Brain Dump: House of Cards, Empire, The Americans, The Fosters

It’s a brain dump day. Just a little bit of one thing or another in disconnected ramblings.

House of Cards

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards

When Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) finally has all the power in the world in his hands, he becomes a tyrant and a bigger ass than he ever was. And when Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) has a chance, she chooses to do the right thing. Unlike dear Frank.

House of Cards is more about the relationship between Frank and Claire than it is about political intrigue and power. Season 3 really brings that home, especially the final moments.

Favorite scenes: 1. When Claire shamed the Russian President on Russian TV. 2. When Frank caused Jesus to go all to pieces. 3. When Claire – aw, shucks, that’s too big of a spoiler to share.

Empire

Taraji P. Henson and Terrance Howard in Empire
Taraji P. Henson and Terrance Howard in Empire

I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying Empire. I know I’m a sucker for any show with music, but I thought this one would be different because I don’t enjoy rap. I get tired of all those male voices in rap. But the music on this show is good, with only an occasional bit of rap and with plenty of women performers in the mix.

I’m also into the characters and the drama. Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyons and Terrance Howard as Lucious Lyons show off outstanding acting chops in every episode, with the rest of the cast doing just as well. I’m happy it keeps climbing in the ratings, because that means it will probably be back for another season.

The Americans

Holly Taylor in The Americans
Holly Taylor in The Americans

In The Americans, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have agonized all season over when (or if) to explain to their oldest child Paige (Holly Taylor) that they are Russian spies. Phillip doesn’t want to. Elizabeth wants to but can’t bring herself to do it. It underscores everything that happens this season from what they do as spies to how they relate to each other and their daughter. It’s fascinating to watch their lives and all their assumptions kind of unravel over this issue.

The Fosters

Cierra Ramirez in The Fosters
Cierra Ramirez in The Fosters

I think we need more geeky young women on TV as role models. Well, we got one. Cierra Ramirez as Mariana on The Fosters turns out to be quite the hacker. I love Mariana the geek! More geeky girls, please.

 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is Powerful

poster for The Butler

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s like watching a newsreel of my own life. It is a newsreel of my own life. It was especially meaningful to watch it on Sunday as the nation remembered the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and the “I have a dream speech” by The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But as a white woman living through the events in the years that Cecil Gaines served in The White House, a lot of it was “the news” to me. I wasn’t living it in the way the characters lived it. I wasn’t forced to live with two faces, I wasn’t thrown in jail for expecting to be served in a restaurant, I wasn’t sprayed with fire hoses or screamed at by men in white robes. As I write this review I’m very aware of how different life was for African Americans during this part of our history.

butler-silhouette
Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a man who hid his true self for most of his working life.

Part of the power of this story is the juxtaposition of what Cecil Gaines was going through as a butler working in the rarefied air of The White House while his oldest son was riding buses across the South as a freedom rider.

freedom riders
A bus full of freedom riders under attack.

Cecil Gaines continued to do his job, a job that looked like a miracle of good fortune when he first was hired, while his oldest son was being arrested and beaten in places like Birmingham and Selma. These two things going on simultaneously spoke volumes about the past and the future, about courage and change.

The story begins with young Cecil watching his father shot in cold blood because he dared speak to a white man after the white man raped Cecil’s mother. I don’t remember the date exactly, but I think it was in the 1920s. The story ends with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Between those years, Cecil’s career in The White House spanned presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan. I think it was Eisenhower. Robin Williams definitely played Eisenhower. However, they showed actual TV news footage that was supposed to be Eisenhower, but I thought it was Harry Truman, so I am a bit confused about that part of the time sequence.

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker
Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker as Gloria and Cecil Gaines looking at smoke from nearby race riots.

The cast is exemplary. Every one of the key parts of characters who get a lot of screen time is perfectly cast. Forest Whitaker as Cecil is flawless. Oprah Winfrey as his wife and mother of their two sons, David Oyelowo as the grown up Louis Gaines, Terrance Howard as a family friend, Cuba Gooding Jr. as another White House Butler – all outstanding.

Major actors and actresses took tiny parts, just to be part of this story. I think anyone who read the script must have known what a powerful film this would be and was ready to be part of it. There will be numerous awards for this film, I’m sure of that.

In addition to the civil right themes throughout there are the human dramas involving father and son relationships, family relationships, friendships, fidelity, alcoholism, pride, and respect.

Perhaps you’re too young to have lived through all of the past 60 or 70 years of U.S. history. Perhaps you will miss some of the moments of recognition as to who the various characters in government and in the civil rights movement were from having known about them first hand during those years. Even more reason to watch this movie. You’ll learn something about the U.S – its failures, and its heroes.

You’ll be moved by The Butler. I urge you to see it.