Month: January 2019

A Christmas in Royal Fashion (2018)

Look, there are so many great Christmas movies out there, and some are even about young American women falling in love with a foreign prince. In fact, many are, which is why there’s no excuse to watch this embarrassing attempt from Ion. If you really wanted to indulge in the genre, you’d watch A Christmas Prince or Crown for Christmas because quality matters. With A Christmas in Royal Fashion, what you get instead is a cheap knockoff.

From the stars to the story to the set, nothing conveys a sense of Christmas, royalty, or fashion. It’s labeled a Christmas story only because it takes place during the holidays and there’s a tree lighting ceremony to attend, but actual Christmas cheer is an short supply with barely a strand of garland or lights to give things a festive touch. The whole look, in fact, is drab despite being set in Los Angeles. With Ion films, I always feel like they’ve rented one small corner of a building, an arrangement that forces them to squeeze the actors together and that gives their scenes a compressed, claustrophobic look. I expect at least some grandeur when the word “royal” gets deployed, whether the story unfolds in a palace or elsewhere. Even if we’re watching a young prince bumble about amongst the commoners, there should be an element of majesty somewhere. The only hint of that is Prince Patrick’s (Diarmaid Murtagh) royal dress at the end of the film, worn for the climactic charity fashion show. The underwhelming event lacks a proper build up, and the fashion on display seems to have been an afterthought as well.

Nevertheless, it is the reason for the prince’s trip from his kingdom of Edgemoor. Patrick, acting a little too much like Prince Hal for his father’s taste, is sent abroad in his royal capacity so that he might throw off his loose behavior and take his duties seriously. In LA, he meets Kristin (Cindy Busby), the PR rep who guides him through his various charity commitments. A misunderstanding, however, causes Kristin to take on the alias of her exacting boss, Melanie (Meredith Thomas), who is stuck in a snowstorm out east. This of course will lead to a moment of great betrayal and test whether the prince and his beloved can see and love each other as they truly are.

The outcome is not a surprise – it never is – but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying similar movies. What has though is the lack of a winning cast, one that can take a story we’ve seen many times before and turn it into something we don’t mind seeing one more time. As much as they try, the actors in this film add none of that spark and originality. I’m most surprised to see Busby in the lead role. She starred in the similarly themed Royal Hearts for Hallmark earlier in the year, and I hope she hasn’t been put out by them. I’m not a great fan of hers but she can hold her own with a better script, i.e. Unleashing Mr. Darcy. She tends to be exaggerated and emotive, and there doesn’t seem to be a place for her to put those feelings here. She certainly doesn’t hand them off to her costar. Busby and Murtagh have some chemistry, and their characters believably get on, just not in a fiery, romantic way. Instead, Kristin and Patrick are like two strangers who can make polite conversation for as long as necessary but who will be on their way the moment they’re called elsewhere. And elsewhere is exactly where one should be instead of sat in front of this movie.

Released: 2018
Dir: Fred Olen Ray
Writer: Fred Olen Ray
Cast: Cindy Busby, Diarmaid Murtagh, Michael Paré, Adam Levy, Galyn Görg, Meredith Thomas, Jason Cook, Juliana Sada
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Ion
Reviewed: 2019

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Hailey Dean Mystery: A Will to Kill (2018)

Well, well, well. Hat tip and golf claps to the team behind Hailey Dean. I’m impressed. What started as an intriguing character note – a detective who witnessed her fiancé’s murder – evolved into an episode-spanning mystery and finally a full-blown case. I’m happy to say that it’s a satisfying conclusion and please, Hallmark, take us on more of these rollercoaster rides.

One thing I’ve liked all along about this series is that it’s been more than the case-of-the-day kind of show. While we get that, we also get characters who are deeply invested in detective work because they understand what it means for the victims and to be a victim. They’re not randos who solve murders as a past-time and then jump back into their own perfect lives. Will’s death had a profound effect on Hailey and their friend, Danny (Giacomo Baessato), inspiring her to become a DA and him to join the detective squad. Tragedy is imprinted into so much of what they do. Hailey’s boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), is no stranger to grief either, having lost his wife. Plus he works as a coroner and is super kind and generous, accompanying her as she searches for some kind of resolution.

It’s only right that Hailey gets a chance at justice after solving the murders of so many others. This case shows what she’s always known though, that justice isn’t tidy and you often don’t get the conclusions you want or hope for. As she starts to piece things together, she finds herself reaching into a familiar past, one that involves old friends and acquaintances, and it’s not clear if she can accept whatever is at the end of this journey.

Will’s death seems to be tied to the fate of a college journalist, Emma Harper, whom no one has heard from since her disappearance years ago. Those connected to Emma all have a little secret, some dirtier than others. Judith (Sharon Taylor) was a fellow writer at the student paper and now works at the Atlanta Star, a position she got because of an internship that should have been Emma’s. When Hailey questions Tom (Andrew Moxham), the school paper’s editor, she also finds him not entirely forthcoming about an explosive story Emma had been writing about university corruption. The threads also lead to some of Hailey and Will’s friends, like Brad (Jesse Arthur Carroll), an architect, and his wife, Vivian (Lauren Maynard), who literally threatened to kill Emma. And then there’s Clyde, who is still hanging around looking fishy as ever even though he keeps bringing Hailey chocolates and flowers.

Without giving away anything else, I’ll only say that I’ve never been more satisfied with a Hallmark mystery. There are several ways the writers could have wrapped up this case, but the one they chose felt the most honest and true to the story and characters. I’m excited about what’s to come since we’ve been promised at least one more movie, and I hope the resolution here, as complicated as it is, takes our characters in a new direction.

Highlight for spoilers: O.M.G. I know I called it in my last review, but I still wasn’t prepared for that slinky ass SOB Clyde to reveal himself as the killer. It wasn’t so much the shock of him being the guilty party as it was his serial killer-looking smirk as he taunted Hailey in their final confrontation. So what really went down was that Emma had uncovered corruption in the construction of the new student center. She threatened to expose it no matter who was being paid off and who was going down with her reporting. Clyde wanted to make sure his family’s company won the bid to ensure he’d have a posh job immediately after graduation, so he bribed every warm butt he could find. Boy, if that ain’t privilege…He then kills Emma, which we see in the beginning of the movie, but she says it don’t matter because Hailey also knows everything. Clyde hires this small time crook, Marcus, to kill her, but Will grabs the gun and is killed instead. Marcus freaks out because murder’s not his thing. Anyway, Clyde soon finds out that Hailey didn’t know shit, and the truth behind both Emma and Will’s deaths could have remained a secret were it not for his damn ego. As Hailey points out, he couldn’t help flaunting his crime, and in the end, bastard got shot.

Released: 2018
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Giacomo Baessato, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Emily Holmes, Lucia Walters, Chad Lowe, Lauren Maynard, Sharon Taylor, Jesse Arthur Carroll, Alvina August, Nina Siemaszko, Tina Georgieva, Andrew Moxham, Justin Fortier
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Hailey Dean Mystery: A Marriage Made for Murder (2018)

Hallmark mysteries tend to go stale by the fifth installment, but Hailey Dean has done the opposite. Each movie has gotten more riveting as Hailey (Kellie Martin) not only tries to solve the murder of the day but also the death of her fiancé, Will. In the third film, we discovered that the shooting was not a random hold-up but a targeted murder, one aimed at the former DA turned psychologist. This film doesn’t bust the case wide open, but it’s getting close, and when the movie ended, I immediately started A Will to Kill because I couldn’t wait to see what she would uncover.

That’s not to say you should skip this one. It juggles a lot of good stuff and tightens the strings in preparation for what’s to come. At the forefront is a compelling case involving a deceased owner of an art gallery. Victor looks to have died from a heart attack, but on further investigation, it appears he was poisoned with arsenic. Accusations start flying, and his wife, Christy (Christine Chatelain), is dubbed a black widow when information about her past relationships surfaces. It’s more complicated than a simple case of killing husbands to get insurance money, however. An art forgery ring might also have something to do with Victor’s death as it’s an enterprise flush with arsenic it turns out. In addition, Victor’s long-time friend, Debra (Christina Cox), appears overly eager to shut down the gallery while his employee, Lawrence (Carlo Marks), is pleased that he now has a chance to exhibit his photography.

Hailey’s neat party trick is her ability to analyze suspects’ motivations as well as figure out if someone’s a lying sack of shit. This movie cleverly deploys her skills to reveal the killer and puts her in positions the other Hallmark detectives don’t find themselves in. An antiques dealer or a baker, for example, can’t quite dig into a murderer’s psyche the way Hailey can. But it’s not just the people involved in the cases that find their emotions laid bare. The other characters get picked apart too, making them all vulnerable to each other and to the audience. A great subplot in this movie involves Fincher (Viv Leacock), Hailey’s best friend and an investigator at the DA’s office. After expressing his desire to be a father, he takes a step towards domestic life by going on round after round of speed dating. His search for a woman who understands his love for food trucks adds some levity to the proceedings, but I also find myself caring a lot more for these characters than I do for those in other series.

And that brings us to Hailey’s own story. The appearance of Will’s best friend, Clyde (Chad Lowe), in the last film led to an uneasy meeting between the two. With the help of her truly kind and understanding boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), however, it seems she’s ready to revisit her past and reconnect with her college friends, including Clyde. But holy shit, I am SO suspicious of Clyde and I do not trust his creepy serial killer-looking ass. I have never been more sure of my murder mystery instincts, and dude is not doing himself any favors by asking her questions about Will’s killer. One of the themes that we get out of Victor’s case is grief and loss versus revenge, and I feel this is a perfect interlude for what’s next.

Highlight for spoilers: You didn’t think that Hailey would be consulting a patient who had no connection to the case, did you? After a long reveal, we learn that Nicole is the killer, exacting revenge on Christy for causing the death of Curtis, her brother and only family. Years ago, Christy dated Curtis, who took custody of his sister when their parents died. Christy left after learning he had a heart condition though, and Nicole blamed his death on her, determined to make her suffer the same way she had. Nicole went around stalking Christy and poisoned Finn, her first husband in Portland, and then Victor. Christy’s own poisoning was accidental. Because Nicole’s confession is protected under doctor-patient privileges, Hailey conspires to get Christy released from custody and sets up a confrontation in the art gallery, where Nicole admits her guilt.

Released: 2018
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Giacomo Baessato, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Emily Holmes, Lucia Walters, Chad Lowe, Christine Chatelain, Sarah Grey, Christina Cox, Carlo Marks, Christian Sloan, Alvina August
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Murder, She Wrote: The Celtic Riddle (2003)

Sometimes the best way to solve a case is to work backwards, so with that in mind, I’m starting Murder, She Wrote with Jessica Fletcher’s very last mystery, The Celtic Riddle. I’m not proud to say that I’ve never seen an episode of the long-running CBS series, though strictly speaking this one is a movie, but I’m also not sure I’ll be playing catch up with its 264 episodes any time soon. (This is where I plug British mysteries, which remain a bingeable six to eight episodes per season.) Happily, Ms. Fletcher’s last bow doesn’t require one to be immersed in the Murder, She Wrote universe, and it’s easy to pick up just where our detective is about to leave off.

The case initially comes to Jessica (Angela Lansbury) by way of an invitation. She arrives in Ireland for the reading of a will and is surprised to learn that Eamon Byrne, a man she had only met a few times, has bequeathed to her a small but picturesque property called Rose Cottage. The move provokes the ire of Eamon’s wife, Margaret (Fionnula Flanagan), and elder daughter, Fiona (Geraldine Hughes), who also resent his gifts to other non-family members, like the groundskeeper (Sean Lawlor) and the business associate (Andrew Connolly). They are further angered when everyone is given a second opportunity to partake in Eamon’s riches. Each person is given a clue that they will need share in order to find the final part of their inheritance.

Convincing everyone to work together proves to be an impossible task. Their general animosity towards one another is enough of a hurdle, but when people start turning up dead, it really puts a kink in things. Oddly, no one else seems shocked or worried about the mounting bodies, except for Jessica who’s seen enough of this to know it’s not a coincidence. The police inspector (Timothy V. Murphy), however, isn’t inclined to believe the little old lady with an overactive imagination when she cries murder, leaving it up to Jessica to sort this out before she gets killed.

She finds a kindred soul in Eamon’s younger daughter, Breeta (Sarah-Jane Potts), who inherited nothing of material value but who shares her father’s passion for Irish myths and puzzles. Breeta’s knowledge is the key to finding the family treasure, and the two are eager to solve the riddle together, but Breeta’s relationships with her boyfriend, Paddy (Cyril O’Reilly), and the gardener, Michael (Joe Michael Burke), threaten their progress.

A few guest performances make this marginally Irish-themed mystery enjoyable. I loved Potts’s sweetness, and she fills Breeta with a joy that is pure and easy to embrace. Flanagan also radiates a certain vibrancy, but hers is that of someone digging into her part. She dominates every scene she’s in as the greedy, haughty widow, stopping just short of parody even as she wails about contesting the will and pulls desk keys out of her bra. On the other side of the spectrum is Lynn Wanlass, who plays the maid, Nora. Wanlass is striking in her timidity and plain creepy with her vampire eyes. What made less of an impression was Ireland itself, which pops in for a few cameos. I had hoped for more exterior shots, but the film relies on the suggestion of Ireland instead, filling the gaps with Celtic music and some Irish dancing in a pub.

Highlight for spoilers: The Connemara mug gave it away. Why else would you focus on an ugly prop? Charles McCafferty (Tegan West), Eamon’s associate, orchestrated the family’s downfall and wanted the treasure for himself. Eamon’s illegitimate son, he was adopted by abusive parents and wanted the Byrnes to share in his suffering. He manipulated the business so that it would lose money and then killed the others so that he could get the inheritance. He killed John, who knew where the treasure was hidden, then Michael, who saw John’s murder, and finally Nora, who was his aunt and a liability.

Released: 2003
Dir: Anthony Shaw
Writer: Rosemary Anne Sisson, Bruce Lansbury
Cast: Angela Lansbury, Fionnula Flanagan, Sarah-Jane Potts, Tegan West, Cyril O’Reilly, Lynn Wanlass, Timothy V. Murphy, Joe Michael Burke, Andrew Connolly, Geraldine Hughes, Sean Lawlor
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: CBS
Reviewed: 2019

Hailey Dean Mystery: 2 + 2 = Murder (2018)

Technically, two plus two does not equal murder, but something is not adding up when a teacher goes missing. Hailey Dean (Kellie Martin) finds herself embroiled in another criminal case that hits close to home, this time at her niece’s school. She attends a fundraising performance organized by Naomi Sacks, who fails to turn up that night or in the days following. Surveillance footage, however, shows she was at the school on the night of the performance, and Hailey and team try to figure out if Naomi was targeted by someone she worked with or by real estate interests who wanted to buy the school’s property.

The investigation immediately targets her stalker ex-boyfriend, Jeff Adkins (Carey Feehan), but Hailey’s observations also land several teachers on the suspect list. Naomi’s coworker, Janine (Ellen Ewusie), was passed up for promotion, and she seems not at all bothered by the fact that Naomi might be murdered. Two other teachers, Mary (Samantha Cole) and Nicholas (Chad Riley), also have ever-changing alibis, none of which can be accounted for. Meanwhile, Rob (Brent Stait), the friendly janitor, goes on my list because the janitor always knows the secrets. As the investigation continues, a left field suspect appears. Hailey’s old acquaintance, Clyde (Chad Lowe), a real estate developer, would rather the school not meet its fundraising goals so that it will close and he can scoop up the land.

Clyde is more than an acquaintance or a suspect though. He’s also best friend to Hailey’s murdered fiancé, Will, and seeing him reminds her that she still has a lot of grief to process. But shit’s hard, and she’s finding it difficult, especially since learning that she, not Will, was the killer’s target. I was hoping we’d get some solid leads on this case, but this film doesn’t dig into that. I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting, which is fine because we get to see her relationship with her coroner boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), unfold in the meantime. It’s been awhile since I saw the previous films and had forgotten about Jonas, but damn, what a man, the best amongst all the Hallmark detective boyfriends. He is not the possessive, condescending type, and he loves that his girlfriend is smart as hell, but what most impresses me about him is that he doesn’t try to compete with Will. In fact, he wants Hailey to keep a special place in her life for her fiancé and understands that he won’t be part of that.

This storyline has always been my favorite part about the series and is the reason why I look forward to watching each new movie. The cases are never anything explosive and are comparable to all the other ones on Hallmark Mysteries, but unlike Garage Sale Mysteries or Aurora Teagarden, this show is saturated in sadness and loss. It’s not for everyone, and if you’re coming to this channel for its sunny, Marple-esque tones, you won’t find them here. The series even goes down the spooky slasher route every now and then, like the opening scene where Naomi is snatched from a dark construction zone illuminated by an eerie green glow. Where there are moments of levity though, like Fincher’s (Viv Leacock) quest to find Atlanta’s best taco truck, Hailey does her best to bring them back down. It’s not all sun, but it is true to her character.

Highlight for spoilers: The one person I didn’t suspect turns out to be the guilty party. The principal, having stolen the renovation money and then losing because of his online gambling, killed Naomi when she found out and told him she was reporting him. He then killed Jeff Adkins because he had the gambling receipts that would prove his guilt.

Released: 2018
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Giacomo Baessato, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Emily Holmes, Andrew Airlie, Chad Lowe, Keith MacKechnie, Tom Butler, Hilary Jardine, Brent Stait, Ellen Ewusie, Samantha Cole, Chad Riley, Carey Feehan
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019