I’m a bad planner and didn’t save myself many words for the intro, but this is a new weekly space where I’ll be recommending TV shows and movies on streaming services for you to watch each weekend. Some weeks it might be four. Some weeks it might be just one. It might also be a play space for me to tell some personal anecdotes and make jokes. Who knows! We’re in this together, you and I. This week, I have one series and one movie for your viewing pleasure.
Netflix, TV-MA, 13 episodes, run times between 44-55 minutes
This crime-doc mini-series from French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade originally aired in 2004, but is now back on streaming services with three new episodes in tow. If you don’t know, the series follows the case of Durham, N.C., newspaper columnist Michael Peterson, who was accused of murdering his wife Kathleen after she was found dead at the bottom of — wait for it — a staircase.
What’s most fascinating about the series is the lens it gives viewers into how the U.S. justice system works. It focuses mainly on Peterson’s defense team, with attorney David Rudolph given the most screen time. De Lestrade gets access to Rudolph and Co.’s internal meetings, preparing strategies for jury selection and conducting tests to see whether or not people will find the defense’s crime scene analyst convincing on the stand due to his accent, among other things. If this sounds appealing yet a bit boring, I promise it’s plenty more interesting on screen.
Also, I have to be honest: The other reason I wanted to write about "The Staircase" is so I can talk to people about something that does NOT appear in the series, but does absolutely exist in the real-life Peterson case, and that is The Owl Theory.
“Wait, what’s The Owl Theory, Ryan? It can’t be exactly what it sounds like, that a barn owl was the real murderer all along.”
Friends, it’s exactly what it sounds like, that a barn owl was the real murderer all along. The theory states that the owl flew into the Peterson home when the back door was left open, dug its claws into Kathleen’s skull as she climbed the stairs, and then flew away as Kathleen fell backwards and crumpled to the floor, where she lay until Michael found her. It is bananas, but some people truly believe it. Why de Lestrade didn't include it, I don't know.
From director David Lowery comes the story of a young married couple, played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, whom we only come to know as M and C, respectively. C dies within a few minutes of the movie’s start and returns as a ghost, noted by Affleck literally wearing a white sheet with cut-out eye holes the rest of the movie. It sounds silly, but if you let the movie wrap its arms around you, it completely works. The mood Lowery is able to create in this world, one of melancholy longing, is ironically otherworldly.
It’s at this point I should say that "A Ghost Story" isn’t a happy movie, nor is it a horror film, which I think confused people.
What it is, is gutting.
When C returns, he watches M’s life without him. He watches her grive, and as the years pass, he watches her date other men. He watches her leave the home they built together, and watches a new family enter it. As the movie progresses, it transforms from a meditation on grief to something else entirely, something you should watch un-spoiled.
Maybe it’s because I’ve lost two close family members in four years and have had my heart broken a few times, but this movie hit me like none other. It’s heady stuff, but it's also powerful stuff. And if you feel like letting your emotions get the best of you on a Friday night (this movie MUST be watched at night for atmospheric reasons, not scary ones), please give this beautiful film a try.
*Throws 20 tissues in the trash*
Whew. I didn’t anticipate the initial Binge Blog to be this serious, but here we are. As a reward for reading it all, I’ll link you to this scene from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), which is a real movie directed by Werner Herzog and starring Nicholas Cage that you can stream on Amazon Prime Video (Rated R, 121 minutes). It is a ridiculous film, and if that clip appeals to you, I suggest you watch the whole thing.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.