Hostage House – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: Whilst showing a house, a realtor is visited by her daughter, who wants to see the impressive listing. The two women are taken hostage by a couple, desperate to evade the law.

Is it any good?: It is titled Hostage House. The makers pushed the boat out on that title. Suffice to say, no, it is not a good film. The acting is poor and that is being kind.

How this film managed to garner a three-point-eight on IMDB is anybody’s guess. That is a very generous score.

There is, apparently, a high bar for getting films onto Netflix. I think it is probably a nepotistic bar.

There is no way anyone at Netflix watched this and thought: “This is a great film! People will love this!” Not even if they were high and drunk.

This film is awful.

Spoiler territory: Realtor, Susan (Jennifer Taylor), is in a mountain of debt. She has to sell the family home but does not want her daughter, Heather (Julia Terranova), to find out.

She hides the multiple debt letters she has received in her bag as Julia comes into the house. Susan opines about Heather going away to school. Heather, a teenager in her mid-twenties, thinks she wants to get rid of her. She does.

Susan hopes to sell a high-end property she has on the books, the commission of which will clear her debts. A stellar plan. Heather sees the cards for the property and is impressed. Heather is not due at college for a month.

Susan, planning on selling the family home, suggests they go out to dinner. Always easier to deliver bad news on a full stomach. Heather heads out for a run. Susan gets ready to head to the property.

Susan chats with Darren (Patrick Cronen), part of the private security that looks after the properties. He congratulates her on getting the owners to sell the property. He’s very friendly.

Susan gets to the property, preparing to stage it for potential buyers. She hears a noise. It’s only five minutes in, so nothing is going to happen. She is startled by her boss, Paul (Richard Neil).

They talk about her house. Paul, who wears too much jewellery and looks like he was in a failed rock band, is surprised to hear she has not told Heather. He gets overly touchy-feely as he gives her a pep talk. He only cares about the sale of the property.

Heather, out running with a friend, Tracy (Jasmine Newell), whines about her mother wanting to get rid of her. Tracy advises that she speak with her mother. It’s probably just empty-nest feelings that she is trying to cover up.

Heather is soothed by her words, enough to want to run again. Back at the property, Susan is showing potential buyers the house. As evening comes around, she shows the last viewers out. A police car blazes by the grounds, sirens blaring.

Susan, her day over, settles down, taking off her shoes. She hears a sound. Again it is nothing to worry about, Heather making an impromptu visit, eager to see the house.

A police helicopter is buzzing overhead, as the same police car, as before, blazes by the grounds, sirens still blaring. A car pulls up to the house. More buyers; with darkness falling and the viewing over, Susan is reluctant to show them around.

Heather persuades her that she may as well. Susan opens the door to a young couple; Natalie (Emily Sweet) and Keith (Justin C Schilling). Keith does not look good. He locks the door as they enter.

Keith is bleeding from a gunshot wound. The couple still follows their ruse of being an interested party, letting Susan show them around the house. Keith bleeding to death does not seem to alter their plan.

A curious Susan, discovering his bleeding, makes them alter their plans. Susan is now their hostage. Heather is creeping around the house, having spotted blood spots in the kitchen.

Heather sees Natalie pointing a gun at her mother and gasp. Natalie hears her and asks if there is anybody else in the house. Susan lies. Natalie does not believe her and looks around the house.

Natalie, who has probably never played hide-n-seek, peeks into a couple of rooms, around a corner and is satisfied. Heather, unhappy with not being found, makes even more noise.

Keith, more levelheaded than his female companion, checks the security cameras. They see Heather trying to escape and quickly apprehend her.

With both women now captive, Susan tries to manipulate the situation. A policeman, Murphy (Kamen Casey), comes to the door. They are going door-to-door, looking for the two criminals. They killed a man during their last robbery.

Susan manages to persuade him that she is safe. Murphy leaves but not before telling her that there are roadblocks all around. Paul keeps ringing Susan’s phone. Natalie calls their boss.

In a private moment with Natalie, Susan tells her she knows she is pregnant. Paul comes to the house and gets taken as a hostage. He tries to negotiate their release.

He insults Susan for her lack of fortitude. He also betrays the fact that she is selling the house. Not appreciating the gravity of the situation, Heather is mortified at the house being sold and finding out her mother is getting rid of her late father’s things.

Natalie and Keith take Paul to the car. She gets a call from the boss. He wants the money immediately, Natalie violently coercing Paul into accepting the new proposal.

Paul manages to escape and get to the perimeter of the grounds. The fencing is high, with iron spear-like brackets. Paul, no longer a youthful fellow, attempts to climb the fence and is impaled on the fence.

Meanwhile, Susan and Heather have freed themselves and escaped. They see Darren and flag him down. Darren – shock and horror – is the boss! he takes them back to the house.

Back at the house, Darren has an ego moment. He rants about his poor treatment from the wealthy minority. It’s a real bitching session. Speaking of bitching, Heather is still moaning about the house sale.

Darren wants to take one of the women as a hostage for insurance. Keith disagrees but is out-voted.

Darren takes Natalie aside, going outside. She was supposed to kill Keith. He was to be the fall guy for all the robberies.

Susan tells Keith that he is not part of Darren’s plan. He listens in on them and finds out they plan to betray him, frame him and kill the women. Keith frees the two women.

Darren and Natalie chase the women, Natalie remotely locking all the house’s doors. Keith and Darren fight but Keith is easily overpowered and knocked out. Keith comes to and unlocks the house.

Mother and daughter escape separately. Natalie gets thrown in the pool by Heather. She is not at all happy about it. Susan alerts the police by firing shots into the sky. Darren captures Heather.

Darren wants the money. Keith starts burning the money and Darren has a meltdown. He shoots Keith and turns to shoot Susan. Murphy kills him. The police arrest Natalie, and – because Darren was a terrible shot – a still alive, Keith.

Susan apologises to Heather for some reason. All’s well. A few weeks later, Susan drives her to college. Months later – I assume, because she was not showing at all – Natalie gives birth. Her baby is taken from her because she is in prison. The end.

Final thoughtsHostage House is a turd. Directed by David Benullo and written by Daniel West, the film is poor in every department. The acting is rubbish.

Though, I suspect, it is down to poor direction. It is not possible, for so many bad actors to all appear in the same film. The story is weak, the characters underwritten and the motivation nonexistent.

The music is horrible. Overwrought, too damn loud and not adding to proceedings at all. It is as though West just kept adding elements in the hope of the story working. It doesn’t.

Hostage House – a title of breathtaking laziness – is total poo. Avoid.

A Castle For Christmas – review (Netflix)

The more mature reader will remember Brooke Shields as a youngster. Her beauty graced a film, considered a bit of a scandal at the time; The Blue Lagoon

Released in 1980, a long time before nudity was readily available online and when top-shelf magazines were still in every newsagent, Blue Lagoon was a film that brought the then young star notoriety but not much else. 

Shields has worked steadily through the decades, mostly in comedic projects as she has gotten older. Shields is probably best known to modern audiences for the sitcom, Suddenly Susan. These days, she mostly does television and voice work. 

A Castle For Christmas sees her returning to film. Playing opposite Cary Elwes, best known for The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and, belatedly, Stranger Things, Shields plays Sophie Brown, a successful author. 

Sophie makes an appearance on The Drew Barrymore show – played by Barrymore – after her latest novel causes consternation amongst her fans. The show does not go well; Sophie has a meltdown on air. 

Sophie decides that she needs to get away. When she comes across a photo of her father as a boy in Scotland, she decides to go there. She flies to the small village of Dunbar. 

At the village inn, she meets Myles (Elwes). He is cleaning outside the inn. In the guest house, Sophie meets a few of the village characters. Maisie (Andi Osho), the inn’s proprietor, allocates her a room. 

Sophie is enamoured by the view of a castle from her bedroom. Maisie tells her it is Dun Dunbar castle. Sophie, chatting later, says her family used to work as the groundkeepers at Dun Dunbar castle. 

She visits the castle and sees Myles again. He gives her a tour but is irked when her curiosity gets the better of her. Back at the inn, Sophie learns the castle is for sale. 

She makes an offer and is surprised to find that Myles is the owner. He does not want to sell to her. His solicitor, Ian (John Stahl), tells him that he needs to sell. 

With foreclosure his only other option, Myles decides to accept Sophies offer. He has stipulations. The property will not exchange before Christmas; she must stay in the castle to prove she can maintain its upkeep. 

Sophie agrees. Unbeknownst to her, Myles plans to make her stay unbearable, hoping she changes her mind about the purchase. 

A Castle For Christmas is not very good. It is not terrible, just a bit dull. The script by Ally Carter and Kim Beyer-Johnson lacks the wit and sweetness one expects from a romcom. 

With the central pairing being mature, an unusual premise in romcoms, it is difficult not to compare it to similar fare. Unfortunately, it does not meet the level of the Winger/Crystal pairing in Forget Paris.

Though Shields and Elwes have enough chemistry to carry the film, Kristin Davis, who has made a bit of career of the role of mature rom-com queen in Christmas movies, has little to worry about from Shields. 

Elwes Scottish accent is…a challenge. It is not Dick Van Dyke masticating the English language bad, but it is a little off. The acting is fine, the actors making do with the weak material. 

Scotland is picturesque in a very American way. Directed by Mary Lambert, the film is as colourful as one would expect from a Christmas film, throwing some tartan to remind us we are in Scotland. 

There is a strange nod to the Princess Switch series, with Suanne Braun’s Mrs Donatelli and Mark Fleischmann’s Frank De Luca from the series checking into the inn. They are not seen again. 

At ninety-eight minutes long, A Castle For Christmas is not overly long. Regrettably, it does feel longer, the film lacking urgency and drive. The central premise is strong enough for a rom-com however, the script is just too poor. 

A Castle For Christmas is not unwatchable. It is weak and an underwhelming rom-com and Christmas film. Not one for the holiday list.

Kate – review

Brief synopsis: In revenge after killing a member of the Yakuza, an assassin is poisoned. Dying, she has less than twenty hours to find the person responsible for ordering her death.

She kidnaps the niece of whom she believes ordered her death, hoping to flush him out.

Is it any good?: Kate is an entertaining actioner in the vein of Salt or Atomic Blonde. Playing the role of a contract killer, Kate, Mary Elizabeth Winstead ably carries the film.

With violent, kinetic action, set pieces, Kate is an exciting actioner set against a neon-lit Japanese cityscape.

Spoiler territory: In Osaka, Japan, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is declining Varrick’s (Woody Harrelson) advice to use a scope. He presses home that this mission cannot go wrong.

She reminds him that she has not missed a shot in a dozen years. She leaves to go and position herself in the vantage point for the incoming target.

The car with the target arrives. A teenage girl gets out. She runs around the car, her father getting out on the other side. The target is open, Kate hears via her headset (Elysia Rotaru – voice).

Kate hesitates; there is a child. The voice repeats the target is open. She has to take the shot. Kate shoots, killing the girl’s father in front of her.

Sometime later, she is in Tokyo. She has told Varrick that she wants to retire. She will finish the Japan job after that; she is finished. She goes to a bar in Tokyo, trying to get some normalcy in her life.

She meets Stephen (Michiel Huisman). They have an evening of passion before Kate gets a text. The final job is on. Kate tells Stephen he has to go. She pays him.

Kate goes to the location where her intended target is going to be. She waits patiently, scope trained on the area. She does not feel right, a little unsteady.

The target appears, Kate gets the okay and takes the shot. She misses. The target, warned by the attack, is bundled into a car. Kate, against the wishes of the voice, pursues the target.

She is struggling, having ingested something that is affecting her. She steals a car and chases the target. The poison coursing through her, makes her pass out.

She wakes up in hospital. There is a radioactive poison in her body. She has about twenty hours to live. Kate recalls drinking wine with Stephen. He did not drink the wine.

Kate leaves the hospital, but not before forcing the doctor (Hirotaka Renge) to help her steal stimulants. She goes and sees Stephen, having memorised his address.

She wants to know who wants her dead. Stephen tells her he does not know. She threatens to kill his wife, Kanako (Mari Yamamoto). Stephen relents, telling her that Sato (Koji Nishiyama), part of the Kijima (Jun Kunimura) Yakuza clan.

She goes and sees Varrick. She tells him she is dying and wants to know why. Varrick tells her that she killed Kijima’s younger brother in Osaka. It is revenge and a matter of honour.

He directs her to a local club that Sato and other members of the clan hang out. Kate goes to the club. She kills multiple henchmen and lower level Yakuza. She wants to know where Kijima is.

One of the few remaining henchmen tells her that the only way to get to Kijima is through his niece, Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau). Kate finds Ani. She is the teenage daughter of the man she killed in Osaka.

Kate kidnaps Ani. Ani tells her that the only person who knows where her uncle is Renji (Tadanobu Asano). Kate tells her to call him. She uses Ani as bait, trying to get Kijima to show himself.

Renji sends men to kill Kate. And Ani. Kate gets into a firefight with multiple henchmen, killing them all. Ani, who she had tied up in a bathroom, escapes.

Ani she finds Shinzo (Kazuya Tanabe). Shinzo makes it plain to her that Renji wants her dead. Kate kills Shinzo, saving Ani. She tries to leave Ani behind but the teenager follows her.

Ani wants to help her find her uncle, believing that he wants her dead. They need to get to Renji. To do that, Ani thinks that his boyfriend, Jojima (Miyavi). They go and meet Jojima.

Kate and Jojima fight. Jojima overpowers Kate and is about to kill her. Ani smashes him in the head, killing him. They use Jojima’s mobile to track Renji down.

They find Renji and get Kijima’s location. Kate contacts Varrick and tells him where she is going; she does expect to survive the encounter. At the address, kate tells Ani to leave. She is going in alone.

Kate goes into the house and finds Kijima. He is sitting, waiting for her. Kijima speaks with her, telling her she is a pawn. Outside the house, Ani meets Varrick. He tells her that Kate killed her father.

Kijima shows Kate that Varrick betrayed her. She tries to stop Ani from going with Varrick. Ani shoots her. Ani leaves with Varrick.

Kijima finds a stunned Kate and gives her a stimulant. Varrick has returned to his office with Ani. Renji is there, the two having formulated a plan to overthrow the Kijima clan.

Kijima, Kate and an army of yakuza attack the offices. As Kate searches for Varrick, Kijima faces off against Renji. The older man quickly dispatches Renji.

Kate finds Varrick. He has Ani as a hostage knowing that Kate would come to rescue her. Kate kills Varrick. Ani hugs a dying Kate, taking her onto the roof. Kate dies. The end.

Final thoughts: Kate is an exciting action-thriller, with Winstead driving the film from the outset. There are no surprises story-wise. Everything that happens one expects to happen.

It is the camerawork, editing and directing by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan that helps to elevate this film. That and Winstead. Winstead is excellent as the relentless Kate.

Written by Umair Aleem, Kate is a competent script with a strong enough story to let the actors work. The fight scenes are violent and brilliant, with the edits and fight choreography sharp.

At one-hundred-and-six minutes long, the film hurtles through its runtime with no overly unnecessary fluff. Like I mentioned at the outset, There is an Atomic Blonde vibe about the film, Nicolas-Troyan utilising the Japanese backdrop beautifully.

Kate, above all else, is a Mary Elizabeth Winstead film. She is compelling from the first frame to the last and is one of the reasons to watch this film.

Till Death – review

Brief synopsis: A woman must fight for her life when her husband hatches an elaborate plan to have her killed in revenge for an extra-marital affair. 

Is it any good?: Till Death is not good. It could have been, but it is over-complicated, poorly paced. Additionally, Megan Fox, who plays the protagonist, cannot act. 

Spoiler territory: Emma (Megan Fox) tells Tom (Aml Ameen) that their affair must end. She cannot do it anymore. Tom, going full simp, tries to persuade her that they have something. She leaves the hotel room. 

It is her wedding anniversary. She puts her wedding band on as she drives to meet her husband, Mark (Eoin Macken), at his office.

She has tears in her eyes. Whether they are guilt or regret, is not clear. Mark’s assistant (Lili Rich) gives her a bouquet of white roses. Happy anniversary. Emma thanks her. Her expression looks as though she received a parking ticket. 

She goes into his office to wait for him. On his desk, there is a police case folder. Mark is an attorney. The case folder has a photograph of a beat-up Emma in it. It is the case folder of the man who assaulted her, Bobby Ray (Callan Mulvey). Bobby Ray does not look like a friendly guy. 

She remembers the attack, how he stabbed her in the back. Her reverie is interrupted by Mark. He remarks on her dress. He thought she would wear the red one, his favourite. She felt like something different. 

He ignores her, saying she can change on the way. So much for women’s rights. She asks why he has the file on her case. He tells her that Bobby Ray’s had his parole revoked. She should not be looking at the file. It could trigger her anxiety. 

She does not seem overly anxious; she looks bored. They leave the office, stepping into the elevator. The miserable couple stands beside one another, lost in differing thoughts. 

The elevator stops. Sam gets on. Seeing Mark, he greets him with deference, being one of his subordinates. He does not acknowledge Emma. Subtle. 

Mark asks if he has met his wife, turning to Emma. Sam, understandably, lies. No, he has never met her. Emma, the brazen hussy, points out they met at the Christmas party. Sam, not wanting to look like a punk, pretends to recall it. 

Mark, ominously, says they did not meet at the Christmas party. Both Emma and Sam look as though they are about to shit their pants. They met at the holiday party. Mark is enjoying their discomfort a little too much. 

Mark and Emma head to a restaurant to celebrate their anniversary, relations between them remaining challenging. Emma is in her red dress.

A waitress asks if they would like dessert. Emma declines. Mark, in a particularly alpha move, orders dessert for both of them. He then slides a jewellery box over to Emma. 

She was not expecting a gift. It’s a surprise. It is a steel necklace. Steel, not silver or platinum. Steel. The man is a successful attorney and buys his wife a steel necklace. She does not see any alarm bells, remarking that it is beautiful. 

Elsewhere in the restaurant, a man (Julian Balahurov) proposes to his girlfriend (Stefanie Rozhko). She tearfully accepts. There is celebratory applause from the other patrons. Truthfully, the man is older enough to be her grandfather. 

Anyhoo, Mark comments on how, not long ago, that was her. She gives him a gift; tickets for the Superbowl. With a breathtaking lack of grace, he rejects the tickets. 

Mark has another surprise for her. He has put a blindfold in her pocket. Not the most exciting present and, given their frosty relationship, should have sounded some alarm bells. It does not. 

He takes the now blindfolded Emma for a drive. She gets agitated, removing the blindfold an hour into the journey. They are on the way to the lake house. It is the dead of winter, with snow and ice all around.

At the lake house, Emma has the blindfold on again. She is counting to one hundred. Removing the blindfold, she sees that he has set out house romantically; rose petals on the ground; candles, secret messages. 

She finds him in the bedroom, holding a couple of flutes of champagne. He apologises for the state of their relationship; It has not been going well for a while. That’s good enough for her. He’s getting action. 

Emma wakes in the morning to find Mark sitting up. He has handcuffed her to him. Confused, she calls to him. Mark turns to her and tells her it is time to wake up. He commits suicide, shooting himself in the head. 

A blood-splattered Emma is, understandably, shocked. Attached to his bloody and disfigured corpse, she looks at her options. She will call somebody. Nope. He thought of that; no phone line. Use the gun to shoot off the handcuff? There was only one bullet in the gun. He blew his brains out with it. 

Emma drags his body to the top of the stairs. She needs to go downstairs. Not thinking it through, she pulls him to the top of the stairs, promptly crashing down the steps under his weight. 

She goes to the kitchen but Mark, the fiend, has thought of everything. There are no utensils; no way for her to separate from her recently deceased spouse. 

She finds the car keys and drags dead Mark to the garage., which is outside the main house. Because he has left her with no clothes, including no footwear. Not only must she contend with his non-cooperative bodyweight, but also the freezing weather. 

She gets to the car and attempts to drive away. That would be too easy; he has drained the tank. He left her a message in the car. 

He knows about her affair with Tom, though it was not the reason he committed suicide. The suicide worked with his plan. She has no idea what that plan is. She goes back to the house. 

Emma tries to remove the necklace after washing the blood off her face. It will not come off. A frustrated Emma rages at his hypocrisy. A still dead, Mark, does not react. 

Tom turns up at the house. After an initial reluctance, Emma opens the door to him and explains what has happened. He tells her that Mark was about to be arrested for tampering with multiple cases. Hence the suicide. 

Tom has left his mobile charging in his car. As he goes to retrieve it, a car is pulling up to the house. He tells Emma to lock the door, get back in. 

Jimmy (Jack Roth) purports to be a plumber. He has come to fix the pipes. Tom tells him that it will not be possible to do the job at that time, he is happy to pay him for his time. 

Jimmy is determined to enter the house, coming up with myriad reasons to be let in. Tom gets aggressive, insisting that he leave. Jimmy did not come alone. Bobby Ray is Jimmy’s brother. he is not as patient as his younger sibling. 

He stabs Tom, killing him, much to the distress of his brother. Bobby calms him down. They need to search the house and find Emma. Emma’s movement is still somewhat restricted by having to drag a corpse around. 

Somehow, she manages to evade the two hapless brothers and get to the boathouse. In the boathouse, Emma frees herself from her dead deadbeat husband by cutting off his thumb. 

The brothers almost find her. Almost. They find Mark’s body. Bobby tells Jimmy that it was Mark who gave him the job. Jimmy recognises Mark as the person who put Bobby in prison. 

Bobby wants the money. he also wants revenge. Jimmy looks at the safe. It needs a thumbprint and a combination to open. Jimmy thinks the job is too much trouble and wants to leave. His brother wants the fortune. 

He tells Jimmy to get the corpse. He will find Emma. After some more cat-and-mouse antics, Bobby captures Emma. Not before she can make a call to the police. 

Bobby wants the combination to the safe. Emma does want to give it to him, knowing it is the only thing keeping her alive. Bobby believes he can coax the combination out of her by giving her an incentive. He threatens to cut off her toes. 

Jimmy, exasperated by his brother’s penchants for violence, prevents him from carrying out his threat. He points the gun Mark killed himself with at Bobby. He does not know that there are no bullets in the gun. 

Jimmy persuades Emma to give him the code. Bobby opens the safe; it is empty with only a message left in it. The diamonds are close to Emma’s heart. The diamonds are in the necklace. 

She tries to remove the necklace, but it has no clasp. Bobby, eager to exact retribution on Emma, realises that Mark wants them to cut her head off. He has no problem with that. 

His violence averse brother is opposed to that option, causing the two brothers to fight. Jimmy gets killed during the altercation. Bobby, not one for rational thought or discourse, blames Emma. 

He attacks her. First, trying to shoot her with the unloaded gun, then the two wrestle on the ground. Emma manages to escape, but not before he stabs her in the leg. She manages to handcuff Bobby to Mark. 

Bobby relentlessly pursues Emma dragging Mark’s corpse. They end up on the lake fighting. The ice breaks, Bobby is dragged down by Mark’s corpse but not before grabbing Emma. 

In the icy waters below the surface, the two struggle once more. Emma manages to grab the knife Bobby wants to kill her with and stabs him in the eye. 

Freed from his grasp, she escapes to the surface. Sirens blare as the police head to the lakehouse. The end. 

Final thoughts: Till Death is a moderately entertaining film let down by a weak central performance. Written by Jason Carvey and directed by S. K. Dale, the film looks good and has a good premise. 

The film moves too slowly, the pacing exposing Fox’s thespian shortcomings. Everybody else on show is good. Even Macken makes the underwritten role of Mark work. 

Unfortunately, Fox is the driving force of the film. Though not unwatchable, her expressiveness seems only able to cover sullen or miffed. One is never fully invested in her battle. 

The underwritten script makes elements of the story muddled, taking away from the main story. 

At eighty-eight minutes long, Till Death is not a long film, it just takes too long to get going. The downside is it tries to stuff too much into the conclusion. 

If you like Megan Fox, you might enjoy Till Death. For non-Fox fans, there is not much to recommend this film.

Out Of Death – review

Brief synopsis: a woman witnesses a policewoman murdering a man. The policewoman, along with other interested parties, needs to eliminate the woman. 

A veteran policeman saves the woman from certain death. They join forces to expose the corruption in the small town. 

Is it any good?: Out of Death is so bad that I am struggling to find an appropriate adjective to describe its awfulness. There is nothing to recommend this film. 

The acting is, without exception, terrible, the script, atrocious. The directing is amateurish and the story, lazy and ill-thought-out. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Dropped off by a friend, Shannon (Jamie King) joke that if she is not back in a few hours, her friend should call search and rescue. 

Shannon heads off into the woods. It is beginning to rain. Well, a digital approximation of rain. Rain is very difficult to fake digitally; I have tried. The digital rain makes no difference to the main story. 

She is in the woods to bury her father’s ashes. The impending storm – that never comes – gives her pause. Maybe it’s a sign. She writes this in a journal she has brought with her. 

The fake storm passes, a tattooed man, Jimmy (Oliver Trevena), drives into a clearing. He sorts out money and drugs, snorts some powder. He hides his mobile phone behind the rearview mirror, putting it to record. 

A police car comes up behind him. Policewoman Bille Jean ( Lala Kent) gets out and approaches his vehicle. She gets into his truck. Jimmy gets amorous, Billie Jean stops him; business first. 

Jimmy has not sold enough. They have a deal. She seizes the drugs and he sells them; that’s the deal. She is going to have to find another dealer. Jimmy begins to question her, his line of questioning odd. 

His mobile pings. Billie Jean finds his mobile and sees that it is recording. They begin to argue. Loudly. Shannon, who is watching them and has her camera out filming them, watches the argument unfold. 

A rumbled Jimmy throws powder in Billie Jean’s face and makes a run for it. She gets out of the truck and kills him, shooting him in the head. It is another crappy digital effect. Shannon captures the whole thing. 

She drags Jimmy’s lifeless body back to his truck. There is no blood on her. Maybe the cocaine kept the blood off of her. Elsewhere, Uncle Jack (Bruce Willis) has come to the small rural town to visit his younger brother. 

Niece, Pam (Kelly Greyson), tells him that her father is away. Jack is a bit down. His wife died three weeks earlier. Pam tells him it will take some time for him to get over it. Pam is a genius. She adds that being in the country, near the lake, is healing. Thank you, Pam. 

Pam’s son, Pete (Keagan Lasater), comes to greet Jack. The boy has inherited his mother’s tact, immediately noting how sad his great uncle seems. Jack gifts him a video game. That shuts him up. 

The boy buggers off. He only turned up for a gift. I’m guessing he is related to Bruce, as there is no reason for him to be in the film. Back with Jack. And his misery. Jack wonders what he will do out in that rural backwater. 

Pam, ever a font of useless advice, says to enjoy the peace. Jack decides to go for a hike. One would. Pam tells him he should take his gun, just in case he should encounter a bear. 

One would think the mention of a possible bear sighting would dissuade him. Nope, not one bit. Back in the woods, Billie Jean has moved Jimmy’s vehicle into the bushes. Shannon is still filming her. Billie Jean hears her moving around and shouts. She fires a warning into the air. 

A frightened Shannon runs but not before dropping her camera. Yes, she drops the only piece of evidence she has. Not that it matters in the context of the film. She goes back and finds it later. 

Billie calls back to the station to speak to Hank (Michael Sirow). They have a problem. She had to kill someone and was spotted. Hank’s brother, Tommy (Tyler Jon Olson), is also listening to the conversation. 

Hank asks where the person is. Billie tells him that she ran off. They will have to find her. He sends Tommy to help her with the search. Hank is running for Mayor. He tells Tommy to take out a promotional poster. 

Pam and Pete leave old uncle Jack. They are going away for a week. Billie and Tommy search for Shannon. They find her. Shannon, understandably, is terrified. Tommy tells Billie to kill her. Jack, who is out for his hike, sees the scene unfolding. 

He intervenes, telling Billie and Tommy to kneel. Tommy, struck by a moment of smartness, guesses that Jack, who has identified himself as law enforcement, will not shoot them. Jack tells Shannon to run. Shannon is off running. 

Jack follows after her. As he is a lot older, not as mobile as in his youth, she quickly disappears out of sight. Billie and Tommy, who Jack did not think to secure in any way, shape or form, pursue them. 

Shannon hides out in a disused warehouse. She arms herself with a knife. In the woods, Tommy and Bille split up. Billie, having lost her gun earlier, is unarmed. She finds Shannon. 

Shannon stabs her in the leg and runs again. Billie, not the smartest person on God’s earth, pulls the knife out of the wound. For a law person, she knows little about wounds. The leg begins to bleed profusely. She calls Tommy. She tourniquets the leg, slowing the bleed. 

Tommy finds Billie. She tells him she is not feeling too good. Surprise that. Jack finds Shannon. They have the dullest conversation known to man. He’s a cop. His wife died recently. She’s a photojournalist whose father felt she lacked character. Boring. 

More practically, Shannon tells him that she filmed Billie. Jack says he needs to get his phone. She will go and retrieve her camera whilst he does that. 

Tommy and a failing Billie, meet up with Hank. Hank tells Tommy he has to kill Billie. She is too much of a liability. She probably would not survive a trip to the hospital. Tommy takes off the tourniquet and lets her bleed to death. 

Hank, who is, apparently, the brains of the town, goes to the house of Pam’s father. He is looking for Jack. He just misses him, Jack slipping out as he looks around the house. 

Tommy is moving Billie’s body. He sees Shannon and gives chase, catching her. She fights him off, eventually taking his gun and killing him. Hank sees photographs of Pam in the house and realises she is related to Jack. 

He calls Pam and gets Jacks number. He leaves the house and goes looking for Tommy, who is not answering his phone. He finds him dead. The death of his sibling does not seem to bother him. 

Hank gets Pam picked up. He will use her to flush out Jack. Officer Frank (Mike Burns) gets her. He is exceedingly creepy. Hank calls Jack. He makes a bravado speech, telling him to bring Shannon to him if he wants to see his niece. 

Shannon overhears Jack agreeing to exchange her for his niece and is off running again. Jack is now pursuing her. She comes across another house – there are a lot of random remote homes in this town! – and begs the woman (Megan Leonard) to let her in. 

Jack walks into the house. Maybe he’s a ghost. Shannon forces the woman to go upstairs, locking themselves in her bedroom. Jack tells Shannon he was buying time. 

They formulate a plan. Shannon uploads her film to a computer and sends it to the FBI. Jack tells Hank where they are. Hank brings Pam to make the exchange. They outwit Hank and he gets arrested by the FBI. 

A couple of weeks later, Jack is happier. Shannon takes him to see the lake. The end. 

Final thoughts: Out of Death is total bollocks. Some actors are, basically, themselves on film. Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L Jackson, Chris Pratt, are guys who play the same character in practically every role. 

Bruce Willis is in this category. The only difference is, he does not even try anymore. Never has it been more evident of a man collecting a wage for the bare minimum. It is just a pension for him. 

These days, most films that Willis appears in are guaranteed to be poor. Out of Death takes his films to a new depth. He does not even try. The other actors, except for Lala Kent that worked with him in the God-awful Hard Kill, probably looked forward to being in a film with him. 

Pity for them. Written by Bill Lawrence and directed by Mike Burns, the same combinations that brought us the aforementioned, Hard Kill, manage to make an even poorer film this time around. 

The acting stinks. Kent, however, is head and shoulder below everyone else. Tyler Jon Olson does deserve a special mention for being unable to hold his breath whilst playing dead. 

At ninety-six minutes long, the film still manages to include many extraneous scenes. The film feels longer than it is because of the poor pacing. There is nothing to recommend about this film. It is an hour and a half of your life you will never see again. Avoid.

Father Christmas is Back – review

Brief synopsis: an uptight woman struggles to have a traditional Christmas with her extended family. As she strives to control all the circumstances of the festivities, another element rears its head; their estranged father.

Is it any good?: Father Christmas is Back is an utter turd of a film. A supposed comedy, the film is a painful, almost laugh-free watch.

That four people combined to write this worthless mess is a mystery that sharper minds than mine will ponder for years. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Uptight Caroline Christmas-Hope (Nathalie Cox), is dressing the family Christmas tree. She wants Christmas to be perfect. As Caroline puts the finishing touches, she wobbles and falls. It is hilarious. No, it is not. 

Her husband, Peter (Kris Marshall), comes and picks her up off of the floor. She is frantic about having a perfect Christmas, her family en route to the home. Peter is more sanguine, sure that everything will be fine. 

As the highly-strung Caroline bleats on about wanting an exquisite Christmas, Peter listens patiently. It’s very amusing. Not really. She asks him to collect a bag of gifts from the bedroom. The gifts are for the local old peoples home. 

Get this; there are two bags of gifts! In identical bags! Haha! Anyhoo, Peter does not check the contents of the bags. No, why the heck would he do that? He radios his wife – they live in a mansion – and asks which bag. It’s the bag on the right. 

Yes, my friends, this is the expert setup for a joke, the pay-off of which comes towards the end. The hilarity continues. Caroline picks up her two sprogs, Daisey (Amelie Prescott) and her younger brother, Henry (Oliver Smith). 

They visit the old peoples home to drop off the gifts. Daisey is nervous because she is playing Mary in an upcoming nativity play. Luckily for her, one of the old dears, Jean (Ania Marson), has some experience of treading the boards. 

Jean tells Daisey that she played the lead role herself, adding that she slept with many people to get the part. A slightly embarrassed Caroline gathers her children and leaves. The laughs never stop. 

Returning home, she finds Peter has decorated the tree with toilet rolls and makeshift decorations. Caroline is horrified. The children love it. 

The next day, the sisters start to arrive. First is Joanna (Elizabeth Hurley), the cougar of the family. In her mid-forties but dressing as though she were in her twenties, Joanna has a new boyfriend, Felix (Ray Fearon) and the sisters’ mother, Elizabeth (Caroline Quentin) in tow. 

Next to arrive is Paulina (Naomi Frederick). Paulina is obsessed with The Beatles, sporting their famous hairstyle of the sixties. She is writing a thesis-cum-book on the band. My sides are hurting with all the chuckles. 

Watching proceedings from an adjacent property is John (John Cleese), uncle to the sisters. Vicky (Talulah Riley) is the last to arrive. She is a free spirit and the youngest. She is a bit of a slut. So there is that. 

John joins the family in the house. He has an ulterior motive, wanting to see Elizabeth. In the kitchen, the four sisters are chatting. Vicky tells them that she spent a couple of weeks with their father in America. 

The other sisters are shocked and a little miffed to hear that, much to her amusement. To the shock and bemusement of everyone, James (Kelsey Grammer), their father, turns up at the manor. Vicky invited him. He has brought his girlfriend, Jackie (April Bowlby). Elizabeth faints. 

The Christmas family muddle their way through…Christmas. A long-held family secret gets revealed. All is resolved. Yippee and Merry Christmas. The end. 

Final thoughts: Father Christmas is Back is wretched. It is not entirely down to the script. Maybe ninety-eight percent of it. Directed by Mick Davis and Phillippe Martinez, with a story by Martinez. The god-awful script is by Hannah Davis, David Conolly and Dylanne Corcoran. 

What makes the film even more painful, is that far better comedy writers – Caroline Quentin, John Cleese and Kathy Brand – are in the film. The acting is teak-like in the extreme, the assembled cast struggling to make the material work. 

Hurley, not blessed with natural acting ability, is poor. The woman is trying but she is out of her depth. Rolls Royce gets a good showing, one of their beautiful Wraith’s given much screen time. The best thing in the film.

The film is over-saturated, so colourful that even a rainbow would pale in comparison. A British film, there is a smattering of farce that does not work. There are far too many jokes that do not work in this film. 

The unfunny scenes are too numerous to list. That two comedy greats in Grammer and Cleese should find themselves in one such scene, – the ‘old blokes squaring up for a fight’ a classic! – is criminal. 

Father Christmas is Back – his surname is Christmas! Ho ho no. – is terrible. Truthfully, the trailer does not promise much. I expected the film to be bad. It under delivers spectacularly. 

At one-hundred-and-five minutes, it is not a long film. However, it is still too long for any right-minded, sober person to sit through. You have been warned.

The Princess Switch 3 – review

Brief synopsis: When a priceless jewelled attract gets stolen, a queen and princess decide to recruit the criminal doppelgänger cousin of the queen to help retrieve it. The artefact needs returning before the cardinal, who lent the artefact, finds out, causing an international incident.

Is it any good?: As inevitable as Noddy Holder and Mariah Carey getting airtime on streaming services and radios across the Christian world, in the run-up to Christmas, Vanessa Hudgens is easing into the same category, a Christmas rom-com of some description reliably releasing around the holidays. 

The Princess Switch 3 – Romancing the Star sees Hudgens reprise the multiple roles of queen, princess and cousin in the popular franchise. As is the case with many sequels, this one sees diminishing returns from a premise that has perhaps run its course. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Queen Margaret (Vanessa Hudgens), along with her close friend and doppelgänger, Princess Stacy (also Hudgens), is hosting a Christmas festival in their home nation, Montenaro. 

Dignitaries from around the world are invited to the small principality for the festival. The Vatican has loaned a rare, jewelled artefact for the occasion; The Star of Peace. 

The jewel is stolen days before the festival. The queen must retrieve the item without the Vatican finding out about its loss. They need someone who knows the world of criminality. 

They recruit Fiona (Hudgens again), another doppelgänger and cousin to the queen. Fiona, serving community service for attempting to steal the monarchy, agrees to help get the item back. 

Fiona goes to see an old friend, Peter (Remy Hii), a former Interpol agent. Peter works out that a. hotel tycoon, Hunter Cunard (Will Kemp), had the gem stolen. A collector of rare items, Hunter had it stolen. 

Peter reasons, given Hunter’s connection, reporting the jewel stolen would only create more of a problem. They will have to steal the jewel back. They formulate a plan to attend the tycoon’s annual Christmas party. There they will steal back the gem. 

Peter has a soft spot for Fiona. It is something he has had since childhood, the two longtime acquaintances. Fiona does not have close relationships. Her memories of her mother, Bianca’s (Amanda Donohoe), abandonment around the holidays, acute. 

The theft is a three-person job. One of Fiona’s flunkies, Reggie (Ricky Norwood), gets injured. Queen Margaret must impersonate Fiona for the mission’s success.

The conditions of Fiona’s community service, Stacy finds impersonating the wayward cousin whilst she and the queen complete the theft. 

Final thoughts: The Princess Switch 3 – Romancing the Star is a harmless piece of fluff. Easily the weakest of the three films, it lacks the charm and humour of its predecessors. 

Hudgens is watchable as ever. Unusually, especially for Hudgens, an actor whose chemistry with a variety of male actors is one of her strengths, her chemistry with Hii’s Peter is non-existent. 

With Mike Rohl on directing duties again, Robin Bernheim and Megan Metzger are the writers, just as they were on the previous two instalments.

The script, this time around, does not have the same snap or humour of the previous films. Even the humour that should work is a little forced. The actors work gamely to try and make the story work, reprising their various roles admirably. 

The script, unfortunately, is just a little flat. The directing is competent, the film looks good. With a one-hundred-and-six minute runtime, the film bumps through at a good pace. There are a few lulls but nothing significant. 

The weak strand about abandonment around the holidays and the film being set around Christmas are the only things that make it a festive film. There are no surprises. What one expects to happen happens and it looks how it is meant to look. 

The Princess Switch 3 – Romancing the Star is an okay film if you enjoyed the previous two instalments. As a standalone film, it does not hold up. It is not worth an hour and forty minutes of one’s time.

The Harder They Fall – review

With a screenplay by Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin, with Samuel also on directing duties, The Harder They Fall is a Western made notable by an almost exclusively black cast. 

Using the Western staples of revenge and the overthrowing of a small town, The Harder They Fall is a big-screen film forced, by present circumstances, onto the small screen. 

A host of well-known stars and actors appear in this well-made film. Idris Elba leads the charge as the antagonist, Rufus Buck. He is ably supported by Regina King, as Trudy Smith, and Lakieth Stanfield as Cherokee Bill. 

The protagonist, Nat Love, is played by Johnathan Majors. Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary, Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett, Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee and RJ Cyler as Jim Beckworth make up the rest of Love’s crew. Delroy Lindo’s Bass Reeves brings the two factions together. 

The story begins with a god-fearing man (Michael Beach) sitting down to eat with his young wife, Eleanor (Dewanda Wise) and son, Nat (Chase Dillon). 

There is a knock at the door. Two men come into the house, Rufus and Jesus Cortez (Julio Cesar Cedillo). The man recognises Rufus. He is not glad to see him, knowing that it is not a good omen. 

Rufus kills the man and his wife. He carves a cross into young Nat’s forehead. Many years later, a grownup Nat, a well-known outlaw himself, exacts revenge on Cortez. 

All of this happens before the credits roll on Samuels’ beautifully crafted and nostalgic homage to Westerns, the Old West and figures from history. 

From the outset, the writers state that the film is a work of fiction. Even though all the names are real people from the Western era, the story is fictitious.

The beauty of Samuel and Yakin’s story is that the cast being predominantly black is not important. There are elements of the film, that work better, because of it, but it is not the driving force of the film. 

From a technical standpoint, The Harder They Fall is a wonderful piece of work. From the stylised opening title sequence, dusty, yet colourful, palette and shot selection to pacing and fabulous soundtrack, The Harder They Fall is an enjoyable treat. 

All the actors on show bring their A-game, with standout performances from Regina King and Lakieth Stanfield. Idris Elba is the biggest name on the call sheet.

However, it is Majors’ Love that drives the film, his chilled demeanour carrying proceedings easily. Majors’, who recently appeared in Loki, as the time-travelling villain, Kang, star is in the ascendancy. 

Veteran actor, Delroy Lindo, is such a natural fit as the lawman, Bass Reeves, a role made for him to play. There are so many great scenes in the film, from Deon Cole’s Wiley Escoe, as the sheriff of Redwood, bravado monologue before being persuaded to leave town, to Elba’s Rufus final revelation, the film is full of gems. 

The music of the film deserves a special mention. There is hip hop, reggae, soul, traditional Western-style music and accents. 

Besides the nods to the classic spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, there is a quiet homage to The Magnificent Seven, with the bond amongst Love’s motley crew of protagonists, going beyond greed or need. 

There is a wobble, the story of Love’s revenge momentarily overshadowed. Redwood needs saving from the tyranny of Rufus and his gang. This particular storyline peters out, none of the townsfolk figuring in the story later on. 

At two-hour-and-nineteen minutes, The Harder They Fall is a long film. It does not feel long. The action is well-spaced out, the peak and troughs of the film, keeping one’s interest throughout. 

Jeymes Samuel has fashioned a highly enjoyable film, that is well worth the two hour viewing time.

Passing – review

Brief synopsis: In 1920’s America, a couple of mixed-race women get reacquainted, having not seen one another since high school. One of the women is married to a white man and passes herself off as white. The other embraces her black side, her family life in Harlem. 

Is it any good?: Passing, a directorial debut from actor Rebecca Hall, is a bit of a disappointment. From a book of the same name, the film promises more than it delivers. With so many subjects to explore, Passing barely skims the surfaces of them, the film a frustrating viewing experience. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Irene (Tessa Thompson) is shopping in New York. It is the 1920’s. Emancipation has been a thing since the beginning of the century nevertheless, black people remain second-class citizens. 

A pale mixed-race woman, Irene nervously shops amongst the white people. None of them notice that she is not white. It is the height of summer in New York, the heat oppressive. 

Irene visits a hotel bar for a cool drink. The patronage is all-white; she feels out of place. A young couple comes into the bar. The woman is blond and pretty, her partner fawning over her. 

The man leaves her, going to the bathroom. Irene looks at the woman, who catches her looking and stares back at her. The woman approaches, calling her name. 

Irene does not recognise her. The woman begins to laugh. It’s Clare (Ruth Negga), an old high school friend. Irene had not seen her for over a decade. 

Clare is passing herself off as white. Even her husband does not know she is mixed. Clare has a daughter that, thankfully, came out pale of skin. Mistakenly, she thinks Irene is doing the same. 

Irene explains that she is still living in the same neighbourhood. She lives in a black area. Harlem. She does not want to pass for white. Irene, isolated in white society, jumps at the opportunity to reconnect with the black life she grew up knowing. 

Final thoughts: Hall’s love for the source material is evident in the film. That is the problem. The script has little to no exposition, requiring Thompson and Negga to tell the story through their emotions and acting. 

As excellent as both actors are – and they are both very good – the film’s script gives them too little to work with. The ninety-eight-minute film is filled mostly, with Thompson’s not unattractive face, struggling to tell some type of story. 

It is difficult to know how faithful to the source material the film is. A book tends to lend itself more to an emotive experience. Passing is very emotive, tackling the prickly subjects of race, identity, class and belonging. 

Though Hall’s film is not long, it is interminably slow. The story meanders, the tensions that Negga’s character must have suffered are not evident at all. 

Thompson’s Irene, in contrast, has her own demons. Sadly, the script and minimal interactions with other characters do not allow them to show. Passing has gained some critical acclaim, which one can only believe is due to the subject matter it tackles. 

From a technical standpoint, the film is not great. It is in focus, yes, but some of the shot selections seem more indulgent than necessary. Shooting the entire film in black and white, whilst artsy, is a bit of a copout, the light coloured skin of both actors leaning towards white for the viewer. 

The jazz club scene works well in the film, the energy leaping off the screen. Similarly, the concluding party scene has a buzz about it that, rather than contrasting with the rest of the film, shows up the slow pacing.

That Hall is an actor herself is evident in the performances from the cast. All of the actors bring strong performances. Ultimately, Passing disappoints because it had so much scope and promise. Not a terrible film but an unsatisfying one that is difficult to recommend.