‘Stalking Laura’ – A Better Than Average Made for Television Movie

In my review of “The Assistant,” I wrote about how the Human Resources department is the place people should go to if they feel threatened or uncomfortable in their working environment. The fact HR failed the film’s main character of Jane proved to be a devastating moment as the company she works at had long become knowingly complicit in its boss’ sexual harassment of aspiring actresses. But on Reddit, some schmuck called this scene accurate as he felt HR’s job is to protect the company above all else. I felt this was crap as they should be responsible to the needs and concerns of the employees as a healthy working environment is more beneficial than a toxic one. Then again, I have worked at companies where employee concerns were not always taken as seriously as they should have.

I bring this up because I found myself watching “Stalking Laura” (a.k.a. “I Can Make You Love Me”) on Amazon Prime which has just been given a 4K restoration. It features a scene in which Laura Black (played by Brooke Shields) goes to HR to report on one of her co-workers, Richard Farley (Richard Thomas), who has been endlessly harassing her. Instead, the HR director informs Laura of how her smiling at Richard may have invited such harassment and that she should watch how she acts around him. As the movie goes on, we see how the company is keen to protect Richard even after it has terminated his employment and given him a letter of recommendation to other workplaces.

“Stalking Laura” is a 1993 television movie which is, yes, based on a true story. Richard Farley was a software technician who worked at ESL Incorporated in Sunnyvale, California, and he became infinitely smitten with Deborah Black upon first seeing her. Richard asked her out many times, but Deborah felt any relationship the two of them would ever have should be professional more than anything else. For one reason or another, he believed Deborah was destined to be the love of his life, and he was determined to make her see this no matter what.

Deborah eventually filed a restraining order against Richard, and a court date was set for February 17, 1988 to make it permanent. But a day before this, Richard drove up to his old office loaded with a huge arsenal of weapons and bullets, and he laid waste to it and killed seven people and wounded four others including Laura. Richard eventually surrendered hours later and was later convicted of first-degree murder and has been living on death row at San Quentin ever since. As for Laura, she managed to make it out of the building after being shot in the left shoulder, and it took several surgeries for her to regain even partial use her shoulder.

“Stalking Laura” starts off with Laura leaving her family in Virginia and driving out to her new place of employment, Kensitron Electronics International (KEI, renamed for obvious reasons) in Silicon Valley, California. During a tour given to her by Chris (William Allen Young), she comes to meet Richard who is immediately smitten with her. After a nice lunch, he invites her to attend a sporting event with him as he just happens to have a couple of tickets on hand. Laura politely declines as she just met him, but this does not deter him from pursuing her further.

We watch as Richard spies on Laura during her aerobics class where she takes off her shirt to reveal the leotard she is wearing underneath, and we cringe as he continually tries to forge an undying connection to her even while she rejects his advances at every and any given opportunity. But when Laura appears to laugh at Richard as he watches her during a softball game, that’s when he really starts going off the rails.

Look, I have never been a big fan of television movies as they seem inevitably burdened by cliches and a formula they can never escape from. “Stalking Laura,” however, proved to be much better than the average TV movie as it does not present this true story in a shallow way. We see and understand just how brutal the harassment Laura is forced to endure. At one point, Richard gives Laura a small remote-controlled tractor as punishment for laughing at him as he feels the need to treat her like a child as a result. This makes Laura’s first scene with HR all the more infuriating as she is made to believe by the department director how she was the one who exacerbated the incident.

When it comes to Brooke Shields, her career as a model for a time seemed far more laudable than her work as an actress. While she received acclaim for performance in Louis Malle’s “Pretty Baby,” her work in “Endless Love,” “Sahara,” “The Blue Lagoon” (a film best appreciated with the sound turned off) and “Brenda Starr” were loudly disparaged. But in “Stalking Laura,” she gives a strong performance as a bright-eyed new employee who is forced to stand up for herself when a male co-worker harasses her to an endless extent. You cannot blame Laura for getting in the HR director’s face when the moment calls for it, and Shields makes it count for all it is worth.

Many know Richard Thomas from his work on “The Waltons,” but I remember him best for playing Bill Denbrough in the miniseries version of Stephen King’s “It.” Regardless, Thomas inhabits his character, also named Richard, with a frightening enthusiasm as he pursues Laura relentlessly even after she makes it perfectly clear she wants nothing to do with him. While Richard looks innocent and friendly at first glance, Thomas makes us see the cracks in his psyche which worsen to where his desperation leads him to resort to violence. The actor is especially chilling when he tells the HR director he is prepared to kill himself and his co-workers if he is fired from the company. Thomas makes you see how far Richard is willing to go, and it is infinitely chilling to watch him purchase 2,000 rounds of ammunition for his shotgun. Even the gun store owner is freaked out at this request, and someone like him is always looking to make a big sale.

The last half of “Stalking Laura” deals with Richard laying waste to his former place of employment while armed with a barrage of firepower. Being this is a television movie, the blood and gore are kept to a minimum, but the rampage is still pretty terrifying. Director Michael Switzer keeps the tension running high up until the last scene where we can finally take a breath as this desperate situation comes to a conclusion. The most unnerving moments come when the characters stuck in the building hear loud gunshots from a distance. This should give everyone an idea of how terrifying it is to be stuck in a school shooting or something equivalent as you cannot tell if it is safe to stay or go. Seeing your co-workers lying dead under fluorescent lights is brutal enough, but hearing guns going off close by is enough to make one hide under a desk, any desk.

Other things worth pointing out here are how the police characters introduced to deal with this shooting are given various dimensions even though they are not given much screen time. While they want to resolve this violent situation, they all know it may involve a sniper eliminating the shooter at any given opportunity. There is also a nice score composed by Sylvester Levay, and I say this even though his main theme to this film sounds like something out of a Cinemax skin flick.

We do not see many movies like “Stalking Laura” these days as shootings like the one portrayed here have become far too commonplace in America. The only other movie I can think of which covered a shooting like this was Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” which served as a meditation on the events at Columbine High School. Watching something like this should serve as a reminder of how senseless shootings like these are as they accomplish nothing. But with these violence occurrences still happening at alarming numbers in America, one has to wonder if enough people will listen.

But hey, at least HR did the right thing by firing Richard. Of course, this was after Laura made them do something about her problem. And yes, the HR director did describe his termination as the result of poor work performance, and that’s even after he told the director he has weapons and would kill people. When it came to the restraining order, Laura had to get it herself as the company no longer had to deal with the situation since Richard was fired. So seriously, HR did attest to the needs of a certain employee, right? RIGHT?!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Running 23 Miles in the Aftermath of a Torrential Rainstorm (in Los Angeles)

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So, this past Friday in February 2017 saw Los Angeles get pummeled by the biggest rainstorm it has seen in years. Streets and sidewalks were flooded over, old trees were battered, branches were torn off and left on the road for cars to run over or hopefully swerve around, and hydroplaning was not what it used to be. Turning on the radio, it was no surprise to hear the local station playing “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, but I kept praying for someone to play the Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine” for the sake of some much-needed irony.

Yes, this was the exact same weather I and so many others endured while running the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon. It rained hard and the wind blew at us from the side to where hypothermia became a larger threat than heatstroke. The joke was we never ran the 2011 LA Marathon, we swam it. Heck, I joked I was somehow tricked into doing a triathlon instead of a marathon. Sometimes it is fun to run in the rain, but this was a huge exception.

The rainstorm which came down on us Angelinos happened the day before we Team to End AIDS runners were scheduled to run our longest run of the training season: 23 miles. As a result, I got more prepared for this run than usual. I got a new pair of Brooks running shoes, my red poncho which keeps me warm as well as dry, a new water belt which has two water bottles instead of four, and I had my Monsters University hat on as usual. The only thing I was missing was a new pair of compression tights which I really need to get before March.

Some people also took the time to put duct tape on their shoes to ensure their feet wouldn’t get wet. I should have thought of that, but anyway…

Well, the good news was the worst of the storm had pretty much passed us by when we arrived at Griffith Park at 6 a.m., one hour earlier than we usually show up because of this run’s epic length. There was a bit of drizzle, but nothing which we could possibly drown in. Regardless, the most dedicated T2EA runners could be counted on to show up as they are determined to participate come rain or come shine.

I’ve been through this training program several years now, but the 23-mile run always gets me especially anxious. I know I can do it, but I also know the agony I will be forced to endure once I am finished. Coach James reminded us this is our “celebration run,” and we should not treat this as a race in any way, shape, or form. Still, I knew it was going to be hard to celebrate once this run was concluded. Not impossible, but hard.

One thing I definitely kept in mind was to start off slow and not overdo it. It was in our best interest to save energy throughout this run as it is too frackin’ easy to burn out before we got to the halfway point. Also, it was highly likely we would hit “the wall” on this run more than ever before. “The wall” refers to the mental wall we eventually hit during the run where it feels like we can’t possibly run anymore. It doesn’t matter how big of a carbo load dinner or how many pounds of pasta we ate beforehand because we will hit the wall when we least expect it. The trick is to keep going because these 23 miles won’t run themselves, dammit.

For this run, we actually started out on Forest Lawn Drive. This surprised me as I felt the coaches had long since deemed this part off limits. It’s a dangerous stretch of road to run on, especially when it’s early in the morning, because of the blind corners we are forced to go around. There were points where we had to run single file because we have little warning of what could be coming around the curb. We were also running past a cemetery, and this threatens to serve as an omen of the most unwelcome kind.

But we did survive Forest Lawn Drive, otherwise I would not be here writing about this. The run took us through Burbank and Glendale where passed by such sights as Warner Brothers Studio, Disney Studios, and fast food joints with their burgers which are never as appealing as they look on those posters. When we passed mile signs indicating where we were at distance wise, I found myself saying the same thing, “That’s it?” For some bizarre reason, I thought I was going to complete this 23-mile run sooner than later. What the hell is wrong with me anyway?

We had a wealth of volunteers this time out, and they had plenty of water, Gatorade and other assorted goodies for us to fuel up on. I was keen on staying on top of my salt intake because last year, when I did this same run, I came out of it seriously dehydrated to where I was walking like a zombie out of a George Romero movie. Actually, it also didn’t help that I partied hard with a few Jack and Cokes afterwards. I eventually had to go to urgent care and get hooked up to an IV with fluids. Lesson learned.

I did end up eating a handful of Tostitos lime tortilla chips which had more salt in them than any chip I ever had in my life. My mouth was in shock for a few seconds to where I had to drink almost a whole bottle of water. Talk about an assault of the senses! I have never crammed that much salt into my mouth before. I’m not in a hurry to do it again.

During the last half of the run, I ended up falling behind everyone else which was a bummer. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but before I was able to catch up with my fellow runners. This time I was on my own, clinging onto an almost empty bag of Ruffles potato chips I got from the volunteers. It got to where I started to feel like Chevy Chase when he was running around in the desert and getting all delirious in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Granted, I wasn’t actually in the desert, and I wasn’t wearing my jacket as a hat and singing “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” but I had definitely hit that wall I was talking about earlier.

I wasn’t in immense pain, by my muscles were already very sore to where I wasn’t screaming out in agony, but instead just getting irritated over the fact I couldn’t run any faster. It started to feel like a dream where I was stuck in one place and couldn’t move any further. Whether it was Heather Langenkamp getting stuck on those stairs in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or Patricia Arquette caught in some jelly-like substance in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” I was desperate to increase my velocity before some crazed psycho with knives for fingers started coming after me for not running at my assigned pace.

I did have a map of the course with me and kept looking at it every five seconds. Of course, I lost it as it slipped out of my pocket without me even realizing it until much later. But by then, I knew where I was going, and this is even though I felt like Bugs Bunny and kept wondering if I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.

This training season has seen me become the slowest runner on the team. It’s almost embarrassing as I used to be faster than this, but in the end I did cross the finish line. I increased my pace as fast as I could as I came up to the finish line, and there were still many people there to cheer me on as I completed my 23 miles. After I was done, all I wanted to do was sit down forever. The first thing I should have done was stretch out my legs, but I didn’t have the patience to bother.

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The coaches treated us with a feast of sandwiches which included roast beef, turkey with pesto dressing, veggie, and ham and cheese. I had one of each as those calories I had burned off needed to be welcomed back in one way or another. And yes, there was plenty of chocolate milk to go around. Us runners need chocolate milk to recover, almost a gallon it seems.

After all this running madness, I went home and crashed in bed for several hours. As I’ve gotten older, so to speak, naps have become more commonplace for me than ever before. It used to be impossible for me to nap during the day, now it’s far too easy for me to taking advantage of one. I’m starting to miss the days where I had boundless energy. Maybe I should start drinking coffee.

Do I feel good about this 23-mile run? You know what, I shouldn’t even be asking myself this question. I should feel good about it. I crossed the finish line to the delight of all the T2EA team who stayed to watch me do so. But I wonder if I can still cross the finish line with the same amount of gusto which I had in the past when it comes to marathon day. Here’s hoping I will when March comes around.

FUNDRAISING UPDATE: Thanks to the threat of me running with an oversized Eeyore on this 23-mile run, I went from having raised $729 to $1,044 in a week. After finishing this run, I finally reached my fundraising goal thanks to my brother Ed Mahoney and have now raised $1,129.70 towards AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). But even though I did reach my goal, I still encourage you all to make a donation towards my efforts as every little bit helps those who can no longer help themselves. Even if all you can spare is $5, that will still go a long way. Just click on this ridiculously long paragraph to see how you can help.

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‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ Celebrates 40th Anniversary in Westwood

Few cult classics have had such a strong and everlasting cultural impact than “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and it always gains a new set of fans from one generation to the next. Based on the musical “The Rocky Horror Show” written by Richard O’Brien, the movie was a critical and commercial disappointment upon its release in 1975, but it went on to become a motion picture which made talking during the movie seem like not such a bad thing. Once it was introduced into the realm of midnight screenings in theaters everywhere, its influence became widespread, and it achieved a popularity many movies only dream of attaining.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” celebrated its 40th anniversary on October 30, 2015 outside of the building formerly known as the Mann Festival Theater in Westwood, California where it made its Los Angeles debut. Of all the cinemas the movie premiered in, it did the best business there when it was originally released. The theater closed down a number of years ago, but this wasn’t about to stop anyone from making the world remember that this location was where “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” got its start.

In attendance for this celebration, which was held on a ridiculously hot October day, were Tim Curry who originated the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter, Lou Adler who produced the movie, Sal Piro who is the President of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fan club and Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz. Joining them were a number of die-hard fans who did not hesitate to dress up as their favorite characters and the cast of Sins O’ The Flesh, a group of actors who perform at Saturday midnight screenings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica.

Koretz declared October 30, 2015 “Rocky Horror Picture Show” Day in Los Angeles, and he remarked that while its fans may not know the capitol of every state in America, the movie continues to offer “solace, unity and friendship over the years to disenfranchised” and to anyone who feels like an outsider. The movie remains a very important one for LGBT people, and it has long since opened the doors for those who may not feel like they are part of the “mainstream.”

Adler remarked how there were almost as many people at this celebration as there were at the movie’s opening back in 1975, and he thanked what he called the “true fans” for showing up here as well as at every screening of this movie from one year to the next. Adler also remarked how Curry should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor back in 1975, and those in attendance were very much in agreement.

But make no mistake, the big star of the day was Curry, and the fans were ecstatic to see him appear at this celebration. The actor suffered a major stroke in 2013 which has left him confined to a wheelchair, but he was in good spirits as he greeted the fans and encouraged them not to fry as it was very hot outside. The fans in turn thanked him for coming to this event to which he responded, “Did you think I would miss this?”

Piro at how he and others put out the word about “Rocky Horror” midnight screenings in a time before there was social media or the internet. The fans came to see this movie over and over again through pure word of mouth, and it was the same group of people who came which showed how much it meant to them.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of a plaque made to commemorate the movie theater in Westwood where “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” premiered all those years ago. Following this, Koretz quoted the words of Dr. Frank N. Furter and said to “give yourselves over to absolute pleasure and to don’t dream it, be it.”

I myself had the fortunate opportunity to talk with Curry following the ceremony. In addition to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” he also appeared in another cult classic movie called “Clue.” I asked him what the secret was to making a cult classic like this, and he replied that if he knew he would have done another one.

Be sure to check out the video of the anniversary celebration above. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is now available to watch on Blu-ray in honor of its 40th anniversary, but nothing will compare to seeing it on the big screen along with its many devoted followers.

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