House of Cards

True Detective

There were two McConaugheys broadcast on Sunday night. One was the McConaughey honored for his portrayal of a real-life AIDS victim turned treatment advocate, for which he shed fifty pounds and (symbolically) years of critical bad will. It was a comeback story as predictable as any Hollywood ending. The other, far more interesting and less predictable McConaughey was tucked into the premium world of HBO in the form of True Detective’s Rust Cohle, where each week he delivers free-form philosophical jargon at just above a whisper and performs oh-so-calculated-yet-mesmerizing actorly business with only the end of a cigarette and a six pack of beer. The hive mind has credited True Detective for making an invisible supporting push toward McConaughey’s win in the form of a “reverse Norbit effect,” legitimizing him as a strong performer outside the clichéd obviousness of a recognition like this. But as critical and fan communities show a much stronger collective love for True Detective than they did for the supposed apex of McConaughey’s well-heeled comeback, I’m not convinced that True Detective and work like it is simply another gear in the machine of an industry’s collective good will for a once-dismissed actor. Even with a forecast of movies that promise inventiveness and risk, serial television looks to dominate the efforts and imagination of filmmakers for the near future.

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heart machine still

Spoiler warning: If you haven’t watched the first ten episodes of this season of House of Cards, there are some small potential spoilers ahead. One of the strange things about small screen programming and binge-watching is that opinions can form, break, change, and reform in a matter of days and hours, not over the course of whole weeks and months. Earlier this week and on the tail of watching just the first episode of the second season of House of Cards, I happily penned a bit of a rating system for who viewers should be rooting for this season, and although I won’t detail just how and by whom I have been disappointed, mere days later, I’m already scoffing at my own early predictions and hopes for a season that has become more about diminishing returns than building up good stories and good characters. But although plenty of House of Cards has crumbled into soap opera-styled twists and double-crosses that are increasingly hard to believe, there is one plotline that continues to maintain both intrigue and interest – the near-imprisonment of former prostitute Rachel Posner (Rachel Brosnahan), who has unexpectedly found solace in a close new friend, in the form of Kate Lyn Sheil as the strangely soothing Lisa Williams. The duo met early in the second season, when Lisa reached out to Rachel on the bus to query her about her musical choices. For Rachel, so long trapped by Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), the concept of a friend was […]

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House of Cards

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Netflix gifted its subscribers with the full second season of its hit series, House of Cards, featuring a slam-bang season opener that left viewers reeling (and tweeting copious versions of “OH MY GOD”) and that pushed already-nefarious characters to new levels of both evil and unlikability. No, there’s no rule that characters need to be charming or likable or aspirational, but it sure is nice to watch a show that stars someone (anyone) whose actions you can respect and admire. The Underwoods and their lackeys have always been particularly underhanded, but the second season has already shoved them into new realms and practices of what is best described as over-the-top, unrelatable, and outsized evil. These are bad people doing very bad things, and as fun as it might be to watch them inflict their brand of political and personal striving on enemies, deserving or not, they are not the kind of characters anyone can actually root for. But if you can’t back the two lead characters of a series, who can you? Spoilers ahead for the first episode of House of Cards’ second series premiere.

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House of Cards Season 2

When Kevin Spacey looks dead straight into the camera and says, “Welcome back,” in the House of Cards season 2 trailer, I don’t know whether to be proud or terrified. Proud because it means another installment of the political horror show built on a spider web foundation. Terrified because it means Spacey will continue to talk to the audience directly. That was one of the clunkier elements of an otherwise lung-squeezingly tight show, but it’s easy to shrug away once the intensity of the trailer grabs hold. For the most part, it looks like the same gang of players is rigging the game as the newly nominated Vice President Underwood loads the dice. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 8.45.49 PM

What happens when you’re the loudmouth who spoils an episode of Breaking Bad for President Obama? Recently, The New York Times did an oddly in-depth piece on the viewing habits of the 44th President of the United States, and though I’m disappointed he’s not working his way though the Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition box set, as everyone should be, his list of series he’s keenly interested in is a solid one nonetheless.  Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad is a series the president is late to the game on, where, as noted above, there appears to be a standing order not to spoil his early entry into the world of Walter White. On the opposite end of that spectrum, the entire Obama clan likes to catch episodes of Modern Family and NBC’s Parks and Recreation, thought the president himself has noted that his alone-time viewing habits tend to go a bit darker. Political thriller Homeland, led by Claire Danes’ oft upset and cry-faced CIA operative Carrie Mathison, political drama House of Cards, of which Obama was invited to cameo by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, fall under his must-watch list. I’ll leave other journalists to pick apart any subtle associations between Mr. Obama’s viewing habits and his current occupation. Also, the guy loves HBO’s The Wire, calling it “one of the greatest shows of all time,” which is fine, and pretty standard. Like, I’m almost certain it’s a requirement for sealing the Presidential deal, like taking the oath of office.

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Orange is the New Black

It wasn’t too long ago — just last year, in fact — that journalists and pundits started drafting Netflix’s eulogy. A Google search for the words “Netflix is doomed” reveals that many smart people thought the company would soon go the way of Blockbuster, becoming a fearsome industry giant only to have the rug pulled from under it. And then House of Cards happened, and Orange is the New Black after that. (If there are any other Netflix originals worth recommending, please discuss them in the comments.) A Netflix subscription became necessary to (legally) watch those buzz-worthy shows. With just a couple of hits — really, two seasons of TV — the former mailed-DVDs service became a network. But what’s noteworthy about Netflix’s continued success is the rapid emulation of the company’s business model by its competitors. Specifically, its practice of ponying up for a full season of TV without seeing a pilot — a situation Orange creator Jenji Kohan exploited to create one of the most diverse shows in the history of television to wide acclaim — has become such a game-changer that even broadcast networks are following suit. What can only follow is better TV, with writers enjoying an even greater sense of control and ownership over their works, though those writers will likely be small-screen veterans with a proven track record instead of up-and-comers who might be considered risky investments.

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discs house of cards1

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. House of Cards: The Complete First Season Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is as ambitious as they come, but his drive to succeed includes more than simply doing the best job for the American people that he can. Instead he uses every opportunity to manipulate those around him towards outcomes favorable to his career. His wife (Robin Wright) shares a similar trait in her dealings. Together and separately the pair use their influence to shape their world, and while many other people are swept into their narrative only one will meet a tragic fate. Netflix officially entered the TV production game with this 13 episode redo of the classic UK series, and the result is a solidly entertaining, wonderfully acted look at our political animals at work. It has far less bite than its UK predecessor, and least in its first season, but the drama remains engaging. Creators David Fincher and Beau Willimon kept the original’s framework (albeit transplanted in time and space to modern day Washington D.C.), but they wisely chose not to mirror the characters instead leaving viewers with new creations and plenty of surprises. It’s a less salacious but smarter Boss for those of you familiar with Kelsey Grammer’s Starz series, and while Spacey and Wright rule the roost it boasts a spectacular supporting cast in Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Corey Stoll and others. [DVD […]

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House of Cards

The similar structure of their titles isn’t the only thing Game of Thrones and the new Netflix series House of Cards have in common. The first is set in a brutal Medieval-style fantasy world, and the second is set in present-day Washington, DC, but the scheming and lustful grabs at power are pulsing wildly at the heart of each. Of course they have their differences as well. Since Cards focuses on House Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), it’s maybe more exact to call it a version of Game of Thrones told almost explicitly through Tywin Lannister’s point of view. The congressman is aggressive and shrewd in his search to become President, but as the complete 13-episode season of the show (or 13-hour movie-you-have-to-keep-pressing-play-to-see) proves, there are other combatants willing to protect their interests just as fiercely and just as intelligently.

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HOUSE OF CARDS

Television-after-television had to happen at some point. Of course, television-like content that is exclusively available on the Internet isn’t anything new – webisodes have been a thing for quite some time now. What is new about Netflix’s House of Cards is the fact a program under the rubric of “quality television” – a category of prestige televisual entertainment established by HBO, Showtime, AMC, and some broadcast programs – has now been made available exclusively on the Internet. Not only is House of Cards exclusively on the Internet, but it’s only available via a single subscription outlet. Now that it’s premiered, what could its existence (and potential success) imply for the future of both television programming and what’s now expected of audiences? Furthermore, if a program exists independently of televisions altogether, what exactly do we consider to be “television” now? House of Cards has all the trappings of a heavily promoted HBO program. It’s got high production value, a name cast, and a well-known director at the helm. In other words, like anything from Luck to Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards has cinematic credentials: sleek, medium-shot-heavy cinematography, and marquee names like Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and David Fincher. It’s television tailor-made for the age of letterbox HD broadcasts and DVR. It just isn’t on television.

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discs paul williams

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Paul Williams: Still Alive Like many kids in the ’70s Stephen Kessler was a fan of singer/songwriter Paul Williams‘ particular brand of sad, melodic songs that gave equal time to love and loneliness. As an adult Kessler wondered what happened to his childhood idol, and being a film/commercial director he decided to investigate and make a documentary on the 5’2″ award-winning legend. The result is a fascinating look at a man and a talent who could never have attained such stardom in today’s physically-obsessed world, and for Williams it’s a chance to look back and publicly acknowledge his past demons. At least, that was Kessler’s plan, but he may have neglected to share the idea with the talent. Williams makes for an engaging subject, due both to his personality and his aversion to the whole process. Kessler’s own needs permeate the film, and while he threatens to take over as its focus he actually adds an interesting element to the story about fame. [Extras: Bonus concert footage]

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Culture Warrior

Veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader, notorious author Bret Easton Ellis, and indie producer Braxton Pope want you to audition for their new film. They’re assembling a microbudget feature for the digital distribution market called The Canyons, and they’re looking for some fresh new faces to star in it. Is your lack of an agent or non-Los Angeles residence preventing you from getting a fair chance at auditioning for legit films? There’s no need to worry, for we live in the 21st century my friend. The Canyons is holding its audition process through Facebook. On the one hand, The Canyons‘s unique production process makes complete sense. We are no longer, after all, in 2006 when studio producers had an overinvested, experimental Snakes on a Plane-level-interest in Internet culture. In this case, even on a small-budget independent film, the visible gatekeepers still possess power over the participants within the supposedly “democratized” framework of social networking. For a while it seemed that cinema – largely an object particular to 20th century logic – could not adapt to the boundary-destroying, power-shifting implications of the 21st century. Now this seems to no longer be the case. Web distribution (which was little more than a fantasy or an overblown threat to theatrical cinema’s hegemony just over a decade ago) is now seen as a conceivable and potentially profitable alternative to traditional film exhibition.

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, we talk SXSW with the Reject team and find out why Netflix is doing what they’re doing. Gigaom site editor Ryan Lawler joins us to help makes sense of why Netflix would get into the distribution game with House of Cards and what it might mean for the future. Joe Nicolosi (who made that video of the girl retelling Star Wars without seeing it and that Super Mario indie short film the kids are talking about), discusses the perils of the SXSW softball game, how he got the job making all the bumpers that play before the movies, his creative process, and the beauty of film festivals. Neil and Rob dust off the SXSW from their chaps to tell us about their favorite films and the movies that will coming to a theater near you. Plus, Kate Erbland from Gordon and The Whale and Scott Weinberg from Twitch Film go head-to-head in our movie news quiz, and we all end up talking about Cameron Crowe and the power of nostalgia. Loosen up your tie and stay a while.

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I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but the biggest thing I use the instant streaming feature on Netflix for is to catch up on TV episodes from days past. In a mere two hours I can knock out three episodes of an hour long drama, and six of a half hour sitcom. It’s very enjoyable to watch these programs with ZERO advertising, even the kind that is seen through services like Hulu. This year alone, Netflix signed a major deal with CBS to begin streaming classic, and is currently airing programs on the service, but today news came out of what is quite possibly their boldest move in their TV game. According to Deadline, the service is going to begin airing 100% original content. And I don’t mean airing programs twenty four hours after they air like they do with all the Starz programming, I mean brand new programing will air exclusively on Netflix and only Netflix. The first series that will be featured is reportedly the upcoming David Fincher and Kevin Spacey produced remake of the British television series House of Cards.

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published: 04.19.2014
A-
published: 04.19.2014
B+
published: 04.18.2014
C-
published: 04.18.2014
C

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