thoughts on house of cards: episodes 1-4

Kevin Spacey wants to rule the world, and we humble mortals better get out of his way. The veteran actor joins an all-star cast in House of Cards, the atmospheric political thriller set to turn White House politics on its devious, manipulative head. Armed with the freedom of paid cable networks and the pedigree of Oscar nominees behind and before the camera, this show somehow manages to be as intellectual as it is hip. It’s an edgy, moody story with ambitions overshadowed only by the ones held by its ruthless protagonist.

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The Gist

House of Cards wastes no time in establishing its deceptively simple storyline: Francis “Frank” Underwood (Spacey) wants to dismantle and destroy the current presidential administration. This familiar plot of revenge is revitalized by Underwood himself, a charismatic, dangerously intelligent politician with a disarming Southern drawl. His near maniacal grip on vengeance is tempered by his wife’s serenely cool, but equally determined drive. Robin Wright gives Claire Underwood a blend of grace and understated ruthlessness rarely seen. It’s clear Frank and Claire were meant for each other, two star-crossed lovers who see one another’s sense of purpose reflected in the other. These two could have ruled a small continent back in the Middle Ages. Instead, they have their sights set on Capitol Hill.

Surrounding the Underwoods, is a cast of pawns. Frank handily picks up two lackeys on his quest for political domination: Zoe Barnes, a sexualized twist on the plucky girl reporter (played by Rooney Mara‘s sister, Kate Mara), and Pete Russo, a Congressman with an easily blackmail-able history of drug use and prostitution. Meanwhile, both Claire and Frank alternate interactions with Remy, a deep-pocketed lobbyist who trades funding for favors. What quickly becomes apparent is everyone has an agenda. In Frank’s world, you succeed by understanding these agendas – and then exploiting them to promote your own. Part of the fun of the show is watching how easy Frank makes this all look.

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Episodes 1-4

The first four episodes of House of Cards are exquisite, but they also feel like warm-up drills for an athlete before the actual game. Frank is setting things in motion and taking out minor players like regular people sweep out the trash. It almost feels…reflexive. Frank is merely reacting to betrayal: the intellectual equivalent of a hot-headed man’s resort to his fists. He leaves a wake of disgraced Congressmen in his path as well as decisively eliminating the Secretary of State and House Majority Leader by the end of episode four. If the show can deliver on the promise of these early episodes, then it’s set for a meteoric season arc. The potential of House of Cards is seemingly limitless, thanks to Frank’s incalculable drive and ambition. Would Frank be satisfied by merely take out the president or would he want to sit in the Oval Office himself? Is Frank the sort of man who would ever be satisfied with anything? For the sake of this show, hopefully not.

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The Game Changer

The most shocking element of House of Cards has nothing to do with the story (or the language or the sexual content). The first season of the show premiered – in its entirety – on February 1, 2013 at midnight. As if that wasn’t revolutionizing enough, the episodes are only available on Netflix. While making shows for the internet isn’t a new concept, the scale, scope and talent have arguably never even come close to House of Cards. And with Netflix set to exclusively release fourteen episodes of Arrested Development this May, the media company is poised to become a major player in television production.

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Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.

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oscar buzz: thoughts on django unchained

Django Unchained is a brash film that tackles pre-Civil War America in all its racist, ridiculous, and blood-soaked glory. This film, it almost goes without saying, is not for everyone. The humor ranges from sweet to downright disgusting, and the violence starts out strong and escalates to a volatile finish. That being said, if you love Tarantino, you’ll love this. It’s bold done right – in-your-face storytelling that revels in the knowledge that boundaries are meant to be stepped on, laughed at, and ultimately, obliterated.

AA

Plot Overview

This wild ride revolves around the partnership between Django and Dr. King Schultz, an enterprising German expatriate. In three sweeping acts, Tarantino takes moviegoers through Django’s transformative journey from enslaved bounty hunter to masquerading Mandingo buyer to victorious angel of vengeance. Dr. Schultz is, for most of the movie, Django’s Virgil, leading and even enabling the lost man through the circles of white supremacist hell. At its heart, this film is really about Django’s quest to be reunited with his wife, a slave sold to the deliciously villainous Calvin Candie. However, oddly enough, that storyline turns out to be the least compelling, a fragile frame upon which the characters and side stories of a far more intriguing nature can be displayed. Not that it really matters. By the time Django seizes his revenge – out of a pile of dead bodies – all minor complaints are cast aside by the cleansing force that only a good shoot’-em-up finale can deliver.

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Oscar Nominations

  • Best Picture
  • Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz

Chances of Django riding away with Oscar gold this February? Pretty low. The violent masterpiece is already steeped in multiple racial and gun control controversies, but the real truth is that this just isn’t the Academy’s usual cup of tea. With Daniel Day Lewis method-acting his way through Lincoln and American heroes taking out Bin Laden over in Zero Dark Thirty, there isn’t a lot of room for this bloody film that amuses as often as it horrifies. Really though, as cliché as it sounds, it is an honor just to be nominated. The Academy has never been the biggest fan of Tarantino, but it still recognizes his talent…albeit at a conservative trickle. (Though it’s worthy of note that Tarantino did at least take home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction.)

On the other hand, the Academy already loves Waltz: they gave him the same award he’s nominated for now just four years ago. However, that role was a bit meatier and nastier. It would be hard for anyone to out act Waltz as Nazi nightmare Colonel Hans Landau– even Waltz himself. He certainly puts his all into Dr. Schultz, but Schultz – bless his heart – can’t hold a candle to Landau.

B

Oscar Snubs

  • Best Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson

I suppose someone – not me – could make a case that Jamie Foxx deserves a nomination. Personally, I found his portrayal of the titular character merely suitable; it never seemed to move beyond a straight interpretation of a phenomenal script. The lack of nominations for those listed above is a different story. No one directs like Tarantino, and yet the man is still without a directing Oscar. I would have been happy if either DiCaprio or Jackson nabbed a nomination, but only awarding Waltz with the honor makes little sense after actually watching the movie. Once the story moves to its hearty middle, Waltz all but disappears under the stunning force and personality of Candie and his manservant Stephens, played by Jackson. (And not to gripe, but how did Alan Arkin beat out both these men to receive a nomination? I loved Arkin’s turn in Argo – another great movie of 2013 – but his character hardly makes a blip on my radar compared to the craters created by the denizens of Candieland.)

C

Trivia

  • Spot Quentin Tarantino in a rather long (and explosive) cameo as an Australian miner.
  • See any blood dripping mysteriously down Calvin Candie’s arm? Turns out Leonardo DiCaprio accidentally cut himself in a scene, but the camera kept rolling and he kept acting. Seriously, where is that man’s Oscar?
  • Tarantino wrote the screenplay with Will Smith in mind for the title role, but the actor turned it down.
  • Do you love action figures and Tarantino movies? Well, you’re in luck: Django toys are out of the manufacturing stage – and into a fire pit of controversy and protest.

doctor who recapping: the snowmen

Previously on Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan

If it’s not spider aliens below the Thames or kamikaze cruise ships careening past the stars, then it has to be biting snowmen in 19th century London. Christmas and the Doctor collide once again, and the result is just as chilling, charming, and wondrously campy as the best Moffat and co. have offered in a while.

A

Plot

  • The Doctor mourns the loss of the Ponds in his own way; i.e., by sulking around 19th century London and parking his TARDIS in a seemingly permanent cloud bank.
  • Enter Clara. Clara is a clever and very familiar looking barmaid/governess who becomes instantly intrigued with the Doctor.
  • Clara and the Doctor accidentally discover the iceberg tip of evil Doctor Simeon’s plans to take over the world with parasite snow, a sentient snowglobe, and the hybrid forms of a couple frozen corpses. (It’s best to just accept the feasibility of this plan without a fight.)
  • Unfortunately, the Doctor is out of the whole “world saving business” and he just wants to leave the Earth alone (albeit from a couple hundred feet above its surface).
  • Clara is not a girl you can easily say no to though — even if you’re a Time Lord.
  • Together with old friends like lizard alien Vastra, Vastra’s wife Jenny, and Sontaran Strax, the Doctor and Clara take on a dead ice woman (Clara’s predecessor at her current governing gig).
  • Things seem to be going along fairly smoothly: fun outsmartings of the frozen governess, flirty back-and-forths between Clara and the Doctor, and comic relief from our alien friends…and then it all falls apart.
  • Immediately after the Doctor offers Clara a key to the TARDIS — a physical representation of his willingness to move forward and enjoy life once again with a new companion — the ice woman emerges from the cloud bank to throw Clara hundreds of feet to the icy ground below.
  • While mostly dead Clara is left to Strax’s medical ministrations, the Doctor and Vastra confront Doctor Simeon and the evil alien parasite that eventually is revealed to control him.
  • All hope seems lost, but then the snow minions are defeated by a magical salty rain brought about by an entire family crying on Christmas (specifically, the family Clara serves as a governess for — again, just accept it.)
  • The Doctor returns in time to hear Clara’s last words: “Run, you clever boy, run. And remember.”
  • What? The Doctor is no idiot. He realizes an impossible connection must exist between Oswin Oswald, the girl turned Dalek turned dead from his adventures in The Asylum of the Daleks, and Clara.
  • As he happily flies away in the TARDIS in search of his twice-dead girl, viewers are treated to a modern Clara doppelganger in the middle of an overgrown cemetery, blissfully reading, of course, the tombstone for one Clara Oswin Oswald.

BTalking Points

Clara Oswin Oswald…Who?
Are we all caught up? Actress Jenna Louise Coleman has mysteriously already played two characters in her short time with the show. First off was souffle-baking Oswin Oswald in the season’s premiere. She turned out to be a Dalek right before dying. Now we meet Clara. Clara gets to actually talk to the Doctor face to face, and their flirty and feisty repartee lays easy groundwork for a whole season’s worth of entertaining chemistry. Of course, that Clara died as well, but presumably the next Clara will hit it off with the Doctor as well as the first two. My theories are all half baked (besides the one where Clara is a cat alien with nine lives), so I’m resigned to wait with the rest of the Whovian world.

Fun
It’s no secret Moffat likes to have a little fun with his scripts, and why shouldn’t he? From no less than four “Doctor who?” jokes to potato-inspired jabs at Strax, this special seemed made for Doctor Who fans who love the show as much as Moffat does. Could some tighter editing have been employed? Sure, but all has to be forgiven in the face of the Doctor masquerading as Sherlock Holmes while music reminiscent of Moffat’s other hit show Sherlock plays in the background. Meta-magnificence! Add in a fantastically sinister performance from Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of the parasite, and I was sold.

Quick Gripe
As much as I enjoyed The Snowmen, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have at least one silly complaint. What’s up with the “winter is coming” line? I get that it’s a seemingly generic and pithy way of announcing the arrival of the next season, but come on…That was literally the promo line for Game of Thrones’ first season. References are fun (see above), but the mention here — twice! — does absolutely nothing for Game of Thrones or Doctor Who. For the former, it’s the noble words of everyone’s favorite honorable family; for the latter, it’s just the power-crazed rambling of a parasitic snowflake. If there’s an insightful connection there, I refuse to see it.

CQuotes

The Doctor: I’m the clever one. You’re the potato one.

Clara: It’s smaller on the outside.

The Doctor: I never know how. I only know who.
Clara: Who’s this?
The Doctor: Me. Giving in.

Strax: Madame Vastra wondered if you were needing any grenades.
The Doctor: Grenades?
Strax: She might have said help.

Vastra: Good evening. I am a lizard woman from the dawn of time, and this is my wife.

Clara: Run, you clever boy, run. And remember.

Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.


revolution recapping: the children’s crusade

Previously on Revolution: Sex and Drugs

I found this episode just as fulfilling, mesmerizing, and inspiring as its previous installments. Take from that what you will.

Plot
Charlie and the gang take on an impossible mission to save a boy seized by the militia (Peter played by Griffin Freeman) . In a plan of stunning clarity and vision, Charlie decides the best way to do this is by entering the belly of the beast, aka the big brainwashing ship the Monroe militia uses to indoctrinate their new recruits. Things go badly, of course, and Charlie ends up being branded with the militia “M” and Aaron accidentally turns on a lighthouse with the magical pendant this show more or less hinges upon. By the end of the episode, however, everyone escapes, including the boy everyone was trying to save. Hooray.

Over at the Monroe Reupiblic, Rachel feels bad for giving away the secret about the necklaces to Monroe (see what I said about hinging?) We find out in her flashback that her husband accidentally created what would be become the Big Off Switch of the World in an attempt to actually make a new type of clean energy. The government apparently liked it (that’s new) enough to send their man Randall to convince Rachel and her husband through silly domineering tactics that they just “want to be friends,” i.e. get their grubby hands all over the new weapon.

Back in the present, we discover Grace is still alive and under the control of the also-still-alive Randall. Expect both these characters to do something noteworthy in the future.

Thoughts
Revolution beat out the competition again this week, but ratings are slightly down. My personal assessment? This show is on life support. Not in, you know, the actual world – just in my head. The characters are difficult to connect with and the plotting is meandering, at best, and nonsensical, at worst. I see a ton of good ideas, but they’re muddled under a soupy mixture of poorly conceived storytelling. I’m slightly sad because I hate to be this critical about such an initially ambitious and promising show. My weakness has and always will be for stories that dare to shove conventionality out the window, but Revolution is not interested in telling that kind of story. It’s a concept show desperately trying to follow in Lost’s already well-tread footsteps while maintaining a firm grip on their mainstream audience. Since I – and I imagine many of my fellow television fans — don’t need Lost II or a miasma of characters and storylines appealing to the “masses,” I think I might be done.


Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.


revolution recapping: sex and drugs

Previously on Revolution: Soul Train

I may or may not have developed a soft spot for this bizarre, little show. It’s sort of a silly mess, but I keep tuning in every week because – like it or not – I am entertained. Perhaps not for the right reasons, but entertainment is entertainment. Whether or not this is the tone writers are going for, Revolution is essentially a post-apocalyptic comedy, a niche show trying to pass itself off as a tougher Lost and a baby Walking Dead.

Plot

Nora’s stab wound needs some medical attention, so Miles takes the gang to the mansion of his half friend, half enemy Lando Calrissian – wait, I mean Drexel (played by Todd Stashwick, Heroes, Justified). Drexel’s a weird dude who somehow manages to grow drugs in his backyard and run a brothel-like establishment. He helps Nora, but makes Charlie dress up as one of “his girls” to go assassinate a neighbor he doesn’t like.

Meanwhile, this week’s flashbacks feature distraught, frowning Aaron. We meet his wife, Priscilla Pittman (played by Maureen Sebastian), follow the couple’s dysentery-plagued post-blackout adventures,  and meet Sean, the manly, one-dimensional hero who saves their lives at least twice. Turns out, Aaron left his wife almost a year after the blackout because he felt like he couldn’t protect her anymore. Hmm.

Miles escapes Drexel’s to stop Charlie from murdering the nice neighbor. Back at the mansion, Drexel tries to get Nora and Aaron to shoot each other (the winner gets to walk away!), but Aaron shoots himself instead. Aaron’s flask stops the bullet, and then he uses the shocked seconds following his miraculous recovering to shoot Drexel. Nora and Aaron meet up with Miles and Charlie – andddd we’re back at square one.

And over at Monroe City (probably not its real name) we find out that Monroe is sending a bad ass killer to hunt down our protagonists with instructions to wipe out everyone but Miles. Jason is sad because Charlie is the only love interest he has, but his dad, Tom, is happy because he is promoted to head torturer. Hooray!

Talking Points

Drexel Strikes Back

Man, this episode was predictable. From the weird Empire Strikes Back-esque stand-off in front of Drexel’s house (Cloud City, anyone??) to Aaron supposedly dying before his flashbacks had been neatly tied up, nothing felt that suspenseful. No offense, Revolution, but your strong point has never – will likely never – be your characters. You coast by on one ridiculous plot twist after another. Predictability is not your friend.

Rachel and the Big Evil Monroe Republic

So I’ve been legitimately enjoying (in a non-ironic and non-cynical) way the scenes set in Monroe City. There’s a bit more weight and substance available when the scale is set to republic leaders and republic warfare. Not to mention, Elizabeth Mitchell (Rachel) is easily the most convincing actor on set, followed closely by Giancarlo Esposito (Tom). Now that the two are in the same city, I don’t feel compelled to go anywhere else. (Downside is that the two least convincing actors also reside here).

In Defense of Complaining

I’m not alone, of course; there are a lot of Revolution “haters” out there. While I wouldn’t necessarily put myself in that boat, I do feel my metaphorical hackles rising when I hear people criticizing the criticizers for being too nit-picky, impossible to satisfy, ungrateful, etc., etc. Look, there is no reason a multi-million dollar show like this one should be so thread-bare on character development, acting, plot progression, and general purpose – not to mention a seemingly fundamental misunderstanding of the genre it reside in. Each week I try to keep an open mind, but it’s getting increasingly difficult. The more I watch, the more I feel as if I’m lowering my standards of what’s possible in television story-telling just to accommodate what exists. It’s not a good feeling.

News

Do you have a guess about the blackout’s origin? Well, you’re wrong. Take it from Revolution showrunner Erik Kripke: “The sweet spot is to find an answer that’s actually scarier than what you were thinking,” Kripke says. “Like, ‘Oh wait, this is not even just about electricity.’ And that’s what we’re designing.”

Ooo.

Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.


30 rock recapping: stride of pride

Hold your head up high, intrepid and hilarious characters of 30 Rock. This week you battled sexism, defended sex idiots, and fought the misty middle ground between Hollywood jailbait and Helen Mirren-esque hotness. What more can viewers ask for?

Jenna vs. Aging

A tabloid article erroneously reports Jenna’s age to be 56. The staff of TGS freaks out, only to belatedly discover that Jenna herself planted the article. She knows her status as a hip teenager is pushing the bounds of believability, so her solution is to skip middle age and head straight for the “looking good for ­­#” territory of the hot older woman.

Liz vs. Comedy Sexism

Tracy declares that no woman has ever been funny (in the history of the world) and that, in fact, monkeys actually rank higher on the comedic totem pole. Liz seeks to disprove this ridiculous claim with a comedy skit. The entire TGS cast gives the skit an enthusiastic standing ovation. Of course, Tracy admits he only found it funny because a woman pretended to be a doctor and Jenna tried to look young – but Liz takes what she can get.

Jack vs. the Sex Idiot

Meanwhile, Jack balances dates with everyone from the heiress of the Sbarro franchises to a simpering moron who has double jointed hips. His world is rocked, however, when he realizes one of his girlfriends might be giving him the same two-timing treatment. The Sbarro heiress introduces him to her sex idiot, Ryan Lochte (in a performance on par with his Olympic showing – if for much different reasons). Jack learns to accept his status as the “father figure” in relationships along with its sedate benefits.

Quotes

Jenna: You look like that flash card they told me means sadness.

­­———-

Tracy’s tweet: I agree @TheRealStephenHawking women are not funny. Never have been. Never will be. #PlotPoint

———-

Liz: Lizzy Lemon has had a little awakening in her bathing suit area.
Jack: Lemon, I’ve seen your bathing suits — that could be anywhere.

———-

Cerie: Sorry Liz, I’m not even sure if they serve brunch after . . . the 90s.

———-

Jack: I’m Great Escape-ing you. You have every right to do the same.
Zarina: My generation calls it Pokémon-ing. You gotta catch ‘em all.

———-

Jack: How many other Pokémons are there?
Zarena: Jack, the plural of Pokémon is Pokémon.

———-

Jack: There are no bad ideas, Lemon — only great ideas that go horribly wrong.

———-

Jenna: Just be the older person. It’s fun. You get to say racist stuff whenever you want. And people bring you soup!

Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.


revolution recapping: soul train

Previously on Revolution: Plague Dogs

I’m not sure if there has ever been a dystopian, pseudo-post-apocalyptic television program that was as laugh-out-loud funny as Revolution is. The laughs probably aren’t always (or ever) intentional, but if you’re a fan of Acting Facial Expressions 101 and sudden and inexplicable plot twists, you’ll have a good time.

And if you’re a sappy, science-fiction dreamer who doesn’t know how to let a corny show go, then stay away.

Plot

Well, in this episode Charlie and company finally catch up to her captured brother Danny – only to lose him again. This all goes down in a little town energized by the presence of a big train. There are some confrontations: Charlie and Neville meet face-to-face for the first time, Miles and Neville fight, and not-Nate heroically defies Neville’s orders to help Charlie escape.

Got all that? Don’t worry; even if you skipped this entire episode, nothing much actually progressed. The biggest progression probably falls in the arena of “character development.” Nora realizes the fun of exploding things isn’t worth it if it costs human lives. Pre-blackout Neville realizes it’s okay to hit humans (not just punching bags) when your family’s life is at stake. Charlie realizes frowning, whining, and complaining 24/7 have been getting her nowhere, so she decides to toughen up and (presumably) get more interesting.

And in the end, two actual story developments popped up. Remember not-Nate? His name is Jason, and he’s actually Neville’s son! Also, Monroe gets Rachel to confess that there are 12 secret necklaces that will help turn the power back on. A hunt for an unwieldy number of objects that will probably take the whole season, if not longer? Sounds like J. J. Abrams! (Or Harry Potter – hello, horcruxes.)

Talking Points

Griping

Just call me, Charlie, right? So, yes, I’m having trouble keeping the negativity out of my analysis of this show – I can admit that. You know what I think it is? This show is so close to approaching greatness (and by close I mean . . . in the neighborhood. Or at least in the same state).  In my not-very-humble opinion, I think television needs more programs that push the boundaries of what we think is drama, what we crave as human interaction, and what we consider as a philosophical approach to the moral dilemmas we face every day. Is Revolution doing any of those things? No, not really, but it has the premise and the back story to achieve something close – burdened down, of course, by the character development and the plot progression of a slow-moving train to hell. I don’t know. After five episodes, I guess it’s still a draw.

Can You Handle It?

There’s an amazingly brilliant article from Market Watch writer David. B Wilkerson about problems Revolution and NBC may be forced to face in the coming weeks. Wilkerson writes, “Revolution is the kind of series that demands that its audience pay a lot of attention and think hard about each episode, as the ABC program Lost did so well . . . That sort of program may be too much for viewers who lead stressful daily lives.”

Oh, man. This world we live in. On this quote alone, I have reason to keep watching.

Revolution takes a break next week, but it’ll return Monday, October 29.

Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.


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