Sitting in her nearly empty store, Hannah Swensen can only hope that the popularity of the new Magnolia Blossom Bakery is just a passing fad. The southern hospitality of Eden Lake’s two newest residents, Melanie and Vanessa Quinn, is grating on Hannah’s nerves — and cutting into her profits. Then Hannah finds Melanie shot to death. Everyone in town knew the Cookie Jar’s business was suffering…which makes Hannah a suspect.[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNWsRujBzbs[/embedyt]
As an avid supporter of this mystery series, I have to say this is my favorite installment so far. In fact, I did not figure out who did it (although I should have), and the acting was extraordinary. I promise not to reveal who the murderer is–you will have to watch to obtain that information. But I would like to congratulate the actors, crew (including the director), writer, and anyone else who worked on this show. Clever story, outstanding costumes, and this is truly one of the most supportive casts around. As a side note, I also adore the music. Typically, I don’t even notice the music in Hallmark films, but this is one where the music is unique and fits the film immeasurably well.
I have come to truly admire this actor and his work. Garry is one of those typically “minor” actors who pops up in unexpected places quite regularly. Sometimes you might see him and wonder why he looks familiar, and once you examine his resume, you might realize how many times you have seen this talented guy featured. I am overjoyed to see Garry return as the mayor, and I am even more ecstatic to see his character have a more substantial part this time around. Here’s to many more roles with this fantastic actor who is versatility defined (and all too often underrated). But even so, no part is too small for his taste, and he always makes the most of each role in which he is cast.
When this character appeared towards the beginning of the film, I couldn’t place the actress, but the moment I saw her name on the credits, I knew immediately who she was. Anne Marie’s name came to my attention because of her director husband, Peter DeLuise. However, I now understand that I have seen her highlighted in a handful of Hallmark works as well. As Gloria, her character is exactly the sort of part for which I think Anne Marie is uniquely suited. She is the famous skincare professional from the big city. All are courting her favor (especially Delores), but in the end, suspicion appears to be falling upon her. No spoilers from me, but it would be advisable to observe her character carefully. As for Anne Marie’s characterization of Gloria–spotless, flawless, and effortless. I need say no more about this lovely lady’s prowess.
Another returning face is that of Toby as Bill. In the other two installments, Toby was barely seen. Thankfully, we get to see him just a little bit more, but poor Bill. Trying to control his sister-in-law is something that seems to stretch him to the breaking point (much the delight of the viewers–there are some classically funny scenes between him and Hannah). I didn’t think I had seen Toby previously, but as I looked over his list of credits, I realized I had seen him previously without realizing it. Although Toby’s character is not on screen much, he certainly makes an impression. While his character seems to fade to the background, I don’t think his character has much choice since he is surrounded by three very strong women (Andrea, Hannah, and Delores). I would venture to say that the quiet dignity and calm demeanor he infuses into Bill is exactly what would benefit him as a policeman. And he is the perfect foil for his sometimes high-strung wife. I hope to see his character featured even more in the future as Toby’s dedication to the role assuredly should be rewarded.
In the role of the determined and direct Vanessa, Michelle does an exceptional job. She is Melanie’s sister, and she appears to have a tremendous head for business. I was not sure if I recognized Michelle from other works, but imagine my shock when I realize she played a completely different character in one of my favorite Christmas films, Mr. Miracle. I also saw her featured in A Crime of Passion and First Wave. When I reviewed her various roles, I was able to determine what a versatile actress Michelle is. Whether she plays a criminal or an angel, she seems to be able to infuse connective credibility into her characters. Again, be sure to watch out for Vanessa as you may be able to ascertain some clues concerning the identity of the murderer from her. I think if I had been more circumspect concerning her character, I may have unraveled the identity of the culprit.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Vanessa’s sister, Melanie, is also played by the incredibly capable Michelle. I can see the resemblance now, but I wasn’t thinking about it at all, I must admit. As Melanie, she plays the rival baker in town who is not necessarily liked by those close to Hannah. Regardless, this particular scene between Ali’s character and her character is a scene where the true essences of both Melanie and Hannah are unveiled. When I viewed this scene, I fell in love even more with Hannah Swenson. And although unfortunate Melanie has vast secrets and tragedies, Michelle has infused an uncertain bravado into this character which assuredly and ultimately will fall apart. After all, there is no question who holds the title “top baker” in the community no matter what Melanie and others claim. It is rare to see an actress play a double role in the same film, but Michelle is skilled enough to do so efficiently.
Oh wow, has our beloved Delores finally found true love in the person of Douglas as played by Roark? Well, no spoilers here–you will have to watch to find out. But it does look plausible. Because I have never been a “soap opera person,” I admit I did not see Roark in those days, but I did see him recently in Mother of All Lies. In fact, although I didn’t officially review his character, I can recall his role. In this film, he is the budding love interest of Hannah’s mother, as played by Barbara (whom I will discuss in a moment). Roarke has it all–aesthetic proportions, magnetism, elegance, and Delores only seems to have eyes for him (much to the chagrin of her two daughters). They seem to be perfectly matched, and I have nothing but praise for Roark’s portrayal. While Barbara has a knack for making everyone look fabulous (one of her signature traits that I always appreciate), she is also immensely charismatic. I am of the persuasion that it takes a formidable actor to play opposite her and not be forgotten, especially in the area of romance. And indeed, Roark is not ignored. No doubt, he is “eye candy” for the more mature viewers (I would freely include myself in that group), and he plays his part with simplicity and credibility. I will not say any more except to state that if his character injures the precious and ingenuous Delores, I may scream “bloody murder!”
I absolutely cannot say enough wonderful things about Lisa. Not only is she impeccably cast as Andrea, the married (and pregnant) sister of Hannah, but she is a lovely person as well. When actors make the choice to actually connect with their fans, they suddenly are raised to a different and much higher plane in my book. And because of that, I didn’t only notice Lisa in the last installment, but I began to take an active interest in her career. She is a classy lady who suits the family dynamics to perfection. Her character is a bit feisty at times (which is ideal since her husband is much calmer), and the way in which Lisa depicts her just couldn’t be any better. I hope to see Lisa in countlessly more projects in the future as she is an amazing actress who is not only skillful but extremely personable. Those are two qualities that not every actor has, especially in these days when actors are so accessible to their fans. It is professionals like Lisa who are going to continue to thrive because of her sweet disposition (which she bestows upon her character, Andrea), and her charming prowess.
Those female fans who swoon over Cameron can be elated to see that he has returned as Mike, the police detective who loves Hannah dearly but has two issues with which to contend. Firstly, he is a widower who misses his wife. Secondly, Hannah will not keep her nose out of police business, and he is certain she is liable to be harmed or killed unless he can stop her. Furthermore, she tends to impede the investigation. And admittedly, this film is no different in that respect than the other two. However, Mike has to stay increasingly in the background where Hannah is concerned because there is a chance that she may be more than just an innocent bystander, or at least, so his boss tells him. Therefore, the scenes between Hannah and Mike are much more subdued and not nearly as heated as last time. And there is no doubt, it is almost killing Mike to have to stay away from this woman who just entices his soul to feel things he thought he never could again.
Nevertheless, Cameron still plays his part unimpeachably with his trademark charm, wit, conviction, and expertise. Of course, the fact that he is incredibly handsome only sweetens the deal. Since watching the last film, I have had the pleasure of seeing Cameron in a couple other films, and all I can say is exactly what I told him last time. He is the complete package. And yes, again, Cameron has immersed himself fully in this character, and for the first time, I think we see exactly how much he is falling for the enchanting Hannah. As to her feelings? Well, read on.
From the first of these films, I admit I wasn’t on Norman’s side as far as Hannah was concerned. Of course, he’s refined and handsome enough, but he’s very boring. I mean really, a dentist? Even so, I have never questioned that Gabriel portrays this man perfectly. And again, it doesn’t help that he has good looks to boot. On the flip side, there was never any real sparkle nor chemistry between Norman and Hannah. Also, Delores was rooting for him, and sometimes that is the best way to turn a daughter off to something. Mother says do it, and daughter decides to do the opposite. Furthermore, while I never challenged Gabriel’s ability to act, I wasn’t honestly sure if he could infuse this somewhat dull character with magic and vigor that would make him, in a sense, an equitable match for Hannah.
Well, permit me to say that Hallmark did a spectacular thing in this installment. They gave Gabriel’s character the chance to shine, and shine he did! I was overwhelmed with the service that he rendered Hannah (not the one in the picture–that is just a demonstration of the awakened chemistry between the two), and I began to question whether Mike was the better choice for Hannah after all. I know the old adage says “Father knows best,” but maybe this time, “Mother knows best.” I grew to relish Norman in this particular film because Gabriel is more than up to the task of instilling personality and a bit of spunk into Norman’s character. Maybe Norman just needs some time to warm up before he gets his motor revving. I mean, if that kiss does not manifest chemistry (and it’s at a rather inopportune time and entirely spontaneous too), I don’t know what does. In fact, I genuinely don’t know whom I would pick for Hannah now, but I would definitely place Norman on the same level as Mike. I greatly await the next saga in this thrilling love triangle.
Now, how on earth can I even put into words just how phenomenal Barbara is? In the English language, I believe I have used every word imaginable to describe the acting and character of this delightful personage. Every time I see Barbara in anything, I am utterly dumbstruck by her matchless gifts and the readiness with which she displays them. Not only is Barbara a dynamic actress who can play any role imaginable, but she also is a master at bringing the best out of every person within the scene. There are a few actors who have this knack, and they are often few and far between. Thankfully, the charm, grace, and ease with which Barbara illuminates the screen cause everyone else to rise to the occasion. Barbara has that extra little spark that she cannot conceal, and when she is on the screen, that spark explodes with charismatic enthusiasm that bubbles over to all within the vicinity. And when it comes to Delores, the audience is convinced that she has an unmistakable fondness for this character. Her joi de vivre spills out. But, don’t ever get on this lady’s bad side lest you want to experience her wrath. There is a very good chance the viewers will be treated to the full kaleidoscope of Delores’ emotions in this installment, so be prepared for a fantastical ride with a few massive bumps now and then. And since the delightful, personable, sweet, and humble Barbara is playing this role, never doubt that she won’t appreciate the love she receives from her fans. That woman is so active and real on social media, and she never fails to acknowledge those who support her (why do you think I am such a big proponent of hers?). Long live Delores and the glorious woman who has brought her to life!
Equally up to the task of uncanny portrayals is the beloved Alison Sweeney. While this is the Valentine’s Day installment, this is not the typical lovey-dovey, mushy, happily-ever-after Hallmark love story. As mentioned, Hannah is in a love triangle, but in this film, she has more important things on her mind. And Ali has again nailed an impeccable performance of the kind, quiet, but very nosy Hannah Swenson.
I cannot think of anyone who could perform this role as convincingly as Ali does. And in this third installment, Ali is so confident of her character that I believe she gives her best performance to date. (Not that the others were bad–on the contrary–but Ali just keeps improving.) Ali has fully immersed herself in this role of the local girl who is strong, independent, intuitive, and most importantly, does not need a man to complete herself. Additionally, she and Barbara act so much like mother and daughter that you would swear they are related. When you look at Ali, you always know exactly what her character is thinking. When I see an actress who has so connected with her character that everything she does becomes an integral part of the role, I am overcome with praise! And surely, Ali has done this in a way not all actresses can. And in spite of all that energy, she is vulnerable, a quality that so very few women want to display in this day and age lest they appear weak and old-fashioned. No worries with Ali’s character on that point. Ali has discovered the secret to Hannah’s success–be strong but feminine. And, I for one, am exhilarated to see that on the screen.
No spoilers here, but I applauded like a fiend during this scene, so I had to mention it. Single gals like me often get depressed during Valentine’s Day because we don’t have that special someone in our lives that modern culture says we need to have to be truly happy. I intermittently grow weary of viewing happy couples in Hallmark films because they appear to make it so easy to find the love of your life. Well, I want to say “thank you” to Hallmark for giving this single girl a great image as we approach Valentine’s Day. To see mother and two daughters having their own date on the day often reserved for lovers caused me to be euphoric! See, you don’t really need a man to complete you, ladies. True family and friends can be a closer bond than any romantic entanglements. So I send immense gratitude to Hallmark, Lisa, Barbara, and Ali. You have given me the best Valentine’s Day present I ever could have hoped for.
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