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

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