Couch Potato Briefing: What to Watch While the World Ends

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With the end of the world prophesied by some to begin on Saturday evening, Global Spin’s weekly guide to rental movies to brief you on world event takes on a slightly – although not exclusively – apocalyptic bent. Presented by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor. 

Left Behind

Okay, so it’s Saturday night, long after 6 p.m. and it’s kind of quiet – except for that lawnmower engine that’s been idling for hours next door. You go take a look, and all that’s left of the man you nicknamed “Flanders” is the clothes he was wearing, shirt still buttoned up and tucked into his bermuda shorts, on the seat of the mower. Flanders, his family and all the righteous people you know, have simply disappeared. They’ve been raptured; you have been LEFT BEHIND,  to live through the horrible days of the world’s end. What’s left of your life is going to suck. For a sobering idea of what to expect, there’s no better briefing available than the Left Behind movie series, based on the eschatological Christian fundamentalist novels of the same title. “Those of us left behind are living in a world of chaos and confusion,” a news reader informs. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to get better any time soon.” Skip straight to the second in the series, Tribulation Force, to witness the rapture, and the rise of the Antichrist. And then start figuring out how you’re going to spend the End of Days. – T.K.

Exodus

Getting off the apocalyptic track for a moment – although not necessarily! – pity President Obama the challenge of convincing Americans that there are, in fact, two competing narratives at work in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that trying to solve it on the basis of only one’s sides claims will always fail. It’s not their fault; most Americans simply don’t know the Palestinian story, whereas the Israeli one has long been a staple of American popular culture thanks to Otto Preminger’s widely viewed 1960 Hollywood version of Leon Uris’ book Exodus. The film is a fictional account depicting the heroic struggle of Holocaust survivors forced to create their own sanctuary in a hostile world by returning to an ancient homeland, fighting a war of liberation against the cold-blooded British, and then against overwhelming odds beat back an Arab invasion stoked by German Nazi fugitives. The Israeli leadership of the time, personified by Paul Newman’s Ari Ben Canaan, demonstrates nothing but goodwill to the Arab population, but the Nazis and their proxies are too powerful for feeble Arab minds. Israeli historians have long since debunked the idea that they were the weaker side in the war, while no serious Israelis imagine that it required German manipulation to prompt Arabs to oppose the creation of a Jewish state in a territory whose population was majority Arab. Exodus avoids the violence that forced more than half of the Arab population into exile. The fact that Israel’s creation was simultaneously a triumph of redemption for one community and a catastrophic dispossession for another is precisely why the conflict has proven so intractable. But Obama might have an easier time explaining it if somebody had made a Palestinian Exodus. – T.K.

Dogma

When two fallen angels find a loophole to return to heaven, the act — which proves God’s fallibility — risks undoing all existence on earth. Kevin Smith’s cheeky 1999 Dogma pokes fun at the Church and other pillars of humanity’s faith, deploying a star-studded cast as angels and apostles, demons and ne’er-do-wells all race to avoid the impending apocalypse. Sure, the conceit is a bit much, but it’s far more thought through than what has been suggested for our May 21 doomsday: that the Biblical end of days would occur at 6 p.m., everywhere, since the Messiah returned would want to heed international time zones. – I.T.

Mad Max

When apocalypses arrive, they may be all sudden and cataclysmic and such, but let’s be realistic. The end of the world won’t come with a bang, but a slow drawn out whimper. Mad Max, the cult 1979 Australian film, is set in a dystopian future where social order is unraveling and the lone man standing against the tide (i.e., a bunch of ogrish, campy leather-clad bikers) is a younger, less noticeably anti-Semitic Mel Gibson and his very fast cars. A classic. – I.T.

North Country

The arrest of ex-IMF president Dominique Strauss Kahn on charges of sexual assault brought by a housekeeping employee at an upscale Manhattan hotel has sparked a flurry of commentary about French society tolerating predatory sexual behavior among its male elites. Global Spin prefers to focus on the courage required by a working-class woman to stand up for her rights and her dignity against powerful men who would deny her humanity when it suited them. And that brings us to North Country, Niki Caro’s inspiring fictionalized version of a true story about violence against women in the workplace. Josie Aimes (Charlize Theron) faces a barrage of sexual harassment and violence working at a North Minnesota mine — and finds the courage to face down her tormentors in court, and in the process forever change the culture of the American workplace.  – T.K.

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