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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 4 (Review)

So you lied to his face?

No. I revised the parametres of my promise.

Which is lying.

Which is politics.

– Bob Birch and Frank Underwood

After spending three episodes lining everything up and getting all the plot points and characters to where they need to be, it looks like House of Cards is finally ready to kick into high gear. There’s still a sense that show isn’t as comfortable with its amoral and sociopathic lead character as it should be, but there’s finally a sense of what Frank Underwood is capable of. We’ve seen him topple the incoming Secretary of State using just a college article that the man didn’t write, but that sort of politicking should be second-nature to Underwood at this point. Here, Frank is a bit more ruthless, a bit less concerned about collateral damage.

That’s really the key here. House of Cards needs us to root for Frank despite his drive for power at all costs, without excusing it. It looks like we’re getting to where we need to be.

Speaking Frankly...

Speaking Frankly…

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House of Cards (US, 2013): Chapter 2 (Review)

Get ready, Cathy, things are about to move very quickly.

– Frank is moving

That’s more like it. After a rocky season premiere, it looks like House of Cards might finally be settling into a groove. It’s very strange to see a four-part BBC drama adapted into a full thirteen-episode season of an American television show. Of course, the United States has a very different political system, so the machinations of the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives could never overlap fully with those of Sir Francis Urquhart. However, the first episode needed a sense of traction that was so sorely lacking.

Luckily, the second episode picks up the slack. The pieces are all in play, the characters are established. The game can be afoot.

Underwood tactics...

Underwood tactics…

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My 12 for ’12: The Master & The American Century

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #6

It’s very weird being a popular culture nerd who lives outside the United States. A significant portion of pop culture is exported directly from the United States. I grew up on Star Trek and Batman, two iconic American franchises. I probably know more about American history – filtered through feature films, television shows and other popular forms of entertainment – than school taught me about the origins of my own nation. Even then, it still feels a little strange to watch American film makers commentating on American situations, and to not only recognise but almost understand how those references work within the American subconscious.

The Master is a fascinating exploration of post war America, the period where America well and truly emerged as the defining global power, where the country embraced economic prosperity and manifest destiny no longer referred to expansion out west, but a bold adventure into a promising future. In an article published shortly before America entered the Second World War, Henry R. Luce argued that the twentieth century was “the American century.” If it seemed that way before the conflict, it was all but certain afterwards. Of course, economic prosperity does not always bring with it a sense of peace and tranquillity, and The Master explores the sense of existential ennui that took root in a way that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, masterful.

themaster2

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Non-Review Review: The Master

The Master is a boldly ambitious picture, if one that’s occasionally difficult to parse. Is it a character study of the two leads, the broken Freddie and dysfunctional Lancaster Dodd? Is it a commentary on the sudden material success and spiritual emptiness of fifties America, in the wake of the Second World War? Is it a study of the phenomenon and psychology of “cult”, with one particular cult in mind? The Master is all these, and probably a great deal more, and its only real flaw is that it never manages to truly fashion these multiple compelling facets into one fully realised whole. Still, that’s a comparatively minor complaint, when dealing with a movie produced with this level of technical craft.

All at sea…

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Non-Review Review: The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

The Deep Blue Sea has two reasonably solid leading performances and some nice enough direction, but it suffers because it can’t convince us to are about any of its central characters. We don’t have to like any of the three characters involved in the central love-affair, but there does have to be some hook that grabs us and convinces us to emotionally engage and invest in this post-War exploration of several broken characters. That connection simply isn’t there, and the rest of the movie collapses as a direct result of that absence.

Yeah, she wants to dance with somebody…

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