Couch Potato Briefing: Warlords, Peaceniks, and High-Stakes Poker

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Here is Global Spin’s latest installment of five rental movies that explain the week’s news. Compiled by Ishaan Tharoor and Tony Karon

No Man’s Land

Haunting the build up to the U.N.-sanctioned interventions in Libya and the Ivory Coast was the specter of massacres in Rwanda and the Balkans. Then, as regimes carried out ethnic cleansing within their borders, the international community dawdled and stood idly by while puzzling over what to do. In recent weeks, a generation of liberal policymakers, shamed by that costly inaction, has risen to the fore, eager to exorcise their 1990s demons through tactical air strikes on Laurent Gbagbo and Muammar Gaddafi forces. No Man’s Land, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2002, is a grim tragicomedy about the war in Bosnia, fabricating a complicated diplomatic incident where a Serb soldier and a Bosnian soldier end up caught in a trench in between frontlines, trying to rescue another soldier who lies wounded atop a landmine that will explode should he be moved. The film mocks the efforts of U.N. peacekeepers, including some Frenchmen, to resolve the situation — their successors in the Ivory Coast must hope their mission offers less fodder for satire.— I.T.

Cincinnati Kid

What better way to get inside the game of budget brinkmanship between  President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner than Norman Jewison’s 1965 classic, The Cincinnati Kid. Steve McQueen, quite possibly the coolest white man ever, plays Eric “The Kid” Stoner, a rising poker star of the Great Depression era who finds himself in a final showdown with Edward G. Robinson’s Lancey “The Man” Howard. Lots high-stakes bidding in smoke-filled rooms — the very stuff of traditional Washington politics. Yes, we know, smoking is no longer fashionable, but it’s hard to imagine the tension of the budget showdown not tempting longtime smoker President Obama to light up. – T.K.

Throne of Blood

In Ivory Coast, the proverbial endgame is at hand. After months of tension and violence between supporters of Alassane Ouattara — the internationally-recognzied winner of presidential elections last November — and those of Laurent Gbagbo — the autocrat who first stepped into power in 2000 and refused to recognize Ouattara’s November victory — the struggle for rule over this West African nation tilted in favor of Ouattara. With the aid of timely helicopter gunship strikes by the U.N., Ouattara’s forces have now overrun Gbagbo’s positions, with reports of the isolated incumbent now bunkered down in his presidential bunker with as few as 200 soldiers defending him. The scene echoes — but hopefully doesn’t emulate —the grim finale of Japanese director Akiro Kurosawa’s acclaimed Throne of Blood, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the great Toshiro Mifune plays the doomed warlord, driven to the brink by his thirst for power. — I.T.


Ever a lodestone for national pride, Mahatma Gandhi has recently been a mainstay in India’s headlines. Last week, a number of Indian states, including Gandhi’s home of Gujarat, banned a new biography of him by former New York Times editor, Joseph Lelyveld, that raises troubling questions about the great Indian independence leader’s sexual peccadilloes, egomania and political acumen. The controversy has reheated a long-running conversation about censorship in the world’s largest democracy. Later, a more hallowed Gandhian legacy — that of non-violent civil disobedience — was been raised by a prominent anti-corruption activist. At the time of writing, Anna Hazare, 72, has been on hunger strike for four days in protest of a glut of corruption scandals surrounding New Delhi. He has invoked the spirit of Gandhi’s rebellion against the British and called on Indians to embrace civil disobedience and flood the country’s prisons. Richard Attenborough’s acclaimed Gandhi, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1983, is first and foremost an excellent film with an outstanding performance from Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. But it has been criticized both by apologists for the British Empire as well as Indians who bridle at the inflated role the movie gives to white foreigners in aiding Gandhi’s personal struggle. Still, it’s nothing as scandalous as what Lelyveld details. – I.T.

Arna’s Children

The tragedy that claimed Juliano Mer-Khamis‘s life in a hail of bullets in the Palestinian city of Jenin this week was the very tragedy he’d devoted his life to conquering — the violent rending of Israeli and Palestinian societies, a division his very existence transcended and which he was dedicated to fighting. Mer-Khamis, an accomplished actor and director, was born of a Jewish mother, Arna Ker, and a Christian Palestinian father, Saliba Khamis, and grew up with one foot in both societies. “I am 100 percent Palestinian and 100 percent Jewish,” he told an interviewer in 2009, and he worked for the creation of a single democratic country in which Israelis and Palestinians would have equal rights. To that end, he ran the Freedom Theater in Jenin, hoping to channel the passion and rage of young Palestinians into non-violent and creative outlets. But he never flenched from the complexities driving the violence all around him. Arna’s Children is a sobering documentary made in 2003 about the graduates of a theater group established by his mother in Jenin during the 1980s, a number of whom were later killed after becoming fighters in Palestinian militant groups. His own death is both a reminder of the grim challenges facing those who seek to unite people on both sides of the divide in a common cause, but his life served as a beacon of hope to many on both sides that a different way is possible. – T.K.