Top Five Favorite “HOUSE OF CARDS” Season One (2013) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Netflix’s series, “HOUSE OF CARDS”, a remake of the 1990-1995 BBC miniseries trilogy that was based upon Michael Dobbs’ 1989 novel. Produced and developed by Beau Willimon, the series stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. 

“TOP FIVE FAVORITE “HOUSE OF CARDS” SEASON ONE (2013) Episodes

Chapter 5

1. (1.05) “Chapter Five” – Congressman Frank Underwood’s feud against a union over the Education Bill threatens his wife Claire’s charity gala and her own ambitions. And journalist Zoe Barnes mixes work with play.

Chapter 11

2. (1.11) “Chapter Eleven” – Angry at Frank, Claire reconnects with former flame, photojournalist Adam Galloway. And when junior Congressman Peter Russo wrestles with his personal demons and considers confessing his and Frank’s sins, the latters decides that he has become a liability that needs to be eliminated.

Chapter 2

3. (1.02) “Chapter Two” – Utilizing Zoe’s help, Frank plants a story that loosely ties Michael Kern, the President’s pick for Secretary of State, to an anti-Israel editorial that appeared in the college newspaper Kern edited.

Chapter 6

4. (1.06) “Chapter Six” – Frank strikes back at the striking teachers by undermining the credibility of the teachers’ union representative, Martin Spinella. Claire is caught off guard by a deathbed confession from one of Frank’s personal bodyguards.

Chapter 13

5. (1.13) “Chapter Thirteen” – Frank accepts the recently vacated Vice-President post from the President. Claire learns that she is being sued for wrongful termination by a former employee. And Zoe becomes increasingly aware of Frank’s plots in this season finale.

“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) Review

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“MAN OF STEEL” (2013) Review

When I had first learned that Warner Brothers Studios and D.C. Comics planned to release another Superman movie some six or seven years ago, I did not greet the news with any enthusiasm. In fact, my first reaction was sheer frustration. The last D.C. Comics movie I wanted to see was another Superman movie. 

There were so many reasons for my negative reaction to the news of a new Superman movie. The last one I saw was 2006’s “SUPERMAN RETURNS”, which had been directed by Bryan Singer. There had also been two television series about the Man of Steel in the past twenty (20) years – “LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN” (1993-1997) and “SMALLVILLE” (2001-2011). The film subsidiary for Marvel Comics have shown a willingness to release movies featuring a vast array of their comic book characters. On the other hand, D.C. Comics seems to be stuck on either Superman or Batman for television and movie material. There have been minor exceptions to the rule – including the Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character that became a regular on “SMALLVILLE”; the 2011 film, “THE GREEN LANTERN”; and the WB television series, “ARROW” (the Green Arrow again). Wonder Woman had not been a subject of a movie or television series in her own right since the Lynda Carter series from the 1970s.  Eventually, Warner Brothers had released a film about the heroine in the 2017 movie, “WONDER WOMAN”.   An unsuccessful television series about the Flash failed to last one season.  Then a second series premiered about two years after “ARROW” and became a hit.  And Aquaman merely served as a guest character on “SMALLVILLE” for a few episodes, until he was given his own solo film in 2018.

I had one other reservation regarding the announcement of a new Superman movie back in 2013.  The producers had chosen Zack Synder to direct the film. And I have never been a fan of his films before “MAN OF STEEL”, at least the ones I have seen – namely the very successful “300”, and some scenes of the critically acclaimed “THE WATCHMEN”.  My opinion of the latter film has changed since.  When I learned he had been selected to direct the new Superman film, “MAN OF STEEL”, my enthusiasm sunk even further. However, I saw the movie’s new trailer last spring and my opposition to the movie began to wane. What can I say? It impressed me. So, I decided to open my mind and give “MAN OF STEEL” a chance.

Thanks to David S. Goyer’s screenplay and the story created by him and Christopher Nolan, “MAN OF STEEL” follows the origins of Superman. Well . . . somewhat. The movie begins on the planet of Krypton, where scientist Jor-El assists his wife in the birth of their newborn son, Kal-El. Due to years of exploiting the planet’s natural resources by the planet’s inhabitants, the planet has an unstable core and faces imminent destruction. Jor-El and Lara plans to send their son to Earth to ensure his survival. They also infuse his cells with a genetic codex of the entire Kryptonian race, something that the planet’s military commander, General Zod desires. Zod and his followers commit a military coup. And the general murders Jor-El, after learning what the latter did with the genetic codex. But Zod and his followers are immediately captured and banished to the Phantom Zone. When Krypton finally self-destructs, the explosion frees Zod and his people; setting them on a search for young Kal-El and the genetic codex at other worlds colonized by Kryptonians.

Kal-El eventually lands on Earth and in the middle of the Kansas countryside. A farmer and his wife – Jonathan and Martha Kent – adopts and raises him, renaming him Clark Kent. However, Clark’s Kryptonian physiology gives him super abilities on Earth, which raises a lot of social problems for him. Jonathan eventually reveals to Clark that he came from another planet and advises not to use his abilities in public. Following Jonathan’s death, a bereaved Clark spends several years roaming the country and working at odd jobs, while he deals with his grief and save people in secret. He eventually infiltrates a scientific discovery of a Kryptonian scout spaceship in the Arctic, which had been discovered by the military. Also there is a reporter from the Daily Planet named Lois Lane. Clark, who is unaware of being followed by Lois, enters the alien ship. It allows him to communicate with the preserved consciousness of Jor-El in the form of a hologram. Jor-El reveals Clark’s origins and the extinction of his race, and tells Clark that he was sent to Earth to bring hope to mankind. Meanwhile, General Zod and his crew pick up a Kryptonian distress signal sent from the ship Clark had discovered on Earth. Zod arrives and demands the humans surrender Kal-El, whom he believes has the codex, or else Earth will be destroyed.

So . . . what did I not like about “MAN OF STEEL”? For one, I disliked the shaky cam photography used by Amir Mokri. I disliked its use by Paul Greengrass in some of his movies. I disliked its use in “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. And I certainly did not like its use in this film. It made the final confrontations between Superman and the Kryptonians more confusing. Then again, David Brenner’s editing certainly did not help – not in this scene or in the burning oil rig sequence in the movie’s first half hour. I have been a fan of Hans Zimmer for years. On one hand, I found his score for this movie a bit heavy-handed, especially his use of horns.  On the other hand, I still managed to enjoy it.  Speaking of Superman and the Kryptonians’ final confrontations – I thought it was a bit over-the-top in regard to the destruction inflicted upon Metropolis.  At first, it reminded me of final action sequence in “IRON MAN 3”, which I also did not care for.  But later viewings of the movie made me appreciate the sequence more, especially Superman’s fight against General Zod.  More importantly, this final action sequence ended up playing a major role in the next D.C. Comics film, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”.

Fortunately, there was a great deal more about “MAN OF STEEL” that I liked. And I find this amazing, considering my past opinion of director Zack Synder. David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan wrote a first-rate origin story for Superman. I noticed that they utilized the same or a similar story structure that they had used in the Dark Knight Trilogy. Instead of allowing Superman to face his most famous adversary in the first film, Goyer and Nolan utilized Superman’s Kryptonian origins to play a major role in the film’s story. Instead of Lex Luthor, Superman’s main nemesis in “MAN OF STEEL” proved to be General Zod. Some fans of the franchise were annoyed by this. I was not. Goyer and Nolan also did a first-rate job in exploring Clark Kent/Superman’s emotional growth, the loneliness he had endured during his childhood in flashbacks and those years he wandered before discovering the Kryptonian ship in the Artic, and his wariness toward the human race. I especially do not recall any previous Superman story or television series exploring the latter. How very original of Goyer and Nolan. Some fans have complained about the different twists that Goyer, Nolan and director Zack Synder made to the Superman mythos – especially in his relationship with reporter Lois Lane. I do not understand the complaints, considering the number of twists and changes that have been made to the Superman mythos in movies and especially television during the past twenty years. And honestly? The twist to Clark/Superman’s relationship with Lois made the story fresher.

Although I did not particularly care for the over-the-top destruction featured in “MAN OF STEEL”, I must admit that the special effects featured in that last scene impressed me very much. I was also impressed by their work in the sequence that featured Superman’s fight against Faora-Ul and the other Kryptonian in Smallville. But the one sequence that featured some great special effects happened to be the one on Krypton. I found the effects very beautiful. In fact, there were other aspects of that sequence that really impressed me – namely Alex McDowell’s production designs, Anne Kuljian’s set decorations, Kim Sinclair and Chris Farmer’s art direction and especially James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson’s costume designs. Some have complained by the lack of red shorts for Superman’s costume. But I did not miss them. More importantly, I liked how Sinclair and Farmer linked Superman’s costume with those worn by many of the Kryptonians.

When I first heard that Henry Cavill had been hired to portray Clark Kent/Superman, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback. Mind you, the idea of a British actor portraying an American comic book character was nothing new, thanks to Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and the Anglo-American Andrew Garfield’s recent portrayal of Spider-Man. I only felt uncertain if Cavill could portray a Midwesterner with the proper accent. Okay, I am not an expert in Midwestern accents. But Cavill handled the American accent very well. More importantly, he gave a superb performance as the quiet, yet emotional Clark Kent who had spent a good number of years wallowing in loneliness. I was surprised that Amy Adams had signed on to portray Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane. I did not expect her to appear in a comic book hero movie. But I must admit that I really enjoyed her performance, especially since her Lois proved to be a lot less blind about Superman’s secret identity and more willing to track down the truth. Michael Shannon effectively utilized that same intensity that provided for his Nelson Van Alden role in HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE” in his performance as the single-minded Kryptonian General Zod.

Antje Traue proved to be even more scary than Shannon as Zod’s second-in-command, the less verbal Faora-Ul. Laurence Fishburne gave an intense performance as Perry White, the no-nonsense editor of the Daily Planet. Russell Crowe’s Jor-El not only proved to be charismatic, but something of a bad ass. Ayelet Zurer provided a great deal of pathos and emotion in her performance as Superman’s mother, Lara Lor-Van. Diane Lane proved to be the movie’s emotional rock in her down-to-earth performance as Martha Kent, Superman’s adopted mother. And Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Jonathan Kent proved to be just as charismatic as Crowe’s Jor-El and as emotional as Zurer’s Lara. The movie also featured some solid performances from the likes of Richard Schiff, Michael Kelly and Christopher Meloni. I was really impressed with Harry Lennix’s performance as the commanding, yet paranoid General Swanwick.

“MAN OF STEEL” had a few problems. But I believe that the movie possessed a great deal more virtues, including a first-rate story created by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan and a superb cast led by a talented Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. But I was very surprised by Zack Synder’s direction, especially since he managed to curtail some of his less-than-pleasant excesses in past films and at the same time effectively helm a first-rate movie. For the first time, I found myself being more than pleased by a movie directed by Synder.  And it would not be the last.

 

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Critical Reaction to “WONDER WOMAN” and the DCEU

 

CRITICAL REACTION TO “WONDER WOMAN” AND THE DCEU

I might as well put all of my cards on the table. I am tired of people claiming that the D.C. Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) finally got its franchise right with the recent release of “WONDER WOMAN”. As far as I am concerned, the DCEU had been getting it right ever since the release of its 2013 film, “MAN OF STEEL”

I enjoyed “WONDER WOMAN” very much. In fact, it became one of my favorite movies of 2017.  But I do not consider it to be the best film within the DCEU franchise. But that is not my point. My point . . . has to do with the reasons behind this declaration regarding “WONDER WOMAN” and why I find it so troubling.

I cannot help but wonder if today’s critics and moviegoers have balls of rubber. When did it become so damn important to them that all comic book hero movies are “fun” or loaded with humor? There is NO LAW that all comic book movies have to be “fun”. The Captain America movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise were not all fun . . . especially 2014’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” (which is why I am such a major fan of the movie). Neither were the Dark Knight Trilogy films directed by Christopher Nolan. And the DCEU film, “SUICIDE SQUAD” was practically loaded with humor. Yet, that film was trashed as well, and criticized for similar reasons as “MAN OF STEEL” and its follow-up, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (another major favorite of mine). So, why criticize the DCEU movies for lacking a sense of humor?

Another criticism that has been lobbied against the DCEU films was the franchise’s ambiguous portrayals of its main characters. Especially Clark Kent aka Superman. I am beginning to suspect that deep down, this negative reaction regarding the DCEU franchise solely began with the portrayal of Clark Kent aka Superman in “MAN OF STEEL”. Many people seem incapable of dealing with Superman being portrayed in some ambiguous manner. They could not deal with his insecurities regarding his place in the world – insecurities that originated with his status as an immigrant from another world . . . and his super powers. These traits – especially his powers – led Clark/Superman to be initially regarded as an outsider and with distrust. “MAN OF STEEL” was the first time any movie had explored this aspect of Superman’s existence. And to be honest, it did not reflect well upon most of the Humans featured in the movie. When it seemed that Superman had finally risen above his insecurities in the next movie, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, events in that film proved that he had not – not completely. And the reason he had not risen above his insecurities stemmed from the public’s fickle reaction to him. In the 2016 film, some people worshipped Superman as a god. And this made him feel very uncomfortable. Others regarded him as a convenient savior to be at humanity’s beck and call. Not only did many of the public felt this way, but so did the majority of political and military leaders. And others, like Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne aka Batman, regarded him as a current or future menace. Had this ambiguous portrayal of Humanity or its ambiguous reaction to Superman’s presence annoyed a lot of people?

I do know that many critics and moviegoers had protested his killing of the Kryptonian leader, General Zod, claiming that Superman does not kill. I found this declaration either ignorant or hypocritical. Why? Because Superman had killed Zod in a previous D.C. Comics film, 1981’s “SUPERMAN II”. No one had protested. And many comic book movie fans today insist that scene never happened. It seem many fans and critics will not allow Superman to be an individual with virtues and flaws. Instead, they always seem to demand that he be some damn, one-dimensional symbol used to wallow in their illusions and fantasies of a convenient savior in an unsafe world.

This attitude has been extended to both Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman . . . but in different ways. Many critics and moviegoers not only criticized Superman for killing Zod in “MAN OF STEEL”, they also criticized the Batman character for his killing of numerous thugs and his attempt to kill Superman in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. Considering that Batman has always been such a noir character among the comic book heroes, I found this criticism very hard to swallow. Have there been other occasions in which the Dark Knight had deliberately killed someone? Hmmm . . . he killed the Joker in 1989’s “BATMAN”. He arranged the Penguin’s death in 1992’s “BATMAN RETURNS”. Batman caused Harvey “Two Face” Dent to fall to his death in the 1995 movie, “BATMAN FOREVER”. And in 2005’s “BATMAN BEGINS”, Batman refused to save the life of his mentor-turned-nemesis, Herni Ducard aka Ra’s al Ghul from one of Gotham’s runaway monorail trains. Mind you, some countries do not consider deliberate killing by inaction a felony. Some countries do. And in my eyes, it is not only murder, but hypocrisy at its worst.

However . . . hardly anyone seemed to remember these previous incidents of Batman causing the death of another. Instead, they focused their ire upon Batman’s actions in the 2016 movie. Was it because Batman was not portrayed as a clear-cut hero throughout most of the film? Or that he seemed to be portrayed as a homicidal xenophobe, bent upon Superman’s destruction? Did this negative portrayal put these fans and critics off? Were they unwilling to peek into the uglier aspects of Batman’s persona . . . something that the comic books have never been afraid to explore? But the portrayal did not stick and eventually, Batman saw the light . . . again – something that a lot of moviegoers and critics had failed to notice Or perhaps they were too busy taking umbrage at how director-writer Zack Snyder was willing to take Batman so close to the abyss. In many ways, these same moviegoers and critics remind me of the general public featured in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so many were negative toward the film. Zack Synder had portrayed them in a way they probably found unflattering.

As for “WONDER WOMAN”, I get the feeling that many critics and film goers are complimenting the movie for THE WRONG REASONS. Unless I am mistaken, I understand that the movie is the first truly successful comic book heroine movie and I am not only glad, but relieved. However, the movie seemed to possess a more ambiguous and complex tale than many are willing to admit. And these same fans and critics seemed to think that it is the only DCEU movie that is truly a “fun” movie. Strange . . . I never came to that conclusion. Looking back on the film, I noticed that the movie possessed pockets of innocence and humor – especially in the first half. But once the movie shifted to the war zone in Belgium, it gradually became more grim and angst-filled. Diana’s innocence and naivety, which seemed humorous in the film’s first half, proved to be an impediment to her character growth in the second half. Yet, I have only come across a few articles willing to admit this.

In fact, many were so busy emphasizing Diana’s compassion, warmth, frankness, strength and warrior skills so much that they seemed to turn a blind eye to her personality flaws. Many had ignored that Diana’s bubble-like upbringing had made her too naive for her own good. Although one might be inclined to compliment her frankness, many had failed to notice that this trait proved to be an impediment to Steve Trevor’s attempts to report his actions in Eastern Europe to his superiors. Or that there is a time to be frank and a time to keep one’s mouth shut. Many critics and filmgoers have been so busy focusing on Diana’s virtues or trying to paint her as a more superior costumed hero/heroine than Superman and Batman that it seems as if they have deliberately turned a blind eye to her flaws. Or pretend that she had overcome her flaws by the end of World War I. Many have also complimented Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince for coming to the conclusion that humanity is not all good or all bad. The ironic thing is that Wonder Woman came to her balanced opinion of humanity after her experiences in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”, not in this movie. She came to this conclusion after a conversation with Batman aka Bruce Wayne in the 2016 movie. After her World War I experiences, Diana had spent nearly a century maintaining an emotional distance from humanity and maintaining a cynical view (which I share, by the way). And many filmgoers and critics have either failed to notice this . . . or refuse to acknowledge this aspect of her character.

Now, I am a big fan of “WONDER WOMAN”. So far, it is my favorite movie of the Summer 2017 season. But the movie does have its flaws. I have a deep suspicion that a great deal of the movie’s acclaim originated from gender politics. “WONDER WOMAN” is the first truly successful costumed hero/heroine movie in which the protagonist is a woman. As a woman, I am pleased by this turn of events. But I am also disturbed that so many are using this aspect of the film to judge it superior to the other films within the DCEU franchise. Nor do I regard “WONDER WOMAN” to be morally straightforward as many critics and moviegoers insist that it is. In this movie, the character of Princess Diana aka Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman is forced to shed her naivety and truly grow up. And in a rather painful manner. If the movie truly was that morally absolute to me, I would not have found it that interesting in the first place. Nor do I regard the public’s misconception of the movie as morally absolute as a sign of its superiority over the previous three DCEU films. I have reached a point in my life in which fictional works with a black-and-white morality are not as interesting as it used to be when I was a lot younger.

Due to certain arguments, I do not regard “WONDER WOMAN” as the “savior” of the DCEU franchise. Unlike many moviegoers and critics, I did not find the character of Wonder Woman to be ideally moral. In fact, there were times when I found her idealism and moral absolutism rather annoying. And I did not find the movie as morally absolute as many claim it was. Despite being thrilled that the film is the first comic book hero movie with a woman protagonist to be very successful, I do not regard that as an argument to view it superior to the other DCEU films.

For me, the idea that “WONDER WOMAN” is the D.C. Extended Universe franchise’s “savior” is a load of horseshit to me. As far as I am concerned, the DCEU never required any “saving”. At least not yet.