Killer politicians, Israeli cinema and Kareem’s comeback

This week on the small screen.

House of Cards (photo credit: PR)
House of Cards
(photo credit: PR)
Whenever I watch House of Cards, I always contrast the evil it portrays at the heart of Washington with the nobility of the Jeb Bartlett White House on The West Wing.
House of Cards is well written, skillfully plotted and masterfully acted, but the malevolence of Frank Underwood, the anti-hero politician played by two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, and his henchmen, can be a bit heavy handed. While no real person, let alone a real president, could be as multi-talented and kind-hearted as President Bartlett on West Wing, is the true problem with Washington politicians that they simply murder people who give them trouble, as Underwood has done several times (or had his underlings do), including throwing a reporter under a subway train himself? As we watch Donald Trump march sickeningly close to the White House, isn’t the more pressing issue how politicians manipulate the electorate and the system? Aren’t the Clintons and their wildly contradictory history of idealism, betrayal, corruption, charm, loyalty, brilliance and survival a dozen times more fascinating than the perpetually poker-faced Frank and Claire? And isn’t Trump a character so ridiculous that he is truly stranger (although perhaps less interesting) than the fictional politicians on House of Cards? That said, who doesn’t enjoy a deliciously urbane villain who gets all the good lines? House of Cards plays almost as if a James Bond baddie got his own TV series. You can imagine Frank stroking a white cat as he schemes 50 steps ahead of everyone around him.
The fourth season picks up right where the third one left off, with Claire leaving Frank at the worst moment possible, just as the New Hampshire primary is about to kick off the presidential race.
But Claire is pursuing her own agenda and returns to Texas to visit her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in years, and to plan her own entry into politics. Her mother, ironically, is played by Ellen Burstyn (if you haven’t seen her Oscar-winning performance in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore in years, it’s worth watching again), who also played the mother of the character modeled on Hillary Clinton in the series Political Animals, loosely based on the Clintons. The 91-year-old Cicely Tyson (The Help, Sounder) plays a congresswoman whose seat Claire wants to take, while Neve Campbell (Scream, Party of Five) is a political consultant.
Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus), the former boss of Frank’s journalist girlfriend (Kate Mara), who was imprisoned for cyber crimes when he was about to print dirt on Frank, manages to get out of prison in the witness protection program, and he could pose a threat to the Underwoods.
If you’re weary of the real US presidential candidates, at least the characters on House of Cards are better dressed and better lit.
Season Four has just been released from Netflix in its entirety and is available on HOT VOD Xtra and on HOT Plus Sunday to Thursday at 10:50 p.m., YES VOD and YES Oh on Tuesdays at 10:45 p.m. and on Cellcom TV) Three excellent Israeli movies will be available on YES VOD this month. Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, her directorial debut (in which she also stars), an adaptation of Amos Oz’s bestselling memoir, is currently showing. So is Dror Shaul’s Atomic Falafel, a comedy that goes for a Dr.
Strangelove take on the Israeli- Iranian nuclear issue. On March 17, Baba Joon, Yuval Delshad’s semiautobiographical coming-of-age story about Iranian immigrants in the Negev, will begin showing. It won the Ophir Award for Best Picture and stars Navid Negahban, who played Abu Nazir on Homeland.
A new series of HBO documentaries is coming to YES Docu and YES VOD, starting off on March 11 at 10:30 p.m. with Kareem: Minority of One, about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the basketball star. Other movies in the series, which will be shown on Mondays at 10 p.m., include a portrait of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.