“Discovery Channel’s Captivating Series Manhunt: Unabomber”

An airline mechanic who possesses low intelligence – for a time, that was the workable profile that was being used to track down, and end the reign of destruction, carried out by the domestic terrorist, known as the ‘Unabomber.’ In truth, Ted Kaczynski, was a mathematics prodigy, who skipped two grades in school, and, in 1958, at the age of 16, began attending Harvard University on an academic scholarship. Upon graduating in 1962, he attended the University of Michigan, where in 1967, he would earn his Ph.D. in mathematics. After graduation, he moved to California, and taught for two years as an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley. The two years Kaczynski taught at Berkeley were unsuccessful, so he left academics. He began to work with his brother, David, at a factory, where David was a supervisor, but he would eventually be fired for inappropriate behavior in the work place. Not long after, Kaczynski moved into a cabin, in the woods of Lincoln, Montana, where he would live for the next two decades. Three people would be killed, and twenty-three other individuals would be injured, between the years 1978 and 1995, when Kaczynski mailed his bombs to individuals associated with airlines and universities. The reasoning behind his madness, was Kaczynski’s protest of what he viewed as the impending dangers that would be caused by the continuous advancement of technology. In 1995, his brother, David, and sister-in-law, Linda, turned him in, after Kaczynski’s manifesto was published in the Washington Post; he was arrested by the FBI on April 3, 1996. Two years later, Kaczynski was sentenced to eight consecutive life sentences. He is currently incarcerated at The United States Penitentiary, ADX Florence, in Fremont County, Colorado. (As an aside: While at Harvard, Kaczynski underwent intense psychological experimentation, which is thought to have been a contributing factor for his actions).       

The eight-part, Discovery Channel’s Manhunt: Unabomber limited series, was not merely a biographical piece devoted to Ted Kaczynski, who was portrayed, and completely embodied by BAFTA nominee, Paul Bettany (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Instead, the interesting and suspenseful, crime drama, explores a fascinating matching of intellectual wits between the serial bomber, and FBI profiler, Jim ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, played by Sam Worthington (Avatar). Fitzgerald was a former Philadelphia police officer, who, while attending the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, demonstrated to his instructors that he had a great mind for profiling. Upon graduation, he is assigned to work for the FBI’s ‘Unabomber’ task force based in San Francisco, California. Fitzgerald would wind up becoming an integral part of the FBI  team that caught, captured, and brought Ted Kaczynski to justice.

From the start, Fitzgerald brought a fresh approach to the methods the FBI had been utilizing, such as psychological profiling and searching for physical forensic evidence from the bombs and packages, for example, fingerprints. Fitzgerald offers a new approach, the use of linguistic forensics, a mode that had not previously been considered. He worked tirelessly, but at almost every turn, at least at the start, his efforts were rebuked by his superiors: Don Ackerman, the Bay Area divisional head of the FBI, who supervised the Unabomber Task Force, played by two time, Golden Globe nominee, Chris Noth (The Good Wife); and FBI investigator, Stan Cole, portrayed by Jeremy Bobb (The Knick). Ackerman and Cole, wanted Fitzgerald to work off of the existing profile that had already been constructed. Ackerman was especially hesitant to approach his superior, Attorney General, Janet Reno, played by Emmy and Golden Globe winner, Jane Lynch (Glee), with any plans to utilize tactics that were outside the box of normal FBI procedure. When Ackerman finally acquiesces to one of Fitzgerald’s scenarios for capturing the Unabomber, it leads to one of the more action packed scenes in a series that is heavy on drama.

The series begins in the year 1997, as FBI agents are attempting to bring Fitzgerald, who has himself, after helping to capture the ‘Unabomber,’  resorted to an isolationist lifestyle in the wilderness. The reason his superiors need him, is because Kaczynski, will only talk to the man who was ultimately responsible for his being caught. Fitzgerald’s inexorable drive to capture the ‘Unabomber,’ knew no bounds, even when it came to the alienation of his family: his wife, Ellie, played by Emmy nominee, Elizabeth Reaser (Grey’s Anatomy); and sons, Dan (Michael Banks Repeta) and Sean (Will Murden). Fitzgerald had few friends amongst his co-workers, one of whom was, FBI Agent Tabby, portrayed by Oscar nominee, Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones), a street smart agent, who was willing to break the rules in order to help Fitzgerald, but once she was caught, he did nothing to help her. One of the few other people who cared about Fitzgerald was Natalie Rogers (Lynn Collins), a Stanford University, linguistics specialist, who assists him in deciphering the patterns in Kaczynski’s now infamous 35,000 page manifesto.

“Manhunt Unabomber” premiered on August 1, 2017. The well-executed series was created for The Discovery Channel by Andrew Sodroski (The Handmaid),  former FBI Special Agent Profiler and New York City Prosecutor, Jim Clemente, and Tony Gittelson (Awakenings). The series was, in essence, a captivating study of two men, that would go to any lengths in order to achieve their goals. As of the writing of this post, the series has now been made available for streaming on Netflix.

 

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“American Ripper Series Seeks To Solve History’s Greatest Cold Case”

Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor – Sir William Gull –   Dr. Thomas Neill Cream and George Chapman, both murderers, each with a history of wife killing – author, Lewis Carroll – avant-garde, painter, Walter Richard Sickert, and Lord Randolph Churchill, who was iconic British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s father, as well as a number of other men, have all been suspected of being the infamous, serial killer, Jack the Ripper. In addition to the aforementioned names, notorious serial killer, H.H. Holmes, born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861 in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, was added to the list of suspects by, of all people, his great-great grandson. The 315 page book “Bloodstains” published by EC Printing.com in 2011, was written by retired trial-lawyer, Jeff Mudgett. After learning of his familial connection to the killer, Mudgett has spent the past two decades attempting to prove that H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper, were one and the same man. Thanks to The History Channel’s, eight episode series, “American Ripper,” Mudgett was given a wealth of resources to do just that.

In brief, Jack the Ripper’s known murders occurred in London, England between August 31 and November 9 of 1888, during which time, five women were murdered with varying degrees of savagery. The women, in the order of their deaths, were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. I recently finished watching the eighth and final episode of “American Ripper,” which premiered on television in the United States and the UK on July 11, 2017. In the first episode, Jeff Mudgett, teams up with retired, CIA operative, Amaryllis Fox, who worked in counterterrorism, and wrote in-depth, psychological profiles during her time with the agency. Mudgett and Fox’s objectives were twofold: prove that Holmes could’ve committed the murders in England in 1888; and if that weren’t enough, discover whether he faked his own death on May 7, 1896, when he was executed by hanging at Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia.

The series is full of dramatic re-enactments of both the Ripper’s crime’s and Holme’s life in general, beginning with his childhood. When he was just a boy, Holmes began assisting the Gilmanton town doctor in dissecting corpses. Furthermore, during his formative years, it is suspected that Holmes killed his first victims, two of his own cousins, both of whom died by drowning; other mysterious deaths of children, according to historical records, took place during the time in which Holmes lived in Gilmanton, but there is no evidence definitively linking him to the deaths. After a short, unsuccessful teaching career, Holmes pursued a degree in medicine, and would graduate from the University of Michigan in 1884.

During the course of the series, as Mudgett and Fox piece together clues to solve an approximately 130 year old cold case, they speak with and utilize the services of, but not limited to, the following: Forensic technicians; hand writing experts; historians; and retired members of law enforcement with knowledge of historical police investigative procedures. As the series progresses, Fox – who admits, when Mudgett first approached her that she was very skeptical – is able to use her expertise to build psychological profiles of Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes, in order to compare and contrast their similarities and differences. What at first appeared to her on the surface of things to be radically different modus operandi, in not only the manner in which the two men selected and killed their victims, but also their motivations, begins to not be so cut and dry as she discovers that the two killers weren’t all that dissimilar.

In Illinois, in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood located on the southwest corner of 63rd and Wallace Street, now the site of a post-office, once stood, H.H. Holmes, murder castle. The building was built a little bit at a time, by different construction crews that Holmes would hire and fire, so that no one group of men knew the complete layout of the building. A hotel served as a front for the murder castle, and was at the height of its operation during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where guests, more often than not, single women, checked in, but were never seen or heard from again. Holmes disposed of victims in a variety of gruesome ways. He could gas them in their sleep, pumping poison into the vents from pipes he controlled in his office. He also enjoyed tricking and trapping victims. In their attempt to flee from him, they would encounter a confusing series of dead-end hallways; soundproof walls that would muffle their cries for help; doors that when opened, led nowhere, but instead were bricked up from the floor to ceiling. After Holmes killed his victim, he would dump the body down a chute that led directly to the basement of the building. The basement was where Holmes would carry out his ghastly work of disposing of the bodies. He often times, would make profits from his killings by harvesting organs, and selling intact skeletons to unsuspecting medical schools. Additionally, the killer-con man, would sometimes preserve the bodies, and collect on life insurance policies he had taken out in his victim’s name before murdering them.

While in prison, awaiting his execution, Holmes was paid $7500 – which would be worth the equivalent of approximately $206,000 dollars in today’s economy –  by the Hearst Corporation to pen his autobiography. Although speculated that Holmes killed upwards of two hundred people, he confessed to the murders of twenty-seven individuals, five of whom, were later found to be alive.

Jeff Mudgett, like many individuals before him, presents an interesting case as to why he believes he is right regarding the identity of Jack the Ripper. The following pieces of information that struck me, while I was watching the series, and made me lend more credence to Mudgett’s theory, as opposed to some of the truly, ‘out there’ nonsense I’ve read and heard regarding the ripper’s identity is as follows: H.H. Holmes was constantly embroiled in litigation due to his various schemes. He had a paper trial that started from the time he arrived in Chicago in 1886, and lasted until a few weeks before the ripper murder’s began in 1888, and then it suddenly stops, only to be picked up again, a few weeks after the ripper murders end. A passenger manifest from London to New York, a short time after the ripper murders come to end, shows that on board was an H.H. Holmes, also listed in the manifest, was one of the many aliases Holmes used when scheming. Holmes was an organ harvester who profited from his kills, and with the exception of Elizabeth Stride, different parts of the ripper victims’ anatomy were removed from their bodies, which leads me to the piece of information that really made me take note. Discovered amongst H.H. Holmes possessions, after his death, was a box of photographs. The pictures were of family members, friends, and there was one picture, not a newspaper clipping, but an actual picture of Jack the Ripper’s third victim, Elizabeth Stride. Why would Holmes have that picture? Did he know her? This post was meant to serve as an overview of what the series as a whole delves into. I had no interest in giving a breakdown of each individual episode, and what is learned because that would be a disservice to those of you who want to watch the series. In general, I found the series, as a whole, a compelling watch, which held my interest throughout all of the episodes.

 

                        

 

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“Death Note” (2017)

As a viewer, who had never read the highly regarded, Japanese manga series “Death Note” –  original title in Japanese,Desu nôto” –  written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only thing I did know about it from some articles I had read was that the film was based on the twelve-volume manga. A manga is a type of Japanese comic book and or graphic novel, which is read by individuals of all ages. The manga, “Death Note,” was published from December 1, 2003 until May 15, 2006. In addition, I learned that the Netflix film was not the first time the series has been brought to the screen; an anime of the work, consisting of 37 episodes, premiered on Japanese television on October 3, 2006 and ran until June 26, 2007. On October 11, 2006, a feature length film based on the manga premiered in Singapore. Furthermore, an 11 episode mini-series was released on July 5, 2015, as well as an update to the overall series, “Death Note: Light Up the New World” which premiered on October 29, 2016 in Japan. The main objection I had to the Netflix, live-action film adaptation of “Death Note,” and it is a glaring one, is that the majority of the characters, as well as the plot, are not developed well enough. I will, however, grant, that the film’s runtime of 101 minutes, considering the source material that preceded it, doesn’t help matters.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is an intelligent teenager, who for the most part, is ostracized from the rest of the students at his high school, in Seattle, Washington. He is, however, called upon for his intellectual prowess to complete homework and assignments for his peers, for which he is paid. The viewer will learn, after not much time has passed, that Light is coping with the loss of his mother. She was killed by a criminal, Antony Skomal (Artin John), a man, who thanks to his high powered attorneys, walked away from the crime without serving a day in prison. The fact that Skomal walked free, is a point of contention for Light between himself and his father, James, a police detective, portrayed by Shea Whigham (Kong: Skull Island).

At the start of the film, Light is sitting on the outside bleachers while cheerleading and football practice is taking place. An exchange of homework for money is made, but a moment later, a strange storm materializes out-of-nowhere. During the storm, a book falls from the sky. On the book’s cover are the words ‘Death Note.’ Taking a quick look at the book, Light sees that it contains lists of  names within its pages. In addition, there are specific rules that govern the book. For instance, the owner of the ‘Death Note’ need do nothing more than write someone’s name in the book, have a clear vision of the person’s face in their mind, and choose the manner in which they want that person to die. The rule, in, and of itself, sets up an interesting question: What would you do if all of a sudden you had the power to decide who lives and who dies?

While Light is serving a week’s detention, after the teacher leaves the room, it is torn apart by the arrival of a supernatural presence. Light will soon learn that the ‘Death Note’ book belongs to Ryuk, an apple eating, death god, voiced by two-time Oscar nominee, Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire). Ryuk can only been seen by the keeper of the ‘Death Note,’ and acts, at least at first, as a sort of guide for Light, regarding the numerous rules that govern the use of the book. I would have liked to have learned Ryuk’s back story, as well as his motivations for his actions, but none of that is explained. Defoe does a competent job voicing the character, but his role is, by and large, reduced to providing exposition to move the film from one scene to the next.

Light’s first use of the book is to take out Kenny, a school bully (Jack Ettlinger), who recently knocked Light out with one punch. While Light was resting at the school nurse’s office, Kenny got Light into further trouble, when other students’ papers were discovered among Light’s possessions; the reason why he was in detention. Light shares the power of the ‘Death Note’ with his love interest, cheerleader, Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley)  – a relationship that to me, as a viewer, came across as forced. At first, Mia thinks Light is pulling a gag on her, but after he demonstrates his new found power, the couple set their sights on targeting high powered individuals and organizations; crime and the criminals who perpetrate it, are starting to refrain from their activities. The film mentions, that a number of criminals, are turning themselves in to law enforcement, not wanting to become the next victim of Kira. Light and Mia use the pseudonym, Kira as a way to throw off law enforcement, by attempting to make people think that the assassin originated in Japan. The name Kira is a transliteration of the English word killer. While most are fooled, Lakeith Stanfield’s (Atlanta) eccentric, character ‘L’ is not. He is a Sherlock Holmes type of detective, who almost never sleeps, and eats large quantities of candy to keep his mind focused on the task at hand. The only time, he seems able to calm his mind enough to get a few hours of sleep, is if his protector, Watari (Paul Nakauchi), sings to him. L is not fooled by the Kira name, and begins to center his investigation in Seattle; it won’t take long before he begins putting together a list of suspects, one of which is Light. The ironic thing is that Light’s father, is one of the few in law enforcement who want to help L, as many others are feeling that Kira is making a real difference in the world by his actions.

Will L catch Light before he plays God one too many times? What will become of Mia if Light is caught? Would he give her up as his partner in killing? What about Light’s father, could he allow L to capture, imprison, and perhaps even kill his only son? Could Ryuk be persuaded to use his powers to save Light, or would he merely pass the book along to the next person? The answers to those questions and more will be provided by the film’s end.

“Death Note” was directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next). The screenplay for the film was adapted by Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, and Jeremy Slater. The film encompasses the genres of adventure, crime, drama, fantasy, horror, mystery, and thriller. Netflix released the film for worldwide streaming on August 25, 2017. The premise, when I first read about it sounded compelling, and by itself it is. The cast that was assembled to portray the characters is comprised of a talented group of actors, but due to the mediocre writing, and an overall lack of execution when it came to tension and drama, the cast didn’t have enough to work with. Based on its premise “Death Note” should have been an exciting and interesting film, to watch, but at least for me, didn’t deliver. In my opinion, it would have been better as an episodic series, where further character development and back story could have been delved into, as opposed to a standalone film.

 

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“History’s Mysteries: The Strange Case of Lizzie Borden”

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Not to be dismissive of the rhyme, but in the interest of accuracy, the facts of the case state, that Lizzie’s stepmother, Abby, 63, and her father, Andrew Borden, 70, were actually struck thirty times with a hatchet, not an axe. Of course, the number of blows received by the Bordens, eleven less than stated in the rhyme, doesn’t diminish for one moment, the heinous violence inflicted upon the couple. The horrific double homicide occurred on Thursday, August 4, 1892, in Fall River, Massachusetts, and took place inside of the Borden’s home, at 92 Second Street. Andrew Borden’s body was found on the couch in the sitting room, his face, for all intents and purposes, unrecognizable due to the amount of damage it had sustained. Abby’s body was found upstairs in the master bedroom, laying face down, in a pool of blood. (As an aside: The address of the Borden home was changed from 92 Second Street to 230 Second Street in 1896, after Lizzie, and her older sister, Emma Borden, moved into a Queen Anne Victorian mansion, that Lizzie named Maplecroft. Lizzie would live there until her death on June 1, 1927).

Within several days of Abby and Andrew Borden’s murder, thirty-two year old, Mission Chapel Sunday school teacher, Lizzie Borden, was accused and brought to trial for the crime; from the time of her arrest, until the end of the trial, she spent ten months in jail. The two main reasons Lizzie was singled out as the accused, is that she and the Borden’s housekeeper, were the only people at home when the murders took place. Additionally, it was a widely known fact around Fall River society, that Lizzie had a contentious relationship with Abby, and never regarded her as her mother.

The trial, held at the Bristol County Courthouse in New Bedford, Massachusetts, attracted national attention, and put the textile manufacturing town of Fall River on the map. In total, the trial lasted thirteen days; a minimal amount of time for a sensationalized case by today’s standards, but unheard of in 1892, when a trial for murder, perhaps would last a day or two. The length of the trial contrasted with the selection of the jury in the Borden case, which took a mere four hours. During the court proceedings, Lizzie didn’t testify, but did make a brief statement: “I am innocent, I leave it to my counsel to speak for me.” A sentiment that the twelve member, all male jury, agreed with, when after 90 minutes of deliberation, they returned with a not guilty verdict.

From certain things mentioned during the episode, it is not hard to fathom how a not guilty verdict was rendered. The prosecution’s case was built entirely on circumstantial evidence and hearsay. The one piece of physical evidence the prosecution claimed was destroyed by Lizzie, was a dress she burned, that they believed that she wore while committing the murders, and therefore was covered in blood. The police, however, never spotted the dress while searching the Borden’s house. Lizzie claimed during her inquest before trial, that she had burned the dress because it had been ruined by paint. Lizzie’s claim was backed up by her sister, Emma, who testified to it at trial, as well as by a house painter who Mr. Borden had hired, a man who had no familial connection to the defendant, who admitted under oath to accidentally spilling paint on Lizzie’s dress. In addition, Lizzie’s attorney, Andrew Jennings, was an experienced trial lawyer, and his co-counsel, George Robinson, was the former Governor of Massachusetts, and has been referred to by historians as an image maker. He allegedly told Lizzie exactly how to dress and act throughout the different phases of the trial. Assisting the lead prosecuting attorney Hosea Knowlton, was the ambitious and intelligent, but inexperienced, William Henry Moody; who, even though, at the time, he was the District Attorney of Essex County, Massachusetts, had up until the Borden trial, never tried a case for murder.

Did Lizzie Borden murder her father and stepmother? If she did, what was her motivation for carrying out the crime? The History’s Mysteries episode doesn’t offer any concrete proof on the subject, because as of the writing of this post, no iron clad evidence exists against any person or persons. The episode does, however, include an interesting overview of the history of the Borden family, as well as providing a number of theories that have been speculated upon as to Lizzie’s guilt or innocence, and the reasoning behind why she may have committed the murders. The theory I found the most fascinating pertains to a statement given by a retired nurse, Ruby Cameron.

Cameron had been Lizzie’s nurse in 1926, while Lizzie was convalescing after a gallbladder operation. In the January 2, 1985 edition of the local Ellsworth, Maine newspaper, “The Ellsworth American,” there was an article, in which Ruby Cameron, stated that Lizzie confessed to her as to exactly what happened the day of the murders. According to Cameron, Lizzie told her that her boyfriend, David Anthony, a man who Andrew Borden vehemently disapproved of, murdered Abby. Afterwards, he instructed Lizzie to go outside, and wait in the Borden family barn. He told her he would hide in the hallway closet, until Andrew returned home, at which time he would kill him. According to accounts, Ruby Cameron was not the sort of person prone to wild storytelling; people have stated that she conducted herself throughout her life in a dignified and responsible manner, and she showed no signs of senility while relaying the confession that she claims Lizzie told her.

The History’s Mysteries episode: “The Strange Case of Lizzie Borden,” presented by Arthur Kent, first aired in 2005 on the History Channel. The episode contains a number of photographs, including pictures of the crime scene and the murdered bodies. There is also video footage that shows the actual newspapers that were published in 1892, as well as the caricatures drawn by courtroom artists. Furthermore, commentary throughout the episode is provided by, but not limited to: The Curator of the Fall River Historical Society, Michael Martins; psychotherapist, Eva Stern; legal historian, Cara Robertson; and author, Roger Lane. The house where the Borden murders took place has been turned into a bed and breakfast, as well as a museum. The most requested room by overnight guests seeking a macabre thrill, is the upstairs bedroom where Abby was murdered. If you don’t have the time or interest to travel to Fall River, Massachusetts for a firsthand experience, there are a number of documentaries available on the subject on-line.

 

 

 

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“Logan – A Sad, Albeit Excellent Cinematic End To An Iconic Character”

The year is 2029, a world once populated with mutants, is now a vastly different place. There are few mutants left, and those that are, have become, for all intents and purposes, shells of their former selves. According to information imparted to the viewer, no new mutants have been born in twenty-five years. Logan, completely embodied by Golden Globe winner, Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), no longer embraces his Wolverine persona. The regenerative powers that once allowed him to heal at a rapid pace, have slowed down considerably, additionally, he needs to wear reading glasses. The aforementioned, coupled with the adamantium poisoning from the metal coursing through his bloodstream, as well as the length of his life, leaves the former fearless member of the X-Men, in bad shape. The irascible and grizzled Logan, now going by his birth name of James Howlett, spends his days earning a living as a limousine driver. In his spare time, he attempts to drink away his demons and the painful regrets from his past. He does, however, care for the aged and infirmed Charles Xavier, played in a vulnerable and often times witty manner by three time, Golden Globe nominee, Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation). The former head of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, has been suffering from violent seizures, that not only put himself at risk, but because of his exceptional mental powers, anyone in his proximity. (As an aside: In order to make his appearance more sickly, before filming began, Patrick Stewart deliberately lost over twenty-one pounds).

In order to quell Xavier’s seizures, Logan purchases illegal prescription drugs from crooked, hospital employees. In addition, he is keeping the professor hidden inside of a windowless structure at an abandoned smelting mill, south of the border. Assisting as best he can with Xavier’s care, is fellow mutant, the albino Caliban, a role acted by BAFTA and Emmy winner, Stephen Merchant (The Office). Logan is attempting to save enough money to buy a boat to take Xavier away from the prison type atmosphere he’s forced to keep him in, and live a life far out on the ocean. Complicating matters, is the arrival of Gabriela, a former nurse of a shadowy, scientific organization called Transigen, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, (Orange Is the New Black). Transigen is responsible for the elimination of the majority of the world’s mutant population, but also is creating new mutants, in the form of children, under the guise of research to help the human race, when in actuality, it is attempting to create more destructive weapons for military use.

Gabriela secretly filmed the experiments that Transigen had been conducting involving the young mutants. Along with the help of other employees, she helped to set the children free. One young girl, Laura, portrayed by Dafne Keen, in her feature film debut, is taken by Gabriela. Laura is known to X-Men fans as X-23, and has the same powers as Logan, as well as adamantium claws. Keen gives a strong willed, mostly silent performance as the young mutant.

Gabriela, seeks Wolverine out because she wants him to escort her and Laura to a place called Eden, where all of the mutant children are going to rendezvous before crossing the border into Canada. Logan is at first reluctant to take the job, but reconsiders when Gabriela offers him a substantial amount of money, which will get him much closer to being able to purchase the boat. Standing in the way of that plan is a man named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Pierce, along with a team of hired guns, is hunting Laura, and the other escaped mutant children, for Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the head of Transigen. Once Gabriela is murdered by Pierce and his cohorts, they come looking for Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura. The arrival of Pierce and his men, set up an action packed escape sequence that showcases, to the viewer, how powerful X-23 is, and why she is being hunted. (As an aside: Emmy nominee, Millie Bobby Brown who portrays Eleven on the Netflix hit series ‘Stranger Things’ auditioned for the role of X-23).

Can Logan successfully see to it that Laura finds her way to Eden? Does Eden even exist? Could Eden merely be the wishful thinking on the part of Gabriela, who saw the location in an X-Men comic book? If Eden is real are other mutant children there, or is Laura the lone survivor? Will Professor Xavier, in his diminished condition, be able to endure a journey fraught with danger? Does Logan have one last fight in him, or do the ravages of age and injury prove to be just too much? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

The gritty, nuanced, and at times poignant film Logan,” was directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted). The movie is the third solo Wolverine film, as well as the final installment featuring Hugh Jackman as the iconic character. Mangold conceived the story, drawing inspiration from Mark Millar’s graphic novel “Old Man Logan,” as well as a number of films, including, but not limited to “Shane” (1953), “Paper Moon” (1973), and “The Gauntlet” (1977). Mangold co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Oscar nominee, Scott Frank (Out of Sight), and Emmy nominee, Michael Green (Heroes). “Logan” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 17, 2017. Parts action, drama, sci-fi, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 137 minutes.

Those sitting down to watch the film for the first time, expecting or wanting to see epic CGI battles, will be disappointed. The film is more mature in its approach and tone, relying more on emotion and story, than special effects, however, it still maintains enough mayhem to satisfy those seeking visceral thrills. In my opinion, I feel this is the quintessential best of the Wolverine movies, which not only met, but exceeded my expectations.

 

 

 

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“In Search of The Angel of Death”

The movie “The Boys from Brazil” was directed by Oscar winner Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton). The compelling and riveting film premiered on October 5, 1978, in New York City, New York. Parts drama, sci-fi, and thriller, it has a runtime of 125 minutes. The movie was based on the novel of the same name, written by best-selling author, Ira Levin, who had his work adapted for the screen by Heywood Gould (Trial by Jury).  The film centers on a Machiavellian plan organized and implemented by Dr. Josef Mengele, who was a German SS officer and physician, stationed at Auschwitz concentration camp, who was dubbed the “The Angel of Death; ” a title that was appropriate, due to the atrocious experiments Mengele performed on innocent prisoners. He was particularly interested in operating on twins. To his warped way of thinking, he thought by doing so, he would be able to discover a way of tracing the origins of a wide array of genetic diseases.

The role of Mengele in the film is completely embodied by Oscar and Golden Globe winner, Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird). The project Mengele wants to see come to fruition, has taken millions of dollars, and two decades of work, and it involves the following scenario: Over a period of two years, ninety-four men, that worked as minor civil servants, have reached the age of sixty-five, and are married to women considerably younger, are to be assassinated. Mengele wants to replicate the conditions of Adolf Hitler’s life, in hopes that one of the children of the ninety-four, will grow up to become the next Hitler, and bring about the Fourth Reich. Attempting to prevent Mengele from realizing his dream, is Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman, portrayed by Oscar winner, Sir Laurence Olivier (Rebecca). The Lieberman character was based on Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal; a man, who at the conclusion of World War II, forgoes his formal training as an architect, and dedicates his life to bringing perpetrators of the Nazi genocide to justice. Wiesenthal founded and ran the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, Austria, and over the course of his lifetime, helped to aid in the capture and conviction, of approximately 1100 Nazi war criminals, chief among them, Adolf Eichmann, who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. While the “Boys From Brazil” is a work of fiction, the ‘In Search’ of episode “The Angel of Death,” presents the true story of Simon Wiesenthal’s three decade pursuit to apprehend, and have Mengele stand trial for the crimes he committed.

“World War II is not just a memory in the coastal mountains of Brazil. The date is April 22, 1978. The place a small hotel outside Rio de Janeiro. A noisy party at the ‘Hotel Tyll’ is broken up by police, who discover the people are celebrating something odd, the 89th anniversary of the birthday of Adolph Hitler. The raid resulted in the capture of a wanted Nazi named Gustav Wagner. The capture was made possible by Simon Wiesenthal, who is known as ‘the hunter, for he has brought more than 1100 Nazi criminals to justice.”

While the voice over narration that begins the episode is spoken, viewers are shown images of the hotel, party, and the wanted Nazi that was captured, as well as, video footage of Simon Wiesenthal. The episode premiered on February 1, 1979, and was one of the 144 episodes in the series, which ran from September of 1976 through March of 1982. Each of the series’ eclectic episodes, examined, among other subjects, the historical, mythical and supernatural. The episodes were hosted by Leonard Nimoy, (Star Trek), who also added the voice over narration to what was being shown on screen. The episode pertaining to the hunt for Mengele left me, as so many of the offerings of the show did, with questions that I was curious enough to look up on the internet after it concluded. In addition, I watched other shows that dealt with the subject of the hunt for Mengele, for example, an episode of “Nazi Fugitives,” that aired this past June, on the AHC channel.

During the episode, while Mengele’s crimes are addressed, it primarily concerns itself with his life post, World War II, which began, ten days, before the Russian Red Army liberated Auschwitz. Mengele, knowing that the Germans were on the verge of defeat, left the camp by way of his chauffeured car, which took him back to his hometown of Günzburg in Bavaria. The Mengele family, and the factory they owned, which produced farm equipment, was the largest employer in the town. As the camera shows footage of the town, Nimoy mentions that the ‘In Search’ of crew experienced outright hostility from its residents while trying to film, and no one from Günzburg speaks on camera. Afterward, the episode deals with Mengele’s life on the run outside of Germany.

Simon Wiesenthal, The National Intelligence Agency of Israel (The Mossad), and other governments, as well as freelance Nazi hunters, pursued Mengele across the continents of Africa, Europe, and South America. Time and again, the infamous war criminal proved to be, not only illusive, but lucky. In one instance, in 1964, at the Hotel Tirol, in Paraguay, he avoided capture by a group of Holocaust survivors by a mere ten minutes. According to sources, Mengele was tipped off, and fled in such a hurry, that all he had with him were the pajamas he was wearing. After the capture and execution of Adolf Eichmann, Mengele’s paranoia and desperation to avoid being brought to justice forced him to live in remote parts of the South American jungle. The areas, according to Nimoy, are places where few outsiders ever venture, and those that did go to try and hunt down Mengele, did so at great risk to themselves.

Speaking on camera during the episode are: Simon Wiesenthal; Dr. Ella Lingens, an Austrian woman, who because she saved Jews from the Nazi’s, was sent to Auschwitz, and forced to work in the hospital as one of Dr. Mengele’s assistants; Berndt von Staden, who was the West German Ambassador to the United States from 1973 until 1979, as well as a former minister of the embassy of Israel to the United States. Furthermore, the episode contains archival footage and reenactments that are shown to the viewer. The informative episode held my interest throughout its runtime. As of the writing of this post, it is available, in its entirety, on youtube.com. For those of you interested in World War II history, especially its aftermath, and the efforts made by those who sought to bring war criminals to justice, this is an episode which should hold your interest.

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“GLOW”

The Netflix series, “GLOW,” takes place in Los Angeles, California, in the mid 1980s. At the start, Alison Brie, (Community) who portrays Ruth Wilder, a determined and serious minded actress, is auditioning for yet another mediocre role; a part she winds up not getting. Frustrated, Ruth confronts Mallory, (Amy Farrington) the casting director, in, of all places, the ladies room, to find out why she has been called in to read on multiple occasions, but never gets a role in anything. Mallory informs Ruth, that she is the type of actress that directors say they have in mind when they’re seeking someone real, but after seeing her, they always change their minds. When Ruth returns home later that evening, there is a message from Mallory on her answering machine. The only information Ruth receives is that there is a casting call, one that Mallory herself is not running, that is seeking unconventional women; needless to say, Ruth is intrigued. The next day, when Ruth arrives at the audition, it is the opposite of what she expected. Instead of taking place at an office, Ruth finds herself in a rundown gym, sitting on bleachers, opposite a wrestling ring. As it turns out, the opportunity she is trying out for, is to be cast as a female wrestler on a show called GLOW, an acronym for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. (As an aside: The inspiration and the characters for Netflix’s GLOW, were taken from the women’s professional wrestling promotion, of the same name, which was founded in 1986 by David McLane. The wrestling show was filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada, and although it would survive in other incarnations, finished its television run in 1989.)

Marc Maron (Harvey Beaks) plays the character of washed-up, B-movie, writer and director, Sam Sylvia. It’s his job to cast the right ensemble, as well as script and direct the pilot episode of GLOW, in the hopes that it will get picked up by a network. His interest in the job extends beyond just monetary gain for himself. What he desires most of all, is to have Bash, (Chris Lowell) the executive producer, finance his next film. Firstly, however, he has to pick the ladies to make up the show’s cast. Ironically, it appears, at least at the outset, that Ruth might not be one of the ladies that makes the cast.

Despite her acting experience and strong work ethic, try as she may, Ruth has a difficult time impressing on Sam that she is the right fit for the show. Sam’s mindset doesn’t change until Betty Gilpin’s, (Nurse Jackie) character, former soap-opera actress, Debbie Eagan, who left her television career to raise her child, enters the gym. Debbie is incensed when she learns that Ruth, whom she considered a close friend, slept with her husband, Mark (Rich Sommer). Debbie gets into a confrontation with Ruth, and in front of everyone, slaps Ruth across the face, and proceeds to drag her around the ring. Sam witnesses the event, and his imagination goes into overdrive. He pictures Debbie as his production’s hero squaring off against Ruth, her evil nemesis, as the two women compete in a main event match, in front of a sold out audience that is soaking up every moment of the mayhem. While it takes some convincing on Sam’s part, he doesn’t give up until Debbie agrees to join the cast. Rules that apply to the other ladies, for example, all of them having to live together at the same motel, doesn’t apply to her.

The success of “GLOW, in addition to being credited to Brie, Gilpin, and Maron, is due in large part to its overall ensemble cast. The numerous characters they portray come from all different walks of life. For the sake of brevity, I will only mention some of them. There is the no-nonsense, professional stunt-woman, Cherry (Sydelle Noel), who Sam leans on to help get the ladies into wrestling shape. Carmen (Britney Young), wants to follow in the footsteps of her professional wrestling family members, her father, (Winston James Francis), and her brothers, who are played by real life wrestlers, Carlos Colón Jr. and George Murdoch. In addition, there is British singer-song writer Kate Nash, who plays Rhonda Richardson, as well as “American Idol” contestant Jackie Tohn, in the role of party-girl, Melanie. Lastly, playing Tameé, is Kia Stevens. She is a real life professional wrestler, known to fans as ‘Awesome Kong,’ ‘Amazing Kong,’ and ‘Kharma.’ There are other wrestlers who have cameos and small parts throughout season one that wrestling fans should recognize.

GLOW” was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. Premiering on Netflix on June 23, 2017, the series is an often times humorous and heartfelt show. In the interest of full disclosure, the show does, at times, delve into offensive stereotypes, that wouldn’t be welcomed or well-received on a current television show, but should be viewed in the context of the time period in which the series takes place. The ten episodes of the first season, were, overall, well written, and the members of the ensemble cast nailed their respective roles. The chemistry between Wilder and Eagan’s characters is enjoyable to watch, as they journey to become in-ring foes. Ruth playing the character of the villain, the American hating Russian, ‘Zoya the Destroyer,’ while Debbie, is her polar opposite, the all American good girl, dubbed ‘Liberty Belle.’ I don’t think a viewer has to be a fan of professional wrestling to enjoy the series, and I, for one, am interested to see where the creators will take season two.

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