Afterlife of the Party – review

Brief synopsis: In the run-up to her twenty-fifth birthday, a young woman dies. She wakes to find herself in limbo, neither in heaven or hell. 

She is told that she has unfinished business on Earth. She has five days to complete a list. The completion of the list will determine her fare. 

Is it any good?: Afterlife of the Party is a sweet and heartwarming film. With a nod to similar films, like Ghost, but more pertinently, Blithe Spirit, the brilliant Noel Coward film with a similar premise, remade multiple times, Afterlife of the Party brings an energy and sweetness that makes it a highly enjoyable watch. 

Spoiler territory: It is Cassie’s (Victoria Justice) twenty-fifth birthday in a few days and she is excited. Her best friend since childhood, Lisa (Midori Francis), who she lives with, arrives home from work. Carrie is a party-girl and is determined to kick off her birthday week in style. 

Lisa is focused on furthering her career, wants to stay in and have a quiet evening. Carrie wins, the two ladies leaving their apartment for a night out. 

As they leave, they meet their new neighbour, Max (Timothy Renouf). Lisa is immediately enamoured by him. Max is equally taken by Lisa. 

Carrie gently ribs her friend about the obvious attraction between the two, as they make their way to a club. Lisa deflects. She has no time for a relationship. 

Carrie tells her that she needs to have fun. They change the subject, a slightly embarrassed Carrie noting that her father, Howie (Adam Garcia), has posted on Instagram.

She feels awkward about him being in, what she feels, is a young space and how cloying he can be. Lisa thinks he is nice and just wants to be closer to his adult daughter. Carrie loves her father but is happy that they lead separate lives. 

They arrive at the club and similarly, party-loving peers, greet Carrie. She is the queen of the night. The partying begins. Carrie is drinking and dancing. Lisa is more reserved, conscious of working the next day. 

The group leave, going to another party at one of their houses. Lisa wants to go home and tries to persuade Carrie to go with her. The two women argue. Cassie tells her that they have probably outgrown one the friendship. Lisa goes home. 

A drunken Carrie staggers home in the early hours. She knocks on Lisa’s bedroom door but Lisa pretends not to hear her. Carrie goes to bed. In the morning, a still worse for wear Carrie stumbles into her bathroom. 

She slips whilst bracing on the sink. She grabs for the towel rail to steady herself but the rail breaks causing her to fall and hit her head on the toilet bowl. She dies. 

Carrie wakes up to find a woman watching videos of her life. Carrie sees images from her final night on Earth. She has no idea where she is.

The woman, noting she is awake, starts recounting the facts of Carrie’s life. She is dead. Val (Robyn Scott), is her temporary guardian angel. 

After getting over the notion of finding out she is dead, Carrie wants to know if she is in heaven. Or hell. Val tells her she is in a place they call the In-Between. 

She is there because she has unfinished business on Earth. She has to make things right with a select list of people who she left behind. That is the only way for her to be sure of getting into heaven. 

Val takes her to the first person on the list. It is her father. He is depressed, his home is a mess. How long has she been dead? A year. Carrie is shocked, she thought it had been a day. 

The next person on the list is Lisa. Carrie does not want to see her. Val tells her she has no choice. She is on the list. Who else is on the list? 

Val takes her to see Sofia (Gloria Garcia), her estranged mother. Carrie has not spoken to her since she was a child, her mother having left her father to bring her up alone. They return to the In-Between. Val tells her she has five days to clear the three names off the list. 

Carrie worries about how she is meant to do anything. Especially as no one can see or hear her. Only animals and children. After a quick wardrobe change, Val tells her that her mission begins immediately. Val sends her to Lisa’s apartment. 

Unable to communicate with Lisa, Carrie just follows her around. Lisa meets Max in the corridor. It has been a year and Carrie can see that their spark for one another is still present, even if the relationship has not advanced. 

She follows her as she goes to a new coffee shop. Lisa is very friendly with the owner, Emme (Myfanwy Waring). 

Carrie follows her to work and observes in frustration, Lisa’s lack of confidence as she is challenged by one of her colleagues, Raj (Kiroshan Naidoo), when an opportunity to work for a leading palaeontologist comes up. 

The interviews will be conducted that week, but Raj keeps up the mind games. Only one person will be picked. He is confident of it being him. 

Carrie goes to see Val. She laments the fact that her best friend does not seem to miss her or need her. Val tells herself that perhaps she should be thinking about their needs, rather than her own. She sends her back. 

Carrie is back in Lisa’s bedroom. Carrie tries speaking to Lisa again. Nothing happens, Lisa soundly asleep. She begins to hum, her humming waking Lisa. Carrie looks at Lisa. Lisa opens her eye to see Carrie appearing and screams. Carrie goes to see Val. 

Val checks an ancient book. It is possible to connect with a living person if you had a strong connection with them. They go to see Howie again. He has left Carrie’s bedroom as a shrine to her. He still cannot see her. 

Day two and Carrie returns to Lisa. Lisa is the only person who can see and hear her. 

Lisa tries to ignore, sure that she is no more than a figment of an overworked and stressed imagination. Carrie keeps on following her. Lisa goes to see Emme and tells her what is happening. 

Emme tells her she should take it as a compliment. Lisa just wants Carrie to leave her alone. Carrie’s persistence pays off. Lisa begins to interact with her, their friendship rekindling. 

They bond over the music of Carrie’s living crush, Koop (Spencer Sutherland). She asks Lisa what is she going to do about her year-long crush on the neighbour, Max. 

Lisa is reluctant to do anything. Carrie directs her to turn up the music. The loud music, gets Max knocking on her door. She invites him in but loses her nerve as the relationship seems to be going well. Max, a diffident individual himself, leaves. Lisa beats herself up about her ineptitude with relationships. 

Carrie decides to give them a push, arranging a sequence of events that pushes the two together. Max asks Lisa to join him on a visit to the set of Koop’s new video. She accepts the invite. 

Carrie decides to tackle her father next. She goes over to his home and arranges his space in the hope of pushing him back into his yoga practice. Howie, being a spiritual person, sees it as a sign from Carrie. 

She returns to Lisa, telling her about seeing both her father and mother. She does not know how and if she will be able to connect with her mother. 

Lisa returns home to get ready for her date with Max. Carrie helps her pick an outfit. It being a Koop video, Carrie accompanies Lisa and Max, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity of seeing him. 

Carrie tries to get close to Koop but is pulled back to the In-Between Place. Val reminds her that she only has three more days and Koop is not on the list. 

Lisa and Max get together. Lisa returns home and sees Carrie. The date was great. Carrie is overcome with sadness at all the things she will miss in her friend’s life. 

Lisa feels guilty about leaving Carrie alone the night they argued. Carrie does not know how she will deal with her mother. 

Lisa goes to see Sofia, acting as Carrie’s proxy. Sofia is wracked with guilt over her abandonment of Carrie. Sofia says she was too young and headstrong for her relationship with Howie. 

She was not ready to be a mother. Lisa, much to the chagrin of Cassie, asks Sofia what she would say if Cassie was there. 

Back at the apartment, Cassie rages at Lisa, angry that her life is over. They argue and Carrie leaves. Back in the In-Between place, Val tells her she can end her mission. All that she has done will be undone and she will go to hell. Cassie decides to continue. 

She goes to see her father. Much to her surprise, Sofia is there. She apologises for leaving him to bring up Cassie alone. Cassie witnesses them reconnecting. 

She forgives her mother. Sofia’s name fades from the list. Cassie goes to see Val again with an unusual request. She wants to add a name to the list. Emme, thinking that she would be good for her dad. 

Val agrees to the request. Cassie engineers a meeting between Howie and Emme. The next day is her last day. She goes to see Lisa. Lisa is still hesitating to put herself forward for the interview. 

Cassie gives her the confidence to sign up. Lisa has her interview and is successful, getting the much sought after position. 

Emme is having the first anniversary of the opening of her coffee shop. Howie arrives at the opening and meets Emme. The two click instantly.

Lisa and Max arrive at the opening. Lisa tells Carrie to meet her after the party. Later that evening, Lisa hosts a small gathering of Cassie’s family and friends, honouring her life on the anniversary of her death. 

Howie remembers a song he used to sing to Cassie when she was a child. Cassie sings along with him and becomes visible to him. She hugs him farewell. 

Cassie returns to Lisa’s apartment. She wants to find a jigsaw piece. They have a large puzzle of the Mona Lisa that is incomplete. 

Carrie has just missed her deadline and Val does not know if she will get into heaven. They return to the In-Between place to await the verdict. Val gets promoted and Cassie gets into heaven. 

An elevator is the way to heaven. Whilst in the elevator, Koop gets on. He was killed whilst performing at a charity relief gig. They both reach heaven, a beautiful garden. The end. 

Final thoughts: Afterlife of the Party is such a nice film. Written by Carrie Freedle and directed by Stephen Herek, the film flows through its one-hundred-and-nine-minute runtime. 

The chemistry between the two leads, Victoria Justice and Midori Francis as Carrie and Lisa respectively, works beautifully, their life-long friendship believable.

The rest of the cast ably support them but the central story of friendship and love is what makes this film such a good watch. Freedle’s script is clever and funny in parts, the characters driving the story rather than any outside McGuffin. 

Though the film does not feel overlong, it could have ended earlier, the Koop angle and emergence to the Eden-esque garden more of an indulgence than a necessity. That said, it does not detract from the film and is a minor gripe. 

Afterlife of the Party is a romcom without a central romance and that, in this case, is not a problem. A lovely film.

Red Notice – review

Brief synopsis: An art thief plans to steal a collection of three ancient, jewelled, eggs. He is tracked by a tenacious Interpol agent and an FBI behavioural specialist. 

He is not the only thief after the eggs. Another thief is tasked with retrieving the eggs by a Saudi billionaire. He wants to give them to his daughter as a wedding gift. 

Is it any good?: Red Notice is watchable and if you like any of the stars, you might even enjoy it. It is not a good film. It is a mishmash of Raiders of the Lost Ark, National Treasure and The Pink Panther but fails to reach even half the heights of those films.

At just under two hours, it is a little overlong. Red Notice is just okay. Throwing up no surprises whatsoever, Red Notice is a brain in neutral watch, that you put on in the background whilst doing something else.

Spoiler Territory: the film opens, telling us the story of three ornate jewelled eggs that were created for Cleopatra. The whereabouts of two of the eggs is known. One is in an art museum, the other in the hands of a dangerous arms dealer. The third eggs location is only known by one person, art thief, Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds).

Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Aryu) heads an Interpol unit that is after Nolan. She is being assisted by FBI agent, John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson).

One of the eggs, which is on display in a museum in Rome, is a target. They get to the museum and the egg is on display. John is sure that the egg is not real, pouring cola onto the exhibit. 

The egg dissolves when hit by the fizzy liquid. John sees Nolan in the room and gives chase, even as the museum security try to lockdown the room. 

Nolan is chased by multiple security personnel, managing to evade and injure many of them in the process. Like any episode of that eighties classic show, The A-Team, not one of them is seriously injured. 

This is a pattern in the film. Bullets fly, there are falls from great heights, explosions, crashes and fisticuffs. All result in minor injuries, not one death or incapacitation. 

Unsurprisingly, Nolan escapes, even with John in pursuit. John does manage to get a nice Porsche product placement in, the Taycan he commandeers being crashed into, moments after he gets into it. 

Nolan takes his booty to his Bali – there is a real Bond-esque desire to include as many locations as possible in this film – retreat. He is quickly apprehended by John and Das and her team. 

They arrest him and Das gives John the egg to look after. Nolan wants to know how they found him. A tip-off from the elusive thief, the Bishop.

John hands the egg to a masked female Interpol agent. The agent steals the egg unbeknownst to John. The next evening, Das comes and arrest John. Nobody knows him at the FBI. He gets sent to a prison in Russia. His roommate is Nolan. 

He tells Nolan that he was set up by the Bishop. He does not know why, especially as no one knows where the third egg is. Nolan gets John beat up by revealing he is a cop. 

The Bishop (Gal Gadot) comes to visit John and Nolan. She tells Nolan that she knows that he knows where the third egg is. She tells John, that she set him up. She is there to make a deal with Nolan. 

She will get them out if he tells her the location of the egg plus ten percent of her fee for the theft. Nolan rejects the deal. Later, John says they need to escape and capture the Bishop. The two bond over their similar upbringing and relationships with estranged fathers. 

They escape the prison. Bullets fly, rocket launchers are fired, explosions. No deaths. They need to head to a masquerade party being held by Soto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos), the arms dealer. The party is in Spain. 

The Bishop breaks into the Interpol offices – yes she does – and sends Das a message, telling her that John and Nolan have escaped. 

Nolan explains the elaborate security system Soto employs. They need to avoid cameras. They also must get hold of an ever-changing passcode that can only be found in Soto’s phone. There is voice and facial recognition software, plus the heavily armed guards. They arrive in Valencia and go to the party. 

John sees The Bishop and goes after her. The two have some verbal sparring and dance before being interrupted on the dance floor by Soto. The Bishop is in partnership with Soto. John steals Soto’s mobile phone. Das is also at the party. Soto makes a speech at the party. 

John and Nolan take the opportunity to go and steal the egg. As they get to the egg, The Bishop is waiting for them. She tells them there was an easier way to get into the room. She fights and overcomes both men. Soto and his security come into the vault, alerted by the door having been opened. 

Soto ties up the two men under a bull ring. The Bishop joins him and tortures John to get information out of Nolan. She wants to know where the third egg is. Soto, impatient for the information, chokes John. Nolan tells them the egg is in Egypt. 

The Bishop drugs Soto and leaves with the egg. John and Nolan escape into the bull ring. John gets hit by the bull. Haha haha. He is okay. A-Team violence remember. Nolan lied to them. The egg is in Argentina. It was hidden in a vault that the Germans had during the war. They head to the Argentinian jungle. 

They find the vault. The Bishop finds them. Das has followed the Bishop. The Bishop, John and Nolan join forces to escape Das and her team. There is another product placement with a rare Mercedes making an appearance. 

They escape Das. John reveals his relationship with The Bishop. They are both the Bishop, working as a partnership. They take the egg and leave Nolan. 

They head to Cairo to deliver all three eggs to the billionaire. Das turns up at the wedding party and arrests the billionaire and his daughter for having Nazi loot. John and The Bishop escape again. A little while later, they are in Sardinia enjoying their life. 

Nolan interrupts their joy. He has told Das about their off-shore account and all their assets have been frozen. What does he want? There is another job that needs three thieves. The end. 

Final thoughts: Red Notice is a lazy star vehicle, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber entirely around Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds popularity. 

Gal Gadot has enough star power and beauty not to be overshadowed by the two men, neither of whom are required to get out of second gear in their respective personas. 

Thurber’s script has a few gems, allowing Reynolds, especially, to bring his acerbic wit to proceedings. It is not as clever as he would like it to be and there are too many unnecessary scenes in the film. 

The constant changing of locations served no purpose except for increasing the use of studio green screen and editorial title cards. The film is competently directed and bumps along at a good pace. Unfortunately, the story is convoluted and takes too much inspiration from better films without bringing anything new. 

Rita Arya, outstanding in The Umbrella Academy, has little to do but scowl and collect her paycheque as the tenacious Das. Chris Diamantopoulos as Soto is such a waste of screen time, one can almost forget he was in the film and I’ve watched it twice!

Red Notice is a moderately amusing, overlong, action-comedy that is a little light on both counts. Watchable but not unmissable.

Intrusion – review

Brief synopsis: a couple, tired of big city living, moved across the country to a small rural town in the hopes of living a more sedate life. Returning from a date night, they find their home ransacked after a break-in. 

Their relationship comes under severe strain when the husband kills multiple assailants during a second break-in. 

Is it any good?: Um, it might be if one had any idea what was happening! To say Intrusion is a confusing mess is an understatement. That the central pairing of Pinto and Marshall-Green lack any chemistry does not help either. 

Midway through the film, one is still confused. What is it about? Who are the characters? The film could – and probably should be – called ‘Trust’, but I suspect that title is somewhat overused. It is still a weak effort. Something that is all too often the case on Netflix. 

Spoiler territory: out for a date night, psychiatric counsellor, Meera (Freida Pinto) and her architect husband, Henry Parsons (Logan Marshall-Green), the least compatible looking couple in tv-movie-history, return home to find their new place wrecked. 

Meera, a cancer survivor and prone to anxiety, is, understandably, an emotional wreck. Henry, ever the doting husband, tries to reassure her that everything will be fine. They report the break-in to the police.

Detective Steven Morse (Robert John Burke), visits Henry, whilst Meera is at work. The detective asks what items were taken. Just a couple of mobile phones and a laptop. Did they have any enemies? Not that Henry knew of. They had only been in the town for a year. 

They had moved from Boston. He had decided to build a house in Corrales. He had wanted to get away from the rat race, create a place for his wife to feel safe after her health issues. None of this is explained until five minutes from the end of the film. I guess the writer thought it would be too much exposition. 

Did he have any enemies in Boston? The spectacle-wearing, Henry, looks aghast at the thought that he could have an enemy that would cross the country. Truthfully, Henry looks like a serial killer but the detective is too polite to say. 

The detective remarks on the lack of a security system in the house. Henry says he thought Corrales was a safe town. Never watched shitty Netflix movies then…

Meera goes to see her oncologist, doctor Burke (Denielle Fisher Johnson). The doctor mentions how she heard about the break-in. It’s a small town. Back at the house, Henry is installing a locks and security system. It works vis their mobile phones.

Meera returns home. Henry has been busy putting the home back in order. He has replaced their mobile phones. He also installed an app, so as they know where the other person is at all times. Not big brother like at all. Meera seems unperturbed by all the changes, trusting her, slightly overprotective husband, implicitly. 

During the night, Meera wakes up and notices that the power is out. She wakes Henry. He checks the generator outside the house. It has been tampered with, the power deliberately cut. He looks back to the house and sees torch beams in the rooms. Henry runs back to the house. 

Meera is tied up in the bedroom. Henry quickly frees his wife and the two sneak downstairs. The intruders are in Henry’s office. Henry goes and gets a gun that he had hidden in a plant pot, much to the obvious surprise of Meera. Henry is tackled by one of the men, Meera’s screams alerting the others. 

The couple manages to escape, running back up to the bedroom. Henry tells Meera to get to the car, lowering her over the balcony. Before he can follow his wife, Henry is grabbed by the intruders. Meera goes to the car but hears shots fired and screams for her husband. One of the intruders staggers towards the car, already dying from a gunshot wound. Henry shoots him in the back. In the back! 

The next day, Meera wants to know why there was a gun in the house. Henry apologises. He is bullish about not having told her about the weapon, as that weapon saved their lives. Detective Morse comes to see the couple. The men who broke into their home were all from the same family. The Cobb family. They resided in a trailer park in the rough part of town. Not that trailer parks are ever in the nice part. 

The family is also connected to the disappearance of a girl; Christine Cobb (Megan Elisabeth Kelly). She was a relation to the men. Later on, Meera cannot understand Henry’s blasé attitude. He killed three men. Henry lies, telling her it makes him sick to think about it. She does not believe him, especially as he seems to be focused on the house-warming they were planning. 

Henry pops out to pick up some things for the aforementioned party. He forgets his wallet and Meera’s efforts to contact him on his mobile are met with his voicemail. She decides to go after him, to give him the wallet. 

Whilst following after him, she notes that he takes a road heading towards the hospital. She is unable to keep following him, getting into a minor accident on the road. She returns home and asks him about his journey, telling him she followed him and he took the wrong road. 

Henry, his dodgy facade fading by the minute since his murder spree, says he took the wrong road. Meera does not look convinced. She gives him his wallet. What happened to her car? She had it towed and took an Uber. 

At work the next day, Meera suffers a PTSD episode. She imagines one of the intruders pointing a gun at her. It never happened. She leaves work. One of her colleagues bid her farewell and voices her sadness at the cancellation of the housewarming party. Meera did not know about the cancellation. 

In the car park, she is surprised by detective Morse. He heard about her accident. He also tells her that one of the intruders, who had been in hospital, died. He died on Sunday night. He notes that Meera is driving a new car. It’s Henry’s, she tells him. The detective leaves. 

Meera checks the vehicle’s satellite navigation, scrolling through the addresses. One is the trailer park home of the Cobbs, the family Henry wiped out. She visits the home and finds one of Henry’s business corporate envelopes addressed to the Cobbs. 

She finds a video camera and USB drive in their mail slot. Meera is confronted by a paranoid trailer park resident, Clint Oxbow (Clint Obenchain). He smashes the camera, believing she had filmed him. A shaken Meera returns home and tries to view the video but the damage done to the camera prevents it from playing properly. 

She orders a new camera, putting her work address for the delivery. Alone at home, Meera snoops around Henry’s office. She looks at the contents of the USB drive. There are pictures of the house construction. One of the Cobbs, the father of Christine, Dylan (Mark Sivertsen) is in the photos. So is Christine. 

Henry returns home. Meera gets flustered as Henry questions about her whereabouts. The app showed her across town. Meera avoids the question. Later, sitting down to dinner, Henry comes back to the question. He is intense, asking her if she is hiding something. Meera, nervous, a little guilty, stammers. 

He asks her about her doctor’s appointment and if she got the results as he thought that the specialist was on the other side of town. He is just worried that she is keeping it from him. He apologises for the inquisition. 

As Henry sleeps, Meera gets up to look at the photos on the USB stick. In the morning, Henry wakes up to see the bed beside him empty. Meera has already left. Outside the police station, Meera is wrestling with the notion of giving the USB to the authorities. She decides against it, deterred by seeing a crazed Clint being taken into the station under arrest for killing a female. 

Meera returns home and confronts Henry about the evidence she found at the trailer park. Henry tells her that the house and her treatment forced him to make certain decisions that impacted them financially. A deal he made with the Cobb family resulted in him being blackmailed. 

Meera laps up the excuse, her worries soothed by his elaborate explanation. The tension lifted, Henry thinks it would be a good idea to have the cancelled housewarming party. A few days later, the house is full of people and Henry and Meera are the gracious hosts. 

During the evening, Meera sees a news broadcast reporting on Clint’s arrest. He was arrested for animal cruelty, killing a dog. A bitch, the female. Suspicions surrounding his connection to the disappearance of Christine, had been dismissed. 

Something in the newscast prompts her to watch the video she found. The video shows Dylan saying he thinks Henry had something to do with his daughter’s disappearance. Meera decides to search Henry’s office. The party is still going on. 

She finds a button in his office. The button opens a secret door to a basement. Meera finds Christine tied to a chair in the room. Christine sees Meera and begins to scream and panic. The sound does not travel as she is gagged. Henry, who had noticed the light in his office go on, finds Meera in the room.

He tries to explain to her that he has urges. That is why he built the house. Really? They have been married for twelve years, the house is a year old. Anyhoo, Meera, standing in front of her deranged husband, tries to call the police. Henry stops her and ties her up in the basement. Henry returns to the party and gets rid of the guests, making an excuse about Meera being unwell. 

In the basement, Christine tells Meera she has no idea how long she has been in the basement. He did not abuse her physically. It was purely mental, telling her that he would decide. Meera manages to free herself. She frees Christine. 

Henry returns to the basement, still wanting to continue his relationship with Meera. The two women escape the basement, into the main house. They try to leave the house but Henry locks all of the doors remotely. 

He finds the women in the house and knocks Meera into a daze as he drags Christine back to the basement. In the basement, Henry picks up a baseball bat. He is going to kill Christine. Meera hits Henry first, splitting his head open with a heavy ornament, killing him. 

Sometime later, Meera sells the house and returns to Boston. The end. 

Final thoughts: Intrusion is a very silly film. It is too short for the story it wants to tell and most of the tension comes from the music instead of the story. Ably directed by Adam Salky, this underwritten film comes from the pen of Chris Sparling. 

There are all the elements of a promising film; a loving central relationship. A relocation to a small town. A secretive yet possessive spouse. A curious protagonist to help the viewer discover the story and unravel the plot. It is all there.

Unfortunately, none of the elements are utilised particularly well. There is a vague thread about cancer and Meera’s understandable worry. Then five minutes from the end we learn that it was quite serious, crippling her for a period. We only find this out through an expository dump as Henry whines about his urges.

His ‘urges’, as he calls them, are not alluded to at any other time in the film. There is no hint at a history of murderous urges or missing girls. Even though he had Christine captive, it only seemed to be so as he could decide when to cave her head in with the baseball bat. A very specific urge. 

How they had managed to be married for over a decade yet Meera did not notice his homicidal urges, is inconceivable and unbelievable. Henry is clingy and overbearing but the film portrays them as though their relationship is new. 

The film looks good in a modern, lean sort of way. The set design lacks soul, with none of the locations looking natural or adding to the story. Admittedly, the film does whizz through its ninety-two-minute runtime but that speed is to its detriment. An extra fifteen minutes, allowing for more of a build-up would have improved this film immensely. One to give a miss.

Lethal Love – review

Brief synopsis: After opening a new bakery coffee shop, a mother and daughter team cannot agree on a suitable method to attract customers. When a handsome musician busks outside of their new establishment and brings in customers, the two women are enamoured by him. The musician secretly woos both women until the daughter discovers what he is doing forcing him to change his plans. 

Is it any good?: hmm. It has a standard lazy title, Lethal Love, an attractive B-list cast and a silly premise, so not really, no. it does, however, almost tick the box of being awfully entertaining. The ending is horribly weak. There is a female-centric-ness about the film that skews the story. 

Considering the story was written by a woman, this does not seem especially strange except that the female characters, without exception, are exceedingly stupid. 

Spoiler territory: Blaine King (David Pinard) is penning a letter to Penny Jackson (Dayle McLeod), apologising for leaving. He glances at a photo of Penny and her sister, Camila (Cait Alexander). 

He scrubs blood off of the floor and cleans up. Something wicked happened there, one thinks.

Outside, he tells an unconscious or dead Camila, who is in a duffle bag in the boot, that they could have been good together. We do not see Camila again. 

In a picturesque town, mother and daughter, Sandra (Tori Higginson) and Sophie Sullivan (Joelle Farrow) are interviewed by a reporter (Michelle Rambharose) about the realisation of their bakery, Sweet Surrender, a name inspired by their favourite film. 

The reporter takes a photo for the local paper. The turnaround of news is pretty swift as dodgy geezer Blaine, has the article a few days later as he sizes up the bakery. 

Inside, Ange (Tommie-Amber Pirie), a local artist and someone who helps out in the bakery drops by. Sandra laments the lack of customers. Ange remarks how it has only been open a few weeks. As there are more staff than customers, Ange must be getting paid in cake. 

Sophie says she has been brainstorming ideas for promotions, but as her mother does not know any of the ideas, I do wonder who she brainstormed with as it is not something one generally does alone. 

Anyhoo, Sophie thinks they should try social media, utilising local influencers. Sandra immediately shoots the idea down. Too expensive. Not if you pay in cake! 

Sophie does not come up with that retort and instead listens to her mother’s, frankly, turd of a suggestion to give out coupons. A respectful daughter, Sophie reluctantly agrees.

Their discussion is interrupted by the sound of music coming from outside. They go outside to find Blaine busking outside of the store. Blaine stops as they come out, apologising for singing outside their shop. Mother and daughter, who obviously have too much time on their hands and do not get out much, encourage him to continue. 

Blaine can carry a tune. Soon, a bit of a crowd gathers. It seems this is a town full of people who are easily distracted and pleased. Sophie goes into the store and grabs some cake samples to hand out.

It seems Blaine’s impromptu concert has brought the patrons. The bakery is buzzing. After some introductions, Sandra invites Blaine in for coffee. 

Sophie, an attractive girl who somehow manages to not get hit on at all, thinks they should ask Blaine if he would play for them in the store. Sandra is sure he has his own thing going on. Sophie reasons that it does not hurt to ask.

She asks Blaine what his plans are. He spins the vaguest bollocks about using his savings and going where the road and this ‘gee – tar’ – okay he didn’t say ‘gee – tar’ but he should have – takes him. 

Movie romantics that they are, mother and daughter lap up the story. Sophie, panties getting moist in the presence of such a hottie, remarks she would not mind doing the same. Very subtle. 

Mind back on the job, she asks Blaine if he would play in the store. That is if he is going to be around for a few days. Sandra, more pragmatic than her hormonally challenged daughter, says they will pay. Her tone intimates that the pay would be minimal. 

Blaine, not as hot as we are meant to believe, with an unsettling smile, says that he would help them out by playing for tips. And cake. He didn’t say cake, but he will get cake. And coffee. 

In the evening, mother and daughter and Ange, who just hangs around for the free food, are enjoying a glass of wine and some chocolates that Sophie created. Outside, Blaine watches on with the eyes of a serial killer. 

The next day, Blaine waits for Sophie to come out of the store. He walks towards her, pretending not to see her and damn near takes her out – linebacker-style – as he ‘accidentally’ crashes into her. 

Apologising, Blaine asks her what she is up to. She is going to hand out flyers around town. Would she like some company? Of course, she would! No other man in town talks to her! 

They walk around town and Blaine invites her to sit on a bench as he probes her for information on herself. Sophie tells him it was one of her dreams to open the bakery with her mother and that she wants to go cliff jumping.

He feints interest but nearly trips himself up when he lets on that he knows about her working at the farmer’s market, Sophie wants to know how he knows about that. Blaine tells her that her mother mentioned it. That is a good enough explanation for her. 

Sophie asks what his dreams are. He already mostly, lives them, playing his music and singing his songs. He would like to settle down somewhere though. 

Sophie, a woman on heat and as subtle as a branding iron, asks if he would consider settling down in a town like theirs. Blaine, thinking this must be too damn easy, says he could be persuaded. 

Okay, so Sophie stands mesmerised by Blaine playing in the store, oblivious to Ange trying to get her attention. Ange is also impressed by Blaine, saying that if she was not married she would go for him. 

The fact that she is married to a woman does not seem to matter. Equality right there. 

Ange, who moments before had seen how entranced Sophie was by Blaine, intimates to Sandra that she should go for Blaine. With friends like her….anyhoo, Sandra points out that there is a bit of an age difference and she is happily single. 

Ange, not one to give up and remarkably dense when it comes to emotional cues considering she swings both ways, asks Sophie what she thinks of Blaine. 

She says her mother would frown upon her dating an older guy. Older guy? I’m not sure how old Sophie is meant to be but Blaine is at most eight years older. 

Ange, reinforcing her denseness, says she means for her mother. Sophie, progressive in thought, says she is happy with whatever her mother wants. 

Later, dodgy Blaine goes and finds Sophie’s identification and finds out she is a Leo star sign. Back in the store, Sandra gives him some sort of dessert as a thank you for the music. 

Blaine compliments the dish and manages to weave into the conversation that he is a Leo. Sophie, as people do, remarks she too is a Leo. He is slick. He talks about how nice it is to be there and how homely it feels. 

Sandra remarks how his family must be proud of him. Yes, because families are always proud of the travelling musician in the family. Blaine, a pained furrowing of the brow, tells them his family has all died. 

Sandra comforts him with the fact that he has them now. Blaine offers to help with clearing up in the store. There is a lot of dishes. It is as though they do not wash anything up until the end of the day. 

He offers to help with the clearing of leaves at their home. At their home the next day, Blaine takes the time to snoop around. Sophie returns home but Blaine sees her and returns to the garden. 

Sophie goes and interrupts him raking leaves and gets knocked over by a startled Blaine for her troubles. She cuts her hand falling. Blaine takes her into the house and tends to her wound. 

Sophie had brought him lunch. Blaine shares the food with her and makes his move. Sophie, doe-eyed over him, puts up little resistance. 

She belatedly, mentions that she thought that he was into her mother. Blaine says he prefers her. Guilt absolved, Sophie succumbs to his…charms. 

She wants to keep their relationship secret as she does not think her mother would understand. Blaine unsurprisingly agrees. 

Later that evening, a text conversation has Sophie sending Blaine a couple of risqué – there was shoulder on show. Naked shoulder! – photographs. In the store the next day, Blaine is not exactly careful as he shows Sophie some love.

He then goes into the back office and sees Sandra making ingredient orders. She keeps the passwords under the keyboard, joking about how she cannot remember them. Blaine asks if he can use the computer. Sure. 

Blaine adjusts the ingredients’ order. No idea why. He fashions another accidental meeting with Sophie, catching her as she is locking up the store. 

Sandra is waiting for her at home, planning an evening of movie rewatching. Blaine persuades Sophie to hang out with him. Did not take much persuasion. He just asked her. 

Blaine quotes her favourite poet, having seen the book of poems by her bed. How the heck people remember entire poetry books is beyond me. I penned a book of poetry and if someone quoted one of my own poems at me I’m not sure I would realise. 

They get on to the subject of family again. This gives Blaine another chance to tug at the emotional heartstrings, telling Sophie how his family never understood him and treated him poorly. 

Somewhat ominously, they all died in a fire. It was only his Cinderella-like treatment – he was made to sleep in the shed – that saved his life. Right…

The next day, Sophie is a little perturbed to find Blaine massaging her mother’s arm. She needs to speak with her mother. The ingredients order is wrong, several items are missed off. She is sure she ordered everything.

Sandra tells her she will have to sort it out. Sophie and Blaine are left alone. She confronts him about his closeness to her mother. He tells her he just wants her to like him. 

That evening, Sandra returns home late. She tells Sophie that she will have to take on more responsibility. Sophie goes to visit Blaine. Blaine tricks her into giving him her phone’s passcode. The woman’s an idiot. 

Blaine sings a song to Sophie, telling her he wrote it especially for her. He barely gets through the first chorus and Sophie throws herself at him. She wakes to find herself alone in his bedroom. 

She sees an old book and begins flicking through it. The newspaper clipping about her and her mother opening the bakery is in the book. Blaine comes back into the bedroom and grabs the book.

He tells her that people looking through his things trigger him because his sisters used to do the same to get at him. Why has he got clippings of her? He admires them. Okay then. Later in the day, Blaine gifts Sophie a pendant. It is their three month anniversary, a little juvenile but different strokes…

Sophie wants to tell her mother about their relationship but Blaine says he wants to just keep it between them. Sandra is displeased at Sophie’s recent tardiness. The two exchange terse words. Blaine sneaks into the store’s office and begins photographing the cake recipes. He is caught by Sophie. He tells her he wanted to surprise her. 

Sandra thinks Sophie is keeping something from her as she has been secretive of late. Sophie gives the most adolescent answer ever, telling her that she is an adult and needs her privacy. 

The two come to an amiable accord, Sandra agreeing to treat her idiot daughter more like an adult. Sophie tells Blaine that they need to tell her mother. Blaine warns her that if they tell her mother their relationship will end. 

Sophie tells him that her mother cannot stop their relationship. Blaine tells her that her mother sees him as a potential mate and shows her a photo she sent. Like mother, like daughter, there is provocative shoulder aplenty. 

Blaine says he will have to leave. Sophie, emotion overriding the little intelligence she has, begs him to stay. Even just as a friend. Blaine agrees to stay around. As a friend but he will never stop loving her.

Later, Sophie is woken by her mother crashing into the house late. She has been seeing someone. Who? She does not want to say. It might jinx it. 

The next day, Sophie tell her mother she wants to get together with her. Sandra tells her she is busy but they will get together the next evening. Sophie follows her mother on her evening out. 

She goes to Blaine’s home. Sophie confronts them. How long have they been seen one another? A few months. She does not let on to her mother about her relationship with Blaine. She leaves them. 

Blaine goes after her, gaslighting her, saying he was destroyed after their breakup and found solace in the arms of her mother. An explanation every woman longs to hear. Sandra tells Ange, a woman who is so ‘team Sandra’ that Sophie should be worrying about her safety, that Sophie saw them together. She thinks she should split up with Blaine. 

Ange says not to worry about it, Sophie will come around. Sandra deserves happiness. Sandra, who still loves her daughter more than a travelling musician, goes home to talk with her daughter. 

Sophie, in true telenovela style – always keeping secrets – does not tell her mother about her and Blaine. 

Blaine messages Sophie and tells her to come and see him. Blaine tries to convince Sophie that he can be with both of them. Sophie says she is going to tell her mother. She will show her the messages. 

Blaine tells her there are no messages. She will tell him anyway. Blaine grabs her violently and forces her to promise not to say anything. Sophie promises.

In the store, Blaine comes in with Sandra in tow, greeting a subdued Sophie. He is going to play a special song for her. The song is the same one he played to Sophie. She puts Blaine on a live stream.

After closing, Blaine proposes to Sandra. Ange, – team Sandra! Rah! Rah! Rah! – is an ordained minister and agrees to marry them. Sophie is in the back office, trying to find information about Blaine. 

Blaine comes into the back office to threaten her some more. He tells her that he is marrying her mother at the weekend. 

Sophie goes and finds Penny. Penny tells her that Blaine seduced both her and her sister. When she found out she told her sister but her sister just disappeared, leaving a note behind. 

Apparently, her sister was her best friend. Really? Not close enough for her to realise that the note was not in her handwriting. He also stole their songs, all his supposed music being the sisters. 

Sophie, smart enough to work out how to find out about Blaine but not clever enough not to confront him, gets caught by Blaine. He knocks her unconscious and stuffs her in a duffle back. Into the river with her! 

He steals her mobile. Though how he plans to open it again is anyone’s guess considering he used her fingerprint the last time. 

He returns to Sandra. She is worried about Sophie and sends her a message. The phone buzzes from Blaine’s pocket. He tells Sandra that it is a football score notification. She believes him. Love makes you dumb. 

The next morning, Sophie has survived. Yes, she has. It is the wedding day but Sandra does not think she should get married without her daughter present. Blaine persuades her that she needs to go for what she wants. Sandra’s love addled brain agrees.

A dishevelled Sophie, flags down a car and the driver (Ryan Boyko) lets her use his phone. She calls her mother. As it is an unknown number, Sandra ignores it. Sophie asks the driver to take her home. 

In her home, she sees Ange. Where is her mother? Upstairs. Sophie tells Ange that Blaine’s dangerous. Blaine appears in the kitchen. She tells Ange to run but Blaine knocks Ange out with a candlestick holder. She runs to her mother and tells her that Blaine tried to kill her. Blaine tries to convince Sandra that Sophie is crazy.

Blaine is frantic at the notion of Sandra choosing her daughter over him. He attacks Sophie. Sandra hits him with a heavy ornament, knocking him unconscious. 

Sometime later, mother and daughter are in the bakery and Penny is singing her song – the one Blaine stole – for the patrons. The end. 

Final thoughts: Lethal Love is so much hokum. The acting is serviceable and the performances, direction and setting are good enough for this made-for-tv-esque movie. 

Written by Heather Taylor and Directed by Avi Federgreen, Lethal Love is a slightly farfetched movie, let down by a piss poor conclusion. 

Like many Netflix/made-for-tv efforts, the characters are inexplicably stupid. I suppose that is half the fun of the films. The problem is when you tack on such an underwhelming climax, it brings down the entire film. 

The actors work gamely with the material. Unfortunately, with an eighty-seven-minute runtime, Taylor’s script wastes time on songs and red herrings – why did he mess up the cake ingredient order? – when a more exaggerated conclusion could have elevated this film from its IMDB four-point-six to a solid six. 

Lethal Love is not an unwatchable mess but it is eye-rollingly stupid in parts and I cannot recommend taking ninety minutes out of your day to watch it. Meh.

Love Hard – review

Brief synopsis: an LA writer of a popular dating column about her failed internet dating life, falls for a man from Lake Placid, NY, in the run-up to Christmas. She decides to surprise him with a surprise visit for the holidays only to find that she has been catfished. 

Is it any good?: if you enjoy a Christmas rom-com, you will love Love Hard. With a sparkling script and a modern story that both pokes fun whilst simultaneously showing deference to other rom-coms and Christmas films, Love Hard is a rom-com with heart and wit. Lovely. 

Spoiler territory: Natalie Bauer (Nina Dobrev) is an LA columnist who writes about her eventful dating adventures. Dating via an online dating app, Natalie is jaded about the dating scene and feels deflated by the chicanery of online dating profiles.

Kerry (Heather McMahan ), a work colleague and friend, explains to her that not only is she the commonality in all of her dates but her refusal to date outside of LA is restricting her options. Natalie’s pushy boss, Lee (Matty Finochio), wants to know when her next article will be ready. 

Natalie wants to get away from her miserable dating life and write something more wholesome. Lee is not entertaining that notion, telling her to keep writing what the readers want. He states everybody’s miserable. 

At home, Natalie puts up her Christmas tree and settles down in her apartment for another night of single-dom. 

She swipes through her dating app, dismissing a slew of unsuitable candidates. She comes across the profile of Josh. Handsome guy with an appealing bio. They begin exchanging messages. 

She tells Kerry about him and shows her his profile. Kerry is a little sceptical. The profile could be fake or the photos old. She should call him and get an up-to-date photo of him. Natalie is reluctant to call him, so Kerry grabs her phone and does it for her. Josh sends a current photo of himself that matches his profile. 

The message exchange romance continues with the two getting closer. Natalie laments the distance between them, with her living on the West coast and him on the East. 

He tells her he wishes they could spend Christmas together. Their messaging is interrupted by her boss. He wants her next story, when can he expect it? 

She tells him she thinks she might have met someone. Lee is not interested. He wants her to keep dating internet losers. 

Natalie tells him that she plans to fly across the country and meet up with the man for the first time. On hearing this, Lee, convinced that the meeting is a disaster in the making, gives it his blessing. 

Natalie flies to Lake Placid. The trip does not begin well, with her losing her luggage as soon as she gets there. She takes a taxi to Josh’s home. 

The taxi ride is eventful, with Natalie refusing the multitude of snacks offered to her by E-Rock (Fletcher Donovan), the driver. He offers her kiwi slices. She is highly allergic to kiwi, so politely declines. 

They arrive at Josh’s home. The house is covered in Christmas decorations. She nervously approaches the house. She is greeted by Josh’s stepmother, Barb (Rebecca Staab). 

Barb welcomes her into the home. Josh is not home but she can meet the rest of the family. Josh’s father, Bob (James Saito) and his grandmother, June (Takayo Fischer). 

Josh arrives home and Natalie meets him for the first time. Josh (Jimmy O Yang) looks very different from his photos. A shocked Natalie leaves the house, Josh following after her. 

They argue outside, him apologising for fooling her but questioning the fact she would decide to visit a person she has never met as a surprise. A furious Natalie leaves, going to the local bar. 

In the bar, Natalie sees the person who she thought was Josh. He is Tag (Darren Barnet) and is a popular guy in the town. 

Natalie calls Kerry and tells her that she has been catfished but the guy who she thought was Josh does live in Lake Placid. Kerry tells her to approach him. Natalie decides she is going to perform a karaoke song to impress Tag. 

She steals a couple of shots that a girl had ordered to give herself courage. Unfortunately, the shots have kiwi in them. Her face, unbeknownst to her, bloats, reacting to the kiwi. 

Josh, who had followed her to the bar, watches as she scares the bar’s patrons with her exuberant performance and bloated, Halloween face. Natalie catches a reflection of her face in a mirror and rushes out of the bar. 

Josh follows her out as her allergy causes her to pass out. He takes her to the local veterinary hospital, the doctor, Foye (Debbie Podowski), helps her. Allergy under control and conscious, Josh asks Natalie to pretend to be his girlfriend in the run-up to Christmas.

In exchange, he will help her get together with Tag. Natalie reluctantly agrees, the pressure of needing to submit an article reinforced by a message from Lee. 

After an awkward breakfast with the family, Natalie and Josh’s plan begins. He takes her to the local clothing store that his family runs. Tag is picking up an order there that morning. Josh tells her that Tag is a real outdoorsy person and loves climbing. 

He introduces Tag to Natalie, telling him that Natalie is his cousin on his stepmother’s side. Tag invites Natalie climbing. She agrees but later tells Josh that she cannot climb. 

Josh is confident that he can give her enough pointers to survive the date, even though Natalie is fearful of heights. 

Later that evening, Natalie sees a box of candles. She asks Josh about it. He, a little embarrassingly, tells her he makes candles with a masculine scent. It is his passion. Why doesn’t he start a business? 

Josh says his father would scoff at the notion and his brother would ridicule him. She did not know he had a brother. Josh’s brother arrives at the house to much fanfare. 

In the main house, Josh’s brother, Owen (Harry Shut Jr.) and his partner, Chelsea (Mikaela Hoover) have come for Christmas. Josh is brash and confident. He and Chelsea are surprised to see that not only does Josh have a girlfriend, but she is also attractive. 

The family and Natalie gather together to decorate the tree. The next day, Natalie and Josh meet Tag at the climbing centre. She goes into a panic when she sees the size of the climbing walls. Josh helps her through the ordeal. 

Tag, oblivious to Natalie’s panic, invites her out again. Natalie goes out with the family carol signing. Owen and Chelsea take centre stage, really showing off. Natalie and Josh momentarily take the spotlight with a reworked rendition of Baby It’s Cold Outside. Owen and Chelsea, decide to announce they are having a baby. 

Josh, taking advice that Natalie had given him about not letting Owen steal the spotlight, proposes to Natalie. Not wanting to embarrass him, she accepts. 

She calls Kerry to lament her situation but gets no valuable advice. The next day, Tag takes her bobsleighing. Natalie has to get high to get through the date, because of her fear of bobsleighing. 

In the evening, the family sit down to watch Love Actually, a film Natalie dislikes preferring another Christmas classic, Die Hard. 

Barb excitedly tells everybody that Natalie and Josh’s engagement announcement is going into the local newspaper the next day. The next morning, Josh and Natalie race around the town, stealing all the copies of the newspaper. 

Natalie checks out Josh’s original dating profile. It is a little off-putting, to say the least. She tells him that he needs to promote his strong points as opposed to creating a profile he thinks people want. 

Vegetarian Natalie has another date with Tag. It is at his family’s steakhouse restaurant. Josh challenges her, asking if she is prepared to lie even against her principals. 

Natalie takes umbrage, especially as the only reason she is there is because of his fake profile. Owen sees Natalie out with Tag. 

Natalie is surprised to find out that Tag does not celebrate Christmas. He thinks it is too commercial and a scam. He gives her a goodbye kiss. Natalie is not overly enamoured by the kiss. 

Natalie tries to talk to Josh about their disagreement the next morning. They are interrupted by June who wants them to come and tell an elderly group about online dating. 

After the meeting, June disappears down the road, Josh and Natalie hurrying after her, worried that she is getting lost. She disappears into the steakhouse. 

Josh and Natalie go into the steakhouse and are surprised to see the entire town are there to celebrate their engagement. The family have even invited her boss. 

Tag still does not know that Josh and Natalie are the engaged couple. He introduces his parents to Natalie, who remark on how he never introduces his girlfriends. 

Bob gets everybody’s attention, about to give a congratulatory speech. Natalie interrupts him and confesses to the relationship being a sham and pretending to like the same things as Tag to get with him. 

Back at the Lin house, Natalie has left. The family console Josh. Bob sees Josh’s candles and is happy to support his dream to be a candlemaker. Natalie is unable to get a flight home and stays in the town’s lodge house. After a heart to heart with her boss, Natalie writes her article. 

In the morning, she gets an alert from the dating app. It is Josh’s new profile. Natalie goes and sees Josh and re-enacts the title card sequence from Love Actually to show her love for Josh. They kiss. The end. 

Final thoughts: Directed by Hernan Jimenez and written by Daniel Mackay and Rebecca Ewing, Love Hard is a sweet, heartwarming rom-com. With Dobrev ably taking on the mantle of lovelorn wordsmith Natalie and a sparkling script that all the actors commit to, the story bumps along nicely. 

With Jimmy O Yang playing Josh and Darren Barnet as the movie-star-looks Tag, it is Yang’s Josh everyman that tickles the heartstrings and has you rooting for the romance. 

Shying away from the easy path of making Barnet’s Tag a bit of a cad or narcissist, Mackay and Ewing fashioned a story that feels more realistic, having the personalities be what attracts instead of just marrying up two beautiful people. 

Shum Jr’s Owen is put forward as a perfunctory villain but ultimately, he only cares about the wellbeing of his less confident brother. Like all good and classic romcoms, Love Hard is about the central protagonist finding out about themselves. In this regard, Love Hard hits all the right notes as well as being a feel-good Christmas film. Nice.

Hypnotic – review

Brief synopsis: Reeling from the trauma of stillbirth and the breakup of a long term relationship, a woman finds her life spiralling into depression. She is convinced by her best friend to see a hypnotherapist. Initially, the sessions yield good results. Then strange things start happening. 

Is it any good?: Hypnotic begins promisingly but quickly descends into a lazy mess. An interesting, though in no way new or unique premise, is used in the most uninspiring fashion. Utilising the obsessive/possessive troupe, Hypnotic becomes a plodding chore, losing the drive and promise of the opening scenes by the midway point. Disappointing. 

Spoiler territory: Andrea Bowen (Stephanie Cudmore) is alone in her office late into the evening. Peeking nervously through her office blinds. Somebody is watching her. She calls a police detective but gets his answer machine. 

She leaves her office and heads to the elevator. She is still nervous and panicky as she steps into the elevator. She gets an anonymous caller. I don’t know about you but I never answer anonymous calls. Andrea however, does. The caller tells her this is how the world ends. 

Andrea goes into a full-blown panic and feels the walls of the elevator closing in on her. That is the last we see of Ms Bowen. 

Jenn Tompson (Kate Siegel) arrives for her friends’, Gina (Lucie Guest) and Scott Kelman (Luck Roderique), housewarming. She apologises to an apprehensive Gina for her tardiness. She also apologises for drinking the bottle of wine she was going to bring them, offering up a frankly pathetic, dying plant instead. 

Gina is a little flustered. She had been trying to contact her because Brian (Jaime M Calllica) is at the party. Awkward. She did not think that Jenn was going to come. Ever the aspiring alcoholic, Jenn says she needs a glass of wine. 

Inside the new home, Jenn comforts herself with a glass of wine. She exchanges furtive glances with ex-fiancé, Brian. 

Truthfully, their housewarming looks like the most staged event ever, the home overflowing with people. It is more of a house showing-off. 

Anyhoo, ever the gracious host and good friend, Gina introduces Jenn to Dr Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara). She is gushing in praise of the good doctor – always a red flag – and encourages Jenn to go and see him. Jenn is not overly keen on the idea of therapy, preferring to wallow in her drunken depression. 

A little later, Gina, Scott, Jenn and Brian are sitting around a table chatting. Brian’s career is going really well. He is a software engineer and is explaining his new project when Brian, rudely, interrupts the conversation to ask about Jenn’s life and career. A reticent Jenn tells him she is between jobs. Unemployed. 

Brian goes to eat one of the hor d’oeuvres Gina and Scott had provided and is stopped by Jenn. The snack contains sesame, something Brian is extremely allergic to. Damn that Jenn! Thwarting Gina and Scott’s murderous plan! Brian seems nonplussed that his supposed friends were serving him life-threatening snacks. 

As the party wraps up, Jenn is still hugging a wine bottle and never-empty glass. Dr Collin gives her his card and tells her to call him. Outside the house, Brian thanks Jenn for saving his life. She is waiting for an Uber. 

They have a stilted, cryptic conversation, the kind only people who know one another can have. Brian offers to take her home. Jenn is reluctant, wary of her feelings. He tells her it is just a lift. She accepts the offer. 

In the morning, she wakes up to find a note from Brian on her pillow. It was the booze! Of course it was…She meets up with Gina and confesses her weakness of succumbing to Brian’s barely-made-an-effort game. Gina, ever the cheerleader for Dr Meade, advises her to go and see the therapist. 

Jenn, somewhat coerced by her enthusiastic friend, goes to see the doctor. In the spartan reception area of the doctor’s office, Jenn encounters another one of his patients, Tabby (Devyn Dalton). The slightly off-kilter Tabby gushes about the doctor’s abilities and how they have helped her. 

Jenn goes into Dr Collin’s somewhat cold office space. The doctor greets her. He is feeding his fish and remarks the having fish can be calming. I assume he means as a pet, not as part of one’s diet. 

He begins the session. He finds out that the crux of Jenn’s issues. She had been pregnant with her fiancé, Brian’s, child. The child had been stillborn six months into the term. 

Meade asks her if she had ever tried hypnotherapy. Jenn says she does not like the thought of being out of control. The fear of making monkey sounds every time you hear a bell is real! The good doctor assures her that she is the only one who can control her subconscious mind. He does not laugh manically. He should but resist the temptation. 

Jenn, at the end of her resistance in life anyway, agrees to be hypnotised. The session goes well and Jenn keeps up the sessions for a few months, getting her life together and finding employment. 

Jenn and Gina meet up, Jenn updating Gina about her life. Gina asks her if she is still seeing Meade for sessions. Jenn tells her twice a week for the past few months. 

Gina complains that she only saw him twice for sessions. No hypnotherapy. She wishes he would deal with her phobia of spiders. Be careful of what you wish for…

Jenn dreams of the doctor that night. They are in bed together. He caresses and tells her she is perfect. The next day, Jenn bumps into Dr Collin in the mall. Alarms bells? No…he invites her for coffee. 

Jenn asks him about himself. He had been married but his wife died. He tells her about his mentor, Doctor Sullivan. 

He changes the subject, asking how her relationship with Brian is. She is avoiding him, fearful of the feelings she would have to face. The doctor advises her to invite him over for dinner. Jenn is not so sure but follows the doctor’s suggestion. 

On the way to the supermarket, Jenn listens to a message from Brian accepting her invitation. She gets a call from an anonymous number. Answering the call, she falls into a trance. 

She snaps out of the trance and finds herself at home sitting at the dinner table. She hears someone choking in her bathroom. 

She goes into the bathroom and finds Brian on the floor, gasping for air. She gets him to the hospital. Gina comes to see her. Jenn tells her that she cannot remember anything about the evening. 

At her next session, Meade asks about Brian. He is in a coma. Jenn thinks it might be her fault. Meade gaslights her, babbling on about ego and the battle against fear. She needs to trust him. Okay. That night, she has a dream-cum-memory about Meade again. 

Troubled by the dream, Jenn goes to the kitchen for a glass of water. She finds the receipt from her trip to the supermarket, the last thing she remembered before waking up at the dinner table. The receipt triggers her memory. She remembers cooking with sesame seed oil. 

A troubled Jenn researches the good doctor. She finds out about Andrea Bowen, a former patient, and reads some worrying articles about the dark side of hypnotism. She goes to see Gina to voice her concerns. Gina does not buy it. She is team Meade all the way. 

Jenn believes that Collin could be using his hypnotherapy sessions nefariously. Gina, – team Meade! Rah! Rah! Rah! – thinks she is being ridiculous. Jenn shows her multiple articles addressing the same subject. Gina is a little more open to the possibility of something murky about her favourite doctor. 

They both go to see detective Wade Rollins (Dule Hill). Rollins worked on the case of Andrea Bowen. Jenn tells him that she has had strange happenings, believing they may be connected to her sessions with doctor Meade. Rollins tells them that he interviewed Meade. The investigation was halted shortly afterwards. 

He shows them the CCTV of Andrea Bowen freaking out in the lift. Not very professional. He advises that they stay away from Meade. They leave the detective’s office. 

Gina is worried. She had spoken about Jenn in her last session with Meade. She had also been hypnotised. 

Jenn decides to arrange a session with Meade, planning to record the session on her phone. 

His interest piqued by the visit from the two women, Rollins investigates similar deaths and finds that all the victims look similar. All were former patients of Meade and had undergone hypnotherapy.

After the session, Jenn is listening to the recording she made. Meade knows what she has done and that they were at the police station. Realising that Gina is in danger, she calls her friend. Gina is driving with Scott in the car. She is expecting a business call. Jenn calls trying to tell her that Meade knows they are looking at him. 

Jenn’s call cuts out. Gina receives another call. It is Meade. He tells her this is how the world ends. Gina falls into a trance. She believes a tarantula is crawling on her. Scott, the poor guy, has no idea what is happening. Gina, petrified by the tarantula, that only she can see, floors the accelerator. They get hit by a truck and killed. 

Rollins goes to see Meade. He tells him that Gina and Scott died in a car accident. She had been a patient of his. Had he given her any hypnotherapy sessions? Just one. Their last session. The doctor offers Rollins a hypnosis session. Rollins declines, pointing out that he only works his hypnotherapy on female clients. The doctor tells him he would make an exception. 

Rollins visits Jenn. He believes Gina’s death was caused by Meade. He is a detective after all. He leaves her with files on the other cases. There is another knock on the door. Jenn opens the door thinking it is Rollins. 

It is Meade. He causes Jenn to freeze with a hypnotic command. Yes, really. 

Meade proceeds to lay out his plans to her, wittering on like the crazy, control freak he is. He explains that all of his extreme acts are for her. Meade leaves. Jenn immediately rings Rollins and gets his voicemail. 

Rollins gets home and settles down for the evening. He hears a sound in his apartment. A knife-wielding Tabby attacks him. She slashes at him and when he disarms her, bites him. Rollins eventually overcomes her, killing her with a blow. 

Jenn visits him in the hospital the next day. She tells Rollins that she wants to get hypnotised by another therapist to perhaps help her recall what happens in sessions with Meade. She goes and sees doctor Stella Graham (Tanja Dixon-Warren). 

Dr Stella gives her a version of the ‘with great power come great responsibility’ speech, pointing out that hypnotherapy can be used for good or bad. Thank you, Sherlock. 

She tells her that she will put her under for a gentle session. Stella begins and asks Jenn about her sessions with Meade. Jenn begins choking. 

She recalls an address and fragments of memories with Meade. Stella snaps her out of the trance. Stella tells her that Meade planted some fail-safe suggestions in her mind to prevent the sort of thing that they were attempting. 

Stella is not confident that she can combat Meade’s auto-suggestions but she might be able to create a fail-safe override herself. Jenn decides to follow a memory after finding some research about an old CIA program that Meade’s supposed mentor was a part of. 

The program was a series of experiments exploring the possibility of planting false memories in peoples minds. 

Jenn tells Rollins that she going to the address, even as he advises against it. At the remote house – of course, it is remote – Jenn searches for doctor Sullivan. She sees a picture of a dark-haired woman hugging Meade. The woman looks like her. Meade startles her, standing behind her as he points out how beautiful his wife was. 

The house is his, left to him by his father, the now-deceased doctor Sullivan. Oops. Meade puts Jenn into a trance. 

Rollins, who had run some fingerprints from a spoon he had lifted from Meade’s office, gets the results. They are for a Julian Sullivan. That’s the same name as the other doctor! He tries to contact Jenn but gets her voicemail. Rollins gets out of his hospital bed. 

Jenn wakes up in the therapist office. She calls Rollins and tells him what he already knows; Meade is a Sullivan. Truthfully, Rollins should be embarrassed that it took four murders, – nope five, can’t forget Scott – for them to find Meade’s true identity, especially as he as in the system!

Jenn tells him that she is in Meade’s office. Rollins sends a SWAT team to the offices of Meade. Meanwhile, Meade is, once again, boring Jenn with his story and recounting the first time he saw her. 

Rollins is racing to the offices. The SWAT team are there already, preparing to enter the office. Meade wakes Jenn up. She is still in the house, the office scenario was all in her mind. 

Rollins is told that there is no one in the offices. Rollins gets the address of the Sullivan residence and races over there. In the Sullivan house, Jenn realises that Meade had planted memories he had with his deceased wife, Amy(Jessie Fraser), in her mind. Yeah, he did that. 

Meade has dressed up Jenn in the image of his deceased wife. She is unable to move due to his auto-suggestions. Rollins is racing to the house. Meade is still babbling sweet nothings and making plans for the future with the captive Jenn as Rollins enters the house. 

Meade hears him enter the house and leaves Jenn alone, forcing her to grip the bed frame. Rollins looks for Meade. Meade attacks him and they fight. Rollins loses his gun in the fight.

Jenn is struggling to break the trance that is keeping her in the bedroom. As they fight, Jenn breaks the trance and finds them. Meade is strangling Rollins. Rollins tells her to grab his gun. Meade shouts the sleep command and Jenn struggles to stay awake, picking up the gun. 

She points the gun at the fighting men and pulls the trigger. She wakes up with Rollins looking after her. He tells her it is all over and she is safe. he calls her ‘my love’. 

Doctor Stella had placed an auto-suggestion in her mind. It would let her see clearly if those words were uttered by Meade. Yes, she did! Jenn realises it is Meade, not Rollins. 

She escapes his grasp and finds Rollins. Meade pursues her, quickly finding her with Rollins. Rollins tells her has another gun in his ankle holster. Jenn kills Meade. 

One month later, Jenn is getting some sort of normality back in her life. Brian is still in a coma. She apologises to him for their relationship falling apart. She goes and sees Rollins. He has been promoted. She thanks him. Rollins gives her a hypnosis CD. What a comedian. The end. 

Final thoughts: directed by Matt Angel and Suzanne Coote and written by Richard D’Ovidio, Hypnotic is a good looking film and is competently directed. The script is quite good and almost makes up for the silly story. Almost. 

Mind control, hypnosis or remote possession has always been and will continue to be popular as a story element. The notion of being controlled by another is both the stuff of nightmares and dreams. 

Unfortunately, D’Ovidio’s story is too rushed, not allowing for any real buildup in tension. With a runtime of eighty-eight minutes, Hypnotic is not a long film but it is a little uneven. O’Mara’s Meade is the villain and fills the role comfortably but there is no subtlety in his villainy. 

Not that subtlety is necessary but the character and the speed at which he is accepted by the sceptical Jenn is not believable. The acting from all on show is good, with Lucie Guest particularly good as Gina, in a quite unforgiving role as the best friend. 

Unusually, the story, to its detriment, gives over almost half of its runtime to resolution. This affects the pacing and the emotional impact of the story, the set-up being too truncated for the viewer to care. 

Hypnotic is not a terrible film it is just a bit underwhelming. Hypnotic is watchable but by no means a must-watch. One you watch only if you watched all of your watchlist.

Britney Vs Spears – review

Hit Me Baby One More Time. Oops, I Did It Again. Toxic. Overprotected. I’m A Slave 4 U. (You Drive Me) Crazy. Stronger. These are some of the hits that propelled a teenage Britney Spears to global superstardom at the end of the nineties and into the early part of the new century. 

Less than twenty years on from her peak, it is difficult to express how famous Britney was at that time. She remains very famous and, though her musical output has slowed over the past decade or so, she is still enough of a name for a documentary on Netflix bearing her name, is something of an event. 

On Instagram, Spears has over thirty-five million followers, so she has obviously not been forgotten in the fallow years. In comparison, footballing superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, has ten times as many followers. 

Even the ‘famous for existing’ Kardashian/Jenner siblings all individually dwarf Spears’ account for followers, each one comfortably commanding over one hundred million followers. 

To put the above facts into perspective, The Kardashians came into public consciousness in 2007. Spears, who had gone global with her first single – Hit Me Baby One More Time – in 1998, had released seven albums by 2007. Spears had become a star before digital downloads became the norm, before the attention grab of multiple media outlets and platforms as the internet evolved.

None of this is alluded to in the documentary. Britney Spears is part of the last, dying breed of proper global superstars. There are still artists who become famous but few, especially with the fast-paced, disposable need-for-new, internet social media age we live in, maintain that career-high over decades. 

In the documentary by Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu, Britney Vs Spears, they look at the court battle of Britney to wrest control of her life, career and finances from her father, James. 

Her father had a conservatorship imposed on her through the courts, sighting her supposed inability to manage any aspect of her life competently as reasoning. 

Unfortunately, a subject with great scope for exploration and intrigue, suffers from being a bit of a fawning, fan-made exercise, with Carr and Eliscu’s bias towards the star achingly obvious. 

Told in a mix of documentary styles, employing film footage, voiceovers, hearsay and interviews, the filmmakers also take the odd decision to add themselves into the documentary, reading various accounts of happenings and snippets from redacted documents. 

The lack of impartiality, with Britney portrayed as a bit of damsel-in-distress, weakens the film, having the effect of bringing out the cynic in the non-Britney fan. Even the most myopic Spears fan would challenge the one-sidedness of this documentary. 

The makers ask pointed questions to a raft of slightly reticent interviewees, hamfistedly trying to coerce support of the notion of a Britney under, a somewhat, draconian dictatorship. 

This alleged dictatorial conservatorship is supported by the legal system and enforced by her father. It truly is the stuff of telenovelas, only not as entertaining. 

Truthfully, the documentary sheds very little light on the conservatorship. Much of what is shown, is little more than an interested party could have gleaned from the press or, especially in these highly informed times, the internet. 

Lee Carr, who instigated the documentary as the filmmaker, says she spent two years putting it together. Eliscu, for her part as a music journalist, says that she was not into Spears music and knew very little about her as an artist. After meeting her, Eliscu liked her immensely and always enjoyed interviewing her. 

It is not as though I feel they should be trying to destroy Spears’ reputation. After all, a vociferous press has spent more than a decade documenting and exposing her every foible and misstep, relishing her discomfort and misery. 

The issue is, if one is selling a documentary, which by its very nature should be factual and, where possible, impartial, Britney Vs Spears fails. 

That Carr claims to have been making it for two years does not bode well either, given the bias and paucity of storytelling. The film seems to be told with a handbrake on, due to possible legal ramifications, something hinted at towards the end of the film. 

I suspect that the use of musical footage was probably prohibitively expensive, with any musical clips ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ brief. Most of the Britney footage is from the news, showing her multiple encounters with the press and various partners. 

It is a little haphazard, with the film trying to paint her father, James, as the villain. It is not an entirely surprising or, sadly, unusual story of those who should be looking after a star’s interest, benefitting and taking advantage of their privilege. What makes the film fail is the expectation. 

The title sets up a battle. What one expects is a little history. How the opposing sides, father and daughter, came to their positions. The public deterioration of Britney. Her family and friends reaction to it. Maybe, showing her father’s reasoning, no matter how flimsy, behind deciding to implement such an extreme measure. 

Unfortunately, as I said earlier, the people interviewed say so little that one is forced to fill in ominous blanks, something I suspect the filmmaker might have been aiming for. It is a misstep. 

Britney Vs. Spears should have been a compelling and, hopefully, illuminating insight into an unusual situation. Instead, it is a patchy and frustrating film, leaving more questions than answers. 

Fatale – review

Brief synopsis: a successful married sports agent’s life is thrown into turmoil after he has a one-night stand in Las Vegas. Returning home after his trip to Vegas, he gets assaulted in his home one night. The detective looking into his case turns out to be the same person he had a one-night stand with. 

Is it any good?: Fatale is too many stories rolled into one. It has elements of Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Strangers on a Train, plus a bit of The Fugitive thrown in to add to the confusion. I have watched telenovelas with fewer stories going on than in this film. Fatale is a confusing mess of a film with no story thread making sense. 

That Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and Golden Globe nominee Michael Ealy are in this, tells you more about the paucity of good roles in the present production landscape than anything else. 

Spoiler territory: sports agent Derrick (Michael Ealy) is hosting a small gathering with his wife, Tracie, (Damaris Lewis), a realtor, his business partner, Rafe (Mike Colter) and Rafe’s partner, Micaela (Kali Hawk). Everyone seems very relaxed except for Tracie, who is a little cold towards her husband. And snappy, definitely snappy. 

The next day, Derrick is going away to Las Vegas but he tells Tracie that he can cancel the trip as he wants to work on their relationship. She tells him not to. She does not mind if he goes. The ice is not thawing on her anytime soon. Derrick heads off. 

In Vegas, Derrick is worrying about his relationship and tells Rafe. Rafe, the best shady friend ever, tells him he needs to relax and enjoy Vegas. Rafe takes Derrick’s wedding ring off of him and tells him to go and enjoy himself. 

Derrick wanders over to the bar. Whilst at the bar he ogles a woman dancing. She comes to the bar and is immediately hit on by a guy (Johann Sebastian). She gives him short shrift, quickly rejecting his advances. 

She is more comfortable with Derrick and smiles at him, asking him why he is there. He tells her he is at a bachelor party. It is not his. He is not accustomed to chatting with women. He’s married. The woman continues to flirt with him. 

He asks her if she is with a group. No, she rolls alone. Derrick mentions the fact that he is married but the music is too loud and she does not hear him. He loses his nerve. Telling the truth can be particularly difficult for men when talking to beautiful women. 

She tells him her name is Val (Hilary Swank). Derrick lies – he’s all in now – telling her his name is Darren. He is not overly creative. She repeats his name back to him, whilst simultaneously giving him the crazy eyes. 

The two of them dance for a bit before retiring to her hotel room for some bedroom gymnastics. Derrick wakes up the next day and eases out of the bed. As he is getting dressed, Val wakes up. He is searching for his mobile phone. Val tells him it is in the hotel safe but she cannot remember the combination. 

Her memory could be jogged with an encore performance from him. After obliging, he gets his phone back. He returns home and guiltily watches his wife sleeping. Back at the office, Derrick is visited by his cousin, Tyrin (Tyrin Turner). Tyrin has come to pick up some money because Derrick is wealthy and looks after him with cash handouts. 

Rafe comes into the office. He does not like Tyrin and does not think Derrick should let him come to the office. He does not try to hide his disdain, mocking Tyrin’s height to his face. A little bit rude. Tyrin leaves the partners to a meeting. 

Rafe wants to sell the company to a bigger agency. They can make millions. Derrick does not want to sell, he has no desire to work for somebody else. Rafe, who wants to be rich and work less, keeps pushing the idea of selling. 

Back at home, Derrick cooks a meal for his frosty wife. He wants to rekindle their relationship. Tracie thaws a little at his efforts. He is rewarded with more bedroom antics. Whilst she is on top of him, she hears a noise in the house. Derrick goes to investigate. 

Derrick has armed himself with a golf club and looks around the house. He is attacked by an intruder from behind. The intruder has a gun but seems to want to beat him up rather than just shoot him. The two tussle around the kitchen, Derrick getting punched, kicked and smashed into furniture. Belatedly, the intruder tries to shoot him, having knocked him to the floor. 

Derrick hits him with the golf club and the intruder runs off. Tracie, who had been watching her husband taking a kicking, screams his name. Loudly. Derrick, for his part, advises her to do what she should have done in the first place and call the police. 

The police come and ask about the attack and the cameras around the property. Derrick tells them that the system does not work. What about the alarm? Tracie says she thought they put it on before going to bed. The officer says that a detective will take over their case. Derrick recognises the detective, Valerie Quilan. Val!

Derrick, who is understandably nervous, stutters as Val plays with him, asks him if she has met him before. Tracie helpfully interjects that he is a well-known sports agent. Val acknowledges that that is where she might have seen his face. She keeps up the mental pressure on Derrick, taking Tracie aside to look at the bedroom. 

In the bedroom, Val asks Tracie the frankly ludicrous question, which side of the bed does she sleep on. Tracie thinks the question is odd but answers it anyway. Val sits on the bed and caresses the sheets. She asks if anyone wants to harm her husband as nothing in the house had been stolen. Tracie does not think so. They return to the lounge. Derrick is still nervous, something Val takes joy in pointing out. Val leaves a card with her contact information. 

In the morning, Carter Heywood (Danny Pino) is wheeling his chair-bound daughter, Haley (Oakley Bull), to the car. His wife (Lexa Gluck) is already at the car. As Carter is putting Haley into the car, his wife indicates Val, doing her best Horatio Caine NCIS: Miami impression, is leaning on a car down the road. Carter approaches her. 

He tells her she cannot be there – cannot and should not are two different things. Semantics. She wants access to her daughter. Carter is not particularly empathic, telling her she lost any right to access due to her drunken antics. Val tells him she has not had a drink since the accident. Oh, you mean the accident that paralysed your daughter? All’s forgiven then. 

Carter is not in a forgiving mood and has no intention of being so in the future. He tells Val she will never be a mother to Haley again. Val remembers being passed out on the bed and rising up in a stupor to see her daughter playing with her service revolver moments before it went off. 

Derrick goes to the station to see Val. He wants to know if she is going to expose him and to apologise for misleading her and lying. She tells him he is a very convincing liar, having told her his name was Darren Johnson in Las Vegas. The fact that she made a hard play for him and they exchanged no information after their hook up has no impact on her indignation. He fooled her! 

Derrick returns to work and googles Val. he reads about her messy divorce from Carter. Returning home, Val is there speaking to Tracie. She tells them she just wanted to see the house in the day. Val leaves. Shortly afterwards, Tracie leaves to go and show a house. Derrick returns to the office. 

Rafe thinks that Tyrin might have been the person who arranged the break-in. Derrick tells him about Val. Val gets more information about the break-in. There was no forced entry, whoever broke into the house knew how to get in. Rafe tells Derrick he is heading to the gym and asks him if he wants to come. Derrick declines continuing to look into Val. 

He leaves the office a little later, Val drives up and tells him to get in the car. She has new information about the case. Couldn’t phone him then? okay…Derrick gets into the car and they head to the beach. Why he would follow her to the beach I do not know. 

As they walk along the beach, Val gives him a telescope and tells him to look into a specific house. He sees Rafe and Tracie together. What if he had decided to join Rafe in the gym? Threesome? Anyhoo, Derrick is crushed. Val tells him she had a notion that Tracie might be cheating on him. She leaves him on the beach. Hope he’s got the Uber app. 

Val goes to see Carter again to beg him to let her see Haley. Carter, a well connected political figure, smugly tells her that she has no chance of gaining custody. He is too well connected. Basically, he pokes the bear. 

Derrick is getting drunk at home and calls Val. She invites him over to her loft apartment. He is a brilliant driver, as he speeds over in his high powered sports car whilst the worse for drink. Val tells him that Rafe and Tracie are trying to kill him. He does not believe her. He is a lovesick fool. Val lays out the evidence for him. 

She tells him that they will try again. He needs to kill them first. Drunk and a little stupid, Derrick says that he feels he could in that moment. Val, who really enjoyed their coitus in Vegas, takes advantage of his emotional state to get a little more Derrick. He finishes and staggers off. 

Early the next morning, Derrick is woken by the police. He is taken to the police station. Val comes and sees him in the interview room. She asks him if he did it. She knows he did not but she is a crazy bitch. He has no idea what she is talking about. She shows him crime scene photographs. Rafe and Tracie are dead, murdered. 

Val brings up his colourful past, how his cousin Tyrin took the fall for him so as he could take up a basketball scholarship. Val continues to push the narrative of an emotional and angry Derrick going back to the beach house and killing Rafe and Tracie. They found his wedding ring at the scene. 

The press has a field day with Derrick being a suspect in the murder of his wife and business partner. Derrick goes to the office. Only the receptionist (Hajin Cho), is there. Obviously needs the job. He sends her home. The business, unsurprisingly, starts to lose clients. 

Val comes to see Derrick at his wife’s wake. He realises that she killed them. She tells him he is about to be indicted. She leaves him to the wake. Derrick speaks with his mother (Denise Dowse). She tells him that she will always be there for him until the day she dies. It’s not like she could be there for him afterwards. 

She carries on spouting not at all inspirational bollocks and telling him he will always have his name. Doesn’t really matter if your name is tarnished and dog shit does it. Derrick tells Tyrin about Val and how she is behind everything. Tyrin says he can deal with it. Derrick does not want him to get involved. Tyrin is not one for listening. 

Val creeps into Carter’s house and spies on her daughter sleeping. She looks in on Carter and his wife. No security at his home then. Tyrin goes to see his guy, Bumpy (Compton Menace). They both go to see Val. At home, Derrick is having a nightmare, seeing himself being drowned by Val. 

Val gets blindsided by Bumpy, getting smashed in the back of the head. He drags her in front of Tyrin. Tyrin wants to know why she is hassling Derrick. Val starts to hyperventilate and choke, crying and pleading. Tyrin tells Bumpy to take her to the bathroom. Dumb thugs that they are, Val gets hold of a shotgun she has hidden in the ceiling and kills them both. 

Val calls Derrick and tells him to meet her at the beach house. At the beach house, she tells him she killed Tyrin in self-defence – which is kind of true. Derrick scuffles with her and grabs her gun. Val tells him that they can blame Tyrin for the murders. Derrick is pointing the gun at her. Val keeps talking, moving forward. He shoots her twice but…they are blanks! Haha! 

Val pulls out her gun. It does not have blanks in it. The gun he used was the murder weapon – obviously – and now it has his prints on it. She wants him to kill Carter Heywood. If he does that, she will give him back the gun and pin the murders on his dead cousin. 

Derrick returns home. His options are not good. He goes to intercept Carter, pulling the gun on him and trying to tell him that his ex-wife, Val, is trying to frame him. Carter, a complete dickhead and egomaniac, decides to fight the man with the gun. He gets killed for his hubris. 

Derrick goes to Val’s loft. He tells her that he went to warn Carter but ended up killing him. No idea why he would tell her that, it’s not like she is the most compassionate person. He is also sure that she will want to kill him, to tie up any loose ends. Val, sweetheart that she is, tells him he is pathetic – nice – and that he better take the evidenced and leave. 

She then tries to shoot him in the back. In the back! Derrick, anticipating her duplicity, pulls a gun and returns fire. She wounds him but he shoots her twice, putting her down. He checks her, taking the gun out of her hand. He goes to leave the apartment. He looks back and she is gone. 

She attacks him with a kitchen knife, hacking at him like a maniac. He shoots her in the chest. Before she dies, Derrick reveals that he taped her confessing to all of the crimes. He is vindicated. The end. 

Final thoughts: Fatale is a mishmash of films, with no real central story. It was supposed to be about Swank’s Val desperation to get her daughter back but her Training Day approach to police work completely overshadows that. 

Ealy’s Derrick is gullible and easily manipulated by everybody, even if ultimately, doing so proves to be bad luck as all his manipulators end up dead. Val’s desire for a one night stand and then her offence at finding out that he is married was a little silly. Did she expect to see him again? Of course not. 

Lewis’ Tracie had too little involvement in the story for her embittered wife angle to work, especially as she seemed to be the one who was miffed even before he had his one-night stand. Colter’s Mike was pitched just about perfectly and worked for what the film was trying to do but the rest of the story did not match the strength of that character. 

Written by David Loughery and directed by Deon Taylor, the film does look good and is well edited. Loughery’s script is pretty flat, most of the actors sounding as though they are just saying lines. Which they are. 

Swank is pretty entertaining as the crazy Val and Colter is good as the greedy and duplicitous Rafe. Even Ealy does okay with the material he has. The acting is good from all on show, to tell the truth, but the script is so poor that most of the characters are either underwritten or unconvincing. 

With a runtime of one hundred and two minutes, Fatale is not a long film and potters through its runtime pretty comfortably. Worth a watch if you like either of the leads otherwise you could probably give it a miss.

Deadly Illusions

Brief synopsis: A semi-retired writer hires a nanny-cum-help to look after her children when a business deal her husband invested in goes bad and she feels forced to accept a lucrative deal from her publisher. She takes on a nanny to help with household chores and looking after her children.

Suffering from writer’s block, she is unsure whether her mind is playing tricks on her or if the nanny is too wonderful to be true. 

Is it any good?: Um, no, not really. With a standard made-for-tv-esque title, Deadly Illusions is lazy and uninspired. It also does not seem to know what kind of film it is supposed to be. With echoes of Shutter Island, Misery and every made-for-television thriller ever made, Deadly Illusions mistakes a meandering pace for tension, tacking on a bonkers ending that is as confusing and underwhelming as the rest of the film. 

Spoiler territory: picturesque family, semi-retired author, Mary (Kristin Davis), husband, Tom (Dermot Mulroney) and their twins, Sam (Shylo Molina) and Alex (Marie Wagenman), are having breakfast before Tom leaves to go and do an unspecified job and the twins head to school. 

Mary, alone in the house, makes a great show of getting dressed, matching her outfit, shoes, jewellery and even spectacles. All very professional. She has a meeting with her agent, Kioki (Shawn Wu), in her house. She got spruced up for a meeting in her own home and does not even fancy her agent! 

Kioki turns up at the home with his new associate, Darlene (Abella Bala), who it turns out is the backbone Kioki does not have. They want Mary to write a sequel to her bestseller. Mary is happy to let a ghostwriter do it and just collect the cheques. Kioki takes out a contract offer that he hopes she will be interested in. 

The publishing company is going through a difficult period and need Mary to come to their rescue. Right. Mary feels blindsided. Kioki mislead her. She does not want to write, regardless of the offer. Just keep sending the cheques! 

Mary shows them the door. Kioki, the suck-up, bids her farewell with a peck on the cheek and assures her the cheques will keep coming. The ballsy and, frankly, couldn’t-give-a-shit about Mary’s reputation Darlene, tells her, with a few choice words, that she should help the little people, considering that there was a time when she was a struggling writer. 

Mary, heartless superstar and above such things, suggests she should be fired. She doesn’t get her fired, so she is not that powerful. Later, the picture-perfect family are sitting down to dinner as Tom returns from work. 

He sees the contract from Mary’s meeting and asks her about it. The advance is substantial and Tom thinks she should consider it. Mary thinks they should have dinner. Later, Tom shows her he is still a stud between the sheets, satisfying her to such an extent that she has to have a cigar on the balcony post-coital. 

On the balcony, Tom’s true reasoning for his exemplary efforts comes to light. He made a bad deal six months before and wiped out half of their savings. Mary is pissed. He promised he would never do it again. He promised! Tom goes back to bed. 

The next day, Mary is at the gym with her best friend, Elaine (Shanola Hampton). She is telling her about the deal she has been offered. Elaine asks if she is going to take up the deal? Mary is not sure. She turns into a different person when she is writing. The Hulk? Mrs Hyde? 

Elaine tells her it can help her take her life in a different direction, to do stuff she wants to do – whatever the heck that means. Elaine tells her she needs a full-time sitter. What? Why? Her kids are at school during the day…anyhoo, Mary is not so sure. 

She did not spend thousands of dollars to have them – she is a little bit beyond child-rearing age so one assumes she is referring to IVF treatments, though she could be talking about buying them. It’s not clear. – so as someone else could bring them up. Elaine is insistent, giving her a battered business card, one would think she was getting a commission. 

Mary asks why she does not use them. Mary tells she cannot afford them and they only take on certain types of client. Elaine is a black woman, so that could be definitely interpreted as…classist? Anyhoo, broke-ass Elaine only works three days a week but if she worked full-time, she would use them. If they would take her. 

Elaine, saleswoman of the year, carries on pushing the notion of a sitter, telling Mary that the girls they recruit come from the best Ivy League schools and speak multiple languages. Sounds all-white – sorry – alright to me! Mary is sold.

Mary goes to the highly recommended – by Elaine – Huntsman Enterprises services and meets Angela (Ellen Humphreys), the owner of the business. Angela carries on the sales pitch, assuring Mary of the quality of her charges and their services. She offers to send over some potential candidates. Mary agrees. 

The next day, Mary interviews a slew of unsuitable candidates. If all of these girls are supposedly of high calibre, one shudders to think what the average nanny must be like. Mary contacts Tom to bemoan the quality of the interviewees. He thinks she might be being a little too picky but also, remembering that all of this shit is his fault, butters her up a bit, telling her she is the best mother and it would be impossible to replace her. 

Mary ends the call because she sees another girl arriving on a bicycle. Looking like a cross between a schoolgirl and bible student, with an above the knee A-line skirt, pop socks and pumps, Grace (Greer Grammer), sits reading as Mary prepares tea. Just a thought – did she prepare tea for every interviewee? That is a lot of tea! 

Mary and Grace bond over her love of books. Though Grace loves books, she has no idea who Mary is. Mary gets a call and excuses herself. Whilst she is on the phone, the children return from school. They are arguing. Grace pacifies them by telling them a story based on a drawing Sam has done. The drawing is kind of crappy. 

Mary ends her call and sends the children off to play as she concludes her meeting with Grace. Grace picks up another book and remarks about how she would borrow it if she saw it in a library. Mary says she thinks that she has another book that she would really like and takes her to another room.

Grace belatedly notices that Mary is quite an accomplished writer herself and is suitably overcome with the thought of being in the house of a famous author. Mary’s ego soothed by the recognition and fawning, immediately employs her, telling her she can start next week. Grace is giddy with happiness at being employed. Oh, to be young again…

The next week, Grace is looking after the children and some other random kid who I think is meant to be Elaine’s child but he looks Latin-American. Maybe he’s adopted? The kids want to go swimming and excitedly ask if they can. Grace says she will look after them. Mary tells Grace she can borrow one of her swimsuits. The pool, by the by, is in the back garden. Not so much going swimming as…swimming. 

By the pool, Elaine and Mary are cleaning…windows, yes, really, whilst Grace frolics in the pool with the children. Elaine notes the youthful Grace’s figure in the swimsuit. Mary, an attractive woman but in this harsh world, the wrong side of forty-five, dismisses Elaine’s comments. Tom returns from work and introduces himself to Grace, who is now smuggling peanuts in her swimsuit. 

Later, as Grace looks after the children, Tom takes advantage of her presence to grab a little naughty time with his spouse in the larder. Tom is a beast! 

As Grace puts the children to bed, Tom prepares dinner. He invites her to join them for dinner as she is leaving but Grace tells them that she thinks dinner is family time and leaves. 

The next day, Grace brings Mary tea – you would think this film was British with the amount of tea that gets served – she is still dressed like a naughty schoolgirl-cum-bible student. Mary turns her attention to writing. In the kitchen, Grace hears a crash and Mary screams out. She has broken a glass and cut her foot in the bathroom.

Grace takes care of her foot, putting a plaster on it. It is a supremely awkward watch. Mary, suffering from writer’s block after looking at a blank page for thirty seconds and slightly discombobulated by a glimpse of Grace’s raggedy bra, decides to take her shopping, because one would. They go shopping for bras. 

As Grace tries on different bras, Mary remarks on the perkiness of her breast and Grace espouses the fact that anyone would want bigger breasts. She places Mary’s hand on her breast. The store assistant pops her head into the changing room and disrupts the moment. Thank god! The two women return home with bags of clothing for Grace. Mary also tells her she can look at her old clothing. Very generous. 

After ogling Grace’s youthful body all day, Mary asks Tom if he thinks she should get plastic surgery. Tom, a man who has obviously played the Russian roulette of stupid questions that women ask, avoids the subject like a champ. The two begin to get amorous but are interrupted by the now ever-present Grace. 

It is the next day, Mary is still struggling with writer’s block. She lights a cigar and goes for a walk around her garden and pool area. She daydreams about Grace. Later in the day, she is having a meeting with suck up Kioki, Darlene the bitch and some other suit who remains nameless. They all have ideas about what direction the book should be heading in. Mary daydreams about Grace being provocative. 

The nameless suit guy yammers on about exploring darkness and taking the book in a new direction. Could they not have told the same shit to a ghostwriter? Mary meets up with Elaine at the gym. Elaine, who it turns out is her therapist, listens as she tells her about her feelings towards Grace. Elaine, possibly the world’s worst therapist, tells her to use her as her muse. 

Mary returns home and suggests to Tom they go out to dinner. The only problem is they did not book a sitter. Grace, of course, offers to stay late and look after the children. Tom and Mary go out. They meet up with Elaine and her partner, Rick (Cajardo Lindsey) at a charity dinner. Rick asks about the book. Mary tells him that she is having a hard time writing it.

He mentions that the fourth book in the series was his favourite, something Mary acknowledges is common amongst the readership. The only problem is she wrote it at a very dark time in her life and now her life is sunshine and roses. Rick, ignoring everything she has just told him, tells her she needs to lean into the darkness more. Everyone’s a writer and critic it seems…

Around the pool, Mary is writing and getting some sun. Ever the bringer of tea, Grace comes with a tray laden with the magical brew. Mary asks her to put some suncream on her back. Moments after Grace has put cream on her back – at her request – Mary jumps in the pool! How rude! Naked in the pool, Mary invites Grace to join her. 

After their tomfoolery by the pool, Mary takes them both into the house and gives the girl, who she has looking after her children, a drink whilst the two jump around to some pop-rock music. Mary falls asleep and awakens with dreams of Grace sucking her breast. 

Grace goes to a musical recital with the family. Mary takes her aside and tells her that they cannot repeat the antics of their day by the pool. Grace does not know what she is talking about. Mary takes her ignorance as understanding and says no more. Mary has a bath and another vivid dream. She imagines Grace pleasuring her in the bath. 

The next day, Mary is writing furiously, her writer’s block lifted. Grace and Tom keep the children occupied so as she can work. Tom takes the kids to school and Grace out for a bite to eat. Elaine sees him with Grace. At a diner, Grace surprises Tom with a different facet of her personality, mysterious and a little seductive. 

Back in the house, Mary is smoking a cigar. Grace dances in the car as Tom drives them back. Another day rolls around, Mary decides to take Grace out on a bike ride to celebrate completing her first draft. The two find a quiet spot by a lake and eat lunch. Mary reads poetry to Grace. Grace caresses her leg. 

The two kiss passionately but Mary stops them from going further. They return home and Elaine is with Tom waiting. She takes Mary aside and asks if their love life is okay. She does not trust Grace. Mary accuses Elaine of wanting Tom. A bit out of left field but okay…Elaine rightly tells her she is being ridiculous. 

Grace and Mary are in the kitchen together. Mary tells her that her wedding anniversary is coming up. Grace tries to seduce her. As she is about to succumb, they are interrupted by the rest of the family. Mary, lightheaded from Grace’s advances, takes to her bed. She wakes up some time late and makes her way down to the kitchen. 

She sees Tom and Grace enjoying a perverse sex game. Mary collapses. She wakes later and comes to find Tom preparing dinner. Grace joins them at the table. Mary asks Grace why she is there and tells them what she saw. Sam, the little twerp, says mommy is scaring him. Later, Mary has a meltdown, accusing Tom of destroying their lives. Tom apologises. I have no idea what they are going on about. 

Mary calls the agency to ask about payment. They tell her she never employed anybody. Grace is pottering about the house. Mary decides to find out more about Grace, finding out her full name by going to the library she uses. So she employed a woman without knowing her full name or anything else about her. Mother of the year right there. 

Mary goes to see Elaine. Elaine has been killed with a scissors in her neck. She is the only major black character and she dies! I mean….! Mary calls the police and is held as the prime suspect, all evidence pointing to her somehow. Fingerprints on the scissors, random woman filmed walking into the office building, her book notes…yeah, it’s flimsy and bollocks. 

Tom turns up with their lawyer. He gets her out but he wants to know where she disappeared to for three hours the night Elaine was killed. Mary is perplexed. She thinks she was gone for minutes – none of this is shown in the film by the way. Mary sneaks out of THE POLICE STATION and heads to an address she found somehow – the film is really falling apart now. 

Mary goes to an old house where Grace grew up. The woman in the house, aunty Lotty (Melissa Chambers), tells Mary about Grace’s dark past. Lotty has a split personality, speaking with two distinct voices. No idea why. Grace grew up in a large family with many siblings all of whom were treated horribly by their parents. 

Mary imagines how Grace, overhearing her and Elaine’s conversation at the gym, might have tricked her way into her life. Back at her house, Tom is taking a shower. Grace, dressed like a dominatrix, grabs a kitchen knife and confronts him in the bathroom. Tom tells her he does not want to play their sex games anymore and throws a flower pot at her. 

He misses and gets sliced across the stomach for his troubles, he tries to fight her off and suffers many more cuts for his efforts. Mary returns home and calls to him. Hearing Mary, Grace runs from the bathroom and changes faster than Christopher Reeves’ Superman back into her schoolgirl-cum-bible student get up. Mary finds Tom whining and apologising in a bloody heap in the shower.

Grace comes into the bathroom and starts clearing up the blood. Mary tells her to call 911 and asks what happened. Grace says she tried to stop her. Who? Grace turns into Margaret, a homicidal maniac. Grace tells Mary to run. Margaret pursues her. They fight in the kitchen. Grace talks to her alter-ego, Margaret, telling her she would never have survived without her. 

Mary hits her with a vase. A semi-conscious Grace cries. A year later, Mary is in a good place again with her family. She goes and visits Elaine’s grave and then onto see Grace in a mental institution. Grace is overjoyed to see her. A woman leaves the hospital, her identity disguised by a scarf and sunglasses. The end. 

Final thoughts: Deadly Illusions is confusing nonsense. Written and directed by Anna Elizabeth James, the film is even more wretched on a second viewing. With a runtime of nearly two hours, the film spends most of its runtime building to the highly underwhelming conclusion. 

The actors are fine, considering the material but I can only think they read a different script or filmed a different one and are as confused by the finished product as the rest of us. It as though the film was stuck between two ideas and could not commit to either. 

Davis’ Mary is apparently affected by her writing process but we never see it or even get enough exposition to explain how it might manifest. Grammer’s Grace came from a large family and was mistreated but so what? The split personality is seemingly explained in a piss poor scene, flashback, to her childhood, when her ‘Margaret’ persona saved her. 

There was no rhyme or reason given for Grace’s attachment to Mary or why she would pursue a job in childcare. Mulroney’s Tom succumbing to Grace’s youthful charms was a story as old as time and even though it made very little sense in the context of the story, it could easily be overlooked. 

Mary’s sudden lusting for the nubile Grace felt like bandwagon jumping, shoeing in a lesbian element just for the sake of modernity. Admittedly, their relationship in the film was closer than that of Tom and Grace but the sexual side, with both characters seemingly actively pursuing it, made no sense. 

The film did look good and was edited competently. Musically, it was just a standard foreboding soundtrack, the only break being for the rock-pop interludes that added nothing extra to the film. Deadly Illusions is an over thought out, underwhelming mess of a film and not worth nearly two hours of your time. Give it a miss.