All My Random Thoughts on House of Cards, Season 3

Where do I start with House of Cards? I finished season three last night – that’s record binge-viewing time for me – and each time I think about it, new theories, thoughts and questions pop into my head. This was such an intriguing season, and it was definitely my favorite of the three so far.

I realized a few episodes in that this was my favorite season of HoC because it’s the season that can be most easily compared to The West Wing. This New York Times Magazine Beau Willimon profile from last year made a perfect connection between the two – that each generation gets the political show representative of its moment – and, yes, even last year as Vice President, Frank entered the realm of the White House. But now he’s really in the White House, and his supporting cast more closely mirrors that of The West Wing.

Throughout the season, I found myself comparing House of Cards characters with their West Wing counterparts. The Underwood-Bartlet comparison doesn’t amount to much, or at least it didn’t to me. The one I found myself thinking about most often was Remy (Underwood’s Chief of Staff) and Josh Lyman (Bartlet’s Deputy Chief of Staff). It actually didn’t dawn on me until right now, as I write this, that Josh is never actually Bartlet’s Chief of Staff – he’s only the deputy in that administration. But I think the comparison holds; Josh and Remy are more comparable than Leo and Remy, age-wise, so maybe that’s why it sprang to mind, but I also think Josh does more Remy-like things than Leo. Anyways.

This is where I couldn’t get it out of my mind: When it’s clear the hurricane has turned and the America Works program will die because Frank’s signed that bill, he leaves the situation room and asks Remy what can be done to stop it and get the AmWorks funding back. Remy doesn’t know what to do, and basically tells Frank it’s hopeless. Faced with the same situation and the same amount of time, Josh Lyman would have gotten the bill back, rescued AmWorks, and given Donna a condescending explanation of whatever Constitutional loophole he used to accomplish the previous feat.

On a more peripheral level, I’m always interested in the way different politically focused shows and movies concentrate on different players. I mean, I get it – each show chooses who they want to tell the story through – but I just wonder how those decisions are made, and why. There is no Toby Ziegler or Sam Seaborn in HoC (or at least no depiction of their counterparts, because the real Sam and Toby would probably flee the country if Frank Underwood was president). In the same way, The West Wing never had (if my memory serves) a U.N. Ambassador present during tense moments in the situation room.

Aside from the ease with which West Wing comparisons can be made, HoC season three was my favorite because for a long time, we don’t know where it’s going. Season one, these characters and this story are brand-new, and we don’t even know what we could assume. Season two, it’s fairly obvious Frank will become President. But season three, Frank is President. So where will it go?

I loved watching Frank struggle with the day-to-day issues of the presidency, rather than make the broad-strokes moves to get there in the first place, which we saw in the first two seasons. You remember he actually has a job to do. But even though that’s why I loved the season as a whole, it’s also why the ending left me dissatisfied. It felt like the finale concentrated on storylines that hadn’t been considered much at all in the previous 12 episodes. Of course Doug has to find Rachel, and of course we have to get some idea of what’s going on with the Underwood marriage (this Vulture piece articulates a lot of frustrations I had with the season’s end, as far as Frank and Claire’s relationship), but I was disappointed we didn’t get a closer look at how Heather Dunbar narrowly lost the Iowa primary, or get some idea where Jackie Sharp’s headed next, now that she’s done campaigning and admitted unhappiness in her marriage.

Slightly disappointing ending aside, though, I still thought this was a fabulous season. These are my other lingering, random thoughts:

  • End of episode two, when Claire cracks those two eggs into a pan. WHAT DOES IT MEAN.
  • Even if there weren’t direct comparisons to all the characters, there were some moments that reminded me of West Wing Frank’s visit to the bishop reminded me of when Toby went to chat with his rabbi. Heather Dunbar’s surprise announcement of her candidacy reminded me of CJ’s surprise when that awful Peter Lillianfield gave a surprise press conference about alleged drug use among White House staffers.
  • I liked Thomas Yates, the author Frank hired. But I will never love a writer on this show as much as I loved Janine Skorsky.
  • This scene – Frank sings a little ditty for guests after the Petrov dinner – is straight out of my fever dream.

frank singing!

  • The dialogue between Claire Underwood and Michael Corrigan, as they negotiate in his prison cell, is insanely good. As is the dialogue between Frank and Claire later that episode, when they’re fighting on the plane.
  • This show reminded me how House of Cards season one really introduced me to the greatness of Kevin Spacey, who is now one of my most beloved actors. I’d seen him in movies before this show, but I remember watching the first season and then wanting to know all of his other stuff. I watched L. A. Confidential not long after finishing season one, and it’s now one of my favorite films. I kind of forgot until this weekend how HoC was responsible for my love of Spacey.

So, I’m sure tons of other thoughts and theories will come to mind as I chew on this season and discuss with others. Here’s to season four.

Thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks”

Since it’s 2014 and I resolved to blog more, I’m going to start with the kind of post I wish I’d written more of last year: thoughts on movies.

I saw “Saving Mr. Banks” yesterday, and while I didn’t LOVE it, I enjoyed it quite a bit – and have enjoyed thinking about it in hindsight even more.

I want to say that I first heard of the movie shortly after the Oscars last year, in some kind of “What Movies Will Contend in 2014” slideshow, but it may have been later in the year. At any rate, I remember reading a positive early review of the film this past October. I had high expectations: It’s got Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, it’s a movie about the movies, Disney made it, and who doesn’t like “Mary Poppins”? It was on my shortlist of movies to see in advance of awards season.

As more reviews came out, my expectations dulled – it seemed like more of a kids’ movie, and I wasn’t sure I’d like the backstory about P.L. Travers’ childhood in Australia, which the film used to explain the inspiration behind the Mary Poppins character.

We ultimately know how “Saving Mr. Banks” ends, because “Mary Poppins” is an actual movie we all watched as kids. But “Saving Mr. Banks” makes you think for awhile that there’s no possible way P.L. Travers will hand Disney the rights to turn her book into a movie. That’s what I liked least about this film – it drags on a little with scenes showing how much she resents what Disney is trying to do with the story. And, while I ended up liking the use of flashbacks to her childhood, I thought those were also a little repetitive. The movie turned to flashbacks when something P.L. Travers encountered during her trip to Los Angeles reminded her of an event from childhood. They weren’t forced attempts at moving the story along, which I appreciated. Plus, I thought Colin Farrell was quite good as her father.

Many of the scenes depicting the author’s objections to Disney’s plan for a film adaptation occurred in a rehearsal room. Travers sat around a table with songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman and screenwriter Don DaGradi, listening to and summarily shouting down their ideas. This creative trio – with Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers and Bradley Whitford (!) as DaGradi – became my favorite part of the film. Here are three guys who probably expected Travers to come in and fawn over all their brilliant songs and scripts. But even when her dismissiveness annoyed them to the core, they kept at it and found a way to please her.

And when they finally did please her, with the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” it was wonderful. For those few minutes, as the Shermans, DaGradi and Walt’s secretary perform the number for her, I was smiling wide and absolutely loving the film. The Shermans and DaGradi are just so happy – and probably relieved – to se P.L. Travers happy. Jason Schwartzman, who I’d say played my favorite character in the film, was especially wonderful it in that scene. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this video is taken down soon for some copyright violation, but here’s the scene I’m talking about.)

But really, let’s all have a good laugh at Josh Lyman singing and dancing to songs from Mary Poppins! Oh, it just kills me. Bradley Whitford didn’t make or break this movie for me, but every time he was on screen, I thought to myself, “This is the man who delivered the ‘bring me the finest muffins and bagels’ speech.” Same guy.

My final thought: Seeing it with a full theater audience provided an interesting commentary on how central Disney movies have been to American entertainment. You know the line, “Close your mouth please, Michael, we are not a codfish,” from “Mary Poppins”? There’s a line in a flashback scene that obviously hints at it, and everyone in the theater laughed knowingly. Disney can make “Saving Mr. Banks” so meta because everyone’s already seen and loved “Mary Poppins.” This movie seemed self-indulgent at times, but I didn’t care because I was entertained. Disney knows how to entertain pretty well.