An Affair To Die For – review (Netflix)

Brief Synopsis: A doctor, Holly, is driving to a remote getaway. As she drives she speaks to her husband on the phone. She tells him that her conference is going on all weekend and she may not have good reception. He tells her he loves her and they end the call.

Holly gets to the hotel. They have a reservation for her with her under the name of Mrs Alan. They tell her that her husband has reserved a suite. When she gets to the suite, he is not there but he has left a message for her. He has planned a kinky game for them. She waits in bed blindfolded and handcuffed. Someone comes in and has sex with her. She screams at them to stop. The person walks away.

In the next room Everett, who Holly had been screaming for, is tied up. Holly’s husband, Russell, comes and unties him and tells him that his wife is not to leave the suite. He has Everett’s wife and daughter. Later, Russell calls his wife and tells her not to trust Everett. So begins a game of deception with no one sure who to trust.

Is It Any Good?: scoring a paltry 4.7 on IMDB, one would think that An Affair To Die For would be an unwatchable mess but truth be told, it is not a bad film. The tension is cranked up to 12 and the acting is first-rate.

The story is tight and keeps you guessing until all the possible options are exhausted. An Affair To Die For is an entertaining little thriller.

Spoiler Territory: Doctor and lecturer, Holly Pierpoint (Claire Forlani) heads to a plush hotel to meet her lover, Everett (Jake Abel), having told her husband, Russell (Titus Welliver), that she has a conference to attend. Reaching The Grand Deerward hotel she is greeted as Mrs Alan and told that her husband has booked the black diamond suite.

Dave (Nathan Cooper), the hotel porter, takes her to the room. In the room, Holly finds an envelope with a message from Everett. She chills out and then finds another gift from him in the form of some bondage wear and a blindfold. It asks her to put on the blindfold and handcuff herself to the bed.

She does as requested, waiting for him to return. He comes into the bedroom. He begins gently, caressing her. He then turns her over and begins making love to her. At first, she enjoys it but then he holds her head down, thrusting violently as she begs him to stop. He leaves her crying face down in the bedroom.

In the main suite area, Everett is tied up as Russell comes out of the bedroom. He tells a scared Everett that he is not to let Holly leave the suite. Everett, who is also married with a young daughter, is told the life of his family depends on it. Everett goes and un-cuffs a frantic and angry Holly. She immediately gets ready to leave. Everett gets a phone call. It is Russell. He warns Everett that the safety of his family depends on him following instructions.

Everett manages to get Holly to stay. Russell calls again. He is impressed by Everett’s powers of persuasion. He tells him that he has to keep her there until the next day. Everett goes and talks to Holly, lying about the sexual assault and apologising by saying he believed that was what she wanted. Russell calls Holly.

He tells her that Everett is dangerous and that he has had affairs before and she is just the latest in a line of women. With a thread of distrust between the two, Everett and Holly, they begin to break their own self-imposed rules, asking one another about their partners.

Holly tries to get help from a neighbouring room whilst on the balcony but there is no one there. Everett comes into the bedroom. Holly is in the bathroom, she says she is going to take a shower. Everett joins her. Whilst in the shower, Holly tells Everett that Russell works in surveillance. Everett is furious, realising why Russell knows what they are doing all the time.

Everett leaves the bathroom. He gets another message. He is to drug Holly. Everett starts searching the suite for cameras. Holly gets dressed and has the same thought; she should drug Everett. He comes and asks her to come and have a drink with him on the balcony. She comes out to the balcony but asks him if she can have a glass of white wine.

As he goes to get her the wine, she puts a drug in his wine. Inside, Everett has put a drug in the white wine. Back on the balcony the two toast as both drink. They are interrupted by a knock at the door. It is Dave with the dinner service. Holly tips Dave. They sit down to dinner.

They are having a fraught conversation about their relationship. There is another knock on the door. Everett gets a message. It is a picture of the tip Holly gave Dave with a message written on the note. At the door is another dinner tray. Under the tray is Everett’s wife, Lydia (Melina Matthews), severed finger with the wedding band still on it.

A flustered Everett returns to the dinner. Holly, seeing he is distressed, moves closer to him, acting as though she is trying to console him. She threatens him with her hairpin, telling him to tell her what is going on. Everett tries to reason with her but then overpowers her and tells her that Russell is behind everything. Holly does not believe him and fights him off. The drug she put in his drink starts to take effect. Holly gets up and realises that she too has been drugged.

When she wakes up, she finds herself chained to a wall. Everett wakes up and comes and sees Holly. He tries to go near her but she is too angry to let him near. She tells him to release her saying Russell will come after him. Everett goes into the adjoining room and finds Russell restrained in a wheelchair with his tongue cut out.

Everett un-cuffs Holly and takes her to Russell. Russell dies from his injuries. Everett’s phone rings, the voice is disguised. It tells him the message is for both of them. Only one of them can leave the suite. Everett picks up a kitchen knife. Holly begs him not to kill her but Everett insists he has to otherwise, his family will die.

The police knock on the suite door. Everett puts down the knife and goes to the door. While he is speaking to the police, Holly, who had found a note in Russell’s hand saying ‘safe’, open the safe and finds a memory card. At the front door, the police want to talk to Holly. Dave has gone missing. Everett wants her to tell the police that they have not seen him.

Holly tells the police the truth, the last time they saw Dave was when he brought dinner. They thank her for her help. As Everett answers a few more questions, Holly grabs the knife. When Everett returns, she brandishes the knife letting know the tables are now turned. They talk, him telling her how Russell was initially controlling everything.

Holly wants to know who is controlling things now. He does not know. Everett tries to talk Holly out of killing him but gets too close and gets stabbed. He dies. A phone rings. Holly answers it. The voice tells she is free to leave but if she wants to know who was behind it all she should comets another hotel room. Holly goes to the room. She finds a frightened Lydia tied up there. She frees her and tells her to wait whilst she goes to get help.

Holly sees a bank of monitors all with cameras to the suite they had stayed in. She puts the memory card into the computer and sees Russell installing cameras. Behind him she sees Lydia. Lydia comes into the room and tells her that she has framed her for all of the crimes, including Dave’s murder.

The women fight over the memory card. Holly overpowers Lydia. Lydia goads her, telling her that her daughter will pay for her sins. Holly kills her with a vase. Security burst into the room and apprehend Holly. The end.

An Affair To Die For is an entertaining 82 minutes of cinema. With the beautiful Forlani in the lead as doctor Holly Pierpoint and the ever-reliable Welliver and the not as well known Abel rounding out a strong cast, the plot holes are ably covered by the very strong performances.

Written by Elliot San and directed by Victor Garcia, An Affair To Die For is a pacy thriller that takes the already heightened situation—illicit affairs—and adds an extraordinary premise. That two people, who are lying to the people they love so as to see one another, are then forced to lie to one another to try and—in Everett’s case—save his family, and for Holly, to save herself, is mildly ironic.

The film is beautifully shot and directed, with most of it taking place inside the hotel suite, giving the story a sort of claustrophobia. It is also edited quite well, the filmmakers having the confidence to let the film be shorter rather than fill it with unnecessary scenes.

The weakest part of the film is probably the slightly rushed ending, with Matthews’ Lydia being exposed as the mastermind behind their ordeal. It was all a little bit silly and her being a borderline psychopath was a little bit of a cop-out, especially as she had been so meticulous up until that point.

Like I said earlier, the film only scores 4.7 on IMDB, a somewhat harsh score. It is definitely better than that score would suggest and is worth a watch if you have a spare eighty minutes.

The Happytime Murders – review (Netflix)

    Private investigator, Phil Philips (Bill Barretta-voice) works in the City of Angels, Los Angeles. He is a puppet. As in a Muppet puppet. Working out of an office in Chinatown, he turns up for work to be told by his assistant, Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) that he has a new client. In his office is Sandra White(Dorien Davies) the sexiest puppet he has seen in a while. She tells Phillips that she is being blackmailed and shows him the ransom note. 

   Sandra has a secret that she does not want to get out. She is a sexual deviant. Phillips recognises an element of the typeface and goes to investigate. He heads down to Puppet Pleasureland, a sex shop and brothel run by Vinny (Drew Massey-voice). The typeface matches a magazine that Vinny stocks. Phillips asks if he has records of the suppliers. Vinny sends him to a back office.

    Whilst Phillips is in the back office checking through the records, a masked assailant comes into the store and kills Vinny and all of the store’s puppet patrons. The store, now a crime scene, is overrun by the LAPD turn up and detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) is the homicide lead. Edwards is Phillips ex-partner from when he was in the LAPD. 

    Edwards and Phillips are not on the best of terms. Edwards testified against Phillips after a case went wrong. Her testimony not only got him fired, it also created a law; the Phillips code. The code prohibited humans and puppets from working together in the LAPD. 

     Phillips goes to see his older brother, Larry (Victor Yerrid-voice). Larry is a semi-famous puppet performer from the nineties. He was in the first universally accepted puppet/human show, The Happytime Gang, and is proud of the fact. Phillips does not embrace humans the way his brother does, feeling that puppets will always be seen as second-class citizens. 

      Larry is entertaining a young lady in his home later that evening. When she goes to make cocktails for them, someone lets dogs into the house and the dogs rip Larry apart. With a second murder in such a short time and it being Phillips’ brother, Lieutenant Banning (Leslie David Baker), Edwards boss, tells her that she has to work with Phillips to solve the murders. 

    Working out that somebody is killing members of The Happytime Gang – Vinny had also been in the show – Edwards and Phillips go to see Lyle (Kevin Clash). Lyle runs a dive bar, gambling den for puppets only. When Phillips turns up with Edwards, they refuse to let her in. He tells them she has a puppet liver. She is forced to prove it by snorting a drug that only a puppet could survive. Edwards survives. 

    Whilst Edwards gets involved in a card game, Phillips and Lyle go to have a chat in the alley. Whilst in the alley, a car drives by and kills Lyle. Phillips sees Sandra White again. They have sex in his office. The FBI gets involved in the case and agent Campbell (Joe McHale) believes Phillips to be the chief suspect. Phillips goes on the run.

    Phillips goes to see, Jenny (Elizabeth Banks). He has a soft spot for her as they used to be an item when his brother was working with her on the show. Edwards goes to find Goofer (Drew Massey-voice), another former alumnus of the show. Goofer has fallen on hard times and is an addict. 

    Back with Jenny, Phillips is walking her to her car. Jenny gets in the car. As Phillips walks away the car explodes into flames. The police turn up and see Phillips fleeing the scene. Phillips cannot go home. He goes to Edwards apartment. He recalls how they fell out.

She feels that he deliberately missed a shot because he did not want to shoot a fellow puppet, even though her life was in danger. His bullet missed the puppet that was holding her hostage and deflected off a pillar, killing a passerby, Jasper Jackabee, another puppet, in front of his young daughter. 

    Goofer turns up dead the next day, drowned in the sea. Agent Campbell is convinced it is Phillips behind the murders. Edwards and Phillips go to find the two surviving members of the show, Ezra and Cara, who live out of town. They find them dead. As they exit the building, they find themselves surrounded by FBI agents. 

    Back at the precinct, Campbell says they have a witness who can connect Phillips to the murders. It is Sandra. She is married to Jenny and says she was having an affair with Phillips. Campbell is happy with it, even as Edwards protest. Campbell suspends her. 

   Bubbles tells Edwards that she has been investigating Sandra White. She does not exist. They go to her apartment and find it empty. Edwards finds a secret room. In the room is a wall filled with photos of the cast of The Happytime Gang and Phillips. Phillips is the target. Sandra White is Jackabee’s daughter. The evidence would have cleared Phillips, but a booby-trap, triggered by Bubbles, incinerates the evidence. 

   Edwards breaks Phillips out of custody. They go after Sandra. Bubbles tracks down Sandra. She is escaping by private plane. Phillips confronts her and is shocked when he sees Jenny is still alive. Sandra double-crosses Jenny, knocking her out.

Phillips is taken by Sandra’s henchmen but is rescued by Edwards. Sandra takes Edwards hostage but Phillips shoots her and saves Edwards. The Phillips code is rescinded and Phillips is allowed to rejoin the force. The end.

    The Happytime Murders is definitely a different film. From the Henson dynasty, Brian Henson, it has all the recognisable puppetry one remembers from the late seventies and into the eighties, except the humour is a lot more adult. A lot more. This is not a film for kids, not on any level. The humour is crude and sexualised. 

    Some of the jokes are laugh out loud funny, though not for the prudish. McCarthy is, in my biased opinion, as good as ever. There is a wonderful little scene in which she says she regretted not sleeping with one of her office colleagues. The colleague is played by her real-life husband, Ben Falcone. Falcone appears in most of McCarthy’s films. 

   The voice talent is as good as you would expect on a Henson production. Though McCarthy is top-billed, it is Bill Barretta’s film. As the voice of Phillips, the world-weary PI, he not only tells the story, he is the story.  

    Though The Happytime Murders is ostensibly a comedy, it does, in an opaque way, tackle bigger societal issues, with a nod to misogynistic behaviour and less oblique references to prejudice and inclusion. It is a fine line to tread and though, personally, a lot of the subtext of certain scenes resonated, I am not sure they would be seen as much more than comic relief to the masses. 

    As a fan of McCarthy, I will pretty much watch anything she appears in. She is probably my favourite comedic actor and generally delivers. In The Happytime Murders, however, as competent as she is, as is all the cast and talent, it is a film that is maybe a little to niche to work. Unlike animations in say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, we know what a puppet feels like. 

   Ultimately, it is difficult to suspend disbelief enough to make the murderous aspects of the plot work, especially as the remnants of any crime scene were fluff and strands of coloured cotton. The Happytime Murders may give you a mildly amusing time but only if the muppets held a special place in your heart. For anyone else, you can probably give it a miss.

    

    

Agatha and the Truth of Murder – review

    Florence Nightingale Shore (Stacha Hicks) takes a train journey and is bludgeoned by a strange man after a brief conversation. She died four days later. 

    Desperate to get over her writer’s block, Agatha Christie (Ruth Bradley) goes to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Michael McElhatton) whilst he is in the midst of a golf game. He tells her that to get over his own writer’s block, he designed a golf course. 

   Back at home, her husband, Archie (Liam McMahon), is pushing for a divorce. Christie does not want to grant him the divorce. Whilst debating the point with her husband, they are interrupted by a visitor, Mabel (Pippa Haywood). She wants Agatha to help solve the murder of her dear friend and partner, Florence. Christie tells her that she is a writer, not a policeman and declines. 

    She goes to see a golf course designer and expresses her wish, in a desperate attempt to cure her writer’s block, to design a golf course. The designer scoffs at the thought of a woman designing a golf course, dismissing the idea out of hand. 

   Having initially refused, Agatha changes her mind and contacts Mabel. Mabel has a list of suspects. They hatch a plan to bring all the suspects together. The suspects are gathered together, in the style of one of her famous stories, under the ruse of a potential inheritance. 

    Christie’s decision to go undercover as an inheritance employee has unforeseen circumstances. The country thinks she is missing and it ends up on the front pages of the newspapers. With the added pressure of potentially being discovered, Christie must try and solve the case quickly. 

     Gathered in the large country house that Mabel and Agatha have used is; Randolph (Tim McInnerny), Wade (Dean Andrews) and his daughter, Daphne (Bebe Cave), Travis (Blake Harrison), Zaki (Luke Pierre), Pamela (Samantha Spiro) and her son, Franklin (Joshua Silver).

   Under the guise of the inheritance adjudicator, Agatha begins to interview the suspects. After interviewing Wade and his daughter, she tells Mabel that she believes Wade to be the murder. In fact, she is convinced of it, telling Mabel that she will not need to interview anyone else. 

    Her triumphalism is punctured when Wade falls through a window, having been shot dead. Daphne tells the group that a masked man tried to shoot her and her father had jumped in front of her and taken the bullet, falling through the window. The real police are called.

    Detective inspector Dicks (Ralph Ineson) arrives with an officer at the house. He is not very happy. He tells the gathered that he would normally just take everybody down to the station and interview them there, but due to Agatha Christie’s disappearance, most of his resources have been deployed, in search of the famous author. 

    Christie is still determined to find out who the murder is, even as the real police investigate Wade’s murder. She has another theory, but as the inspector has all of them restricted to their rooms, the next best option as he is unable to take them to the station. 

   As Christie continues to snoop, she is confronted by Inspector Dicks. He addresses her as Agatha Christie, pointing out that her disguise of a pair of spectacles is not the most convincing. Christie tells the inspector that she believes Daphne killed her father because he was so violent, Dicks concurs, pointing out Daphne was the only person in the room with him at the time. 

   They quickly realise that Franklin, with his mother, Pamela, as an accomplice, killed Florence. Unfortunately, they have no proof. They hatch a plan to get a confession out of the two and it works, though, in the end, Pamela points out that they have no proof. 

   The collective group, at the moment, decide to commit perjury and get the two convicted. The end.

   Agatha and the Truth of Murder is an enjoyable romp and rattles along quite nicely over its ninety-minute running time. Ruth Bradley, probably best known for her role as DI Karen Voss in the excellent Humans, is great and wonderfully, subtly, emotive, as a young Agatha Christie. 

   Television stalwarts, Pippa Haywood as Mabel, Tim McInnery as Randolph, and Ralph Ineson as DI Dicks are right at home in this made for television movie, and perform as well as one would expect. All the acting on show is excellent, with every performance exactly where it needs to be in a slightly farfetched story. 

    Written by Tom Dalton, the story is a complete work of fiction, even to the point that they make it clear, with a title card at the end of the film, that it is in no way endorsed by the Agatha Christie estate. This is a minor quibble and only relevant to hardcore Agatha Christie fans. 

    If you like a period set murder mystery – though, truthfully, it is not that much of a mystery – and have ninety minutes on a lazy Sunday afternoon, there are worse ways to pass the time.