“Game Night”

Suburban married couple Max, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Annie, played by Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), are two very competitive individuals when it comes to playing games. The start of the film shows the two meeting at one such gaming competition, and over the years, a montage showcases the couple vanquishing their gaming opponents, until one day, Max proposes, and Annie happily accepts. The couple hosts game nights with their friends: husband and wife, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who have, unbelievably, been together since middle school; single friend, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who brings an assortment of different, dim-witted, dates to game night. Max and Annie’s next door neighbor Gary Kingsbury, a police officer, who is seemingly always dressed in his uniform and accompanied by his dog, Bastian, is a former participant at game night. He has been kept away from the get-togethers since his divorce from Debbie (Jessica Lee), who the friends admit they liked more. He makes it known that he very much would like to be included in any game night plans. In the role of Kingsbury is Emmy nominee Jesse Plemons (Fargo).

Breaking up the friends’ standard game night outings, is the arrival, from out-of-town, of Max’s older brother, Brooks, portrayed by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights). He is an arrogant, successful and highly competitive individual, who always seems to be able to one up Max in whatever he sets his mind to. He also, it’s alluded to, might be psychologically hampering Max and Annie from conceiving the baby they’ve been trying for. Brooks has decided to host his own game night, but instead of just friendly camaraderie, the winner will get a 1976 Corvette Stingray, which just so happens to be Max’s dream car.

When the assemblage of friends arrive at the mansion Brooks is renting, it is soon learned that board games will not be played that evening. Instead, Brooks has made arrangements with a gaming company that employs actors and actresses, to host a murder mystery party. The person who pieces together the clues and is the first to find him, will win the Corvette.

Entering the home, a short while after Brooks explains what is taking place, is Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America), portraying an employee of the gaming company; his role for that night, is that of a faux, F.B.I. agent. He begins speaking about a dangerous element that has been spotted in the area, and distributes folders to the participants. Moments later, two men break through Brook’s front door, beat up Wright’s character, and drag Brooks kicking and screaming from the house. The friends are in awe of how realistic everything seems. The catch is that Brooks, as it will later be revealed, is not all he claims to be, and instead of being captured by actors, unbeknownst to everyone, he is taken by real criminals, who want to retrieve something of value he has stolen from them.

Afterward, the couples split up, and begin to attempt to piece together the clues that will lead them to Brooks, and winning the car. Max and Annie track down Brooks, who is being held in a room at a dive bar. Thinking the criminals are actors brandishing toy guns, Max and Annie confront the dangerous element in the spirit of the game; it won’t take long for them to realize that the guns aren’t toys and the criminals aren’t pretending. Brooks’ life is imminent danger, and amid chaos, Max and Annie rescue him. During an ensuing car chase, Brooks admits who he really is, and in order to save his brother and sister-in-law, he jumps from the car, so they can get away. The intentions of the criminals are made known, that if a stolen Fabergé egg is not safely returned to them, Brooks will be killed. Will Max and Annie, with the help of their friends, be able to win at the highest stakes game they’ve ever played?

In addition to the aforementioned members of the cast, accompanying the friends is Sarah, Ryan’s date for the evening, played by three time BAFTA nominee Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe); unlike most of his dates, she is highly intelligent and will be of much needed help to him throughout the evening. Additional actors of note that appear in the film, are: Golden Globe nominee, Danny Huston (Magic City), as a wealthy party host named Donald Anderton; and Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall (Dexter) as a high level, criminal known as ‘The Bulgarian.’

“Game Night” premiered in New Zealand on February 15, 2018. The film was written for the screen by Mark Perez (Accepted), and co-directed by BAFTA nominees, John Francis Daley (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses). “Game Night” is parts action – comedy – crime – mystery and thriller. The film, is mostly a fun ride that doesn’t require the viewers to tax their brains in order to keep up with what is taking place on screen. The members of the cast do a good job with their respective roles, especially Bateman and McAdams, who have believable on screen chemistry. The standout of the film, however, is Plemon’s Kingsbury with his deadpan delivery and the general creepy vibe his character gives off.  For the most part the ensemble cast kept the laughs coming and the film moving at a good pace. The movie, however, might have benefitted from trimming at least ten minutes from its 100 minute runtime, as the ending did seem to stretch a bit too long, and included some action sequences that weren’t that impactful. In closing, while I didn’t love “Game Night,” I certainly liked it enough to recommend it for at least a one-time viewing.

 

 

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“The Billionaire Boys Club by Sue Horton”

Over the course of three years, L.A. Weekly journalist, Sue Horton, worked tirelessly on her non-fiction book, “The Billionaire Boys Club.” Horton was rewarded for her hard work and effort, when her book was published by St. Martin’s Press on November 1, 1989. Unlike the linchpin of her story, charismatic, intelligent, but also narcissistic and deadly, Joe Hunt, Horton knew there were no shortcuts to success. Conversely, Hunt wanted an express elevator to the good life, and he had no qualms about what he had to do in order to get there. Ultimately, the way he lived his life, by a set of guidelines he dubbed ‘The Paradox Philosophy,’ in which he believed there were no moral absolutes, and that the ends always justified the means, would lead to his eventual downfall, but not before he left a path of murder and mayhem in his wake. Horton’s book, is a very well-researched and written accounting of the trajectory of Joe Hunt’s life, that start’s with his family and formative years, up until his take-no-prisoners bravado and scheming ways led to his arrest and incarceration.

Joe Hunt was born Joseph Henry Gamsky, in Chicago, Illinois, on October 31, 1959. He was a highly intelligent child, and when tested, it turned out, he had a near genius IQ. Feeling that public school would be too limiting for her son, and wanting the best for him, his mother, Kathleen Gamsky, had Joe apply to the Harvard School, a prestigious, Los Angeles, prep school. Joe was immediately accepted and given a full scholarship. While attending the Harvard School, Joe showed tremendous aptitude for debate, and earned high marks, which, upon graduation in 1977, earned him admittance to the University of Southern California. While at USC, after some unpleasant incidents happened to Hunt, he dropped out, and began to solely concentrate on making money. During his time at the Harvard School, he had been jealous of the lifestyles the majority of the other students were afforded thanks to their wealthy families, and he wanted his piece of the good life. In 1980, Joe tried his luck at making his fortune in Chicago, but after a few unsuccessful years, as well as utilizing unsound trading practices, which got him barred from trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for a decade, he returned to Los Angeles, in 1983. A short while after he was back in California, he came up with the idea to start the BBC. The BBC was not originally named to stand for Billionaire Boys Club. Hunt came up with the name for the investment organization after putting together the initials of his favorite restaurant, the Bombay Bicycle Club.

The one thing going for Hunt upon his return to Los Angeles was the connections he had made in prep-school. He had some close friends, who came from money, but he also had access to other individuals he had met while at the Harvard School, who fell victim to his charms and power of persuasion. Before long, his best friend Dean Karny came on board as his second-in-command. They were soon joined by another close friend, Ben Dosti. Soon other friends and acquaintances were investing a tremendous amount of their families’ money in the BBC.  Hunt was able to convince those around him that he was an investment guru.

Hunt lived by the old adage, “you have to spend money to make money,” and he and his associates at the BBC were good at spending money. They rented office space in Beverly Hills, wore Armani suits, drove the newest BMW’s and Mercedes, and ate at the finest restaurants; the only trouble was, Hunt’s investment skills, were proving to be just as porous in California as they had been in Chicago. Hunt was spending more money than the BBC made. In order to cover the costs of the lavish lifestyles of the members of the board of the BBC, as well as pay back several investors who wanted the money he had supposedly earned for them through his commodities investments, Hunt had to take on new clients, to cover debts. After a short period of time, the BBC was operating nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. Hunt needed a way out of his predicament in order to avoid getting caught and exposed as the fraud he had become while in pursuit of the finer things in life. For a brief period of time, he thought he had found his financial savior in the person of Beverly Hills businessman Ron Levin. The only problem with Hunt’s mindset, was that Ron Levin was nothing more than a con man, whose schemes weren’t even that financially fruitful. For example, he had to have his parents pay the rent on his Beverly Hills home to keep up the appearance of his being successful.

Eventually, after some persistent badgering on Hunt’s part, to get Levin to invest with the BBC, Levin comes up with an arrangement, that Hunt is all too pleased to accept. Levin sets up a five million dollar line of credit at Clayton Investment, and states to Joe that he can keep fifty percent of whatever he makes. Joe, for the first time since he started the BBC goes on a winning streak, and manages to turn the initial five million dollar investment into fifteen million dollars, however, problems arise once Hunt begins to attempt to collect his share of the profits. Levin at first offers excuses as to why the money hasn’t been sent to the BBC, then outright refuses to take or return Hunt’s phone calls. In the end, Hunt learns that the entire account had been fictitious. Ron Levin, had persuaded the investment firm to make the account look real because, he claimed, he was making a documentary film. In actuality, no film was being made, and he took the fraudulent statement showing Hunt’s investing success to another firm and secured for himself a one million dollar line of credit.

Hunt had been counting on that money to keep the BBC alive. Ron Levin, had in one fell swoop, killed Hunt’s dream, so Hunt set out to do the same to Ron Levin. One evening, after weeks of meticulous planning, Hunt and the head of BBC Security, Jim Pittman, set out to pay Levin a visit at his home. The exact details of what happened to Ron Levin have still not been concretely proven. Levin’s body was never found. Furthermore, there are numerous people who have reportedly spotted Levin throughout the years, alive and well. Joe Hunt claims that he had nothing to do with Levin’s disappearance or death. Could con man Ron Levin, who was facing serious jail time for one of his schemes, have simply disappeared because he couldn’t do the time in prison? I am not sure I am willing to believe that based upon what I’ve read. There is the small possibility based on the eye witness sightings, as well as some other things that are brought up in the book, that it could be, however, unlikely, possible.

A short while after Levin, Hunt is approached by Reza Eslaminia, who wants to be granted membership in the BBC. He tells Hunt and Karny, that his father Hedayat is a wealthy Iranian political exile, with an estimated net-worth of 30 million dollars. Joe Hunt doesn’t need to hear anymore than that, he begins to formulate a plan to get the BBC the Eslaminia money, and use it to get out of debt.

For those of you who, after reading this book- or have already  read it – and are interested in learning more about Joe Hunt and the members of the BBC, there is the non-fiction book “The Price of Experience” by Randall Sullivan. Golden Globe nominee, Judd Nelson (St. Elmo’s Fire), portrayed Joe Hunt and two-time, Emmy nominee, Ron Silver (The West Wing) played Ron Levin, in the 1987 Emmy nominated, television movie about the BBC. In addition to other specials on the BBC that have aired on television, there is the REELZ Channel, recent airing of the one hour episode “Murder Made Me Famous.” Furthermore, there was an excellent episode on the BBC on “Marcia Clarke Investigates The First 48,” which aired on A&E on May 10, 2018. Next month, on July 17th, “Billionaire Boys Club” directed by James Cox (Wonderland), and starring Golden Globe nominee Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) as Joe Hunt, and two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) as Ron Levin, will premiere in theaters. In closing, there is a great deal more in Horton’s book that I haven’t mentioned. I found her work to be interesting and informative, and it should especially appeal to people who are interested in reading true crime nonfiction.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Thoroughbreds” (2017)

The relationship between two suburban Connecticut teenagers, Amanda, portrayed in a multi-layered manner by Olivia Cooke (The Quiet Ones), and Lily, played by BAFTA nominee Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan), is at the center of the film, “Thoroughbreds.”  Amanda comes across as an abrasive person, who claims that she is devoid of feelings; an incident shown at the start of the film, seemingly backs up her assertion. She is, however, adept at faking emotions, as are most psychopaths. Conversely, Lily, is a manipulator, who has a history of fabricating the truth, and has been expelled from her previous prep-school for plagiarism. Unlike Amanda, she has had an opulent upbringing.

The two girls first met, and became friends, in elementary school, but since then haven’t been in contact for a number of years. Amanda’s mother, Karen (Kaili Vernoff), pays Lily to be Amanda’s tutor. At first, the girls’ relationship is awkward and tense, but that doesn’t last long. Shortly after they begin spending time together, Amanda poses what Lily considers, as would most people, a very inappropriate question. The question, however, gets Lily thinking, and, in essence, sets the remainder of the film in motion. After giving the question some thought, Lily arrives at the conclusion that she could use Amanda’s help. Lily is not fond of her step-father, Mark, a role acted by Emmy nominee, Paul Sparks (House of Cards). Mark is vain and mean-spirited, and treats Lily’s mother, Cynthia (Francie Swift) as more of a servant than a wife. Lily has come to the conclusion that she wants Amanda to help her kill Mark.

In addition to the aforementioned actors, the cast includes Anton Yelchin (Green Room), in his final film, before his untimely death. Yelchin gives a convincing performance as the character Tim, who works at a retirement home, and is a low-level drug dealer who has delusions of becoming a major player. He allows himself to be blackmailed into the girls’ plan to off Mark. Is Tim the type of person who is capable of murder? If he can’t kill Mark, will the girls attempt to get him into further legal trouble, knowing they could be risking too much exposure to their own impending crime? Can Amanda or Lily murder Mark without Tim’s help? Those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

What I found refreshing about the film, is that it could’ve taken the well-traversed cinematic path of any number of its predecessors that deal with teenagers conspiring to murder an evil adult in their lives, but it doesn’t. I kept asking myself the following question, as I watched the two girls plot the murder: Is Mark really that bad of a person? Would he merely be the murder victim of a spoiled-brat, in Lily, who doesn’t ever like being told that she, like everyone else in the world, had to live by certain rules? Mark hasn’t been sexually molesting Lily, since becoming her step-father. He doesn’t physically abuse either Lily or her mother. Instead, viewers are presented with a portrait of a privileged jerk, who is full of himself because of his wealth. I am not advocating for someone who is emotionally abusive, but there are numerous steps that can be taken to end that sort of abuse short of taking the man’s life. While I enjoyed the movie, and didn’t feel it was a waste of time, I was never sold on the fact that the girls were warranted in what they wanted to do to Mark. I am certainly not going to ruin the film for those of you who want to see it by revealing what does ultimately happen. In addition, I also feel to divulge more specific plot points would also detract from your enjoyment.

The provocative, taut, and unsettling “Thoroughbreds” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2017. The film is the directorial debut of Corey Finley, who also wrote the screenplay; the film was originally written by Finley for the stage. The film which is parts comedy – crime – drama and thriller, has a 92 minute runtime. The non-traditional soundtrack, composed by Erik Friedlander, serves to help move what is transpiring on screen. The friendship, or perhaps a better word, the scheming between the two girls, is what makes the film worthy of watching. I’ve read some reviews which compare the film to the cult classic “Heathers.” I don’t agree with that comparison. Those of you wanting to watch the film because of that comparison, I have a feeling, are going to be disappointed. All in all, while not a perfect film, I felt the cast as a whole did an excellent job, and Finley showed he has promise as an up and coming director.

 

 

 

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“Ready Player One”

In the year 2045, the world has become a dark and depressing place; thanks primarily to a deteriorating environment, and a population that has reached its breaking point. The world is in such a state of dystopian existence, that people prefer to live their lives immersed as avatars inside of virtual reality. The reality they’re living in, where they can be the people they want to be, and live the sort of lives they desire, is known as Oasis, which stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. The co-creator of the world’s virtual refuge, eccentric, James Halliday, portrayed by Oscar and multiple BAFTA winner, Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), has died. He has left the rights to his creation to any individual who can win a three part quest, known as Anorak’s Quest. In order to win the quest, players need to hunt down three keys that are hidden inside of smaller quests. The player that can find the three keys, will discover Halliday’s final Easter egg, and ultimately win control of Oasis. Oasis is not only worth a tremendous amount in terms of its monetary value, but also the political power that is garnered by controlling it. (As an aside: The co-creator of Oasis, Ogden Morrow is played by BAFTA nominee, Simon Pegg (Star Trek: Beyond).

The action-packed, imaginative, and well-paced, “Ready Player One” is based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling science-fiction novel of the same name, which was published on August 16, 2011 by Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. Furthermore, Cline co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Zak Penn (The Avengers). Firstly, for fans of the novel, who haven’t yet seen the movie, the film should be a pleasant surprise. The film does deviate from the novel in certain respects by leaving some of its heavier themes out, but it also adds scenes that were not in the novel, but should, nonetheless, entertain.

The main star of the film, who is vying for control of Oasis, is orphaned teenager, Wade Watts. He lives in a trailer park, in Columbus, Ohio, with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch), and her boyfriend, Rick (Ralph Ineson). The likeable and talented, Wade, A.K.A. Parzival, is played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse). He believes he has the knowledge and the knowhow to win the game, and is the only player, thus far, to have captured even one of Halliday’s three keys. Wade is joined by the astute Art3Mis, portrayed by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) and the strong, Aech, played by Emmy winner, Lena Waithe (Master of None). Additional members of the ‘High Five,’ the name of Wade’s group, are brothers’ Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao). The ‘High Five’ members will have to compete against the likes of the villainous, CEO of Innovative Online Industries, Sorrento, a role acted by Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), and his main henchman, I-ROk (T.J. Miller). The battle between the different groups might be taking place in cyber space, but the end result of who wins, will have lasting implications.

There are a wealth of pop culture references in “Ready Player One,” two examples, are, the DeLorean from the film “Back to the Future,” and the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park.” The two that I mentioned, don’t even scratch the surface of the well known, numerous references that the viewer will see throughout the film. In fact, the film’s detractors, have taken issue with what they feel was an overabundance of pop culture references. The visual effects are nothing short of stunning. Credit must also be paid to the outstanding work done by two-time, Oscar winning cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan); one example, amongst several that stood out, was the race scene which takes place in the first part of the film. In addition to the score composed by Emmy winner, Alan Silvestri (Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey), which synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen, the soundtrack to the film features a number of pop songs, for example, “Faith” by George Michael, and “Hungry Like the Wolf”  by Duran Duran.

“Ready Player One” premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival on March 11, 2018. The film was directed by two-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List). Spielberg hasn’t directed a film of this type in quite some time, opting instead to utilize his talents to work on dramatic themed films such as “Lincoln” and “The Post,” so it was nice to see him return to his roots of well made, escapist fun. Parts action, adventure, and sci-fi, the film has a runtime of 140 minutes. While not everyone will like the film, that is clear based on several reviews I’ve read, for fans of Spielberg that were hungering for the director to make another highly entertaining, blockbuster film, this is a must see.

 

 

 

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“Final Girls by Riley Sager”

A decade has passed since Quincy Carpenter, on who the book “Final Girls” is centered, became the only survivor of killer, Joe Hannen’s deadly rampage. The incident, in which five of her college friends perished, was dubbed the ‘Pine Cottage Murders.’ Ten years later, Quincy lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend, Jeff. He is a lawyer in the public defender’s office, and she spends her days working on her successful blog, where she provides her readers recipes and photographs of baked desserts she makes. She has claimed, since the traumatic events of Pine Cottage occurred, that she can’t remember much of what took place, and she has steadfastly stuck to that story. In order to cope with anxiety, and any uncomfortable thoughts that begin to enter her mind, she takes Xanax. The only bad behavior she seems to engage in, at least at the start of the novel, is that she steals. For example, she takes a woman’s iPhone off of a table at a diner because she likes how shiny it looks. Quincy has a locked drawer in her kitchen, filled with other stolen objects that she has taken. Furthermore, she relies on the friendship of Coop, the police officer who came to her rescue the evening of the massacre. He is seemingly willing to forgo whatever he is doing at any given time, and come to visit Quincy in person, or speak to her on the phone, if she needs his advice.

In addition to the ‘Pine Cottage Massacre’ being the event Quincy is best known for, the media have dubbed her a ‘final girl.’ The name is taken from movies such as “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” where final girls, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), are the only female survivors of the onslaught that has taken the lives of their friends. In Riley Sager’s novel, there is not one, but three final girls, that he writes about; the other two were involved in equally horrific events.

The catalyst for Sager’s psychological thriller is the death of final girl, Lisa Milner, who years earlier had survived knife wielding madman, Stephen Leibman, who cut up nine of Lisa’s fellow sorority sisters at the college she was attending in Indiana.  She has been found in her bathtub, the apparent cause of death is suicide. Prior to taking her own life, Lisa had become an author and child psychologist. Additionally, she was always available to help other women that were dealing with trauma. The incident prompts Samantha Boyd, the other surviving final girl, who thwarted the plans of Calvin Whitmer – The Sack Man – while working the evening shift at the Nightlight Inn located in Tampa, Florida. She has been a recluse for years, but has come out of hiding to seek out Quincy in New York City. The two make for, at times, a combustible duo. In addition, Sam seems fixated on having Quincy open up about her past regarding what took place at Pine Cottage. (As an aside: This is Sager’s first novel published under the name Riley Sager, a pseudonym for author, Todd Ritter, a fact which the author confirmed on Twitter in 2017)

One of the aspects of the novel that I found the most appealing was, that rather than focusing the narrative on the abhorrent crimes, Sager opts to concern himself with the aftermath of the events. He is more interested in exploring where his characters are post tragedy, especially Quincy, and how the women are dealing with, or trying to forget the past. I am not suggesting that if you read the book, you won’t learn what took place for each of the final girls – you will; but that is not the main premise of the novel.

Does Quincy really have repressed memories about what happened at Pine Cottage? Is she an unreliable narrator, who is purposely keeping something secret to protect herself, or someone else? Why is Samantha Boyd insistent that Quincy remember her past? What purpose would it serve? Did Lisa Milner commit suicide, or was she the victim of murder? Those questions and more will be answered by the novel’s conclusion.

“Final Girls” was published on July 11, 2017  by Dutton, which is part of Penguin Random House.  Sager’s 352 page novel is well paced and contains a good deal of suspense. There were several times when I thought the story was headed toward a particular reveal, only to have Sager write a twist, that changed my thinking. The ending, for instance, was one that I didn’t see coming, and I was glad not to have figured it out before the last pages. The interactions between Quincy and Sam helped to keep me guessing until the end. I will stop the review here because I don’t want to give any more specific plot reveals, they would only serve to ruin the novel for those of you who want to read it. In addition to holding my interest throughout, I’ll reiterate, that I thought “Final Girls” offered an interesting premise to a genre, that can at times, be saturated with too many formulaic offerings.

 

 

 

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“Horror at the Cecil Hotel”

The Cecil Hotel, located at 640 S. Main Street in central Los Angeles, first opened its doors in 1924. The hotel, at the time, primarily catered to business people, and it is generally regarded by historians as having been a fine establishment that served the needs of the business community. These days, the Cecil Hotel is the last place a respectable business person would want to stay, and is about as far removed as an individual can get from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The 700 room hotel has approximately 100 permanent residents. The remainder of the rooms are rented out by the week, day, and often by the hour. The denizens that populate the hotel, or make use of its rooms, for the most part, consist of prostitutes, drug users and sellers, and the downtrodden. The Cecil Hotel is a place where questions are not asked, as people go about their business. In addition, it has also been described by some as a magnet for evil; a topic which ID (Investigative Discovery) television examines during its three part special on the Cecil Hotel, and several of its guests and mysterious deaths.

The first episode deals with two occupants that lived for a period of time in room 1402 of the hotel. The first was notorious serial killer, Richard Ramirez, A.K.A. “The Night Stalker.” Ramirez was a remorseless murderer, rapist, and avowed Satanist, who would, through his series of brutal crimes, cause widespread panic and fear in the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas from April 10, 1984 until his capture on August 31, 1985. After a lengthy trial, that concluded in 1989, Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary. He was sentenced to death, and sent to San Quentin Prison, but due to his legal appeals, lived for years on death row, before dying of B-cell lymphoma on June 7, 2013.

Austrian writer and journalist, Jack Unterweger became obsessed with Richard Ramirez and the extremely repugnant life he had lived. He convinced a magazine that he did work for, to send him to California, to write a freelance piece on crime and Ramirez, and the magazine agreed to the assignment. Unterweger reserved room 1402, a month in advance of his trip. In fact, he wouldn’t agree to stay in any other room in the hotel; he needed to feel that he was in the presence of Ramirez.

While in Los Angeles, Unterweger arranges to ride along with LAPD Detective Leary, who shows him the seedier side of Los Angeles, as well as introduces him to some members of its criminal element; he’s even taken to the crime scene of a murdered prostitute. Furthermore, Unterweger talks to whoever will give him the time of day, that was living at the Cecil during the time Ramirez rented a room there. During a conversation with long-time resident Billy Flynn, the man tells Unterweger about how very strange things happened at the hotel. For example, Flynn talks about the mysterious and sudden murder of a sweet woman, which took place in 1982.  According to Flynn, everyone liked the woman; she was the type of person who wouldn’t harm anyone. Unterweger follows up on Flynn’s statement, by asking him what year he (Flynn) moved into the hotel – Flynn’s answer – 1982.

During his time in Los Angeles, Unterweger reads every article that was published about Ramirez during his reign of terror; everything he is doing, he claims, is under the guise of writing an article that will be as authentic as can be. Does Unterweger, however, have a more sinister agenda in mind? How far is he willing to take things in order to feel as close to his subject as possible?

The second episode, “The Girl in the Water Tank,” in my opinion, was the most interesting of the three episodes, because it presents a mystery that has still not been solved – perhaps never will be – and has ignited a number of conspiracy theories as to what actually took place. The episode centers on first generation, Canadian, Elisa Lam, the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong. The twenty-one year old, Lam, arrived in Los Angeles on January 28, 2013 – it was her first ever trip alone. As soon as she checked into the Cecil Hotel, she realized she had made a mistake. Low on funds, and wanting to make the best of her time in California, where she didn’t know anyone, she decided to grin and bear it. When her parents, whom she spoke to everyday on the phone, asked her about her accommodations, in order to assuage their concerns, she lied and told them that where she was staying was safe. The fact that Lam talked to her parents everyday was one of the ways they knew something was wrong, after not hearing from her for a several days. She also wrote a daily travel blog, that also hadn’t been worked on, which was not the norm for Lam. The last time Lam was known to be alive was on January 31, 2013.

Upon entering Lam’s room, investigating detectives, Brooks and Ryan, discovered no signs of foul play. Additionally, Lam’s computer, purse, and watch were all in the room; the only thing of note that was missing was her cell phone. In an attempt to find her, the detectives began to search all fifteen floors of the hotel, and questioned everyone they could; no one was able to provide answers. On February 19, 2013, the search for Lam came to an end, when her naked body was discovered floating in one of the hotel’s water tanks. The fact that she was on the roof of the hotel, dead in one of the water tanks, immediately landed suspicion on hotel employees. Access to the door to the roof was alarmed, and a key card was needed to open it. Detectives asked for, and received, all of the surveillance video from the hotel cameras, from the time of Lam’s stay at the hotel. The detectives were informed, however, by a member of staff, that a number of the cameras didn’t work, and were merely kept in place as a deterrent to crime. The footage detectives were able to view, that captured Lam on what was possibly the last evening of her life, only served to help deepen the mystery as to how she died.

The third and final episode, “Intertwined,revolves around an event that occurred outside of the hotel on October 12, 1962. A delivery driver, on his regular route, discovers two dead bodies: The body of married, twenty-seven year old, Pauline Otten, who was on top of the body of sixty-five year old, widower, George Gianinni; a great deal of blood was present near the bodies. The coroner would state in his report that Pauline died from broken bones, internal injuries and a skull fracture, while George died from a broken neck.

At first, it appears to veteran Detective Salazar, and his rookie partner, Detective Duffy, as if both individuals had fallen or had been pushed out of a ninth floor window, but by who? Naturally, the focus of the detectives’ investigation begins with Pauline’s husband, Dewey. He admits that he had gone to her room at the hotel to confront Pauline about their marital difficulties, but insists that when he left her, she was fine, and that he had nothing to do with her or George’s death.

During their investigation, detectives can’t find any evidence linking Pauline and George, as having had anything to do with one another prior to their deaths. In the end, the most unlikely piece of evidence solves the crime, and it had to have been a major relief to Detective Salazar. As it turns out, when Salazar was a rookie detective, the first case he was ever assigned to took place on January 15, 1947. On that date, the murdered and mutilated body of Elizabeth Short, who is more commonly referred to as The Black Dahlia,’ was discovered. Though numerous leads as to the identity of her killer were brought to the attention of investigators, no one was ever arrested or charged with the crime. The decades old mystery, as to who killed and dismembered her, remains unsolved. In an eerie turn of events, historical research has confirmed that Elizabeth Short was a frequent visitor to the bar at the Cecil Hotel, and in fact, it was the last place she was ever seen alive.

For those of you who are fans of the FX show “American Horror Story,” you most likely know that the Hotel Cortez, the main location used in season five of the series, took its inspiration from the Cecil Hotel. Commenting, amongst others, throughout the three episodes, are: true crime author and journalist, Frank C. Girardot Jr; author and former LA Times editor, Larry Harnisch; LAPD Detective Supervisor, Sal LaBarbera; LA Weekly writer and crime historian, Hadley Meares; FBI special agent and profiler, Gregg McCrary; and author and crime historian, Joan Renner. The three episodes held my interest throughout, and prompted me to go on-line, to look further into certain pieces of information that were mentioned during the series. For those of you who are interested in true crime, as well as the implausibility of how crimes are sometimes solved, you will more than likely find watching the three episodes to be interesting viewing.

 

 

 

 

 

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“A Quiet Place”

The tension filled, suspenseful film, “A Quiet Place,” centers on the Abbott family: the father, Lee, portrayed by three time Emmy nominee, John Krasinski (The Office); Lee’s wife, Evelyn, played by Golden Globe winner, Emily Blunt (Gideon’s Daughter), and their two children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and Marcus (Noah Jupe). The family is living in a farmhouse, in a secluded area, in the woods of New York. Lacking any expositional back-story – other than a title card which reads ‘day 89’ –  the reason for the Abbott family’s behavior is that the human population has seemingly been decimated, thanks to sharp jawed, alien-type creatures, who while not having the ability to see, have powerful claws, move exceptionally fast, and can hunt very effectively due to their extraordinary hearing. (As an aside: Millicent Simmonds communicates through sign-language, since a medication overdose left her deaf from the time of her infancy. In addition to playing a married couple on screen, Blunt and Krasinski are a real-life married couple. They wed in Como, Italy on July 10, 2010).   

The aforementioned, regarding the creatures, is made known to the viewer through the use of newspaper clippings that are shown throughout the film’s 90 minute runtime. Further making the point of just how deadly the creatures are, and the imperative need for silence, is the opening scene of the film, where the family is gathering provisions at an abandoned supermarket. The Abbott family originally consisted of five members, but their son, Beau (Cade Woodward), thanks to noise made by a toy, incurs the wrath of the creatures during the opening minutes of the film. Beau had played with the toy at the store, only to have it removed from his grasp. He manages, however, to sneak it out of the store, but on the way home, while crossing a bridge, the toy makes noise, leading to his demise. After the tragedy with Beau ensues, the film moves ahead to over a year later, where a pregnant, Evelyn, is a short time away from giving birth.

As a viewer, knowing a bit about what the movie dealt with before watching it, I became more consumed with listening for sounds, than actually paying attention to what was being shown on the screen. For example, items that make noise, that no one would ever think could cause enough sound to become problematic, like pieces for the Monopoly board game have to be replaced by stitched together pieces, so the game can be played. The slightest noise, in the world the Abbott’s now live in, can be, as shown with the scene involving Beau, the difference between life and death. The family’s communication is relegated to mainly sign language and whispering, and their movements find them walking around barefoot, and on top of purposely placed trails of sand.

The newspaper clippings serve a dual purpose, they are there for more than just imparting a bit of knowledge to the viewer. Lee is using them as a means of trying to find out what can cause the creatures harm. He is a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, and that includes his newborn, as he goes about constructing a soundproof bunker for Evelyn to give birth in. Additionally, the family is making efforts to contact other survivors of the creatures, by, for example, sending out S.O.S. messages using Morse code.

Despite being a box-office success, the film was made for an estimated budget of seventeen million dollars and has already grossed over one-hundred million, the movie does have its detractors. There are those who point to the film’s faulty logic. For example, the creatures have exceptional hearing abilities, but can’t for some reason, make out sounds made near a crashing waterfall. Additional critics of the film weren’t impressed by the use of what they felt were standard, horror jump scares brought to cinematic life by loud noise. The fact that viewers never learn where the creatures originated from – by what means they arrived on the planet – and why they have decided to wipe out humanity in the first place, also didn’t sit well with certain viewers; and that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This film, in my opinion, is better enjoyed when it is just taken as it is. I know that the lack of explanation and the plot holes are present but to my way of thinking, this is not the sort of film that needs to be overanalyzed. The movie does, however, raise a few interesting questions for a viewer to ponder upon its conclusion: What would you do if placed in a similar predicament? How long do you think you could survive in a world where sound needs to become virtually non-existent in order to keep living?

“A Quiet Place” had its premier on March 9, 2018 at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. In addition to co-starring in the film, John Krasinski, wrote the screenplay for the movie with Scott Beck (Haunt) and Bryan Woods (Her Summer), based on a story written by Beck and Woods. The movie is parts drama – horror – Sci-Fi and thriller. The film, while containing minimal gore, does have its fair share of intense moments that are bolstered by the score composed by two time Oscar nominee, Marco Beltrami (3:10 to Yuma). Due to the lack of a great deal of dialogue, the cast had to rely on displaying their emotions through what they convey with their eyes and facial gestures, and as a collective whole they more than delivered. Furthermore, the screenwriters created characters that weren’t merely fodder for the creatures to destroy, but people, that viewers could get invested in, and want to see survive.

 

 

 

 

                                     

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