“BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer”

A devoted husband, a loving father of two, a compliance officer, a Boy Scout Troup leader, and an active member in the Christ Lutheran Church, where he served as president of the church council, are some of the words that can be used to describe Dennis Rader. While the aforementioned description might make someone unfamiliar with Rader think he sounds like a decent person, he was anything but. The infamous moniker, BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill), is what made up the true essence of the man, a part of himself that he masterfully hid from his family, friends, co-workers, the public, and the members of Wichita, Kansas law enforcement for more than three decades.    

When Rader was finally arrested in February of 2005, he was charged with ten counts of murder. His first known murders occurred on January 15, 1974, when he killed four members of the Otero family: husband and wife Joseph and Julie, and Josephine, and Joseph Jr., two of their five children. The last confirmed BTK victim was Dolores Davis, who was killed on January 19, 1991. After Rader was convicted, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Butler County, Kansas. If Rader had committed any of his crimes after 1994, when Kansas reinstated the death penalty, he would assuredly be on death row now, until his appeals were exhausted, or have already been executed. (As an aside: The DNA of Rader’s daughter Kerri Rawson, is what led to his capture. While she was a student at Kansas State University, Kerri had a procedure done at the health clinic. The FBI was able to match her DNA, with DNA that was taken and preserved from the Otero crime scene).    

Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology at De Sales University, and the author of sixty books, and numerous articles, spent considerable time interviewing Rader. He is segregated from the other prisoners, but has a phone in his cell, which made it easier for the two of them to talk. Ramsland was fascinated with Rader from a psychological standpoint, because unlike most of his depraved ilk, Rader was the ultimate outlier. Throughout their talks, Ramsland attempts to get Rader to reveal not only how he was able to compartmentalize the two lives he led, but to explain what led him to such heinous behavior.    

Rader explained to Ramsland, that one of the ways he was able to live two separate lives was by using a process he calls ‘cubing.’ In brief, any of the roles, for example: that of a compliance officer or husband, that Rader needed to be at any given moment, he would shift all of his thoughts to concentrating on just what the person he was interacting with needed from him. When he did this, Rader was able to keep thoughts about his past crimes, or ideas of what he might like to do to someone in the future, out of his mind, so as not to interfere with normal, everyday life. One of the interesting aspects of the series were drawings that Rader made when he was an adolescent. Even then, he had devised, styled after serial killer, H.H. Holmes, his own murder house, although, because he grew up around farms, his various rooms of torture where contained within a barn silo. The drawings had never before been shown to the public.

BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer premiered on A&E (Arts and Entertainment), on January 8, 2022. The documentary was directed by Cynthia Childs (Invisible Monsters: Serial Killers in America). Throughout the four episodes archival footage is used. There are interviews with those in law enforcement that were determined to capture BTK and bring him to justice; also speaking throughout are friends and family members of Rader’s victims.

                 

Recommended to viewers who have an interest in true crime, I would also say that it is worth the time of viewers who are interested in psychology. Rader, as vile as his actions were, makes for quite the subject to be studied, in an attempt to gain insight into how people like him think, feel, or, for that matter, don’t feel. The series also states that while most serial killers have certain characteristics in their background, many of which stem from childhood trauma, not all of them do. Rader is the perfect example of that. The documentary also leaves viewers with a haunting question based on a dream that Rader shared with Ramsland. Was what he imparted to her merely a dream, or is there something more sinister Rader wants the world to know?

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“Yellowjackets” (2021)

Season one of the Showtime series “Yellowjackets” centers on the members of a New Jersey high school girls soccer team. The series does not, however, depict heroic feats of athleticism on the field, leading to a showdown for a championship. Instead, in 1996, the private plane the team is on, which is headed to Seattle for nationals, crashes in the wilderness. The ten episodes that comprise the first season effortlessly shifts amongst three distinct timelines. The first is the girls’ existence before the crash, as they go about their daily lives of school, soccer, and relationships. The second, their time in the wilderness, is filmed, in part, as if it is a horror movie. From the moment they crash, there is an ever increasing sense of dread that permeates through most of the survivors’ waking moments. After a short time passes, questions that pertain to food, supplies, and whether to stay where they are and wait for help, or go in search of help, begin to loom large. Furthermore, some of the survivors begin to wonder if other worldly elements are being utilized against them. The third timeline focuses on the lives of the girls, now adult women, twenty- five years later. Those that survived the ordeal in the wilderness have refrained from speaking about what happened to them during their time there.

Prior to the plane crash, tensions had already been running high on the team. Yellowjacket’s captain, Jackie (Ella Purnell), attempted to maintain morale after the talented, but win at any cost, Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) deliberately injured a player, who she felt would’ve been a liability to the team during nationals. Straight A student, Shauna (Sophie Nélisse), Jackie’s best friend, in perhaps name only, it turns out, is pregnant with Jackie’s boyfriend’s (Jack DePew) child. Depending on how long the girls are stranded in the wilderness, the baby might be born while they’re awaiting rescue. In addition to survival, whether or not to tell Jackie about her betrayal, is something that is constantly on Shauna’s mind. Natalie (Sophie Thatcher), who viewers might recognize as Dash from “The Book of Boba Fett,” is the pot smoking, outsider on the team. She is hiding a secret from her not too distant past. Lastly, there is the team manager, Misty (Sammi Hanratty), who tries desperately to be liked and accepted by everyone, but isn’t. She’s viewed as an annoying person who tries too hard. If the girls hope to survive, however, all of them, plus additional team members, as well as people who were on the plane that are associated with the team, (that I haven’t mentioned), are going to have to find a way to work together.

As pertinent and as attention-grabbing as the team’s struggle to survive in the wilderness is to the series, I found the stories that capture what the characters are like twenty-five years after their torment, is just as interesting. The survivors that season one focuses on, have all been contacted by Jessica Roberts (Rekha Sharma), a journalist, who wants to write a tell all book about the ladies experiences as teenagers. The four survivors she gets in touch with are: Natalie, who as an adult, is portrayed by Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis (From Dusk Till Dawn). She has recently been released from rehab – it’s not the first time she’s gone – and is now on a mission to catch up to her missing love Travis (Andres Soto); Taissa (Tawny Cypress), sleepwalks by night, but is fueled by political ambitions the rest of the time, and is running for state senate; Melanie Lynskey, plays Shauna. Her marriage is in a rut, especially since her husband Jeff (Warren Kole) is seemingly always working late, thanks to computer problems. Callie (Sarah Desjardins) her sixteen year old daughter, is at the age where spending time with mom, is not a cool thing to do. Although, Shauna attempts to put the past behind her, ever since the crash, her life has been, for the most part, unexciting, which leads her to make some questionable choices; Misty, a role acted by Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Christina Ricci (The Dresden Sun), is a nurse in a senior facility, and a true crime aficionado. Her skills will be needed, when she and the other three aforementioned survivors of the crash, begin to receive mysterious postcards. Furthermore, a suicide from someone the women know from the past, which may have been staged, as well as the ever present threat of blackmail by someone claiming to know what really took place decades earlier, force the four women to team up.  

“Yellowjackets” was created by Ashley Lyle (The Originals), and Bart Nickerson (Narcos: Mexico). The first season is a mix of the genres of drama, horror, mystery, and thriller. The Showtime series premiered on November 14, 2021. The casting is a major key, as to why I think the show was a success. The younger and older versions of the characters synch up perfectly. I can picture each of their younger selves, growing up to become the women that they are in 2021. The cinematography that was done by C. Kim Miles (Home Before Dark),  Trevor Forrest (Super Pumped), and Julie Kirkwood (After We Leave), not only does a skillful job of capturing the right amount of tension and dread, but also knowing when to pull back for moments of levity. Eight directors were used for the episodes, and all of them were spot on. The music conducted by Anna Waronker (Call Me Kat), Craig Wedren (GLOW), and Emmy nominee Theodore Shapiro (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), helped to capture, through their music, the right feel to help showcase what is transpiring on screen.  

                                                                                  

The season presented several questions: What happened to the survivors after the plane crashed? How did they survive? In what way, did the experiences from their past, shape the people they are now? While some of the questions will be answered via flashback, and revealed in conversations, not everything will be answered. On December 16, 2021, Showtime announced that “Yellowjackets” had been renewed for a second season. For viewers who liked “Lost,” William Golding’s book “Lord of the Flies,” which was published on September 17, 1954 by the Berkley Publishing Group, and the writing of Stephen King that deals with teen angst, this is probably a show you’re going to want to watch.       

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“The Thursday Murder Club By Richard Osman”

I’ve read a great many books, watched numerous films and television series, as well as documentaries, that pertain to true crime. There have been a number of times, where people were featured, especially in the television shows and documentaries, who can be labeled as arm chair investigators. They are ordinary citizens, who inject themselves, especially into cold cases, that have gone unsolved for decades. While the majority of the time, the work that those, who are not officially involved with law enforcement, put into searching for clues, doesn’t amount to solving the case, their efforts do often yield benefits. If nothing else, the amateur sleuths help to eliminate suspects, follow up leads that prove to be dead ends, and explore theories, that also prove to be false, that law enforcement doesn’t always have the time, money, and people to dedicate to investigating a particular case.    

The entertaining, quick paced, “The Thursday Murder Club” written by Richard Osman, begins in the fictitious retirement village, Coopers Chase, located in Kent, in the English countryside. One day, Joyce Meadowcroft, a new resident to the community, is invited by Elizabeth to a get together on Thursday. Elizabeth has not approached Joyce for the mere prospect of making a new friend. She has a question for her that deals with a knife wound. Joyce, a former nurse, will be able to provide information that will help to further an investigation that Elizabeth’s club has undertaken.   

Elizabeth is a well connected individual, whose former occupation is concealed in mystery; everything that is known about her, however, points to the fact that she has lived a colorful life. She is the figurehead of a group, which calls themselves, The Thursday Murder Club. The club investigates cold cases, and tries to do what law enforcement couldn’t do, solve the case. The other members of the group include Ibrahim Arif, a renowned psychiatrist, and Ron Ritchie, a former union rabble rouser, who is also the father of a famous boxer. Elizabeth’s friend Penny was a member of the group, but has taken ill, and is in a coma. Penny’s profession was that of a member of law enforcement, and it is her cold cases that the Thursday Murder Club investigates.  

Bringing the club’s current cold case investigation to a halt is the murder of Tony Curran, a contractor. He has been found bludgeoned to death in his home, a photograph has been left next to his body. Curran was fired, the same day that he was murdered, which coincided, with the beginning of a new portion of Coopers Chase being built. The suspicion for the murder immediately falls upon the duplicitous, Ian Ventham, who stands to gain a tremendous profit from the new project.

The club is all too eager to assist Detective Chief Inspector, Chris Hudson, a good hearted, middle aged man, who is seemingly unhappy about his weight and unsavory diet, and the intelligent, young, up-and-comer, Police Constable, Donna De Freitas, with the investigation, in any way that they can. In truth, however, Elizabeth especially, would like the club to be the ones who reveal who murdered Curran. The investigation escalates to one of complexity, and the body count doesn’t begin and end with Curran. How far will a group of witty, senior citizens, be able to take their investigation? What dangers does their undertaking pose to individual members of The Thursday Murder Club, as well as the group as a whole?  

The crime novel, “The Thursday Murder Club” is Osman’s debut. The book was published by Viking Press on September 3, 2020. Prior to becoming a published author, Osman was a television presenter, producer, and comedian. He is known, amongst other things, for being the creator and co-presenter on the BBC One television quiz show “Pointless.”  “The Man Who Died Twice,”  the sequel to “The Thursday Murder Club” was published by Viking Press on September 16, 2021. 

I found the novel to be an enjoyable read with an interesting premise. The work alternates between third person narration, and Joyce’s diary entries. When I was reading Joyce’s entries, it felt as if she was speaking directly to the reader, and the character was enhanced, in my opinion, because of the style utilized by Osman. The author provided excellent insight into a diverse group of fully developed characters, each of whom had their own back story, which helped the reader easily distinguish one from another of their literary counterparts. There were some well executed twists and turns, that should keep most readers guessing, before the multiple reveals at the end.

                                                                                                               

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“Dexter: New Blood”

“Darkly Dreaming Dexter,” the first in a series of novels written by Jeff Lindsay, was published on July 20, 2004, by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. As of the writing of this post, there are eight books in the series, the last one “Dexter Is Dead,” was published on July 7, 2015. The first episode of “Dexter” premiered on Showtime, on October 1, 2006. Based on Lindsay’s “Darkly Dreaming Dexter, after the first season, subsequent seasons were created by the writers of the series. Showtime aired, what fans thought, was the final episode of “Dexter,” on September 22, 2013.Like other popular series such as “The Sopranos,” and “Game of Thrones,” the final episode of “Dexter” received a largely disappointing reaction by the fan base, who didn’t think it was given a proper send off. On November 7, 2021, the character of vigilante, serial killer, Dexter Morgan returned in the ten episode mini-series “Dexter: New Blood.”  I too, was not enamored with the original ending of one my all time favorite shows, but based on some trailers I had seen, as well as some on-line interviews, and articles I read, I had a feeling the revival of Dexter wasn’t going to disappoint.

Far from the sultry, summer days in Miami, Florida, Dexter Morgan, now lives under the assumed name Jim Lindsay, and resides in upstate, New York, in the town of Iron Lake. The character of  Dexter / Jim, who I’ll refer to from this point forward only as Dexter, is completely embodied by Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall, (Six Feet Under) just as he was in the original series. Formerly a blood splatter analyst for the homicide division of the Miami Metro Police Department, Dexter now sells outdoor sporting goods. He appears to be well liked by the people in the community, and he has a new love interest, Iron Lake’s Sheriff, Angela Bishop (Julia Jones). Fans of the original series will be pleased that Dexter’s late sister, Debra, portrayed in a compelling manner, by Saturn Award winner, Jennifer Carpenter (Ballistic), returns, as Dexter’s imaginary conscience, and assumes the role that was provided, in the original series, by Dexter’s father Harry, who was played by James Remar, (also a recipient of the Saturn Award). (As an aside: The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA, have been giving the Saturn Award Annually since 1972.  Jennifer Carpenter won the Saturn for Best Supporting Actress, in 2009, for her work on the original Dexter series. James Remar won a Lifetime Achievement Award  in 2012, that he shared with Frank Oz, who is perhaps most famous for voicing the character of Yoda, in various Star Wars productions).  

In the intervening years, since the original “Dexter” series, Dexter has maintained a “Dark Passenger” free life. In order to give himself a vicarious thrill, and get his heart pumping, he stalks  a white buck, through the snow covered wilderness of Iron Lake. Although not spoken directly, it is alluded to that his stalking of the buck, is something that has become part of his routine. Unfortunately for Dexter, a spoiled brat by the name of Matt Caldwell (Steve M. Robertson), who Dexter had refused to sell a gun to earlier in the episode, because Matt didn’t want to wait for the background check, shoots and kills the white buck. Dexter flips out, and in turn, kills Matt. Now it has all started again for him. He’s been out of practice, and it shows, as he’s even perplexed, as to what to do with the body, and he initially slips up, when it comes to concealing incriminating evidence. 

The problem with killing someone like Matt Caldwell, is that it isn’t a murder that is going to go unnoticed or receive minimal attention. Wealthy business man, Kurt Caldwell, portrayed by consummate actor, Clancy Brown (Billions), is Matt’s father. He is someone who is very well known, respected, and not only employs a number of people in Iron Lake, but when money is needed for various things in the community, he doesn’t hesitate to pay. Although Kurt takes actions that makes it look like he’s not that concerned with finding his son, who is now considered a missing person, in truth, he is not giving up on finding out exactly what happened to Matt. According to the local bartender, Kurt comes in every few months, gets inebriated, and dances to the 1961, international hit song “Runaway” sung by Grammy Hall of Fame Award winner, and 1999, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Del Shannon. Viewers will quickly learn, however, that there is more to Kurt than his being a  jocular, benevolent business man.   

Compounding problems for Dexter, is the arrival of his son, Harrison (Jack Alcott). His step-mother, Dexter’s former love interest, Hannah McKay, a role acted by Golden Globe and two time Emmy nominee Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale), has passed away. Harrison discovers a letter Dexter had written Hannah, and decided to go in search of his father. Further complications arrive for Dexter, in the person of Molly Park (Jamie Chung), who runs a successful podcast devoted to serial killers. She’s investigating the disappearance of Matt Caldwell. If that weren’t enough, Angela takes a trip to a law enforcement conference in Manhattan, where she has a conversation with one of the guest speakers, Captain Angel Batista (David Zayas). The former lieutenant, and one of the only people Dexter considered a real friend, lets information slip, that makes Angela’s mind go into overdrive. She is already fixated on the high number of missing young girls that have disappeared from Iron Lake and the surrounding areas, the pictures of which take up an entire corkboard in her office. (As an aside: Strahovski, like Carpenter, also won a Saturn Award for her work on Dexter).

                                                                                                         

Will Harrison, now a teenager, turn out to have the same killer drives as his father? Can Dexter help him to control his urges, like Harry did for him, when he was that age? Who is responsible for the disappearances of the young girls? Is it someone obvious, or someone no one would ever suspect? What information did Angel impart to Angela? How does the information impact, if at all, the way she views Dexter? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the final episode.

“Dexter: New Blood”  is parts crime, drama, and mystery. The series was created by three time Emmy nominee Clyde Phillips (Nurse Jackie). Six of the series episodes were directed by two time Emmy winner Marcos Siega (You), and four of them by Sanford Bookstaver (Chicago Fire). After the airing of the final episode, when the ratings numbers were tallied, “Dexter: New Blood” became the most watched series in Showtime’s history, averaging eight million viewers per episode. Trivia Buffs take note: Erik King, who played Sergeant, James Doakes in the original “Dexter” series, is the voice of the truck driver who drops Harrison off, when he first arrives at Iron Lake. The line “tonight’s the night,” which Dexter speaks after his first kill in “Dexter: New Blood,” was the first line ever spoken in the original “Dexter” series.

I can safely write, ‘way to go Showtime’. There was a certain element of risk, in reviving a beloved show, and trying to give it the proper send off, that I, and all of the Dexter fans, had been clamoring for. While the fan boy (man), in me, was not particularly keen on the closing moments of the new series, for my own selfish reasons, I can’t deny that the ending this time around, was far superior to its predecessor. I am not interested in a rumored spin off show featuring Harrison. I have nothing against Jack Alcott, an actor I was not familiar with, prior to the series, but the character didn’t grab me in the right way, and make me want to watch more. In closing, dramatic, intense, poignant, and mysterious, are all words I would use to describe my overall feelings on a very well executed series.

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“American Underdog”

The film “American Underdog” alerts the viewer, especially younger viewers, who may have dreams of playing professional football, as to the reality of making those dreams come to fruition. There are approximately one million teenagers playing high school football on a yearly basis. The number that will graduate from high school, and go onto play college ball, is about 5%. The athletes that will be able to take their talents to the NFL, are approximately 1% of all college football players. Once there, they better have majored in something practical because the average length of an NFL player’s career is three years. The chances of one of those players getting to the Super Bowl, and being named MVP, are even more astronomical. Kurt Warner, became one of those elite few, but it was an arduous journey for him to arrive at that moment.    

At the start of “American Underdog,” an adolescent  Kurt Warner (Beau Hart) is watching Super Bowl XIX, which took place on January 20, 1985, between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins. The 49ers would go onto win the game by a score of 38-16, but it wasn’t a particular team, that young Warner was fascinated by, it was the play of The 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, who from that moment forward, Warner wanted to emulate. The film advances past the remainder of Warner’s childhood, and next, when he’s shown on screen it is his senior year at the University of Northern Iowa. The part of Warner, from this point forward in the film, is portrayed by Zachary Levi (Chuck). (As an aside: Joe Montana is an NFL icon. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. During his fifteen year career, his highlights included, but were not limited to, his passing for over 40,000 yards; winning four Super Bowls, being named the MVP of three of the four Super Bowls he did win, and he was twice named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player).  

One night, while out with his friend Mike (Ser’Darius Blain), at a bar, that caters to those who enjoy country music and line dancing, Warner meets Brenda Meoni. He becomes immediately smitten with her. The part of Brenda is played by Oscar and Golden Globe winner Anna Paquin (True Blood).  Brenda is a former marine, and single mother of two: four year old Jesse (Cora Wilkerson), and eleven year old Zach (Hayden Zaller), her legally blind son. Brenda has been hurt in the past, and while she wants to give Warner the benefit of the doubt, he’s going to have to prove to her, that he wants to be a part, not only of her life, but her children’s lives as well.   

As Warner and Brenda’s relationship progresses, he gets the call he’s been hoping and praying for. The Green Bay Packers, have invited Warner to training camp. Warner feels he will finally get the opportunity he’s been waiting for to showcase his athletic prowess, but, his total time with the team, is short lived. When one of the coaches asks Warner to run a play, he freezes up, and foregoes his chance. Later that same day, Warner is let go.   

Dejected, but having a wife and children to provide for, Warner takes a job at a supermarket stocking shelves. The entire time, however, he dreams of NFL glory. Eventually, Warner joins, and dominates, the Arena Football League. As a member of owner Jim Foster’s (Bruce McGill) Iowa Barnstormers, he is given another shot at the NFL, by the St. Louis Rams. The only problem is, once he gets there, the team’s offensive coordinator, Mike Martz (Chance Kelly), seems to have it in for him. Warner’s only chance, is to win over the head coach, Dick Vermeil, portrayed by Emmy nominee Dennis Quaid (The Special Relationship). (As an aside: This is the fourth football themed film that Dennis Quaid has appeared in. The others are: “Everybody’s All-American” (1988), “Any Given Sunday” (1999), and “The Express” (2008).

“American Underdog” was co-directed by Andrew Erwin (I Still Believe), and his brother Joe Erwin (I Can Only Imagine). The Erwin brothers, along with David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights), wrote the screenplay. The screenplay was adapted from the book “All Things Possible,” written by Kurt Warner and Michel Silver, which was published by HarperCollins Publishers on August 1, 2000. The film was released in multiple countries, including, but not limited to, The United States and Canada on December 25, 2021. Parts biography, drama, and sports, the movie has a runtime of 112 minutes. 

After I had already watched “American Underdog,” when I went to look up some information on the film, I read all of these reviews which touted it as a Christian movie. While the filmmakers, in the past, have worked within the emerging Christian genre of film, I didn’t view the movie like that at all. I didn’t, for one moment, get the sense that the filmmakers were trying to proselytize me. I viewed the film as a drama and sports movie, that centered on a real life person, Kurt Warner, whose path to the NFL was not the proverbial Cinderella story, but one that was filled with genuine struggle and heartache. The lesson that can be learned from a film like this is simple, never give up, because going after what you want, one more time, might be all that stands in your way between living a life of mediocrity, and one that the stuff dreams are made of.                             

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“Malicious” (1995)

Doug Gordon (Patrick McGaw) is an outstanding college baseball player. Every game, it seems as if he’s taking an opposing pitcher’s best fastball, and hitting it for a homerun. His coach (Stephen E. Miller), is so confident in his young player’s ability, that he has invited major league scouts to watch him, during an upcoming stretch of games. In addition to his burgeoning baseball career, Doug is a pre-med student. If he can’t make it to the pros, he wants to have sports medicine as his fallback plan. His girlfriend Laura (Sarah Lassez), is an aspiring journalist, who has recently been accepted to graduate school at Stanford. She seemingly loves Doug, but she isn’t yet ready to be intimate with him.

One weekend, when Laura goes out of town, Doug, who has a great deal of studying to do, is reluctantly talked into going to a party by Rich (Rick Henrickson), his friend and teammate. The party is being held for the baseball team. At the party, Doug meets Melissa Nelson, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Molly Ringwald (Riverdale). Melissa is a medical school student, who drives a nice car, and lives in a mansion. She is the opposite of Doug, who drives a truck, and lives with his mother (Mimi Kuzyk), in a modest house. His father, the viewer learns, has passed away, several years earlier.

Melissa and Doug talk, while she smokes, and he politely declines. Later that same evening, the two wind up becoming intimate. Thinking that what they did was just a onetime thing, Doug is ready to move on, Melissa, however, wants more. She is not the sort of person, who is used to, or for that matter, likes to take no for an answer. The more Doug attempts to distance himself from her, the more she winds up inserting herself into his life. Doug giving into his physical needs, winds up putting his entire future in jeopardy. Melissa, as the viewer will learn, is not about to give up easily, when it comes to getting what she wants. Are there any lines she won’t cross to get Doug to be in her life?

“Malicious” was directed by Ian Corson (Monster Garage). The screenplay was written by George Saunders (Scanner Cop), and Raul Inglis (Insomnia). The film was a direct to VHS production, which was released in the United States on November 7, 1995. Parts drama and thriller, it has a runtime of 92 minutes.   

Where do I begin with this one. I saw it a long time ago on HBO, but many years after its initial release date on VHS. I recently came across a DVD copy of the film, at a thrift store, where I sometimes find good first edition, or well kept hardcover books. Furthermore, I also sometimes buy DVDs at the same store; both the books and DVDs, can be purchased there for very little money. I didn’t remember my thoughts on the film, when I saw it, so I bought it , along with a few other items. The acting, with the exceptions of Ringwald, and a few scenes that featured veteran character actor John Vernon (Animal House), in the role of Detective Pronzini, was for the most part, subpar. The dialogue ran the gamut from passable to exceptionally corny. The direction was nothing to speak of, nor for that matter, was the cinematography. Ringwald did the best job she could with such substandard material to work with, but there was zero chemistry between her and her co-star. Overall, except for Ringwald and Vernon, this was simply not a good film. I have a feeling, that most of you reading this, if you haven’t already seen the movie, and sat down to watch it, would consider it to be a waste of time.                          

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“Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier”

“Han was a sickness of the soul, an acceptance of having a life that would be filled with sorrow and resentment and knowing that deep down, despite this acceptance, despite cold and hard facts that proved life was long and full of undeserved miseries, “hope” was still a word that carried warmth and meaning.”

The above quotation comes from “Pizza Girl,” the memorable, coming-of-age, debut novel from Korean American writer, Jean Kyoung Frazier. Published on June 9, 2020, the novel centers on a nameless protagonist. She is eighteen years old, works for Eddie’s Pizza making deliveries, and is pregnant with her first child. Pizza girl, (as I’ll refer to her from this point forward), lives with Kayla, her supportive and loving mother, and Billy, her adoring boyfriend, in a house, in suburban Los Angeles. Billy has given up his athletic scholarship to college, in order to work and save money. While her mother and boyfriend are excited about the impending arrival of the baby, Pizza girl is not. She’s anxious, understandably so, and also uncertain about what kind of life she can provide for her child.  

Pizza Girl’s uncertainty as to her potential parenting skills, stems from one of the main themes Frazier explores in her work, the relationship the narrator had with her deceased father. The man died, years before the story begins, but he still has a strong psychological hold on her. Pizza Girl’s father was an alcoholic. She worries that she has the potential to be one as well. Evidence of this, is when she leaves her bedroom at night, and goes to his shed, where she consumes beer, while watching television, like he used to. Pizza Girl wants to talk to her mother about her feelings, but she can’t seem to bring herself to do so.

Pizza Girl meets a diverse group of individuals, while driving around in her 1999 Ford Festiva, making her deliverers. On occasion, she delivers to former classmates from school, but most of the people she encounters she forgets, as soon as she is paid and the door closes behind her. There are others, however, like the couple who orders on a regular basis, are seemingly very much in love, and can’t seem to keep their hands off one another. None of the customers, however, have ever consumed her thoughts on a round the clock basis, like stay-at-home, middle-aged, mother, Jenny Hauser.

From the outset, Pizza Girl goes out of her way to help Jenny. During their first conversation, she finds out that Jenny’s seven year old son, Adam, is not eating. The only thing he would be willing to eat, is a pepperoni with pickles pizza, the way his former neighborhood pizzeria back in Bismarck, North Dakota, used to make it for him. After their phone call, Pizza Girl scrambles to make the special order. From the moment Jenny opens the door, and the two begin talking, Pizza Girl becomes enamored with the woman. Her behavior from that moment forward, as it pertains to Jenny, begins to border on obsessive. Will Pizza Girl go too far, in an attempt to cultivate, what she feels, could be a brighter, more productive future with Jenny, in her life? 

     

“Pizza Girl” is a compelling novel, that is detail rich, but the prose is never, what I would consider, over-written. The narrator is an observant character, who through her thoughts and conversations, helps to bring to life a vivid portrait of the world she lives in. Pizza Girl’s life certainly has its share of dark moments, but humor is interjected in the right places, to break up the tension for the reader. Pizza Girl makes some less than desirable choices; however, they can be forgiven, due to her age, as well as, the clever way Frazier structures her narrative. Recommended for those of you who like coming-of-age stories, as well as character studies that are outside of the norm. I made short work of “Pizza Girl’s” less than two hundred pages, and I look forward to reading the author’s next book.                                                                

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“The Babysitter’s Seduction”

Bill Bartrand, played by Emmy nominee Stephen Collins (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles), and his wife Sally (Dawn Lambing), seemingly have an idyllic life and marriage. Bill is successful, and has been able to provide his wife and children, Jennifer (Kristie Horton), and Kyle (Adam Crosby), with a very comfortable lifestyle. Part of that lifestyle of comfort, and being catered to, involves the children’s attentive babysitter, high school student, Michelle. In the role of Michelle is three time Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner Keri Russell (The Americans). From the outset, the viewer learns that Michelle is taken with the sort of opulent lifestyle that her employer and his family lives. Michelle doesn’t come from wealth. She lives in a small house, in an average neighborhood, with her mother Alice, portrayed by three time Golden Globe nominee Linda Kelsey (Lou Grant), and her brother Jeff (Travis Robertson). In order to get to work, Michelle frequently has to borrow Alice’s car.

The life and marriage that seemed so ideal to Michelle, comes to an end, soon after the movie begins. Returning home from the children’s tennis lesson, to retrieve something that she forgot, Michelle discovers Sally’s lifeless body on the kitchen floor of the Bartrand’s home. At first, she thinks that Bill is in the house, but it is only his voice coming through on the answering machine. Arriving to investigate is family friend, Detective Frank O’Keefe. The part is acted by Emmy nominee Tobin Bell (Aileen Wuornos: American Boggeyman). O’Keefe is joined by his partner, Detective Kate Jacobs, played by six time Emmy nominee Phylicia Rashad (This Is Us).    

 Sally’s death is initially ruled a suicide. One of the factors that seems odd, is that she didn’t leave a note, some sort of goodbye and reason why, not only for Bill, but for her children. Not long after Sally’s death, forty year old Bill begins to take an unhealthy interest in teenage Michelle. He gives her a brand new SUV to drive, which he had originally purchased for Sally’s birthday. Furthermore, he allows her to wear Sally’s clothes, and gifts her, with an expensive necklace to wear, that belonged to Sally.  

Detective O’Keefe, the viewer learns, has been Bill’s friend since high school. He feels awful for his friend, who he believes to be grief stricken over Sally’s suicide, and wants to leave the family alone. Detectives Jacobs, however, is not convinced their wasn’t wrong doing. She begins to probe into Sally’s death. The more she learns, the more she feels her suspicions are correct. Especially when she learns Sally was having an affair with a man named Paul (John D’Aquino). In addition, certain information that Bill is letting slip to Detective O’Keefe, is also suspect.

Was Sally murdered? If she didn’t commit suicide, as first suspected, who killed her? Did Bill know about her affair with Paul? Perhaps Paul, fearing that Sally would never leave Bill, killed her. Is Michelle responsible for Sally’s death? Did she reach a point, where she could no longer stand dreaming about Sally’s life, and decided to create the same life for herself, regardless of the consequences? All of those questions will be answered by the conclusion of the movie.               

“The Babysitter’s Seduction” was directed by Emmy nominee David Burton Morris (Lifestories: Families in Crisis). The teleplay was co-written by Shirley Tallman and Nancy Hersage. The television movie premiered on NBC (National Broadcasting Company), on January 22, 1996. Parts drama and thriller, it has a runtime of 85 minutes.

The television movie was decent. The acting by all involved was good, nothing corny, or over the top. I am not surprised, given the cast. This movie, will probably be for many who didn’t see it when it was originally broadcast, a curiosity watch. When I came across the listing for it on Amazon Prime, I was interested in seeing it, because I’ve been a fan of Russell for a long time, even before the FX series, “The Americans,” which she was excellent in. Fans of the “Saw” franchise, might get a kick out of seeing Tobin Bell, who so famously brought the sadistic genius, Jigsaw killer to life, playing a good guy. Furthermore, those who enjoyed Phylicia Rashad’s turn as the character of Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” might also be interested in seeing the movie. Overall, it held my interest from start to finish, and its short runtime, was well suited to the movie’s plot.

                                                                                                                     

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“Scream” (2022)

Twenty-five years ago, the sound of a heartbeat – a ringing telephone – and a woman screaming, started, what has become a popular and enduring franchise. As of the writing of this post, the Scream franchise has produced five films, one television series, and countless imitators; some of which have actually been entertaining. The opening scene of “Scream” (2022), pays homage to the first scene of the original 1996 “Scream” film. Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), is a teenage girl, who is at home alone. Her mother is out of town at a medical conference, and her sister Sam (Melissa Barrera), doesn’t live at home. While texting with her friend Amber (Mickey Madison), the landline to the house begins to ring. Unlike the original film, the landline is not something that teenagers often utilize, so Tara continues to text with Amber, but the persistent ringing of the landline begins to annoy her. Tara answers the phone. The caller, a man named Charlie, wants to talk to her sister.  He claims to have heard a number of things about Tara from Sam, during their AA meetings, which he lets slip. The conversation is cordial at first, but soon descends into, what will be for Tara, a fight for her survival. Tara is given an ultimatum, play movie trivia pertaining to horror films, and get the answers correct, or both she and Amber will be killed. The security system to the house is faltering, as the deranged person on the phone is attempting to get inside. As it turns out, Tara wasn’t texting with her friend, the would be intruder, had cloned Amber’s phone.    

Tara survives the attack, and is recovering in the hospital. The next day at school, her tight knit circle of friends: the aforementioned Amber, Wes (Dylan Minnette), Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Chad (Mason Gooding), and Liz (Sonia Ammar), discuss what happened to Tara. Wes, contacts Sam, who immediately returns to Woodsboro, with her boyfriend, Richie (Jack Quaid). Sam is all too familiar with the sordid history of her hometown, and she wants to make sure, that Ghostface won’t have another opprtunity to try and kill her sister.   

Along with Richie, Sam goes to see the former Sheriff, Dewey Riley, played by David Arquette (High Heel). He is living by himself, in a trailer, and is drinking heavily. The only enjoyment he seemingly gets is watching his ex-wife, media star, Gale Weathers, portrayed by Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Courtney Cox (Cougar Town), when she is live on air, during the morning news, being broadcast from New York. Dewey listens to what Sam has to say, but after being a survivor of a number of attacks by people taking on the persona of Ghostface throughout the years, he’s hesitant to get involved. When Sam and Ritchie leave, however, he texts Gale to let her know that the Ghostface killer is back. He next contacts divorced mother of three, the heroine of the Scream franchise, Sydney Prescott. The part is acted by Neve Campbell (House of Cards). Within a short period of time, Dewey, Gale, and Sydney, will once again converge in Woodsboro to try and stop Ghostface.

Who is Ghostface this time? What are the motivations behind the killings? Can Ghostface be stopped? How many people will die in order to stop the killer? Is there a link between the current killings, and those that took place in the past? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

Trivia buffs take note: Voice actor Roger L. Jackson, has voiced the character of Ghostface on the phone, in all of the Scream films. This is the first of the five films in the series not to be directed by the late Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). The film is dedicated to Craven, and the character Wes was named for him. Matthew Lillard (Bosch), and Golden Globe winner Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens), who were both in the original “Scream,” have speaking cameos in the film. The working title of the movie, in order to keep fans and the paparazzi away was called “Parkside Alpha.”  This was the first Scream film not to be scored by two time Oscar nominee and Emmy Winner Marco Beltrami (Free Solo). The third Scream film to be set in the town of Woodsboro.

“Scream” (2022) was co-directed by Matt Bettinelli – Olpin (VHS), and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not). The screenplay was co-written by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), andGuy Busick (Castle Rock); based on characters created by Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries). The film was released on January 12, 2022 in multiple countries, which included, but was not limited to, France and Switzerland. Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 114 minutes.

                                                                                                   

The film held my interest from start to finish. As a fan of the franchise, I appreciated that the filmmakers decided to pay homage to the now iconic opening scene from the original Scream film, which featured Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker. I am also glad that since 1996, the Scream films have been produced at a faster pace than some other franchises, which shall remain nameless, but whose actors look so beyond the age of the role they’re playing, that it comes across as a bit ridiculous. Yes – Arquette, Campbell, and Cox, are older in the film, but they don’t look like they left the nursing home to come back and help save their hometown. The plot behind “Scream” (2022) was interesting, and although I had my suspicions early on, as to who the killer might be, it kept me guessing until the end. On February 3, 2022, Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Media confirmed that there will be a “Scream 6;” it begins filming this summer, in Montreal, Canada. As of the writing of this post “Scream” (2022) is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime, and will be available to buy on Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on April 5. 

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“Ghost Ship” (2002)

The film “Ghost Ship” begins in 1962, aboard the luxurious, Italian ocean liner, the Antonia Graza. The passengers are all dressed in formal evening wear, and are attending the ‘Captain’s Ball,’ which was a traditional dance held at the end of transatlantic voyages. The passengers are dancing to the song being sung by the melodious voice of Francesca (Francesca Rettondini). The only person, who seems not to be enjoying herself is a young girl named Katie Harwood (Emily Browning). Within minutes, Katie will be the only person left alive.    

 From there, the scene shifts to modern day. The salvage ship, the Arctic Warrior, is attempting to save an abandoned vessel before it sinks. If they can do so, according to maritime law, there will be profit for the crew. Murphy, the veteran seafaring captain of the salvage vessel, is portrayed by Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment). In his crew is the take charge Epps, played by three time Emmy winner Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife). She is more like a daughter to Murphy than a crew member. Additional members of the crew include two jokers: Dodge, a role acted by Ron Eldard (ER); and Munder, played by Karl Urban (The Boys). They like to have fun, but when it comes to their work they are very competent at their jobs. In the role of the ship’s navigator Greer, is Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy). His impending nuptials are foremost on his mind. Lastly, there is Santos (Alex Dimitriades). He is the crew’s engineer, who can seemingly fix anything. Santos pines over a classic car, the picture of which, he keeps near him while he works. (As an aside: Gabriel Byrne replaced Emmy, Golden Globe, and two time BAFTA winner Brian Cox (Succession), who decided at the time to instead work on the film “The Ring” (2002).    

After the successful salvage of the ship, thanks in large part to Epps, who refused to abandon the mission, even with Murphy directing her to do so, the crew is celebrating at a bar. While receiving their money, and drinking, they are figuring out what they’re going to do next. Murphy is approached by a pilot named Ferriman played by Desmond Harrington (Dexter). He informs the captain, that on one of his recent flights, he discovered a large ship adrift in the Bering Sea. He authenticates his claim with a picture of the vessel. Murphy is intrigued, but he won’t take the job unless the crew agrees. Even though they have all been out to sea for a good deal of time, with the monetary payout potentially being in the millions, the crew agrees to take the job. Ferriman is insistent on a share of the profits, as well as being able to accompany the crew out to sea. Murphy negotiates the price with Ferriman, but initially refuses to take him on the job. Ferriman issues an ultimatum, either he comes with the crew, or he takes his proposition to someone else.  Murphy knows that without Ferriman, the chances of finding the ship, are almost non-existent. He also is aware that plenty of other crews would be willing to not only give Ferriman the percentage of the take he’s asking for, but also to bring him along. Murphy agrees to Ferriman’s request to accompany the crew,  and they set sail the next day.

When the crew reaches the Antonia Graza, they surmise that there is a great deal of work that needs to be done, if they are going to successfully tow the ship. The task is one they’re all willing to undertake considering the millions of dollars that are at stake. From the moment they board the ship, they seemingly begin to have trouble. For starters, even though the vessel has supposedly been abandoned, drifting at sea for decades, they might not be alone. Furthermore, based upon the finding of a digital watch, they seem to not even have been the first people to come across the ship. When the crew discovers crates of gold bars, valued in the millions, they decide to forgo towing the ocean liner, and opt to leave with the gold, however, they will soon discover, that will not be so easy. 

“Ghost Ship” was directed by Steven Beck (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The screenplay was written by John Pogue (The Quiet Ones), and Mark Hanlon (Buddy Boy), based on a story written by Hanlon. The film premiered on October 22, 2002 in Westwood, California. The horror movie has a runtime of 91 minutes. The music composed by John Frizzell (Office Space) invokes a good sense of dread. Emmy nominee Gale Tattersall’s (From the Earth to the Moon), cinematography does an excellent job of capturing the tension and suspense throughout the film. (As an aside: The movie was originally offered to Renny Harlin (The Long Kiss Goodnight) to direct).      

I didn’t see “Ghost Ship” when it was originally in theaters. As a matter of fact, until a few nights ago, I had never seen the film at all; it was one of those movies that I never got around to watching, which I was surprised at considering its cast, and the good reviews I’ve heard about it over the years. From its opening scene, until the credits, the film held my interest. The cast was uniformly excellent. The plot of the film was well thought out, and in the end, everything that leads up to it, makes sense. While it is categorized as horror, and there are certainly scenes that contain graphic horror, most notably the opening, I think that film fans, who don’t typically watch movies in the genre can invest their time, and get caught up in the suspense of the film.                              

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