grandchild and that she needs to get a husband. C. J. turns up in New York. He wants a divorce. Lelia goes to see her girlfriend, Peaches (Keeya King). Peaches tells her that she knows the heir to the Saunders drugstore chain and can help get the products into his stores.

At a photoshoot for the hair products, Sarah meets the young model, Fairy Mae Bryant (Kiki Hammill). Addie rings Sarah and threatens to expose her for stealing her hair balm formula. Sarah goes to see Percy Saunders (Stuart Hughes) to try and get her products into his drugstores. The meeting goes well and he is happy to do business with her.

Sarah goes to see C. J. After spending some time with him, she signs the divorce papers. She catches Lelia kissing Peaches. She tells Lelia that she is dying and wants an heir. Lelia promises to settle down. The next day, Sarah is having a meeting with Ransom. Ransom is distracted. Sarah asks what is up with him. He tells her that Sweetness took his son out for some ice cream but cross some white men and ended up getting lynched.

Sarah returns to Indianapolis for Sweetness’ funeral. Addie confronts her. Sarah returns to New York to host her convention. Her employees are protesting on her lawn about her death with the Saunders drug company. They feel it will put their salons out of business. Sarah goes to see her neighbour, John D. Rockefeller (Frank Moore). She tells him that she is having trouble with her employees. He tells her to ignore them and fire them.

The disgruntled employees continue to protest as the party continues in the house. Sarah releases Leila from her obligation to give her an heir. Lelia tells her that she has adopted Fairy Mae. Sarah decides against the deal with the white-owned Saunders drugstore chain, telling her gathered employees that they will be the ones to grow her business. The end.

Final thoughts: Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker is an entertaining, if mildly frustrating, four-parter. Octavia Spencer is perfectly cast as the driven and determined Sarah Breedlove/Madam C. J. Walker. One believes her when she is downtrodden and feeling low but also when she bullishly steps into the white and male-dominated world of business.

Carmen Ejogo is also good as the jealous Addie Munroe, likewise, Blair Underwood’s C. J. Walker is totally believable as the ignored spouse. Tiffany Haddish dials back her usual gregariousness to play the sexually confused Lelia, her relationship and chemistry with Spencer working brilliantly.

Sydney Morton’s Dora fills out the secondary bad-light-skinned-girl role with aplomb also. The music for the series is also very good, driving a positive message of entrepreneurship. At forty-five to forty-nine minutes an episode and well-paced, Self Made, moves along quite quickly, the story being compelling enough to make you want to watch the next episode.

With the writing credited to five different writers, with the bulk of the writing going to A’leila Bundles – who wrote the book the mini-series is based on – and Tyger Williams. The directing of the episodes is split between Demane Lewis – episodes three and four – and Kasi Lemmons – one and two.

The frustrating thing with Self Made is the tone. More specifically, its unevenness. There are a lot of really powerful scenes in the series as a whole, as well as some interesting commentary on colour as a whole even just within the black race. Unfortunately, Ejogo’s Addie is somewhat cartoonish at points in her relentless pursuit in the destruction of Sarah.

There are hints of a deeper character in the series – when she speaks with her, much darker-skinned, mother and her violent relationship with her ex-spouse. This is all left by the wayside, Ejogo instead required to go full Disney villainess. Underwood to suffers the same fate, his C. J. initially portrayed as a good, supportive man but is slowly reduced to a drunken buffoon. In fact, except for Carroll’s Ransom, all of the black men in the series are portrayed as misogynist, weak-willed or buffoons.

Light-skinned women do not come out much better, a surprise considering both the directors are light-skinned women. Both the aforementioned Ejogo’s Addie and Morton’s Dora are portrayed as looks blessed but character deficient. And when C. J. shows Sarah his idea for a campaign it depicts an image of an idealised, light-skinned. black woman on a bicycle, something that is shown as playing on Sarah’s psyche as she is taunted by a beautiful ‘Walker’ girl on a bike portrayed by Joanne Jansen.

The series does not settle on a tone, even for an entire episode. Sometimes it is serious at other times it is uplifting, which would work if one was given any time to know any of the characters. Even Spencer’s Sarah is not entirely fleshed out enough for one to know what drives her so relentlessly, even at the expense of her marriage, to pursue her dream.

One, of course, understands that for women, especially black women, that it was a difficult time in history. Such was the life of all black people at that time, a point driven home by Bellamy’s Sweetness getting lynched in the final episode. Still, it does not allow us to understand what it was that made her believe she could rise above her circumstances to become the ‘Oprah’ of her generation.

The racism that Sarah would – less than thirty years after emancipation – have faced, is barely touched upon. Because of this somewhat lightweight approach to the story, the heavier aspects seem somewhat out of place, crashing in on proceedings but not in a shocking way, more of an intrusive jolt.

There are some creative decisions that are…interesting. We get occasional glimpses into Sarah’s mind but it is not consistent enough to be integral to the plot so, once again, they seem a little out of place. Self Made, strangely, suffers from being too short. There is clearly more to the story than is portrayed and far more strands which could have been explored, not to mention the fleshing out of the characters.

That being said, Self Made is an enjoyable mini-series that I watched – all three-plus hours of – in one sitting. It is good enough to make one take an interest in the life of Madam C. J. Walker and if, for no other reason, it is worth watching for that.

Spenser Confidential

Brief synopsis: When ex-cop Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) gets out of prison and hears that dirty cop and his old captain, Boylan (Michael Gaston) who he got sent to prison for assaulting, got killed his curiosity is piqued. When another police officer, Terence Graham (Brandon Scales) is also killed and it is made to look like a suicide, a sceptical Spenser investigates.

Is it any good?: Spenser Confidential, based on the old, short-lived but enjoyable mid-eighties show, Spenser: For Hire, is a modern interpretation which sees Wahlberg bring his gritty Wahlberg-ness to proceedings. Somewhere between his Dignam in The Departed and his Lugo in Pain and Gain, Wahlberg comfortably carries a conspiracy actioner by the numbers. Not great but watchable.

Spoiler territory: After getting a going-away present of a failed attempt on his life from lifer Squeeb (Austin Post), Spenser is collected, on his release from prison, by his old friend, Henry (Alan Arkin). Henry takes him to his home and tells him he has a room for him. Spenser is unable to return to his old home which he shared with his girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), who is not one to rein in her anger or emotions.

Spenser finds that he is sharing a room with a hulk of a man called Hawk (Winston Duke). Hawk trains at Henry’s boxing gym. The next day, one of Spenser’s ex-colleagues, Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) comes to see him. He tells him that Boylan has been murdered and that he is, because of his past with Boylan, a suspect.

Henry tells them that Spenser was home all night. Driscoll leaves. Spenser goes and joins a truck driving class. He plans to buy a truck and drive to Arizona. He cannot get the murder of Boylan out of his head. Henry asks him to train Hawk. Spenser initially refuses but Henry insists.

Later, Spenser and Henry see that a young police officer, Terence Graham, has apparently committed suicide, according to news reports. Spenser does not believe the reports. He knew Graham and believed he was a good cop. He goes to see Terence’s widow, Letitia (Hope Olaide Wilson). She tells him that she was told that Terence was a dirty cop and that she could be charged as an accessory.

Letitia tells him about a bar where Terence went to meet Boylan. Spenser goes to the bar. It is a popular haunt for the police and they do not like Spenser as he is known for beating up another cop. Spenser gets a beating. They throw him out of the bar. Spenser notices a security camera facing the bar from a store across the road.

He enlists the help of Hawk to recall the footage of Terence leaving the bar. He goes and checks out the scene of Boylan’s murder. He goes to see Driscoll and asks about Terence. Driscoll tries to discourage him from looking into the case. While out to lunch with Hawk and after reconnecting with Cissy, Spenser sees the car he saw on the security video. He tries to chase the car but it gets away. Luckily for Spenser, Hawk remembers the number plate.

The number plate belongs to Bentwood (James DuMont). Spenser knows of him from his patrol days. He was a goon for hire and killed and hired people to kill a young woman, Gloria Weisnewski (Alexandra Vino). When he found out that the homicide department, headed by Boylan, was not even looking at her case, he went and confronted him.

Later on, he was contacted by a reporter, Wayne Cosgrove (Marc Maron), who shows him a tape of the murder. Spenser confronts Boylan again, this time at his home and assaults him which resulted in his prison time and loss of career.

Spenser watches Bentwood and follows him. He sees that he is being watched and photographed by some other people. He realises they are federal agents and approaches them. They give him short shrift, agent Burton (Ayana Brown) gives him her card and tells him to contact them if he finds out anything.

Spenser returns to prison to talk to Squeeb. He shows him a live stream of his wife getting chatted to by Hawk to persuade him to talk. It works. Squeeb tells him one word; Wonderland.

He goes to see Cosgrove and asks him if he knows anything about it. Cosgrove tells him that it is a big venture involving many shady parties wanting to create the next large gambling mecca. Spenser says if he brings the evidence, will he expose it. Cosgrove is not confident that Spenser can get sufficient proof to expose the corruption.

Boylan’s funereal is attended by Driscoll and several other police officers. Amongst the officers present, another crooked cop, Maklin (Kip Weeks), talks to Driscoll about Spenser. He says they have to kill him. Spenser goes into a local Mexican restaurant to get some food and is attacked. Hawk gets him out of trouble.

With his location compromised and worried about Henry, they all move into Cissy’s place. Letitia, who had been at her husband’s funereal, returns home to find her place a wreck. She calls Spenser. She gives him a wire that Terence had been wearing as part of his investigation in conjunction with the federal agents. He and Hawk listen to the tape. Boylan is confessing to Terence about the whole corrupt operation. He tells Terence that everybody works for Driscoll.

Spenser goes to confront Driscoll. He tells him to come clean. Driscoll refuses. Spenser takes the tape to the feds. They say it is not enough. Spenser takes matters into his own hands and goes and gets information out of Brentwood. They grab one of the trucks that have the drug stash that Driscoll is using to raise money for the Wonderland venture.

They take it to Cosgrove. He says it is not enough. He takes the van to Cissy’s place. Henry is gone. Spenser gets a call from Driscoll. He has Henry and he is at Wonderland. He tells Spenser to bring his drugs. Spenser formulates a plan to get Henry back.

Cissy drives into Wonderland and gets Henry. Spenser and Hawk come smashing in and create a diversion so as they can getaway. Driscoll runs off and Spenser gives chase. Spenser catches up with Driscoll. They fight and Spenser eventually overpowers him. He leaves Driscoll and the evidence for the feds.

After all the parties are convicted, Spenser, Hawk, Cissy and Henry watch the news. One of Spenser old highschool friends is seen getting arrested. Spenser thinks he is innocent but the others do not want him to get involved. The end.

Spenser Confidential is an enjoyable though not overly taxing film. Wahlberg is perfectly cast as the ex-cop/con with a moral compass that makes him want to right wrongs. Ably supported by Duke’s Hawk, as well Alda’s Henry and with the potty-mouthed Shlesinger’s Cissy completing the central quartet, Spenser Confidential is an old fashioned, brain-in-neutral, good against evil actioner.

For anyone who watches a lot of films, the appearance of Woodbine’s Driscoll was probably like an alarm going off, screaming ‘here’s the bad guy!’. Woodbine, as good an actor as he has been in other projects, can pretty much phone-in a bad guy performance.

Embracing that niche occupied by the likes of Robert Knepper and Eric Roberts, Woodbine’s presence in proceedings pretty much signposts the direction of the film.

With the old ‘dirty cops’ and ‘everybody’s in on it’ storyline in effect, Spenser Confidential potters along exactly as one would expect. With a runtime of one hundred and ten minutes, the action is engaging enough to keep you interested and the comedy, mostly provided by Shlesinger’s great turn as the abrasive Cissy, is good enough to amuse.

None of the actors on show is required to go to any great emotional lengths and the film goes more for feel good rather than deep feels. With the film currently sitting as the most-watched film on Netflix – they have decided to publish, on-site, which shows are the most popular – the intimation of a possible sequel at the end of Spenser Confidential seems more probable than possible.

Spenser Confidential is watchable and enjoyable with absolutely no surprises. Worth a look if only for Shlesinger’s performance.

Airplane Mode – review (Netflix)

Ana (Larissa Manoela) is a highly popular social media influencer. Obsessed with her popularity, she checks her phone and post responses to the detriment of everything else in her life. The only daughter of Laura (Silvia Lourenço) and Inācio (Michel Bercovitch), Ana’s soaring popularity gets her a job at a clothing company, True Fashion.

Her manipulative boss, Carola (Katiuscia Canoro), has her get together with another, less popular, social influencer, Gil (Eike Duarte), in the hopes of boosting the company’s profile. She is expecting Ana in the office for a meeting but Ana is running late due to having an accident in her car whilst focusing on her phone.

Even though Ana is pretty vacuous, she believes that she is in love with Gil after them being together for a month. When she gets to work, Carola tells her that she and Gil should move in together. Ana is not sure but says she will think about it. She leaves the office and goes to see her best friend and fellow social influencer, Mara (Amanda Orestes). On the way to seeing Mara, Ana has another car accident. She tells Mara about Gil and the idea of them moving in together.

Later, in the evening, Ana’s parents try to lay down the law with regards to her dangerous driving. She refuses to listen to them and goes to see Gil for dinner. Unbeknown to her, Carola has a plan to increase both of their profiles and has Gil break up with her whilst they are live streaming. Carola makes sure her assistant, Fausto (Phelly X Moura), records it all.

An angry Ana calls Carola. Carola is over the moon with the response. Ana, focused on her phone once again, has another accident. She ends up in the hospital. Whilst in hospital, her mother comes up with a plan to stop her using her phone. She tells her that she has been ordered by the court not to use her phone. She employs an actor to pretend to be a court official to tell her she cannot use her phone.

She will have to stay with her grandfather, Germano (Erasmo Carlos). In her grandfather’s town, Ana is desperate to get hold of a mobile phone and tries to persuade a young girl, Julia (Nayobe Nzainab) to lend her her phone. As she tries to wrestle the phone from Julia, she is stopped by the girl’s older brother, Joäo (André Luiz Frambach). She tells him that she is looking for her grandfather’s house. Joäo knows him and persuades his other sister, Rebeca (Mariana Amâncio), to take her to the address.

Germano is initially gruff to the phone loving city girl Ana, forcing her to help him restore an old car but as she helps him, the two warm to one another. Germano tells Ana about her late grandmother, saying that she reminds him of her. He shows her his wife’s old wardrobe. The wardrobe inspires Ana to design her own collection of clothing.

Ana also finds romance with Joäo and begins to relax away from the city. Her father and grandfather are estranged because when the wife was dying Inācio felt that he never allowed her to seek the best possible treatment. Ana finds letters explaining the situation and the parents come to see her and Germano. Carola, who had been searching for Ana, is alerted to her whereabouts when Julia post a picture of her and Joao kissing to social media.

Carola comes to the small town to see Ana. Ana tells her she does not want to come back to the company and is going to try and strike out on her own. She shows Carola her designs. Carola, not happy with Ana’s decision, steals her designs.

That weekend, with the car restored, they plan to go to the towns fair. Whilst at the fair, Ana, with her phone now returned to her, decides to take a photo of her and Joäo. She sees a picture of the man who was supposedly a court official in the background of the picture and realises that her parents duped her. She leaves the town and heads back to the city.

Due to her contract with True fashion, Ana is unable to work with any other fashion house and ends up designing clothing for dogs. Joāo, who she found out also know she was being duped, is desperately trying to contact her. He is having no joy. He sees her designs on a billboard and raises that True Fashion’s Carola has stolen them. He sends Ana a picture.

Joäo, Laura, Inācio and Germano come to the aid of Ana and expose Carola for stealing the designs. Joäo and Ana get back together. The end.

From a story by Alberto Bremer and Johnathan Davis, with the script by Bremer and Alice Name Bomtempo, Airplane ModeModo Aviāo – original Brazilian title – is a pleasant rom-com directed by César Rodrigues.

Following the ever-popular modern story of a social media influencer being too attached to their phones and popularity, Airplane Mode, a title that has proved strangely popular in the past few years with three films having the same title in the past four years, does not seem at all promising from the outset.

The obsessive social media influencer is already becoming a worn-out stereotype which makes it hard to warm to Manoela’s Ana and Canoro’s Carola is a bit of a pantomime villain making the first half an hour of the film a chore to watch. Thankfully, once Ana suffers her accident and is banished to her grandfather’s, the film gets much better and finds its heart.

Carlos’ Germano is taciturn and gruff initially but shows his paternal side quite quickly. The interactions between Carlos and Manoela are believable and the scenes between them, especially when talking about the grandmother/wife, are great.

Frambach’s Joāo is attractive enough without being distractingly so, giving off the aura of a nice guy which works perfectly for this film. At ninety-six minutes long, Airplane Mode, after the ropey opening, bumps along nicely and has you rooting for the romance between Ana and Joāo.

Rodrigues’ directing is competent without being amazing. Larissa Manoela is perfect as the like-hungry Ana, giving a totally believable performance.

Airplane Mode is a nice enough film even though the beginning and the end are not as good as they could have been. All in all, Airplane Mode is an enjoyable film and pleasant enough to waste an hour and a half on.

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish

With a story that has its roots back as far as 7BC, the trials and tribulations of Cinderella have influenced and been the inspiration for many stories, plays, pantomimes, and in the past century, films. The tale of a downtrodden and oppressed orphan girl escaping the evil clutches of her step-family and finding love and a better life appeals to the romantic in all of us.

Cinderella’s story is not a festive one but there is no good reason why it cannot be set around the holidays. At least that seemed to be the thinking of the makers of Netflix’s A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish. Spoilers – if you really don’t know the story of Cinderella that is – ahead.

When Kat Emerson’s (Laura Marano) father dies, she is forced to live with her stepmother, Deirdre Decker (Johannah Newmarch) and her two daughters, Grace (Chanelle Peloso) and Joy (Lillian Doucet-Roche). The Decker clan, who live off of Kat’s inheritance which is under the control of Deidre until Kat’s eighteenth birthday, treat Kat like a lackey, having her do all the cleaning and also forcing her to work to earn any money.

Kat dreams of becoming a singer and songwriter but Deidre constantly suppresses her, telling her that she will never be good enough to make it. Whilst out with her step-family, Kat gets humiliated when she bumps into the towns most eligible bachelor, Dominic Wintergarden (Gregg Sulkin), falls over and gets covered in a milkshake. Joy films the entire scene and posts it to social media.

Later, Kat goes to work at a Christmas fair where she is a singing elf. There is a new Father Christmas and she immediately hits it off with him. It is Dominic, though neither initially realise they have met before, even as Dominic notes some familiarity in Kat’s face.

Dominic’s father, Terence (Barclay Hope), has an annual Christmas party that is invitation only. When Deirdre finds out that Kat’s father was a close friend of billionaire Terence, she hatches a plan to get herself invited to the party, writing him a letter and playing on the fact that he was a friend of Kat’s father. Meanwhile, Kat is getting closer to Dominic at work. He reveals who he is to her and invites her to the party.

Having received a reply from Terence inviting her and her daughter, Katherine, to the party, Deirdre plans to have Joy pretend to be Kat. Kat’s best friend, Isla (Isabella Gomez), makes her a dress for the party, Deirdre finds out that Kat has been invited to the party and takes her ticket and burns it. She takes the dress Isla made for her and gives it to Joy. She tells Kat if she tries to come to the party she will never get her inheritance.

A smitten Dominic invites her over to meet his friends. Kat turns up in her elf outfit but his friends recognise her from Joy’s video. An embarrassed and angry Kat leaves Dominic’s house even as he tries to apologise, not having realised, until that moment, that he had met her and she was from the viral video.

A morose Kat returns home and laments her relationship status with Dominic. Dominic, meanwhile, is also lamenting his relationship status, feeling that he has lost out with Kat due to the earlier encounter. He tells his father about his misgivings and how she left behind her songwriting book when she ran out of the house. His father tells him he can fix it. Dominic is not so sure.

Later, Kat comes home to find her step-family getting ready to go to the party. When Joy goes to get her handbag, Kat sees her snow-globe. The snow-globe is special to Kat as it reminds of her father. Joy and Kat fight over the item and it breaks. Deirdre and her daughters go to the party leaving an angry and heartbroken Kat behind.

Kat finds the letter that Deirdre received from Terence and realises that he expects to meet her. She decides to go to the party. At the party, Deirdre is desperately trying to find Terence, unsure what he looks like having never met him. Elsewhere, Isla, who is helping with the entertainment at the party, helps Kat to sneak into the party.

During the Christmas show, that Kat has unwittingly found herself part of, Kat accidentally knocks the show’s Snow Queen unconscious. The show organiser (Bethany Brown) tells Kat she will have to take her place. Dominic comes and finds her backstage and they make up. Kat performs at the party and impresses all who have attended.

Kat tells Terence about Deirdre’s plan. Deirdre tells Kat that she has spent all of her inheritance. Terence tells Kat that he will look after her and she can chase her dream. He has the Decker clan escorted from the party. Dominic apologises for his friends and not intervening. He asks Kat to dance with him, saying it is a Wintergarden tradition. They dance and fall in love. The end.

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish is a passable Christmas movie. Starring Laura Marano, who was also in Netflix’s The Perfect Date, another, quite sweet, teenage rom-com, it is a brain-in-neutral experience. One could watch the entire film in silence and know what is going to happen at the end or even miss the first hour and not be even slightly perturbed. The acting is made-for-television standard, with those playing the Decker clan hamming it up for the camera.

Gregg Sulkin, as the handsome Dominic, is uninterestingly attractive. He will never struggle for attention but neither does he have the looks of someone you feel compelled to watch on the big screen. As Marano’s character is an aspiring singer/songwriter the film has songs in it. They are all completely forgettable and performed with staggering blandness. Mariah Carey’s Christmas money is not likely to be challenged by any of the songs on offer in this film, all of which are horribly overproduced and auto-tuned.

Written by Leigh Dunlap and Michelle Johnston, with Johnston also on directing duties, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish is eighty-five minutes of harmless fluff in a festive setting. This is the sort of film you will have on in the background when all the family have come around for dinner and proceed to talk over it.

Not an awful film, in spite of my less than glowing review, A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish is not great either and is unlikely to make anybody’s top ten favourite Christmas films list.