Couch Potato Briefing: Magnates, Murderers and Miracles

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Global Spin’s weekly guide to five rental movies that will bring you up to speed with with the past week’s global events. Compiled by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor.

Citizen Kane

Charles Foster Kane, the rapacious media baron relentlessly acquiring assets and starting wars whose story is told in Orson Welles’ directorial debut Citizen Kane, is generally considered a thinly-veiled representation of William Randolph Hearst — the real-life media baron forbade any mention of the film in any of his newspapers when it was released in 1941. Not only is Citizen Kane considered perhaps the finest movie ever made for its pathbreaking work in cinematography, editing, the use of sound and visual depth, but it is a deeply subversive tale that invites Americans to consider the unscrupulous agendas behind much of the sensationalized nonsense that was appearing in their news media at the time. And in a week in which latter-day media baron Rupert Murdoch finds himself in deep trouble over the unscrupulous practices of one of his most important titles (Britain’s News of the World), this would be as good a weekend as any to check back in with Citizen Kane. – T.K.

Khartoum

On July 9, South Sudan becomes formally independent. Already, the nascent state’s existence seems fragile. Its borders are pockmarked by myriad disputes with the North and have seen a convulsion of violence in recent months. Thousands facing a Khartoum offensive have fled into refugee camps on the southern side. Inside South Sudan, the whole of the country has little more than 50km of paved roads; most of the institutions that make a state viable have to be built from scratch. As trite as it may seem to point this out, much of the political chaos that surrounds such complex, diverse, and fractious parts of the planet stems from the original adventuring and meddling of western powers. Khartoum, starring Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier, is an old cinema romp, depicting the 19th century struggles of a British expeditionary force against the warriors of the Mahdi — the West’s original militant Islamist bogeyman.-I.T.

Reds

Warren Beatty’s Reds, which he directed while playing the male lead, is an ambitious epic — a praise poem to the American communist journalist John Reed and feminist writer Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), and their love story amid the revolutionary fervor of St. Petersburg in 1917. Reed lovingly chronicled the Bolshevik insurrection in his book Ten Days That Shook the World, even as he later became a victim of its authoritarian intolerance. So what does this have to do with the week’s events? Well, the situation in Egypt right now might be compared with that in Russia between February 1917 (when the Czar was overthrown and replaced by a provisional government) and October, when the Bolsheviks seized power. Of course, Egypt is unlikely to see an “October” of the sort described by the movie, but the current turmoil in which no single party or institution appears capable of governing will remind some of the power vacuum of which Lenin and the Bolsheviks took advantage. And hey, it’s a rip-roaring tale of radicalism idealism tempered by harsh realities. – T.K.

Earth

The Pakistani coastal metropolis of Karachi has once again in plunged into yet another round of communal bloodletting; violence between rival political parties and ethnic groups have led to some 80 deaths, with the Pakistani government sanctioning security forces with a shoot to kill order when facing suspected combatants or provocateurs. The roots of Karachi’s discord date back as early as the partitioning of British India in 1947 — a significant proportion of the city’s population is comprised by mohajirs, or those whose families crossed over from what’s now northern India into the new Muslim haven of Pakistan. The internecine strife in the city has been particularly intense between mohajir and ethnic Pashtun factions. Deepa Mehta’s Earth tells the story of pre-Partition Lahore and how sectarian tensions and simmering hatreds in the wake of India’s sundering broke a world apart.

Apollo 13

In front of a massed crowd of roughly one million, the Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off, embarking upon the last ever NASA space-shuttle mission. TIME’s chief science writer and editor, Jeffrey Kluger, was there on the scene. Kluger also authored Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, about a space shuttle’s ill-fated voyage that luckily had a happy ending. It was the basis for the 1995 mega-hit film Apollo 13. – I.T.

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