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Entries in dick cheney (167)


In Which Catherine Durant Remains A Beautiful Human Being

This review contains mild spoilers for only the first six episodes in House of Cards' fourth season.

The Only Thing That Would Make Francis Underwood Happy


House of Cards
creator Beau Willimon

Ronald Reagan's first wife was Jane Wyman. She was a better actor than he was by leaps and bounds; she was a more natural Republican, too. She starred in this one Douglas Sirk movie I can never forget. She wanted to be with her gardener. I mean, he wasn't just a gardener, he had like a degree in horticulture. Also he looked like Rock Hudson.

Her family really pressured her that this man wasn't good enough for her. (The same thing happened to Claire Underwood on House of Cards, which is why I'm explaining this Douglas Sirk yarn to you now.) So she breaks it off with Rock, and she is real sad about how things went down. Her kids want to cheer her up, so they wheel this television into her room. And she says, "I had Rock Hudson, and you made me send him away. Now you're giving me an RCA?"

Fortunately it is not too late: she can always go back to him. House of Cards would have been a great project for Douglas Sirk. It is so obvious that the fourth season of this Netflix series is being masterminded by a scriptwriter, because this show would be no different in its substance if it were staged as a radio play. Budgets have clearly been scaled back; even the cast seems incredibly small. Most scenes are rendered in an utterly drab fashion, shot in low light in order to accentuate the clandestine nature of events.

Once again Robin Wright herself directs quite a few episodes. She has a great eye for the pulse of a crowd, the way that individuals form groups. She works to contrast that with the private exchanges involved in the feud between herself and domineering husband Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) that came to a breaking point at the end of the last season. The Underwood character has been pushed to its limits and there is really no hope of redemption at this point without making him seem weak, so House of Cards focuses on Wright's First Lady+ character almost exclusively.

Accompanying these two mainstays is one debut of any significance, which makes the show feel a little repetitive of past seasons at times. The inclusion of Neve Campbell in House of Cards as the Underwoods' campaign manager LeAnn is a welcome sight on its own. Campbell is a reserved performer who can play several emotions required of this role quite easily: secrecy, confusion, and an understated sex appeal that could explode at any moment. She introduces the Underwoods to a data scientist named Aidan (Damian Young) in the most underwhelming subplot of its time.

Claire uses LeAnn as a tool to further her own ends, and this season of House of Cards is mostly about how she makes everyone else do her bidding. Dressed in a vanilla blouse for a good 96% of her scenes , Claire is not given the chance to prove she is a human being, which is just as well. Her relationship with her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) the only attempt to make her slightly more sympathetic, but we are not really fooled – their debates are something like witnessing a fight between two kaijus.

The first half of this season concerns how the Underwoods dispose of their chief rival to the Democratic nomination, Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel). Last season Dunbar was the principled opposition with a commanding lead. Watching Francis and Claire transform her from political Supreme Court justice to convention afterthought is as satisfying as it is unlikely, and Beau Willimon imbues her with none of the charisma or craftiness she had when she debuted on the scene. She sort of fades away here for no real reason.

In her place is Underwood's opponent in the general election, the Republican governor of New York (?) Rob Conway (Joel Kinnaman) and his wife Hannah (Dominique McEligott). I will have more to say about them at a later date, but I am not happy.

House of Cards has already had so many eventful moments that it would not even shock us now to watch President Underwood commit mass murder. He cannot feasibly silence his enemies that way now – they have grown too numerous, and in the case of Claire she knows him too completely for that. The show tries to make Francis as canny as he was in the past, but it is much less interesting watching Underwood try to be a good president, since we could not believe that he did all these awful things to fail at his job.

In order to prove that he needs her on board, Claire leaks a photo of Francis' father posing next to the leader of the KKK, and the next day he addresses a black church on the subject. Thereafter it is painful to watch the producers position young black men and women in the audience of Francis' rallies and speeches. Francis Underwood's relationship with actual African-Americans is confined to a throwaway scene between Francis and a member of the White House staff.

Frank's relationship with a Texas congresswoman Doris Jones (Cicely Tyson) from Claire's district and her daughter never really gets more in depth than a minute-long meal. Claire plans to supplant Jones' daughter as her successor, and the congresswoman agrees to the insult in order to fund an abortion clinic in her area. The latter comes to pass but not the former, although we never see Tyson or her daughter again. House of Cards' African-American characters are alternately humbled, angry or reduced. They never get any kind of satisfying revenge or action — instead they recede into the flow of events with a frown on their faces.

House of Cards' major black protagonist throughout has been Remy Danton. He is maybe the best performer on the entire show, but he does not get more than a few token scenes here — in one, all that happens is that he cannot find any gas for his car. "You don't care about money," someone says to him at one point, an allegation that seems hollow given Danton's background on the series. Danton tries to protect his girlfriend Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) from Francis but he never gets a scene with either of the Underwoods – he has to deal exclusively with the woman who replaced him. 

Beau Willimon is fantastic when it comes to pushing the breakneck speed and chaos of a presidential election forward, and that momentum sustains House of Cards even when its developments appear asinine or unlikely. There is no great showpiece episode or storyline, nothing that will make anyone's jaw drop ensconsced in this set of scripts, but Willimon is a good enough writer to pull off the demands of a serial with smoke and mirrors.

After completing this iteration of House of Cards there is an empty feeling. The world of politics, Mr. Willimon suggests, is an empty, turgid place with no consequences for the citizens or the people perpetuating the crimes. I do not believe that this is really how things are in Washington, but Willimon's exaggeration of the malicious tendencies of certain elements in our political class remains instructive. The tone in this House of Cards marks a more serious shift; there is a lessening of the vicarious thrill we might have shared in the Underwoods' tactics, which seamlessly blend into the general malaise. There is no such thing as too many cautionary tales.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He would like to dedicate this essay and all further essais to the memory of Nancy Reagan.

"All the Ways" - Wet (mp3)

"Small and Silver" - Wet (mp3)


In Which We Strive To Be Outside The Thing That Thinks

The Culture Wars In Reverse


The 1960s and 1970s were a garbage time and place to be a part of. You had to choose a side in this war of bad color schemes, scarves worn in exactly the wrong places, and the all-encompassing scent of B.O. On one side stood an ungrateful bunch of wretches who had not really done any work, but listed the things they expected their country to provide for them. On the other side were a bunch of sexist racists who inhabited the power structure and were like, "What was really wrong with how things were when women and blacks were casualties of a quintessential maleless that was everpresent, like the wind?" 

Well, now that power structure has been dismantled. The most important person in our foreign policy has largely been a woman for seventy percent of the last two decades, and for eight years we have enjoyed the gentlemanly, paranoid camaraderie of an African-American policy wonk in the Oval Office. Nobody in their right mind would say that the last eight years were a nightmare; neither did they represent a renaissance. We stood pat. Unfortunately our hand was not all that great.

Now one maniac has a basic platform. Let's go back to how things were, let's make America gr8 again. The WGN series Outsiders concerns the white people who settled on a mountain in Kentucky more than a century ago, and a corporation which wants to remove them from their home. They know exactly what Mr. Trump is talking about.

All property is rightfully possessed by those with the will to defend it. None of the police officers in Blackburg, Kentucky want to go up to that mountain and lead an eviction of these primitive folks who call themselves the Farrells. This crazy inbred tribe brew moonshine; it is not entirely clear how they supply themselves with food. They are led by a man named Foster (David Morse) and his mother Ray (Phyllis Somerville), who looks like a granola bar.

At times Hillary Clinton lapses into a disturbing Southern accent. She cannot help being something of a fake, of being the sort of person who tells everyone she meets exactly what they want to hear, because this is the primary tact of her two main competitors in obtaining the presidency. Say what you want about Mr. Obama, but he always said what he thought he could get away with, and if you didn't like it, he did not really care.

That is two types of people. Whites are becoming a majority; white males even more so. America's population is becoming urbanized and weak, feeble like the sheriff in Blacksburg, an Oxycontin addict played by the marvelous New Zealand actor Thomas M. Wright. A man is not a man, now. Donald Trump is not even a man. Look at photographs of him when he was younger: he looks like Patrick Bateman crossed with William F. Buckley wearing a condom on his head.

Ronald Reagan was not exactly a man's man either. You have to go back a long way to find someone who was a man's man in the Oval Office. I used to think Donald Rumsfeld had balls, but then he focused his energies on making a card game app, and I started writing for This Recording because I wanted to seem cool and because I had a lot of jokes about Matthew Fox that I felt needed telling. When I looked down in the shower on Friday I couldn't see either a penis or balls. I was bare as a mannikin down there. 

Thomas Wright's police offer becomes the sheriff under unusual circumstances. The previous sheriff took him on the Farrells' mountain. His foot became caught in a bear trap, and he fell, where another trap snapped his head off. Outsiders showed this unlikely death, and since I am not a real man, I almost cried. 

Even the men on Outsiders, grizzled as they are, spend the vast majority of their time worried about what women think of their actions and behavior. It is less of a patriarchal society on Hick Mountain than you could expect. A ruling council is led and filled by women, though the men do not always obey. Outsiders is the best thing WGN has ever brought to air, but it may hit a bit too close to home.

I watched a movie the other day that I hoped would place some gristle in my private parts. It is called The Survivalist. It is about a man's man (Martin McCann) who lives on a little farm long after people have run out of oil and other fossil fuels which sustain our current way of life. He is doing fine by himself living in the cutest cabin until two women saunter into his garden. Naturally, the women are his complete undoing. The younger one (Mia Goth) has no eyebrows and offers to have sex with him for food. 

He accepts naturally, and he becomes incredibly soft. He only has eyes for Mia Goth. He is perhaps unaware of all the filthy things Shia LaBoeuf did to her in the context of what Shia calls a romantic relationship. Not even Shia LaBoeuf is a real man, for a real man only knows what a mirror is when he hears other people talking about it or when he uses the bathroom at the mall.

As you can see this essai has gotten away from me. When I began it, my goal was to prove that this was the culture wars in reverse: an aggrieved white minority wants to return to an idyllic past while a multicultural majority wants to suppress what they believe are disturbed values.

But as I was proving this by reviewing a TV show that airs on WGN and movie that went straight to OnDemand, I realized that in order for a culture war to exist, there actually has to be a culture. There is nothing Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can actually do to change America in any discernible way. The only way they can alter the nation is by saying things that make people angry. Then perhaps those individuals will go and do things to alter the flow of events. 

The last important decision made by a president was made by a real man, Lyndon Johnson. It was the wrong decision, and we kept fighting the war in Vietnam. I say 'we', of course I had no desire to get anywhere near this shitshow. A president is not going to do anything, and anybody that tells you differently just doesn't understand the world. 

More importance is attached to that thing in our brain which thinks. That is what we are, and to make a culture, a bunch of people have to think a lot of different things. Someone asked me the other day who I thought the most important man in America was. It was a good question, possibly a query without a real answer. But then it came to me: there are no men left except for Robin Thicke, so I guess the answer is, him by default?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Millionaire" - Thao Nguyen & the Get Down Stay Down (mp3)


In Which James Franco Purple Nurpled His Way Into Her Heart

Robert Pattinson of Arabia


Queen of the Desert
dir. Werner Herzog
128 minutes

"I get very lonely," James Franco explains early on in Queen of the Desert. Then there is this odd scene where Nicole Kidman towers over her cousin (Holly Earl) like a giant. One of the weirdest scenes in movies follows; it is how you know this is a Werner Herzog production. Nicole manhandles the poor woman and kisses her on the forehead like she is a little baby.

The film launches into Nicole's voiceover of a letter to her father. She explains to him that James Franco is always there when you want him, and never when you don't. If only that were true.

As he enters middle age Franco has adopted this muted seriousness that is completely amusing but also transparent. It screams, "I am acting! Isn't this vaguely reminsicent of Robert Mitchum or something, I don't know LOL!"

That night Franco performs a magic trick for Nicole. For some reason as he is doing this, he starts whispering. It is daytime we see James next, and he is still talking in a soft tone of voice. You get the sense that Nicole shares a lot of qualities with his mother.

This all takes place in the desert. James kisses her in the desert outside Tehran. She tastes like dandelions and sour milk, in the desert.

Eventually he asks her to marry him, upsetting her family greatly, presumably because they don't view James Franco as being particularly reliable. Queen of the Desert has a roundly mediocre score accompanying these events, but what makes it truly intolerable is just how much of it there is. "I am in love with your smile," James explains, and then like ten minutes later he throws himself off a cliff.

Nicole takes this about as well as you would expect. She replaces James Franco with Damian Lewis, who is a major upgrade in pretty much every way. Unlike the vast majority of men, Lewis appears a lot more youthful when he has facial hair. One man wants to look old and looks too young. One man wants to look young and looks young.

Damian Lewis' eyes are soulful, maybe too soulful? He should just do his character from Billions in every movie, since Queen of the Desert can't possibly take its story the least bit seriously. Herzog's gift is turning reality into a surreal fantasy, but there is nothing interesting in the story of Gertrude Bell that he really understands, so it is all just molting, begging and staring.

Lewis doesn't do much more than stroke Nicole's hair. He says he wants to be with her, but he tells her his wife would commit suicide if he ever left. Gertrude seems sad but maybe not as depressed as she might otherwise have been. She was guilty of love once, but never again.

Queen of the Desert doesn't get good until we come to the most amusing casting of time: Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence. Since Lawrence was gay or asexual, his charisma with Nicole is not much at all. "I'm not sure the right man for you has been born yet," he tells her, in an accent so bad it would be laughable if Pattinson did not have look of a sad, wounded puppy on his face. You want to slap the shit out of it.

"I'm under you of course," Lawrence tells Nicole, even though this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, she doesn't even speak the language and she is absolutely boy-crazy, how would she even have time for diplomatic relations. The score changes to from ten percent cultural appropriation to one hundred percent; all the Arab characters stand around in worship of Nicole Kidman. "You were great in Far and Away!" they scream over the din of their camels.

Lawrence has his picture taken with some really adorable lion cubs and Winston Churchill. It is made evident that the reason all these people are in the middle east is because they find England absolutely stifling. The last line of Queen of the Desert is an Arab king saying, "You know, she really is the unofficial Queen of the Desert" and then some text comes on the screen, like there is more information that will supplement our understanding of where Nicole Kidman is in her life now. We know everything we need to by that time.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing in these pages here.

"Breathing Spell" - Some Go Haunting (mp3)