Posted in movie review, Uncategorized

Movie Review: Hallmark’s Garage Sale Mystery with Lori Loughlin

Hallmark Movies & Mystery Channel features a series of movies in the “Cozy Mysteries” genre.

Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Cozies thus stand in contrast to hardboiled fiction, which feature violence and sexuality more explicitly and centrally to the plot. The term “cozy” was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Wikipedia

Hallmark has adapted several cozy book mysteries into movies.

There are the Aurora Teagarden movies starring Candace Cameron Bure. These movies are based on a fictional character created by author Charlaine Harris, in a series of ten crime novels written from 1990 to 2017. “In the first book of the series, twenty-eight-year-old Aurora (Roe) Teagarden is a professional librarian and belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes.”

There’s the Flower Shop Mysteries based on Kate Collins’ books of the same series title. The series stars Brooke Shields as a “professional librarian and belongs to the Real Murders club, a group of 12 enthusiasts who gather monthly to study famous baffling or unsolved crimes.”

Garage Sale Mystery Image2

In the Garage Sale Mystery, Lori Loughlin stars as a vintage store owner who scours garage sales and estate sales for items for her store, and stumbles across mysteries and murders along the way. This series is based on the books by Suzi Weinert. The executive producers of Garage Sale Mystery are also executive producers on the Hallmark television series When Calls the Heart, so the Garage Sale Mystery series features many of the same actors.

You might remember Lori Loughlin from the 1980s television family friendly series Full House. She also stars in When Calls the Heart, and other Hallmark productions.

I like a good caper movie, mysteries, and crime books and movies,  but I do not like the gore, psychological tension, or horrible/evil murders especially involving children. I also don’t like dark movies, either in psychology or in cinematography.

The Garage Sale Mystery (GSM) features none of that. The main character, Jennifer Shannon, lives in an affluent town in Virginia. The homes she visits throughout the movie and including her own, are beautiful mansions. If you remember the iconic series Columbo, his ‘clients’ were always in Beverly Hills, lived in gorgeous homes, and were from the upper class. If I’m going to watch a mystery, at least I’m not watching gutter dirty dark psychological thriller, but a tea drinking, well dressed attractive woman with a genial personality. In GSM there’s always lots of light and sunlight and bright colors in most every scene. The main character is in a happy, stable marriage with a movie-perfect husband and two movie-perfect teenage children. She is a good mom.  The children usually have some kind of sub-story.

Somehow, the way the movie is written, and despite the fact that a murder does occur and Jennifer is usually in life-threatening peril by the climax, the atmosphere isn’t heart-rending or dark. The writers maintain in Jennifer a hopeful innocence with a razor-sharp mind and a high-level ability to observe and remember. As a matter of fact, the last shot of each movie shows Jennifer in a close-up with a big smile. This is an enjoyable way to conclude a movie. The relationship Jennifer has with the co-owner of her store is a good one, always pleasant. No harsh words are spoken, even when Jennifer confronts the murderer. It’s a relief to watch a movie where all the interpersonal interactions are warm and polite.

It is a ‘cozy mystery’ to a Tee.

What I find amusing is that despite the fact that Jennifer seems to stumble on a dead body seemingly every time she leaves her house, the series avoids the claustrophobic feeling of the Cabot Cove Syndrome. This is a TV Trope named after the location in which fictional character Jessica Fletcher of the television series Murder, She Wrote lived. The television series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on CBS. Angela Lansbury was the main character, and “murder occurred with such regularity in her vicinity that the term “Cabot Cove syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. Indeed, if Cabot Cove existed in real life, it would top the FBI’s national crime statistics in numerous categories, with some analysis suggesting that the homicide rate in Cabot Cove exceeds even that of the real-life murder capital of the world” (Wikipedia). The UK Daily Mail has more-

The most dangerous place on Earth is revealed to be… the fictional setting for TV series Murder, She Wrote

The idyllic seaside town of Cabot Cove looks at first glance like a pleasant and relaxing place to live.

In fact, it is the murder capital of the world and far more dangerous than the most violent parts of the globe, including Honduras in Central America. Thankfully, it is just the fictional New England setting for popular TV series Murder, She Wrote. Amateur detective Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury, encountered a total of 274 killings in the small town in Maine, despite it having a population of just 3,500. This gives it an annual murder rate of 1,490 per million — more than 50 per cent higher than Honduras, where it is 910 per million.

The British mystery series, Agatha Raisin based on the books by M.C. Beaton, is another series that in my opinion suffered terribly from Cabot Cove Syndrome. There were several issues with the single-season series, and one of them was that the series is set in the British area of the Cotswolds. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and much of it is protected, but the villages dotting the aforementioned beautiful hills are small. Very small. By the end of the one season that was broadcast, I surmise that the fictional death rate was even higher than in Cabot Cove.

Anyway, the confined feeling I got from Murder, She Wrote and Agatha Raisin is absent in Garage Sale Mystery. The series presents an aura that is expansive enough not to be claustrophobic but small enough to maintain the cozy atmosphere so important in this genre.

I also enjoy the garage sale aspect. I like a good hunt myself for just the perfect item that has a history behind it and is also a good deal!

I recommend the Garage Sale Mystery series. They’re clean. It can be seen on on Hallmark, Sling TV, an occasional older movie on Youtube, and elsewhere.


Further reading

Finding Wonderland, Review: The Deadly Room

Dove review: Garage Sale Mystery

Amazon Customer reviews: 215 reviews of this series (92% are 4 & 5-star)

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

Movie Review: The Queen of Katwe

I spend almost more time looking for and reading reviews of movies than I do watching them. I don’t have the time to waste on a bad movie during the school year, and though I have more time at home during the summer never do I want to watch something that will be blasphemous, offensive, or pass before my eyes things I can’t unwatch. I know you feel the same.

Here is a synopsis and review of a movie I feel is worth watching for the entire family (tweens and up): Queen of Katwe. The movie summary says: A school-drop out named Phiona (pronounced like Fiona) living in the slum of Katwe sells maize along with her brother to help her family survive. Her older sister has already succumbed to the lure of being a kept women and the widowed mother is wearily but with dignity striving to instill in her remaining children hope where it seems that life is hopeless. At this moment in their family life Phiona is discovered to have an agile and highly advanced mind and is a genius at chess.

(Common Sense Media’s review & synopsis here.)

That this is a true story and in fact it has recently occurred, which makes it all the more compelling. At the end of the movie you will see each character and what has become of them. In addition to the themes noted above by Common Sense Media is one that is often overlooked: the cycle of poverty.

The slum outside Kampala Uganda known as Katwe is one of the largest and most dire of slums in that country. The overwhelming filth, poverty, and dense living conditions are not glossed over in this movie produced by Disney. As Phiona rises through the ranks in chess championships and her world gradually expands, eventually she must come to terms with who she is and if her origins define her character or if her character will define her character.

The interplay of rich v. poor, impoverished origins v. entitlement impact the girl greatly. It’s a similar theme shown in My Fair Lady. As Eliza Doolittle rises from Cockney impoverished flower girl to genteel lady she wonders where she belongs and who she is if she is no longer “poor” and has to struggle for survival. Will Phiona take the daring leap into the unknown or retreat into what she is used to, even though that means remaining a cog in the grinding cycle of poverty? At points, the outcome is by no means certain and the movie deftly shows why.

For family viewing, several scenes are mildly intense. Phiona’s brother is run over by a motorcycle and Phiona’s desperate near-helplessness to get him to a clinic and obtain the medical services he needs are gripping. Throughout the movie I’d wondered why the slum shacks are entered by walking over planks or pallets situated over a deep trench. The flood scene showed me. Monsoon rains are beyond heavy and Phiona’s toddler brother nearly dies in a flood that sweeps through their derelict home. I read later that Katwe’s seasonal floods are so bad that people sleep on their roofs – if they have a roof – so as not to drown at night.

The scene that most affected me is when the chess team has traveled to a fancy championship location and they are put up in dormitories for the night. The youth pastor who leads the sports ministry, including this chess team, is momentarily startled when he arrives at their room to tuck them in, all the beds are empty and all the bedding remained where it was at the first, neatly folded and piled on the end of each cot. A momentary panic rises in his eyes until he sees all of the children huddled up on the floor in the corner, slum family style, their own clothes and brought scarves and fabrics for covers. It was what they were used to.

The movie does not gloss over the entrenchment of the cycle of poverty the difficulties in rising out of it, and the lingering issues that haunt those who do, including prejudice of the entitled against the poor. Though one of the main characters is a youth pastor, and his chess club is part of a sports mission, no mention is made of Jesus or what denomination he is from or any religious discussions at all. However, he is depicted as a trustworthy man fighting for his charges with love and devotion. It’s produced by Disney so the production values are excellent. Recommended.