“House of Cards” Season 4 – Chaotic at Times but Recaptures What Makes the Underwoods Great

House of Cards Season 4

    “House of Cards” Season 4 recaptures a lot of what made Seasons 1 and 2 so great, while recovering from the mistakes of Season 3 and refocusing the Underwoods, while still taking the bad writing of Season 3 into account and not retconning anything that happened or the characters and how they change. Seriously, this was a really enjoyable season. This was a season of consequences and if it is the last we will get of this show I like where it finally ends up.

    Beau Willimon created an amazing show and it is amazing to see everything get back on track again and use the problems of Season 3 to some purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal’s soundtrack continues to create great tension in this series and is easily one of the consistently great parts of this series. This was the series that got me into this composer in the first place and he continues to play on the dark and tension that so define this series.

The Cinematography – Tim Ives, Igor Martinovic and Eigil Bryld did a fantastic job with the cinematography once again. The visuals are great at capturing the isolation and paranoia of the different characters as well as the internal and external wars they all face.

The Politics – This is the heart of this show and there are some great political circumstances in this. From Russia holding back it’s oil and the U.S. sending a political refugee from Russia to China forcing Russia to deal with both of them, the election and primaries of 2016 and the war with ICO (The ISIS of this show).

The Characters – The characters are fantastic, and a lot of them complete their arcs in this season, which for me left them needing another season up in the air.

Catherine Durant – Jayne Atkinson is wonderful in this role as we see her character use her political savvy to keep herself from being stabbed in the back by Frank (after she learns that their support for her is a ploy for Claire to be nominated VP) but in the end Frank brings her in line as she got where she is through the illegal back door dealings that so define the way the Underwoods deal.

Leann Harvey – Leann is Claire’s second who helps her deal with Frank and eventually becomes both their campaign manager. She is an awesome character and shuts down Doug Stamper and his need ton control and blackmail. She’s one of my favorite minor characters and Neve Campbell is fantastic.

Seth Grayson – Seth is wonderful in this as we see him work with the Dunbar campaign as an out before he becomes fully loyal to the Underwoods again. He is a complex betrayer who in the end is fully in the boat with the Underwoods, he has a vulnerability and ruthlessness that makes him compelling.

Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp – Remy and Jackie are back and after Hammerschmidt compels him to come forward he and Jackie come forward with their relationship in order to bring down the Underwoods, as their character finally gets his redemption and out of control of the fear they have over others.

Victor Petrov – Petrov is back and Claire puts him in his place as we see that a lot of the control he claimed to have is much thinner as his people are suffering from his dying economy. He eventually realizes this and helps Claire rise to power as he respects her and Frank for their strength and power they come from. Lars Mikkelsen is fantastic once again.

Will Conway – Conway is the Republican nominee running against Frank and he is amazing. His “life” is all recorded and he has a beautiful wife and ttree kids and owns a google analogue that puts him high up on the search engine. He’s also a narcissistic and sociopath and is shown to be no better than Frank in how he treats others. Frank is actually shown to be the better person in the end as Frank and Claire are true partners, where Conway dominates and rules everyone he can’t fool with his charisma.

Tom Hammerschmidt – Tom is the reporter who pushes the house of cards to bring the Underwoods down. He’s a true believer and it’s in investigating all the deaths that he discovers how deep the Underwoods sins go. Boris McGiver is wonderful in this role and plays the genuine and awkward reporter really well who won’t cave to anyone. Sadly (but for the betterment of the story) the teeth behind his story get removed when the Underwoods declare war on ICO and use the fear of ICO to make people forget the truth that was put before their eyes.

Doug Stamper – Doug is seeking redemption on this as Seth and Leann are there for him to call him out on his controlling and fascist nature. This leads to him donating to the fund of a man whose never received a liver as he was knocked off the list so that Doug could save Frank. Michael Kelly continues to give threat and intimacy to this very dark role and I like that his character is seeking more as he is the most broken character in this series.

Claire Underwood – This season is all about how Claire deserves to rule. We see her negotiate a treaty with Russia and China and continue the Underwood power when Frank is in the coma. The Claire of Season 1 and 2 is in full force and Frank and his stupidity in 3 is finally done as they work together and even run together and President and VP against the Republicans. Robin Wright truly owns this role and she is part of what makes this show so fantastic.

Frank Underwood – Kevin Spacey is playing Frank as Frank is written out of the rut the writers put him in last season where he was only ruled by ego for self and not alliances and savvy and truly doing what it takes to dominate. In this season he starts doing that again and acting in coordination with Claire as they did in the beginning. Can’t wait to see what they do in Season 5 as he sets up ruling through fear as he brings full on war against ICO to distract from Tom’s article on the level of darkness he’s committed to get to where he is now as President of the United States.

Frank’s Coma Visions – The coma visions are haunting as we see Frank haunted by the people he’s killed and being hunted down. There is an element of violence and sex to all of it which captures the character and the show really well.

Means to an End – Claire and Frank are all about means to an end, both in their partnership and in how they rule. We got to see this again as they got over acting chaotic selfish stupid rather quickly, which in the end made this season great.

The Cons: Underwood v. Underwood – This was stupid, both of them were way to smart to not work together and help each other rise in power. Season 3 Frank is still around for the first few episodes though and they address this with him going into a coma after an assassination attempt from one of the journalists he wronged and from that he and Claire going for the President and VP together and back to the old partnership they had before.

Obvious Manipulations – Frank has some obvious manipulations that blow up into his face and this was the only writing issue that came up. His manipulation of his Secretary of State was a bit too obvious.

Getting Back on Track – The cons of Frank realizing that Claire is his partner and her leaving really wasn’t needed. They were both supposed to be smarter than that and seeing them acting stupid for drama to make this happen (the reason for having to get back on track in thef first place) was a con for this season. It shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

   It was really dealing with the filler and problems in Season 3 that slowed down the Season early on as the first 4 episodes were dealing with the consequences of having written Frank Underwood as stupid and not even having social savvy to deal with the partnership with his own wife, which had been a partnership in Season 1 and 2. All my cons nearly all directly relate to correcting those issues that were in Season 3 that had to be fixed in order to get on track. I highly recommend this season and if this ends up being the end, it will be great way to end it all…though I would like to see the Underwood Triumphant, which we are on the way to with them playing their nuclear option at the end, making sure that no matter how the chaos and fear unravel, they will come out on top. This season could have been the end, but I’m glad that the show was renewed for a Season 5. The Underwoods can still win it all.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

“House of Cards” Season 3 – Did Not Believe the Setup for the Fall

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        “House of Cards” Season 3 was another one of those seasons of missed potential. Kind of like the series of “Dexter” as a whole. There was a lot of enjoyable events that happened and the acting was fantastic, but there were so many thing narratively that just didn’t make sense and took me out of the story as well as the unbelievable changes that Frank and Claire went through as characters…changes that felt tacked on in order to create drama and didn’t fit the calm collected leaders we had seen them be prior. I’ll get into it more in the actual assessment, but this is the summary of some of the issues I had with the finished product.

    “House of Cards” was created by Beau Willimon and is one of the Producers on the series with David Fincher. There are a ton of writers and directors involved and when I do a lookback at individual episodes later (I think I will as the show is still great quality) I’ll give them the recognition they deserve. The series is also based off of the British series of the same name.

SPOILERS AHEAD

   Season 3 begins with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as President dealing with a Congress that is divided and cannot pass anything, along with his own party turning against him. With Claire (Robin Wright) nomination to the United Nations as a diplomat the threat of Russia is also a major threat. From here he must deal with these internal and the external threats of the press and political rivals as he seeks to pass America Works and his eventual run for re-election against the idealistic Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel).

The Pros: The Cinematography – The show continues to be beautifully presented and I really like how dark Washington DC looks as well as how trapped most of the characters are presented as feeling. The visuals are certainly on par with past seasons.

The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal continues to work his magic and gives us the dark drama of Washington. His sound is unique but I love it. It is great writing music and fits the theme of the Underwoods beautifully.

Heather Dunbar against Frank Underwood – The political arc in the run for the presidency and for the Democratic Nomination between these two is fantastic! Dunbar starts out as an idealistic politician who slowly becomes willing to work with those who have no moral qualms like Doug (who survived last season). Seeing these two face off should have been the focus of this season as she is a worthy rival and a compelling character who surprisingly wasn’t explored enough. She also reveals just how sociopathic Frank Underwood really is in how she pushes him to further desperation.

Doug Stamper’s Rehabilitation- This was done really well. Doug resists his addiction to alcohol and his obsession. He gives into his addiction when he feels abandoned by Frank Underwood (which felt out of character on Frank’s part) but we see him connect to his brother and work against Underwood with Heather Dunbar and later once again with Frank Underwood when he kills his obsession and gives over his soul for power again and leaves Dunbar.  The season ends with him once again Frank’s right hand man. Michael Kelly brings a lot of depth to this role.

Thomas Yates – Thomas Yates is a fiction author who Frank Underwood hires to write his story and to sell him to the general public. It is through Thomas we see how guarded the Underwoods are around others and one another (though this felt unbelievable in regards to the Underwoods this season). Still Yates was a great character, ex-prostitute and junkey who hooks up with the Nobel award winning journalist who is one of Frank’s major critics named Kate Baldwin.  He writes a story about how the Underwoods are power and their relationship is political (which I agree and disagree with) and that is when his story ends. He apparently helps Claire see that Frank only cares about Frank, which felt weak after all the exploration of the Claire and Frank relationship the last few seasons.

Middle East Conflict – The conflict takes place in the Jordan Valley and involves the United States trying to convince the United Nation to send peace keeping troops to the area to keep the peace. We see just how politically savvy Claire is on this when trying to get the different sides on the same table. It is successful for a while until Russia creates a crisis that leads to Claire losing her power and a return to the status quo.

Pussy Riot – This Russian Punk Rock band who is famous for protesting against the loss of liberty in Russia appears in this. They are handled much better than Russia is in my opinion and protest the Russian President’s visit with the Underwoods in the White House. They are later called heroes by Frank as another snub to Victor, the Russian President.

Heather Dunbar – Dunbar had a good arc even if she could have been fleshed out more…but this was supposed to be a show about the Underwood’s so the nature of the show hurt how her story is told. Still, her corruption was done really well overall this season. She’s a complicated person who realizes just how ambitious she is in the end and that she is willing to become Frank to get there. Elizabeth Marvel does an amazing job!

Okay: Kate Baldwin – This is a character who was ambitious and a noble reporter who sticks to her ethics (she won’t publish Yates’s story he wrote about the Underwoods because she is sleeping with Yates and it is a conflict of interest) but I never got her motivations fully.

The Cons: Russia and the United States/Victor and Frank – I get that they were trying to show how both men are after power for the sake of power and are sociopaths in touch with what the people want to hear in their nations but making it personal in regards to Claire and how Claire was handled felt weak. I also didn’t like how Victor was presented as an equal to Frank. This isn’t Littlefinger and Varys…not with how stupid Frank is this season and Victor isn’t much better. They are wrote to be brilliant but come off as really dense and unable to read people and situations. Maybe it’s an analogy for the actual foreign policies of said nations in reality?

The Frank and Claire Relationship – What happened? Season 1 and 2 establish that Frank and Claire are aware of the political ramifications of things and are willing to go the distance for the presidency and the United Nations because they know what they will do. In this one they did not. What happened? This season felt like the writers forgot about these characters and their relationship that was less romantic and driven by their shared desire for power and mutual respect for one another. None of that existed this season with the exception of the Mandala picture Frank gives Claire as a symbol of their eternal love…This is part of a bigger problem that I’ll go into next. In their rush to write Frank’s fall from power they’ve forsaken his relationships and his awareness in those relationships…

Frank Underwood and his Inner Circle – Claire Underwood, Doug Stamper, Seth Grayson, Remy Danton and later his alliance with Jackie Sharp. He gives them all the same speech that they are soldiers that must follow his lead or else they should get out of the way. Frank got hit with the stupid bat and it wasn’t because he was President since he had very little power as President because of Congress (which he didn’t plan for). This felt out of character because Frank values what people give him and they were all giving him a lot and her forsook that for no believable reason. He was just stupid.

Frank Underwood’s Lack of Plan – We see Season 1 his agenda to become the Vice President. He has plans within plans and is a Littlefinger type figure, in Season 2 we see his rise to become President and we see that he does have lines and is willing to stand for something when it serves the greater good in regards to the Underwoods and how they will appear to others in both cases he was shown to be good as the Whip and the Vice President…so what happened? He’s an incompetent President with America Works as his only plan. That isn’t the Frank Underwood from last season it’s just a dumb politician flailing.

   This is the weakest of the seasons, though when the series is taken as a whole it still stands. Maybe Season 4, if there is one can change the problems of this season, since the actors are still great as is the cinematography and music. There is still a lot of good even if this season felt like a house of cards. Where was the smart writing in regards to the Underwoods or what Frank planned to do when he was finally in power? This season had a lot of questions so it was hard to call it a great season. It had a lot of great ideas and the idea of a fall is good…but Frank Underwood has not been handled the way Walter White was handled. Heisenberg was King, Frank is President but feels like less than the House Majority Whip he was in Season 1.

Final Score: 8 / 10.

The Rabbi’s Cat (2011): A Critique and Bringing Together of Religions and Cultures

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     This review is going to be a little different from the ones I do before as it was one that my friend Matthew and I discussed doing, that each of would review a film in each other’s style. Matthew is a writer at “The 10th Man.” He’s really good and writes about a diverse range of topics, primarily focused on media. Here is the link to his website:  https://the10thman.wordpress.com/.

    He has already reviewed “The Rabbi’s Cat” in a style inspired by mine, so now I am going to do the same.

  “The Rabbi’s Cat,” was directed by Joann Sfar (who also wrote the comic, screenplay and was one of the producers) and Antoine Delesvaux and based on the comic book of the same title. It is beautiful animated (with the exception of the strange style changes at different parts that make it more cartoony) but the film largely works because of the themes it explores which are ones of how cultures and religions clash and the ways they and people can come to understandings, as well as critiquing the different religions and cultures too, through the eyes of the Rabbi’s Cat. The film also explores what it means to be an individual in a group and what makes a good person.

     We see the exploration of culture from the beginning when the Rabbi’s Cat gets the ability to speak after eating the Rabbi’s Parrot and after wants to become Jewish because it is the only way the Rabbi will let him spend time with his daughter. We see the Rabbi change though as the more extreme Rabbi once the cat killed for claiming to be God and questioning everything. Algerian Jewish culture is explored through the Rabbi as well as Russian culture through the explorer and the Russian painter and through the Sufi Sheikh we get to explore the many African cultures as they are following the painters dream to find Jerusalem, which to them is a nation of Black Jews where there is no racism and intolerance. It’s a beautiful exploration that is done and you can tell that those involved did their research on all the different groups explored in the story.

     There is also a critique of culture that we see as well. This movie is not Morally Relative, which I liked. At one point a desert tribe the Sheikh knows helps them heal the Rabbi’s cat. But things soon turn to violence as the youngest one was itching for a fight and we soon see how superior they act and feel, much like the French and in Algeria in relationship to the Jews like the Rabbi. In both cases this dehumanizing of the other leads to violence as the Russian explorer gets killed by the tribe and we see how outsiders are treated like their women. If you’re not in the group, you are out of sight and out of mind. We also see the critique of Conservative Jewish culture through the cat who uses Science to question the Torah, and through the Rabbi’s daughter, who just wants choice in her life. This narrative continues throughout the entire film.

    The third theme is that of what identity means and what it means to be a good person. I think the Sufi Sheikh sums it up best in relationship to God. “I just imagine that God is a decent person and live from that.” It is this that helps the Rabbi become comfortable in giving the African barmaid and the Russian Painter a Jewish wedding even though she doesn’t believe in God and the Russian isn’t a practicing Jew. This core decency and respect of others is how the Rabbi’s cat change too. The cat starts out as a liar but in the end is looking out for the others and is quiet when he needs to be so his friends don’t get in trouble. The cat learns empathy just like the Rabbi and together they become more like each other in realizing they don’t know who God is or what it means to be Jewish, or a talking cat, but that won’t stop them from caring for people or living a good life.

      There really is only one scene that was troubling and that was when they find the Jewish Ethiopian Kingdom and things get overly cartoony. The tribe is presented as savage giants and it becomes a whole slapstick event that clashes with everything prior. This is still a favorite film, but that whole sequence really took away from everything that had occurred up to that moment. The cat was comedic relief again, the tribesmen were presented as idiots and it’s only purpose was to show that the idealized Jerusalem would be one they would have to create for themselves. That’s a great message, but because of how it’s presented the message feels a little cheapened. If you are looking for an amazing, French, surreal, animated film with a point you should check this one out. There is far more to like in this film than not, and it is a favorite for a reason.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10.