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February 11, 2013 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-02-11

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T h i c aMonday, February 11, 2013 - 5A

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

TV/NEW MEDIA COLUMN
'House of
Cards' spurs
innovation

FILM REVIEW
Infectious 'Side Effects'

ver the past couple
weeks, I've been divid-
ing my friends into two
groups: those who have seen all
of "House of Cards," and those
who haven't.
Netflix's
latest attempt
to break into
the original
content busi-
ness, "House
of Cards,"
stars Kevin KAYLA
Spacey, UPADHYAYA
and is cre-
ated by David
Fincher, setting it apart from the
niche of to-fi web series. In fact,
the streaming company poured
a sizable amount of capital into
the project: $100 million for
two 13-episode seasons. That's
not pet-project funding; it's an
investment.
And Netflix decided to go all
in, releasing all 13 episodes at
once instead of spacing them
out over a traditional weekly
schedule. In doing so, Netflix
fully embraces the growing
binge-watching trend, which
emerged at the advent of TV on
DVD and exploded once DVRs
and online streaming services
entered the picture. You can
watch all of "The Sopranos" in
a matter of weeks if you want.
That's pretty magical - if not
insane.
"It doesn't make sense for
Netflix to be making its own
content," my housemate said
when she walked in on me
watching my fifth consecutive
episode of "Cards."
To a certain extent, she
might be right. But, once upon a
time, people said the same thing
about the network then known
as American Movie Classics.
What business did a channel
intended to bring film classics
to your home television have
making its own programming?
In 2006, network president Ed
Carroll started looking for a
way to expand, leading to "Bro-
ken Trail," a Western minise-
ries built with AMC's audience
in mind. "Broken Trail" wasn't
an overwhelming success, but it
got AMC into the original con-
tent game, and now the network
boasts "Mad Men" and "Break-
ing Bad" - two of the decade's
defining series.
Netflix is after the same kind
of rebranding. As explained
by its chief content officer Ted
Sarandos in GQ, the ultimate
goal is "to become HBO faster
than HBO can become us."
Cable is the reason we're
living in what many call the
"Golden Age of television." Due
to basic economics, the film
industry has become increas-
ingly reliant on franchises. Sony
didn't reboot the "Spider-Man"
franchise so quickly to redeem
the many missteps of "Spider-
Man 3"; it just needed to hold
the rights to the character,
and releasing an undercooked
retcon was all it took. The only
explanation you'll ever get for
this year's "Fast & Furious 6"
has Ben Franklin's face plas-
tered all over it. As the box
office melted into an amalga-
mation of sequels, prequels,
reboots and reimaginations,
television became the true cen-
ter for entertainment innova-
tion.

That's not to say that the tele-
vision industry isn't similarly
guided by where the money is,
but in recent years - especially
with the introduction of pay-
cable - TV has consistently
remained in the business of sto-
rytelling. With its distinct set of
properties, HBO spurred inno-
vation on TV: Because the net-
work makes the same amount
of money whether its subscrib-
ers tune in or not, it could take
on niche programming that
didn't have to pull huge num-
bers. The starting point of TV's
Golden Age varies depending
on whom you're talking to, but
most go with "The Sopranos"
or its lesser-known predeces-

sor "Oz," both of which belong
to the HBO arsenal of critically
acclaimed masterpieces.
The other two premium
channels, Starz and Showtime,
followed suit. And while basic
cable networks like FX and
AMC continue to rely on alver-
tising and ratings, they still
allow for a whole lot of creative
freedom. With "Mad Men,"
AMC proved that you don't nec-
essarily need a huge audience
to keep a show afloat: You just
need an intensely captive one.
And yet, cable is a slowly
dying industry. Sure, its busi-
ness model has led to a surge
in high-quality content as net-
works vie for viewer loyalty,
and the number of cable users
who pull the plug on their ser-
vices is relatively low, but it's
getting harder and harder to
hook new users. How many
friends do you have with cable?
I don't even have cable in my
house, and television is my
life (I lost a long and heated
battle with my housemates on
that one). But the low monthly
payments and ease of online
services like Netflix and Hulu+
make very enticing alternatives
to cable bills.
Even with the cable indus-
try's decline, becoming the
HBO of online content is a lofty
goal - one I don't anticipate
Netflix achieving anytime soon.
Because, as excited as I am
about "House of Cards," the
quality just isn't quite there.
The production value is stun-
ning; it's essentially a 13-hour
Fincher film, with gorgeous,
isolating shots. But it's far from
"Sopranos" or "Mad Men" when
it comes to its characters, and
the show takes few risks with
storytelling. In the end, there's
little making me watch episode
after episode in a row, other
than the fact that I can, and
that autoplay exists and that
100-page reading on political
polling strategies can wait until
morning,
Netflix versus
HBO.
I love a political thriller full
of morally depraved schem-
ers, and Kate Mara is quickly
becoming one of my favorite TV
ladies, but what has me most
excited about "Cards" isn't its
story - which can be laughably
over-the-top - but the innova-
tion and creative potential it
builds on and opens up.
Releasing all the episodes
at once impacts the show's
quality - many of the issues I
have with it are likely a result
of the series being created in a
vacuum: Without feedback, the
problems persist. But it's a cre-
ative risk, and it allows viewers
to watch at any pace they please
(AV Club's Todd Vanderwerff
thinks the idea of watching
all of "Cards" in one sitting is
insane, and, hey, that's fine - he
can finish it in June if he wants).
Only time will tell if "Cards"
is a worthy investment for
Netflix on the economic side
of things (Vanderwerff has his
doubts about this, too). But, for
now, I view Netflix's move as

another way to widen the pool
for super-high quality TV pro-
gramming. It's a display of the
television industry's ability to
embrace changing trends in the
way we receive our entertain-
ment.
And "Cards" is just the first
hand, a starting point much like
"Broken Trails" was for AMC.
Netflix could work out the kinks
and come back with the next
"Sopranos." But, for now, in
the Great Battle of the Content
Companies, I'll keep my money
on HBO.
Upadhyaya is waiting for
the next 'Sopranos.' To join,
e-mail kaylau@umich.edu

Scott"Burns injects
Soderbergh film
with poetic script
By ANDREW MCCLURE
Daily Arts Writer
Everyone should try drugs.
Drugs allow the brain to extehd
the truth into foreign territory.
And that for-
eign territory A
fosters learn-
ing. Learning Side Effects
leads to growth.A
Growth, if At Quaityl6
you're smart, and Rave
leads to self- , Open Road
actualization.
Caveat: Abuse
of said drugs nullifies the afore-
mentioned cycle. "Side Effects"
centralizes its plot around drugs
- prescription drugs. Expectedly,
it delves into athematic Marianas
Trench of dense deception, insu-
lar insecurities and faux fantasies.
A didactic yet engrossing picture,
the viewing effects aren't "Side"
at all - they're inches from your
face; you just opt not to see them.
Even though director Steven
Soderbergh is a member of the
Sundance Kids and integral in
the vanguard of indie-American
filmmakers, he's not an auteur
(think: Paul Thomas Anderson,
"The Master" and Wes Anderson,
"Moonrise Kingdom"). And that's
OK.
His films suggest maybe, at
one point, he fancied the idea of
becoming an auteur but ultimate-
ly decided it'd be too redundant.

Instead, he continually makes
ace movies without ditching his
trademarks: ambient scores mar-
rying sudden jump cuts, all while
lensing himself under a pseud-
onym. Bravo.
Emily (Rooney Mara, "The
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo")
and Martin (Channing Tatum,
"Magic Mike") live a posh, NYC
lifestyle - until Martin gets
thrown behind bars for insider
trading. Time elapses. Martin is
released from prison to his seem-
ingly cathartic spouse. (Opera-
tive word: seemingly.) Turns out,
Emily obscures her deep-rooted
emotional jungle. Martin knows
it, her mother knows it and her
former shrinks know it: She hasn't
been happy for a long time.
An accident introduces the
next most important figure, Dr.
Banks (Jude Law, "Anna Kareni-
na"), Emily's new psychiatrist. He
prescribes her the usual: Zoloft.
Things go awry. Hallucinations,
hypnosis and other bizarre side
effects manifest themselves. Liti-
gation rears its ugly head when a
nasty murder interrupts finally-
reunited lovers and a doctor's
morally-loose medicinal research.
"Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!"
the filmic football stadium shall
chant. Mara is plain different from
her contemporaries. She doesn't
act, she communicates. There's a
delightful sense of effortlessness
in her cool, monotone utterance.
Doubtlessly, in "Side Effects," she
goes batshit-crazy, which con-
vinces viewers of her ability to
whisper, then seamlessly scream.
We want to trust her, but she's
too convincingly untrustworthy.

OPEN ROAD
"Just one more episode of 'House of Cards."

Mara is here to stay. Any opposi-
tion?
Tatum satisfies for his 15 min-
utes of screen time. Law brings
down the house as the resilient,
semi-crazed doctor cornered in a
bad, bad predicament with a bad
patient. Nobody falls short in "Side
Effects," yet Mara's surrounding
cast enhances her performance.
Pushing each other's boundaries?
Good teamwork, team.
The dialogic beauty takes on a
character itself. Early on, Emily
confesses to Dr. Banks that Mar-
tin "stared at me like I was a
painting." She later describes her
mental weather as "a poisonous
fog." Props go to scriptwriter,
Scott Burns ("Contagion"), for
constructing such poetry.
As mentioned, Soderbergh is
his own Director of Photography.
His rack focuses (when something

out-of-focus becomes in-focus)
and narrow depth of field isolate
Emily from the world, abandon-
ing any sense of humane connec-
tion. Lightning-fast jump cuts,
cut-ins and behind-the-shot Stea-
dicam shots add brisk pacing to
an otherwise slow boiling film.
Every shot makes you think.
"Side Effects" is a textbook
team effort. Scripting, 'editing,
acting and directing all convene
in harmony. A narrator informs
us, "Depression is the inability
to see your future self." The film
hints at the facades drugs create
for their users or abusers - an
idea that everything will be fine
as long as you swallow me twice
a day. "Effects" doesn't believe
in probabilities. You either do
it or you don't. The gray area in
between causes the unwanted
side effects.

FIL M R EVIE W
Sylvester Stallone suffers bland,
painful 'Bullet to the Head'
By BRIAN BURLAGE
Daily Arts Writer

It would do Sylvester Stal-
lone some good to take a long,
deliberate look at his career.
He penned,
produced and
portrayed one
of the most Bllet to
beloved sports the Head
stories in film
history with At Quality16
"Rocky." He
gave us a major DarkCastle
fction-war
franchise with "Rambo" and
followed it up with several more House of Stallone.
successful bullet-ridden, city-
hero films. Toughness itself, and even-keele
loyal to the bitter end, has prac- "Bullet to the H
tically walked arm in arm with zero redemptiv
him - even into his old age. But Though "Bul
"Bullet to the Head" marks Stal- and the story p
lone's worst box-office debut macy, the film
in years, as he trips his way by a numberc
through a confusing and gap- Simple editing.
filled action blur. dant. A glass of
With the exception of a few at the top; char:
lingering plot holes, not much standing in opp
about the story keeps you room in differe
thinking. Jimmy Bobo (Stal- dialogue seemc
lone) and Louis Blanchard counted for. A
(Jon Seda, "Gladiator") are hit- details are tro
men who do the dirty work for are more signif
their wealthy higher-ups. After press the viewe
one mission, however, they're
double-crossed, and Blanchard
is murdered while Bobo nar-pB
rowly escapes. Detective Taylor
Kwon (Sung Kang, "Fast & Furi- perfr
ous"), who's called to investi-
gate the last homicide Bobo and roe
Blanchard committed before
the double-crossing, tracks Stallon
down Bobo and confronts him
at a bar. Bobo offers nothing in -
their meeting, but later saves
Kwon from being killed by cor- Questions as]
rupt police officers. Indebted, ning are never;
Kwon promises to help Bobo Only one won
avenge his fallen partner, and convincing an
the two embark upon a wild, throughout the
almost stupidly irrelevant series female cast mer
of killing sprees. hookers or part
For the first solid portion gle character is
of the movie, events go unex- the few witty 1
plained, action sequences nei- have dispensed
ther advance nor deter the done fight scen
protagonist movement and the It's hard to se
characters are hardly distin- such a low not
guished as good or bad. Viewers the film's grit;
are dropped deep into enter- it just can't speE
tainment limbo as nothing but balance, enthus
the chest muscles of Stallone taneity. Stallon
succeeds in standing out. If a heavy presen
not for his classic machismo genre, and afte

DARK CASTLE

d temperament,
ead" would have
e quality.
let" is coherent,
oses some legiti-
itself is plagued
of small things.
errors are abun-
F bourbon foams
acters are shown
osite sides of the
nt shots; bits of
completely unac-
.nd while these
ublesome, there
icant issues that
r as well.
est
mance
Is to
te 's abs.
ked in the begin-
given an answer.
man sustains a
d relevant role
film - all other
smbers are either
y guests. No sin-
likeable beyond
lines they might
d between over-
es.
e a legend strike
te. Even fot all
and masculinity,
ak for the lack of
siasm and spon-
e has had such
ce in the action
:er a career that

has illuminated the depth of ance, he deserves better than
man's struggle and persever- "Bullet."
(J~n MCAT Courses

5-O

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