The visual language of cinema has changed a lot since the first movies were produced, but one thing they retain is the ability to affect the people. Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of –if not the– best films of all time, is a thinly veiled look at the life of William Randolph Hearst, and not a kind one.
The authorship of the screenplay of Citizen Kane has been a controversy for decades now. The story was initially conceived of by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz, but who wrote it? Welles? Mankiewicz? I don’t know the answer to this question but Mank, the latest film from David Fincher supposes that Mankiewicz wrote it nearly entirely, and tells the story of that man’s life during the time that he was writing it.
Is that accurate? I don’t know, but it makes for a hell of a story.
Citizen Kane is widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made, and the story behind that film is the subject of David Fincher’s latest project. Mank follows the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles co-writer on Citizen Kane, as the project is being written and made.
The most surefire way to make me tune out a book’s pitch is to include the words “marriage” or “mother”. Which is partially why I never bothered picking up Gone Girl, the novel by Gillian Flynn released in 2012. The other is that almost as soon as I became aware of the book I found out it would be adapted for the screen starring Ben Affleck and directed by David Fincher. Fincher has been one of my favourite directors since Se7en(1995) so I knew I would be seeing the movie. Over the past five years I’ve made a concerted effort to go into the movies by my favourite filmmakers knowing as little as possible about them. I cut myself off at one trailer, if that, and never listen to any interviews. It can be really difficult, especially for a project like this that was a book for 2 years before the movie was released and many people feel that spoilers are fair game.
But I made it. I waited all the way until the second day of opening weekend and the only thing I knew going into it was that Ben Affleck shows his penis.
It’s come to my attention that many of you haven’t seen the [the films of] series of videos I mentioned yesterday when I posted about the _[Insight: Derek Cianfrance](http://awesomefriday.ca/2014/03/awesome-insight-derek-cianfrance-examines-the-directors-voice/?preview=true)_ video. This is something that needs to be corrected, so here is a playlist of the entire series.
Released over the course of 2011 each video profiles a different director and manages to distill that directors voice into something pretty special. The entire playlist is around 35 minutes long so set aside some time and watch the whole thing. It’s pretty amazing.
[House of Cards is now live and streaming](http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/House_of_Cards/70178217). I’ve been looking forward to this for some time and I intend to watch it all, probably at least twice. This article comes after I finished the fourth episode. I’m going to my best to avoid spoilers and just talk about tone, performance, plot execution and all that good stuff. Look for a follow up next week for a more in depth (and probably spoilery) discussion.
Based on an incredibly well regarded British series of the same name, this remake casts Kevin Spacey in the role of Frank Underwood, the U.S. House Majority Whip, the man “_whose job it is to clear the pipes and keep the sludge moving_” in his own words.
At the series outset Frank has hitched his wagon to that of a newly elected president. Having done everything right it’s expected that he’ll be nominated for Secretary of State as a reward for his work.
But then that doesn’t happen. The president-elect nominates another man, younger and with little experience. Even more irksome to Frank, the president-elect himself didn’t break the news. He had his chief of staff do it for him, something Frank takes as a sign of great disrespect.
He spends the day alone thinking on what to do. He arrives home to his wife who chastises him for not calling. They do things together she points out, and they are most definitely better as a team even if their relationship seems to be based mostly on mutual advancement. Despite this, when Frank tells us that he loves Claire “more than sharks love blood” it’s easy to believe.
Frank spends the night thinking on what to do next and then he decides: he’s going to take the sons of bitches down. From here the manoeuvring starts. He starts working on playing people against one another, promising one thing while delivering another, and all the while playing the part of the loyal team member.
You know what? It’s all _fucking brilliant_. When Kevin Spacey is on his A Game there’s very few other actors I can say I find as thrilling to watch, and Kevin Spacey is on his A Game here. Robin Wright plays Franks wife Claire and she’s great too. They are the perfect couple in so many ways, equal partners in a relationship built on pursuing power.
Kate Mara plays one of the shows other central characters, the gutsy young reporter who forms a mutually beneficial relationship with Frank: he passes her information which either enhances his, or damages an enemy’s, reputation and with that information her career is greatly advanced. She’s good. I feel like lately people overlook Kate Mara in favour of her sister Rooney (admittedly, has had some amazing performances) but she’s more than capable. Her character has the least surprises to offer as it’s the most stereotyped in the show but she’s doing well with it.
But who am I kidding, this is the Kevin Spacey show. Everything about him is magic. Whether he’s dressing down a rival or buttering up someone he needs or explaining his motives to us by breaking the fourth wall –a technique that’s pretty hard to pull off this well– it’s just a pleasure to watch him talk and the dialogue he’s working with is witty and acerbic (and yes, he gets to use [the now famous quote](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oz8RjPAD2Jk) from the original plus a few new better ones). Spacey is able to shift gears between the cynical and self serving Frank and the charming, well meaning utterly sincere persona Frank puts on as a politician, often cutting away from the latter to deliver a short soliloquy to us as the former, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part.
The story is compelling as well. I think that releasing the entire series at once was a smart move in the end as it makes the series feel more like a 13 hour movie than 13 one hour episodes. In the story we get to see first hand all the wheeling and dealing and back room shenanigans that make Washington, and let’s face it probably every other democratic government, tick. I don’t know what’s worse that it’s some of it’s so outlandish that it’s hard to believe or that none of it is so outlandish that I can’t believe it.
One other major concern I had was that David Fincher directed the first two episodes. Not that that’s a bad thing, but rather that following episodes might not be up to the same level of style and technique. I’m happy to report that’s not the case. Fincher’s two episodes certainly look and feel like David Fincher directed them, but the following two (directed by James Foley) keep the same tone and feel going if not that certain David Fincher look.
All in all the first third of this series is fucking great and, more than that, I feel like this might be the start of something. Netflix goal is “[to become HBO faster than HBO can become Netflix](http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/29/3930560/netflix-wants-at-least-five-new-shows-a-year-the-goal-is-to-become)”. That’s a pretty ambitious goal but if they’re able to keep this up then I don’t see it being a problem. If they keep investing in big chunks (House of Cards was given a 2 series, 13 episode per order) then more’s the better. Guaranteed runs are risky for the studio but they’re great for the creator and the viewer.
So what are you doing still reading this? Go keep watching. I have a few more to go and once I’m done the whole series I’ll post further and more detailed thoughts.
Netflix paid a metric boat load of cash for House of Cards and so naturally they want as many people as possible to see it. To that end, they’ve made the first episode available for anyone to watch, regardless of whether you have a subscription, which is pretty cool.
The first episode is directed by David Fincher, and the cast is star studded, so I’m guessing there are worse things you could spend an hour watching. It’s obvious they want you to sign up to watch the rest but you know what? Netflix is only 8 bucks a month. Worth it.
Watch this space over the next few days, I’m going to be watching the whole series and talking about it in chunks (probably 3-4 episodes at a time) as I do.
Meanwhile, relax and enjoy your flight.
[Watch Chapter 1 of House of Cards on Netflix](http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/House_of_Cards/70178217)