Buzzwordathon 2022: Review of ‘Private L.A.’ by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

Three days ago, I reminded readers and followers that my blogathon, the Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, was on its way. For those who aren’t aware, this event highlights stories where a trip doesn’t go according to plan. Whether these trips go hilariously or horrifyingly wrong, they have one thing in common: attempting to reach a desired destination. This leads me to address my selection for March’s Buzzwordathon! The theme this time around is ‘Locations’. Since L.A. (Los Angeles) is a real-life location, I selected Private L.A. by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan!

Here is a screenshot of my copy of Private L.A. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

The first book co-written by James Patterson I had read was Confessions: The Private School Murders. Unfortunately, this book was, for me, a disappointment, as a side mystery monopolized the overall story. Private L.A. avoids that issue by devoting a satisfying amount of time to the novel’s main mystery, which involves the disappearance of a powerful acting couple. This book also highlights a mystery featuring a group of criminals called ‘No Prisoners’. However, the text provides an equal amount of attention to both mysteries, going back and forth between first- and third-person narration. When I purchased my copy of Private L.A., I didn’t know it was the sixth book in a series. Despite this, the book does not heavily rely on events from the previous installments. If a character or situation is introduced in the text, Jack (the protagonist) informs the readers of their significance to him. It should also be noted how Private L.A.’s chapters are shorter in page length. This allows the story’s overall pace to be faster, which works for mysteries taking place in “real time”.

Magnifying glass image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/magnifying-glass-with-fingerprint-in-flat-style_2034684.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/flat”>Flat vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

There are some parts of Private L.A. I felt were unnecessary. Breaking the book up into sections was one of them. Throughout the story, there was a prologue, five separate parts, and an epilogue. I recognize this creative decision was made to group certain areas of the story together. But since the chapters were so short, these sections felt like they were included for the sake of being there. Along with the two aforementioned mysteries, Private L.A. contained two subplots. The first one focused on preparations for the murder trial of Jack’s brother, Tommy. Even though I haven’t read the Private series in its entirety, I’m guessing this is an overarching story for the series. However, I wish this subplot was one of the main plots in another book, in order to receive enough time to reach a resolution.

Courtroom image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/isometric”>Isometric vector created by macrovector – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

The second subplot, revolving around Justine Smith, also didn’t receive a resolution. Justine is a close friend and co-worker of Jack’s. Her subplot is comprised of two narratives; dealing with PTSD and her growing feelings for a man named Paul. While it was interesting to read about Justine coming to terms with her PTSD symptoms, her interactions with Paul were lackluster. Justine’s story grew frustrating after she witnesses Paul interacting with a woman, causing her to assume his relationship status with little to no proof. Honestly, I wish Justine’s story had solely focused on how she dealt with PTSD. Some parts of Private L.A. needed descriptive imagery. When characters from the LAPD and ‘No Prisoners’ were incorporated into the story, I found it difficult to decipher who was who. This is because the characters seemed, more often than not, interchangeable.

Therapy session image created by Pressfoto at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/businesswoman-talking-to-her-psychologist_860909.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background image created by Pressfoto – Freepik.com</a>.  Image found at freepik.com.

Prior to this year’s Buzzwordathon, I had never read any books from the Private series. Despite jumping into the middle of the story, I enjoyed Private L.A for what it was! It was interesting to read how each mystery unfolded, as well as seeing how each of the dots connected. But because of this book’s subject matter, the story might not be everyone’s “cup of tea”. I wouldn’t say Private L.A is a “good” book, but it was better than being just fine. It was an intriguing and well-written story that was also a nice introduction to the series. Therefore, I wouldn’t oppose reading more Private books!

Overall score: 3.8 – 3.9 out of 5 stars

Have fun during Buzzwordathon!

Sally Silverscreen

Disclaimer: As I mentioned in this review, the subject matter in Private L.A. prevents the book from being everyone’s “cup of tea”. This content is the following:

  • Swearing on several occasions
  • References to sex toys on a few occasions
  • In Justine’s subplot, it is mentioned she and Paul had sex. However, this interaction is not described in detail.
  • Several murders take place in this story. Some of them are described in detail.
  • References to children in danger
  • References to a dog in distress (the dog in question is never harmed)
  • The use of slurs on two occasions
  • One member of ‘No Prisoners’ disguises himself as a woman. He only does this in an attempt to carry out his mission.
  • Two chapters that feature sexual assault

Sally Watches…Diagnosis Murder!

For the We Love Detectives Week Blogathon, I was originally going to create a tier rank list of every film from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries I’ve seen. But the more I thought about this idea, the more ambitious it became. Instead of following through on such a daunting task, I decided to submit an entry that was simpler in nature. I’m currently reading The Magician’s Accomplice by Michael Genelin. But I might not finish the book within the blogathon timeframe. So that’s how I came up with my back-up plan! Recently, while on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ website, I came across an episode of Diagnosis Murder titled “An Education in Murder”. What caught my attention was the episode’s synopsis, as it reminded me of an episode of Murder, She Wrote I reviewed back in 2019: “School for Murder”. Curious to see how similar or different “An Education in Murder” was to “School for Murder”, I thought now would be a good time to introduce myself to a “new” mystery show! Before I continue with my review, I’d like to point out the irony of the situation. That aforementioned review of “School for Murder” was not only the first time I had watched Murder, She Wrote, but that was my submission for a mystery themed blogathon!

Episode Name: An Education in Murder

Season 5, Episode 19

Premiere Date: March 5th, 1998

The title card for “An Education in Murder”. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

What I liked about this episode:

I was impressed by the acting in “An Education in Murder”! But there was one performance that really outshined the rest. Portraying a student named Noelle, Danielle Harris did such a great job with the acting material given! When it comes to describing her character, think Cher from Clueless but more manipulative. There were two sides to Noelle; the sweet, good-natured side she used to give a good first impression and the edgy, sadistic side that causes her fellow classmates to face a living nightmare. Throughout this episode, Danielle effortlessly wove in between these polar opposites, changing her character’s demeanor like a chameleon. It was also interesting to see Noelle interact with the other characters, her unpredictability leaving me wondering what she’ll do next. Danielle’s strong acting talents worked in her favor, as she helped bring to life one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in any tv show!

What I didn’t like about this episode:

Similar to “School for Murder”, “An Education in Murder” took place at an affluent private school. Kelly, one of the students of the school, explains to Dr. Mark Sloan, the show’s protagonist, just how affluent the student body is. After class, she says that if a student doesn’t keep up with current events, their GPA will suffer. She also tells Mark how she doesn’t have a wealthy father. Despite these words, Norrington Hall, the school featured in this episode, didn’t feel like an affluent private school. I know there are a variety of private schools with their own unique communities, traditions, and ways of operating on a day-to-day basis. But I couldn’t find anything about Norrington Hall that screamed “look how much money can be dumped into a child’s education”. For one, all the students in this episode didn’t behave or interact any differently from public school students in a typical movie or television show. Mark’s science class at Norrington Hall seems like a standard AP (advanced placement) science class. Sure, the school’s interior and exterior had a nice appearance. But if entertainment media and real-life have taught me anything, public school buildings can look just as nice as those belonging to private schools. The way the characters’ words didn’t match up with the visuals reminded me of Chippewa Falls Library from the Hallmark Christmas movie, Holly and Ivy.

The reason I included this screenshot is to show readers how nice the interior of Norrington Hall is. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

The mystery itself:

I’m glad “An Education in Murder” wasn’t a carbon-copy of “School for Murder”! Even though the Diagnosis Murder episode had a main plot and two subplots, similar to Murder, She Wrote’s episode, the story felt unique from the predecessor. Despite having three stories in one episode, it never seemed overwhelming. Each of these plots held a connection to the mystery. Unfortunately, that mystery was so painfully obvious, you might as well place the guilty party under the brightest neon sign you can find. Because of the mystery’s painful obviousness, the resolution was anti-climactic. This led to a weak mystery.  While watching “An Education in Murder”, I was hoping the guilty party was a red herring, with an unexpected twist hiding around the corner. Sadly, this episode was “cut-and-dry”, leaving little room for intrigue.

The other factors from this episode:

  • “An Education in Murder” brought up several messages relating to medicine and murder mysteries I hadn’t thought of before. For instance, after a classmate from Norrington Hall passes away, Mark tells his students how that student’s death is going to make a difference. As morbid as that sounds, he brings up a good point about murder mysteries. Because we, the audience, are so caught up in the story, the murder mystery’s effect on the characters and their surroundings can sometimes be overlooked. This can, to an extent, also be said about real-life cases.
  • At certain points in the episode, Mark gives Kelly advice, ranging from how to prevent dizzy spells to figuring out her life after high school. He helps her in an attempt to provide a trustworthy figure in Kelly’s life. This served as a major difference between Diagnosis Murder and Murder, She Wrote. Out of the episodes of Murder, She Wrote I’ve seen, I don’t recall Jessica Fletcher giving noteworthy advice to younger characters. Maybe the infrequent presence of younger characters on that show was a reason why? Even though this is my first time watching Diagnosis Murder, it makes me wonder how often younger characters appeared on the show.
  • In one scene, Mark’s son, Steve, gives Mark information about the guilty party’s background. This information was used to explain the motive behind the guilty party’s behavior. After hearing this explanation, it made me wonder if the show was implying the guilty party had RAD (reactive attachment disorder)? I’m not asking this to diagnose a character, but simply out of curiosity. If the guilty party did have RAD, why wouldn’t any of the characters mention this? I know this show doesn’t revolve around the psychological aspect of the medical world. Still, I’m surprised the disorder wasn’t openly stated in this episode.

My overall thoughts:

For my first time watching Diagnosis Murder, I was left desiring more from the mystery. Even though it was a different story from Murder, She Wrote’s “School for Murder”, it was painfully obvious who the guilty party was. Because of that, I didn’t find the mystery interactive. However, the parts of the story surrounding the mystery made up for the episode’s weaknesses! “An Education in Murder” was more thought-provoking than I expected, sharing interesting ideas about murder mysteries and medicine. Each plot was connected to the mystery, allowing these stories to share importance in the script. But, as I said in the review, the amount of stories never felt overwhelming. Based on the series synopsis I read on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ website, it seems like Diagnosis Murder wanted to enjoy the fruits of Murder, She Wrote’s labor. I came to this conclusion because each show shares some common aspects, such as featuring an older protagonist. Like with Murder, She Wrote, I might check out more episodes from Diagnosis Murder.

Rating: A 3.5 out of 5

We Love Detectives Week Blogathon banner created by Hamlette from Hamlette’s Soliloquy

Have fun in Malibu!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Sherlock Holmes in New York Review

As of late 2021, there have been six actors who have portrayed one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. Despite the fact I’m reviewing a Sherlock Holmes movie, the role I’m referring to is James Bond. Now, you’re probably wondering, “what does James Bond have to do with Sherlock Holmes”? Besides being British, both characters were portrayed by Roger Moore. When I was invited by Gill, from Realweegiemidget Reviews, to join the You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon, I had to think about what film I wanted to write about. When I discovered Roger Moore starred in a Sherlock Holmes movie back in 1976, I thought it’d be an interesting title to cover. While I have reviewed my fair share of mystery films, including those that were made for television, I haven’t seen a lot of Sherlock Holmes related movies. Therefore, talking about Sherlock Holmes in New York will certainly make up for that!

Sherlock Holmes in New York created by 20th Century Fox Televison, NBC, and Ascot Elite Home Entertainment

Things I liked about the film:

Roger’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes: While I haven’t seen any of Roger Moore’s films from the James Bond franchise, I have seen his performance in the 2011 Hallmark Channel movie, A Princess for Christmas. From what I remember, Roger carried his character, Edward Duke of Castlebury, with class and dignity. These same qualities were present in his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. During Sherlock Holmes in New York, I could see some James Bond-esque qualities in the titular character. Roger’s ability to be suave as well as calm under pressure are just two examples. At certain moments in the story, Sherlock interacts with a woman named Irene Adler. Because there is history between these characters, Sherlock and Irene’s interactions contain a romantic flair. This is where the suaveness comes in, as Roger uses this to emphasize his on-screen chemistry with Charlotte Rampling. At the very beginning of the film, Sherlock faces off against Professor Moriarty. In this scene, Moriarty tries to hurt Sherlock at every chance he gets. But Sherlock never cracks under pressure. Instead, he consistently keeps his composure.

The historical accuracy: Recently, I reviewed the movie, Let Him Go. In that review, I talked about how the set design appeared to come from the ‘50s, despite the story taking place in the ‘60s. This caused the film’s time period to be unclear. Sherlock Holmes in New York takes place in March of 1901. Unlike Let Him Go, everything in the 1976 movie looked and felt like the 1900s! The costume design appeared historically accurate, with Sherlock Holmes’ outdoor wear serving as one example. Toward the beginning and end of the film, Sherlock sported the iconic plaid short cape and cap. But in New York, he wore a longer black cape and top hat. The historical accuracy was so on point, even the posters in The Empire State looked like it came from 1901. The font and basic design of these posters were just one detail that helped this movie’s creative team achieve the aesthetic they wanted for their project!

The presentation of New York City: When a movie or television show takes place in a beloved location, that place can be presented in two ways: an over-glamourized empire or a disgusting landscape covered by a glittering mask. With Sherlock Holmes in New York, the titular city was given to the audience “as is”. Even though the more polished areas of this destination could be seen, that was not the “end all, be all” in the story. In a handful of scenes, Sherlock Holmes explores the performance community of New York. He even goes undercover as a stage performer. The Big Apple is known for being one of the world’s entertainment hot-spots. While that part of this location was not emphasized, it did show some of the different components of one of America’s largest cities.

The You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon banner created by Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews

What I didn’t like about the film:

A pointless change of scenery: When a movie or television series chooses to change the location of their story, there needs to be a strong reason for that change. These reasons can range from expanding upon the overarching story to giving the protagonist(s) something interesting to do. With Sherlock Holmes in New York, though, none of these things happened. As a matter of fact, having Sherlock Holmes go to New York at all seemed unnecessary. If the mysteries in this film took place in England, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. That’s because none of the mysteries have any exclusive connection to New York itself. Having Sherlock solve the disappearances of immigrants from Ellis Island would have given him a stronger reason to be in New York, as Ellis Island is a part of New York and United States history. A child being kidnapped or a bank robbery can take place anytime and anywhere.

Not interactive enough: An appealing aspect of the mystery genre is the opportunity to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist. This allows the story to be interactive and engaging. I know one of Sherlock Holmes’ traits is his ability to figure out clues and possible scenarios in a short amount of time. But in Sherlock Holmes in New York, Sherlock figures things out so quickly, the audience doesn’t get a chance to engage with the mystery themselves. Instead, they’re forced to sit on the sidelines and watch the protagonist do everything, giving the audience a weak reason to stay invested in the story. Because of this, I found myself zoning out of the movie on a few occasions.

Lack of urgency: When a mystery takes place in current time, it gives that story a sense of urgency. The audience watches as the protagonist(s) races against the clock to solve a given mystery. While I won’t spoil Sherlock Holmes in New York, I will say a kidnapping takes place in the story. However, shortly after this crime takes place, Sherlock plays his violin in his hotel room. He then smokes his pipe all night. As I mentioned earlier, Sherlock Holmes is known for figuring out clues and scenarios in a short amount of time. That doesn’t give the story an excuse not to have urgency.

New York City skyline with letters image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/new-york-skyline-typographic-silhouette_719554.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

There was a time when having a movie take place in New York was the film’s selling point. From Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan to A Troll in Central Park, movie studios wanted to take a bite out of The Big Apple for one reason or another. While I don’t know where or why this trend started, Sherlock Holmes in New York may have been one of the movies that caused this interesting ripple effect. Too bad the titular character didn’t have a stronger reason to visit The Empire State. The idea of Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery outside of England is not a bad one. But with the 1976 movie, the idea was better in theory than in practice. Add weak interactivity and a lack of urgency, this movie is not as strong as The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire, a Sherlock Holmes film I reviewed back in 2018. However, I did like Roger Moore’s portrayal of the famous detective. In fact, it’s a shame he didn’t receive more opportunities to appear in Sherlock Holmes stories. With this review completed, I need to make the time to see Roger’s films from the James Bond franchise. I just have to find the perfect opportunity to talk about them.

Overall score: 6-6.1 out of 10

Have you seen any Sherlock Holmes or James Bond films? If so, which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comment section below!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery Review + 360, 365, 370, and 375 Follower Thank You

Back in May, I said I was planning on reviewing the newest Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries film. Since I try my best to be a blogger of my word, I’m finally getting around to writing about it. Out of all the times I could review this film, it seems like now is more perfect than ever. This is due to the start of Chesapeake Shores’ fifth season, the same season Jesse Metcalfe will be departing from. While I have seen all the movies in the Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries series, I only reviewed the previous title; Ships in the Night: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery. In that review, I said the third movie was fine, but caused the series to stumble a little bit. This was because of several flaws in the project, including a mystery that was overshadowed. With any series, each chapter is hit or miss. But will Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery sink or swim? To solve this mystery, you need to read this review!

Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Since I mentioned Jesse Metcalfe in the introduction, I’ll talk about his performance first. Whenever Jesse is given a lead role in a Hallmark production, he carries his characters with a different kind of charisma compared to other lead actors. While Jesse’s performances are expressive, they feel more grounded and down-to-earth, like the character is a realistic individual. When Jeff and Zee discover the mystery’s victim, you can see sadness in his eyes. As he is looking away from the victim, he looks like he might cry due to how emotionally distraught finding a murder victim would be. Like Ships in the Night: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, Jesse and Sarah Lind had good on-screen chemistry! Their on-screen personalities work so well together, like their characters were meant to be with each other.

There are some supporting actors that caught my attention because of the quality of their talents. In Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, Drew Henderson portrayed a friend of Zee’s named Noah. When he appeared on screen for the first time, I immediately took note of how charismatic he was! He also transitioned between emotions very effortlessly. Because of these things, I would love to see Drew lead a Hallmark project! Another performance I liked was Reilly Dolman’s portrayal of Glen, the boyfriend of the murder victim. As he was questioned by Jeff and Chief Madieras, Glen came across as angsty and “rough around the edges”. But it didn’t feel stereotypical or one-dimensional. Instead, a mysterious aura surrounded Glen, making you want to learn more about him. I wish Glen had more appearances in this movie, because I really enjoyed seeing Reilly’s acting talents! Similar to Reilly, Nhi Do appeared in the film for a short amount of time. However, her portrayal of a bank teller named Hazel was very memorable! In her limited time on screen, Nhi showed how she had good on-screen chemistry with the other cast members. While Hazel is talking with Zee about the gossip around the bank, it felt like both characters got along well with each other. While I don’t know what’s in store for the future of this series, I would love to see Nhi Do become a series regular!

The humor: Compared to the other series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery series has a more serious tone. This has been a consistent element throughout the overall story. There was humor found in Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery. But it felt like it belonged in that world, simply breaking up the darkness of the film’s tone and subject matter.  While getting ready for his date with Zee, Jeff was looking through some shirts to determine what would look presentable. During this scene, he sniffs one of these shirts, displaying a disgusted look on his face afterward. While this was a simpler moment, it was well-executed because of the writing and acting. The moment itself also felt believable and relatable. In Boston, while Jeff and Andrew, Jeff’s former police partner, are waiting to question a bank robber, an FBI agent shows up. When Andrew questions who the agent is, Jeff replies by saying “A problem”. Similar to what I said before, this exchange was a simple one. Yet, its delivery is what made it funny.

The mystery: In my review of Ships in the Night: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, I said the film’s side mystery was barely referenced because it was overshadowed by the main mystery. Personally, I feel both mysteries should have received an equal amount of attention. In Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, there were two mysteries within the story. While the majority of the script focused on the main mystery, the side mystery was shown for a satisfying amount of time. What also helps is how the main mystery was written as if the audience is solving it alongside the characters. Each clue and suspect was introduced as the film went on, allowing for new surprises to keep viewers on the edge of their seat. This creates a cinematic experience that feels engaging and interactive!

Paper Boats in the Sea image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/background-of-paper-boats-with-hand-drawn-waves_1189898.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Little development in Jeff’s overarching mystery: As I mentioned in my review of Ships in the Night: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, Jeff is attempting to figure out who shot him back in Boston. This mystery is the series’ overarching story, where pieces to this puzzle are given to the audience in small doses as the series goes on. In Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, Jeff receives a lead in his case. I’m not going to spoil this mystery for anyone hasn’t seen the film. But all I’ll say is it feels like we take a step backward immediately after we step a step forward. I understand this series’ creative team wants to carry the story as long as possible, giving the audience a reason to stay invested. While I’m looking forward to seeing how this mystery unfolds, I feel like the audience should have received a little more.

The under-utilization of Britt Prajna: Zee’s friend, Britt, is one of the series regulars in the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery series. Her role is similar to Sally from the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, a loyal and trust-worthy person in the protagonist’s life who provides advice and a listening ear. The difference between Sally and Britt is how Sally, sometimes, helps Aurora solve a mystery by using her journalistic skills to talk with potential suspects. As the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery series progresses, Britt has been featured less. She’s also not involved in a given mystery, never using her skills to help Zee or Jeff. I know civilians/hotel owners can only contribute so much when it comes to solving crimes. However, I think Britt has more to offer in the world this series has created.

The mystery’s start time: When I reviewed Ships in the Night: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, I stated the mystery’s start time was one of the movie’s flaws, as it didn’t begin until a little over twenty-five minutes into the film. While this was remedied a little bit in Poisoned in Paradise: A Martha’s Vineyard Mystery, it still took a while for the main mystery to start. This time around, the mystery didn’t begin until about twenty minutes into the movie. Before the mystery is introduced, the audience gets reacquainted with the characters and they are caught up on what has happened since the events of the previous film. I know this part of the story is important, especially when it has been several months since the last chapter was released. But I think the mystery should have been introduced sooner.

Magnifying glass image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/magnifying-glass-with-fingerprint-in-flat-style_2034684.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/flat”>Flat vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

When asked why he tries to solve cold cases, Sergeant Webber tells Jeff it helps him be at peace with what has happened in his career. I found this to be an interesting answer, especially coming from a network where the majority of stories are murder mysteries. Some viewers, from what I’ve heard, have voiced their complaints over this creative decision. But after thinking about Sergeant Webber’s answer, I’m starting to see why this might be the case. Stories involving any sort of crime are never pretty. They can invoke fear, bring out the uncertain, and cause confusion. When we see a detective, real or fictional, get involved with a case, we see them attempt to find answers. Sometimes, answers can give us peace of mind, the peace of mind that can help us feel like things are going to be ok.  The series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries represent the familiar, featuring friendly faces the audience has come to know and trust. If surrounded by people or things we are familiar with, it can make us feel comfortable, even when uncomfortable subjects, such as murder mysteries, are brought up. Watching the detectives in these series can remind us of how good people can do good things in our world. Maybe we don’t have the ability to single-handedly solve cases like our favorite TV detectives do. But maybe, just maybe, we can give a little bit of peace.  Before I close this review, I just want to thank all my followers for making 18 Cinema Lane the success it is today!

Overall score: 7.7 out of 10

Do you watch the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery series? If so, what are your thoughts on the latest film? Tell me in the comments section!

Have fun in Martha’s Vineyard!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: To Catch a Spy Review (Hallmark Mysteries Double Feature Part 2)

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for; the second part of my Hallmark Mysteries Double Feature! I recently saw the latest mystery film from the network: To Catch a Spy. This picture’s location made the film seem interesting. When I think of movies taking place outside of North America, I can’t think of many that feature Malta as a prominent backdrop. In fact, this is the first Hallmark project to take place and be filmed in Malta! But “destination” movies from Hallmark have been met with mixed results. One of the best films I saw in 2019 was Rome in Love. To me, it captured almost everything this location had to offer. However, not every “destination” film can be as good as Rome in Love. How will To Catch a Spy compare? Keep reading my review if you want to find out!

To Catch a Spy poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

Things I liked about the film:

Standout performances: Within the movie, I saw standout performances from some of the actors and actresses. One of the film’s leads, Colin Donnell, gave one of those performances! His portrayal of Agent Aaron Maxwell came across as natural and believable. It reminded me of Stephen Huszar’s performance in the Ruby Herring series. His interactions with Nathalie Kelley’s character, Chloe, showcase this realism well. In the supporting cast, Joe Azzopardi portrayed a hotel employee named Isaac. His best scene was when Isaac’s true identity was revealed. Joe carried his character with suave confidence. This made Isaac so captivating to watch. Another captivating performance came from Becky Camilleri, who portrayed a maid named Rianne. What made her character so memorable was how expressive she was throughout the film! When Chloe is trying to check out of her hotel room, she runs into the hotel’s manager. After their interaction, Rianne walks into the room, appearing genuinely confused. Becky’s expressions helped her stand out among the cast!

Interior design: There were two rooms in To Catch a Spy that boasted fantastic interior design! The first was a sitting room inside Malta’s U.S. Embassy building. Beige and white wallpaper surrounded the interior, with white marble covering the floor. Providing pops of color were a dark wood table and chair set and a green potted plant. These elements came together to create a space that was both classy and elegant. The second space was a local church. When the interior of this location was first introduced, a painted mural on the church’s curved ceiling greeted the audience. Along the walls and pillars, gold was abundantly featured. This large venue could easily rival the Sistine Chapel. Because of everything I just said, I wish this church was shown in more than one scene.

Footage of Malta: According to IMDB, To Catch a Spy not only takes place in Malta, but the movie was filmed there as well. The creative team behind the project definitely took advantage of the country’s picturesque scenery by including it in establishing shots and in the background of some scenes. When Chloe goes on her hotel room’s balcony for the first time, she meets a beautiful view of the clear blue ocean and a city skyline. Because of the buildings’ sandy hue, the skyline ended up complimenting the ocean! In one scene, Aaron and Chloe are walking through a park. This location shared the same sandy stone as the buildings from Malta’s city skyline. It also paired well with a green, grassy field. The peaceful nature of the park certainly made this space inviting to the viewer!

Travel suitcase image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/water-color-travel-bag-background_1177013.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

A disjointed story: There are three plots within To Catch a Spy. They are the travel writing plot, the murder mystery plot, and the international FBI plot. While these plots are interesting on their own, they ended up having a very loose connection. This caused the story as a whole to feel disjointed. Chloe’s occupation and Aaron’s role in the FBI prevented them from interacting with each other like other mystery film protagonists. In fact, Chloe’s skills as a travel writer weren’t really utilized when it came to being an amateur detective. Personally, I think the movie’s creative team should have chosen one or two of these plots and stuck with them.

Things that don’t make sense: Certain things happened in To Catch a Spy that, to me, didn’t make sense. Both examples I will give involve Chloe. After having a scary experience in the city, Chloe tells Aaron she doesn’t want the FBI badge anymore, indicating she doesn’t want any involvement in the case. A scene later, she eagerly attempts to follow a lead related to that case. The fact Chloe changed her mind so quickly was both confusing and jarring. Earlier in the film, one of Chloe’s friends goes missing. She enters her friend’s hotel room in order to discover what happened. Chloe finds two potential clues on the floor and picks them up with her bare hands. This is the same character who not only reads mystery novels in her spare time, but can also guess the guilty culprit early on. Because of this, wouldn’t Chloe know not to leave fingerprints on potential evidence?

Wasted potential for an overarching series storyline: In more recent series from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, a storyline that is carried from film to film is included in the script. A perfect example is in the Martha’s Vineyard Mystery series, where Jeff is trying to figure out who shot him prior to the events of the series. In To Catch a Spy, the FBI was attempting to catch a criminal named Zypher. While watching the movie, I thought this would be the perfect overarching storyline if this film became a series. However, due to what happens in the movie, this idea did not become a reality. I was disappointed because of how the creative team wasted a potential storyline in their first film. Not every movie is meant to start a series. But if To Catch a Spy leads to a series, it makes me wonder what overarching storyline they could create?

Evening view of Malta skyline image created by bearfotos at freepik.com. Travel photo created by bearfotos – www.freepik.com

My overall impression:

Like any type of movie, Hallmark’s “destination” pictures are hit or miss. There have been some I liked, such as Rome in Love and Pearl in Paradise. But other titles featuring an exciting location have disappointed, like Christmas at Dollywood. With To Catch a Spy, it reminded me more of Christmas at Dollywood than Rome in Love. Sure, we got to see Malta in its picturesque beauty. However, as Dory said in an episode of the Hallmarkies Podcast, “The scenery can’t save you”. Unlike the protagonists in Rome in Love, we never get to see any of the characters experiencing the country’s culture or learning from the people of Malta. When Chloe’s co-worker, Sara, is asking Rianne about the history of Malta, the audience doesn’t get to hear what Rianne has to say. Plus, one of the film’s biggest flaws was its disjointed story. There is potential for this movie to start a new series. But if that is Hallmark’s plan, I don’t know how they’re going to, realistically, make it happen. As I said in my review, To Catch a Spy was filmed in Malta. Traveling to various countries in order to film on-location is going to get expensive. I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.

Overall score: 7 out of 10

Have you seen To Catch a Spy? Do you want to see this story become its own series? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance Review

As When Calls the Heart was walking away from its seventh chapter, the Matchmaker Mysteries series was embarking on their second installment! After its 2019 debut, this series has already found a place in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ collection of films. I have seen the first Matchmaker Mysteries installment, Matchmaker Mysteries: A Killer Engagement, and I thought it was a strong start to this series! It left me wondering where the story would go and how it would evolve over time. As I said in my review of Mystery 101: An Education in Murder, I have found Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ 2020 line-up to be strong. I’ve also enjoyed the majority of the films that have premiered so far. Since I liked the first Matchmaker Mysteries film, I felt there would be a chance I would like its successor!

Matchmaker Mysteries -- A Fatal Romance
Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=143&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=307&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Matchmaker+Mysteries+A+Fatal+Romance.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I’ve seen all of Danica McKellar’s Hallmark movies. The one consistent element I’ve noticed about Danica’s acting abilities while watching her films, including this one, is how her emotions seamlessly transition from one situation to the next. One great example is when Kyle shows up at Angie’s studio shortly after the murder victim is discovered. Danica, as Angie, goes from smiling and laughing at a friend’s joke to looking concerned when she notices Kyle’s presence. Lara Gilchrist also did a good job transitioning her emotions between scenes. This is because her acting abilities are versatile. A scene that effectively displays Lara’s talents is one where her character, Margaret, is sharing a personal secret to Angie. What helped this movie was how some of the cast members appeared in the first movie as well as the second movie. One of these members is Victor Webster. Throughout Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance, he appeared at ease in his role as Kyle. This was caused by Victor being familiar with the material.

 

Angie’s relationship with Ethan: In Hallmark’s films, the female protagonist usually spends a lot of time with the male protagonist. This is done in the hopes of having these characters end up together in a relationship. In Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance, Angie spends more time with her ex-boyfriend, Ethan, than with Kyle. By having the female protagonist associate herself with the male supporting character, this creates a unique dynamic from other Hallmark projects. It also helps that Danica and Dan Payne, the actor who portrays Ethan, had on-screen chemistry!

 

The locations/sets: Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance boasted some great locations, which lent themselves as sets for the project. At the beginning of the film, Angie attends a convention, where she is a co-host for a particular panel. This panel took place in a ballroom that has been featured in other Hallmark movies. The ballroom itself is spacious and grand. My favorite part of this place is the large windows, as they oversaw a golf course and let in a soft, natural light in one specific scene. I also loved the design of Beatrice’s house! The exterior had a cute Victorian look to it, from its pale-yellow hue to the wrap-around porch. The interior showcased impressive dark woodwork that complemented the space, especially on the fireplace! This was paired really well with the blue-green tiles found in this feature. Speaking of fireplaces, Angie’s father’s house also contained some eye-catching design features! One of them was a stone fireplace. Even thought this was never the focal point in the film, it was an interesting component of that space.

Happy Valentines day and heart. Card with Happy Valentines day a
Heart image created by Dashu83 at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Backgroundimage created by Dashu83 – Freepik.com</a>. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/happy-valentines-day-and-heart-card-with-happy-valentines-day-and-heart_1747001.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The matchmaking subplot: I know Angie’s matchmaking career plays a role in this series. In fact, placing this aspect within a subplot allows it to continue existing in the series’ identity. However, I didn’t find the matchmaking subplot in Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance interesting. If anything, it was predictable, coming off as a basic plot from an unaired Hallmark Channel movie. The story itself contains rehashed ideas that I’ve already seen from other Hallmark productions. This subplot, to me, didn’t add anything significant to the overall film.

 

Limited amount of suspense: In a typical mystery film, suspense is used to keep the audience invested in the story. While the first movie in the Matchmaker Mysteries series contained a good amount of suspense, the second film used suspense very sparingly. Moments of suspense were only found in a few scenes. While it was effective for those scenes, it also made the movie feel less thrilling.

 

A small amount of urgency: Having the protagonist talk to the suspects is an important part of any mystery. But in Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance, this part of the mystery-solving process was the most prominent of the story. It got to the point where it seemed like all the characters were just sitting around and talking to one another. Because of this, it made the film as a whole feature a small amount of urgency.

269703-P5H9WI-853
Magnifying glass image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/magnifying-glass-with-fingerprint-in-flat-style_2034684.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/flat”>Flat vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Matchmaker Mysteries: A Fatal Romance was a fine film. However, it took a few steps backwards from its predecessor. As I said in the introduction, I thought the first movie, Matchmaker Mysteries: A Killer Engagement was a strong start to the series. But this sequel didn’t leave as big of an impression on me as some of the other 2020 releases from Hallmark Movies and Mysteries have. The small amount of urgency and the limited amount of suspense has not helped this film’s case. While I appreciate this creative team’s decision to place the series’ defining element in a subplot, I was not a fan of the subplot itself. Even though this movie had its strengths, I think the overall project could have been stronger. It does take a while for each series to find its footing. But it also takes time for the next installment in each series to be announced. If there is a third movie in the Matchmaker Mysteries series, I hope it is better than the second movie was.

 

Overall score: 7.3 out of 10

 

Do you watch the movies from the Matchmaker Mysteries series? Have you seen any of Danica’s Hallmark films? Let me know in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder Review

As I just saw the third chapter in the Ruby Herring Mysteries series, I thought it’d be a good idea to pick this title as the next movie to review! Last January, I reviewed the first movie in this series; Ruby Herring Mysteries: Silent Witness. While I thought the film itself was decent, I felt it was a good start to the series. I did see Ruby Herring Mysteries: Her Last Breath, but I wasn’t able to review it. However, it’s a movie I ended up enjoying! Because Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ films have been strong this year and since the Ruby Herring Mysteries series has gotten better over time, I was looking forward to this movie! Similar to Mystery 101: An Education in Murder, Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder focuses on a cold case. However, the story itself was different from the newest Mystery 101 project. Does the latest movie in the Ruby Herring Mysteries series continue its momentum of success? Keep reading my review in order to solve this mystery!

Ruby Herring Mysteries -- Prediction Murder poster
Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=143&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=307&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Ruby+Herring+Mysteries+Prediction+Murder.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: While watching Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder, I noticed how all the acting performances appeared natural and believable. This was the result of the quality of the actors’ talents! Like I said in my review of the first film, Ruby Herring Mysteries: Silent Witness, Taylor and Stephen were two of the strongest actors in this cast! Throughout the film, they gave the impression that they were comfortable in their roles. The fact Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder is their third movie together does help. What also helps is their on-screen chemistry, which has been a consistent component in this series. Even though we saw the return of several series regulars, the audience did receive some new characters. One of them is Dakota, who is portrayed by Teagan Vincze. She is introduced in this series as a new member of the police department. With a great on-screen personality and a solid performance, I hope Teagan can become a series regular for Ruby Herring Mysteries!

 

The humor: Humor can find a place in a Hallmark Movies and Mysteries series. More often than not, the incorporation of this element works in the movie’s favor. This is the case for Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder! In this film, there was enough humor to prevent the project from becoming too dark. At the same time, the humor never derailed the story, allowing the film as a whole to be taken seriously. One example is when Ruby and her friend visit the store of a well-known psychic. What makes this scene hilarious is how it was written and the actors’ delivery.

 

The cinematography: There was some surprisingly good cinematography in Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder! One great example is when Ruby and her dad are looking for a clue in a nearby forest. The film’s creative team took advantage of the natural lighting of this location, causing the foliage in the area to be illuminated. The movie’s cinematography not only did a good job at capturing scenery. It also helped the audience focus on people or details that the script wanted to highlight. In one scene, Jake and Ruby are at the driving range. During a conversation, the camera flawlessly transitions between medium and close-up shots. This allows the focus to remain on Ruby and Jake, despite the driving range being a public location.

O614E00
Magnifying glass and fingerprint image created by Alvaro_Cabrera at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/loupe-over-a-fingerprint_853908.htm’>Designed by alvaro_cabrera</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/glass”>Glass vector created by Alvaro_cabrera – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The high-school reunion subplot: In Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder, there was a subplot about Ruby attending her high school reunion. This subplot also featured the return of Ruby’s ex-fiancé, as the event caused him to come back to his hometown. I know this part of the story was supposed provide the audience a break from the cold case. But I found the subplot to be pointless, compared to the others narratives in the script. On Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, the female protagonist usually ends up with the male protagonist. Since Ruby will likely form a romantic relationship with Jake, this subplot didn’t seem to go anywhere.

 

Ruby’s unwillingness to talk about relationships: Whenever Ruby is around her ex-fiancé, Luke, she always skirts around the idea of revisiting their relationship. Meanwhile, she still sees Jake as just a friend, especially when someone asks about their relationship. It’s understandable for relationships in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries series to take their time. However, by the third movie in a typical series, the protagonist should know where the nature of her relationships is going. If Ruby Herring Mysteries does receive a fourth chapter, I hope this issue can be resolved.

 

Ruby’s rivalry with Todd: Throughout the series, Ruby develops a rivalry with a fellow investigative reporter named Todd. In Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder, this rivalry continues, as Ruby receives a promotion at the beginning of the film. The actor who portrayed Todd, Chenier Hundal, did a good job with the material he was given. However, his character wasn’t on screen for long, causing him to have little to work with. In the overall story, this component didn’t seem to serve a purpose. It makes me question why this aspect is in the series if the writers aren’t going to connect it to the film’s mystery?

Journalist Reporter Profession Isometric Banner
News reporter being filmed image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/journalist-reporter-profession-isometric-banner_2875517.htm’>Designed by Macrovector</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/banner”>Banner vector created by Macrovector – Freepik.com</a>, Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

The Ruby Herring Mysteries series is one that has grown as time goes on. Despite the series only being a year old, it has cemented its place in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ landscape. Having Ruby Herring Mysteries: Prediction Murder be a good, solid film does work in the series’ favor! Because of its unique story and positive attributes, the third chapter carries the network’s tradition of thinking outside the box and promoting creativity. There’s no denying the movie has its flaws. These are aspects that weren’t necessary to the overall story or they didn’t work as well as they could have. Hopefully, the series can receive a fourth installment, so the creative team may improve upon these flaws. Like I said in the introduction, the films from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries have been strong this year. Even though its not known how many new movies we’ll receive, besides the ones that have official release dates, I hope the consistent quality of these projects continue!

 

Overall score: 7.6 out of 10

 

Have you seen the Ruby Herring Mysteries series? If so, what would you like to see happen in a fourth movie? Tell me in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Mystery 101: An Education in Murder Review

In 2020, I haven’t reviewed Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ films as often as I had wanted to. This is because of two reasons. The first is how I’m not always able to watch a film as soon as it is released. The second is how I’ve devoted my time to re-capping When Calls the Heart. But since I just watched the newest film in the Mystery 101 series and because some of my most popular content is Hallmark Movies & Mysteries related, I decided to review Mystery 101: An Education in Murder! I’ve watched all of Hallmark’s mystery movies that have premiered this year, so far. In my opinion, I think these projects are stronger than the newer Hallmark Channel movies I’ve seen. While there are patterns that Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ films follow, each series tries to tell a different kind of story. The series themselves have a distinct identity, preventing these films from blending into one another. The Mystery 101 series is just one example. Taking an academic approach to the mystery genre, this collection of films has quickly become a fan favorite. I still can’t believe that after this story started a year ago, it’s already on the fifth chapter!

Mystery 101 -- An Education in Murder poster
Mystery 101: An Education in Murder poster created by Crown Media Family Networks and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=143&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=307&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Mystery+101+An+Education+in+Murder.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: What I liked about the performances in Mystery 101: An Education in Murder is how every actor and actress presented their character as if they were individuals from real-life. While the film’s writing makes this aspect a possibility, the quality of the actors’ talents also helps. All of the interactions between the characters felt realistic and their conversations came across as natural. Even though there were actors and actresses that were new to the series, there were others that have either regularly appeared in the Mystery 101 series or another mystery series. Steve Bacic was one of the main cast members in the Garage Sale Mystery series. Because of his work in those movies, it gave him an understanding on how a typical Hallmark Movies & Mysteries project works. Despite Steve being in the film for a short amount of time, his performance benefitted from his experiences working with Hallmark’s second network.

Travis and Amy’s interactions: Seeing Travis and Amy’s relationship grow over the course of the series is one of the best parts of these films! As I said in my Mystery 101 review, the on-screen chemistry between Jill and Kristoffer helps. In Mystery 101: An Education in Murder, these moments featuring Amy and Travis were more light-hearted and humorous. This was meant to provide the audience with periodical breaks from the darkness within the story. One of these moments was when Travis and Amy are waiting to be seated at a restaurant. Even though this was meant to be a romantic date, Amy’s dad showed up and the dinner became an unintentional group event. This scene was hilarious and provided light-hearted interactions between these characters!

The mystery: Cold cases are not often featured in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ films. This kind of mystery in Mystery 101: An Education in Murder gave the audience a different story from what is usually shown on Hallmark’s second network. It encourages the creative team behind this series or any mystery series to think outside the box when it comes to story-telling. Instead of relying on physical objects as clues, the clues themselves were found in the dialogue spoken by the suspects. This provided an interesting approach to the mystery itself and how it was solved. Using language as a tool for solving a mystery is a concept that I’ve rarely seen in a Hallmark Movies & Mysteries film!

21-150-01
Magnifying fingerprints image created by Balintseby at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/glass”>Glass vector created by Balintseby – Freepik.com</a>. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/fingerprint-investigation_789253.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The “don’t-get-involved” cliché: In my Crossword Mysteries: Abracadaver review, I talked about how the incorporation of the “don’t-get-involved” cliché was one of the flaws of that film. This is because I feel this cliché doesn’t work outside of the series’ first or second movie. Mystery 101: An Education in Murder is another film that adopts this cliché. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, Travis tells Amy not to get involved with the case. I know that he told her this with the intention of keeping her best interests in mind. I am also aware that the mystery itself was a cold case. However, Travis told Amy this after she had helped him successfully solve more than one mystery and after he called her a “consultant” while talking with a former colleague. If Travis had expressed his concern about Amy getting involved in the first or second movie, it would feel justified. But in the series’ fifth film, this cliché seems unnecessary.

A limited presence for some characters: Some of the characters in Mystery 101: An Education in Murder are featured less than others. As I already mentioned, Steve Bacic was in the film for a limited amount of time. When I first saw this film’s trailer, I had assumed Steve’s character, Mac, would play a bigger role within the story. However, he was only presented in a handful of scenes. I’ve enjoyed watching Preston Vanderslice’s performances in the Mystery 101 series! It makes me happy whenever Bud shows up in any movie. However, it feels like this character is stuck in the same place. I’m not an expert on the subject of the teaching profession. But, by the fifth movie, I feel like Bud should be further along in his educational journey. If this series receives a sixth movie, I hope we can see Bud passing his final exams or watch him graduating.

A few overlooked story-points: There were a few story-points in this movie that were not fully explored. A series of Mark Twain’s transcripts were incorporated in the overall story. They were shown at the beginning of the film as the cause for the mystery taking place. I’m not going to spoil the film if you haven’t seen it yet. However, I think these transcripts should have had a stronger connection to the overarching mystery. There was one suspect who was directly connected to the case. Again, I will not spoil the movie. But I think this character’s part of the story was, to a certain extent, overlooked.

Books Seamless Pattern
Old-fashioned books image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/books-seamless-pattern_1539033.htm’>Designed by Macrovector</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Macrovector – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

The Mystery 101 series is, in my opinion, one of the stronger of Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ series. Its quality has been consistent and I’ve enjoyed watching each chapter. In fact, Mystery 101: Words Can Kill was one of the best movies I saw in 2019! Similar to that film, I did like Mystery 101: An Education in Murder! While it did have some flaws that prevented the project from being better than it was, I had a good time solving the mystery alongside Travis and Amy. Having the mystery be a cold case provided an interesting change to the series. The way the mystery itself was approached was also unique. Language has always played a role in any mystery. But in Mystery 101: An Education in Murder, dialogue from the suspects was used as clues for solving the case. Because of everything that’s been happening in the world at this time, it’ll be a while before we see another Mystery 101 movie. However, I hope we can receive another chapter in this series soon!

Overall score: 7.9 out of 10

Have you been watching Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ newest films? If so, which one has been your favorite so far? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Review

For February’s Genre Grandeur, the selected theme was “Animated Comic Book/Strip Movies”. Chosen by Bubbawheat from Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights, this theme required some thought. To search for a possible title, I headed to Bubbawheat’s blog and discovered the list of “every superhero and comic book movie in chronological order”. While scrolling through the list, I came across one movie that I had heard of, but had never seen: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. This cinematic Batman entry has acquired a great amount of praise over its twenty plus year existence. However, it also has a reputation of not performing well at the box office. Any movie fan knows that box office performance does not always equal quality. But what is the quality of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm? Is it truly as good as other people say it is? Has it become overrated through the power of nostalgia? These are the questions I’ll answer in this review!

Batman -- Mask of the Phantasm poster
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm poster created by Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Animation, and Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. Image found at https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/batman-mask-phantasm/.

Things I liked about the film:

The voice acting: When it comes to animated films, the audience’s attention is so focused on what’s happening on screen, that they don’t think twice about the voice acting. Even though it seems like a small piece of the overall project, it actually can make or break the characters’ and their memorability. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm had an exceptional cast! Each actor brought more than enough emotion to match the facial expressions presented in the movie. These two components felt they were paired perfectly, with the voices themselves feeling like they belonged to that character! The casting itself couldn’t have been better! All of the actors effortlessly embodied their character through their voice talents. They were able to successfully gave life to their roles and enhance their memorability!

 

The animation: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is filled with great animation! Its 2-D style still holds up twenty-seven years later! What works in this movie’s favor is the color palette found throughout the project. Most Batman stories adopt a dark color scheme, to showcase the destruction and dismay that has overcome Gotham City. While Batman: Mask of the Phantasm does feature darker colors, the way lighter colors are paired with them is visually interesting. A great example is when a criminal named Buzz Bronski visits the cemetery. The entire scene is filled with the hues of black, gray, and dark blue. The red roses on a wreath are one of the few light colors that can be found in that scene. This makes the wreath pop with color and forces the audience’s attention toward the flowers. It also gives the film a style similar to movies with a “film noir” label.

 

The music: Another element in animated films that sometimes gets overlooked is the music. For Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a piece of music that really stood out was the official score. Composed by Shirley Walker, this score was powerful and helped the overall production gain its own identity. An orchestral composition and an operatic choir make this piece of music, as well as the overall film, feel grand in scale. This score was used during the opening credits, with similar tunes featured in two climatic moments of the film. Batman movies have historically incorporated orchestral scores into their projects. The score from The Dark Knight is one of the most iconic pieces of music in film history. Shirley Walker’s musical contributions to Batman: Mask of the Phantasm help keep that tradition alive.

 

The writing: I was really impressed by the writing in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, as it was clever and well thought-out! The film’s overarching mystery is a perfect example of this. It’s the kind of mystery that allows the audience to take a journey alongside Bruce/Batman. They get to experience events and situations when Bruce/Batman does. At times when a surprise comes, it catches the audience off-guard, as they are so invested in Batman winning over evil that they don’t see a surprise coming. Despite the movie’s darker tone, there was room in the script for humor to be included. One great example is when a party guest believes that the word “engagement” starts with the letter i. Because of how the joke was written and the delivery of the voice actor’s performance, the joke itself was executed flawlessly!

112444-OO5FAM-333
Rose illustration image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

An unclear timeline: Throughout Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it was difficult to determine when this film took place. In a flashback scene, Bruce and Andrea visit the Gotham World’s Fair, mirroring World’s Fairs that have taken place in decades past (for a point of reference, a World’s Fair was featured in Captain America: The First Avenger). That same flashback scene showed Andrea using a car-phone, an invention known for its popularity in the ‘80s. At two separate moments in the movie, Bruce uses a computer to solve the film’s overarching mystery. Batman stories, more often than not, make a conscious effort to ground themselves in reality. Since this film was released in 1993, the story should have taken place in the early ‘90s, in order to reflect its “current” setting.

 

Too many flashbacks: Flashback scenes are meant to provide additional context to the film’s plot. They are placed at certain points in the story, so they can present their full impact on the audience. In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, several flashback scenes were shown, explaining the nature of certain relationships and giving clues to the film’s mystery. However, I feel there were too many of them. More than three flashback scenes existed in this narrative. At times, it seemed like every other scene in the movie was a flashback. It also didn’t help that some of them were a little too long. One example is when Bruce meets Andrea’s father for the first time. I liked the scenes themselves, but they made the flow of the film a little clunky.

2 joker cards
Pair of joker playing cards created by Outanmax at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/2-joker-cards_1127202.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background image created by Outanmax – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is not just a solid Batman film. It’s also a solid animated film in general! For my first time watching an animated movie starring the world’s favorite ‘Caped Crusader’, I really enjoyed what I saw! It contained a lot of elements I look for in good animated projects, such as the quality in animation and the story itself. What’s great about this film is how Bruce/Batman was allowed to be a detective within the story. This aspect of the character is not often seen in cinema, as Warner Bros. has usually placed more emphasis on making Batman an action-hero. In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, it was nice to see Bruce/Batman use multiple talents to save the day. This is definitely one of the better of the Batman cinematic entries! It has stood the test of time and is an enjoyable picture! I want to thank Bubbawheat and MovieRob for giving me a chance to finally see this film! Looking back on it, I have to wonder, where has Batman: Mask of the Phantasm been all my life?

 

Overall score: 8.4 out of 10

 

Do you have a favorite Batman film? Is there an animated movie you’d like me to talk about? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For Review

Welcome back to another Aurora Teagarden review! As I said in my last review, I stated that I was excited for the next movie. Why, you ask? Well that’s because I was looking forward to seeing how a murder mystery party was incorporated into the Aurora Teagarden series! Parties like this are not featured in films on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. So, this particular creative decision intrigued me about this film. When I watched the trailer for Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For, I noticed that Preston Vanderslice appeared in two clips. Preston is becoming one of my favorite actors in the Hallmark community. He is one of the few actors who can successfully pull off a portrayal of both a likable and unlikable character. He also won the title of Best Supporting Actor from a Hallmark Channel Movie in this year’s Gold Sally Awards! Whenever Preston appears in a Hallmark production, I know, as a Hallmark fan, that he’s going to put everything he has, talent wise, into that performance!

Aurora Teagarden 11 poster
Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For poster created by Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and Crown Media Family Networks. Image found at https://www.crownmediapress.com/Shows/PRShowDetail?SiteID=143&FeedBoxID=845&NodeID=307&ShowType=&ShowTitle=Aurora+Teagarden+Mysteries+An+Inheritance+to+Die+For.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Just like in the previous Aurora Teagarden movie, the acting was one of the best aspects! As always, Marilu Henner gave a great performance as Aida Teagarden! What helps is that she has consistently portrayed this character throughout the series. This not only helped Marilu become familiar with the role, but also include her talents to bring this character to life! As I said in my introduction, I was excited to see Preston Vanderslice appear in this film. His performance did not disappoint, as this helped me stay invested in his character from start to finish! His character, Cade, is a very multi-layered individual. This is something that is not always seen in mystery films on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Despite this, Preston shined as this role was the perfect fit for his talents!

 

The incorporation of the Real Murders Club: In the Aurora Teagarden series, the Real Murders Club plays a minor role in the overall narrative. In both Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For and Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: A Game of Cat and Mouse, this group actually worked together in an attempt to solve the mystery! Even though Aurora ended up solving the mystery by herself, as usual, the Real Murders Club was able to help the plot move forward. Seeing almost every individual provide their insight into the film’s main plot was interesting to witness. It kind of makes me wish that Hallmark Movies & Mysteries would create a television show based on the Real Murders Club from this series.

 

Arthur and Lynn’s subplot: Similar to the Real Murders Club, the characters of Arthur and Lynn are, usually, given minor roles within each film. While their subplot in Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For wasn’t spectacular, it gave Arthur and Lynn an opportunity to play larger roles in the story. Instead of just telling Aurora that she couldn’t help them solve the mystery, they are shown using their detective skills to carry out their jobs and provide their pieces of the puzzle to the overall conflict. Whenever there’s a character or characters that work for the police, but are not a love interest, their side of the story is usually not explored. In Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For, however, Arthur and Lynn were not only given more screen-time, but they were also given more of a story than they normally receive.

detective-desktop-1240088-1280x960
Vintage detective desk photo created by Olivier Bourgeois at freeimages.com. Photo by <a href=”/photographer/ornicar69-54520″>Olivier Bourgeois</a> from <a href=”https://freeimages.com/”>FreeImages</a&gt; Image found at freeimages.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The murder mystery party: Now, I know what you’re thinking, “But Sally, I thought you were looking forward to this part of the film. How could not like it”? It’s not the murder mystery party itself that I didn’t like. The length of time it was given was what I had an issue with. In the trailer for Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For, it seemed like a large portion of the movie would take place at a murder mystery party. In reality, this part of the story only lasted for about five minutes. Also, this party barely played a role in the overall plot. This is not only an example of false advertising, but it makes me feel like it shouldn’t have been included in the film.

 

The pace: In the last Aurora Teagarden review, one of the flaws that I pointed out was the film’s slow pace. Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For also made this same mistake when it comes to the pace of the film. Because it was slow, it made the overall project feel longer than its intended two hour run time. What didn’t help was some of the scenes being drawn out in order to satisfy this run-time. This made ideas take a while to be expressed. I found myself enjoying this movie less than other mysteries on the network. It shows that a film’s pace can truly make or break a production.

 

An imbalance between comedy and drama: I said in my review of Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: A Game of Cat and Mouse that the overall tone of the movie was more serious than in previous films. The tone of Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For was also serious, with very few comedic moments. I also said in the aforementioned review that comedy is used to give the audience a break from the darkness associated with the film’s murder. But, if a mystery movie doesn’t give its viewers some distance between the grimness of the situation, it might make the experience of watching the film more depressing. This Aurora Teagarden movie didn’t provide their audience with that distance, which means that the primary focus of the story was on the darker and serious subjects.

victorian-houses-4-1233917-1280x960
Victoria house photo created by Nathan Benney at freeimages.com.Photo by <a href=”/photographer/nbunney-47645″>Nathan Bunney</a> from <a href=”https://freeimages.com/”>FreeImages</a&gt;. Image found at freeimages.com.

My overall impression:

Compared to the last film and as a film in general, I found Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For to be just ok. Looking back on this movie, I’m still disappointed about how little time was given to the murder mystery party that was promised in the marketing. Besides that, this movie has some of the same flaws that the previous Aurora Teagarden film did. But, it’s important to point out the positives within this movie. One example is the acting, especially from Preston Vanderslice! For the most part, this series has been one of the strongest on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. With one more film set to premiere during Aurora Teagarden Month, I hope this upcoming film is better than these first two Aurora Teagarden films combined. From what I’ve seen in the trailer, it looks like a murder mystery play will be involved. But, after the murder mystery party in Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: An Inheritance to Die For, I’m not getting my hopes up.

 

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

 

What are your thoughts on Aurora Teagarden Month so far? Are you looking forward to the next movie? Let me know in the comment section!

 

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen