mystery films

The Julius House: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2016)

The latest Aurora Teagarden mystery begins on a lonely dirt road in the countryside. A distraught old woman is standing outside a large house and has just informed the police of her family’s disappearance. It’s an ominous beginning and while not one of those Victorian mysteries that will keep you awake at night, there is a creepy doll sitting on a shelf of a hidden closet.

The Julius House is the best of the Aurora Teagarden series so far; make of that what you will. It’s mildly spooky, which gives it more kick than your average Hallmark mystery. The missing family turns out to be the Juliuses, and four years later, their house belongs to Ro (Candace Cameron Bure). Ro, full-time librarian and part-time detective, vaguely recalls the case of the missing family of three when she purchases her new abode, but she’s so taken with the extra wall space that she doesn’t consider the consequences of living at a possible murder scene or that closets may not be the only thing the house is hiding.

When she begins to dig deeper into the family’s disappearance, with the help of her journalist friend, Sally (Lexa Doig), her boyfriend, Martin (Yannick Bisson), and her mother’s boyfriend, John (Bruce Dawson), she only finds more questions. Why, for instance, was the teenage daughter afraid of her father? Why did her boyfriend leave town so soon after her disappearance? How long did the mother, who was dying from cancer, have to live? The only thing Ro is sure of is that the police’s conclusion is wrong and that the Julius family did not drive into a ravine by accident.

Meanwhile, things are percolating in Ro and Aida (Marilu Henner), her mother’s, personal lives. It turns out Martin from the last episode wasn’t the murderer (spoiler alert) and that he is dreamy good guy that Ro’s mother hoped he’d be. The two need to get on with it though because the running narrative here is that they aren’t officially a couple until they’ve had twenty-five dates, per Aida’s rules. Y’all are adults though, so why is this a thing? Aida doesn’t have too much time to meddle though because she is working out some kinks in her relationship with John, Ro’s friend from their Real Murders Club. John’s ready to propose but Aida’s being Aida and won’t say “yes” so easily.

I like John’s reappearance after getting sidelined in the previous movie. He’s levelheaded and calm, which is useful since people in this small town are getting killed left and right. Ro’s rival and wife of her ex-boyfriend, police detective Lynn (Miranda Frigon), is not as antagonistic, though I don’t mind when she is. I also liked Token Black Guy, concrete layer Parnell (Viv Leacock), who has a small but important role. Basically, any time secondary characters crowd out an overly chirpy Ro is fine with me.

Released: 2016
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure,Yannick Bisson, Marilu Henner, Lexa Doig, Miranda Frigon, Bruce Dawson, Peter Benson, Scott Lyster, Gabrielle Rose
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

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Three Bedrooms, One Corpse: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2016)

After a solid second installment of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, Three Bedrooms, One Corpse takes one step back. A routine whodunit that sputters by on Candance Cameron Bure’s overacting, the movie dips into the world of real estate and art theft. Librarian/crime solver Ro (Cameron Bure) has quite a day when she stumbles upon her mother’s handsome client and then immediately onto her mother’s strangled coworker at a house viewing. Never one to leave murder to the actual detectives, Ro tries to find the killer herself lest her mother, Aida (Marilu Henner), become the next victim.

It’s not a terribly exciting ensemble of suspects. Clues point to various agents, from Aida’s cagey coworkers, to those at a competing agency. Aida resents Ro’s suspicions, but the case takes an early and mysterious turn when it’s discovered that someone driving the deceased’s car returned the house keys to the office the night she died. It doesn’t help that her husband is lashing out and making public threats. Then Ro discovers that a valuable painting was taken from the house and that other agencies and companies have also had art stolen from their properties. When another body turns up, evidence suggests an unlikely suspect – Ro’s latest blind date.

Martin Bartell, aka Yannick Bisson, aka Detective William Murdoch of Murdoch Mysteries, seems like the perfect guy, at least Aida thinks so, but he might be hiding something. Ro’s other romantic prospects have not lasted more than one episode, so the odds aren’t great for suave Martin. A more dependable relationship is the one between Ro and her ex (Peter Benson) and his wife, Lynn (Miranda Frigon). I like the latter’s frostiness and constant need to maintain the upper hand. Frigon is more fun to watch than Cameron Bure, who is always trying to figure out how to cram all the requisite emotions onto her face. There’s an arched eyebrow here, a dilated pupil here, and a contorted lip just in case. One of my favorite characters recedes into the background though. John (Bruce Dawson), one of Ro’s amateur detectives in arms and Aida’s sometimes boyfriend, is reduced to random elderly man. His treatment is symbolic of the whole movie. Even if your brain hasn’t been numbed by a Hallmark marathon, this one is easy to forget.

Released: 2016
Dir: Lynne Stopkewich
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Marilu Henner, Lexa Doig, Miranda Frigon, Bruce Dawson, Peter Benson, Yannick Bisson, Nicole Oliver, Giles Panton, Scott Lyster
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery (2017)

My entertainment life these days seems to be a lot of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. After a wild Fixer Upper Mysteries and Aurora Teagarden bender, I went straight for a shot of Hallmark’s latest, and lived to tell about it. Emma Fielding is like every other series on offer in that the title character (Courtney Thorne-Smith) is a determined career woman with a knack for getting mixed up in a man’s world. In this case, the woman is an archeologist leading a team of students on a dig. Her old fashioned techniques, that is actual digging, earn her the condescension of a male upstart, who would prefer to survey a site with his drone.

They’re spending a few weeks in Emma’s stepmother’s backyard in Maine, hoping to find proof of a settlement that predates Jamestown. It’s the continuation of her father’s research, which never progressed beyond conjecture. When their dig site yields an old spoon, everyone is giddy, until fresh bodies start popping up and suddenly it’s a different and unwelcome adventure. It’s hard to imagine anyone in this picturesque fishing town would want to screw with some university kids sifting through dirt, but this is a murder mystery and sleepy towns are full of killers.

Some locals are convinced there’s buried treasure waiting to be unearthed and will do anything to get their hands on it. Hottie Will (Benjamin Ayres) even ran salvage operations some years ago, so up he goes on the suspect list. Others are just shady, like grumpy Tichnor. His house is one of those where you half expect the police to pull a body or two out of the basement freezer. There’s also petty barmaid Nikki, who harbors an unhealthy resentment towards Emma for not remembering the fact that they used to hang out during the summer. I have to say the identity of the murderer is clear to anyone who makes a habit out of watching these things. That said, the movie still commits to misdirection and each suspect seems like a plausible culprit.

At the center of all this is Emma, cool-headed and not too foolhardy. She’s a university professor after all and knows how to prudently navigate her way around condescending men in power. FBI agent Jim Connor (James Tupper) would be a good romantic match if he didn’t also mock her crime solving skills, dismissing her deductions for rising only to the standard of peer review and not a court of law. When her department head (Martin Cummins) strides in and tries to stop the excavation for fear of safety, she must also reason her way around his objections.

Like actress Jewel in the Fixer Upper mystery series, Thorne-Smith tends for a low-key approach to her character. It doesn’t feel like she’s trying to put on a show, which is the feeling I get whenever Candace Cameron Bure appears on my screen. There’s very little melodrama, all things considered, which puts more focus on the mystery. That also makes it a sleepier choice, but you could do a lot worse.

Released: 2017
Dir: Douglas Barr
Writer: Suzette Couture
Cast: Courtney Thorne-Smith, James Tupper, Martin Cummins, Adam DiMarco, Tess Atkins, Benjamin Ayres, P. Lynn Johnson, Andrew Kavadas, Jessica Heafey
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

Real Murders: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2015)

The first installment of this series got off to a middling start with more emphasis on Aurora Teagarden than on the mystery. This second movie makes up for that though; starring Candace Cameron Bure as the title character, it delivers a high stakes whodunit in which the victims and suspects are all part of the Real Murders Club. The group is not, as it would seem, one where real murders occur but where an eclectic circle of friends come to discuss true crime stories old and new. On this occasion, however, a real murder is committed just before their meeting. A woman is killed in the same manner as the crime to be discussed, leading Aurora to believe that there is a murderer in their midst.

Ro, a librarian by day, dives into the case despite being warned off by her ex and his wife (Miranda Frigon), both police detectives, and her worried mother (Marilu Henner). She ignores their advice and promptly partners with a fellow club member, John (Bruce Dawson), and her journalist best friend, Sally (Lexa Doig). Joining them is newcomer Robin Daniels (Robin Dunne), mystery writer and hottie, but his sudden appearance and intimate knowledge of crime also puts him on the suspect list.

When Ro is nearly poisoned, her investigation intensifies, and she wonders if someone is instead committing copycat murders while trying to knock off the members one by one. She connects whoever she can to past crimes the club has studied, searching for clues as to who the next victim might be. No one is safe from either list though, and some of her top suspects include a butcher who was absent from the meting the night of the murders and a guy with previous run-ins with the police. Rather than relish the chance to be a part of the action for once, however, the group begins to eye each other with skepticism. No one wants to be questioned by the police or a nosy Ro, and the situation is made worse when Sally writes an article that sources private conversations between the members. They start to wonder if the Real Murders Club is more trouble than it’s worth.

This movie does a better job of balancing character and mystery. Now that we know what kind of person Ro and the other characters are, the narrative just needs to highlight certain aspects of their personalities, like Ro’s habit of rejecting guys that her mom pushes her way. Granted, I would move cautiously if my mother suggested I feign interest to get a second date, but did they need to drop hot vicar without warning? Is this going to be a habit because I kind of want Robin to stay on. He and Ro are compatible and make a good sleuthing team. The dynamic between Ro and Lynn, the detective wife of her ex, is also taking shape. Instead of two catty women baring their claws over a guy, they have something of a symbiotic relationship that also shows off their strengths. You’d think they be a little friendlier after Ro delivered Lynn’s baby on a kitchen, but a détente will do for now.

One thing I’m not a particular fan of but will have to put up with because I’ve committed myself to this series is Cameron Bure’s Hallmark style of acting. These are the kinds of roles she eats up, and girl overacts the shit out of this. It’s not that she comes off as fake but that she’s overdramatic, the friend who tears up because your great-aunt died and wants to know if you need her to catsit while you attend the funeral. No, and stop crying.

Released: 2015
Dir: Martin Wood
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Marilu Henner, Lexa Doig, Robin Dunne, Miranda Frigon, Bruce Dawson, Peter Benson, Seann Gallagher, Anna Van Hooft, Julian Christopher
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

A Bone to Pick: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2015)

When I started A Bone to Pick, the first movie in the Aurora Teagarden series, I was as excited as one can be to dive into a Hallmark mystery. The title character is a diminutive, single librarian with a penchant for solving murders, which is far closer to me than a bakery owner or a remodeling expert. But the air quickly goes out of this one despite a few moments of levity, especially a late scene involving a very pregnant police captain. Aurora (Candace Cameron Bure), or Ro as she’s known to her family and friends, is a perky character who’s easy to like, but her chipper personality isn’t enough to sustain a full mystery.

The idea of a Real Murders Club is grim but enticing, and Ro and her friends gather regularly to discuss and try to solve real murders, obviously. I’m too squeamish to join one myself, assuming these things exist and I’m sure they do, but the popularity of true crime podcasts like Serial and shows like Making a Murderer suggests that these guys are on to something. When one of the members dies – from old age and not from foul play, Ro gets pulled into a real murder mystery of her own.

The woman leaves her whole estate to the young librarian, an estate that happens to include a skull tucked inside the window seat of her very handsome house. Ro’s crime solving mind clicks into gear, and rather than alerting the police, she immediately sets off to gather clues. There are a few leads for her to follow, all of which bring her back to her new neighbors whom she suspects of murdering one of their own. Under the pretense of exploring the block, she takes the opportunity to question everyone and eventually fingers a mysterious dress shop owner with a runaway husband, a woman who looks like an extra from an 80s TV movie, her bland husband, and a grumpy newspaper editor who happens to be the boss of Ro’s best friend. Her accusations do nothing to endear her to her neighbors, who are already miffed that she and not they inherited their neighbor’s property and wealth.

I can’t be sure that these are all the suspects though. The movie spends so much time trying to establish Ro’s character that there’s hardly any thought given to the others. In the end, I managed to sort everyone out, but that still left an unsatisfying reveal. Nevertheless, Ro is a force, and this first movie in a series does its best to get you hooked on the character; the sleuthing is secondary. It’s not how good storytelling works but it’s the trade-off the writers decide to go for.

And that’s fine if you’re not into the whole murder mystery thing, though this is the channel’s raison d’etre. There are plenty of characters to liven up the story, like Marilu Henner as Ro’s mom, Aida. A high class real estate agent, Aida is some strange incarnation of a helicopter parent. She pays her daughter’s rent and then criticizes her lack of fashion sense, and common sense, come to think of it since she disapproves of Ro’s morbid interests. A hot vicar strolls onto the scene as Ro’s love interest. Of course this one is not to be confused with The Hot Vicar, Sidney Chambers, but that’s for another day, ladies. Ro’s ex is also a police detective married to another police detective. I don’t care to see catty exchanges between women at odds over a dude, but that’s where this rivalry is now. And let’s not forget dowdy librarian, who is exactly the stereotype you are picturing. Finally, we have our one non-white character with a substantial speaking part. Lexa Doig, a part-Filipina actor, plays Ro’s best friend, Sally, and yes, her job is to be as supportive and non-offensive as possible.

Released: 2015
Dir: Martin Wood
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Marilu Henner, Lexa Doig, Bruce Dawson, Peter Benson, Sonya Salomaa, Dan Payne, Miranda Frigon, Stephen Huszar, David Ingram, Fiona Vroom
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017