“Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds”

“Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds,” published by Del Rey on February 5, 2019, became the first official novel connected to the Netflix series. Written by bestselling author Gwenda Bond, the novel is a prequel to what has been shown to viewers, so far, during the first two seasons of the series. The third season of “Stranger Things,” is set to premiere on July 4, 2019.

The story begins in 1969.  From the outset, it imparts to the reader, the back story of what took place during the initial stages of a secret government project known as MKUltra. The experiments that take place as part of MKUltra, are conducted by the enigmatic Dr. Martin Brenner, at the Hawkins National Laboratory, in Indiana. Brenner, who features prominently in the novel, is played in the series by Golden Globe winner Matthew Modine (Short Cuts).

At the start of the story, Brenner arrives for the first time at the laboratory, but he is not alone. Accompanying him, is Eight; her real name, as fans of the series well know, is Kali, an older version of whom, was played by Linnea Berthelsen during three episodes of season two of the series. Kali, is one of Brenner’s first test subjects, a child who shows exceptional potential in unlocking parts of the human brain that remain dormant in most people. Throughout the book, fans of the series will immediately recognize familiar forms of experimentation used by Brenner to achieve his goals. For example, the use of the sensory deprivation tank.

In the novel, sharing equal importance with Brenner, is Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, who appeared in six episodes during the first and second seasons of “Stranger Things,” and was portrayed by Aimee Mullins (Devs). Terry is a student, attending classes at Bloomington College. The reader soon learns, that Terry’s parents died in an accident, leaving her and her sister, Becky, to rely upon one another. In addition to Becky’s caring and support, and the friendship of her roommate Stacey, Terry takes the most comfort in Andrew, her boyfriend, whom she very much loves. Stacey, however, in essence, turns out to be the catalyst, which puts Terry on a path, that will alter the rest of her life.

As it turns out, Terry, might have been able to avoid the situation that befell her later in life, known to fans of the series. She was not initially part of Brenner’s experiments. She opted to take Stacey’s place, after Stacey, having undergone LSD testing, as a form of mind expansion, at the laboratory, refused to participate any further.

Bond’s novel focuses in on Terry’s participation in the experiments, but, she is not alone; joining her, are two other students who attend Bloomington. They are: Gloria a highly intelligent student, majoring in biology, who loves comic books, especially the X-Men; and Ken, who has psychic abilities, but is more often than not, hesitant to use them. Furthermore, there is Alice, a girl who doesn’t attend Bloomington with the other three. Instead, she works at her uncle’s auto garage, and is very talented when it comes to building, and, or, in some cases, taking apart machines.

Terry will soon come to regret her decision to become a test subject for Brenner’s experiments, but rather than refuse to cooperate any further, she decides to fight him from within. The novel describes, how she and her group of friends, attempt to sabotage Brenner’s work, and rescue Kali from his grasp. But Dr Brenner is also determined to get his way, and will stop at nothing, to thwart the plans of those who are trying to ruin the work being done at the lab. Brenner’s motivations, however, are not for the reasons a reader might initially think.

Fans familiar with the show will learn about the first foray into The Upside Down, as well as the initial appearance of the Demogorgon. Time travel, something not yet shown during the series, also has its place in the novel. The war in Vietnam, the protests against the war, the Woodstock music festival, and the moon landing, are all part of the backdrop of the overall story taking place.

I thought perhaps the novel would be a bit of a letdown, because like millions of others who watch “Stranger Things,” I knew before reading it, what had become of Terry, in the future, but it wasn’t a letdown. There were enough twists, as well as the imparting of new information, which helped to bolster what I already knew from watching the series. For example, learning more about Eleven’s father, was something, that has, as of the first two seasons, not been discussed on the show. While it is not necessary to be a fan of “Stranger Things” to read Bond’s novel, I think, because of familiar characters and certain information that is revealed, that it will be enjoyed more by those who are fans of the series.

                                                

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“Life After Flash”

The documentary “Life After Flash,” written and directed by Lisa Downs (The Hunt Is Over), is in essence several films in one. Firstly, it concerns itself with actor Sam J. Jones (Ted), the star of the 1980, action, adventure and Sci-Fi film “Flash Gordon” directed by Mike Hodges, and the trajectory his career took after filming ended. Secondly, it is a behind the scenes look, at the making of a film, which has achieved cult classic status. Downs includes commentary by many of the people who were involved in the “Flash Gordon” film both in front of, and behind the camera. For example, those who participated in the documentary include, but are not limited to: two time Golden Globe winner Topol (Fiddler on the Roof); veteran character actor Brian Blessed, (Star Wars: Episode 1 –  The Phantom Menace); and Melody Anderson (All My Children), who played Dale Arden, Flash Gordon’s love interest in the film. Noticeably absent, however, from the documentary, were two time Oscar nominee Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), who portrayed Flash Gordon’s nemesis, Emperor Ming, in the 1980 film; as well as Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights), in the role of Prince Barin, an enemy turned friend, who eventually teams up with Flash to fight Ming. Furthermore, the documentary also explores the film’s loyal fandom, and features some people who continue to stay enthralled with a film that, although originally thought of as the first part of a trilogy, never went past the initial installment. (As an aside: One of the  aspects of the “Flash Gordon” film, that has been mentioned over the years as a positive, is the soundtrack by Queen. The first time Freddie Mercury belts out the name ‘Flash,’ in the opening theme song, and throughout the rest of the film, Queen’s music is featured, and synchs up perfectly with what is transpiring on screen. Queen guitarist Brian May adds commentary during the documentary, as to the band’s participation in the film, and shares some amusing stories).   

Prior to “Flash Gordon,” Jones was an unknown actor with one credit to his name, a small role in Oscar winner Blake Edwards film “10.” When Oscar winner Dino De Laurentiis (La strada) offered Jones the lead role in “Flash Gordon,” Jones viewed it as the part that would make him a star. De Laurentiis had one vision for the film, Jones had another, and the two would clash on set as to how things should be done. Unfortunately for Jones, he listened to advisors who told him, that without his direct involvement in the film it would be a flop, and that De Laurentiis wouldn’t put a film, he had sunk such an inordinate amount of money into in jeopardy by firing Jones. As it turned out, De Laurentiis, went ahead without Jones, using his stand-in for re-shoots, as well as another actor to dub his voice.

In addition to poor advice from his representatives, Jones could have also blamed real life factors on his behavior, such as his father being an alcoholic, or the death of his older brother. Jones, however, to his credit, doesn’t blame either of those parts of his life for his actions. Instead, he discusses, during the film, what exactly he did wrong, and he takes full responsibility for his shortcomings. In addition to his “Flash Gorden” co-stars, Jones’ family and friends offer their perspectives on how Jones has changed and matured over time, since his days as a hard-partying, guy, who didn’t care much for rules and responsibility.

“Life After Flash,” premiered on October 2, 2017 in the UK. Throughout its 94 minute runtime, along with the commentary, Downs includes behind the scenes footage, as well as original television clips promoting the “Flash Gordon” film. I am keeping this post brief, because I don’t want to get into specific stories from those who commented during the documentary, I feel it would give too much away, for those of you who might be interested in seeing the film.

While I enjoyed “Life After Flash,because I remember watching “Flash Gordon” on HBO as a child, where, at that time, it seemed to me like it was on every other day, I don’t think a viewer necessarily has to be a fan of the “Flash Gordon” film. In addition to Jones’ story, which is not so much about redemption as it is about coming full circle and learning from past mistakes, there is enough trivia to be learned, as well as entertaining stories told throughout, which should satisfy most viewers.

 

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“Captain Marvel”

For the past six years, Carol Danvers, portrayed in the film “Captain Marvel” by Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room), has been residing on the alien planet Hala. As the viewer will soon learn, Hala is the home planet of the Kree race. Danvers is a member of the Kree Starforce, which is a contingent of elite warriors; as a member of the team, Danvers is referred to by the name of Vers. She is part alien and part human, and possesses, among other powers, phenomenal strength and the ability to fly. She has been living with the Kree on Hala, and has been training, and continues to train with her warrior mentor, Commander Yon-Rogg, played by BAFTA winner Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley). Unfortunately for Vers, she has no recollection of anything she did prior to living on Hala. She suffers from post-traumatic stress and receives fragmented pieces of a past she can’t make logical sense of. The condition, understandably, leaves her with a yearning to know, not only who she is, but where she comes from, as well as, how that information could have an impact on her future. (As an aside: Captain Marvel, the twenty-first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe of films, is the first to feature a stand-alone story of a female character).

Toward the beginning of the film, there is an attack on the Kree planet by the shape-shifting Skrull, who are the mortal enemies of the Kree. The Skrull are led by Talos, acted by Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline). During the mayhem, Vers crash lands on Earth, in the mid-1990s, however, she is not out of danger, because not far off, on her trail are the enemy Skrull. Not long after crashing through, of all places, a Blockbuster video store, Vers is picked up by characters familiar to fans of the MCU films, Nick Fury and Phil Coulson. During the time this film takes place, Fury, played by BAFTA winner Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), is not the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., as he has been known throughout numerous MCU films. Fury is a regular agent, who is sans his eye-patch and leather jacket, and is dressed in professional garb. An additional change regarding Fury’s character, that viewers will note, is that they will get a chance to see a more humorous side to the agent, as opposed to the gruff, all business persona he has been known for in the other MCU films he has appeared in. Furthermore, since this story takes place in the past, thanks to digital de-ageing technology, Jackson’s character appears decades younger than his actual age. The same is done with Fury’s fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). In addition to the aforementioned characters, included, but not limited to, are, Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), an air force pilot and mother to Monica (Akira Akbar), who was Danvers’ former best friend, prior to the accident that led her to be living on Hala.

Vers  purpose, while on Earth, is to find a special engine that was created by her mysterious former mentor, Dr. Wendy Lawson, portrayed by two-time Golden Globe winner Annette Bening (Being Julia). Vers needs to locate both the machine and its creator before the Skrull do, or the consequences for the Kree could be disastrous. The more Vers researches her past, the more she learns about the life she once led on Earth, which includes, amongst other things, her relationship to Dr. Lawson, and the work Lawson was and is doing. Vers also investigates the real story behind the conflict that exists between the Kree and the Skrull. During this time, she begins to realize that not everything may be as it appears.

An aspect of the film that I did like, is that, in one respect, to a degree, it changed the formula that was used in its predecessors, as it relates to its origin story. In most films that feature super heroes, the individual, who becomes a hero, starts out rather ordinary, and over time, through a variety of different means, garners the knowledge and the abilities that separate them from the vast majority of humanity. In “Captain Marvel,” however, Vers is already aware of her abilities. What she seeks is, not to find out how to harness her powers, or for someone to teach her how to handle her new found abilities, but instead – the answers regarding her past. Does she find those answers? I’ll let those of you who want to watch the film find out for yourself.

“Captain Marvel” was directed by Anna Boden (Billions) and Ryan Fleck (It’s Kind of a Funny Story). Boden and Fleck also contributed to the writing of the screenplay, along with Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider) based on a story created by the aforementioned three, who also collaborated on the story with Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Oscar nominee Meg LeFauve (Inside Out). The film premiered in London on February 27, 2019. The negative reviews and unflattering commentary put out by some individuals on social media prior to the film’s release, certainly did nothing to diminish its box office. As of the writing of this post, the film has grossed over $330,000,000 dollars.

All in all, I enjoyed “Captain Marvel. I thought it was, for the most part, a fun and entertaining film, and that’s exactly what I expected it to be before I watched it, so I was pleased that it didn’t disappoint. In addition, while I certainly didn’t think that “Captain Marvel” was the best or the most praise-worthy entry amongst the MCU film offerings, it was far from the worst. I think the character has great potential for growth, and I look forward to see where Captain Marvel is taken in future installments of the series, along with her inclusion in other MCU films.

 

 

 

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“Into the Black Nowhere – A Tension Filled and Well Paced Thriller”

Late at night, Shana Kerber hears her baby crying. Like any good mother, she gets out of bed to comfort the child. She thinks nothing of it. The baby has cried before, and it will cry again, that is just life; therefore, sensing no danger, and why should she, Shana leaves her shotgun, which is situated under her bed in her bedroom, right where it is. When Shana locates her baby, she is not in her room in her crib, where she should be, but is on the sofa in the living room, in the arms of an unwelcomed stranger. Unbeknownst to Shana, she is about to become the fifth woman to be abducted by the stranger in the past six-months. The only silver lining in Shana’s waking nightmare, is that her abductor leaves the baby unharmed.

Rookie, FBI agent, Caitlin Hendrix, has uprooted her life from California, and now resides in Virginia, where she works in the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico. She maintain, as best she can, a long distance relationship, with Sean Rawlins, the man she loves, a single father, who works as a bomb specialist for the ATF. Her latest case, involves an unsub (unknown subject of a criminal investigation), who has been abducting women along the I-35 corridor in Southern Texas. One of the victims was taken from a movie theater, another from a  railroad crossing while her car waited for the train to pass, and the latest victim, the aforementioned, Shana Kerber. Time is of the essence, because the killer, at least as it has been so far determined, strikes on Saturday evenings, and the time period between abductions is decreasing, the more he alludes capture. This fact leaves Caitlin and the members of her team, Special Agent in Charge, profiler C.J. Emmerich, and seasoned agent, Brianne Rainey, little time to generate leads before the next victim is abducted.

The discovery of the bodies of two of the victims doesn’t take long, confirming what has been suspected, that the women being abducted, are not only taken for whatever gratification the killer gets from his time with them, but that they are ultimately being killed. The bodies are discovered in a wooded area. Both are dressed in bloodstained, white nightgowns, and each victim’s wrists have been slit, as if they had committed suicide; however, the wounds are not self-inflicted. Furthermore, placed near the bodies are Polaroid pictures, depicting the victims’ bodies posed, as referenced in the novel, as if they were Snow White, waiting for the prince to come kiss them and bring them back to life.

During the early stages of the investigation, a potential solid lead is called in to the agents by Lia Fox. She is convinced, based upon the information that has been released to the general public, that her ex-boyfriend from college, Aaron Gage, is the man responsible for the abductions. When his background is looked into, he does seem to be a good fit for the profile that the team has compiled regarding the unsub, but a serious problem arises when the agents pay him a visit in person. The lead, however, turns out not to be a dead end, because it points the agents in the direction of another individual. His name is Kyle Detrick. He’s a real estate broker, who comes across to those that he meets as charming, intelligent, and someone, who, from all outward appearances, is living a normal life; a man who is active in his church, volunteers at a suicide prevention hotline, and is involved in a loving relationship with a woman, and her child from a previous marriage. Caitlin, however, is convinced, from sheer gut instinct, that Detrick is the perpetrator, but with only circumstantial evidence to back up her feelings, he remains a free man.

The second half of the novel is a real page turner, as the game of cat and mouse between Caitlin and the FBI, and the killer intensifies. Caitlin, the determined agent, is inexorably pushing herself to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, in an effort to keep more innocent women from being killed. The more she attempts to bring the killer to justice, and the tactics she uses to get the killer to make a mistake, the more her own demons begin to eat away at her; thoughts and feelings she must keep in check if she is to be successful. Conversely, the killer, is seemingly always one step ahead, even when it appears he has been caught, captured, and on his way to being tried for the crimes for which he is accused. Luck seems to be on his side, as time and again, through a series of events, he evades being brought to justice.

The suspenseful “Into the Black Nowhere” written by bestselling author, Meg Gardiner, was published on January 30, 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group. The novel is the second installment in Gardiner’s Unsub series, the first novel titled “UNSUB”  was published on June 27, 2017 by Dutton, and, in brief, it concerns itself with a killer modeled after the never apprehended Zodiac Killer. Those of you who are turned off by graphic descriptions of gore, that are sometimes associated with books of this kind, need not worry. Gardiner, while providing detail-oriented, realistic prose as to the world she is writing about, never gets excessive in her descriptions, or includes gore just for the sake of shock value. She does, however, provide enough information, but never allows the reader to know ahead of time, who the killer is, or what they will do next, before the FBI agents learn the same information. She also leaves certain parts ambiguous until the latter part of the novel, providing interesting twists, to make the reader think that not all might be as it appears with the characters who populate her novel.

Like any good book I read, I had trouble putting “Into the Black Nowhere” down, wanting to read just a few more pages before going to bed, and of course, I paid for it the next morning, but it was worth it. I wasn’t familiar with Meg Gardiner until this novel, but I look forward to reading her earlier works, as well as the next, yet to be released novel in the Unsub series.

 

 

 

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“Overlord – An Intense Alternative View of History”

“Overlord” begins on June 6, 1944, mere hours before the invasion of Normandy, a region of France, located off of its northern coast. The battle, launched by The Western Allies, was the largest amphibious invasion in history, and was spearheaded by members of the American, U.K. and Canadian armed forces. This film, however, is not about the extraordinarily brave individuals, approximately 209,000 of whom were killed in the battle, fighting to end the oppressive stranglehold the Nazi Third Reich had on the European continent. Instead, it centers on a secret mission, the prime objective of which is to destroy a radio tower located on top of a castle in a French village, which provides communication between Berlin and the German army stationed on the beaches of Normandy. If the soldiers are successful, the destruction of the tower will help to provide protection for Allied air-support. (As an aside: Troops from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland, also risked their lives, and fought during the battle of Normandy to fight Nazi tyranny).   

The intense action that is featured during the 110 minute runtime of “Overlord”  doesn’t take long to escalate. The casualties, among the soldiers aboard the plane being flown into occupied France, to carry out the mission, are heavy. Those few who are left, after parachuting to relative safety, find one another while in-route to the village where the castle is located. Among the members of the small band of soldiers is the battle-tested, explosives expert, Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell). He is an individual who is not afraid to forgo proper procedure in order to accomplish the mission. Due to the soldiers’ former commanding officer, Rensin, played by Emmy nominee Bokeem Woodbine (Fargo), being killed, Ford is now the ostensible leader. In addition, included among the remaining soldiers is Private Boyce, portrayed by Jovan Adepo (Fences), a relative newcomer to the war effort. He is doing what his country asks of him, but is repulsed by the carnage; it is revealed to the viewer, that during basic training, Boyce couldn’t even bring himself to kill a mouse that was messing up the barracks. Also, there is the wise-cracking, expert marksman, Tibbet, played by John Magaro (The Umbrella Academy), as well as war photographer, Chase, acted by two-time BAFTA nominee Iain De Caestecker (Agents of Shield).

While the soldiers are making their way through the forest to the castle, they encounter Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a young, French woman. Boyce, who comes from Louisiana, and whose grandmother is Haitian, can speak French, and he is able to let the soldiers’ intentions be known to Chloe. She offers to help them by providing them with shelter at her house, where she lives with her eight-year old brother Paul (Gianny Taufer), and her ill aunt (Meg Foster). Unbeknownst to the soldiers, Chloe and her brother, are being kept from harm, by Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), the village’s commanding officer, who exchanges his protection for intimate evenings with Chloe. She agrees to his terms, because she doesn’t want Paul to be taken away, to be used in the medical experiments conducted by Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman).

As it turns out, the Nazis are guarding more than just a radio tower at the castle; something Boyce learns through a misadventure. Once he makes his way back to his fellow soldiers, and informs them of what is taking place, he insists that the mission be expanded. Surviving the destruction of their plane, navigating through heavily patrolled Nazi occupied France, and hiding out until they can reach the radio tower and destroy it, will be the least of the soldiers problems, during the second half of the film.

“Overlord” was directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun). The screenplay was written by Oscar nominee Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), based on Ray’s original story.  The film premiered on September 22, 2018 at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. The film is well-paced. It gives you an occasional minute or two to catch your breath from the action, but that doesn’t last long, before a new set of obstacles are placed in the protagonists’ path. The score composed by Jed Kurzel (The Babadook) synchs up perfectly with what is transpiring on screen. Furthermore, cinematographers BAFTA winner Laurie Rose (London Spy) and two-time Emmy nominee Fabian Wagner (Game of Thrones) capture both the mayhem and the quieter moments, in a realistic manner, but also avoided using an all somber color palette for the film. In closing, “Overlord” will not be for everyone; it gets gory in parts, and those who don’t like horror films, will want to skip it; however, for those of you who like well-executed horror, combined with action and adventure, this should be a worthwhile investment of your time.

 

                                                                                             

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“Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes”

“Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,”  is a new, four part, true-crime documentary series, which premiered on January 24, 2019. The date is significant, because it marked the thirtieth anniversary of the day, Bundy, who was 42 years old at the time, was executed in the electric chair at Florida State Prison in Raiford, which is located in Bradford County. At the center of the series, are portions of 100 hours of conversations that were recorded with the infamous, serial killer. The tapes are what set this series about Bundy apart from the other books, mini-series, movies, and documentaries that have been released about him. The main reason, is that the recorded conversations had not been previously released, however, the book, “Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer,” a New York Times best-seller, written by journalists, Hugh Aynesworth and Stephen G. Michaud, published in 1989, did impart a great deal of the information that Bundy speaks to in the conversations; both men appear in the documentary. (As an aside: In addition to being convicted for murder in Florida, Bundy also committed murder in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington).  

When Michaud was interviewing Bundy, while he was awaiting execution on death row, he was getting absolutely nowhere in terms of a confession from Bundy, who was adamant about his innocence. Initially, Bundy opted instead to talk about his idyllic childhood, which from all accounts, was anything but optimal; his excelling at school, which the records from the time period reflect that he was nothing more than an average student; and his fitting in with everyone, even though, while not a recluse, according to those who knew him, he was far from being a gregarious individual, who had an active social life. Of course, while that was all well and good for an opening, Michaud wasn’t getting what he needed for the book; meanwhile, Aynesworth, who was researching Bundy’s statements, and talking to his friends, and family, beginning with those who knew him in childhood, soon ascertained that most of what Bundy said, was contradictory to what life was like for the young Bundy prior to entering college.

Michaud came up with an idea of how he could get Bundy to talk about his crimes and motivations; rather than attempt to get Bundy to take responsibility, which he seemingly would not do, at least not at that moment in time, he asked Bundy, if he would speak in the third person. He wanted Bundy to speculate about the thoughts, feelings, and actions, of someone who would murder young women. Bundy didn’t hesitate. He began offering not only insight into the reason why someone would kill, and how they would seek out a potential victim, but what a killer might do afterward to prolong their vile fulfillment of their heinous deed. (As an aside: Days before his death, in order to buy himself some more time, Bundy began confessing his crimes, offering information regarding the whereabouts of buried bodies, in all, it is known that Bundy murdered at least 30 women, but the exact number is not, and may never be known).

Throughout the series, there is archival footage of Bundy’s Florida trial, which focuses in on the abhorrent crimes committed by Bundy against sisters of the Chi Omega sorority, which took place at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. On the evening of January 15, 1978, Bundy entered the Chi Omega sorority house; his actions while there resulted in the murders of Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy. Additionally, that same evening Bundy viciously attacked Karen Chandler, Kathy Kleiner and Cheryl Thomas. The trial made history by becoming the first televised trial in American history. During the trial, Bundy’s narcissism got in the way, by his insistence that he be allowed to be a member of his legal defense team, especially during the few times his lawyers perhaps could’ve garnered points with the jury, while cross examining certain witnesses, whose testimony was vague. The documentary features interviews with members of law enforcement that were involved in Bundy’s capture and multiple convictions, as well as members of Bundy’s legal team. Furthermore, it shows the media frenzy that followed Bundy wherever he went and reported on his every utterance. In addition, there is a portion of the documentary of an encounter with Bundy told by Carol DaRonch, who in 1974, was a teenager, living in Utah, when Bundy attempted to abduct her. DaRonch had gotten into Bundy’s car willingly, after he informed her, when she exited a shopping mall she had been at, that he was a police officer, and showed her an authentic badge to prove it. Bundy claimed that DaRonch’s car had been broken into, and he needed her to come to the station, in order to file a report. Within moments of getting into his car, DaRonch sensed something was very wrong, and it didn’t take long for her to be proven correct. How she escaped, her testimony at one of Bundy’s trials, and the lasting impact he has had on her life, is included in the recollections she speaks about in the documentary series. (As an aside: Even though he had already been convicted of murder, Carole Ann Boone, a woman who Bundy had met in 1974, said yes to his marriage proposal, when she testified on his behalf during the sentencing phase of his trial; the two would go on to have a daughter, Rose, while Bundy was awaiting execution).  

“Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” was directed by two time Emmy winner Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory). The documentary is not the only project Berlinger has dedicated time to regarding Bundy. The film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” premiered on January 26, 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie, directed by Berlinger, was written by Michael Werwie (Lost Girls), and stars Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) as Bundy, and Golden Globe nominee Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply), as Liz Kendall, who was Bundy’s girlfriend for seven years. For those of you who’ve been interested in true crime for a while, what is revealed about Bundy in “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,”  will more than likely, not be anything new. The draw, as stated previously, for this particular piece, centering on Bundy, is the recorded conversations he had with Stephen Michaud that had never before been made available to the public.

 

                                   

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“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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