Monthly Archive for July, 2014

House of Cards, Season 2

House of Cards, Season 2 (7/31/14) Netflix (2014 ***1/2) Created by Beau Willimon, based on the series of novels by Michael Dobbs, starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Mahershala Ali and Molly Parker. 13 episodes, originally released online en masse on 2/14/14, Valentine’s day. Vice President Frank Underwood battles billionaire Raymond Tusk in a maneuvering for great political influence over the president. A friend of mine wrote a post on Facebook dismissing the second season of House of Cards as the “longest shark-jump, ever.” As I watched the season I kept that in mind, but ultimately decided to respectfully disagree. The first episode of the season showed the depths to which Frank was willing to sink in order to keep his secrets. Obviously, the center of the show was Spacey, and it was vital that the audience root for its anti-hero, just as they rooted for Tony Soprano and Breaking Bad‘s Walter White. What I ultimately liked best, as I wrote about in my review of Season 1, was that Frank Underwood wasn’t a flawless supervillain. In fact, in Season 2 it sometimes seemed that he screwed more things up than he got right. In some ways he was his own worst enemy, and it was apparent that the success or failure of his “master plan” was largely in the hands of Lady Luck. And furthermore, he knew it. That made him human and also created an ever-present sense of jeopardy. At any given point, it wasn’t clear when the titular, fragile playing card structure would inevitably collapse.

Afterlife With Archie, Vol. 1: Escape From Riverdale

Afterlife With Archie, Vol. 1: Escape From Riverdale (7/31/14) Comics (2014 ***1/4) Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, illustrated by Francesco Francavilla. When Jughead Jones asks Sabrina the Teenage Witch to bring his beloved pet Hot Dog back from the dead, he initiates a zombie epidemic threatening many of your beloved childhood characters. I ordered this book primarily because of the obvious novelty factor. Despite the impressive blurbs on the back of the book, I didn’t find Aguierre-Sacasa’s writing to be particularly artful, and frequently wondered how much better the book might have been with someone more skilled behind the keyboard. In contrast, Francavilla’s artwork was perfectly suited to the challenge of reimagining the Archie universe in a more realistic form, while not sacrificing the recognizability of the characters. Because this book was published by Archie Comics Publications, Inc., it could only go so far into R-rated-level gore territory, which was a bit of a disappointment, honestly. As I read Escape From Riverdale, I was occasionally reminded of a volume I reviewed a couple years ago: Criminal, Vol. 6: The Last of the Innocent, which told a far more subversive (and superior) tale about thinly-veiled doubles of Archie and his pals. So, as future volumes become available, will I continue reading and see how the Riverdale zombie apocalypse progresses? I bought this collection largely on a whim; if I do buy other volumes in the future, it will likely be motivated by a similar spirit of capriciousness.

Monsters, Inc.

Monsters, Inc. (7/27/14) DVD (2001 ***1/2) Directed by Pete Docter (with David Silverman and Lee Unkrich), featuring the voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi and Jennifer Tilly. When furry professional child-scarer Sully accidentally brings a human girl back to the monster world, he and his one-eyed best friend Mike must do everything they can to get her back home. I actually have a bit of personal history with Monsters, Inc.: It, along with Jimmy Newtron, were Shrek‘s main competition for the very first Best Animated Film Oscar back in 2002. Luckily, Shrek (my first Dreamworks film) won, forever after giving me bragging rights. Not surprisingly, I preferred Shrek personally and hadn’t watched Monsters Inc. since September 2002. My old movie journal notes at the time read: “Pretty damn good, but still not as satisfying as Shrek or Toy Story 2. It’s almost like all the emotional ‘chords’ are there but not quite in the right places.” Watching it now, more than a decade later, I don’t know if I agree with that assessment. While it’s not the nearly emotional juggernaut of Toy Story 3 (which I’m really overdue to watch again), it is pretty charming, and certainly a good choice for watching with young kids, which we did, thanks to a visit by two of my young cousins, both under five years of age.

Sherlock, Series 3

Sherlock, Series 3 (7/17/14) Netflix (2014 ***1/2) Created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, based on the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss. 3 episodes, originally aired 1/19/14 – 2/2/14. This season consisted of the following three episodes: “The Empty Hearse,” “The Sign of Three” and “His Last Vow.” Sherlock Holmes shocks his partner and friend James Watson by returning from the grave in the guise of a waiter. Fans of the show had to wait nearly two years before Sherlock returned, giving them ample time to speculate on the internet about how Holmes’ faked his demise at the end of Series 2. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, this was incorporated into the first episode. The episodes this time around were all quite solid, with mixes of pathos and humor throughout. It was more than a little amusing to see Holmes prepare for and deliver his best man’s speech at John and Mary Watson’s wedding. And speaking of which, it was nice to get a little more background into the new bride. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the season, I must say that Andrew Scott’s brilliant take on “The Napoleon of Crime,” Jim Moriarty, was sorely missed. (Spoiler Alert) Or was he?

House of Cards, Season 1

House of Cards, Season 1 (7/16/14) Netflix (2013 ****) Created by Beau Willimon, based on the series of novels by Michael Dobbs, starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Mahershala Ali and Corey Stoll. 13 episodes, originally released online on 2/1/13. After being passed over as the president’s Chief of Staff, Senate Majority Whip Frank Underwood proves he’s willing to do whatever it takes to gain political power. My wife refers to this show as “the evil West Wing,” and that’s not a bad comparison. In the tradition of Tony Soprano, Frank Underwood is a fascinating antihero. One of the things I really appreciated about his characterization was that he wasn’t some infallible diabolical genius. He seemed to make mistakes frequently, which really made me like him more. On the other hand, Underwood’s wife Claire, played by Robin Wright, began as an enigma and it took most of the season for me to figure her out. Nominally Frank’s partner in crime, she wasn’t above stabbing her husband in the back to fulfill her own ends. Some of the storylines were a bit less interesting to me, and in particular I never really bought recovering alcoholic Congressman Russo as gubernatorial material. The writing for this, Netflix’s original programming flagship series, was top-notch, and I looked forward to each and every episode, wondering what political lengths (and depths) Frank Underwood would go to get what he wanted.