“Abducted in Plain Sight – Riveting Netflix Documentary”

“Abducted in Plain Sight,” is a true-crime documentary, where just when you think you know the full inexplicable story, another twist is added. At the documentary’s center, is the story of survivor Jan Broberg, who, in 1974, when she was twelve years old, was abducted by a convicted pedophile, Robert ‘B’ Berchtold, who was obsessed with her. That, in and of itself, is very disturbing, but Berchtold, went on to abduct her a second time, two years later.

The Brobergs, first met, the then 40 year old, Berchtold, his wife Gail, and their five children, in 1972. Their first impressions of Mr. Berchtold were very favorable. From the moment they met, the two families became very close; it is mentioned in the documentary, that each of the Brobergs, was best friends with one of the Berchtolds. Sadly, the entire time, Robert ‘B’ Berchtold, was merely gaining the confidence and trust of the Brobergs, until he could carry out his true, sick-minded intentions with Jan.

There were times, I was hard pressed to believe the naiveté of Jan’s parents, Bob and Mary Ann Broberg, as they recounted the unguarded access they allowed Berchtold to have with their daughter. After the first few head shakes on my part, I started to keep in my mind that, Pocatello, Idaho, in the 1970s, where part of the story takes place, was a vastly different place, in an entirely different era, than it is now. The Brobergs were very active in their church, and Pocatello was the sort of town, as stated in the documentary, where people didn’t think of locking their doors, and everyone knew one another. I don’t think, at least I hope that, no parents, who care about their children, would allow themselves to drop their guard, in 2019, to the same degree that Jan’s parents did in the 1970s. The knowledge of the type of criminal predators that are out there, was not as widely known or discussed in various forms of media, as it is today. Without revealing how, because I don’t want to provide spoilers, Bob and Mary Ann, allowed themselves to fall victim to Berchtold’s charms and schemes, allowing each of them to become complicit in his plans to abduct Jan. I do, however, give them credit for their complete candor when describing what took place during that tumultuous time in their lives; not only that, but also, their taking responsibility for their lack of sound judgment.

In a story full of incomprehensible moments, one of the most bizarre, was the manner in which Bertchold first gained access to Jan, when she would be at her most vulnerable. Bertchtold informed Jan’s parents, that when he was a young child, he was sexually abused by his aunt. He told them that he was under the care of a therapist, part of his treatment, Bertchtold claimed, was to spend time with young girls, and he asked the Brobergs if he could spend time with Jan, and their two other daughters. Bertchtold, specifically wanted permission from them to sleep next to Jan, at night, to which the Brobergs inconceivably agreed. For several months before he eventually abducted Jan – the first time – Bertchtold would lay down with her at night as she slept. While in bed with her, he would play cassette tapes, given to him by his therapist, a man who would later have his medical license revoked.

The first abduction took place under the ruse of Bertchtold taking Jan horseback riding. The incident took place on a school night, and although Mary Ann was a bit reluctant to let Jan go, she did anyway. On the way to the stables, Bertchtold gave Jan what he claimed was an allergy pill, which knocked her unconscious. The two never made it to the stables, instead, Bertchtold eventually wound up taking Jan to a storage garage, where the Bertchtold family kept their motor home. In the intervening weeks from the time she went missing, Jan was repeatedly drugged, as well as sexually abused. The way he convinced Jan to go along with his vile plans, as well as to keep her quiet, so as to keep himself out of trouble, is seemingly as farfetched as the rest of the story, but yet it is all true. The end of Bertchtold’s fantasy trip came in Mexico, when he contacted his brother, because he wanted to come back to America. Needless to say, he was quickly apprehended by the authorities and placed in jail. I don’t want to get into anymore details beyond this point, but suffice it to say, what happens after the initial abduction is just as unbelievable, as what preceded it.

Abducted in Plain Sight” was directed by Skye Borgman (Losing Bob). The documentary was originally on the film festival circuit, before Netflix purchased it, and it had its premier at the Mammoth Lake Film Festival on May 26, 2017.  The director uses interviews with: the Broberg family: Pete Welsh, the lead FBI agent involved in the abduction case: as well as Berchtold’s brother, Joe, who claims, that he always knew his brother was a sick pervert, ever since they were children, and Berchtold sexually abused their sister. Furthermore, during its 91 minute runtime, there are voice recordings, family photographs, and re-enactments, used throughout the documentary to aid in the telling of the story. Prior to the Netflix documentary, the book “Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story,” written by Mary Ann Broberg, was published on October 30, 2003, and first detailed the outlandish true story of what took place between Bertchtold and the Brobergs. Currently, in addition to being an actress with close to fifty credits to her name, Jan Broberg, works with victims of abuse through the organization Child Shield USA. For those of you interested in true crime, “Abducted in Plain Sight” will more than likely hold your interest from start to finish.  

 

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“Crazy Rich Asians”

In the film “Crazy Rich Asians,” Rachel Chu, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), is an optimistic and highly intelligent, Chinese-American economics professor. She has just finished teaching her economics class on game theory, and is on her way to meet her boyfriend, the sophisticated and debonair Nick Young (Henry Golding), at a Manhattan restaurant. During the course of their dinner conversation, Nick invites Rachel to accompany him to his native, Singapore, where he has been invited to attend his best friend’s wedding. The two have been dating for approximately a year, but Rachel doesn’t know a great deal about Nick’s family. The trip will provide Rachel with the perfect opportunity to find out more about him. What neither of them knows, is that someone familiar with Nick, has spotted the two of them in the restaurant, and taken a cell-phone picture, which once sent, is spread everywhere on social media. From that moment, assumptions about Rachel’s intentions concerning Nick are already being formulated, before anyone even takes the time to get to know her.

The excursion gets off to an interesting start for Rachel. From the moment she gets on the airplane, instead of sitting in business class, which she expected, or even regular first class, the two are given their own private cabin. Nick merely explains to Rachel, that it is a business perk. As Rachel and the viewer will soon learn, Nick comes from one of the wealthiest families in China, and, because of that, is one of, if not, the country’s most eligible bachelors. The first class cabin pales in comparison to the opulence that Rachel will be introduced to and experience, during the film’s 120 minute runtime, once they arrive in Singapore.

Rachel doesn’t get to meet Nick’s father, who is apparently away on business, and from all accounts working himself into an early grave. She does, however, get to meet, amongst other family members, Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young, played by the always competent, BAFTA nominee Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). From the outset, Eleanor is not impressed with Rachel, who doesn’t come from a prominent family, and wasn’t born and raised in China. Instead Rachel was raised in America by her hard working, single mother, Kerry (Tan Kheng Hua), who gave Rachel, and continues to gives her, unconditional love and support. Eleanor, it is revealed to the viewer, was once like Rachel. She was treated in the exact same manner by her husband’s mother, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu), and considered unworthy, so it’s a shame she employs the same distasteful and condescending behavior.

Family is everything to Eleanor, and she is the type of person who engages in antiquated thinking; she can’t reconcile that Rachel can be a success in her career, as well as an excellent wife, and mother if she and Nick choose to have children. Furthermore, Rachel is thought of as a gold-digger, undeserving of Nick’s love by, among other people, his ex-girlfriend, Amanda (Jing Lusi). Rachel does have some allies. One such friend, is her former college roommate, Awkwafina (Peik Lin Goh), who is a real scene stealer. She lives with her family, and her father, Wye Mun, is played by Ken Jeong (Community); Mun and Awkwafina play well off one another, in the lighthearted moments they share on screen. Additionally, Rachel finds two allies in the Young family: One is Nick’s favorite cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), who, even though she is extraordinarily wealthy and powerful, treats Rachel as a friend and equal. As it turns out, Astrid, who is married to Michael (Pierre Png), is dealing with her own relationship issues. Even though Michael claims that everything is fine with their marriage, especially Astrid’s vast wealth compared to his earnings, but something is not right, and it will eventually be revealed to the viewer. The other is Oliver (Nico Santos), he comes to Rachel’s aid, helping her to look absolutely stunning at Nick’s friend’s wedding.

Will Nick and Rachel be able to get married despite the strong objections of Nick’s mother and others? Is there any way that Rachel can win Eleanor over, so she realizes that Nick is not making a mistake if he marries her? Does Rachel walk away, not wanting to separate Nick from his family? Does Nick, instead, leave Rachel because family means more to him than even love? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“Crazy Rich Asians” was directed by Jon M. Chu  (Step Up 2: The Streets). The screenplay written by Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal) and Adele Lim (Life on Mars), was based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, which was published by Knopf Doubleday  on June 11, 2013. The film had its premiere on August 7, 2018 in Los Angeles, California, and since then, has gone on to become the highest grossing romantic comedy in over a decade, having earned well over two hundred million dollars worldwide. As of the writing of this post, “Crazy Rich Asians 2”  which will be based on “China Rich Girlfriend” the second book of author, Kevin Kwan’s trilogy, has been confirmed, but no set release date has been given.

 

 

 

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“Eighth Grade – A Star Turn For Young Actress Elsie Fisher”

The film “Eighth Grade” begins with Kayla Day, portrayed, in a poignant manner, by Golden Globe nominee Elsie Fisher (Despicable Me). She is the thirteen year old host of a YouTube series, where she imparts advice to other adolescents. During the opening scene, she is offering advice to others her age, on how to be themselves. Based upon the views she receives, which are shown briefly on screen, as she scrolls through her past vlogs, she doesn’t have much of an audience for her efforts. The viewer will realize, as they watch the film, that the advice vlogs that Kayla posts, are, for the most part, advice that she should be taking herself, but more often than not, doesn’t.

Kayla suffers from low self-esteem, and even though she professes not to be a quiet person, in one of her vlogs, she is voted most quiet by her peers. Furthermore, sadly, at least at the start of the film, it seems as if Kayla has no friends, as she yearns to be like Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), the most popular girl in the eighth grade. Kayla also has a massive crush on Aiden (Luke Prael), a guy who doesn’t even seem to know she exists. Additionally, Kayla lives at home with her single father, Mark (Josh Hamilton); her mother’s absence is not immediately explained. Like a majority of teenagers, she wants little to do with her father, who from all indicators, is trying his best to communicate with Kayla, and let her know how special he thinks she is. (As an aside: “Eighth Grade” started filming one week after actress Elsie Fisher graduated from eighth grade”).

The 93 minute runtime of “Eighth Grade,” the feature film debut for writer and director Bo Burnham, takes place during the last week of middle school. During the course of that one week, Kayla experiences a wide array of things. For example, she is invited to Kennedy’s birthday party, not because Kennedy wanted her to attend, but because Kennedy’s mother forced her to invite Kayla. Making matters worse for Kayla, the party is a pool party; the thought of stepping out in her bathing suit, in front of all her peers, sends pangs of anxiety through Kayla’s entire body. Not everything, however, that takes place for Kayla during the last week of school is bad. I was glad, as a viewer who was rooting for Kayla, that Burnham opted not to make everything that transpired in her life, an anxiety ridden or awkward occurrence. For example, on a trip, to what will be her high school the following year, Kayla is paired up with Olivia. She is an outwardly friendly senior, played by Emily Robinson (Transparent), who takes an instant liking to Kayla; at the conclusion of their day together, Olivia even gives Kayla her phone number to call, if she wants to hang out. Incidents like that are what, at an almost imperceptible pace, make Kayla begin to realize her value. Her small moments of happiness, buoyed by words of encouragement, and moments where she can feel good about herself, shows Kayla taking steps towards greater acceptance.

Burnham, I felt, did an excellent job of capturing the reality of how teenagers actually talk and act. Most teens, certainly not all, but most, stumble when they speak, and their conversation is full of the go to phrases of ‘like,’ and ‘um.’ Conversations for someone like Kayla, who is attempting to break free from her social isolation, can be especially awkward. For example, she tells one of her peers that she likes his shirt, and immediately follows her comment up with the statement, that she has a shirt too.

As a former middle school teacher, I can say with certainty, that “Eighth Grade” does a competent job of capturing the extreme awkwardness that young teens are dealing with during that period of their lives. The problems that today’s teenagers deal with, such as the bullying via social media, or just the need to constantly seek validation via the various social media platforms, is a reality, that unfortunately, I don’t envision ending anytime in the near future. There was a scene that takes place during a school assembly that shows virtually every student sitting in the auditorium using their cell phone. That wouldn’t have been permitted where I used to work, and it especially wouldn’t have been allowed when I was a student, but that is the world we live in. Furthermore, the real potential for an active school shooter at any level of education, is touched on, that was something that was not on anyone’s mind when I was a student, but certainly was, by the time I was teaching.

At the end of her middle school years, Kayla begins to realize, that her situation is not a permanent one; eighth grade is coming to an end, as will high school one day. When that happens Kayla will venture out into the world, that for someone talented and intelligent like herself, has numerous possibilities as to where she can go, and what she can accomplish; it all depends on what type of person she allows herself to become. In conclusion, the film is not so much a depiction of what has transpired in Kayla’s life during her final week of middle school. Instead, it is a realistic look, into the life of a socially awkward teenager, who has a great deal to offer those, who are willing to give her a chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Derry Girls”

“Derry Girls” is an Irish sitcom which first aired in the UK on January 4, 2018. The series takes place in the early 1990s, in the town of Derry, which is located in the north-western part of Ireland. The sitcom centers primarily on four female friends in their teens, who attend Catholic school at Our Lady Immaculate College. The group of girls consists of: their ostensible leader Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson). She is creative, often times self-absorbed, but still a good person; Erin’s cousin, the quirky, Orla (Louisa Harland); the kind-hearted Clare (Nicola Coughlan), who is a bit high strung and is the type of person who is always worrying about getting into trouble. Clare’s behavior contrasts with Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), the bad girl of the group. Michelle, in actuality, is more of a rule breaker and risk taker than the others, but is really not a bad person. She is just a typical teenager trying to navigate those tumultuous years. Michelle’s cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn), who is from England, socializes with the girls, but is often the brunt of their jokes and put downs. He is the only male student permitted to attend the girls’ school, because his family fears for his safety if he were to attend the all Irish boys school. Additional members of the cast, who appear in each of the episodes include, but are not limited to, Erin’s family: Erin’s father, Gerry (Tommy Tiernan); her mother, Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill); her aunt Sarah (Kathy Kiera Clarke); and her grandfather Joe (Ian McElhinney).

There is a good deal of humor interjected into each of the six, half-hour episodes that comprise the first season. The seriousness, however, of the conflict and political strife that existed at the time, referred to as ‘the troubles,’ while not front and center, is also not ignored by the series’ creator, Lisa McGee (Being Human). For example, in one episode, Erin’s family, and her close friends, leave Derry in order to avoid getting caught up in a march being held by The Orange Order. The order, based primarily in Northern Ireland, is a group of approximately 34,000 men, who are dedicated to upholding the Protestant faith and liberty under the law.

One of the reasons I think the series works well, is because McGee allows the girls to be teenagers, even though, as is often the case, they are being played by older people. In general, the girls face realistic problems for their age, such as how to earn money for a class trip, or how to figure a way out of whatever trouble they’ve gotten themselves into with the school’s headmistress, Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney). The only difference is that because the series takes place in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, the girls live with the ever present problems of ‘the troubles’ always on the periphery of their lives.

Additionally, another aspect of the series that I found refreshing, is that the girls and James, talked like teenagers; they didn’t sound like people in their late 20s. I remember watching certain shows, that shall remain nameless, which aired in the 1990s, that had their characters converse in dialogue that sounded completely disingenuous. In addition, “Derry Girls” does provide, as does “Stranger Things” for those who didn’t come of age in the 1980s, a glimpse into the time period, and, in essence, of how much simpler the world was at the time. For example, cell phones were for the most part in their infancy. A person could make and receive phone calls, take a low resolution picture, as well as send and receive a text, but that was the extent of it. Cell phones weren’t the hand held, mini-computers, that they are today. Social media was years away from coming into use. There was no Facebook or Twitter, so, if you were a teenager, you had your friends, who you saw every day, and socialized with after school and on the weekends.

I don’t want to reveal too many more specific plot points than I already have about the series. That would be doing a disservice to those of you who want to watch it. The sitcom certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re not easily offended, I would recommend watching at least the first two episodes, to get a sense of the series. The first season is currently available to stream on Netflix. As of the writing of this post, the second season of “Derry Girls,” will air on Channel 4 in the UK, in March of this year. No word yet, on when Netflix will make the second season available for streaming.

 

 

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“Roma – Outstanding Film From Oscar Winner Cuarón”

“Roma is an attempt to capture the memory of events that I experienced almost fifty years ago. It is an exploration of Mexico’s social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven to this date and, above all, it’s an intimate portrait of the women who raised me in a recognition of love as a mystery that transcends space, memory and time.”

                                                                                      Alfonso Cuarón

 

The pace of the engrossing, black and white film “Roma” is established during the opening scene, and may test some viewers patience. In the scene, the film’s credits are shown, superimposed above soapy water that is being used to wash a stone driveway. The scene lasts approximately four minutes. “Roma” takes place between the years 1970 and 1971, and centers, in part, around a financially secure Mexican family who live in a house in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The family consists of: Sr. Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), who is a doctor; his wife Sra. Sofia (Marina de Tavira); their four children Tono (Diego Cortina Autrey); Paco (Carlos Peralta); Pepe (Marco Graf); Sofi (Daniela Demesa). Sra. Sofia’s mother, Sra. Teresa (Verónica García) lives with them as well. Additionally, there is Adela (Nancy García García) who works as a domestic for the family. The prime focus of the film, however, concerns itself with a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).

Cleo is a hardworking, indigenous, maid, who in many respects, is the backbone of the family. She is a tireless worker, who keeps the house in order. She performs a variety of tasks for them – including everything from cleaning up after the family and the family dog, to serving meals. Her greatest attribute, however, is the attention and time she devotes to the children. Cleo treats them, seemingly, as if they were her own. For example, she helps to wake and dress the younger children in the morning, and furthermore, takes all four children to school, and picks them up again in the afternoon. (As an aside: Cleo’s character was inspired by Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, a woman who helped to raise Cuarón as a child. She has appeared in cameos in two Cuarón  films’ Sólo con tu pareja” and “Y Tu Mamá También“).  

Within the first half hour of the film, Sr. Antonio is departing on a business trip to Quebec, Canada. What sort of business the doctor has abroad is not discussed. Sra. Sofia is agitated about his leaving; her actions imply, that she feels that Sr. Antonio will not be returning to his family. Sra. Sofia’s instincts are right. The reasoning behind Sr. Antonio’s departure, and the direct impact it will have on his family’s future, will be revealed to the viewer later on in the film.

Cleo gets the occasional day off, and more often than not, spends time with her boyfriend, the martial arts obsessed, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). As time passes, one day they opt not to go to the movies, and instead, they rent a hotel room. A bit later on in the film, Cleo learns she is pregnant. When Cleo tells Fermin, at the movie theater, that he is going to be a father, he acts as if it is wonderful news. In addition, he promises to stick by her side. Fermin’s promise is worthless; within seconds, he excuses himself from the movie, claiming he needs to use the restroom, and does not return. Cleo, hoping against hope, waits for him long after the film is over, but from all outward indicators, he has seemingly left Cleo, on her own, to raise the baby. While Cleo initially wants Fermin to be in her life, she is afraid of how Sra. Sofia will react to the news that she is pregnant. She is worried, that as much as she is sometimes treated as a member of the family, and even though she is loved by the children, that there exists the very real possibility that she will be fired.

Particular events, such as the aforementioned, help to comprise the whole of “Roma.” The film doesn’t follow exact plot points from start to finish, but is more of an episodic study of the events that take place, especially in Cleo’s life and the life of the family. The entire movie is set against the backdrop of the political turmoil that was taking place in Mexico in the early 1970s. In particular, the film focuses on the 1971 Corpus Christi Massacre, which took place on June 10, 1971. The massacre was carried out against student demonstrators, who were angered at the government’s interference with the University of Nuevo Leon. The exact number of protesters that were killed by the Halcones (The Falcons), young men who were in favor of Mexico’s ruling party and then Mexican President, Luis Echeverría Álvarez, who served from 1970 to 1976, has never been confirmed. The number is believed to be upwards of 120 people that lost their lives.

Written and directed by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” marks his first film since “Gravity” (2013). The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on August 30, 2018. During the film’s 135 minute runtime, both Spanish and the indigenous dialect of Mixtec are spoken. Could another Oscar be in Cuarón’s future? He just won the Golden Globe for Best Director, and “Roma” won for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language, at the Golden Globe Awards Ceremony that aired on NBC  (National Broadcasting Company) on Sunday, January 6, 2019. The cast, as a whole, are excellent, especially Aparicio, who makes her film debut. “Roma” is currently available to stream on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

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“The Initiation of Sarah” (1978)

The Goodwin sisters, Patty, played by Morgan Brittany (Dallas), and Sarah portrayed by two time Emmy winner Kay Lenz (Midnight Caller), are headed off to their freshman year at Waltham College. Shortly after they arrive, the two begin to make the rounds, attending functions hosted by the various sororities. Their first stop is at ASN (Alpha Sigma Nu), the sorority their mother (Kathryn Grant) attended while at Waltham. Mrs. Goodwin has high hopes that the attractive, socially outgoing, Patty will get accepted to pledge. She doesn’t have the same sort of expectations for Sarah, who is more of an introvert. Sarah, herself, has confided in Patty, that she’s apprehensive about leaving home and going away to school, even though Patty attempts to assure her that everything will be fine.

The popular ASN sorority, as expected are very welcoming of Patty. This is particularly true of their sorority president, Jennifer, played by Golden Globe nominee Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road). Sarah meanwhile is largely ignored. Sensing that her sister is not having a good time, Patty leaves with Sarah, and they make their way to PED (Phi Epsilon Delta), or as ASN has unkindly dubbed them – pigs, elephants, and dogs. The girls at PED haven’t set up any sort of function in the way of attracting new pledges. Patty and Sarah do spend some time with the sisters of PED, and while Patty acts polite and interested, it is plain to see that this time, Sarah is more in her element.

When the sorority bids are announced, it comes as no surprise that Patty gets a bid to pledge ASN, and Sarah receives her lone bid from PED. Patty and Sarah originally made a pact to stay together during their college years, but once Patty is accepted to ASN, those plans quickly change. Instead of cowering in her room, afraid to face the world without Patty, Sarah makes friends. She beings to grow close with her fellow sorority sister, the violin playing Alberta (Tisa Farrow), whom everyone calls mouse, as well as Paul Yates, a teaching assistant in the psychology department, played by Oscar winner Tony Bill (The Sting).  

Mrs. Hunter, the PED housemother, is portrayed by two time Oscar winner Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank). A former student, she now teaches at the college, and has a deep and abiding dislike for ASN. She also practices witchcraft, and is the holder of the only key to a mysterious room that is off limits to the girls. When Mrs. Hunter was a student at Waltham, PED was the most popular sorority, and ASN members were jealous of them. Mrs. Hunter states that information to Sarah one evening while they spend time talking. She also imparts to Sarah the fact that she knew Sarah’s father, who is deceased, when he was a student at Waltham.

Mrs. Hunter is aware that Sarah possesses special abilities, psychic and telekinetic powers to be exact; this is something the viewer will already be aware of from the opening scene of the movie. Sarah believes that Mrs. Hunter wants to help her to harness her powers so she can get the maximum effect out of them. Sarah, however, is not certain of what to make of her powers, or how she wants to use them; her struggle is evidenced by the type of conversations she has with Paul.

What finally pushes Sarah over the edge, is a cruel trick played out against her by the sorority sisters of ASN. Jennifer has her boyfriend Scott, a role acted by Robert Hays (Airplane), call Sarah on the phone and invite her out to a party. Sarah rejects the offer, until she learns that the party is a surprise birthday party for Paul, so she agrees to attend. Sarah buys a new dress, gets her hair and makeup done, and for the first time since arriving at Waltham has a good feeling about things. Once she steps outside, however, she is pelted with mud and tomatoes by Jennifer and the rest of the sorority sisters from ASN, who think the humiliation they are causing her, is the funniest thing they’ve ever done.

Will Sarah, guided by Mrs. Winters, give in to her dark urges? What kind of revenge will she extract against the sisters of ASN. Does she harm her own sister, Patty, who is pledging to become a member of ASN? Do the other sisters of PED perhaps also have powers? Has Mrs. Winters made it, through the use of her witchcraft, so that only girls with unique abilities are interested in joining PED? The answers to those questions, as well as a good deal more that I haven’t mentioned, will be revealed by the film’s conclusion.

“The Initiation of Sarah”  was directed by Robert Day (The Bold Ones: The Senator). The teleplay was written by Don Ingalls (Star Trek), Carol Saraceno (The Streets of San Francisco), and Kenette Gfeller (Police Woman), based on a story written by Saraceno and Tom Holland (Fright Night). The movie originally aired on February 6, 1978 on ABC Television (American Broadcasting Company). The 96 minute television movie held my interest from start to finish, primarily because I took it for what it was. The movie is labeled as belonging to the genres of horror and thriller, however, the scares are kept to a minimum. The movie offers solid performances from its cast, especially Lenz, and an interesting story, enough so, that I wanted to know how things would be resolved in the end. As of the writing of this post the movie is available to be watched on Amazon Prime.

 

 

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“Scrooged”

“Scrooged” is one of those Christmas films that I liked when I first saw it on HBO years ago, but haven’t watched in a good deal of time, so I decided to revisit it. The film is a modernized version of the Charles Dickens classic. “A Christmas Carol,” which was first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843. BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) portrays the cold hearted Frank Cross. He is the modern day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. In the film, his character, is a television executive at IBC Television, in charge of overseeing an ambitious live Christmas Eve airing of a “A Christmas Carol.” Cross is reminded of the importance of the production going off without a flaw by IBC Television’s Chief Executive Officer, Preston Rhinelander, a small role played by Golden Globe winner Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter). Rhinelander has lost confidence in Cross and has brought in Brice Cummings, played by five time Emmy nominee John Glover (Smallville), to oversee his progress.

Cross fearing for his job, begins to act like a tyrant on set. The viewer will not need long to ascertain, that Cross is someone, who is not imbued with the holiday spirit; he is truly interested in profit over people, making work the focal point of his existence. In the original Dickens story, Scrooge detested Christmas because it meant he lost income, conversely, Cross is as happy as a man like he can be, because he uses the holiday as a means of maximizing his bottom line. Amongst numerous mean spirited acts the viewer sees Cross commit: For disagreeing with him, he fires his timid employee, Eliot Loudermilk, played by ‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait (Maron); turns his back on Claire Phillips, the woman who loves him, portrayed by Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), because she’s interested in helping the homeless, something he feels is a waste of time; and encourages his employees to up the violence factor to an outlandish degree in the promotional material for the beloved holiday classic.

During the film’s 101 minute runtime, in sticking with the structure of the Dickens story, Cross is first visited during the evening by his zombified, former mentor and business partner, Lew Hayward, portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner John Forsythe (Dynasty). Hayward, in the guise of Jacob Marley, informs Cross that he will be visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve, and indeed he is. Cross is visited by the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ played by David Johansen, the former lead singer of the “New York Dolls,” and the critically acclaimed “David Johansen Group.” Johansen, however, is perhaps best known, under the name Buster Poindexter for his hit song “Hot  Hot Hot.” In the film, Johansen’s version of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past’ is a cigar smoking, cab driver, whose magical checkered cab transports Cross back to 1955. In the role of the pink dress wearing, feisty and borderline insane, ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present’ is two time Emmy winner Carol Kane (Taxi); and the part of the ‘The Ghost of Christmas Future,’ whose face takes the shape of a television set, is acted by Chaz Conner (Meet the Hollowheads). The three ghosts combine in a more comedic manner, albeit cynical, to show Cross what a truly despicable person he’s turned into, and what a miserable existence he is living. Furthermore, they impart to him how his choices have negatively affected the people in his life, both past and present. For example, his current secretary, Grace Cooley, portrayed by Golden Globe and four time Emmy winner Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers’ Boys), is a single mother, taking care of her son, Calvin (Nicholas Phillips), who has never uttered a word. Cross learns via the ghost, that his task master mentality toward Grace, keeps her away from her special needs son. He also sees, however, that the little time they do spend together, there is more love and happiness that takes place between mother and son, than Cross has experienced himself in a long time.

Does Frank Cross learn from the errors of his ways? Will he have the same epiphany that all of the Ebenezer Scrooges have had throughout the stories recreations in various television, stage, and film productions? Could the film go in a different direction? Is it too late for Cross? Has he become so immersed in his quest for money and power that there is no turning back? All of the questions will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“Scrooged” was directed by Richard Donner (Superman), and written for the screen by Emmy nominee Mitch Glazer (Magic City) and two time Emmy winner Michael o’ Donoghue (Saturday Night Live). The film premiered in Los Angeles, California on November 17, 1988. The score by two time Emmy winner Danny Elfman (Milk) helps to set the mood for what transpires on screen. Trivia buffs take note: Bill Murray has three brothers, Brian, Joel and John; all three of them appeared in the film. During one scene in the movie, Murray insults a group of street musicians, two of whom are played by four time Emmy nominee Paul Shaffer (A Very Murray Christmas), and Grammy award winner Miles Davis (Elevator to the Gallows). Comedian Sam Kinison was originally cast to play the part of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past.’

I am glad I decided to re-watch “Scrooged.” I didn’t feel it necessary to get into an overabundance of specific plot points in this review. I’ll assume, which in general, I don’t like to do, but in this instance, I’ll assume most of you who are reading this post are familiar with the Dickens classic. For those of you who perhaps haven’t experienced “A Christmas Carol” yet, I recommend reading the story, and then watching the iconic 1951 film version starring BAFTA nominee Alastair Sim (Stage Fright), or my personal favorite of the different versions, the 1984 television movie starring Oscar winner George C. Scott (Patton).

 

 

 

 

 

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