The Couch Potato Briefing: Quakes, Panzers, and Snoops

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Global spin’s weekend selection of five rental movies to bring you up to speed on the past week’s events. Prepared by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor

Red Dawn

No movie did better in turning American Cold War paranoia into a box office bingo than 1984’s Red Dawn – made for just $4 million, it grossed ten times that. An hysterically implausible plot line sees Soviet paratroopers land one sunny day in Calumet, Colorado, part of an invasion that includes Cuban and Nicaraguan forces who’ve entered the U.S. in the guise of immigrants from Mexico. The movie then depicts the triumphs and travails of a heroic teenage resistance movement led by Patrick Swayze, but the fabulous farce movie ends before the war does. So what does Red Dawn have to do with the week’s news? Charlie Sheen, for one thing, who plays one of the teenage insurgents. But the reason we recommend it is the tie-in with this week’s congressional hearings on “the radicalization of American Muslims”, which plays to the gallery of those who have reincarnated the Red Peril in the form of a “Shariah Threat” of stealth Islamization of the United States. Come on, Hollywood – it should be obvious that “Green Dawn” is a project whose time has come. First, of course, the studios will have to get done with the Red Dawn remake, which — no jokes! — depicts an invasion of the United States by the People’s Republic of China… Yep, there’s no end to the list of would-be invaders of the American imagination. — T.K.

2012

Let’s be clear. This is not a great film. Over-earnest and formulaic, 2012 plods along, telling a story of the world’s ending as supposedly predicted in ancient Mayan codices. But its scenes of apocalyptic destruction — geysers spew, the earth’s crust sunders open, cities vanish, and oceans swarm mountaintops — are worth watching. Clicking through images of the devastation wrought today by Japan’s 8.9 earthquake, one can’t help but see a glimpse of Hollywood’s most cataclysmic visions. — I.T.

Raid on Rommel

The battle between the forces of Colonel Gaddafi and the rebels trying to overthrow him creates something of a deja vu effect for the World War II buff: There is Tobruk where Rommel’s Afrika Korps laid siege to allied forces; there is Benghazi where… So as the contemporary battle rages on across the sands and scrub of what was the battleground between Rommel and the Allies, take a look at Sir Richard Burton starring in Raid on Rommel, about an audacious plan, set in WWII Libya, to eliminate the Germans’ panzer advantage. The German poet Bertolt Brecht once wrote, in an antiwar spirit, “General, your tank is a powerful vehicle it smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men. but it has one defect: it needs a driver.” Well yes. And fuel. And that’s what Burton and his men target in this film. Come to think of it, Gaddafi’s tanks need fuel, too…. — T.K.

Giant

There’s nothing sexy about oil today; it’s  a constant headache: Either the world is running out of the stuff; it’s befouling our oceans; or the price is shooting through the roof — as it has been doing over the past couple of weeks as half of Libya’s output went offline. Those of you paying more than $4 a gallon at the pump now and pining for a simpler era of “drill, baby, drill” might find some comfort in Giant, the 1956 blockbuster starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, which deals with all manner of mid-50s themes — “Miscegenation, moral dissipation, racism, the oppression of women…” according to the IMDB — but what you’ll remember is the tale of Dean’s character Jett Rink, a lonesome cowboy who becomes “too rich to kill” when he strikes oil while wildcatting on his small parcel of land. See him drunk and drenched in oil disrupting the genteel soiree on the porch of his nemesis, Bick Benedict (Hudson). You just know Rink is the kind of Texas oilman President George W. Bush yearned to be in his bad-boy days. — T.K.

The Lives of Others

The past week has seen hundreds upon hundreds of ordinary Egyptians ransack the headquarters and offices of the country’s hated state security organization. For decades, these secret police helped preserve the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak, but, in the wake of Mubarak’s ousting, popular at anger at years of interrogation, intimidation, arbitrary detention and torture boiled over. Now, many files and classified documents kept by state security have been republished online, allowing scores of Egyptians to unearth the secrets the government kept about them — from their routine movements to their sexual predilections. The moment echoes the terrific 2006 German film, The Lives of Others, which one the Academy award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007 — the movie pits an agent for the East German secret police, the Stasi, against a prominent writer and playwright struggling to keep in line with the then communist state’s censors. It’s a moving, poignant thriller, which in no small part provided some cultural catharsis for a united Germany. Whether such unity can be forged in an increasingly fractious Egypt remains to be seen. — I.T.

Bonus film: As the 14th Dalai Lama announced plans to devolve political power this week to others in the Tibetan government-in-exile, do watch Martin Scorcese’s 1997 Kundun, a biopic of the Dalai’s life.