crime

Garage Sale Mystery: A Case of Murder (2017)

Hallmark saved it’s biggest surprise for the latest installment of Garage Sale Mystery, and that is that the mystery series will be ending. I was caught off guard by this shocking conclusion, the biggest twist the series has delivered yet. It’s the right thing to do though because as I’ve noted throughout, the mysteries were hardly compelling and garage sale sleuth Jennifer (Lori Loughlin) was a less than remarkable lead.

A Case of Murder is no different in this regard. There’s a bit more of a chase and a voice from the dead adds to the air of suspense, but while it may rank above some of the lesser efforts – and there have been 11 of them – this movie is easily forgotten. Blame it in part on the title, which could substitute for any mystery on this channel. It just so happens that this time there is a literal case. Jennifer buys a reel-to-reel tape recorder, in titular case, and when she plays it back, she hears the voice of a man who sounds like he’s about to be killed. Rather than an unsolved mystery from decades back, however, it appears to be a fresh crime.

She finds out that the man is Dr. Vedders (Malcolm Stewart), a therapist at a community center who’s just announced his retirement. That leaves some of his patients a little unmoored, but enough to kill the man who helped them? As Jennifer begins to connect the dots, tensions between the therapy group begin to surface. One gruff patient envies the doctor’s affection for other members, particularly an anxious woman who seems to be having an affair with Vedders. You can never discount the wife though, and she is certainly eager to get rid of her husband’s belongings.

If there’s one thing that added some spark to this mystery, it was seeing my favorite Hallmark Mysteries supporting player, Lisa Durupt, guest star as one of the patients. She isn’t the perky sister from Murder, She Baked but she plays some variation of that while still keeping true to her character in this movie. Otherwise, the big draw is watching all the loose ends being tied up with the main characters from this series.

The Shannon family, which includes Jennifer’s contractor husband and dutiful college student daughter and teenage son, are hard at work building a mancave/womancave/home theater. The whole cave idea seems passé and an odd choice for a celebratory hurrah, but fine, we’re not aiming for cutting edge here. So fans of the series, or at least loyal viewers, can instead enjoy Dani’s storyline. I’ve always thought that Jennifer’s friend and business partner, Dani (Sarah Strange), is one of the better sidekicks on Hallmark. She’s certainly the most exciting personality in this group, but the woman gets saddled with kooky single woman baggage every damn time. Well no more. I’m happy to report that her new agey, crafty vision board fate nonsense pays off dividends, and girlfriend gets the happiness she deserves. As for me, it’s Christmastime and that means I’se got a month of movies about unhappy career woman turning shit around thanks to some jingle bells and a hot dude.

Released: 2017
Dir: Neill Fearnley
Writer: Kraig Wenman
Cast: Lori Loughlin, Sarah Strange, Steve Bacic, Eva Bourne, Connor Stanhope, Kevin O’Grady, Jay Brazeau, Malcolm Stewart, Sarah-Jane Redmond, Preston Vanderslice, Lisa Durupt, Derek Hamilton, Paloma Kwiatkowski
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

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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

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

Detour (2016)

Detour is not the type of movie I watch for fun on a Saturday night, but dammit, Emory Cohen. The actor’s sensitive, Gilbert Blyth turn in Brooklyn has got me working my way through his back catalog and man, is it a dark, disturbing journey. Take Detour, which throws three lonely souls together on a cross-state road trip, ostensibly to kill one of the party’s stepfather. There’s a hitch in the plan, but not the typical kind like a cop coming up from behind on an empty road, though that happens too.

The film begins with Harper (Tye Sheridan), listening intently as a law professor expounds on how to get away with murder. The aspiring attorney has other things on his mind though. His mother is in a coma, thanks to a drunken joyride with his stepfather, Vincent (Stephen Moyer), who decides to visit his younger mistress instead of the hospital. Harper suspects Vincent’s upcoming trip to Las Vegas is more pleasure than business and is willing to take drastic measures to keep his stepfather from straying. The tidy coed gets sloshed, stumbles into a trashy bar, and sets off a very regrettable chain of events.

Harper meets Johnny Ray (Cohen), a coked up tough who has “Fear” tattooed in Lucida Calligraphy font on his bicep. The guy is clearly bluster, but he’s enough of a live wire that you’d avoid his sightline just to be safe. Harper does the opposite and drunkenly admits to wanting his stepfather dead, which is good enough as a job offer for Johnny. When he shows up at Harper’s house the next day, it’s too late to turn back, and the two, along with Johnny’s girl, Cherry (Bel Powley), hit the road towards Vegas.

Except the movie takes some unexpected, well, detours. Johnny insists on seeing some snarly drug boss named Frank (John Lynch, who will always be Lord Archibald Craven or Balinor to me). It’s a meeting he characterizes as a courtesy call but is actually a mandatory stop and one that could have disastrous consequences for Cherry. A casual sit-down at some sleepy diner also escalates into a situation that well, doesn’t end cleanly. The most surprising diversion though is the film’s narrative shift. The movie starts to flash back as it moves forward, and the slow drip reveal of Harper and Vincent’s relationship, and of its deterioration, unsettles the entire timeline.

Detour rumbles and disturbs but leaves its best parts untouched. The talented cast, all garlanded with breakout star laurels, give meat to the script. Sheridan is a capable lead, walking his character down a fine line of privilege and insecurity and tipping him just over the edge when he gets too close to type. His is not the most interesting role but has the most closure. Powley, meanwhile, gets the most underwritten part. The actress is a tour de force in The Diary of a Teenage Girl but is too confined as the girlfriend/hooker/occasional drug mule. Still, she’s magnetic and it’s hard to take your eyes off her. I have to say Cohen is the best, and not because I keep toggling between sweet Tony Fiorello and trashy Tony Fiorello. Johnny is actually a pretty stale character, kind of a C-grade Ben Foster type. But Cohen shares a scene with Lynch that immediately transforms his character into someone who’s much less tough and selfish than he appears. That’s the Cohen I love.

Released: 2009
Prod: Julie Baines, Phil Hunt, Stephen Kelliher, Jason Newmark, Compton Ross
Dir: Christopher Smith
Writer: Christopher Smith
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Emory Cohen, Bel Powley, John Lynch, Stephen Moyer, Gbenga Akinnagbe
Time: 96 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2017