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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.
(G) ★★★★ Saturday, 4.15pm, TCM
(PG) ★★★★✩ Wednesday, 10.05pm, TCM
(M) ★★★★ Thursday, 2.55pm, TCM
Brando as Mark Antony in