mystery films

A Bundle of Trouble: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2017)

Aurora, girlfriend, you have got to move house. This is the second movie in a row that her front yard has doubled as a crime scene, and I’m not confident that the third time will be that much of a charm. Ro (Candace Cameron Bure) discovers a body after coming home from a party with her boyfriend, Martin (Yannick Bisson), and the deceased turns out to be his niece’s husband, Craig, whom he’s never met. In fact, Martin hasn’t even seen Regina (Carly McKillip) in several years and is surprised when she suddenly shows up. Even more surprising is the two week old baby she’s cradling.

But now dad’s dead and mom’s missing, and the two sleuths are left with a lot of questions and a little human. Ro later finds another body in her closet, but luckily this one is alive and talking. Craig’s friend Rory (Andrew Francis) was released from jail just that morning, and Ro suspects a disagreement led to murder. Martin is not so sure, but he knows something is going on because there’s a wad of cash in the diaper bag and Rory cops to writing bad checks to pay for a midwife.

I didn’t care too much for this story. We’ve barely met Regina when she disappears, and frankly I’d rather wash my dishes than watch these guys chase after someone I don’t care for. The more we know about these characters, the muddier it gets, and you start to wonder if the baby even belongs to Regina. If so, why did they hide the pregnancy from Craig’s parents? Are they actually involved in some child trafficking ring? The confusion makes the crime a little more interesting than your average Aurora Teagarden mystery, but besides Martin, no one else has much of a stake in this story.

Instead, I found myself enjoying the adventures in babysitting far more. I suspect we’re headed for some wedding bells soon, between Ro’s mother, Aida (Marilu Henner), and gentle-hearted John (Bruce Dawson) but also between Ro and Martin. Of course the baby is a perfectly timed test of their parenting skills. The two find they have a lot to learn; those tiny things are adorable until they start to leak everywhere. Aida enjoys playing grandma though, and she and Ro’s boss, Lillian, compete for baby time.

The movie ends in dramatic fashion, and Bundle does offer more action than you might expect from the laid back Hallmark Channel (well, it’s all relative). But that doesn’t mean you won’t fall asleep a few times before getting there.

Released: 2017
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Shelley Evans
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure,Yannick Bisson, Marilu Henner, Lexa Doig, Miranda Frigon, Bruce Dawson, Peter Benson, Andrew Francis, Jessica Heafey, Keenan Tracey, Carly McKillip, Michael Antonakos
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

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Dead Over Heels: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery (2017)

To be clear, I watched this movie twice – without managing to write a review because, you know, life – and I still had no idea what it was about. Google quickly reminded me it was the one where a dead body falls out of a plane, and right into Aurora’s front yard. The drama! I will say the campier these movies are, the more I tend to enjoy them, and on third viewing, I found some laughs that I hadn’t noticed before.

The body is that of Detective Burns, a stern guy with few social graces. Aurora (Candace Cameron Bure), librarian by day and Nancy Drew by, well, all the time, is totally nonplussed by his manner of death. I mean, this isn’t even the second corpse that’s appeared on her new property but the third, so this is old hat. Instead of going into shock, she goes straight into investigative mode.

There are plenty of leads for her to pursue. First is the detective’s odd behavior the night before he became a lawn ornament. Burns gave cryptic warnings to Aurora about her boyfriend, ex-CIA operative Martin Bartell (Yannick Bisson), indicating that he might be hiding a dirty past. After Burns’s death, she visits his widow, Bess (Leah Cairns), and notes her unusually calm, even sunny demeanor. Bess’s decision to immediately sell her house also raises eyebrows. Most shocking though is an attack on Lillian (Ellie Harvie), Burns’s sister-in-law and Ro’s sour boss. I don’t advocate violence, but loopy Lillian, the result of getting knocked out, is the best thing to happen to this character.

Meanwhile, the police department tries to piece itself back together. Lynn (Miranda Frigon), Ro’s sometimes rival, is named the temporary head and immediately has to deal with a contentious new officer, Pete Lambert (Jim Thorburn). Pete is one mean looking dude, and if he’s not the killer in this movie, then he’s escaped from another Hallmark mystery where he most certainly is.

Ro gets a little more help in solving this case. Martin’s visiting friend, Tim (Jeremy Guilbaut), is also ex-intelligence, and he tries to play detective too. He’s also pretty cute and makes a perfect date for Ro’s friend, Sally (Lexa Doig). But three’s a crowd, and in fact, two might be pushing it as well. Ro suspects Martin is about to propose, and it’s not the best time. The guy is so overprotective – and for once I agree with Candace Cameron Bure! Lay off, mildly attractive law enforcement guys. This is like a Murder, She Baked redux wherein an independent but admittedly reckless woman solves all the crimes but constantly has a worried man trailing her just in case. How about this, Hallmark – don’t make your female leads so careless around a crime scene.

Anyway, this relationship gets resolved, obviously. We’re too invested in Martin/Detective Murdoch to swap him for another strapping white Canadian guy. The highlight though was the trial of another couple, Lynn and Arthur (Peter Benson), Ro’s ex and also a detective on the police force. We’re used to seeing Arthur being the passive one, whether in a relationship or a murder investigation. But the elevation of his wife leads to some surprising consequences that make me enjoy watching these two far more than our other romantic pair.

Released: 2017
Dir: Terry Ingram
Writer: Shelley Evans
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure,Yannick Bisson, Marilu Henner, Lexa Doig, Miranda Frigon, Bruce Dawson, Peter Benson, Scott Lyster, Ellie Harvie, Jeremy Guilbaut, Jim Thorburn, Leah Cairns
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

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

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