Category - Fun Facts

“Queer Eye” is Television We Need Today

Since 2013, streaming service giant Netflix has released 141 forms of original television content ranging from docu-series (“Making a Murderer”) to comedy (“Orange is the New Black”) to crime (“Narcos”) to action (“Jessica Jones.”) Netflix also produces children’s content and exclusive movies, some of which have won Emmy’s (“13th”) based on their groundbreaking concepts. All of this is not bad for a company that opened its doors in 1997 with movie rentals.

Now while this endless sea of great programming and opportunities for viewing is great and all, it’s easy for viewers to get lost or feel unsure about what to watch. But among it all is the lighthearted, family friendly “Queer Eye” that stands above the rest.

A modern riff on the Carson Kressley and Ted Allen starring Bravo series, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the show focuses on transforming everyday people into more confident visions of themselves. Whereas the original series heavily relied on physical makeovers and superficiality to make their point, this new batch of fresh-faced, all-knowing gay men offer a lot more to the table.

The five elements of a “Queer Eye” transformation includes fashion, culture, design, grooming, and food and wine handled by Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness, and Antoni Porowski respectively.

Tan France, an English Pakistani Muslim, studied fashion at Doncaster College in South Yorkshire, London and founded his own clothing line in 2011. His knowledge of style lends a helpful gaze to the guys in the direction of what not to wear. France is the most reasonable of the bunch and his levelheadedness keeps the whole crew above water.

The team’s designated culture guru is Karamo Brown, who has quite an eclectic resume. A practicing psychotherapist, Brown’s past ranges from co-founding educational HIV organization 6in10.org, producing video content for The Huffington Post, appearing in the 15th season of MTV’s reality show “The Real World” in 2004 as an openly gay person of color, and even being an extra in 2001’s “The Princess Diaries” behind Anne Hathaway. Brown is the guy with the best advice and the biggest heart, offering important tidbits to all the guys undergoing transformations from the inside out.

Small town born and raised interior designer Bobby Berk started his career when he moved to New York City in 2003 with only $100 to his name and found work at a home furnishing store. He worked his way up the corporate ladder to become creative director of furniture brand Portico before founding his own high end interior design store, Bobby Berk Home. His store has since grown from an online retailer to having retail stores in New York, Miami and Georgia. While Berk may be the quietest in the group, that’s only because he’s with four other crazy queer queens.

Fan favorite Jonathan Van Ness started in Los Angeles as a personal assistant at a hair salon after flunking out of college because he would regularly skip class to watch “The Golden Girls” reruns. He was the first male cheerleader at his high school and from his work at Sally Hershberger Salon got him started producing content for Funny or Die in the form of sketch comedy series “Gay of Thrones” which parodied “Game of Thrones.” He has also been hosting his own podcast since 2015 and still works at a salon in L.A. It’s Van Ness that provides the show with the spunk and the sass that has infiltrated popular culture, it’s him that’s to thank for all the gloriously gay GIFs and hysterical one-liners.

Canadian heart throb Antoni Porowski was the personal chef to one of the original “Queer Eye” guys, Ted Allen, and is a self-taught cook inspired by his grandmother. He is also a model and actor, having appeared in six movies plus an upcoming role in Josh Boone’s (“The Fault in Our Stars”) new film set for a 2019 release. Porowski is in the middle of writing his own cookbook and opening his own restaurant in New York City. He’s the eye candy of the group and constantly has “Queer Eye” fans drooling over his thirst-trapping Instagram posts.

This spectacular group of guys brings a cheery ease, a breath of fresh air to the series from the 2000s. The original series’ New York City location was swapped out for Atlanta in this reboot, offering a Southern kick of wide-ranging personalities and spice.

Much different than its predecessor, “Queer Eye” spends more time creating naturally pure moments of inward reinvention and less time creating a spectacle. The journey is spiritual in a way, bringing the viewer along as this new Fab 5 share tips and tricks on how to improve the quality of life through simple self-care. Viewers have grown to love the Fab 5 because of their honesty and good intentions, focusing more on inward beauty than a drastic, outward change. The guys spend less one-on-one time with the men they’re transforming and instead, work as cohesive group to make sure all things just keep getting better.

With a fresh new cast, location, and direction, “Queer Eye” contributes wonders to Netflix and proves the impact of the streaming service’s ability to change lives. It’s like a pseudo-self-help show and audiences worldwide can’t help but become engrossed in the boisterous shenanigans of these five gay men looking to make the world a better place, one “Yas queen!” at a time.

We need “Queer Eye” in 2018 because we need change. Rather than rolling up in the fetal position and giving in to the societal pressures and political collapse of democracy, we need more loud, vocal, proud gay people in the public eye to let their existence be known. The era of hiding is over, and queer visibility is demanded before it’s too late. By coming out of the closet and prancing into the spotlight, queer individuals like the Fab 5 of “Queer Eye” are proving that America needs to be made gay again.

“Queer Eye” seasons one and two are available for streaming now on Netflix.

6 Music Videos That Are Also Fine Short Films

While music videos typically are released to garner attention and radio play for a singer’s newest single, they can also be a platform for cinematic, movie theater experiences. Occasionally, some singers and artists go above and beyond when shooting their music videos to craft theatrical experiences for public consumption. These are singers who used their music videos as an art piece or piece of cinema for the viewer to enjoy whether on their laptop or on the big screen.

 

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson

This one is a given. Arguably the most famous music video of all time, this 14-minute masterpiece blends cheesy 80s horror movie tropes with the biggest pop star of the time. The video was so successful that it was the first and only music video ever to be preserved by the Library of Congress in their National Film Registry in 2009 due to it being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically” significant. “Thriller” enlists “An American Werewolf in London” makeup artist Rick Baker and director John Landis, as well as a spoken word monologue from horror film legend Vincent Price and model Ola Ray playing Jackson’s girlfriend.

 

“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga

While it may seem controversial to list Lady Gaga directly under Michael Jackson, Gaga has proven herself to be a maven for the short film music video. Through elaborate set designs and high fashion ensembles, she proves she is much more than an ordinary pop star mouthing the words on screen in typical music video fashion. Lady Gaga goes above and beyond to make her videos visual-rich visions of glamour and real-life struggles. Through “Marry the Night,” Lady Gaga takes us into her past which is ridden with rape, bulimia, and musical failures. We watch as she is dropped from her record label and spirals into oblivion, only to rebuild herself and paint on a smile to keep fighting to make her dreams a reality. Gaga’s honesty and openness when it comes to her harrowing past and mental health is not only applaudable, but also is delivered on screen in beautifully painful detail. Despite being known for her larger than life antics and flamboyant fashion throughout the years, Gaga is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to commitment to her art and her fans.

 

“All is Full of Love” by Björk

Icelandic sweetheart Björk silenced the world with her breathtaking music video for 1999’s “All is Full of Love” from her third studio album. The video, directed by Chris Cunningham, sees two robots being created by machines and then copulating softly as Björk’s voice whisper sings. Following her 2015 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the music video and its real robots were added to the museum’s permanent collection. Not only was the video groundbreaking at the time for its advanced use of computer animation, it also serves as an example of when a music video transcends into art.

 

“Borders” by M.I.A.

Sri Lankan singer and rapper M.I.A. is known for taking a stand, so it should come as no surprise when she released her music video for her song “Borders” in 2016 which takes a shocking look at refugee crisis. In the video, shot in India, M.I.A. stands in crowds of refugees and sings lines like “Borders, what’s up with that? Your privilege, what’s up with that?” The song and its accompanying video are harsh criticisms of 2015’s European migrant crisis which saw refugees forced out of their homes with nowhere to go. All the hundreds of men in the video are actual refugees who live in tents since their displacement post-immigration. “Borders” humanizes the immigrants so often covered in the media, and by M.I.A. directing hordes of them hanging onto a huge fence at the border, it’s a chilling image of reality for many immigrants who are forcefully relocated yet barred from equal opportunities. Towards the end of the video, M.I.A. wears a t-shirt riffing on popular football club Fly Emirates with the words “Fly Pirates,” giving a pro-immigration stance.

 

“Haunted” by Beyoncé

As part of Beyoncé’s first visual album release, “Haunted” sees the legend walking down the hallways of an eerie hotel filled with sadism, horror, sex, sin and the occult. The singer, dressed in menswear with a short curled, 1920s haircut, indulges in the debauchery herself and dances in one room scantily clad and surrounded by dancers. Artistic videos like these prove her genius and provide stunning backdrops for her talented vocals.

 

“Ride” by Lana Del Rey

Here’s a video that’s so cinematic that it actually premiered in movie theaters. This ten-minute short sees Lana del Rey roam the desert like a nomad with cutoff denim shorts on the back of a motorcycle. Del Rey begins as a prostitute, romantically linking up with various brawny bikers during her hitchhiking adventure but soon runs away from home to live her life on the open road. She lives in motels, sings in bars and sells herself on street corners until one night a love affair turns sour turns Del Rey into a killer. She declares at the end, “I am crazy, but I am free.”

 

Did You Known Whitney Houston Produced 5 Disney Movies?

Unbeknownst to many, famed R&B singer and actress Whitney Houston had a lot to do with some of the production of Disney’s finest live action original movies.

In 1997 Houston played Fairy Godmother to Brandy in the Emmy winning TV musical “Rodger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” a joint collaboration between Walt Disney Television and Houston’s own company BrownHouse. Houston signed on to the film in the nineties and recommended singer Brandy for the role of Cinderella. Houston expressed to her, “I’m already 33 years old, I want you to play Cinderella [as] someone with a lot more energy than me.” Brandy agreed only if Houston were to play a role because she idolized her from a young age.

Houston was insistent that Brandy be the lead, because she believed the role was perfect for a woman of color in modern age. Whitney went on to sing five songs in the film, two a duet with Brandy, 18 years old at the time.

But what you didn’t know is about her role in “The Cheetah Girls” series with Raven-Symoné and “The Princess Diaries” with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews.

“The Cheetah Girls” was a Disney Channel original movie that premiered in 2003 and chronicled the formation of four friends into popstar girl group. The film was Disney’s most watched original television film and helped launch the careers of Symoné (“That’s so Raven”) and Adrienne Bailon (“The Real”). Its soundtrack went double platinum and spawned two sequel movies.

Netflix also tweeted earlier this week of Houston’s role in “The Princess Diaries” after it recently acquired its rights for streaming on its platform.

 

“You know what, every little girl is going to love trying to be a princess,” Houston said on set getting lunch with Hathaway, the film’s leading lady.

Watch a clip of Houston singing to “Princess Diaries” director Garry Marshall (“Happy Days,” “Pretty Woman”) on set of the movie below.

The Most Amazing Movie Never Made: 1975’s “Dune”

Before David Lynch’s box office bust adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” in 1984, there was 1975’s star-studded, 14-hour version directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. After director Stanley Kubrick found huge success with his sci-fi flick “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s no surprise that Hollywood went into a scramble to pitch and produce the next big intergalactic hit.

Originally intended to be produced by Arthur P. Jacobs (the original “Planet of the Apes” franchise), he passed away after attaining the book’s rights for film development. His role was passed to producer Michel Seydoux and filling the directorial role was Jodorowsky, known for his trippy, surreal, saturated style evident in his fantasy films “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” the latter of which the Beatles loved.

The proposed dream team for Jodorowsky’s epic vision consisted of visual artists Chris Foss, H. R. Giger, Moebius – who all went on to design the spaceships, special effects, and concept designs for “Alien” respectively – and visual effects supervisor Dan O’Bannon (“Total Recall”).

The other stars that signed on to the project were even bigger. Writer, radio legend, and director Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”) would be playing a Jabba the Hut-esque obese beast, Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine (“Doctor Zhivago”) would also appear as well as Gloria Swanson (“Sunset Boulevard”) and David Carradine (“Kill Bill”).

Oh, and also the Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger and surrealist painter and all-around artistic lunatic Salvador Dali would play leading roles. Even better, the film’s soundtrack was to be produced and recorded by rock powerhouse Pink Floyd whose album “The Dark Side of the Moon” sold over 26 million copies worldwide.

Concept art for the film’s setting

Dali agreed to the role, only after he demanded to be paid $100,000 an hour on set and a huge throne that acted as a toilet made from intersecting dolphins of gold. He also insisted that it was crucial to the film’s plot to see him urinate and defecate on screen for the sake of his character’s development. This all comes from the same man who painted melting clocks for a living and declared, “I don’t do drugs, I am drugs.” To cut corners, Jodorowsky crafted a robotic body double of Dali using plastic and Dali was on set for no more than an hour and a half.

“For me, movies are an art more than an industry. For ‘Dune,” I wanted to create a prophet. ‘Dune’ will be the coming of God,” Jodorowsky boasted to the press. The ambition of the film was astronomical, and utterly unrealistic.

The film’s measly $9+ million budget proved not enough to complete the project reasonable. $2 million of that budget was spent in the pre-production stage alone, creating a script the size and thickness of an old school phone book.. Because Dune surrounds opulent dynasties on faraway planets and would require heavy revisions to simplify the dense premise, it would be too difficult of a challenge to reduce the plot to a straightforward $9 million film. Even with all the big names attached to the epic, Jodorowsky wouldn’t have the time or money to execute his grand plan of elaborate, galactic settings and space-age technology.

“Almost all the battles were won, but the war was lost. The project was sabotaged in Hollywood,” wrote Jodorowsky years later, noting that it’s because of the team’s extensive storyboards and conceptual maps that later influenced big sci-fi blockbuster releases like “Star Wars” and “Alien.”

Upon further development, the movie would be translated into a 10-hour miniseries and passed off to director Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner”) to save, but even he couldn’t rescue the plans. Soon, production for the film dissolved and it entered the depths of Hollywood’s development hell.

A decade later, David Lynch (“Twin Peaks”) was tapped to direct a version of Dune, and his actually saw the light of day. Of course, critics besmirched it and audiences were disappointed. Lynch’s 1984 adaptation borrowed little from Jodorowsky LSD vision of Dali and Mick Jagger dancing in space, and it took five script rewrites before production began. 80 hugely detailed sets were constructed and the crew on set teetered around 2,000 people. Kyle MacLachlan (also of “Twin Peaks” fame) starred alongside The Police singer Sting in the film, and music was handled by Brian Eno (former Talking Heads producer) and Toto. Ultimately the film flopped and grossed $30 million on its $40 million budget, unable to break even.

Jodorowsky’s grandiose dreams of bringing “Dune” to the masses never hit theaters, and it’s a shame due to all the time and money poured in by dozens of talented names in Hollywood. A documentary went on to be created about the failed film, aptly titled “Jodorowsky’s Dune” in 2013, and the unmade movie forever embedded itself into the folklore of nerd enthusiasts and movie buffs alike.

How Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie Infiltrated & Subverted Reality Television

It’s no surprise that so-called “reality TV” strays far away from reality itself. Even a show with a title like MTV’s “The Real World” is a lot less than realistic when you think about it. The shift in reality television has boomed since the 2000s, and the narrative soon turned to meticulously planned, highly produced, non-impromptu moments playing out on screen with all its participants playing distinctive roles and falling into specific tropes – and you can blame Paris Hilton for that.

Reality television programming has evolved from its totally-true documentary-style origins in 1971’s “An American Family” from PBS that followed an ordinary family of seven during their daily routines. The show’s finale attracted over ten million viewers and brought to life a very Orwellian principle that went on to influence shows like “Big Brother” which watched regular people at all hours of the day.

The noughties saw the rise of reality competitions like the wild “Survivor,” the high speed “Amazing Race,” and “American Idol.” The popularity of this genre of programming led to the emergence of new celebrities stemming from their respective reality shows. Winner of season one of “Survivor,” Richard Hatch, appeared on countless popular game shows like “Weakest Link,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Dog Eat Dog,” “Celebrity Apprentice” as well as led him to writing a book and appearing in “Another Gay Movie.”

Similarly, reality tv saw the launching of stars like Kelly Clarkson who won season one of “American Idol,” Tiffany ‘New York’ Pollard found internet stardom through GIFs of her outlandish appearances on “Flavor of Love,” Adrienne Curry scored her own show after winning “America’s Next Top Model” and countless others. Reality stars became important facets of pop culture, it was almost formulaic. The platform was ripe for forming new celebrities, or further catapulting the careers of already-made ones.

So when Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s joint attempt at reality television premiered in 2003, it was clear their stardom was only beginning. Hilton came from the $9.1 billion hotel empire and Richie is the adopted daughter of singer Lionel Richie. In the first season, the two wealthy friends lived in Arkansas for a month and worked minimum wage jobs without access to their credit cards or cellphones. They wreaked havoc at a dairy farm as well as a fast food restaurant, ultimately getting fired from every job they held due to their own laziness and incompetence. The show drew great ratings and 13.3 million viewers tuned in to watch.

Hilton and Richie became even bigger stars and tabloid spectacles than they already were. The world began to associate the girls with the ditzy, scantily-clad blondes they saw on screen, when in reality the girls were quite the opposite.

Contrary to popular belief, the girls weren’t acting as themselves on screen, but rather, playing out exaggerated, stereotypes of who the media believed them to be. In 2006, Hilton admitted that the show was mostly scripted, and that she based her role on Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde” and Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless.”

“The great thing about ‘The Simple Life’ is that it’s a reality show but not based on my reality. It has nothing to do with my life or my home or my relationships or anything,” Richie confirmed.

By playing polarizing, love-them-or-hate-them stupid girls on screen, the duo got the public talking. Through an easily digestible stereotype, they sold their images and banked out on the unintelligent tropes we see on screen. This method of genius marketing reduced their complex identities to the typecasts we know and love. The blonde with the baby voice and chihuahua in her purse became the billion-dollar woman behind a perfume empire.

It’s much easier to place a high-pitched, promiscuous, irresponsible, spoiled brat in the media than it is to find a home for a multi-dimensional, profound character with numerous facets to their personalities. Hilton could be copied and pasted into movies or Hallmark cards and the general public would get the joke instantaneously, whereas it’s much harder to fathom or understand the scope and depth of South African anti-apartheid theologian and civil rights activist Desmond Mpilo Tutu.

While the show penned them as brain-dead, spoiled brats, the two became multi-million dollar attractions on their own. Paris Hilton went on to be worth an estimated $300 million – aside from the Hilton Hotel enterprise – and her perfumes alone have grossed over $2.5 billion. Richie’s current estimated net worth is between $5-10 million.

By squealing “That’s hot!” on TV for four years, the two became infamous figures in the key development of constructing reality television far attached from reality itself. Nowadays, the casting process for these shows means finding easy targets and stretching their personalities to bombastic, over-the-top stereotypes meant to fit the producer’s narrative.

Across the board, reality television producers and directors strategically pin contestants against each other, painting them as black or white, pretty or ugly. In season four of four-time Emmy winning show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” spooky goth drag queen Sharon Needes was pitted against the pretty pageant girl with a bad temper, Phi Phi O’Hara.

Throughout the season, the two squabbled and spat wherever they were and of course, they both made it to the top three of the competition. Weaving together a narrative of good versus evil made the show enthralling to its viewers. The finale of the show was the highest rated in the show’s history, seeing a 33% rise in viewership since its former season, and overall the season grew the show’s Twitter followers by 77%.

Without the influence of Hilton and Richie respectively on “The Simple Life,” reality television would be constructed a lot differently. “The Hills” with Heidi Montag and Lauren Conrad wouldn’t exist, neither would the manufactured, drunken stupor of “Jersey Shore” or even the success of starlets like Kim Kardashian of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” fame. Hollywood needs to pay its dues to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, as they ushered in a new era of unreal reality television programming.

Remember Michael Jackson’s 1997 Horror Movie with Stephen King?

In probably one of the most bizarre film collaborations of the nineties, late pop legend Michael Jackson joined forces with horror author Stephen King to produce a long-running music video for 1997’s “Ghost.” Jackson was no stranger to music videos that acted as short films, case in point his 14-minute, groundbreaking video for “Thriller.” To promote Jackson’s newest remix album “Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix,” Jackson teamed up with renowned makeup artist Stan Winston who directed the film and Stephen King who wrote its script.

“Stephen King is a gentle, sweet, kind man. He’s very humble,” Jackson said in an interview that year.

“Ghost” was initially intended as a short companion film to 1993 film “Addams Family Values,” for which Jackson recorded a song that was dropped amidst his sexual abuse allegations. It was shot in six weeks on a $15 million budget and had Jackson playing two roles and leading twenty-minutes of choreographed dance. The film initially premiered before King’s newest film “Thinner” in Beverly Hills in 1996 at the Motion Picture Academy of the Arts, and again at Cannes Film Festival the following year solo.

Upon Jackson’s passing in 2009, King reflected on the time he spent with him on set of “Ghost” for an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

“The video contains some of the best, most inspired dancing of Jackson’s career. If you look at it, I think you’ll see why Fred Astaire called Jackson ‘a helluva mover.’ You’ll also see Jackson’s sadness and almost panful desire tp please. This is a sadness that’s all too common in people who possess talents in amounts so great it has become a burden instead of a blessing. Jackson was painfully shy to talk to but watching [“Ghost”] still makes me happy.”

“Ghost” takes place in Normal Valley where an angry mob show up to Jackson’s spooky mansion after the parents of neighborhood kids discover he puts on scary magic shows for them. The mayor of the town, also played by Jackson, insists that he leave town immediately and leave the kids alone. This beginning witch hunt sequence echoes Jackson’s real-life persecution surrounding those sexual abuse allegations in the nineties. Jackson’s own reclusive, misunderstood private life led him to being a tabloid spectacle and the public would never let him out of their clutches.

While the film can be seen as a companion piece to the “Thriller” music video whereas zombie ghosts have replaced werewolves, the film hasn’t aged very well to modern cinematic standards. The CGI skeletons and effects give off an amateurish Eddie Murphy “Haunted Mansion” vibe, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s no real plot of the film, because 12 minutes it Jackson is having an impromptu dance break with his zombie friends for no real reason at all.

But the point isn’t the quality of the film, but how it brought together two legends in their respective fields – King, in modern horror fiction, and Jackson, in pop music – to make one result with decent payoff. The ambition is evident, and surely in 1997 this music video meant a lot to a large group of fans. Sure, this is no “Thriller” or “The Shining,” but seeing a skeleton moon walk across a dusty, haunted mansion ballroom is pretty neat.

You can watch “Ghost” in its entirely below.

Diving Deep into the Mysterious Murder of Netflix’s “The Staircase”

While the biggest question posed in Netflix’s new documentary series “The Staircase” is “Did Michael Peterson kill Kathleen Peterson?” don’t expect to walk away from the show with a conclusive answer. Ultimately, the answer is never given within the 13 episodes, and maybe that’s how it should be.

Given the recent influx of crime documentaries and television series’ hitting the airwaves – Netflix’s “How to Make a Murderer” from 2015 explored the possibly wrongly convicted Steven Avery and HBO’s 2015 “The Jinx” followed Robert Durst up until his shocking confession of murder – it’s no surprise that Netflix swooped in fast to acquire French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 2004 original series “The Staircase.”

Lestrade shot over 600 hours of footage for the documentary chronicling author and war veteran Michael Peterson’s criminal trial after his wife was found dead at the bottom of the staircase at their home on December 9, 2001. Along with airing the original ten episodes of the show, Netflix enlisted Lestrade to produce three more episodes revisiting the Peterson family in recent years amidst newfound developments of the case.

At first glance of the grisly crime scene at the Peterson’s home, it seems almost impossible for Kathleen’s death to be an accident. The copious amounts of blood couldn’t possibly be the result of a fall down the stairs, right? Alas, only one person could ever know the truth surrounding the death and that’s Kathleen herself.

Michael Peterson called 911 around 2:40 A.M. upon his discovery of Kathleen’s body at the foot of the stairs. Earlier in the night Michael and Kathleen had been sitting by the pool of their home chatting and reading, drinking alcohol like most couples do in their downtime. Kathleen headed inside before him and left Michael outside to read alone.

Kathleen’s autopsy reported a 0.7 percent blood alcohol content (just under the legal limit) as well as the presence of valium in her system. It also stated that she had a fractured neck cartilage and hemorrhaging to the internal neck alongside several lacerations to her head. She had died from blood loss less than two hours after her injuries.

It is to be noted that Kathleen’s skull was not fractured and she suffered no brain damage, both of which are common injuries sustained from being beat to death. While the prosecution in the murder case believed Michael to be the culprit as he was the only one in the home at the time of Kathleen’s death, the defense argued that she simply fell down the stairs. Dr. Henry Lee, forensic blood spatter expert found the blood evidence to fall in line with the theory of an accidental fall down the staircase.

Oddly enough, one popular fan theory surrounding Kathleen’s death was not included in “The Staircase,” let alone Michael’s three-month murder trial. What is deemed “The Owl Theory” insists that an owl is partly to blame for Kathleen’s death. While this sounds extremely absurd and unlikely at face value, it has a lot more credibility than you’d assume.

The theory has its origins in Michael’s lawyer friend and neighbor T. Lawrence Pollard who in 2009 filed a motion for appropriate relief, claiming an owl attack led Kathleen to her death. Director Lestrade told Vulture he believed the theory, yet strayed away from theories in his documentary, focusing rather on the legal proceedings of the trial in an attempt to achieve neutrality. (Note: Peterson had a fifteen-year ling with the show’s editor, Sophie Brunet.) He initially filmed both the prosecutors and the defendants for the series, but the prosecutors opted out after four months of being filmed.

The lacerations found on the back of Kathleen’s head were a series of intersecting V and lowercase-T shaped cuts that look a lot like scratches from owl claws. Dr. Patrick Redig, veterinary medicine professor at the University of Minnesota, agrees with the likelihood of an owl attack.

“In my professional opinion, the hypothesized attack to the face and back of the head resulting in the various punctures and lacerations visible in the autopsy photographs is entirely within the behavioral repertoire of large owls,” Redig wrote in a report. In addition, Kathleen was found holding strands of her own hair in her hands as well as small feathers and wood splinters. Clutching one’s hair suggests some sort of defense or coping technique against an attack but the coinciding of bird feathers in Kathleen’s hands adds more to the story and casts reasonable doubt concerning Michael’s involvement. Aside from the owl theory, the defense suggests several other elements to prove Michael’s innocence.

Many skeptics proposed that Michael killed Kathleen for her life insurance money, but this can be quickly disproven by the impossibility of Michael living without Kathleen and her income. Michael was an author and Kathleen was a high-ranking businesswoman at Nortel, which was worth an estimated $7.3 billion before its liquidation in 2009. Michael was making pennies to Kathleen’s dollars and he would be unable to maintain his lavish lifestyle without the money she was bringing home from her own job. Furthermore, Kathleen’s million-dollar life insurance policy was in her ex-husband’s name, meaning Michael wouldn’t receive any financial gain after her passing. Digital Spy reports that the policy carried out to Kathleen’s daughter Caitlin and her father in 2004. Michael owed the bank $100,000 and his sons Todd and Clayton were an additional $30,000 in debt and killing the primary benefactor of the household’s income would serve Michael no purpose other than cement him further in debt.

Similarly, Michael was running for City Council in 2001 when Kathleen died. After his unsuccessful bid for mayor in 1999, what good would murdering his wife do for his political campaign? Murder would only tarnish his campaign and thrust his personal life into the spotlight amidst his fight for office, painting a huge public target on his back.

Also to be noted is the fact that the prosecution insisted Michael used a fireplace blow poke to administer the blows to Kathleen’s head. While they were unable to conjure this supposed murder weapon, it did surface near the end of the trial after it was found dusty and untouched in Michael’s basement without any traces of blood. If this was the weapon that was used to kill Kathleen, why was it coated in dust and spiderwebs? If Michael had used the blow poke as a weapon, why was it so lazily left in his basement in plain view and not hidden or destroyed? If Michael was guilty, why wouldn’t he make sure to destroy the tools he used to kill his loving wife?

The complexity of Kathleen’s murder is what piques viewers’ interest in “The Staircase.” Not only is Kathleen’s death peculiar, but the evidence supporting both side takes onlookers on a rollercoaster of doubt and confusion. There is still quite a bit of alarming proof on the prosecution’s side that Michael Peterson was guilty of his wife’s murder.

Kathleen’s autopsy stated that she had “died from a beating” based on the “bruising and abrasions on the front of her face [and] backs of her arms.” Dr. Kenneth Snell was the medical examiner who took the first look at Kathleen’s body and went on to testify in court concerning Michael’s guilt and also reported possible strangulation wounds that were not mentioned in “The Staircase.”

The biggest monolith pointing to the murderer being Michael Peterson is the fact that his former friend and possible lover, Elizabeth Ratliff, was also found dead at the bottom of a staircase in Germany twenty years prior. If lightning never strikes twice in the same spot, how is it possible for two women closely linked to Michael to die under the same circumstances? Now, Ratliff died of a brain hemorrhage after falling down the stairs, but her work friend Cheryl Appel-Schumacher found the circumstances unsuspicious, as she complained of having severe headaches in the days preceding her death. Michael went on to adopt her daughters, Martha and Margaret, and raised them alongside his sons. It seems suspicious for Ratliff to die so similarly and for Michael to take her children under his wing can be perceived as either an extreme alibi or just plain kindness.

Another storyline that the prosecution pushed was the emphasis of Michael’s bisexuality and they insisted his same-sex desires led to Kathleen’s murder. They proposed that Michael was dissatisfied with Kathleen and yearned for more and thus eliminated her to live out his own sexual fantasies. Michael insisted his extramarital affairs were accepted by Kathleen and that she was aware of his sexuality.

Ultimately, Michael Peterson was found guilty of Kathleen’s murder in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison. However a turning point arrived in 2011 when prominent figure in the case, special agent Duane Deaver of the State Bureau of Investigation, was found to have partially hid significant information regarding the results of various blood tests in many court cases. His negligence led to the exoneration of Greg Taylor, a man convicted of a murder after Deaver’s opinion swayed the jury. Deaver was fired from the bureau in 2011 after he admitted to fabricating the results of his blood spatter experiments throughout his career, including the Peterson’s case. Peterson’s defense attorney pushed for a new trial based on Deaver’s impact on the jury and thus, he was released on house arrest in 2011 after being granted a retrial.

At the age of 73, Michael didn’t want to endure the weight and stress of another trial so he took an Alford plea in 2017. Under an Alford plea, the defendant asserts their innocence but admits that the evidence presented against them is significant enough for a guilty conviction. Michael was freed in 2017 but legally admitted partial guilt under the plea.

While “The Staircase” doesn’t uncover the absolute truth regarding the circumstances of Kathleen Peterson’s death (how could it?), it does successfully cover both sides of the infamous North Carolina legal battle in a fairly neutral fashion. While the film focuses more on Michael’s own journey throughout the trial, it does also include the prosecution’s side and their evidence of Michael’s involvement. Netflix’s hit crime predecessor, “How to Make a Murderer,” failed to include very crucial facts of Steven Avery’s involvement in photographer Teresa Halbach’s 2005 murder and instead insisted Avery’s innocence.

Halbach’s camera and phone were found at Avery’s home and he called her twice on October 31 – the day she disappeared – using *67 to conceal his phone number. Avery had a violent criminal past that included anger management issues, two rape allegations and admittance to abusing his children and ex-wife Lori Mathiesen. Robert Fabian, a friend of the family, stated in court that he had witnessed Avery’s odd behavior on the day of Halbach’s disappearance. Fabian also noted that Avery had recently showered that day and had started a fire in the barrel where Halbach’s phone was eventually found and was overall acting very strangely.

The difference in coverage of “Making a Murderer” and “The Staircase” lays in part to the fact that the latter was French produced and filmed over a decade ago, long before Netflix originals existed. For Netflix to captivate its audiences successfully, it needed to drop a few facts to shock its viewers and keep them enticed with the swift storyline. Thus, the case made such a splash in mainstream media because the general public couldn’t believe how a man could be wrongly convicted not once but twice.

What Jean-Xavier de Lestrade achieves in “The Staircase” is a type of crime documentary that doesn’t lean on a gory collection of pictures or a salaciously drama-infused story to keep the viewer intrigued. Admittedly, part of the series can be found boring because of its length and heavy-handed scientific lingo, but that’s what makes it genuine and classifies it as non-fiction. If Lestrade had left out some of those court moments in order to progress the plot quicker, it would leave certain details out and thus slant the purpose of the documentary by biasing it.

To remain neutral amidst a murder trial is difficult, but Lestrade does his very best to paint the full picture of Michael Peterson, as dull or bizarre as his court case may be. Whether or not Michael is guilty of this crime is up to the viewer to conclude, because Lestrade’s series gives the viewer the opportunity to make an educated decision for themselves.

All 13 episodes of “The Staircase” are streaming now on Netflix.

Shedding Light on James Franco’s Forgotten 2016 Musical Art Film “Let Me Get What I Want”

It’s been two years since James Franco’s band Daddy released a 51-minute art film music video to accompany all ten tracks off their debut album, “Let Me Get What I Want.” Unbeknownst to many, the story behind this musical project is ambitiously complicated, and collectively heartbreaking.

It all began with the formation of Daddy: Franco and his friend from college, composer Tim O’Keefe, wanted to start a cover band of the Smiths. Eventually, the two wrote poems based on songs by the Smiths and handed them off to Franco’s mother, Betsy Franco, teacher at Palo Alto High School (James Franco’s alma mater). Betsy gave the poems to her students and they collectively shot short films based on each of the ten poems they were given. Then, James and O’Keefe developed their poems into songs (former member of The Smiths, Andy Rourke, went on to play bass on a couple of the tracks) and weaved together the students’ video works into a ten-chapter film.

The band’s debut album, “Let Me Get What I Want,” was accompanied by this film of the same name, with each song getting its own music video. Sewn all together, it plays like an arthouse acid trip, with a flurry of slow motion, glitchy, neon imagery unfolding while Franco sings woefully of high school sullenness.

“I thought the way the Smiths’ songs had this great irony and earnestness at the same time was exactly how high school felt,” said Franco of the band’s inspiration. “Everything was kind of big and important, and yet so stupid at the same time. So exciting, yet also so boring.”

Collectively, the non-linear film tells the story of Tom, a gay teenager smitten with his best friend Sterling and ultimately jealous of his relationship with his girlfriend Erica. While abstract in nature due to the film’s dreamy visual effects, the sorrowful narrative pokes through songs like “On the Sidelines” where Tom observes the young couple in love, longing to be the one Sterling kisses instead.

Tom’s role as a sad onlooker plays out like a ghost floating through a room. His angst and homoerotic desires fill the screen with flashes of bright lights and impasto artwork of classmates’ school portraits as painted by Franco himself. Franco has also been the subject of gay rumors and accusations of queerbaiting for art’s sake, and this film doesn’t steer away from feeding into the gossip.

Typical high school themes surface, and we see Tom fall in love for the first time and attend prom and graduation. Plot-wise, it’s yet another brooding, high school melodrama full of underage drinking, lost virginities, car crashes, bullying, and heartbreak that we can all relate to in some dose.

While the film does pass off as student work in its amateurish quality, the usage of symbols and motifs have profound emotional impact on the audience. “Boys his age have bodies like knives, I was holding one by the blade,” Franco croons in “Lime Green Dress,” whereas in the video for “You Are Mine” we see Tom longingly watch Sterling’s wet, shirtless body at swim practice while Franco sings “I have so many plans for you, I am the center of all.”

We later see Tom underwater at a desk, writing love letters to Sterling, promising that this love was different. Tom was drowning in his own unspoken desires for Sterling and as evident in “Graduation Day,” he never did or ever will know.

Even though the Palo Alto students shot and directed the film, Franco worked closely with filmmaker Irene Su and video artist Beth Wexle to develop the moody narrative of teenage life at Palo Alto High. With motion graphics by Su and Wexle as well as illustrations by Franco, the fluid take on pop art provides visual stimuli too flashy not to notice.

Art films may not be universally understood or lauded by critics, but Daddy’s “Let Me Get What I Want” is a fascinating view on high school life behind the gaze of a hopeless romantic who wants nothing more than reciprocated romance. And maybe in that regard, we’re all a little like Tom, searching for the satisfaction of affection from somebody just to reassure our own self-worth.

Watch the full length feature below.

Secrets from the Set of “The Shining”

“The Shining” that we all know and love is 1980 Stanley Kubrick film based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. The world remembers the movie mostly for its intense, door-busting scene with Jack Nicholson’s face screaming “Here’s Johnny!” while wielding an axe – and funnily enough, the prop department struggled to build a door strong enough for him to break. Being that he was once a volunteer firefighter, Nicholson had no difficulty destroying 60 prop doors over the span of three days.

Or maybe, audiences remember the film’s symmetrical shots of the creepy Grady twins in the hallway, or the frightening visual of Nicholson freezing to death, or the hotel elevator overflowing with a river of blood. But there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to this horror classic.

The backstory for the fruition of the nearly 40 year-old Kubrick classic begins with a large stack of scary stories. Kubrick ordered his assistants to buy piles and piles of horror novels for him to read in his office to hopefully develop into films. Kubrick would sit at his desk and flip through the first few pages of each and throw them against the wall if he disliked them. When his secretary noticed an unusual quietness, she walked inside his office to find Kubrick deeply engaged in the reading of Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining.

Somehow word made itself back to King and he formulated a script for how he envisioned his novel to play out on the big screen. Kubrick, the stubborn perfectionist he became to be, refused to read the screenplay he had developed and had minimal contact with the author. Kubrick would call King in the middle of the night not for advice on how to adapt his vision, but rather, to ask him “Do you believe in god?”

King felt his vision was being rejected and became increasingly disinterested in Kubrick’s rendition of his book. To his defense, The Shining was a vaguely autobiographical story of how alcoholism can ruin one’s life. The novel came after King’s own stint with a crippling alcohol reliance and addiction, so it can be understood why he grew infuriated by how his personal story was misconstrued and portrayed by Kubrick. Now, paranormal elements and murder aside, it’s easy to see how King could be offended that his personal writings were appropriated for a gory blockbuster hit.

Yet, King wasn’t the only one shafted by Kubrick’s directorial decision making. While Kubrick got along swimmingly with leading (crazy) man Jack Nicholson, his relationship with leading lady Shelley Duvall was a tattered, terrible one. In an alternative take on method acting, Kubrick seemed to be “method directing” Duvall into playing a terribly distressed, scared wife by isolating her from the rest of the cast and crew and by constantly insulting her performance. Kubrick was brutal on Duvall in an attempt to bring out her best acting chops, but the notoriously mean behavior made filming hellish.

“From May until October I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley [Kubrick] pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. It’s the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play,” said Duvall who suffered from nervous exhaustion during excruciatingly long filming days. The environment’s stressful circumstances caused Duvall to lose her hair and cry to the point of dehydration.

After one incident on set when Duvall fainted from exhaustion in the hallway following the filming of one scene, Kubrick turned to her and said, “I don’t sympathize with you Shelley, it doesn’t help you.”

Kubrick’s wicked mind games even landed him in the Guinness Book of Records for most retakes of one scene with dialogue. The scene in question was Duvall swinging her baseball bat at Nicholson on the staircase, and reportedly had to be shot 127 times to satisfy Kubrick. Although, Kubrick’s neuroses should come as no shock, as he made Tom Cruise walk through one door frame 95 times consecutively for “Eyes Wide Shut.” Can we credit Kubrick for instilling character development in Duvall through his methodical directing, or can we blame the horrifying sights she had to see on set for making her acting believable?

Kubrick was similarly hard on the 70 year-old cook in the film, played by actor Scatman Crothers. For one simple shot of a slow zoom-in to Crothers face, Kubrick demanded 60 takes, causing him to break down in tears. Kubrick justified his obsessive retakes process to Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, “It happens when actors are unprepared. So you shoot it and shoot it and hope you can get something out in pieces.” Kubrick also got Nicholson into character by strictly feeding him only cheese sandwiches for two weeks – which he hates.

“The Shining” filmed chronologically for 250 days with a small crew of ten people or less at both a soundstage constructed in England (based on Yosemite National Park’s hotel Ahwahnee Lodge) as well as exterior shots of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. A linear filming schedule like Kubrick conducted meant every set and actor had to be ready to roll at the drop of a hat because he was filming in the order that the filming audience would see it. He also took liberties of the source material by swapping the integral Room 217 for the nonexistent Room 237 in order to appease Timberline Lodge’s management over concerns of how it could hurt business.

Amongst other ingenious tricks up Kubrick’s sleeves was how he managed to make the snow in the final hedge maze scene out of Styrofoam and 900 tons of salt, as well as how he kept young actor Danny Lloyd (Danny) in the dark about how “The Shining” was a horror film, not a family drama. Lloyd was six years-old at the time of filming, and “The Shining” marks his first and last soiree into acting.

Once Kubrick’s vision for “The Shining” was completed, it was released as a 146-minute masterpiece. However, this version is not the version we know and love, as tacked onto the tail end is an alternative ending set in a hospital where Wendy and Danny are recuperating. Wendy is subsequently told that the police was unable to find her husband’s body on the hotel’s property, further perpetuating the theory that Nicholson’s character was a ghost the whole time. Kubrick scrapped this two minute scene a week after its release in order to make the movie ending more ambiguous and it has yet to surface publicly.

“The Shining” has withstood the test of time as a gripping descent into madness, through the stellar acting of Nicholson and the stunning visual cues executed under Kubrick’s keen eye. As it nears its 40th anniversary in 2020, one can only hope even more secrets are uncovered about this cinematic staple.

Watch Kubrick’s 17 year-old daughter Vivian’s exclusive behind the scenes footage below.

6 Things to Expect from “The First Purge”

Ahead of its anticipated July release, let’s look inside the smash-hit series and count down some fascinating facts behind its fruition.

This is the first movie in the Purge franchise not to be directed by creator James DeMonaco. While DeMonaco is remaining as writer for the film, Gerard McMurray is the sole director.

As the title suggests, the film will act as a prequel to the previous three films and chronicle the events leading up to the very first, fully-legal 12-hour criminal activity event. Don’t expect to see any familiar faces, however, as the film takes place almost a decade before the very first film.

The promotional poster includes a reference to President Trump, who’s infamy includes red baseball caps emblazoned with “Make America Great Again.” This isn’t the first time the Purge franchise dabbled in politics, as 2016’s smash hit “The Purge: Election Year” grossed over $118 million, the highest for the film series.

Similarly, “The First Purge” has political tie-ins to its release date: July 4th. The United States’ very own Independence Day will see the origin of The Purge’s Next Independence Day of annual lawlessness pushed by the New Founding Fathers of America.

Director Michael Bay, the explosive mind behind the “Transformers” 2007 reboot, plays a key role in the Purge films, acting as one of the series’ producers. Bay’s own films have grossed over $5 billion through his “Transformers” films as well as his remakes of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Friday the 13th,” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Bay said, “What I look for in a script is something that challenges me, something that breaks new ground. You have got to think fast in this business, you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself to stay on top.”

Without a doubt, this new addition to the $319 million grossing dystopian blockbuster series that is “The Purge” will be full of gory violence and grisly misbehavior, and a must-see this summer for horror fanatics worldwide.