“The Dating Game Killer”

On December 3, 2017, the Investigative Discovery Channel (ID), premiered its first scripted film, “The Dating Game Killer.”  The film centers on serial killer, Rodney Alcala. He is someone, who in mainstream circles, hasn’t received the infamous notoriety of, for example, a Ted Bundy or a John Wayne Gacy, but he is responsible for more murder and mayhem than the two of them put together. In fact, the number of victims that can be attributed to Alcala are estimated at 130. How did Alcala get away with so much destruction between the years 1971 and 1979? From many accounts, he had a disarming smile, a friendly disposition, was of above average intelligence, and because, he more often than not, carried a camera with him, holding himself out as a professional photographer, he had a ready to use ruse to lure his victims. (As an aside: While attending New York University Film School, one of Alcala’s instructors was Oscar winning director, Roman Polanski).

Alcala was eventually apprehended on July 24, 1979, shortly thereafter, thanks to information he let slip while talking to his sister who was visiting him in jail, law enforcement learned Alcala, a California resident, had a storage garage in Seattle, Washington. What was discovered, amongst other things, such as jewelry belonging to his victims, were over a thousand pictures that Alcala had taken over the years. Unfortunately, investigators were not able to identify a number of the people in the photographs. There are active websites that feature Alcala’s pictures, and people who had family members, especially women, who went missing prior to Alcala’s apprehension, are urged to look at the pictures on the websites. In 2013, Kathy Thornton, who never gave up searching for her missing sister Christine, learned, thanks to the pictures posted on-line by CBS News, (Columbia Broadcast System) that her sister, had been one of Alcala’s victims. He had murdered Christine during the summer of 1977 in Wyoming, and buried her body in the desert.

The film begins with Alcala’s first known crime which took place in 1968. A man, steps out of a phone booth, and is concerned when he sees a young girl accepting a ride from Alcala, while she is walking to school. The man gets the attention of a police officer, named Jim Hamell. The officer, who will later become a detective, has a recurring role throughout the film. Hamell is played by Robert Knepper (Prison Break). Based on the following incident he, in essence, makes it his life’s work to make sure Alcala is put in prison, and never set free to harm anyone again. Officer Hamell tracks Alcala, portrayed by Guillermo Díaz (Scandal), back to his apartment, and upon knocking down the door, discovers the bloodied, raped, and unconscious body of Tali Shapiro. Thankfully, even thought she had lost a tremendous amount of blood, she arrived at the hospital in time to be saved. In the interim, Alcala fled the scene before he could be arrested, and was able to avoid capture until 1971, when the FBI added him to their 10 most wanted list.

When, thanks to being identified from the FBI poster, he was discovered in New Hampshire working as a camp counselor, and extradited to California to face the charges, prosecutors were in a bind. Fortunately, as previously stated, Tali survived her ordeal with Alcala, but she was so traumatized by the incident, that her family moved away, and refused to let her testify in court against him. Faced with no other choice, prosecutors allowed Alcala to plead to assault. He was sentenced to a term of no less than one year in jail, but with the possibility that he could serve life imprison. Alcala acted as a model prisoner, and said all the right things to his psychiatrists. In the end, he served a year and five months for the horrific crime.

From that moment forward the film highlights several other crimes that Alcala committed, and also showcases an unlikely moment from his life, one that would lead to him being dubbed the ‘Dating Game Killer.’ On September 13, 1978, Alcala, appeared on the popular ABC (American Broadcasting Company) television show “The Dating Game,” which aired from 1965 through 1986. At the time, the show didn’t do background checks, so Alcala’s sordid history was not known by the series’ producers. Alcala competed against two other bachelors, who like himself, per the rules of the show, could be heard, but not seen by bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw, who is played in the film by Tanya van Graan (24 Hours to Live). Cheryl wound up choosing Alcala as the winner. Fortunately for her, after meeting Alcala and talking with him back stage, she got the sense that something was off about him. Off camera, she informed the show’s producers that she refused to go out with him. If Cheryl had gone out with Alcala what would have happened? Would he have been able to control his urges and not kill someone he was seen with on national television? Clips of Alcala and Cheryl’s interactions on the show can be seen on youtube.com.

In addition to the storylines involving Alcala and Detective Hamell, the movie deals with the determined drive of a grieving mother,  Carol Jensen, portrayed by Emmy winner Carrie Preston (The Good Wife). Preston’s character is based on Marianne Connelly, the mother of 12 year old Robin Samsoe, Alcala’s last known victim. Like the real life mother she is portraying, Jensen never wavers in her efforts to make sure Alcala pays for his crime. She is continually frustrated with the legal system, and at one point puts in motion a plan to be Alcala’s judge, jury and executioner.

Samsoe’s murder, did lead to the eventual conviction, and a sentence of death being imposed on Rodney Alcala. His story, however, didn’t end with him just waiting on death row until it was his time to be executed. On two separate occasions, Alcala had his conviction overturned. The first time was on August 23, 1984  by the California Supreme Court, due to improper information given to the jurors about Alcala’s prior sex crimes, during his first trial. The second time was on April 2, 2001 when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified Alcala’s conviction, after his second trial,  because, the park ranger who discovered Samsoe’s body, had been placed under hypnosis by police investigators, in order to jog her memory that she had seen Alcala in the park where Samsoe’s body was discovered; this was done before she testified in court. Ultimately, thanks to the advancement in DNA testing, Alcala was convicted during a re-trial in 2010, and this time, his conviction was upheld.

“The Dating Game Killer,” was directed by Peter Medak (Romeo is Bleeding), from a teleplay co-written by Emmy nominee Darrell Fetty (Hatfields & McCoys), and two-time Emmy nominee Leslie Greif (Brando). The film which is parts crime and thriller has a runtime of 86 minutes. The violence that takes place during the film is more implied than shown. Diaz does a competent job portraying Alcala, a human being who was the embodiment of evil. Furthermore, Preston and Knepper, two performers whose work I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen them in, execute their roles well. For those interested in true crime, the film moves along at a quick pace, and is entertaining enough for at least a one-time viewing.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I, Tonya”

I was into my third day of student teaching back in 2006, when my mentor teacher Mrs. Thomas, a twenty-five year veteran, approached me before the final period of the school day, and informed me I would be teaching the next class. Bewildered is the best word I can use to describe the mixture of emotions that had overtaken my mind and body. My immediate question to her, and I’m not sure how intelligible I sounded, especially with the nervous cadence to my voice, was – Why? Why would she be entrusting me to teach the theme of jealousy in Shakespeare’s “Othello”  to her senior, honors English class. She paused for a moment to consider my question, and then responded, as best I can remember, as follows: Jonathan, we can discuss educational philosophy. I can teach you how to differentiate instruction in order to effectively reach the maximum number of students in the class. I can, and I will, provide you with examples of, and have you practice, writing effective lesson plans that incorporate appropriate breakdowns of time to spend on each portion of your lesson, but the most important thing I can do, and the most important thing I can teach you to do as a future educator, is to encourage. I know you’re going to make mistakes, you would be a robot if you didn’t, but now is the time for you to make mistakes and learn from them.

Encourage me she did. Mrs. Thomas never got angry with me, when I stumbled. She never belittled me in front of the students if I failed to mention something of importance during a lesson. Instead, she spoke to me in private, pointed out areas I needed improvement in, and whatever information I failed to mention in the previous lesson, she would orchestrate a way for me to bring it up the next time I taught, so as not to embarrass myself in front of the students. Throughout my entire time student teaching, she helped to prepare me for the following year, when I would be the only teacher in the classroom, and making all of the decisions. I learned a tremendous amount from her, and I was exceptionally fortunate to have had such a wonderful person for a mentor, who did nothing but encourage me at every turn to be my best self.

The remembrance I just wrote about is what came to mind when I finished watching the film “I, Tonya.”  Leaving aside the ‘incident’ with Nancy Kerrigan, as it is referred to in the film, Harding, who despite the trajectory her life took, had a tremendous talent for figure skating, but from the moment she entered the world, she was seemingly abused both verbally and physically. The encouragement she did receive during her formative years by her chain-smoking, foul-mouthed mother, was more to make sure Tonya could serve the role as a future money earner, by becoming a performer in The Ice Capades, as opposed to encouraging Tonya’s abilities to their utmost potential. As the film showcases, for a while, Tonya did, in spite of the obstacles she had to deal with, strive to be her best self, but it was a hard fought battle the entire time.

The film begins in Portland, Oregon where Harding grew up. Two young actresses, Maizie Smith and Mckenna Grace (Gifted), portray Harding up until the movie moves to her teenage years. From the age of fifteen onward, BAFTA and Golden Globe, nominee, Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad), completely embodies the role of the former figure skater. From the outset, it was a struggle for Harding. Sadly, those who sat in judgment of her, awarded her lower scores because she didn’t fit the image they wanted her to project; even though she was able to perform a very difficult move, the triple axel, which prior to Harding performing it, had never been successfully executed by an American skater during a competition. That feat, however, was still not enough, as one judge even candidly admits to Harding during the film. No doubt, Harding was a bit of a rebel when it came to skating. She didn’t dress as other skaters did, and instead of performing to classical music like her contemporaries, she would opt to skate to songs such as “Sleeping Bag,” by ZZ Top.

While the ice offered Harding a wonderful escape, minus her treatment from the skating judges, her home life wasn’t good. Her mother, LaVona Golden, played by six-time, Emmy winner, Allison Janney (Mom) was the antithesis of a nurturer, typically berating Tonya, and on occasion as the movies showcases, engaging in physical violence against her. For example, one time she threw a knife at Tonya, which cut Harding’s arm. In addition to her scenes, throughout the film, Janney’s character is shown sitting on a couch, wearing a fur coat, her pet bird perched atop her shoulder, as she offers acerbic tongued commentary on her daughter and other key figures involved in Harding’s journey to reach the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and its aftermath.

The film is shot in a faux-documentary style based on interviews conducted with Harding, and her former, abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly, played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Civil War). Unfortunately for Harding, Gillooly was the first man she met that showed an interest in her, and he was initially kind and supportive, but it didn’t take long before his behavior dissolved into a quick to anger, physically abusive, Neanderthal, who played games with Harding’s emotions, promising to never hurt again, only to inevitably wind up doing so, shortly thereafter. Furthermore, Gillooly’s friend, the heavyset, delusional, dim-witted Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), appears throughout the film. Originally, as mentioned in the movie, he was supposed to just mail threatening letters to one of Harding’s skating rivals, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). Instead, he took the money Gillooly gave him to do so, and paid two equally moronic individuals, Shane Stant (Ricky Russert), and Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds) to kneecap Kerrigan with a baton, with the plan of keeping her from competing; a plan, which failed. Kerrigan would go onto earn a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics while Harding finished eighth.

As the narrative shifts between Harding, Gillooly, and LaVona’s  alternating takes on the events that transpired over two-decades earlier, two other characters offer their perspectives: Harding’s former, skating coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson); and “Hard Copy” reporter, Martin Maddox, portrayed by two-time, Emmy winner, Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire).   

“I, Tonya” premiered on September 8, 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was directed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) and written for the screen by Steven Rogers (Love the Coopers). Parts biography, drama, and sports, the movie has a runtime of 119 minutes. Those seeking a film that deals primarily with the incident involving the attack on Nancy Kerrigan will be disappointed. The film showcases what happened, but it is only a small portion of its runtime. Primarily, “I, Tonya,” is about Harding’s journey to the infamous moment that altered her life. In the end, for her involvement in the crime, Harding received three years probation, had to perform five hundred hours of community service, was fined $160,000, and for someone who had been skating virtually from the time she began walking, she received the ultimate punishment, a lifetime banishment from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Plot details are not something I felt needed to be kept guarded in this review, because the story, and the outcome of what took place, are so well documented. From start to finish, even knowing the story and what the eventual outcome would be, I was never bored while watching the film. The 75th Golden Globe Awards air this Sunday, January 7th on NBC at 8:00pm; “I’ Tonya” has been nominated for three: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for Allison Janney – Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture for Margot Robbie – and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. I would not be surprised or displeased if either Janney or Robbie took home the gold.

 

                           

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“Better Watch Out”

Precocious twelve year old Luke Lerner (Levi Miller) has a crush on his babysitter, seventeen year old Ashley, portrayed by Olivia DeJonge (The Visit). Prior to Ashley coming over to babysit, Luke has been scheming with his best-friend, Garrett, (Ed Oxenbould), as to how he can win her affections. In a few days, Ashley will be moving to Pittsburgh, and Luke knows, this could be the last time he sees her. Once his mom, played by Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen (Sideways), and his dad, portrayed by Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld), leave for the evening, he puts his plans into action. Luke starts by drinking from a bottle of champagne, thinking it will impress her, and hoping that she will join him. In addition, he puts on a horror movie in the hopes that Ashley will be scared enough to want to get closer to him. Unfortunately for the would be Casanova, his plans, as the viewer would likely expect, don’t come to fruition, but there might be a greater problem that both he and Ashley have to immediately confront. (As an aside: DeJonge and Oxenbould, starred as siblings in the 2015 film “The Visit,” which was written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee, M. Night Shyamalan).

A pizza, that hadn’t been ordered by Ashley or Luke, is delivered by a person whose face is masked – The phone rings and no one speaks – a mysterious figure appears in the window – a back door, which had been closed, is once again open, and then a knock on the door, and no-one is there. Well, that is not entirely true. Garrett had been playing a trick on Ashley and Luke, but when noises are heard upstairs, Garrett, who is in plain sight of the two of them, can no longer be accused of playing games. Before too long, the trio receives a tangible threat, written in chalk on a brick that has crashed through the window, that reads: “U leave U die.” From the outset of the threat, Ashley takes on the role of a resilient protagonist. She is intelligent and willing to fight; no matter how dire the situation becomes, she never gives in.

The film from that moment, until a clever twist a short while later, comes across as a standard home-invasion thriller. A viewer can expect disconnected phone lines, mishaps with cell-phones, no internet service, as well as jump scares. During the course of the evening, both Ashley’s current boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic), and her ex-boyfriend Jeremy, played by Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), get swept up in the mayhem, that unfolds on Christmas Eve. I am going to stop giving specific plot details at this point, because to provide more, would, in fact, ruin the reveal, which serves as the catalyst for the remainder of the film. Who has broken into the house? What are their motivations for wanting to keep Ashley, Luke, and Garrett inside the house? Why not take whatever money and valuables they came for and leave? Those questions and more will be answered by the end of the entertaining, albeit disturbing, film.

“Better Watch Out” premiered at the Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas, on September 26, 2016. The film was written and directed by Chris Peckover (Undocumented), who co-wrote the screenplay with Zack Kahn (Mad), based on a story written by Kahn. The runtime of the film is 89 minutes. Parts horror and thriller, the movie was originally titled “Safe Neighborhood.”  The film is well-paced, and provides enough tension and suspense to keep viewers interested from start to finish. This film, will not be for everyone. Furthermore, while the cast is uniformly good, and give believable performances, there are plot elements and scenes, where the viewer will have to be willing to suspend disbelief at what is being shown on screen.

 


 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Victoria” (2015)

At the start of the film “Victoria,” the viewer sees the title character, portrayed by BAFTA nominee Laia Costa, (Newness) dancing alone in a nightclub in Berlin, Germany. Throughout the film’s 138 minute runtime, the camera never deviates from showing Victoria’s point of view. When she is finished for the evening, on her way out of the club, she is approached by Sonne, played by Frederick Lau. He is there with three of his friends: Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit), and Fuss (Max Mauff). Victoria, a native of Madrid, Spain, has been living and working in a cafe in Berlin for the past three months. She hasn’t built up many friendships, and is yearning for some fun, so she opts to socialize with the four friends for a while, primarily Sonne.

The five talk on the roof top of a building, where they shouldn’t be in the first place. As they talk, they drink beers they had stolen a few minutes earlier from a convenience store, while the elderly cashier slept behind the counter. Victoria, has to leave her new friends, so she can go and get a few hours sleep at the cafe before opening it for business in the morning. Sonne accompanies her to the cafe, and through conversation, they learn more about one another, as Victoria demonstrates her skills while playing “Mephisto Waltz” by Franz Liszt on the piano. She tells Sonne that she wanted to become a classical pianist, but with few opportunities, and the intense competition she fell short, at least for the moment, of realizing her dream. The two agree to see one another again. Within seconds of confirming their mutual attraction, Victoria and Sonne, are joined by Boxer and the other friends; they need Sonne to leave with them immediately. The men get in a stolen car and drive away, only to return a short while later because Fuss is sick, and will be of no help for what the friends have planned.

Boxer, as it turns out, has spent time in jail, and while incarcerated he bartered for his protection with Andi, (André Hennicke) a well-connected crime boss. Boxer needs to pull a bank robbery for Andi, as repayment for keeping him safe while locked up. The job requires three men inside the bank, as well as a getaway driver. Fuss, having consumed too much alcohol is too sick to work. The job, however, can’t be done with less than four people. Sonne talks to Victoria, and it doesn’t take a lot of convincing on his part, before she winds up agreeing to drive the get-away-car.

Leaving Fuss at the cafe, the four leave to meet with Andi in a parking garage. While there, however, as Andi explains the particulars of the bank robbery in the presence of his gun-toting crew, Victoria realizes the exceptional danger she has willingly placed herself in. After the meeting, the slow-moving, character establishment faze of the first part of the film, gives way to a frenetic pace, for the remainder of its runtime. Instead of providing more plot details, I’ll leave it for you to experience if you decide to watch the movie.

“Victoria,” a German film with English subtitles, was directed by Sebastian Schipper (Run Lola Run). Schipper along with Olivia Neergaard-Holm (David Lynch: The Art Life), and Eike Frederik Schulz (Nachtwächter), are credited with the story, which roughly amounted to a twelve-page outline. The reason for that, is that there was no screenplay for the film. “Victoria” was shot over three consecutive nights in one single continuous take; the third take of the film, is what the viewer sees. The cast, which is uniformly good, did a fine job of improvising the majority of what is shown on screen, utilizing only the ideas of what needed to take place in the film from the outline. Schipper filmed without permits or permission, and his crew, would routinely ask people walking on the street to kindly take a different route, so as not to interfere with shooting. Overall, while I think portions of the film could’ve, and more than likely would’ve, been edited out, if it had been shot in a traditional manner, it was, for the most part, especially the scenes that take place after the meeting with the crime boss, an entertaining watch.

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“Ingrid Goes West”

At the start of the satirical film, “Ingrid Goes West,” Ingrid Thorburn, a lonely and mentally unbalanced person, portrayed by Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), has just crashed a wedding. She is not at the reception to partake of the festivities, but instead to cause a scene, and cause a scene she does. Ingrid, believing that she has been neglected by her friend (Meredith Hagner), by not being invited to the wedding, sprays a can of pepper spray at the bride’s face. Ingrid’s actions, land her for a short time, in a psychiatric ward. If using the pepper spray weren’t bad enough, the viewer learns that Ingrid didn’t even have a valid grievance for not being invited to the wedding, in the first place. As it turns out, Ingrid was a follower of the bride’s Instagram account, and the two women had never interacted in person, but in Ingrid’s mind, she felt they had a deep personal connection, thanks to social media.

When Ingrid is released from the hospital, she begins to revert to her old behavior. While skimming through the pages of a magazine, she learns of an ‘Instagram lifestyle guru’ by the name of Taylor Sloane; she is played by BAFTA nominee Elizabeth Olsen (Captain America: Civil War). Taylor’s Instagram is full of positivity, and it is seemingly just what Ingrid needs to reignite her spark in life, especially since the recent death of her mother. The catalyst which sets the next part of the movie into motion is Taylor replying back to a comment left by Ingrid on her Instagram. Ingrid uses the inheritance money she receives from her mother’s passing to move to California, where Taylor lives. She is determined to track Taylor down, and become friend’s with her new obsession.

When Ingrid arrives in California, she rents an apartment from Dan Pinto, a landlord with a serious Batman obsession, who is also an aspiring screenwriter, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton). The apartment she rents is, of course, in the same neighborhood Taylor lives in. Dan takes a strong liking to Ingrid, something that she takes advantage of. There are times where he wants to help Ingrid out, but there are other instances where he will become an unwilling participant in her schemes to win and keep Taylor’s friendship.

Ingrid doesn’t waste time attempting to ingratiate herself in Taylor’s life; she knows via Instagram all of the places that Taylor frequents. Ingrid thinks up a plan to quicken the pace, and make her first encounter with Taylor more meaningful. She decides to kidnap Taylor’s dog, knowing full well that she will be able to meet Taylor in person, when she returns the dog, to its grateful owner.

Ingrid’s plan works perfectly. When she returns the dog to Taylor and her husband, Ezra (Wyatt Russell), at their home, they ask her to stay for dinner. Ezra is a struggling artist, and it’s easy to see why, when he presents a sampling of his work. According to Taylor, the reason Ezra’s art hasn’t sold, is because he’s bad at self-promotion. Of course, Ingrid, desperate for Taylor’s friendship, purchases a painting from Ezra for two thousand dollars. From that moment forward, Ingrid and Taylor become inseparable, just as Ingrid had hoped for, but her fantasy life, which she strives at every turn to keep together, soon faces challenges. Those challenges arrive in the form of Taylor’s obnoxious brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen). He is on to Taylor, but might be persuaded to keep quiet for the right amount of hush-money. Additionally, the arrival of Harley (Pom Klementieff), who has over a million followers on Instagram, and has befriended Taylor, also threatens to cause a divide in her and Ingrid’s friendship.

What lengths will Ingrid go to, to keep her friendship with Taylor intact? Will Ingrid’s facade be discovered by Taylor, putting her back to square one? If it is what will she do next?

The ensemble cast works very well in their respective roles. The film, which is part comedy and drama, has a runtime of 98 minutes. The movie, did at times, surprise me by veering off from taking a cinematic path that would’ve been more formulaic, and entering some disturbing territory. “Ingrid Goes West” premiered on January 20, 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is the feature directorial debut for Matt Spicer. In addition, Spicer co-wrote the screenplay for the movie with David Branson Smith, (Bad Sports). The script that was written by Spicer and Smith is culturally relevant for the time in which we live. The filmmakers provide an accurate commentary on how social media can sometimes be taken to unhealthy extremes, when fact based reality and fantasy blend together in a person’s mind.

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“The Lying Game by Ruth Ware”

The retrieval of a human bone by a dog out of an estuary known as the Reach, in the coastal village of Salten, is the catalyst which begins British author Ruth Ware’s (The Woman in Cabin 10) third novel. The atmospheric, effective, and taut, “The Lying Game” centers on four friends: Fatima, Isa, Kate, and Thea. The four women were inseparable in their youth, while attending the Salten House Boarding School. The narrator of Ware’s novel is Isa Wilde. She is a civil-service lawyer, wife, and a mother to her new born, daughter, Freya; she lives with her family in London. Isa receives a short and to the point text message from Kate Atagon, that reads “I need you.”  Isa, doesn’t need to think about what the message refers to; she knows exactly what it pertains to.

Isa doesn’t waste much time before making up a reason to her husband, Owen, why she needs to go to Salten, where Kate still lives. Kate resides in her father, Ambrose Atagon’s house, where her brother, Luc also used to live. Ambrose was a talented, well-liked, art teacher at Salten House before his mysterious disappearance, almost two-decades prior. In fact, after Ambrose disappeared, the four friends were expelled from Salten House. Kate’s residence is referred to in the novel as the ‘Tide Mill,’ a structure which is gradually sinking into the sea. Isa takes Freya with her, and leaves by train for the village of Salten. Throughout the course of the same day, Fatima and Thea, having also received similar text messages, arrive at the Tide Mill.

Fatima is a mother, has become a practicing Muslim in the intervening years between school and the present, and is also a physician. Thea is a career woman, who secretly engages in self-harm, and then does what she can to mask her actions. Unfortunately, for the four friends, this is not going to be the type of reunion where they can just sit back, relax, and talk about everything that has taken place since they last saw one another. No, what it is, is an opportunity for them to get their collective stories straight. The four friends have been harboring a secret since their days at Salten House, seventeen years earlier, and it looks as if that secret is about to be revealed. If, and more than likely, when, the friends are questioned by the authorities, they want to be able to present a united front in their recollections of long ago.

The novel moves back and forth seamlessly between the girls’ years at Salten House, and their current lives. The different parts are clearly delineated by Ware, and shouldn’t present a problem to the reader, as to what is taking place, and when. During their time at Salten House, the girls used to play a game called ‘The Lying Game,’ the five rules of which were:

  1. Tell a lie.
  2. Stick to your story.
  3. Don’t get caught.
  4. Never lie to each other.
  5. Know when to stop lying

Ware lets the reader know in a slow reveal style, that the secret that the four women share has something to do with their ill-advised, teenage game. After learning about the bone being retrieved from the water by the dog, as well as other occurrences, Isa becomes suspicious. She starts to think that one of her group of intimates is not being entirely truthful with all that they know regarding what happened in the past; and perhaps re-started ‘the lying game’ due to the current peril the four friends find themselves in. Who is lying? Why are they lying? What will happen when the truth is revealed? Those questions will be answered by the conclusion of Ware’s novel.

“The Lying Game”  is 384 pages in length, and was published by Gallery / Scout Press on July 25, 2017. Ware has crafted a well-written, character driven story, that concerns itself more with the friends’ relationships, and the lengths they will go to keep their shared secret, as opposed to solving a mystery. There is a slow building tension throughout the novel; those looking for a traditional thriller, will be disappointed. There are, however, enough twists and turns, that should be appreciated by the reader prior to the novel’s jarring climax.

 

Posted in Literature | Tagged , | 6 Comments

“Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte”

When I first heard that a new book about wrestling icon, the 16-time world champion, Ric Flair was being published, I was interested, but the news also left me wondering – Why? Flair, had already released an excellent autobiography, “To Be the Man,” which he co-wrote with Keith Elliot Greenburg; that book had been published on July 6, 2004 by WWE Books, and distributed by Simon & Schuster.  “To Be the Man” encompassed the early stages of Flair’s attempting to enter the wrestling business, and the rigors of the training regimen he went through prior to his professional debut on December 10, 1972. In the book, there is a great deal of material devoted to the prime years of Flair’s career, where his platinum hair, diamond studded robes, gift of gab on the mic, and his ability to wrestle 60 minute matches, whenever called for, made him the most recognizable sports entertainer on the planet – apart from Hulk Hogan’s meteoric rise to fame in the 1980s. As interesting a subject, when it comes to wrestling, as Flair is, I wondered if there was enough to warrant a second book, covering the years 2004 through his retirement in 2008. After learning what the book would cover, and that it wouldn’t just be about Ric, I knew there was no need to speculate if there would be enough material.

“Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte” was published by St. Martin’s Press this past September. The book is authored by Ric Flair, real name Richard Morgan Fliehr – Charlotte Flair, real name Ashley Elizabeth Fliehr, and author, Brian Shields. The book  is written in sections, and the first part deals with Ric Flair’s retirement from WWE in 2008, and the emotional whirlwind of a year he had leading up to it, as well as the aftermath. The entire episode from when he was first informed that he would no longer be working as an in-ring competitor, to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, is full of behind-the-scenes details that should impress even the most jaded of wrestling fans. Flair’s final WWE match took place at WrestleMania XXIV, on March 30, 2008, at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, against Shawn Michaels. Flair states that the next day, when he woke up, he wasn’t in any mood to start the next phase of his life, but instead felt as if he were having a panic attack, as being a professional wrestler was all he had known for decades; he didn’t know what the future held for him. (As an aside: Ric Flair is currently the only two-time inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. The first time he went in as a single competitor, his second induction was as a member of one of wrestling’s most dominant factions ‘The Four Horsemen.’ The Four Horsemen, managed by J.J. Dillon, had changes to their lineup throughout the years, but the original members were Ric Flair, Arn and Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard).

 Wrestling is not the only subject that Flair talks about. He is very candid in referencing his short comings outside of the wrestling business. From his own admission, Flair, who has been married four times, was not a good husband, especially to his first two-wives. In addition, until he got older, and started taking a more active role in his younger children’s lives, he was not the best father to his four children, David, Megan, Reid, and Ashley. The desire to be the best wrestler he could be, the money he was making, and the need to live up to the character he was portraying, that was, to quote him: “The Stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun!  – proved to be all-consuming, to the point where when he wasn’t on the road wrestling, he didn’t know how to be a stay-at-home husband and father. According to Flair, he never took a pain pill in his life, and he was never drunk when he was performing in the ring, but when work was over for the day, despite how banged up he might have been, he could not stand to think of just going back to the hotel, watching television, and getting some sleep. He hated to be alone, and regardless of the town he was in, he wanted to be where the action was.

The second part of the book belongs to Ric’s daughter Ashley, better known to wrestling fans as Charlotte. She talks about her upbringing in Charlotte, North Carolina, and even though Ric Flair knocks himself as a father, Charlotte doesn’t hold his antics against him. In fact, most of what she writes about her younger years, in regard to Ric’s parenting, until she was on the verge of graduating from high school, is positive. What might surprise many readers, who are not familiar with her, outside of WWE programming, is that she never had a desire to be a professional wrestler. She was an outstanding athlete growing up, excelling in gymnastics, competitive cheerleading, and volleyball, but wrestling was something she didn’t have an interest in. Charlotte goes so far, as to admit, that when she would watch wrestling as a child and teenager, she found it boring if her father wasn’t involved in the match. Her late brother and best friend, Reid, however, was the one who nudged her toward a career in wrestling, at a dinner that she was attending with him, where his own burgeoning career in the business was being discussed. Unlike Charlotte, Reid always wanted to be a professional wrestler, like their father. He trained hard, worked tirelessly, competed and did well on every amateur level, but, sadly, he had problems with substance abuse that led to his passing away at the age of 25. Reid’s death left both Ric and Charlotte devastated, and had them wondering if they could’ve done more to prevent it.

Charlotte has achieved a great deal of success since breaking into the wrestling business, but she had to earn it the hard way. When she approached WWE about becoming a sports entertainer, she was told in no uncertain terms by WWE Executive Vice-President, Paul Levesque, known in wrestling circles as ‘Triple H,’ that just because she was Ric Flair’s daughter, she wasn’t going to get a free pass to the top. At the time Charlotte was married to a man named Riki, who although college educated, had no ambition or direction in life. Making matters worse, during their one year of marriage, he pulled a gun on her, and on multiple occasions was physically abusive. Two specific occasions stand out to her: One was when he punched her in the head, and was swinging his fists at her like they were in a street fight; another time, he hit her so hard in the ribs, that she had trouble breathing. In interviews, she has spoken about the fact that prior to working on the book, she had never truly dealt with the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, and that it was difficult for her to open up about her abuse. Charlotte does hope, however, that having written about her own experiences, it will encourage other women to seek out the help of friends and loved ones, and let them know what is going on before it might become too late to get help.

In addition to Ric and Charlotte’s respective sections, the book also covers the untimely death of Reid, and the toll it took on the two of them after his passing. Reid died on March 29, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The cause of his death was a heroin overdose. Furthermore, clonazepam and alprazolam were also found in his system. Reid, from all accounts, was a talented wrestler, but what kept him out of WWE was his issues with substance abuse; twice he excelled at his in-ring performance tryout for the WWE, but both times he failed drug tests and was not given a contract with the company. While Charlotte was devastated by Reid’s death, she put her energy into training, and making the most out of her opportunity with WWE. Conversely, according to Ric, for a solid year, he would wake up in the morning, and be one of the first people at the bar, and one of the last to leave at night. From his own admission, he was drinking himself to death because he could not endure the pain of losing his son. His behavior, combined with past lifestyle choices, would catch up with him in the future, and nearly end his life.

On August 11, 2017, Flair began complaining of stomach pains. His fiancée, Wendy Barlow, rushed him to a hospital in Georgia. Due to years of excessive drinking, Flair’s kidney’s began to shut down, and he was close to having congestive heart failure. On August 14, 2017, he was placed into a medically induced coma, and put on life support, where he would remain for ten days, during which time he underwent surgery to remove a part of his bowel; at the same time doctors inserted a pacemaker into him. After the incident, Flair vowed to never drink again. Unfortunately, I’ve known many people who have made that same promise over the years, in regard to alcohol and smoking, most of them, however, with the exception of a few strong willed individuals, have failed, and need to try multiple times to beat their addictions, some are still trying.

Ric Flair, has provided me countless hours of entertainment over the years, and for the past several years, Charlotte has proven herself a worthy addition to professional wrestling. On a personal note, I remember going to the Nassau Coliseum, in Uniondale, Long Island, with my friend Scott. We had tickets to a WWE house show that wasn’t televised – at the time it was still called WWF. Ric Flair was in the main event, against another wrestler who I loved, Randy Savage. Scott and I had, up until that point in our young lives, never witnessed the title change hands in person, so we were desperate to see Flair win, and for a moment we thought our dream had come true, when Flair’s hand was raised, as the new champion; a second referee, however, came in, to inform the first ref, that Flair had done something underhanded. After all, Flair didn’t get the moniker ‘the dirtiest player in the game’ for nothing, and, within a few short seconds the title was given back to Savage. I think out of the thousands in attendance at Nassau Coliseum, Scott and I, were the only ones disappointed with the reversal; it was a fun night none-the-less. I hope for Ric Flair’s sake, that he has the willpower to beat his addiction.

The informative and well-written “Second Nature: The Legacy of Ric Flair and the Rise of Charlotte”  held my interest from start to finish. There is a great deal more contained within the book that I didn’t mention. I’ll let those of you interested in learning more about the Flairs’ highs and lows, read about them yourself.

 

 

Posted in Literature, WWE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments