Is House Of Cards Built Upon A House Of Lies?

Okay, that (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) headline is what they call a “grabber” — and I guess if you’re reading this far, it worked. I’ve only started watching the Netflix series House of Cards with Kevin Spacey, but already it seems to me that it’s borrowing quite a lot from two other recent cable TV series. I know that House of Cards is based on a British show, and I know nothing of that program, so it could be that the UK version did all this first. But what I’m seeing is that the American version appears to be a mixture of the Don Cheadle Showtime series House of Lies, along with the Kelsey Grammer Starz series Boss. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far, after having only seen two episodes…

House of Cards = Boss
SIMILARITIES: Scheming political leader values power above all else, and fabricates stories about other politicians who do not serve his needs, in order to secure his own choices firmly in place in those positions. Newspaper reporters are fed stories by the politicos, and argue amongst themselves about the legitimacy of what they intend to print. A young female reporter becomes the flavor of the month, much to the chagrin of a slightly older female reporter who has paid her dues for much longer. Also, Robin Wright = Connie Nielsen. Sexy, strong middle-aged blonde wife of the lead character, who pursues her pet projects thanks to the name recognition and power afforded her by her husband; she may have somewhat questionable morals herself, and often feels shut out by her spouse, but when it comes down to it, is completely supportive of him.

House of Cards = House of Lies
SIMILARITIES: Firebrand hotshot works the system to get his way. Is the go-to guy when things need to get done, and he doesn’t care if he has to bend the rules to make it happen. Frequently breaks the 4th wall and talks directly to camera, letting the viewer in on the secrets of his business, and his keen insights on the people he deals with day-to-day.

There were a lot more moments in House of Cards that were extremely reminiscent of these other two shows (especially Boss), even down to some very similar scenes. But, all that having been said, I do count myself as a huge fan of Spacey (and of many of the other actors in this show), so I’m hoping it eventually carves out its own niche in the television landscape as it progresses.

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My Thoughts On The 2013 Oscars

2013 Oscar Winners
Okay, let’s get the Seth stuff out of the way first — and allow me to set the stage for what I’m about to say here: I follow Seth MacFarlane on Twitter, and I watch Family Guy every week. For me, his humor quotient displayed on both media is hit-or-miss… while I find lots of his tweets and many moments of FG laugh-out-loud funny, slightly less than half of the time I’m just not amused at all. But that’s okay — as far as I’m concerned, the funny bits more than make up for the tweets/episodes that don’t do anything for me. Thus, I didn’t come into last night’s Oscars as either a knee-jerk Seth hater, nor as a he-can’t-do-anything-wrong Seth apologist. I had, I thought, an open mind about his prospects, as I sat down to watch. And indeed, in the first 2 or 3 minutes, I started to get quite optimistic about what kind of host he would be for the show. Then, things got a bit off-track. Then even more off-track. It seemed to me that Seth MacFarlane couldn’t decide what kind of host to be, and so, vacillating between opposing poles (but never really embracing either end of the spectrum), he came off to me as simply bland. The comedy was also off, overall. Jabs at the industry are to be expected from any Oscar host, but there’s a fine line, which is easily crossed. Many of his jokes came off as mean-spirited (like the one which ostensibly was aimed at Rex Reed, but at its core was making fun of Adele for being overweight). I think a good rule of thumb for anyone asked to emcee this event is, “Can you imagine Johnny Carson telling these exact jokes?” Johnny poked fun at nearly everyone, but in such a gently teasing way that it was nearly impossible for the butt of the joke to take offense. Johnny, after all, might have to look that person in the eye one day and interview them on his show. Seth’s humor last night was more in the vein of Howard Stern than Johnny Carson. But, Oscar host is admittedly one of the toughest showbiz gigs there is, and Seth MacFarlane was far from the worst. There were, in fact, moments where you could see a pretty decent host shining through the facade. So, while I won’t be upset if he doesn’t host again, it was surely far better than the Franco/Hathaway debacle. Continue reading

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Hot Topics

One reason I am happily apolitical — all the venom from people who align themselves with this side or that. I understand the comfort that comes with “belonging” — there is a camaraderie amongst people who share one’s beliefs, and even a pleasure that comes from slinging arrows at those who seem to oppose them. Also, when one aligns oneself with a group, it’s admittedly easier, because one is carried along by the “righteousness” of the cause. For some (who have become susceptible to the enticement of group-think), that means parroting whatever the majority (or the leaders) of the group are saying. Others do manage to exert their individuality while still associating with a certain collective. But it’s the seemingly inherent vitriol that, frankly, turns my stomach.
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The Booth At The End

Just came across this excellent sci-fi series, which is currently airing new episodes of its second season exclusively on Hulu (for free). (You can also catch up on all five episodes of the 1st season at the link below.) But it’s as good as anything you’ll find on pay cable or the networks.

The subject matter can get pretty dark, but there’s no violence depicted, nor foul language to speak of… in fact, unlike most typical science fiction fare, you also won’t find any aliens, spaceships, fight scenes, explosions, or special f/x. It all takes place within a diner — specifically, in a booth at the end. The thing it shares with great sci-fi is great writing and intriguing stories.

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get past the fact that the setting never changes, if I’d feel stifled by the production — but it hasn’t been an issue at all. Wonderful directing and great acting (from some people you may recognize) also contribute to make this a must-see for fans of the genre.

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Good Luck, Mr. Gorsky!

Saluting Neil Armstrong today — he transcends the title of American Hero… he is truly a hero of all the Earth. Even if we put a man on Mars, it won’t be as big a leap for mankind as when he became the first person to set foot on the moon; that act dramatically changed how we viewed the entire universe — not as something “out there” and “ever unreachable”, but as a whole new frontier to be explored.

There’s an anecdote about Neil’s moon landing that has been floating around for some years, which has since been proven false — but it’s a great story, nonetheless, and I think many people sort of wanted it to be true. Read the details below on

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Duck Dunn

This is one case where it’s not hyperbole to call this man “legendary”. 

Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who passed away Sunday at the age of 70, was more than just “one of the guys in the Blues Brothers band”, and more than just a member of Booker T. and the MG’s or the Mar-Keys. He was one of the key players in the house band for the Stax record label. If you’ve heard Otis Redding, you’ve probably heard Duck’s bass playing. If you’ve listened to albums or songs by Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Mitch Ryder, Albert King, Freddie King, Herbie Mann, Duane Allman, John Prine, Leon Russell, Rod Stewart, Richie Havens, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam & Dave, Levon Helm, John Fogerty, Boz Scaggs, CSNY, Neil Young, Bill Withers, Joan Baez, Manhattan Transfer, Jimmy Buffett, Diana Ross, Elvis Presley, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, or Bob Dylan, chances are you’ve heard Duck Dunn, one of the most respected session musicians of all time.

I shared this link on Twitter, but it’s worthwhile adding here, as well, for those people who aren’t familiar with his legacy — this of course is only a short list (as is the list above) of who he worked with:

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Great Oscar Speeches, Pt. III

Ah, but the ultimate of Oscar reactions , the be-all and end-all, the alpha & the omega, the “one to top”, has to be Roberto Benigni’s win for Best Foreign Film for Life Is Beautiful. What surely made it even more sweet for him was that the presenter happened to be another Italian, perhaps one of the most famous of all time, Sophia Loren.

Benigni won again later that night, for Best Actor, and in his memorable second speech, said he wished he was Jupiter on the firmament and could just make love to everybody. Who doesn’t love a speech like that? Heck, I think somebody could get elected President with a speech like that! 

That’s the kind of genuine emotion that makes the Academy Awards show great. We don’t want to hear you reading a laundry list thanking your agents, managers, hairdressers, personal assistants, producers, etc. — surely they deserve a thanks, but why not take out a full-page ad in Variety and print all their names there for the world to see? Save the good stuff for your actual speech. Something real. Something that touches you. That’s what we’ll remember, and that’s what we will love you for.

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Great Oscar Speeches, Pt. II

Speaking of great Oscar reactions, were you watching the night that Cuba Gooding, Jr. won for Jerry Maguire? He’s obviously very excited from the get-go, but watch the real magic, which happens when he’s about to be played off by the orchestra — suddenly he is overcome by wanting to share his excitement with the world, and the crowd can feel it… they begin cheering like they’re extras in a Rocky movie, spurred on by the music and Cuba’s energy. An amazing moment.

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Great Oscar Speeches, Pt. I

It’s Oscar weekend! There have been some memorable moments when people have won an Academy Award and didn’t expect it. One of my favorites was from the then 11-year-old Anna Paquin, who won for her role in The Piano. Interestingly, she was competing against her co-star, Holly Hunter, who was nominated for a different film. Almost as much fun as Anna’s reaction, is Holly’s jubilation when she hears young Ms. Paquin’s name called. When she takes the stage, everyone watching has severe doubts that she’ll be able to get a word out — and then, suddenly, she’s as prepared and smooth as an actor should be. Aww… that little Kiwi is so adorable. (Wonder what ever became of her? 😉 )

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Celebrity Bullying: Not As Much Fun As You’d Think

So, Kathy Griffin says she’s going to stop telling all those jokes in her act at Whitney Houston’s expense. Gee, Kathy — that’s awfully nice of you to do… now. Unfortunately that sentiment doesn’t do much good for Ms. Houston at this point, does it? 

This is indicative of a bigger issue. Truth is, I enjoy good-natured teasing and joking with someone — but I only do that when the other person is generally standing tall, and just has a one-time (not life-threatening) thing happen to them. Kicking somebody when they’re down is just — well, bullying. Good-natured teasing (as long as it’s not continual or relentless) can be a way of connecting with somebody, while bullying alienates that person, but it’s a fine line… and a lot of humor today (done not only in comedy clubs, but by regular folks just spouting off) crosses that line. 
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