Couch Potato Briefing: Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime? Plus Nordic Nazism and Libyan Betrayal

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

Grapes of Wrath

As the world watches a dysfunctional U.S. political system flailing  helplessly in the face of an economic catastrophe slowly destroying the lives of ordinary Americans, it’s time to dust off John Ford’s Depression-era classic, Grapes of Wrath. A visually stunning praise poem to the lives and struggles of ordinary working Americans buffeted by the turmoil of an economic system that puts the interests of bankers first, Grapes is the cinematic companion to the photographs of Walker Evans and the songs of Woodie Guthrie. The movie, adapted from John Steinbeck’s novel, depicts the struggles of Tom Joad (played by a young Henry Fonda) and his family in the dust-bowl Midwest, dispossessed by the bank amid a financial crisis that tears up a way of life. They migrate west to California, where they’re exploited as cheap labour by ruthless farmers, finding the will and courage to carry on in the solidarity and love of their family and peers. Grapes of Wrath was a radical move for a radical time. Unfortunately, the indications from Washington and Wall Street suggest that radical times may lie ahead, once again, for millions of ordinary Americans who — like the Joads — had no hand in creating the crisis, and little say in how it will be resolved. – T.K.

Wall Street

America’s present economic woes begin with a model adopted in the 1980s that became a kind of Wall Street-friendly bipartisan consensus, and Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street sought to capture that ethos — enshrined in the words of corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who tells Charlie Sheen’s impressionable young trader Bud Fox that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good”. Bud finds himself pulled between Gekko’s ruthless avarice and the values of his blue-collar union man father, Carl (Martin Sheen), who represents the working stiff trying to get ahead through honest labor, in danger of landing in the unemployment line because of an asset-stripping Wall Street takeover attempt. Bud thwarts Gekko’s plans and lands him in prison. But the greed-driven ways of Wall Street came back to crash the economy, anyway. Indeed, Stone was moved to create a sequel, Money Never Sleeps, in 2010. – T.K.

The Company Men

The Company Men revisits terrain covered by both Grapes of Wrath and Wall Street, as Ben Affleck’s cocky young corporate executive Bobby Walker suddenly finds himself sacrificed on the altar of his company’s stock price, downsized in a frenzy of cost-cutting to please Wall Street analysts. Outplacement is simply a palliative to soften the blow, as he finds himself increasingly acquainted with the lives of working people in post-industrial New England, personified by his construction worker brother-in-law Jack Dolan (played by Kevin Costner) — whose contempt for Bobby’s corporate world the newly unemployment Porsche-driving father of two begins to share. It’s a movie nobody employed by a publicly-traded corporation in America can watch without a feeling of utter dread, caught up — just as the Joads were — in an economic system driven by the values of Gordon Gekko rather than by any humanity or sentiment.  Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Bobby’s erstwhile boss Gene McClary, can see it too, and when he finally gets his own pink slip, he uses his massive severance and personal wealth in a new business venture designed to get back to the basics of the making and fixing of things. The message: Forget the Dow, only a return to making things will get America back on track. Easier said than done… – T.K.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

The assassination of Libyan rebel General Abdul Fatteh Younes blew the lid open over the uneasy and tenuous alliances that have strung this motley group of insurgents together so far. Younes, once a close friend of Col. Muammar Gaddafi and seen for a time to be the dictator’s right-hand man before he defected, had many enemies among the rebel leadership, including those who never trusted his loyalties in the first place. Though set in a vastly different context, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, a tale of the bloody Irish struggle for independence from Britain, offers one of the more astute portrayals of the nature of nationalism and political violence. The road to freedom is potholed with factionalism and tragic betrayals, and, more of than not, is littered with the corpses of innocents. – I.T.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson, the Swedish writer whose books have become posthumous best-sellers, was als oan expert on the networks and activities of the far-right in Scandinavia. He would have not been surprised by the existence of such a murderous racist as Anders Behring Breivik, and spied the same pathologies of hate harbored by neo-Nazi groups in the violence against women that finds prominent place in his novels. Breivik, in his manifesto, even points the finger at women for walking Scandinavia down the path of liberal, multicultural weakness. –I.T.