USA

Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: The Disappearing Game (2018)

If you can keep the parade of (white) college coeds straight, then you might find this movie more worth your time than I did. After one student turns up dead, her boyfriend and his roommate go missing, followed shortly by the possible kidnapping of fourth student. Meanwhile, another packs off to Europe without notice and yet another just looks really guilty. That’s not to mention the handful of dormmates and friends who appear as witnesses.

Tammy Driscoll’s death from an apparent hit and run prompts a police investigation, but trouble starts before that with an art vandalism and even further back with one father’s bad investments. Aurora Teagarden (Candace Cameron Bure) is drawn into the case when her cousin, Philip (Dylan Sloane), doesn’t show up for his birthday dinner. After she receives a cryptic call from him, she checks in at his dorm room because I guess non-college students drop by all the time at this school. She discovers that Philip’s roommate and Tammy’s emotionally abusive boyfriend, Josh (Dakota Daulby), are missing. What looks like an isolated case turns into something more when the police find $4000 stashed in Philip’s room and Ro learns that her cousin has been lying about visiting a childhood friend, Clayton (Thomas Elms).

It took me awhile to distinguish the students, and I never did end up caring about any of them, not even when abandoned vehicles turned up with the students’ blood stains. I also got a little confused when Jason Dell (James Rittinger) appeared, having forgotten that he’s a series regular replacing his brother or cousin Perry. Jason is a young member of the Real Murders Club, Ro’s group of amateur detectives who dig through old and cold cases and increasingly new ones. The trouble is, this movie is lazy with its characterizations, and few of the people in this town have any personality.

The Disappearing Game does try to spice things up with a new romantic interest for Ro. Neighbor Nick Miller (Niall Matter) replaces her former partner, Martin, who left several episodes ago to do secret spy stuff in South America. This household, i.e. my mom, is a fan of Matter, and Nick at least isn’t overly protective of Ro. The psychology professor trusts her instincts, so let’s hope he continues to assist her rather than nag her if he lasts longer than one movie.

I had initially thought that Nick would be one of the suspects since that’s what guest stars do. There’s enough going on with the students and their families though, with special attention given to Clayton’s wealthy parents, Dan and Carolyn Harrison (Ken Tremblett and Teryl Rothery). They have a reputation in town, and Dan’s business has earned him a few enemies, some of whom could take out their disagreements on Dan’s son.

There’s at least two more Aurora Teagarden Mysteries in the works, but I’ve already checked out. As Ro’s best friend, Sally (Lexa Doig), observed, she’s getting a little bossy and self-important. and I don’t know if I have room in my life for a smug librarian, even if she does solve every murder in town.

Highlight for spoilers: The Harrisons do what the privileged do – cover up for their misdeeds and excuse them as mistakes when they get caught. Clayton vandalized the sculpture in the opening scene, and when discussing this crime with Philip and Josh, he accidentally hit Tammy with his car. Not knowing what to do, he bundled the two roommates away and asked Mom and Dad for help. Dan Harrison faked his son’s kidnapping and used the supposed ransom money as a cover to fund Clayton’s escape to Europe. Ro eventually finds the two students locked up in the Harrisons’ basement after following up on a clue in the kidnappers’ recycling bin – empty pizza boxes.

Released: 2018
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Marilu Henner, Peter Benson, Lexa Doig, Dave Collette, James Rittinger, Niall Matter, Dylan Sloane, Dakota Daulby, Ken Tremblatt, Teryl Rothery, Thomas Elms
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018

Advertisements

Love at First Glance (2017)

Love at First Glance begins with a story about depressed chipmunks, and frankly, I’m going to recommend you do a deep dive into that instead of watching this movie. It’s not the worst thing I’ve seen on Hallmark, but it’s damn lazy storytelling and a complete waste of two talented leads. The generic premise doesn’t live up to even my low standards, and if it wasn’t for Amy Smart powering her way through this, I’d have turned it off before the second commercial break.

The general idea is that two strangers catch each other’s eye on the train, and when one forgets his mobile, the other searches high and low to reunite the phone, and possibly herself, with him. Many a romance has worked hard to keep its lovers apart in attempt to prove that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but Love at First Glance barely gets past that first glance. Still, it asks you to believe that its two main characters are a heavenly match.

That’s hard when James Fielding (Adrian Grenier), the one who left his phone, is a cipher. In fact, “phone guy” is about all I’ve got when it comes to his defining characteristics. We don’t know anything about him from his own actions since he jets off to Paris immediately after crossing paths with journalist Mary Landers (Smart). Their first and one of only several exchanges happens via text, when he asks her to hang on to his phone until he returns on Valentine’s Day. He gives her permission to write a profile on him for the newspaper as well, so I guess he’s also the kind of guy who’s doesn’t mind surrendering his private information to strangers.

The fun, if you can call it that, in the story is discovering who this James character is alongside Mary as she interviews everyone on his contact list. The guy with Chris Pine looks slowly comes into being as she revisits important moments in his life and in the lives of the people he impacted. It’s one way to tell a story but not the best way to know a character. We see him through other people’s eyes, and they don’t make the most reliable narrators in this case. Friends, associates, and exes all share the best side of him. He’s a photojournalist who appreciates the tango, he has a soft spot for service animals, and he still thinks about his childhood sweetheart. The movie paints a too perfect picture of the guy for its audience and for his intended partner.

While it’s hard to imagine James as a real person, Mary is much closer to life. Smart does most of the heavy lifting, taking on the weight of the film’s only three-dimensional character and doing a damn fine job of it. In some ways the film is more about her journey from a disappointed reporter stuck in a relationship with a Mickey Rooney lookalike to confident woman who finds satisfaction in her personal and professional lives. The strained attempt at romance is a distraction from her own self-discovery. The writers try to push the non-existent relationship to the fore but Mary’s ebullience overshadows anything having to do with James.

Grenier is dreamy, especially sans some of that Entourage baggage, but ultimately he has little to do. James is a passive character, there to be shaped by others instead of having his own agency. The actor plays fantasy boyfriend well, but James is just dull. Smart has the better part by far, and I wouldn’t mind spending time with her despite her occasional flair for the dramatic and her annoying co-conspirator roommate (Jonathan Bennett). Mary has a breezy air about her but shows herself to be compassionate and strong-willed. Smart’s performance though exposes the rest of the movie’s shortcomings.

Released: 2017
Dir: Kevin Connor
Writer: Kathy Kloves
Cast: Amy Smart, Adrian Grenier, Jonathan Bennett
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark
Reviewed: 2018

Garage Sale Mystery: Murder in D Minor (2018)

This latest Garage Sale Mystery is as close as Hallmark’s ever going to get to Foyle’s War, my favorite murder mystery series of all time and a show that likes its criminal intrigue with equal amounts of history and ethics. The case is one that the taciturn Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle might take on, one that involves a disputed inheritance and heirlooms looted during wartime. It’s not a single crime but several, and all the players, even the good ones, are suspect.

What seems like an ordinary estate auction turns into something more, and why wouldn’t it since Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin) is involved. There’s no such thing as a regular day’s work for her. After winning bids for an antique piano and a pair of paintings, she finds her friend Dean (Jeff Joseph) knocked unconscious in his music store and a sketchy Frenchman, Jacques (Chris William Martin), snooping around the prized instrument. Helen (Nicola Lipman), an elderly woman with an interest in some of the estate holdings, also finds her home burglarized. All three were at the auction, and it’s clear that someone is after more than old art and music.

Karl Dietz is at the center of all this, except he’s dead and it’s his belongings that are for sale. The former diplomat and benefactor of the arts donated generously in his lifetime and has arranged for proceeds of the auction to go towards music programs. For many people in town, including Jennifer’s husband, Jason (Steve Bacic), who designed the recital hall that bears Dietz’s name, the death is a loss for the community. However, correspondence emerges that paints a different picture of the man, one who had a difficult relationship with his daughter and granddaughter, Carolyn (Alison Wandzura), and who left behind a more troubled legacy.

Jacques, a former member of the EMCA – that is, the European Ministry of Criminal Affairs, is definitely looking for something that’s been tucked away in one of Dietz’s many armoires and instruments, but it could be anything – keys, papers, gold, naughty magazines. Martin ensures that we jump on his character’s shadier side and hams it up like it’s the best part he’s had in years. All Jacques needs is a top hat and a moustache to twirl, and we’re set. He has competition in the bad guy department though with auctioneer Conrad Siles (Michael Ryan) and his henchman, Dwyer (Sean Tyson). The pair look like they run a two-man criminal racket in town and never speak above a conspiratorial whisper.

Of my recent Garage Sale Mystery mini-marathon, I enjoyed this movie the best out of the four. It’s more ambitious than usual, departing from the sleepy tales of jealous lovers and wronged business associates. The story takes some unexpected narrative turns and doesn’t mind complicating the case with unsavory figures on all sides. It’s still light on emotion and does little to expose the pain of wartime looting or how one tries to atone for one’s sins or how one might overcome a shameful family legacy, but that’s because you’re watching a Hallmark movie, not Foyle’s War. That’s also why we get some truly dull subplots. Unless you really care about Jennifer’s children, you can fast-forward through Logan’s basketball worries and Hannah’s crusade to save the star quarterback.

Highlight for spoilers: Carolyn the Killer. She wanted her grandfather’s inheritance, specifically the original Mozart Fantasia No. 3 in D Minor scroll, because working at CDC just didn’t pay the bills, or satisfy the appetite for stolen treasure. Ol’ Mr. Dietz looted family heirlooms in Berlin after the war and used his position as a diplomat to ferry art, jewelry, and other artifacts to the sleepy town of wherever-this-story-takes-place. Carolyn’s mother rightly wanted nothing to do with her father’s estate and cut herself and her daughter from the will.

But Carolyn had a copy of a letter from her mother that stated otherwise, and she planned to use the letter to claim ownership of the items at the auction. She knew that the piano held a code to find the treasure, which meant she no longer needed Grandpa around. She induced the heart attack that killed Dietz, knocked out Dean to search for the scroll in his music shop, and then killed Siles because he had evidence that Carolyn was indeed cut out of the will.

The forged Mozart scroll was the key to where Dietz had hidden all the goods he had pilfered. When Jennifer and gang tested it out, they realized it was a forgery because the piece played horribly out of tune. Logan discovered in a snap that the notes laid out GPS coordinates to Dietz’s stash – in his own recital hall.

As for Dwyer, he burgled Helen’s home but also got bitten by a dog, so justice. And Jacques is a good guy, just a shifty-looking good guy.

Released: 2018
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: John Whelpley
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Matthew Harrison, Michael Ryan, Chris William Martin, Nicola Lipman, Sean Tyson, Jeff Joseph, Alison Wandzura, Garrett Black
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018

Garage Sale Mystery: Picture a Murder (2018)

A picture is worth a hell of a lot more than a thousand words if it captures the image of a killer, even if it’s not the face and just his or her gloved hands choking the victim to death. Everyone thinks Larry Brady died of a heart attack during his 60th birthday party, and few have reason to believe otherwise. His nephew, Tony (Edward Ruttle), however, thinks there’s something off, and his suspicions kick-start a murder investigation when he confides in Jennifer (Lori Loughlin), his high school classmate’s mom and crime solver extraordinaire.

The antique shop owner has a sixth sense when it comes to solving murders, but once again she tries to distance herself from the case, though it’s hard when she’s been tasked with selling the deceased’s camera collection. And once again, she can’t help herself when she develops a roll of film from Larry’s camera and discovers the incriminating photo. Naturally, she volunteers her services, which include snooping on Larry’s family and associates, in order to bring the case to a close.

There are so many people to spy on though. Larry’s estranged brother is one guy who can’t keep his story straight. Scott (William MacDonald) says he wasn’t at the party but has some explaining to do when his angry face shows up in a photo. Larry’s estranged business partner and token black friend, Walter (Donny Lucas), also marched in and out of the party with a growl, upset that Larry broke up their investment firm and desperate for promised financing to keep his restaurant afloat. Event photographer and secret sweetheart Sandy (Michelle Harrison) is a late addition to the list. She’s not a suspect per se, but surely it’s odd that her ex-boyfriend’s catering the party. Don’t discount the lawyer either. Ian’s (John Emmet Tracy) demeanor is a tad dry and controlled to be entirely trustworthy. And always suspect the guy you least suspect – that means you, sad Tony.

It’s a lot of people to juggle, and this movie weaves a credible web of suspects. None seem cruel enough to murder the poor man, but some people are that cold-blooded and hide it well. To be honest though, I was more invested in the subplot. It’s the first time we’ve had a pairing between Jennifer’s husband, Jason (Steve Bacic), and her friend, Dani (Sarah Strange), and the mixing of Jennifer’s personal and professional lives injected some much needed drama into the series. I wouldn’t say that the dynamic between the staid Jason and the more emotional Dani was electric, but it was a lot more charged than what we’re used to here in Garage Sale-land.

With Dani out of commission due to an arm injury, she and Jennifer decide to hire temporary help. They enlist Jason to assist in the process, but he and Dani don’t see eye to eye on the new employee’s qualifications. It’s the first time in a while that there’s been some disagreement between the main characters, and not just the petty type like whether or not Jennifer’s sequined red dress is ugly (it is). The show is much more engaging when there are juicy subplots to support that main storyline, like the C plot with Jennifer’s children. Hannah (Eva Bourne) tries to squeeze a secret out of Logan (Connor Stanhope), a secret that is minor but that reveals a lot about his character.

(Special mention to Hallmark POC of the Month – Cardi Wong, Naika Toussaint, and Donny Lucas.) 

Highlight for spoilers: Dastardly lawyer Ian. We knew it was you. You had all the secrets, including the one that you were stealing money from Larry to pay for your gambling habit. That’s why Larry couldn’t honor his commitment to Walter. The black and white photo also meant that Ian’s blue suit appeared black in the photo. Plus, Ian knew about the dark room all along, which meant he had access to the potassium chloride to kill Larry. Evil!

Released: 2018
Dir: Niall Fearnley
Writer: Kraig Wenman
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Matthew Harrison, Johannah Newmarch, Michelle Harrison, John Emmet Tracy, William MacDonald, Edward Ruttle, Toby Levins, Tom Tasse, Naika Toussaint, Donny Lucas, Cardi Wong
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018

Garage Sale Mystery: The Mask Murder (2018)

When it comes to TV murder mysteries, you can’t go wrong with storage facilities and death masks. I mean you can, but thankfully the latest Garage Sale Mystery knows how to make use of mildly creepy plot devices. Jennifer Shannon (Lori Loughlin) finds herself at the scene of the crime again when a locker that’s up for auction yields a dead body in addition to a cache of valuables. As much as she tries to stay away from the official investigation, she can’t help herself and pokes her nose into the mystery anyway.

I don’t know whether it’s bad luck that dead bodies keep sprouting up around her or good luck that she has a keen investigative sense. Either way, Jennifer seems to be the best detective in town and solves the case on her free time, when she’s not running her antique shop, Rags to Riches. That’s a lot to do since her business partner, Dani (Sarah Strange), is getting cozy with new boyfriend Drew (Matthew Harrison), leaving Jennifer alone to mull over details of the case.

Carmen, the deceased, was an employee at the storage facility, and Jennifer and Detective Lynwood (Kevin O’Grady) quickly determine that a number of people connected to her could be responsible for the crime. Just before her death, she is seen arguing over the phone with her clingy ex-boyfriend, Gray (Jeffrey Ballard). Her shady, security footage-deleting employer, Michelle (Samantha Ferris), is also up to no good. Mr. Zetto (Michael P. Northey), a storage client who loses his inventory and thus his business when he can’t pay rent, might be at the top of the list though after Jennifer discovers a plaster mask bearing Carmen’s image among his belongings.

The movie doesn’t have the macabre sensibility you might expect from a story about death masks. That’s because the masks don’t figure too much into the plot. It’s just one of several clues that lead Jennifer down the path to finding the real killer. The storage facility gives things a bit of an edge, by Hallmark standards, but if you’ve ever gotten lost in one of these mazes alone at night, you know the setting could have been a lot more tense than it is.

The guessing game works though and had me suspecting a few people who turned out to be innocent. (You’re in the clear, Asian dude with the yellow bucket hat.) I also liked one of the two non-mystery subplots. Dani’s found some personal fulfillment at last, and I hope this means she won’t still be labeled as the quirky, middle-aged single lady. However, I’m not too keen on another case of Hannah (Eva Bourne) and her sorority sisters doing charity work but really just wanting to feel good about their largesse. This time she enlists her dad (Steve Bacic) to help build a tiny house, which I guess will include a subscription to Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

Highlight for spoilers: Damn, I thought it was the brother because always choose the least likely suspect. The murderer, however, turns out to be Gray’s new girlfriend, Jealous Amy. She confronts Carmen at the storage facility, and when the latter tries to warn her off her possessive boyfriend, they get in a tussle and Carmen bangs her head against a table. Meanwhile, sneaky Michelle and Whittaker aren’t killers, just your average small town thieves who use the business to steal valuables.

Released: 2018
Dir: Mel Damski
Writer: Kraig Wenman
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Matthew Harrison, Cory Rempel, Samantha Ferris, Jeffrey Ballard, Hannah Pederson, Michael P. Northey
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2018