Month: October 2017

Garage Sale Mystery: Murder Most Medieval (2017)

The title of the latest Garage Sale Mystery suggests a sexy battle royale waged under the shadow of some grand castle, and if you’re looking for some swordplay and suits of armor, this will do. But for those hoping for a little more than expensive cosplay, Murder Most Medieval promises more intrigue than it delivers. The case is standard, even if the discovery of the body is not. Points for deciding to hide the victim in a newly purchased suit of armor because that is properly creepy.

The deceased is a medieval studies professor, Dr. McNary (Ben Wilkinson), and the armor is a very pricy reproduction. After antiques dealer Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin) sells it to a guy, Bill (Sebastian Spence), who lives in a Tudor/castle mashup and swordfights for fun, Dr. McNary comes calling. He hopes to purchase it for educational purposes, but Bill is not selling. When the good doctor is killed, fingers immediately point to the most obvious suspect, the butler.

But did the butler do it? The police cast their net wide in search of the killer though the focus soon turns to a disgruntled student, Tim (Aren Buchholz), who is in danger of losing his spot on the football team if he doesn’t pass Dr. McNary’s class. He has motive and a temper and he’s threatening the professor’s doctoral candidate, Emma (Siobhan Williams). The killer is never the obvious choice though, and soon another person turns up dead. Maybe the murderer is Emma or her clingy ex-boyfriend or the unhappy wife. Or maybe it is the angry jock. Or maybe, it’s the butler.

Since a good mystery is one that keeps you guessing and makes you believe that any one of the deceased’s acquaintances would be capable of murder, this movie doesn’t qualify. Like many Hallmark mysteries, it sticks too closely to a formula and doesn’t invest in the characters who are either involved in the case or trying to solve it. The characters go through the correct motions – Bill acts befuddled, Tim growls menacingly, and Emma (or modern day Daenerys Targaryen) meekly adapts – but you can swap these names with ones from any other Garage Sale Mystery. No one has a personality worth remembering, which is why the case seems so lifeless.

The characters that do give the picture color are Jennifer’s family and friends. Jennifer, I should add, is pretty dull herself. I suppose that is part of her appeal. Hallmark likes its spunky heroines, but at the end of the day they better be good family women. Which Jennifer is, and that is why she cares about her daughter, Hannah’s (Eva Bourne), upcoming class president election. Information comes to light about the opponent, putting Hannah in a bit of an ethical dilemma. The resolution turns out to be far more rewarding than watching Jennifer solve her latest case. Friend Dani (Sarah Strange) also gets a nice subplot in the form of a school reunion. Ever on the hunt for a worthy man, she thinks she may have some luck with a former classmate. At this point, I’d just settle on the non-mystery parts of Garage Sale Mystery.

Released: 2017
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: Walter Klenhard
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Sebastian Spence, Casey Manderson, Andrew Dunbar, Siobhan Williams, Aren Buchholz, Ben Wilkinson, April Telek
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

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Garage Sale Mystery: Death By Text (2017)

It turns out that I’ve seen nine Garage Sale Mystery movies, and my main takeaway is that the police department in Jennifer Shannon’s town is horrible. With each new murder, they prove themselves wholly incompetent, and it seems like the only reason they solve any crime is because the local antiques dealer moonlights as a detective. Luckily, this movie distracts from law enforcement’s glaring incompetence. Whereas the last movie was a straightforward dud, Murder By Text keeps things interesting with three engaging storylines.

The main case involves a touring country act headed by hottie John Dalton (Kurt Teixeira). His appearance in town sets hearts aflutter, and Jennifer (Lori Loughlin) and Dani (Sarah Strange) are not immune. The two score passes to a sound check, good news until the band realize their bass player has just hanged herself. At this point, Jennifer should probably hide herself in a hole if she values her friends and family. But no, because the police department can’t do their job, the murder magnet must remain in the community. She immediately senses that Lita (Emily Tennant), the bass player, was murdered and that whoever sent her suicide note by text had some part in her death. None of Lita’s bandmates accept Jennifer’s conclusion, but at least one of them is probably a cold blooded killer.

The crime is easy to figure out, especially if you’re binging on a Hallmark mysteries, something I never recommend. But that’s why you can also be glad that Murder By Text includes two interesting subplots. One involves Jennifer’s family. While she’s out on detective duty, her husband (Steve Bacic) gets involved in a construction project that would replace an old building with a block of shiny condos. His company faces resistance from a community group that wants the building preserved. It’s a challenge he can handle, until he finds out his headstrong daughter (Eva Bourne) also opposes him. Hmm, looks like this perfect, privileged family has a few cracks.

The other subplot is my favorite of all the storylines in this movie. Dani’s estranged sister, Beth Anne (Gabrielle Miller), unexpectedly visits, and if the past is anything to go by, it won’t be a pleasant one. Ever the judgmental type, Beth Anne goes in on Dani’s personal and professional life. She criticizes everything, from Dani’s frumpy clothes (actually, she has the best wardrobe) to her bohemian apartment to her no-status job. What’s a few jabs between sisters though? Their relationship takes a heartfelt turn and gives Strange a chance to shine. I’ve always found her life far more compelling than Jennifer’s, which outside of a murder every now and again, doesn’t deviate at all from the straight and narrow.

If you’re going to subject yourself to these movies, and I do because low impact television is one way that my mother and I bond, Murder By Text is one of the better options. Each storyline gets its due and fleshes out the characters in the limited time it has. If all Hallmark mysteries were this easy to watch and enjoy, then I wouldn’t be so harsh. But I have two more Garage Sale Murders to go, and I don’t know if the trend will keep.

Released: 2017
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: Walter Klenhard
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Gabrielle Miller, Tegan Moss, Kurt Teixeira, Jesse Moss, Emily Tennant, Kalyn Miles
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

Fun Size (2012)

What a holy mess of a Halloween movie. I’m not sure who the filmmakers were targeting here. A little too risqué for the kids and entirely too stupid for older teens, its most natural audience would probably be single women on a Netflix binge hoping for something easy to review. Actually, scratch that. This movie is horrible and should be condemned to the bottom of the K-Mart bargain bin for all eternity. Here I am though, using precious brain cells to share my thoughts.

Fun Size is a Nickelodeon production that takes the general premise of a Disney television movie and dips it in a light batter of raging hormones. Things start off sweet and benign. Wren (Victoria Justice) is the average movie teenager – a plain Jane brainiac who hopes to attend NYU in the fall but who must sort out a few personal issues before she gets there. Her dad’s recent death has left the family adrift, and she must play second mom to her now mute little brother, Albert (Jackson Nicoll), since her mom (Chelsea Handler) has shirked her duties to cozy up with sexy coed Keevin (Josh Pence). Still, Wren hopes to have some fun with her friends and perhaps catch the eye of hot dude Aaron (Thomas McDonell) at a Halloween party.

I’m not sure at what point this movie starts to go off the rails. You’re not going to convince me that someone who looks like Victoria Justice is anything but the popular girl, even if she does want to dress up like Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween. Maybe the movie begins to lose its way when Handler’s character dons her “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time” era Britney Spears costume to party with Keevin, leaving Albert in Wren’s care for the night. Her decision results in Albert getting lost and spending the evening with a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch) and a sexy Galaxy Scout, which I take to be like a Girl Scout but, you know, sexy and out of this world. For good measure, a giant metal pirate chicken ends up humping an old station wagon, and Wren’s mom chats to strangers about her mammogram. This is that kind of movie.

If I’m generous, I would say that there are the makings of a better film here. Had the writers had stuck to a more consistent tone, either kid-friendly or not, there would at least have been a sense of cohesion. But the movie really ping pongs between a wacky Disney movie of the week and a slightly raunchy teen flick. In addition, the three storylines – Wren finding her place in the world, Albert overcoming his muteness, and their mom grieving her husband’s death – are quite removed from each other.

A tilt towards quirky coming-of-age, cliché as that may be, would have been the best choice. Justice isn’t a strong actress but she’s earnest enough and still has me feeling for Wren, who in addition to the challenges in her home life also comes into conflict with her social climbing best friend (Jane Levy) and sweet but not hunky friend (Thomas Mann). Handler has about a minute of good work as a truly bereaved woman, and Nicoll and Middleditch are a surprisingly affectionate odd couple. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t capitalize on any of these and instead chooses to judge people for listening to Josh Groban on blast. I’ll give them points for having the foresight to let Osric Chau rock an Aaron Burr costume pre-Hamilton though.

Released: 2012
Prod: Stephanie Savage, Josh Schwartz
Dir: Josh Schwartz
Writer: Max Werner
Cast: Victoria Justice, Jane Levy, Thomas Mann, Thomas McDonell, Jackson Nicoll, Chelsea Handler, Osric Chau, Josh Pence, Johnny Knoxville, Thomas Middleditch
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

Garage Sale Mystery: The Beach Murder (2017)

This summer, Hallmark dropped a major surprise for all those rabid Garage Sale Mystery fans – a four film premiere event. Alas, I was away from my TV box in August and missed all the fun. The first movie, The Beach Murder, appears to have fallen far short of its exotic title though. Broadchurch this is not, which is fine since Hallmark is Hallmark and ITV sometimes wins Baftas. Still, this latest mystery could have learned a thing or two about crafting a suspenseful story. 

There is tension, but nothing worth caring about. Everyone involved, save the regular crew, is kind of a jerk. The movie begins with an ominous confrontation between a group of local surfers and newcomer, Todd (Ben Cotton). The former resent the latter’s cavalier attitude and his penchant for surfing wherever he damn well pleases. They even spray paint his very nice Land Rover with a not so nice message just to hammer home the fact that he’s not welcome.

Todd happens to be friends with Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin), the garage sale sleuth. Jennifer owns an antiques store with her friend Dani (Sarah Strange) but spends most of her time solving murders. When Todd’s body washes up on the beach, she has to get involved. The police are pretty sure it’s an accidental death, but Jennifer’s spidey sense tells her otherwise.

The most obvious suspects are any one of the local surfers, to which I say, I’ve had it with entitled bros who draw boundaries that only reinforce their privilege. Todd’s drunk brother (David Paetkau) is also high on the list because, well, what other purpose does a drunk brother serve? Also, he was unceremoniously fired from Todd’s company, and that’s always grounds for murder. I’d throw Todd’s wife (Chiara Zanni) into the mix too because she seems shifty.

So there you have all the ingredients for a murder mystery. The thing that’s missing is any sense of purpose or fun. After a short hiatus, The Beach Murder has a hard time finding its bearings. It’s more focused on getting the facts of the case down, which it does, than letting loyal viewers in on the latest happenings in the Shannon household or the Rags to Riches antiques shop. You could just as well have planted this same story into any other murder mystery series.

Released: 2017
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: Walter Klenhard
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Chiara Zanni, Ben Cotton, Michael Teigen, Chad Rook, David Paetkau
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

The Irresistible Blueberry Farm (2016)

The Irresistible Blueberry Farm is not, as the title suggests, all that irresistible. In fact, it’s probably best to avoid this fruity romance and go for something more sophisticated, like the Murder, She Baked series, which also stars Allison Sweeney. Though the movie has two likable leads in Sweeney and Marc Blucas, it’s a story that often finds itself adrift, watchable only because of the actors’ easygoing presence.

Sweeney takes a break from crime solving but puts her detective skills to work as Ellen, a New York attorney who finds herself in a small Maine town after her grandmother, Ruth (Shirley Jones), dies. She tries to hunt down Ruth’s old flame and hand deliver a letter to him. Locating him and her grandma’s old house proves more difficult than expected though. Thankfully, a group of chirpy but not altogether memorable locals give her a hand.

One does stand out, however. Roy (Blucas) is the cute guy who’s good with his hands; he’s also the guy who rescues Ellen after she falls into a lake (not a thing in real life.) The town paper splashes their picture across the front page because every day is a slow news day, and the two find themselves having to come together to explain things.

Roy also ends up being the down-to-earth alternative to Ellen’s sort-of fiancé, Hayden (Kavan Smith). An aspiring big city politician, Hayden skips the proposal part and makes straight for marriage since being engaged makes him a more appealing candidate. Hayden is clearly all wrong for Ellen though. He vets her dead grandmother for campaign purposes, brings a reporter along for their date, and can’t even manage his own seafood allergy. Let’s also not forget that he’s a murderer, or at least Smith portrayed one in another Hallmark movie so that must mean something.

The movie throws together a hat trick of clichés – Ellen finds herself in this small town, she finds a connection to her past, and she finds a hot guy. If you throw in the picturesque scenery, it all makes for a fine fall movie, but it also underwhelms. Ellen’s reason for staying in Beacon, Maine is a bit of a moving target. First she wants to deliver the letter, then she wants to find the house, and then she wants to buy up some old paintings. Her dead grandmother also keeps appearing so that she can drop hints about what Ellen must do next, in life. Meanwhile, the titular blueberry farm just functions as a thread to tie all the people together. You don’t really get to see the blueberry farm in all its irresistible glory.

Released: 2016
Dir: Kristoffer Tabori
Writer: Melissa Salmons
Cast: Alison Sweeney, Marc Blucas, Shirley Jones, Rebecca Staab, Kavan Smith
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017