House of Cards begins with a bang, followed immediately by a whimper. A hit-and-run has broken the smug, moneyed calm of an immaculate Georgetown street; an unseen dog lies on the curb, dying. From the low POV of the expiring pooch we see Kevin Spacey, natty in a tuxedo, emerge from a townhouse and address the camera. "There are two kinds of pain," he intones, fiddling with his cuff buttons. "The kind that makes you strong, and useless pain." Spacey's character, South Carolina Congressman Frank Underwood, has no time for the latter. We know this because he tells us directly: He's the rare sort of man willing to act, to "do the unpopular thing, the necessary thing." We also know it because in the midst of this monologue, he kneels and calmly smothers the dog to death with his bare hands.
As far as introductions go, it's a memorable one. But then Cards was constructed specifically to make a big impression. An adaptation of the highly regarded 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, the project is the first original series to be bankrolled by Netflix. And, in order to draw your attention from midnight binge streams of Say Yes to the Dress and Cake Boss, the former envelope company backed up the Brinks truck to secure top-flight talent, including Spacey and executive producer David Fincher, who directed the first two episodes. Like a fish sidling up to a poker table full of whales, Netflix also had to pay a premium to snatch the project away from more established content farms like HBO and Showtime; it did so by guaranteeing, sight unseen, 26 episodes, spread out over two seasons, at a cost of over $100 million. (Netflix isn't exactly NPR, but it's hard not to feel like I had some financial stake in all this by letting those Eric Rohmer DVDs collect dust on my coffee table for the better part of 2010.) Beau Willimon, the one-time Howard Dean aide who transformed that idealism-crushing experience into a highly regarded play ("Farragut North" which was later Clooney-ized into the film The Ides of March), was drafted to Americanize the story of a scheming government minister who will stop at nothing to achieve power. Anyone who's glanced at Politico.com over the past four years — or watched The Ides of March on Netflix — could tell you that it can't have been too taxing an endeavor. The cynical Willimon probably had to resist the urge to have Underwood strangle a bald eagle.
So much eyebrow-raising Hollywood casting news and project announcements, so little time. Let's get to it!
Arnold Schwarzenegger has confirmed he's doing Terminator 5. This isn't coming out of nowhere. There was already a money man (Oracle scion Megan Ellison, who we can thank for the existence of Zero Dark Thirty and The Master) attached to the project, as well as a pair of screenwriters (that'd be Laeta Kalogridis, best known for Shutter Island, and Patrick Lussier, best known for, uh, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Drive Angry.) Plus, Arnold's The Last Standjust flopped, and so if there was ever a right time to return to the tried-and-true, this would be it. According to reports, Schwarzenegger simply confirmed he was doing the movie, without doling out any superfluous quotes or explanation. Most impressive! He's in character already!
Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh's follow-up to 2008's excellent In Bruges, comes out this weekend, and while we're certainly looking forward to the director teaming up with Colin Farrell again, it's a pretty good bet that nine out of 10 scenes will be effortlessly stolen by Christopher Walken, arguably the original modern psychopath. With over 120 films on his résumé, not to mention all those SNL hosting gigs, and countless other cameos over the years, going down a Walken YouTube rabbit hole can be a daunting undertaking. So come in, have some champag-nyeh, and let the Grantland staff be your guide to the best of Walken on the Internet.
It's kind of hard to remember now — what with 50 Shades of Grey having bombed through and nip-slipped the world into submission — but there was a time when The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was the hot lit-blockbuster adaptation of the moment. We had the renewed invincibility of David Fincher, coming smoking hot off The Social Network, and we had Karen O going "ahhhahhhaAHHHah" on that goose-bump-inducing trailer, and we had ascendant starlet Rooney Mara, making herself over as one who clearly is not fucking around. And then the movie dropped and — it was OK? It was pretty cool? Yeah. Yeah. Totally not bad.
Look over here. But don’t look close or for too long. There is wreckage and confusion and sadness in the filmography of Edward Norton. But it wasn’t always this way.
Think back to a time when Stuttering Aaron Stampler was climbing over the witness stand to snap a prosecutor’s neck. Think back to Lester “Worm” Murphy getting his face rearranged by a room full of angry sheriffs for dealing from the bottom of the deck. Think back to the bottom of Derek Vinyard’s heel before it destroyed someone’s dental plan. Think of The Narrator unleashing his inner Tyler Durden while ruining Jared Leto’s pretty face. Or think of Monty Brogan screaming “Fuck you” at the whole of New York City, America, and himself. Those violent, strange, exciting people were all Edward Norton. You remember Ed Norton, right? Actor? White guy? Bookishly handsome? Great at playing — against type — sociopaths, washouts, and drug dealers? The scabs of society? You’re forgiven if you can’t recall the man many once considered the next De Niro or Hoffman. That’s because, in the past decade or so, he has been very bad at making movies. Today, Norton appears as Retired Col. Eric Byer, a shadowy government operative in The Bourne Legacy, his highest-profile role in more than four years. Next week, he turns 43. Forty-three! The boyish, boiling-with-rage, Yale-trained Brando wannabe is aging.
I’d like to thank the Academy for throwing an extra mystery at those of us who treat predicting the Oscars as something between a hobby and a blood sport: This year, we have to figure out not only which movies will be nominated, but how many. After concluding that the appropriate number of Best Picture contenders was five for 65 consecutive years, and then 10 for two consecutive years, what the Academy’s board of governors has now settled on is “from five to ten.” How can we narrow that down? Well, the Academy did offer one clue by revealing that when it experimentally retabulated the ballots from 2001 through 2008, the results yielded, in different years, five, six, seven, eight, and nine nominees — but never ten.
You know that Oscar season has probably gone on long enough when it calls to mind the war in Iraq, but, in surveying the terrain this week, I was reminded of perhaps the only useful thing that Donald Rumsfeld ever said: his distinction between “known unknowns — that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know” and “unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
Earlier this month, in an interview with the New York Times on the occasion of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — in theaters right now — David Fincher had this to say: “I don’t need another serial-killer movie. But I liked the chance to make a franchise movie for adults.”
For the non-Fincher-phile (ha, just came up with that, kind of works?), Dragon Tattoo is our dude’s third serial-killer movie, after Se7en and Zodiac. And it was the latter that I had in mind for large chunks of Dragon Tattoo. For all of this movie’s charms — including, but not limited to, Rooney Mara’s badass performance; Daniel Craig’s “enviable knitwear”; Daniel Craig’s revolutionary eyeglass-wearing-technique; and at least two funny-on-purpose sex scenes — there was one thing bothering me. As the central serial-killer mystery unfolds, I couldn’t help but think: Didn’t Fincher already do this in Zodiac?
I’m going to begin this edition of Oscarmetrics with a cautionary tale about overreaction, backlash, and misbehavior. Appropriately, it comes from one Best Picture nominee, and it’s about another. In the 2005 film Capote, we watch our brilliant, narcissistic protagonist (Philip Seymour Hoffman) experience a friend’s success the only way he can — as a staggering personal humiliation. He attends the premiere of the movie version of his loyal pal Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Afterward, Lee finds him at the bar, magnificently self-absorbed, and, of course, choked with jealousy.
“How’d you like the movie, Truman?” she asks patiently. He can’t even rouse himself to look at her. She finally walks away — at which point he murmurs sourly, to himself, “I, frankly, don’t see what all the fuss is about.” And nobody cares.
As we enter a season that’s defined by a great deal of fuss, of hyperbolic praise, and of hyperbolic dissent, it bears remembering that at some point in the next few months, we’re all going to find ourselves on the losing side of at least one movie argument. And when a film that everybody seems to love leaves us cold, we all, to some extent, risk sounding like Truman Capote — pissy, superior, bitter, bored. This is the time of year when the ridiculous word “overrated” gets tossed around as if it were an actual qualitative property of a movie rather than a silly side argument about what other people thought of it. So my current resolution is to try to be arrogant about movies that I love, but humble about movies that work for everybody else but not for me.
“Look, we saw some amazing people. _________ was great. It was a great audition, I’m telling you. But the thing with ________ is, you can’t wait for her to take her clothes off.” — A.
“I used to date ________ when she was Lisa. That was the problem. She wasn’t Asian back then. She was hanging out on my set, I banged her a few times but I forgot her. Because she changed her name I didn’t know it was the same person." — B.
"It's so nice when I think about the beginning of the movie, with the scene in the parking lot, in the car, up into the room. She was just sitting there. Before I put the ball gag around her mouth. Her glow was unbelievable. Her smile was like — wow. There was a presence there that was very unique." — C.
Guess which of these quotes are Brett Ratner on Olivia Munn (B), David Fincher on Scarlett Johansson's failed audition for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (A), and the late John Leslie — director of films such as Anything That Moves, Big Tit Crackers 2, the Fresh Meat series, Slut Tracker, the Ass Trap trilogy, and some whose titles I can't legally say here on Grantland — discussing porn star Naomi (C). Is it just me or does John Leslie (RIP) sound the most respectful of the woman he is talking about?
It only took the wordless ninety seconds of the movie’s first trailer — and a big assist from Trent Reznor and Karen O’s massive “Immigrant Song” cover — to eliminate any lingering mass-market-paperback stigma from David Fincher’s prestige makeover of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (The Muppets liked it too: according to their none-too-shabby Dragon Tattoo parody.) And with that out of the way, here comes Trailer No. 2, complete with actual dialogue and plot points. We see Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist being hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate “the most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet — my family.” There’s Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander, just as unrecognizable from her Social Network days as she was in the advance stills, reluctantly teaming up with Blomkvist to crack open the central murder mystery. And there’s the sepia flashbacks, ominous gravelly voiceovers, explosions, dead bodies, dramatic typing, grisly photos, clues being pointed at, and inevitable heart-pumping fast-cut finale segment. Even if the movie ends up being a disappointment, we at least have this trailer, one of the greatest-ever book commercials.