Category - Movie Reviews

“The Angel” Explores the Labyrinth Life of Double Spy Ashraf Marwan

Ashraf Marwan was a double spy for both Israel and Egypt during the 1970’s.  He was the son-in-law of Gamal Abdel Nasser.  His relationship with Nasser was filled with strife. Western educated Marwan thought it was a mistake for Egypt to ally with Russia and should instead find a way to make an ally of the United States.  It was not long before Nasser died and his second-in-command Anwar Sadat took power.  Marwan soon became a confident and advisor to Sadat.

Since Marwan is no longer living (he died in 2007 under suspicious circumstances) we can only guess at why he became a double spy, selling Sadat’s secrets to Israel for cash. It could have been a need for money (Marwan’s education was on the line after his father-in-law’s death), to prove his worth, to prevent war; or all of the above. But what is known is that the information he provided Israel is credited with stopping bloodshed in a Sadat planned coup.  He paid for this with his family and ultimately his life.

Simon Istolainen produced alongside Antoine Stioui. Together they recruited Academy Award-nominated screenwriter David Arata to write the script.  Danish actor Marwan Kenzari (Murder on the Orient Express) portrays Ashraf Marwan with an intensity that is captivating.

The complexities of the Middle East are confusing, and this does not help The Angel.  The film must be watched with attention and even then, it merits more than one watch to understand.  Adding to the confusion is that the film is in three languages with subtitles; English, Arabic and Hebrew.

However, the Middle East is as important today as it was during Marwan’s time in 1973.  This is an important film that merits watching and understanding.  Accolades to Netflix for supporting the makers of this film and to the creators for having the courage to create a human Sadat and not a caricature evil villain.

Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer Find Forgiveness on the High Seas in “Like Father”

Be prepared to cry a lot and laugh a lot while watching Like Father.  Rachel (Kristen Bell ) gets left at the alter when  her fiancé realizes he can’t compete  with

Like Father

her first love – her job. Along comes her estranged father (Six time Emmy Award winner Kelsey Grammer) whom she hasn’t seen since she was 5 years old.  After an all-night binger she wakes up on her honeymoon cruise – with her father in tow. Trapped together at sea, it doesn’t take long for the two to discover that they suffer from the same affliction – they are both workaholics.  Lucky for them one of their table mates is a recently licensed therapist.  It doesn’t take long for Rachel’s much wiser father to realize that she is making the same mistake he did – putting her career first at the expense of losing those who love her.  It takes a lot for Rachel to find forgiveness but some hilarious misadventures help. Seth  Rogen plays a recent divorcee who reads too much into his one night stand with Rachel.   Rachel finally gets in touch with her true emotions after their Jamaican tourist guide gives out more than local history.

Lauren Miller Rogen, who  wrote the screenplay, directed and co-produced Like Father could have taken the easy route and made a movie with a lot of  corny jokes and false sentimentality. Instead, Rogen created a tale filled with raw emotion and truth. Every daughter and father should watch this film together.  Just remember to bring the tissue box because even laughter can bring tears.

 

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of Andy Warhol’s Filmography

While some may be quick to criticize Warhol’s films and call them “boring” or “dull,” it must be considered the time period of their creation. Film and television in the sixties wasn’t like the uproarious, explicit media we are so accustomed to consuming. Neither profanity nor nudity were common practice, so for Warhol’s bold films to exist in such a tame time was revolutionary. For Warhol to show half of the subject matters he did was groundbreaking for cinema, regardless of how underground his projects were.1964’s “Blowjob” showed a tight shot of a man’s face while he received oral sex while 1969’s “Blue” was the first sexually explicit, pornographic film in the U.S. to receive a wide theatrical release. The latter went on to inspire Bernardo Bertolucci’s Marlon Brandon-starring “Last Tango in Paris” and Gerard Damiano’s “Deep Throat” with Linda Lovelace.

Warhol’s films are an acquired taste, and some are concretely hit or miss. His filmography is littered with improvised movies of his friends standing around and rambling about nothing, never really pushing the plot into any action and never really serving any purpose. But it is to be remembered that Warhol was a pioneer in not only the art world, but also within the independent film industry. His experimental films broke ground by flirting with societal taboos like homosexuality, drugs, and sex which wasn’t being discussed in the mainstream media.

Without further ado, let’s discuss Warhol’s filmography from best to worst.

 

Women in Revolt (1971)

“Don’t you know there’s something more beautiful than that thing between your legs? Have you heard of women’s liberation?” This satirical examination of women’s liberation three years after radical feminist and author Valerie Solanas attempted to murder Andy Warhol by shooting him in the chest. Solanas is known for her novel, SCUM Manifesto which proposed that women should form a society for cutting up men. “Women in Revolt” plays on the idea of extremist feminism and misandry and stars three trans actresses, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn that form their own political group, PIG – politically involved girls. These three women received an X-rating for its depiction of sex and assault, but easily stands out amongst Warhol’s filmography for its hilariously ironic plot.

5/5: It’s a laugh riot.

 

Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977)

Warhol succeeded in his job of making a film “about evil women and incompetent men” with his last film, 1977’s “Bad.” This X-rated, low budget, slightly tacky soap opera film revolves around a grandmother who uses her beauty salon business as a covert murder-for-hire home, well-equipped with sadistic hitwomen troublemakers who do nothing but cause a stir in the New York City streets. While Warhol may have been a key member of the Pop Art movement, his films are much less abstract than you’d imagine coming from the man who made millions off simple soup can paintings. Warhol’s obsession with commercialism and consumerism pokes its way through “Bad,” and not a scene goes by without some sort of American branding hidden in the frame, whether it be Wonder Bread or Coca-Cola. Throughout the hour and 45 minutes of debauchery on screen, we witness car crashes, toilet-clogging, dog stabbings, and even a baby thrown out of a window in brutal detail, splashing blood onto the face of a passerby civilian. While this campy, borderline pointless film may not be the most polished, the vandalism it depicts does make for a semi-entertaining pastime. Warhol’s style may not be for everyone, but within even the most absurd of technique comes some sort of statement and in this case, some sort of warning of the dangers of greed and vanity.

4/5: It’s kinda bad…ass.

 

The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound (1966)

Here we see the famed 60s band The Velvet Underground, led by singer Lou Red, rehearsing and performing for an hour. Consisting entirely of instrumental music with no sung word, this film acts as a pseudo-documentary and encapsulates the genius of the band during their heyday. It makes for perfect background music to rock along to and provides a perfect portrait of one of the greatest bands in history.

4/5: It’s rocking.

 

 

Kiss (1963)

Just as the title suggests, this piece of avant garde cinema is a compilation of various couples kissing for about an hour. Tender and romantic, yes, but a worthwhile film to watch in the theaters, maybe not. This is the beginning of Warhol’s dabbling in film and in the same vein as “Sleep,” “Eat,” and “Blow Job,” each consisting of a long-running take of their title’s action, focusing rather on the emotional and physical response to the task being executed. The couples on screen vary from straight relationships to gay ones – woman on woman, man on man – and it does make for a progressive piece of cinema for its period. “This is my favorite theme in movie making – just watching something happening for two hours or so. Hollywood movies are uncaring. We’re pop people,” the famed artist once told the press about his method.

3/5: Too much tongue.

 

Sleep (1963)

On the more experimental side of Warhol’s filmography is “Sleep,” a five-hour “anti-film” of Warhol’s then-lover John Giorno doing just that: sleeping. While unrealistic for the average viewer to indulge in five hours of cinema in any subject matter, the ambition of this film is what matters. Warhol not only watched Giorno sleep for five hours but stayed awake to record the entire thing without the slightest hint of boredom. This is the pinnacle of avant-garde cinema, despite how simple or dull it appears to be, it is extremely influential for a film of its time. Nowadays with live-streamed television shows like “Big Brother” quite literally showing houseguests sleeping and airs it on national television, it doesn’t seem like Warhol’s vision was too far off. “Sleep” was also the first film Warhol had ever shot.

2/5: It’s okay to sleep on this one.

 

Blue Movie (1969)

Here’s one of Warhol films that transcended the art world and found success in the porn industry. The plot was simply just a man and a woman in bed talking, kissing, and copulating unsimulated. It doesn’t have a lot to it, which is very true to Warhol’s agenda, and was shot in New York City with a $3000 budget. “Blue” made history for being the first widely released theatrical film to include actual explicit sex, and went on to usher in the Golden Age of Porn in the seventies in which pornography and its stars were at an all-time high in Hollywood.

2/5: A lack of action on screen may leave you feeling kinda blue.

 

The Chelsea Girls (1966)

Warhol found his first commercial success in this split-screen style movie. Running as a three-hour film with two different events unfolding at the same time side-by-side on screen, the unique format is meant to contrast the good and evil depicted on screen. Instead, the doubled video and audio tracks only make for a haphazard, confusing experience with no plot structure to follow. A film like this would be perfectly displayed at an art museum like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (and it was last year), but for a typical theatrical release it makes no sense. While a lot is unfolding for the viewing audience to watch, not much progress or any conclusions are reached, and you will only leave the theater with a headache and confusion.

2/5: These girls provide a splitting performance.

 

Flesh (1968)

Humorous with its trashy moments, this film follows the mundane life of a male hustler looking to save up enough money to fund his girlfriend’s abortion. There’s not too much happening on screen, but again, that’s Warhol’s style, and its sexual content made it revolutionary for its era. Much like Warhol’s 1970 film “Trash” and 1972’s “Heat,” it’s a whole lot of nothing coupled with tons of nudity and drug use that contributes virtually nothing to its appeal or intrigue. And while the budget and shooting is very commercial and has potential for theater release, the films run too long without any major plot to hold on to.

2/5: Not as much skin as you’d think.

 

I, A Man (1967)

Released as a response to popular Scandinavian movie “I, a Woman” from two years prior, the film centers around a man and his sex life. When famed critic Roger Ebert wrote of the film, “[It’s] not dirty, or even funny, or even anything but a very long and pointless home movie,” he was right. It seems as if Warhol’s signature technique of ad-libbed dialogue and nudity without reason didn’t score so high with this release.

2/5: I, a man, am bored.

Lonesome Cowboys (1968)

Opening the film with an explicit sex scene sure is one way to grip your audience. Unfortunately, the rest of the film falls flat and fails to prove any purpose or have any concrete plot.

1/5: Skip this rodeo.

 

Vinyl (1965)

A dull black-and-white rendition of Anthony Burgess’ classic A Clockwork Orange comes up short and delivers a bad excuse for the experimental film genre.  There is absolutely nothing remarkable or visually appealing about this horribly acted, lazy attempt at abstract cinema. “Vinyl” plays out like bad high school theater, set on a ten-foot stage too small to hold all seven of its actors. The film itself was recorded spontaneously one day in Warhol’s famed Factory and such spontaneity is evident in its unrehearsed, amateurish quality that is cheap cinema at its worst. Borrowing heavy influence from the gay S&M scene, the weight-lifting, leather-clad, bleached-blonde, cigarette-smoking leading man has as much stage presence as a can of soup. You’d be better off watching Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the novel, at least there is tons of visual stimuli, albeit shocking and controversial, to keep you interested.

1/5: Hard Brillo-pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I Feel Pretty” is Semi-Attractive

In Amy Schumer’s third leading role since 2015, “I Feel Pretty” sees the popular comedian as an insecure woman working a dreadful job in a basement for a cosmetics company’s website. During a biking class at Soul Cycle, Schumer sustains a head injury and wakes up suddenly confident and spiritually awakened.

Now, with a sense of superior self-esteem, Schumer goes out into the world to chase her dreams and create a better life for herself. Along the journey, Schumer’s character falls in love, becomes estranged from her best friends due to her newfound vanity, and gets a huge promotion at the cosmetics company she works at.

“I Feel Pretty” is a slightly cheesy comedy with a unique premise that is very important in this modern day and age where self-presentation and beauty means everything. While the film promised a quirky journey of one woman’s journey to delusional confidence, it instead delivered an average comedy that instead acts as one long infomercial for the power of Soul Cycle.

Schumer’s newest venture into acting isn’t awful, but it isn’t spectacular. It grossed over $80 million on its $30 million, but critics were less than impressed with her role. Many believed the film inappropriately targets and panders to plus sized woman and persuades them to change their bodies (through Soul Cycle) in order to achieve inner peace.

Chicago Tribune writer said, “[The film] succumbs to all the wrong Hollywood contrivances. It’s just not funny or fresh enough, and that has everything to do with the material and how it’s handled visually, and nothing to do with the people on screen.”

Aside from Schumer’s role, the film also stars funny ladies Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”) and Busy Philipps (“Freaks and Geeks”) and even Michelle Williams (“My Week With Marilyn”) as an airheaded rich CEO.

If you’re looking for groundbreaking comedy, head elsewhere. If you’re looking for a laugh or two, stick around. If you’re looking for an increase in your confidence levels, head to Soul Cycle.

“You Were Never Really Here” Showcases Joaquin Phoenix’s Acting Abilities

2017’s gritty thriller “You Were Never Really Here” with lead Joaquin Phoenix adds a notable film to the actor’s already impressive resume. Rather than going the typical route of the genre and focusing on utter madness and horrifying jump scares, “You Were Never Really Here” instead takes an understated, moodier, arthouse approach to crime and the battle for justice.

Phoenix plays Joe, a hitman who rescues young girls stuck in the sleazy human trafficking industry and uses his brute force to kill those who held them captive. Joe is a war veteran, a grizzly, rough-and-tug type of man with beefy biceps and a long beard. One look at him and you know he plays for real.

Joe’s past is littered with childhood abuse from his father and gruesome acts he was involved in during his years serving in the military. An emotional yet outwardly strong man, he is plagued by his past which frequently surfaces during spouts of PTSD. While upon initial viewing it seems like Joe is the bad guy, it’s later in the film that you realize he’s the one saving the day. Or in this case, saving minors from the traumas of coerced sex work.

Set in New York City, the blurs of nighttime lights and street chatter contribute a dramatic element to the otherwise quiet film. Unlike how other high-action, crime thrillers of modern day rely heavily on loud gunshots and pulsating rap music during their fight scenes, “You Were Never Really Here” barely features any audio at all aside from Joe’s dialogue and natural sounds like foot steps and traffic. It’s this almost poetic nature that sets the film apart from its contenders, standing out amongst ultraviolent gorefests popular of today. Also, its intensity is hardly contained within its 90-minute length.

Phoenix’s previous hit roles include Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic “Gladiator,” M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” and “The Village” respectively, and Spike Jonze’s 2013 sci-fi love story “Her.” Phoenix went on a hiatus after his 2010 rap mockumentary “I’m Still Here” failed to make any impact or receive any acclaim from critics. He returned in 2012 and has since starred in ten feature films.

The importance of “You Were Never Really Here” in addition to Phoenix’s acting resume provides a more complex, sensitive role than he has played in the past. While he did sappily fall in love with his computer in “Her” and play another WWII vet in “The Master,” neither shed insight on the scope of his true abilities.

By playing Joe, Phoenix sheds his skin and underwent not only a buffing of his physical appearance, but also stripped down to his bare emotional spectrum to understand the delicacy in which to play hitman Joe. More than just a hitman, he plays a savior to these young girls enslaved in the sex trade whilst remaining brawny and vulnerable, achieving a complexity unpracticed by most Hollywood heavyweights.

“Hereditary” is the Best Thriller of the 2000s

The 2000’s have seen impressive additions to horror cinema, including “The Ring,” the “Saw” franchise, “Orphan” and “Get Out,” and now joining those ranks is Ari Aster’s debut feature film “Hereditary” starring Toni Colette.

The film surrounds a family in the aftermath of their grandmother’s death. Colette plays a miniature artist named Annie struggling to come to terms with the loss of her mother and trying to remain stable for her two kids, Charlie and Peter. Annie feels the weight of guilt for her estranged mother’s death, feeling as if there was something she could’ve done to prevent it. The two of them had a difficult relationship, partly due to her mother’s dissociative identity disorder (DID).

As the story progresses, the audience learns of the family’s tragic history of mental illness and how it’s led many members of the family to madness and even death. Despite already being burdened by grief, Annie’s daughter Charlie dies after her head during a frantic drive home whilst going into anaphylactic shock. Similar to 1960’s “Psycho,” one of the central characters from the movie poster surprisingly dies within the first act of the film.

Hurting and looking for company, Annie befriends a woman named Joan from a support group for grieving family members who teaches her how to successfully perform a séance for her diseased daughter. Annie’s relationship with her son Peter has been tense since a sleepwalking accident years prior almost saw Annie murder him in his sleep with paint thinner and a match. Annie convinces her family to perform a séance for Charlie, which only causes further damage to the family.

From there, the plot takes a shadowy descent into terror. Reading as one long running anxiety attack, the film never loosens its grip on the audience’s fear. None of the film’s two-hour runtime seems wasted, as every minute is marked with tension and a foreboding feeling that something is creeping around the corner.

Toni Colette hasn’t shown such extreme commitment to a role since 2009’s Golden Globe and Emmy winning series “Untied States of Tara” in which she played a mother crippled by DID. The agonizingly intense emotional agony Colette faces in “Hereditary” not only makes for superior supernatural cinema, but also fictionalizes the unrelenting wrath of mental illness on the family dynamic.

While “Hereditary” is an amazing horror film for the textbooks, it also stands as a statement on how mental illness detrimentally affects family life. Annie’s disbelieving husband is no support to her and only believes she’s fabricating her issues, orchestrating a conspiracy of peculiar events surrounding the family. Annie is painted as the crazy wife and the problems she faces are belittled as all in her mind, a common reality for those suffering with any sort of mental health issues.

Disguised as a supernatural, occult horror film, “Hereditary” speaks a lot about how mental illness can set a family on fire from the inside out. And what does that mean exactly? You’ll have to wait and see.

10 Stills Series #1: “The Virgin Suicides”

Sofia Coppola, filmmaker and daughter of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather”), made her directorial debut with 1999’s “The Virgin Suicides,” a heartbreaking tale of sisterhood in 1970s suburban Detroit. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides, this sweet but sordid tale confronted taboo themes of mental illness, suicide, and virginity with utmost delicacy. Starring Kirsten Dunst (“Spider-Man”), the film is told from the perspective of the neighborhood teen boys who are utterly curious about the Lisbon sisters and end up falling in love with their allure.

“The Virgin Suicides” not only provides fragile yet poignant commentary on teenagerhood its complexity, it also accompanies the tragic love story with beautifully framed visuals. Join us as we examine ten gorgeous still moments from the film and discuss their graphic impact on the audience.

During a dinner scene at the Lisbon home, one of the infatuated neighborhood boys sneaks off to explore the sisters’ bedroom. Here on the door is an example of the spirituality of the girls, who decorate their room with religious iconography and tarot cards. Mysticism is not only enjoyed and practiced by the girls, it also cloaks them in mystery, as their private lives were never fully known or understood to anyone besides themselves.

After youngest sister Cecilia Lisbon attempts suicide by slashing her wrists in the bathtub, the family throws a party for the girls to celebrate her recovery and to boost family morale. Mrs. Lisbon invites the neighborhood boys over and they all drink fruit punch in the basement while she chaperones. During the party, Cecilia asks her mother to be excused, and proceeds to jump out of her bedroom window and impale herself onto the family’s fence, killing herself instantly. This is the last frame in which we see 13-year-old Cecilia alive, and the melancholy on her face is heart wrenching for the viewer to see.

Following the suicide of Cecilia, the sisters fall further into a depressed state. The priest from their church comes by to visit the home and give his best wishes, and it’s clear that mourning had taken a toll on the home and the girls, increasingly impairing their sense of reality.

The neighborhood boys get ahold of Cecilia’s diary and read it together, diving deep into the fantasy world of the Lisbon sisters. Along the journey they discover more tidbits about the girls and learn about their private lives: their likes, dislikes, and past experiences. Because the girls are so sheltered by their strict, religious parents, they are forbidden to leave the house except for school, which means they never get a chance to hang out with the infatuated boys. It’s whimsical, warm, bright shots like this that lend a soft glare to the film’s otherwise tragic tones.

In school, the girls become disillusioned and bored with suburban life. They cut class to smoke cigarettes in the bathroom and hang out together. While it’s obvious they are very angsty teenagers, they are also grieving the loss of their young sister and developing mental illnesses.

Soon, Lux Lisbon falls head over heels for bad boy Trip Fontaine. The two sneak away during school to kiss outside and hold hands. Their romance blossoms and unfolds on screen in a daydream of young love. For the first time, we see one of the Lisbon sisters happy and genuinely enjoying herself amidst the agonizing weight of suburban life under a strict, religious, oppressive homelife.

Uncharacteristically, Mrs. Lisbon allows the girls to go to the Homecoming Dance at school. Trip and Lux ultimately win the titles of King and Queen.

Here, Lux wakes up before dawn in the middle of the school’s football field. The night before was Homecoming, and Trip and her snuck away during it to have sex on the field. Trip had run off earlier, leaving Lux here alone after taking her virginity. Lux is hurt and takes a taxi back home, and her relationship with Trip falls apart. Her anguish and heartbreak play out on screen in this tear-jerking scene following such an intimate experience.

The sisters are punished for breaking curfew at Homecoming and are taken out of school by Mrs. Lisbon in fear that they are being polluted by their morally bankrupt peers. The girls are cut off from the outside world, forbidden to leave the house or have any taste of the real world. They grow restless and bored, disenchanted with the lives they were living cooped up in their house all day every day with nothing to look forward to.

The Lisbon sisters soon reach out to the neighborhood boys and begin calling them and playing their vinyl records through the phone as a way of conversing. Without any means of in-person communication, they rely on music and Morse code light signals to speak to the girls. A plan is hatched for the boys to come over one night, but when the time rolls around, the boys enter their home only to realize each sister had committed suicide. Following the suicides, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon move away from suburbia, leaving the neighborhood without answers.

“Tag” is a Losing Game

While the essence of the film is a touching ode to squandered youth and a chase for eternal childhood, it’s nothing to hit the playground about.

“Tag” is based (loosely) on the true story of grown men who gather once a year to play a game of tag they started 30 years ago. The cast includes an impressive comedic lineup of Ed Helms (“We Are the Millers”), Jake Johnson (“New Girl”), Hannibal Buress (“Broad City”), Rashida Jones (“Parks & Recreation”) along with more serious actors Jeremy Renner (“The Avengers”), Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) and Isla Fisher (“Now You See Me”).

The biggest issue with the film is its lack of grip or motive. Viewing audiences are left waiting to be captivated or emotionally invested from the characters, but their interest is never peaked by the childish onscreen shenanigans of these grown white men. And while the cast is made up of some big stars, they contribute nothing to the plot to make it worth the while. Even Meryl Streep or Morgan Freeman wouldn’t be able to conjure anything from the pile of rubble that is the bro fest of “Tag.”

While it seems to be performing well in the box office – already scoring $40+ million above its budget in the month it has been out – the lack of depth will leave viewers wishing they were chased with something, let alone anything at all. As Hamm and Helms run around on screen, you’d wish you were running out of the theater just to get your heart pumping from this snooze fest.

This is another example of a bro comedy with humorless, unstimulating jokes about weed and boners that did not need to be made. It’s almost ironic how unwitty the film is, and how unaware the characters are that they are contributing virtually nothing to the movie. When one of the character’s dads notes, “To live in the past is to die in the present,” it’s this lack of self-awareness that elicits an eye roll from the audience watching a movie about grown men who play tag.

And even the tag scenes are devoid of any action-packed martial arts sequences or slick fight moves. And if it’s a movie about tag, the tag sequences should be kickass in nature.

Glenn Kenny, critic for late Roger Ebert’s film site writes, “It’s a lazy, vulgar celebration of White Male American Dumbness – one that only put an African American in the cast to camouflage just how much of a celebration of White Male American Dumbness it is.” Harsh words indeed, but you get the point.

The contribution “Tag” makes to Hollywood is as beneficial as apple juice in a car’s gas tank: it’s not. Nothing unique or thought-provoking stems from this so-called “comedy.” And sure, not every new release has to be groundbreaking like “Titanic” or “Pulp Fiction,” but at least it should elicit some thought or emotion in the viewer. But alas, “Tag” has the impact of a fart in a spacesuit.

“The First Purge” is Unexpectedly Woke

A far cry from the home invasion horror of “The Purge,” the newest addition to the franchise swaps out jump scares for serious race issues. Diehard fans may be turned off by the realism and politics behind the film, but it’s undeniable that what is acted out on screen happens offscreen as well.

The film acts as a prequel to the three other films, tracing the Purge Night tradition back to its very first run. Originally a social experiment in Staten Island organized by the New Founding Fathers of America, residents were offered $5,000 if they stuck around for the night. During the twelve hours in which the purge is taking place, all criminal behavior is legalized as a means of cleansing the soul of its sinful, darkest desires. People were encouraged to purge and would be given monetary compensation if they committed crimes that night, as long as they wore specialized contact lenses that recorded their activity.

Alas, what began as fun and games becomes increasingly deadly. When it’s realized that normal people don’t feel the need to purge, criminal activity is hush. With failure not an option, government funded gang members start appearing and mercilessly killing on the streets. The New Founding Fathers couldn’t carry out this experiment without participation and they want the whole nation to follow suit, so that’s why they send in reinforcements to make sure the purge is pulling numbers. This means innocent citizens are being killed by the government.

This corruption may be off-putting because it’s so familiar and realistic. While our government isn’t slaughtering us in the streets for the sake of a social experiment, but it is one that is known to hide a few secrets up its sleeves. It’s this practicality that makes this “Purge” film stand out for all the right reasons.

While the average “Purge” fan might be confused by the lack of bloodthirsty middleclass people, the lack of Hollywood allure and fantasy makes the film important. Social unrest, a huge theme of the film, is a common occurrence for many modern Americans disenchanted and disenfranchised by the current political climate. “The First Purge” confronts viewers with a white-washed government that would want nothing more than to eliminate the weaklings, or the impoverished people of color living in the inner city.

Racial tensions and socioeconomical unbalance seems to be on the rise lately. Since 2016, dozens of unarmed black men have been shot down by the police, President Trump has separated families and the #MeToo movement rocked society with sexual misconduct by heavy hitters in Hollywood. “The First Purge” offers an modern, empowered, predominantly POC view of the volatile world, well equipped with shocking murder, white supremacy, and nods to Tyler Perry.

Purging one’s soul is good. Catharsis is crucial when it comes to coping and dealing with stresses and emotions. Purging the world of cliché, tacky horror movies is good too, and “The First Purge” delivered a thoughtful which the genre hasn’t seen in a while.

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.