Skip to main content

We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.

House of Cards
Season Four

(SPOILERS) Well, it’s a massive step up from the middling third season, mostly hitting its targets in making Claire (Robin Wright) as steely and reptilian as President Frank (Kevin Spacey). As such, Season Four of House of Cards is somewhat superior in the first half, when the Underwoods are at sabotaging loggerheads with each other, rather than the resumption of the new united front in opposition of Republican, selfie-obsessed pretty boy Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) in the second. It’s a particularly nice touch to have her stare into the camera in the final shot too.


Mostly this show is as politically disconnected a fantasy as The West Wing, merely replacing altruistic motives with Machiavellian ones. Frank and Claire have no one calling their shots, perpetuating the notion of an Oval Office that actually issues edicts and exerts control. But there are occasional neat touches along the way.


If Conway’s strangely garbled Google-esque search engine election-rigging formula never really convinces as anything that would work (which is probably why the writers are so vague about what exactly Pollyhop can do and how it keeps him ahead), and Frank’s countermeasures CIA surveillance is a crude grab at invoking Snowden topicality without really being remotely relevant, and ICO is just the latest forlorn attempt at making capital from a fictionalised War on Terror, at least the final curtain, as the President, backed into a corner, goes to war as the only way out, is appropriately, ruthlessly cynical (“We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror”). The only problem is that, for every time the makers come up with something neat, they miss something even better. I fooled myself for about 10 minutes into thinking the hostage abduction might be a false flag designed to gain capital as part of a ruse to undermine Conway, but it was just more sub-Homeland terrorists-on-home-turf nonsense.


The Frank and Claire Show, with her running for VP (the kind of unlikely conceit that actually just might work, given public appetites for gloss over substance, but just as likely really wouldn’t – you’d have to completely love them as a celebrity couple to get public onside) looks more and more like a parallel with the Clintons, with all the skeletons attempting to break open the closet doors. Against that, her relationship with Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) is a little laboured, and the kind of thing, in its extended form as the US show is, that reminds you this kind of material works so much better as a finite, focussed satire; that they’re wrapping it up after five seasons is probably as much about Spacey wanting to do other things as getting out while the going is good and there are still a few storylines left to plot.


The assassination attempt on Frank made for good dramatic capital for a few episodes, even if I never really bought into Lucas (Sebastian Arcelus) being brought to the brink, and the whole deathbed hallucinations thing was dreadfully overplayed. Which lead into the Big Bad of the season, and, while his arsenal of hooks isn’t terribly convincing, Kinnaman really delivers as Conway; it’s one of the best roles he’s had, in fact.


But, while House of Cards manages to be more-ish in a manner a number of Netflix shows just plain aren’t (the Marvel run, and I’ve mentioned I’m really struggling to summon enthusiasm for Bloodline Season Two), and it’s nice that it leaves characters for a while and then returns to them, there is a sense that rather than a shrewdly devised and calculated schematic for a show that wants to be as elegant and poised as this one, it’s actually going around in a lot of circles (Boris McGiver’s Tom Hammerschmidt picking up the investigation into Frank again), often spinning its wheels and patching up holes rather than ploughing ahead with intent. What I’d have liked more of is the unlikely, and the idiosyncratic, like the Damian Young’s offbeat NSA data scientist listening to rap on his headphones as he fucks people’s lives up.


The show has definitely proved it works best when making the Underwoods devilish equals, be that as opposing forces or working symbiotically, showing off both sides at various stages of the season. So, however the final chapter goes, and possibly nervously so without Beau Beaumont running things anymore, it needs to keep that in focus.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

It's a trip I won't forget, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.11: Orbit

Robert Holmes’ fourth and final script for the series is a belter, one that combines his trademark black comedy with the kind of life-or-death peril that makes some of his more high stakes scripts for Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin and The Caves of Androzani for example) stand out. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …