USA

Royally Ever After (2018)

If people knew how to Google, we wouldn’t have movies like Royally Ever After, which can be good or bad depending. I’m not going to object to something filmed in Ireland, but really, wholesome Hallmark white girls, at least use Bing if you’re seeing some European who’s being a bit evasive about his background. Here we have another case of girl-who-doesn’t-realize-she’s-dating-a-prince, and as always, things sour when she finds out.

Sara (Fiona Gubelmann) is just your average grade school teacher living that New Jersey life when her boyfriend of one year, Danny (Torrance Coombs), pops the question via cupcake. He chooses this moment to reveal his royal status and tells her that, surprise, it’s totally cool if she wants some time to take it all in but, hey, he’s flying home tomorrow so he kind of needs an answer right now cause the royal jet’s waiting.

Danny, rather Daniel Seamus Horatio Hughes of St. Ives, makes it hard for me to get behind him. Besides neglecting to share this little piece of information with the woman he wants to marry, he makes no effort to support her when she does accept his proposal and finds her plebeian ass in his royal digs. On the way to meeting the king and queen (Barry McGovern Carmen Du Sautoy) and mindful of her new environment, Sara specifically asks him to clarify protocol so she’ll avoid any missteps. He brushes off her nerves, telling her that everything’s going to be just fine.

Of course it’s not, and she goes on to make a series of slight but still embarrassing blunders. Her actions, which includes kissing the prince at a function and stealing away with him for an ice cream date, open up the couple and the royal family to press scrutiny. More importantly, they convince the skeptical king and queen that this commoner is not a suitable match for their son. Danny’s sister (Rebekah Wainwright), however, sees an opportunity to move up the line of succession. She encourages the relationship and is the one who finally instructs Sara on royal etiquette but for her own ends. Basically what I’m getting at is that Prince Harry would never leave Meghan hanging like this.

As far as Hallmark movies about Americans marrying English-accented princes, Royally Ever After falls somewhere in the middle. The script needs a fair bit of tightening still. Besides my issues with Danny, I don’t understand what anyone is thinking at the final ball. Their decisions are needlessly obstinate and not in keeping their character. The acting is fine though; Gubelmann is all smiles and Coombs cleans up nicely. The location adds a touch of grandeur as well. However, if you’re going to shoot in Ireland, actually shoot in Ireland. Aside from a brief but scenic limo ride and some fancy castle scenes, the movie might as well have been filmed in the empty field behind me.

Released: 2018
Dir: Lee Friedlander
Writer: Duane Poole, Gary Goldstein, Aury Wallington
Cast: Fiona Gubelmann, Torrance Coombs, Barry McGovern, Carmen Du Sautoy, Fiona Bell, John Guerrasio, Rebekah Wainwright
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

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Hailey Dean Mysteries: Killer Sentence (2019)

Hailey Dean Month” has come to an end at Hallmark, and the series has my vote for the most solid show on Hallmark. I may not be in love with any of the characters, except perhaps Fincher (Viv Leacock) with his food truck obsession, but the series is consistently good, delivering interesting cases solved by a competent all-around team. Aside from that ever-present pointless Nancy Grace cameo (Grace created the book series), there are few lows, and the two multi-episode arcs have really fed the characters and pushed the story forward.

The latest three films all deal with the impending release of convicted murderer Clayton Morrel (Bradley Stryker). Ten years ago, Hailey (Kellie Martin) worked on the case with lead chair Paulina (Lauren Holly), and both continue to be haunted by the decision not to use a key witness in the trial. The move ensured a conviction but also reduced Clayton’s sentence. Now that he’s out of prison and has a book deal, a lot of familiar faces are making their anger known.

Needless to say, it catches everyone by surprise when Clayton is found dead in his own home, murdered by a stab wound to the heart. Well, not everyone because the killer likely knew the victim and saw a chance to avenge the original victim, Clayton’s wife. His former sister-in-law, Amelia (Vanessa Walsh), is high on the list of suspects. Not only did she have motive, she also had access to the house. Clayton’s second wife, Naomi (Barbara Patrick), is not that forthcoming when interrogated by the police either. Some less obvious suspects include Clayton’s lawyer, Derek, and his friend, Frank (Matty Finochio), both of whom were at odds with Clayton but perhaps didn’t have reason enough to kill him.

So again, it surprises all those involved when Paulina, currently the district attorney, is publicly accused of the murder, having been seen with the victim and at the crime scene on multiple occasions. Hailey is convinced of her friend and former colleague’s innocence, but that’s not enough to save Paulina from a few nights in jail. She and her friend, Fincher, a detective in the DA’s office, do their own investigating while her boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), the coroner, tries to help with forensic evidence.

This case doesn’t compete at all with the one involving Hailey’s fiancé, Will. I still get chills from the build-up and reveal and was not nearly as emotionally invested in the life and death of Clayton Morrel. Still, Killer Sentence is a captivating mystery and had me guessing to the end. There are quite a few characters to keep track of and some intricate side stories that complicate matters and. The matter with Alex (Aaron Craven) from the DA’s office adds to the intrigue but also sows more confusion. The one ray of light in this rather dark episode is Hailey and Jonas’s anniversary dinner. They can’t seem to agree on their special night, but it all ends in a way that leaves you hoping for more to come.

Highlight for spoilers: Frank, Clayton’s ghostwriter and friend to Clayton and his first wife, Tamara, is the killer. Though he stood by Clayton in public, he knew or at least suspected that Clayton had committed the original murder. Hailey suspected Frank after seeing the “Gone Fishing” sign at the bookstore, the same one that neighbor Walter had from his surprise free fishing vacation, paid for by Frank who wanted all witnesses out of the way. She also guessed his affections for Tamara based on passages about her in Clayton’s book. Frank targeted Paulina specifically because he felt her actions at the trial were the reason Clayton was released early instead of serving life in prison. After kidnapping her, he planned on staging her suicide, but Hailey and Paulina come in with some last minute heroics and save their own damn asses. Also, Jonas proposes to Hailey. She says…yes.

Released: 2019
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Lucia Walters, Lauren Holly, Bradley Stryker, Barbara Patrick, Vanessa Walsh, Matty Finochio
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Hailey Dean Mysteries: Prescription for Murder (2019)

The second in a three-movie premiere month, Prescription for Murder doesn’t quite pack the punch of the last film. It feels kind of like a placeholder, something to tide over excitement from the series’s return while we wait for the explosive end to a case that has been percolating in the background. Our attention is divided between several deaths at Atlanta Memorial Hospital and an old murder that threatens the new district attorney, Paulina (Lauren Holly). Hailey Dean previously tried the multiple episode arc to great success, teasing out the mystery of Hailey’s (Kellie Martin) fiancé’s death from years earlier.

The stakes aren’t quite as high or personal this time around. Nevertheless, Hailey is invested in the outcome of the parole hearing of one Clayton Morrel because of her friendship with Paulina. Long before she was the DA, Paulina sent Clayton, who had murdered his wife, to prison on a lesser charge to guarantee a conviction. The possibility of his release now has everyone on edge, from the victim’s family to Clayton’s new wife. The preview for the upcoming episode looks promising, but I’m not as eager to follow up on this case as I was on the hunt for Will’s killer, which gave everything a more ominous feel.

Anyway, most of the action remains at the hospital, where the death of the recently appointed CEO has everyone on edge. Erica dies from an irregular dose of digoxin, and fingers immediately point to some powerful people. Robert, the acting CEO, looks suspect because was passed over for the job, as does Dr. Chang, Erica’s renowned and arrogant cardiologist, who may have been pushing an aggressive treatment plan. You can’t rule out the nurses either, two of whom look especially shady. Even Meghan (or Meghan 2.0 since she’s no longer played by Alvina August) gets caught up in the scandal. The girlfriend of Hailey’s partner (Viv Leacock), she was seen arguing with Erica just before her death. The case takes an unexpected turn when several more people are found to have died under suspicious circumstances.

There are plenty of interesting twists here, and almost everyone is shifty enough to have committed the crime, whether or not they have a clear motive. For once, an abundance of characters worked in favor of the story instead of just confusing the suspect list. Even if you don’t remember everyone’s names, which I never do, you can at least differentiate between the pharmacist and the CEO’s assistant.

Lightening the mood is Hailey’s relationship with coroner Jonas (Matthew MacCaull). She deserves a low-stress personal life after all what she’s been through. This time around, the biggest challenge they have is dinner with his dad. I don’t think the two are headed down the aisle anytime soon, but I’m fine if the relationship is kept on simmer a while longer.

Highlight for spoilers: Crazy Ivy killed Erica for her lover, Robert (that’s right), who was also having an affair with Erica and who was hesitant to break up with the latter because he “couldn’t find the right time.” Ivy did what every scorned women does and murdered her rival, thus creating the right time. When Brian poured his feeble little heart out to her and admitted that he had performed a mercy killing on another patient, she realized she could frame him. She knocked off a few other people, which indeed led the police to Brian. Thinking that all was well for her and Robert now, she was surprised to learn that the bastard wanted to break up.

Released: 2019
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin, Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Lucia Walters, Lauren Holly
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019

Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor (2003)

I was all prepared to give Benedict Arnold a fair airing. One doesn’t go from war hero to traitor overnight, and I was sure something in his history would pique my sympathy, an episode from his chaotic childhood or the loss of his wife perhaps. There’s still a good movie to be mined from that, but it’s just not this one. If anything, A Question of Honor hardens your opinion against him, assuming you’ve taken the winning side of all this.

The Benedict Arnold we get in this movie is an arrogant, aggrieved social climber completely lacking in humility. Some of that is down to his true character and much, I’m sure, is equally due to Aidan Quinn’s overacting. The man seems incapable of using his indoor voice, and his bellicose Arnold relishes in fighting anyone who even looks at him the wrong way. The general who changed the fate of the American colonies during the Revolutionary War may well have been wronged by fellow officers and by the Continental Congress, but it was also his stubbornness brought about his own downfall.

The film begins with the Battle of Saratoga, which seems to be the catalyst for most of Arnold’s grievances. Although he leads the Continental Army to a decisive victory and is shot in the process, another general claims the credit while he just gets a few months recovery and a set of wicked gold epaulettes. This wrong is further compounded, so he thinks, by Congress’s failure to recognize his heroics with greater financial compensation, adding to his debt and the burden of losing his business.

About the only time Arnold isn’t a bitter, howling mess is when he is with Peggy Shippen (Flora Montgomery), the daughter of a Loyalist family – and paramour of Britain’s number one spy, John André (John Light). I’m not one to judge romance in a time of war, but Arnold’s courtship of and eventual marriage to Peggy sounds like bad fucking news. He has no thoughts of joining the ranks of the British, whom he’s basically tried to murder for the last five years, until Peggy feeds the idea into his angry head.

She’s the missing link in all of this, the one who connects Arnold and André, which is all sorts of awkward. Needless to say, she does not come off well. Though not the political or military mastermind, she’s a skillful manipulator. Montgomery doesn’t play Peggy as a Mata Hari or the kind who schemes because she’s a bored, unhappy housewife. No, she’s loyal and wide-eyed, expertly tending to all the right parts of her husband’s bruised ego so that he’ll take the side most likely to uphold her family’s good fortunes.

The men, on the other hand, are the real drama queens. If this movie’s anything to go by, these petty divas managed to defeat the British and found a country all while backstabbing and plotting against their own leaders and officers. George Washington (Kelsey Grammer) of course stays above the fray. Grammer is no Chris Jackson (of Hamilton fame), but he’s as tempered as one imagines the first president to be. Arnold, however, brings out the worst instincts in other rebel leaders, both military and government. A portrait of this jealous, sneering lot probably helps our understanding of the American Revolution on balance, but Quinn tips the scale with his caricature of the nation’s most misguided hero. He eschews nuance, preferring instead to shout his way through the film and only taking a break to grunt poetry to win over Peggy.

There’s enough in Question of Honor to plug in the bigger gaps in one’s U.S. history education. Those looking for a quality dramatization need to wait it out or try AMC’s Turn though. This A&E production might capture the suspense of Arnold’s flight, but it misses much of the context. You’d hardly know he and Washington were fighting a war of independence since the film doesn’t shed much light on their underlying motivations. There are occasional nods to grievances over representation, but it’s hard to understand the gravity of Arnold’s betrayal when the cause he’s betraying is mere background noise. A British officer comes in with a late save, noting to Arnold’s face that his single act has unified the rebels and strengthened their resolve, all but ensuring their victory. It’s profound but not quite as rousing as it might have been.

Released: 2003
Dir: Mikael Salomon
Writer: William Mastrosimone
Cast: Aidan Quinn, Kelsey Grammer, Flora Montgomery, John Light, Steve Hogan, Tom Murphy, John Kavanagh, Nick Dunning
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: A&E
Reviewed: 2019

Hailey Dean Mysteries: Death on Duty (2019)

Hailey Dean is back after a harrowing last few episodes. I would have been fine if the series called it a day after the prosecutor-turned-therapist found closure over the death of her fiancé at the hands of their mutual friend (Chad Lowe, you creepy scumbag), but I’m also not at all displeased that she’s diving in for more. It remains to be seen if the coming episodes will distinguish themselves from Hallmark’s other series or if the show will stick to the usual formula and pop out one generic case after another. Judging by this new movie, it may hew towards the latter, but Death on Duty at least has the distinction of featuring multiple people of color in substantive roles, something we don’t see enough of on this channel.

In fact, the case concerns Hailey’s friend, Fincher (Viv Leacock), who happily has evolved from his black best friend part he started out as to become an indispensible part of the crime solving team. Fincher, Hailey’s former colleague, is also joined by investigator Monty (Lucia Walters), making that two black characters with multiple speaking parts. When Kurt, Fincher’s friend from the Marines, is found dead in a park, they must work together to find the truth.

Using Kurt’s activity monitor, Hailey and Fincher track down clues that lead to several military contractors supplying food and kitchenware to the local base. The death could be work related, though it’s hard to tell since the case is under military jurisdiction thus limiting Hailey and Fincher’s access. At the same time, it could be a personal affair. Kurt’s wife is convinced her husband is cheating on her, but Fincher’s not sure her jealousy is enough to justify murder.

The details won’t have you at the edge of your seat like the last case, and I’m surprised more was not made out of the fallout from it. Solving Will’s murder is kind of a big deal in my book, but the only change for Hailey seems to have been a pivot away from therapy and back towards the DA’s office, now headed by Lauren Holly’s character. Still, I liked having Fincher at the forefront, and we get to see a different kind of friendship. Instead of coming to the aid of an old girlfriend, our female sleuth is there for her steadfast guy friend, one she can count on for double dates at the food truck.

My one quibble is with the last scene in which Fincher has something of a crisis. It doesn’t ring true, not so much due to Leacock’s acting but because the script doesn’t adequately build up to that moment. Had the writers zeroed in more on his despair over losing his friend, the whole episode would have been more impactful. To make up for that lost emotion, we at least have the relationship between Hailey and her coroner boyfriend, Jonas (Matthew MacCaull), who turns charity calendar cover model this time. I’m enjoying their mature relationship and am ever grateful that he’s not there telling her to be careful and watch herself since he damn well knows she can handle it.

Highlight for spoilers: The military police officer (Alexander Cendese), whose name I never caught, killed both Kurt and Cheryl after they had uncovered his involvement in illegal arms trafficking. He collaborated with Tom (Todd Thomson), a military contractor, who didn’t actually want to kill anyone but who was totally cool with smuggling military weapons that would be used to the same effect. Kurt was all fidgety at the beginning of the movie because he was trying to get in touch with Cheryl, who was already dead.

Released: 2019
Dir: Michael Robinson
Writer: Michelle Ricci
Cast: Kellie Martin,  Viv Leacock, Matthew MacCaull, Lucia Walters, Alexander Cendese, Todd Thomson, Elizabeth Weinstein
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2019