Netflix gamble looks to pay off with ‘House of Cards’
Power, politics, corruption, sex, headlines and double-crossing; this must be Washington.
Netflix has offered subscribers its first original series in “House of Cards,” with all 13 episodes available as of Feb. 1 through its streaming service.
The ambitious series reunites Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey with acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher for their first project since 1995’s “Se7en.”
Spacey stars as Francis Underwood, a power-hungry congressman from South Carolina eyeing the Secretary of State position. When his rise to the top is thwarted, Underwood sets in motion a plan to bring the whole house down.
This review is based on the series’ first two episodes, and if the next 11 can sustain the first two hours’ entertainment value, then Netflix’s pricey gamble will have been worth it.
Spacey is ruthless perfection as Underwood. In a career that’s seen him play more than his fair share of scumbags – “The Usual Suspects’ ” Verbal Kint, “Se7en’s” John Doe and “Horrible Bosses’ ” Dave Harken come to mind – this might be his slimiest role yet.
In a bit of a shock, Spacey’s ruthlessness is almost matched by the deceptions and vindictiveness of his wife, played by Robin Wright. She is as far removed from “The Princess Bride’s” Buttercup and “Forrest Gump’s” Jenny as possible.
The only downer is a subplot involving Kate Mara’s rising journalist at a fictitious Washington newspaper. Her actions are the very definition of unethical and reinforce stereotypes about the profession. Hopefully, her character will improve as the show moves along.
Brad Dickerson, email@example.com
Tim McGraw doesn’t disappoint
There aren’t many true country musicians out there anymore. Gone are the days when a guitar and good story were all a country music star needed. They’ve been replaced by crossover musicians who try to play as close to the pop line as possible because it means more popularity. Fortunately, there are those musicians who are capable of adapting to this change and create quality music. That’s where Tim McGraw comes in with his 12th studio release, “Two Lanes of Freedom.”
McGraw, who seems to succeed everywhere he tries his hand, be it musically or on the big screen, has put together an album that’s a testament to that success. The first two tracks “Two Lanes of Freedom” and “One of Those Nights” push the boundaries of traditional country music with pop tempo and contemporary rock mixing with acoustic guitar twang and McGraw’s strong vocal presence.
“Friend of a Friend” is an excellent country ballad that pays homage to those great country ballads of the past, but McGraw quickly pushes the tempo back up with the next track. In “Southern Girls,” McGraw paints a vivid picture of his idea of the perfect woman before hitting everyone with his country-rock anthem “Truck Yeah,” which is sure to be a hit when he plays it for a live audience.
“Nashville Without You” is surprisingly clever, referencing past country hits like “Ring of Fire” and “Hey Good Looking” to pay tribute to all the songs and artists who helped build the country music Mecca that is Nashville. McGraw’s next effort, “Book of John,” is a song about memories of family and the lives they lived, and it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. Similarly powerful storytelling can be seen in “Annie I Owe You a Dance,” and “Tinted Windows,” both songs which showcase McGraw’s phenomenal storytelling ability.
“Mexicoma” is clearly an attempt by McGraw to embrace the new wave of contemporary country music sweeping the industry. It’s an interesting song, but so out of character for McGraw that it just feels weird to hear him sing it.
“Number 37405” is the story of an inmate jailed for killing someone while driving drunk. It’s a story that hits close to home for McGraw, who gave up alcohol years ago because of how he felt it affected him. It’s a wonderfully written and poignant song that also serves as a cautionary tale for those who drive drunk. It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill country ballad.
“It’s Your World” is the perfect upbeat song to follow up such a sad song. McGraw even sees fit to throw a couple of nice guitar solos in there, and you can tell he really had fun with this track. The only thing that doesn’t work here is the background singers. They’re too much of a distraction in an otherwise well-written song.
“Highway Don’t Care” closes the album out nicely, and McGraw is joined by Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. It’s an excellent song and Swift performs admirably in her cameo, while Urban turns in an strong performance on guitar to help McGraw bring it all home. For those who pick up the deluxe edition of the album, there’s a live performance of “Truck Yeah” and a bonus track called “Let Me Love It Out of You,” which probably deserves to be placed before “Highway Don’t Care,” the album’s true closing number.
McGraw spent 20 years with Curb Records before finally breaking free and joining Big Machine records. The greater portion of this album feels like it’s been written by an artist who finally has the freedom to write and sing and perform what he wants. Maybe that’s why the word “freedom” worked its way into the title. Truth be told, whether you’re a fan of country music or not, this is a good album and definitely worth purchasing.
Kyle Drapeau, For The Sun News
Coheed and Cambria back in business
Strong musical composition and provocative storytelling have long been a staple of Coheed and Cambria’s music. Their seventh studio release “The Afterman: Descension” is part two of their double album, and a completion of the story of Sirius Amory, and it is also a testament to the band’s ability to tell a gripping tale while simultaneously rocking your face off.
It’s good that this album has come when it has, given audience displeasure with “No World for Tomorrow” and “Year of the Black Rainbow,” the band’s fourth and fifth album releases, respectively. They were both disappointing in the face of the three consecutively strong showings with the first three albums. However, “Descension” harkens back to the days of “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” while still managing to offer something fresh for new listeners.
The opening track “Pretelethal” is intriguing, lulling you into a false sense of security with whispered and echoed lyrics before dropping familiar Coheed guitar riffs with which long-time fans are quite familiar. “Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant,” the long-winded title of the second track, clearly aspires to remind fans of the title track from its second release “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3” with a driving chorus and Claudio’s extremely unique falsetto putting on quite a show for a hair under six minutes.
“The Hard Sell” is track three and one of the catchier songs on the album. You’ll have to fight not to bob your head with the music, especially once the chorus hits. It’s one of the more progressive sounding songs on the album, but Coheed has never been afraid of trying new things, which is an admirable quality in itself.
Next up is “Number City,” which starts off with a nice bass drum and bass guitar combination that keeps your head moving all the way through the track. It’s another unique effort from the band however, as it closes out with a French horn, but transitions seamlessly into the next track, “Gravity’s Union.” This song feels almost like an anthem. It’s a tribute to the sorts of things that have made Coheed popular over the years, with probably the best guitar solo of the album. If you lived in the world Claudio has created, you’d probably have your hand over your heart for this one.
And then suddenly Coheed lightens up a little bit in the musical department. “Away We Go” gives you that “everything is going to be alright” feeling, with an upbeat tempo and light-hearted lyrics that are very unlike the band, but one can only say that so many times about Coheed before realizing that the things that are “very unlike” them are actually what make them Coheed in the first place.
Next is the acoustic masterpiece known as “Iron Fist.” It is without question one of Coheed’s catchiest choruses ever, despite the fact that it is an acoustic track. There’s just something there that guarantees you won’t forget this song anytime soon.
“Dark Side of Me” is probably the most radio-ready song on the album, which isn’t an insult at all, but a testament to how far the band has come. It’s the rock ballad of the album, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see a ton of lighters and cell phones being held up if the band plays this song during their upcoming tour.
“2’s My Favorite 1,” a title you’d expect just about anywhere other than on a Coheed album, closes the book on Sirius Amory’s story quite nicely. Musically, it’s the final departure from the norm for Coheed on this album, but it’s also one of the strongest, with a piano making an appearance intermittently before taking center stage in the song’s final minute to close out the album.
Top to bottom, this is Coheed and Cambria’s best work since “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.” There will be those that hate it, but one could say that about just about anything, not exclusively about music. Every song has phenomenal lyrics and has been composed brilliantly. Claudio and his band of comic book loving rockers should be very proud of this album. Will it bring everyone back to Coheed that the last two albums did not? Only time will tell, but this album is one you should pick up immediately.
Kyle Drapeau, For The Sun News