Couch Potato Briefing: Rambo’s Afghan Warning, Women-Sex-and-Cars, and More

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Global Spin’s weekly selection of five rental movies to bring you up to speed on world events, presented by Tony Karon and Ishaan Tharoor


Rambo III

Anyone wanting to understand why the U.S. continues to struggle in its efforts to subdue Afghanistan a decade after invading the country ought to turn to the canon of gung-ho ’80s Red Peril flicks  (think Red Dawn, or Rocky IV). The Afghanistan briefing, of course, is contained in Rambo III, in which Sylvester Stallone’s eponymous U.S. Special Forces mayhem merchant finds himself in the Hindu Kush, trying to free his old commander who has somehow become a prisoner of the Red Army during its own Afghan misadventure.  “This is Afghanistan,” Rambo’s native guide tells him, surveying the landscape. “Alexander the Great tried to conquer this country. Then Genghis Khan. Then the British. Now Russia. But Afghan people fight hard. They are never defeated.” Later in the film, he meets with mujahedeen fighters who tell him, “To us, this war is a holy war… death for our land and God is an honor.” In ’80s Washington, of course, the jihadists were thought of as the good guys — “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers”, as President Reagan put it. The point, of course, as Rambo’s guide explained, is that Afghans don’t take kindly to foreign armies on their soil. And many feel as duty bound to fight the U.S. military there as their fathers’ generation did to fight the Soviets. – T.K.



Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was released this week after three months in detention, nabbed by Beijing allegedly for “tax evasion.” Of course, it’s far more likely he was held for political reasons. Ai is one of the most outspoken critics of the Communist Party and its authoritarian hold over the world’s most populous state. Yet, for a time, he was favored by the government— his vision underlies the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, the centerpiece of China’s 2008 Olympics. Ai, though, has not cooperated with the powers-that-be like Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who choreographed the intense, post-fascist spectacle that was the Olympics’ opening ceremony inside the Bird’s Nest. Zhang’s Hero, a luscious, vivid confection of an epic, carries a chillingly stark message which moralizes why one should not challenge the authority of the state. – I.T.


Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!

The struggle of Saudi women for the right to get behind the wheel of a car continued this weeks, with posters plastered around mosques in the kingdom warning that Islam forbids women from driving. This is a ridiculous claim, of course — and it would certainly be news to Iran’s women cab drivers — because the Koran was written down more than a thousand years before the invention of the automobile. But one possible insight into the bizarre fears that haunt those Saudi men who would keep women riding in the back seat is captured in Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! A masterwork of the evil genius of sexploitation shlock, Russ Meyer, it depicts “wild wheels” driven by “wild women” in (Mojave) desert settings, racing men and beating them. And then beating them to a pulp. The three protagonists are go-go dancers, but its racing their sports cars in the desert that transforms them into the evil vixens whose wanton violence and sexual aggression are precisely what the keepers of Saudi morality seem to fear. Who knows, maybe there’s a copy of Faster Pussycat doing the rounds of the Wahabi seminary… Relax, guys, it’s just a movie.  -T.K.


Clash of the Titans

In a week where Greece’s government finds itself in a tightening vise-grip of protests and debt, headline writers all over the West have indulged in Hellenist clichés, most routinely invoking the term “tragedy.” But the thousands massed on the streets of Athens have no interest in the lamentations of this overseas chorus. They feel real betrayal by their government and anger at the capitalist strictures and mores that have hollowed out their country and their pensions. Many want to fight and bring down this false titan of the IMF. So just don’t think tragedy — think this campy, comic, cringe-inducing 1981 film! – I.T.


The Princess Bride

Finally, in search of a tribute to iconic actor Peter Falk, who died on Friday, Couch Potato Briefing considered such moving and serious fare as Wim Wenders exquisite Wings of Desire but was then reminded of The Princess Bride. Although Falk’s role is limited to that of a the grandfather narrator, Rob Reiner’s cult-classic is riotous ironic comedy filled with swashbuckling, romance and snarky dialogue (oh, and also a cameo by cult-favorite wrestler Andre the Giant). What makes the movie even more apposite in a week when Washington’s attention has been focused on finding a way to extricate itself from the quagmire of Afghanistan, are the “three great blunders” repeatedly enunciated by Wallace Shawn’s character, Bazzini. The first of these, as any fan will remember, is  “never start a land war in Asia”. – T.K.