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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - House of Cards, Evan Wil­liams

from drown­ing,’’ he likes to say as he com­pro­mises and cor­rupts those around him. ‘‘ A south­ern boy, slow with his words, and fast on his feet,’’ he says at one point, a man never to be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Robin Wright’s Claire is a beau­ti­fully judged per­for­mance also; she shoots off words with the pre­ci­sion of a com­bat ri­fle. In one icy scene she fires long-term staff at her not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion. Life, af­ter all, is about what­ever it takes. ‘‘ Make the changes to the power point,’’ is her only comment on the mat­ter.

Apart from the Net­flix in­volve­ment, House of Cards is in­no­va­tive as a creative en­ter­prise in an­other way. What Fincher was af­ter, he told the Di­rec­tors Guild of Amer­ica Quar­terly, was the pro­duc­tion ef­fi­ciency of mul­ti­ple-episode TV with the di­rec­to­rial con­trol typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with movie-mak­ing. Work­ing off a two-sea­son, 26-episode com­mit­ment from Net­flix, and largely film­ing on sev­eral mas­sive sets in a Bal­ti­more ware­house, Fincher looked to im­ple­ment a creative process that was lib­er­at­ing for di­rec­tors. His was a vi­sion of unim­peded di­rec­to­rial au­thor­ity; the un­der­stand­ing was that the di­rec­tors (all his choice) would be left alone, with no day-to-day ex­ec­u­tive in­volve­ment. That is, no script notes, no pres­ence on set, and no notes dur­ing ed­its. (They’re com­monly re­ferred to as ‘‘ the ge­nius notes’’ by di­rec­tors.)

‘‘ I felt like we were telling 13 sto­ries that are all part of one big story, and I was hand­ing off move­ments to peo­ple whose work I ad­mire,’’ Fincher said. ‘‘ This isn’t TV, be­cause we don’t have the stu­dio, we don’t have stan­dards and prac­tices, we don’t have peo­ple breath­ing down your neck say­ing, ‘ Re­mem­ber, kids love bright colours!’ ’’ he con­tin­ued.

This is rare in an in­dus­try that in­creas­ingly gives writ­ers, and more tra­di­tion­ally pro­duc­ers and stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives, the fi­nal word in the way a se­ries is turned out and com­pleted, and of­ten ac­tu­ally ex­e­cuted on the set. Fincher’s di­rec­to­rial con­trol is grandly ev­i­dent.

This se­ries is quite beau­ti­ful to look at, shot clas­si­cally like a fine clas­si­cal Hol­ly­wood film, its fram­ing and com­po­si­tions el­e­gant and sym­met­ri­cal, the cam­era work spare and full of mean­ing. Fincher only moves his cam­era when there is a rea­son, avoid­ing the hand-held busy­ness of so much TV drama, and al­low­ing his ac­tors to fill the space and carry the nar­ra­tive.

The filmic style de­lib­er­ately ref­er­ences that other movie about dirty pol­i­tics, All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, with its low an­gles, wide lenses, and the light­ing style.

Fox­tel is screen­ing this classy and vastly en­ter­tain­ing se­ries in var­i­ous ways. For its linked in­ter­net users, the first full 13 episodes will be avail­able from Tues­day, May 7, at 8.30pm. And the se­ries also premieres on Show­case with a spe­cial three-episode marathon on the same night, con­tin­u­ing on Tues­days at 8.30pm. STEPHEN Fry yields to few in his love of gad­gets. This is a well-known fact about the fa­mous and pleas­ingly ubiq­ui­tous TV pres­ence. ‘‘ Let a new gizmo ar­rive in the post or be brought back from the shops and you will see me fall on it like a lion on an an­te­lope; I will sav­age the hard, clear, welded plas­tic pack­ag­ing with my teeth and let out growls of drool­ing hunger and mews of plea­sure,’’ he once wrote on one of his seem­ingly count­less blogs.

‘‘ Out tum­bles the doo­dad and straight away I will plug it in, in­stall its driv­ers, power it up and con­nect it, and to hell with the man­ual,’’ he con­tin­ued, writ­ing the way he speaks. ‘‘ No mat­ter how gim­crack or fu­tile the toy might be, the adrenalin will surge, the lips part and the breath­ing come in shal­low ster­torous pants of ec­stasy.’’ Yes, well, how Stephen Fry. (‘‘Ster­torous’’, I’ve dis­cov­ered, means ‘‘ a heavy snor­ing sound in res­pi­ra­tion’’, and be warned, I’ll be us­ing it con­stantly from now on.)

Fry’s back with Stephen Fry: Gadget Man, a new show from Bri­tain’s Chan­nel 4 about gad­gets, fol­low­ing last year’s Stephen Fry’s 100 Great­est Gad­gets, a two-parter dis­tilled from a longer three hours that screened in Bri­tain.

In the com­pany of a large bunch of Bri­tish funny peo­ple and spe­cial­ist pre­sen­ters from fash­ion, food and science tele­vi­sion shows, he took us on a nos­tal­gic frolic though those de­vices that have rev­o­lu­tionised our lives, in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively: from the aba­cus and Swiss army knife to the type­writer and the trouser press, the bra, hand­cuffs and nightvi­sion gog­gles. It was like a dry run for this more ex­pan­sive se­ries.

If you didn’t know, Fry is sim­ply the braini­est tech-head on the planet, an in­vet­er­ate, com­pul­sive tweeter with mil­lions of fol­low­ers, syn­ony­mous with the medium. He’s also a cel­e­brated early adopter (he calls him­self ‘‘ a kind of early adopt­ing sil­ly­head’’), only too de­lighted at be­ing ex­posed to the prob­lems, risks and an­noy­ances com­mon to early-stage prod­uct test­ing.

In the new show he tries out all the prod­ucts and pro­to­types he can lay his rather large hands on, some from the fu­ture and some from the past, and does it in the com­pany, in­evitably, of some of his fa­mous mates. There’s Der­ren Brown, the TV il­lu­sion­ist who works mix­ture of magic, sug­ges­tion, psy­chol­ogy, mis­di­rec­tion and show­man­ship; the won­der­fully earthy comic Jo Brand, a reg­u­lar on Fry’s panel quiz show QI; and the hand­some, brainy and per­va­sive Bri­tish TV pre­sen­ter, Carol Vor­der­man.

‘‘ Gad­gets en­ter­tain us; they con­nect us; they ed­u­cate us: they im­press us,’’ the man who once ad­mit­ted to hav­ing more than 50 univer­sal re­mote con­trols says at the start of the new show. ‘‘ And, of course, some­times they frus­trate us; but then any­way you look at them, they make the world a much, much bet­ter and, dare I say, hap­pier place.’’

First up in this agreeably en­ter­tain­ing and of­ten in­struc­tive se­ries, Fry and guest, the broad­caster Jonathan Ross, look at the way the daily com­mute, so of­ten a te­dious and mind­numb­ing snarl-up, can be made bear­able. (Fry calls the com­mute the drea­ri­est of the ‘‘ coms’’ that dom­i­nate our daily lives — the oth­ers be­ing dot­com, com­pete and com­pute.) There’s an un­con­ven­tional elec­tric car, a very un­usual bi­cy­cle with an even more sci-fi in­flat­able hel­met, and Fry at­tempts to beat traf­fic jams by cre­at­ing his own fan­tasy su­per-ve­hi­cle, more Dr Who than James Bond as it turns out. And, of course, Fry pro­vides the witty com­men­tary.

Surely TV has never heard a voice be­fore like Fry’s — melo­di­ous, purring, hum­ming and oc­ca­sion­ally honk­ing, his laugh deep and res­o­nant, echo­ing like a man shout­ing in a cave. It is a stout-of-belly sound, plen­teous, boun­teous and creamy rich.

But it can break up too, as he tries to con­tain the gig­gling. Some­times on QI, he’s the im­age of the mis­chievous, wicked school­boy, the gig­gles turn­ing into wheezy chuck­les and an ex­pan­sive pixie grin tak­ing over his run­ci­ble fea­tures en­sur­ing that we still re­main his play­mates.

One of the fas­ci­nat­ing things about QI is watch­ing Fry change masks; at any point he can switch ef­fort­lessly be­tween straight man and clown, al­ways read­ing the mo­ment pre­cisely. And that’s what he does in this new se­ries, never afraid to make a clown of him­self and de­lighted to per­form for the of­ten star­tled passers-by. And as al­ways, he never stops talk­ing. Watch­ing him al­ways re­minds me of how much we TV watch­ers are in need of friend­ship and what Fry might call ‘‘ zest and zing’’ in our lives. THERE aren’t many ac­tors whose pres­ence in a film seems in­dis­pens­able, but Bill Mur­ray is one. It’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine Cad­dyshack or Ground­hog Day with­out him, and he was won­der­fully right in Lost in Trans­la­tion as the Hol­ly­wood ac­tor who meets Scar­lett Jo­hans­son while film­ing a whisky TV com­mer­cial in Tokyo. Ghost­busters (Sun­day, 6.30pm, 7Mate) was orig­i­nally con­ceived as a ve­hi­cle for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, but af­ter Belushi’s sud­den death the pic­ture was rewrit­ten to give Mur­ray’s part greater promi­nence, and the re­sult was a hit. Mur­ray, Aykroyd and Harold Ramis play a trio of New York para­psy­chol­o­gists who set up a ghost-bust­ing out­fit to rid haunted houses of evil spir­its. There is no short­age of busi­ness. Mur­ray’s dead­pan man­ner be­came part of his trade­mark style and worked beau­ti­fully with the lav­ish spe­cial ef­fects in Ivan Reit­man’s com­edy.

And who could imag­ine In the Heat of the Night (Sun­day, 11.40pm, ABC1) with­out Sid­ney Poitier and Rod Steiger? Di­rected by Nor­man Jewi­son in 1967, it re­mains the best of all Hol­ly­wood race re­la­tions dra­mas, a su­perb thriller that drives home its mes­sage with­out preach­i­ness or sen­ti­men­tal­ity. Poitier is Vir­gil Tibbs, a sen­si­tive, in­tel­lec­tu­ally in­clined de­tec­tive from the big smoke who is as­signed to work with Steiger’s shrewd south­ern sher­iff in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mur­der of a wealthy in­dus­tri­al­ist in a small Mis­sis­sippi town. Racial prej­u­dice runs high among lo­cal red­necks, but Steiger comes grudg­ingly to ac­cept Poi­ter’s pres­ence. The film won a best pic­ture Os­car, sur­pris­ing many by beat­ing Bon­nie and Clyde and The Grad­u­ate.

The China Syn­drome (Fri­day, 11.30pm, 7Two) is a first-rate thriller about a near-disas­ter at a nu­clear power plant, with Jane Fonda as a TV news re­porter and Michael Dou­glas as her cam­era­man. A few weeks af­ter it opened, a neardis­as­ter at the Three Mile Is­land nu­clear re­ac­tor gave the story some ir­re­sistible top­i­cal­ity. The plot in­volves shonky con­struc­tion tech­niques, cover-ups, mur­der and cor­rup­tion in high places, with ex­cel­lent per­for­mances all round.

Proof (Wed­nes­day, noon, Seven) was the de­but film of Aus­tralian di­rec­tor Jocelyn Moor­house in 1992 — a black com­edy about a blind pho­tog­ra­pher, Martin (Hugo Weav­ing), and his ef­forts to find some­one he can trust. Yes, a blind pho­tog­ra­pher: Martin likes to walk his dog in the park, aim­ing his auto-fo­cus cam­era at sounds or at ob­jects he can feel. But he needs some­one to de­scribe what he has pho­tographed. A charm­ing fa­ble, beau­ti­fully ac­com­plished, about how all of us de­pend on oth­ers to help us make sense of the world. Rus­sell Crowe shines as dishwasher Andy, a sunny char­ac­ter who be­friends Martin and shifts the dy­nam­ics of his re­la­tion­ships. Proof was Crowe’s sec­ond film be­fore he starred in the con­tro­ver­sial Romper Stom­per.

(M) ★★★ ✩ Wed­nes­day, noon, Seven

(M) ★★★★✩ Sun­day, 11.40pm, ABC1

(M) ★★★★✩ Fri­day, 11.30pm, 7Two adap­ta­tion of Robert Bolt’s play about Sir Thomas More, the English Catholic states­man who re­belled against Henry VIII’s self­pro­claimed sta­tus as head of the Church of Eng­land. Paul Scofield is splen­did as More (his first film role), with Robert Shaw an en­er­getic and im­petu­ous Henry, de­ter­mined to di­vorce his wife and take a new bride. A ter­rific cast in­cludes Leo McKern and Or­son Welles. Welles had di­rected a cel­e­brated New York stage pro­duc­tion of Julius Cae­sar in 1937 with pro­ducer John House­man, and it was House­man’s idea to make a Hol­ly­wood film of Shake­speare’s play. But the truly star­tling per­for­mance in Julius Cae­sar (Thurs­day, 2.55pm, TCM) was Mar­lon Brando’s Mark Antony. Brando was still re­mem­bered as a mum­bling slob for his brutish Stan­ley Kowal­ski in A Street­car Named De­sire, but his bril­liant Antony trans­formed his rep­u­ta­tion. Di­rected by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film is beau­ti­fully crafted in ev­ery depart­ment.

Critic’s choice

(G) ★★★★ Satur­day, 4.15pm, TCM

(PG) ★★★★✩ Wed­nes­day, 10.05pm, TCM

(M) ★★★★ Thurs­day, 2.55pm, TCM

Julius Cae­sar

Brando as Mark Antony in

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