TV movie

Mr. Write (2016)

Romance as a genre is basically the same as sci-fi or aliens and zombies, so author Michael Rothchild (Corey Sevier) reasons. It’s partly why he’s calling it quits as a romance novelist despite having penned a string of best sellers. Editor and fan Dori (Charlotte Sullivan) thinks he still has a few epic love stories in him though, and she gets them both in a bind when she promises to deliver a new Rothchild romance in a month’s time.

Unfortunately, Michael’s enjoying his bachelor lifestyle a bit too much to focus on a whole ass book. Between staying out all night and sleeping in all day, he doesn’t have the energy to write, until Dori reminds him that he’s already spent his advance and the publishing house will come collecting if he doesn’t produce. He feels less sympathy for the fact that his new editor stuck her neck out and vouched for his talent.

Dori finds out too late that her loyalty may have been misplaced and learns that Michael isn’t at all like the charming gentlemen he writes about. Instead, he’s a judgmental, arrogant slob who doesn’t believe in love. He also pecks out his stories on a typewriter, which means she has to stay close by to look at his drafts since he also can’t be bothered to use a scanner. That makes planning her wedding, also a month away, a bit difficult. Luckily her real life dream guy, Philip (Preston Vanderslice doing his best faux Brit accent), hires a wedding planner (Leanne Lapp) to ease the process.

Sevier has a roguish appeal that he deploys with ease, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in more romances. His character, Michael, however, is as unattractive a partner as Philip, who assumes that Dori’s going to quit work and pop out babies after they get married. I’m not hot on the idea that it’s okay to insult and belittle a woman so long as there are profuse apologies and a character 180 in the end. Michael turns on those puppy dog eyes and leans into his sob story, but there’s not much by way of atonement. It’s hard to see why Dori falls for this guy, and the writers just go with the notion that she’s a forgiving romantic at heart. It’s far more believable that he would grow to like her, his only real champion. Sullivan manages a beguiling mix of sweetness and strength, and though Dori takes way too much crap in my opinion, she’s the type that could inspire Michael to change for the better.

There’s another love story in here though and one that feels far more natural. Dori’s best friend, Pam (Christie Laing), seems content to stay in the casual dating phase her whole life. She treats her relationships like a magazine subscription, giving guys a three month trial and then inevitably forgoing renewal. Her latest boyfriend, Tim (Colin Lawrence), sees this for what it is, a way to avoid commitment thus avoid getting hurt. He wants to prove that he’s a class above and gets her to agree on three final dates, after which he’ll bow out if she really wants to end things.

I enjoyed this subplot, in part because I love Laing and think she’s often underused as a supporting player. Here, she finally gets her own storyline and shows that she’s more than a witty sidekick. Pam is as emotionally closed off as Dori is open to love, which is where the story runs into problems. The contrast between the two friends allows us to explore our fanciful ideas of love versus the more practical aspects of it, and while the movie finally settles on a balanced approach, the narrative yo-yos too much to connect the characters in a personal way. Even as Dori and Pam are best friends and work in the same publishing house, they and their relationships feel oddly disjointed from one another. It’s like watching two separate movies that just occasionally intersect.

Released: 2016
Dir: Rick Bota
Writer: Matt Marx
Cast: Charlotte Sullivan, Corey Sevier, Christie Laing, Colin Lawrence, Preston Vanderslice, Leanne Lapp, Brittney Wilson, Jill Teed, Debs Howard
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: PixL
Reviewed: 2020

Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: Heist and Seek (2020)

When it comes to whodunnits, I’m always going to recommend something along the lines of Foyle’s War or Grantchester or even Monk if we’re sticking to light American entertainment, but I can’t deny that Aurora Teagarden hits that murder mystery sweet spot. It’s the equivalent of a satisfying beach read, and I knew Heist and Seek was going to deliver when one of the characters popped out of a dumpster in full Elizabethan courtier garb.

The movie has all the right elements for a night of crime solving fun, from stolen artifacts to catty divas to dorky Brendon Zub. The intrigue begins at a library fundraiser of all places. To raise money for their literacy program, librarians Ro (Candace Cameron Bure) and Lillian (Ellie Harvie) secure a traveling Renaissance exhibit from the Seattle History Museum. During the opening gala, however, a prized pearl headpiece, known as Leicester’s Gift and supposedly worn by Queen Elizabeth I, is stolen despite numerous security measures. Suspicion first turns to guard Talbot (Sean Depner), but one guest, Miya (Elfina Luk), also raises eyebrows when she loudly objects to a police search. Ro and her mother, Aida (Marilu Henner), think their friend Howard (Chris Gauthier) might be guilty when his past comes to light, but details of the case also suggest the crime could be an inside job. That puts the museum’s assistant director, Kelly (Michelle Harrison), and board member James (Oliver Rice) under the spotlight, and both take the opportunity to further their grievances by lobbing accusations of irresponsibility and professional jealousy at one another. Things take a turn though when one of the suspects ends up dead.

Cue the Real Murders Club, Ro’s little side project and probably the town of Lawrenceton’s best crime solving unit. Ro and her army of amateur sleuths, including her best friend, Sally (Lexa Doig), and her cousin, Philip (Dylan Sloane), immediately get to work trying to figure out who would want a hundreds year old headpiece and kill for it. They don’t seem to going to their actual jobs, so I guess good on them. I’m a fan of their teamwork, and the series is stronger when it leans on all the characters’ varying personalities instead of solely on Aurora. The group’s dynamic could use some further tweaking though. The diversity of experience that someone like Terry (Catherine Lough Haggquist), the former mayor, or John, Aida’s erstwhile partner, brings is what the series needs to push forward. I’m not yet convinced that Davis (Cole Vigue), a more recent addition, has that sort of presence.

The introduction of Niall Matter as Nick, Ro’s love interest, however, turns out to have been a great choice. As much as I liked former CIA operative Martin (Yannick Bisson), the genial college professor is a better match for Ro and the show. Matter keeps things on the lighter side and is content to let his girl take the lead, except when it comes to proposing marriage. Poor Nick is ready to pop the question, but murder keeps getting in the way. Another barrier might be Ro’s suspicion of Nick’s friend, Eric (Zub), a fellow professor who ends up on her suspect list after he’s less than forthcoming about his interest in the exhibit. Zub is my favorite part of the movie, not just because I love him generally and think should be cast as a romantic lead on the regular but because he is an A-1 dork here and clearly not a “Western Civ” scholar. The guy prints out color articles in 16 point font and got into his field after watching Shakespeare in Love and wondering “whether Elizabeth really did see Shakespeare’s plays.” Cute, but not so cute to escape Ro’s watchful eye. Anyway, if the culprit is Eric, it wouldn’t be the first time one of her boyfriend’s acquaintances was found guilty of murder.

While the case itself is not too thrilling and even ends on an anticlimactic note, the movie still packs a good punch. Peter Benson, who also plays detective Arthur Smith in the series, directs. He has a strong sense of pacing, and the push and pull between the story’s intensity and humor keeps it going. The developments have me looking forward to the next Aurora Teagarden mystery, which is something I don’t usually say.

Highlight for spoilers: It’s the overly charming Brit, James, who staged the theft and then killed the two security guards who knew about it. His wife was divorcing him and in order to prove his love and win her back, he figured an audacious crime would do the trick. Sure, dude. Assistant director Kelly really was just miffed about the whole traveling exhibit idea, but things worked out in the end and she was appointed museum director. Her brother, however, had independently come up with the same plan to nick the headpiece and sort of conspired with his associate Miya, who probably smuggles jewelry on the side, but they never acted on it. Meanwhile, shady Howard only wanted to see David, the first murdered security guard, whom he had befriended during his time in prison, and Eric, well, he’s just an awkward dork. As for Nick, he finally proposed, falling to one knee in the most romantic place possible – the local library stacks.

Released: 2020
Dir: Peter Benson
Writer: Teena Booth
Cast: Candace Cameron Bure, Niall Matter, Marilu Henner, Peter Benson, Lexa Doig, Miranda Frigon, Dylan Sloane, Ellie Harvie, Brendon Zub, Sean Depner, Lisa Marie DiGiacinto, Chris Gauthier, Michelle Harrison, Jay Hindle, Catherine Lough Haggquist, Elfina Luk, Byron Mayberry, Oliver Rice, Cole Vigue
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2020

Fairfield Road (2010)

Fairfield Road brings together two genres that I love – Hallmark movies and films about politics. While it’s not even middling West Wing, it does deliver romance and campaigning in one thrilling go. Actually, that’s The American President – but this cheap facsimile will suffice if you need your fix and don’t have anything Sorkin-esque at the ready. Jesse Metcalfe stars as Noah McManus, chief of staff to Boston’s mayor and guy headed for big political things. At thirty-two years old, he’s about to become a lead Senate staffer and married man. Things change fast in the world of politics though, and instead he goes from DC hotshot to single, unemployed dude with a big diamond ring bill in a matter of hours.

Noah decides to hole up in tiny Harpswell, Mass, staying at the inn where he and his girlfriend were supposed to be celebrating their engagement. He takes up an offer to join the local preservation council for their dinner meeting, and in between eating half a baked potato and a whole ass lobster, he learns that there will be an upcoming election for town manager. Genial inn owner Sam (Derek McGrath) faces off against strip mall millionaire Randall (Brandon Firla), with the former hoping to keep things the way they are while the latter eager to turn this pretty piece of New England into a shopping mecca.

Having just stepped away from a fierce reelection campaign in Boston, Noah could care less about this minor municipal squabble. Book shop owner Hailey (Natalie Lisinska) opens his eyes to the beauty of Harpswell, however, recounting stories of the Native Americans and then English settlers who worked the land. She waxes lyrical about the generations who built this tightknit community, about those who erected the lighthouse and fished the open seas. It’s some strong American mythmaking, and Noah eats it up like a good public servant.

Still, it’s not a great reason for him to insert himself into Harpswell politics, and he could have easily good night and good lucked his way out of there. In this story, however, the pretty woman and nice innkeeper stir something inside the lad. Noah’s political instincts kick in, and he tries to invigorate Sam’s flailing campaign with some talking points and debate prep. It’s all a bit speedy, and the character goes from reluctant outsider to the town’s biggest champion. The script pushes the character from one impassioned set to another, which gives the story the energy of a political film. One can see through the hasty plotting though, and the rousing moments are only buoyed by fake sentimentality. What is satisfying is Metcalfe as a Boston pol, and I wouldn’t mind seeing that series, maybe when he’s not also playing a Boston cop.

Released: 2010
Dir: David Weaver
Writer: Tracy Rosen
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Natalie Lisinska, Derek McGrath, Chick Reid, Brandon Firla, Natalie Brown, Matthew Edison, Maria Ricossa
Time: 89 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2020