“House of Cards”, Season 4: Still Stacks Up

House of CardsReleased on Netflix on March 4, “House of Cards: Season 4” grabs viewers yet again—primarily because of the spectacular rise of Claire Underwood (the incomparable Robin Wright). Equal to her husband Frank as a partner in crime (Kevin Spacey at his best), Claire’s rapid and ruthless ascension to power left this viewer breathless. For better or worse, this is a marriage like no other portrayed on television.

Season 4 weaves in past stories, corpses, ex-lovers, and accomplices at lightning speed, to remind us that what Claire wants most in life is to be significant: to be recognized for the power she has, with or without her husband. All of Claire’s hunger and dissatisfaction arise in fury as the woman scorned.

This season revels in the seesawing of the Underwoods: pulling together, then ripping apart. separating and reuniting, as the ultimate power couple realizes they are an inseparable force.   Formidable beyond measure, stronger when united, the Underwoods are nothing less than a molecular structure whose chemical bond creates a new element.

For the first time  Claire’s backstory helps us understand why she had become the person she is. A brilliant narcissistic mother (played by the elegant Ellen Burstyn) reveals the fractured relationship between mother and daughter, which has damaged Claire. Far more than the one-dimensional ice queen, Claire compartmentalizes her life in order to maintain control. For both of the Underwoods—as revealed in their backstories—power is their identity, in the absence of family love and acceptance.

As Claire, Robin Wright smoothly and with little affect cuts through their path to survival with increasingly more perilous Macchiavellian strategies . They have merged into a singular, ruthless force determined to be unstoppable.

In the final two lines of Season 4 we have a jaw-dropping moment, demonstrating Claire’s shift in strength, resilience, and as a catalyst for Frank. Two terse sentences uttered by Frank, but equally imaginable as spoken by Claire, frightened and stunned this viewer..   The paradigm and plot have shifted radically in Beau Willemon’s continued brilliance as a screenwriter. The newest season of House of Cards is indeed binge-worthy.

 

 

 

 

“Blindness” –Seeing is Believing

 

Blindness

Based on a popular novel by the Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago, Blindness (2008) is a dystopian tale of survival in the face of a pandemic.

 Blindness opens with an affluent Japanese businessman suddenly blocking traffic during rush hour. Inexplicably blinded, he is unable to continue driving and a seemingly good Samaritan offers to help him. When they arrive at the Japanese man’s upscale apartment, however, the “good Samaritan” steals his car and escapes. Soon the entire city is overtaken by a pandemic of “white blindness”, like driving in a snow storm. The pandemic becomes global.

The tale of survival begins. Quarantined in an abandoned mental asylum, the rules of society soon come to a screeching halt with the powerful preying on the weak. Only one woman (Julianne Moore), whose husband (Mark Ruffalo) ironically, is an eye doctor now blinded— is the witness to horrific acts. Keeping her sight a secret, she guides the blind, surviving what has become a totalitarian government imposing ruthless measures on the blind in order to maintain control and subjugation. Meanwhile, the residents are becoming increasingly hopeless and desperate, fearful of their circumstances, and taken advantage by a tyrannical “Ward 3” leader (Gael Garcia Bernal). The insurrection against the despot results in chaos and brutality towards each other.

Blindness depicts the difference between civilized society and a totally barbaric one as the thinnest of boundaries. The norms of society are fragile and easily broken. Blindness, like Lord of the Flies, raises the question: What would I do in such a situation? A thought-provoking and well-executed film!

“Truth”—And Nothing But

 

Truth“Truth” (2015) somehow stayed under the radar last year. A compelling newsroom docudrama , “Truth” reminds me of “All the President’s Men” and the Watergate scandal.

Opening with the September 2004 “60 Minutes” episode, Dan Rather accuses President George W. Bush of receiving preferential treatment in the National Guard in the early 1970s (Vietnam War era) as a result of his father’s connections.  Photocopied memos provided by a confidential source were the main evidence for Rather’s accusations.

But Mary Mapes is the true hero. Producer of “60 Minutes”, Mapes had just won the Peabody Award for breaking the story of the Abu Ghraib torture and the story of Senator Strom Thurmond’s unacknowledged biracial daughter. Mapes did the research within the constraints of hard- to-verify dated documents.

Both the validity of the documents and the credibility of the source came almost immediately under attack. After days of defending the story with forensic specialists, Rather made an on-air apology stating that a “mistake in judgment” had been made. CBS did not acknowledge the documents were forgeries but that they could not confirm they were not. Nonetheless, the firestorm resulted in Dan Rather’s “retirement”. Mary Mapes never worked in TV news again.

Starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, “Truth” raises the question: “What is truth? And how do we know?” In an exceptionally well-developed narrative, much like a crime drama, the viewer follows the clues and the trail to the usual suspects. In perhaps one of the most cruel tactics to discredit Mapes, a conservative talk show host interviews her alcoholic and abusive father who states he is ashamed of what his daughter has become: a feminist with an axe to grind.  Emotional manipulation arises when facts are slim or too complex to be easily grasped.   Although told from the perspective of Mapes, different versions of events are presented so the viewer has to draw his or her own conclusions.

“Truth” is based on Mapes’ 2005 memoir “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.” It’s a 12-year-old case, but the wounds are still unhealed.

Worth seeing.

 

Footnote: Some at CBS News were “angry” with the film’s implication that news executives were pressured to revoke the story by corporate owner Viacom, which had a business incentive to remain on friendly terms with the Bush administration. Although the financial backers of “Truth”, CBS Corporation did not promote or advertise the film.