Quick Movie Reviews: Comedy Dictator Edition

The Death of Stalin

I came across this little gem on Showtime.  If it ever hit the movie theaters, I don’t have a memory of it, however this film has a great cast with some…interesting casting choices (Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev?).   Wikipedia called this a “political satire black comedy,” which is one way to describe it.  I would have called it an absurdist comedy, but in any case, the movie takes a real historical event and makes it absurd.

In 1953, Josef Stalin abruptly dies, throwing his coterie of yes men and toadies into a frenzied panic.  After years of being kept in an almost continuous state of terror in which one wrong slip could land one in prison or worse by the mercurial Stalin, they suddenly find themselves in a continuous state of terror by each other, as they maneuver to preserve and extend their power and keep their heads.  It’s no spoiler to say that Khrushchev eventually wins the power struggle, but the constant scheming and casual betrayals makes for some high comedy.

Of note is that the character of Lavrentiy Beria, played by British Actor Simon Russel Beale, is probably one of the most evil men of the 20th Century (Beria, not Beale of course).  However in this telling, he comes across as the most sympathetic, as he moves to undo some of the damage he caused under Stalin. Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished, and no; that’s not a spoiler, its history.  Educate yourselves (as any college freshman is happy to tell anyone twice as old with twice the formal education).

This is 1984 if done as a comedy, and if you look at it just the right way, totalitarianism, and its oppressive orthodoxies, are comedic.  As Stalin’s inner circle changes their opinions to fit the current party line, we can laugh at such an absurd society, and carefully delete what we just wrote on twitter, since what was an ordinary comment yesterday becomes a thought crime today. The bobbing, weaving and careful choosing of words among Stalin’s men might be reminiscent of a modern college social science class, making this a movie that is relevant in the current year.

Plus, this movie is banned in Russia!

 

My Netflix Review: Look Who’s Back

Finally, here is the story of a politician who is literally Hitler.

In the same way that the buffet at the Golden Corral is larger than my stomach, my list in Netflix is much larger than my available time to view the cornucopia of shows. However prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I pulled this one out of my list and into the “watching now” category. Look Who’s Back is a German language film that I still thought Germany wasn’t ready for.  How to deal with Hitler has been an annoying hangnail of German discourse for over seventy years, and this movie is an interesting take on Germany’s “Hitler Question.”

Instead of pulling the trigger in his Berlin bunker, Hitler finds himself hurled forward in time to the far future year of 2014. Found by recently fired TV producer, Fabian Sawatzki, Fabian plots to return to TV by filming a documentary on the person he perceives as a Hitler performance artist. So Hitler and Fabian go on a road trip across modern Germany to film German’s reaction to “Hitler.”  Hitler of course, sees this as the groundwork to return to power, and much of the film is devoted to laughing locals asking Hitler questions and Hitler responding.  In one scene, while talking with a married couple, Hitler asks for their vote.  When they laughing decline to vote for him; Hitler asks for their address for the first round of mass arrests.  They laugh again because that’s the bit; no one takes him seriously, it’s all a joke; a gag for television.

For Hitler, it’s not a joke.  And eventually, even Fabian starts to get suspicions that this “performance artist” may be a bit darker than he thought.  But it’s still all fun and games until finally, someone really recognizes him for who he is.

As an American, I’m not a fan of foreign films that are filmed in funny talk, or as most people know it, a foreign language.  I’m also suspicious of foreign comedy films since comedy is a shifting target across cultures and languages.  However this was a comedy that was actually funny, even across cultures and language.  In fact, it provided a couple of laugh out loud moments, which is becoming rarer in so called “comedy” movies.

So my advice is to go see both of these films.  The Party commands it.

 

 

Assange Indictment Sounds like BS to Me

Julian Assange, looking like a demented Santa Claus, was booted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday in preparation to be extradited to the United States. Ecuador; tired of his antics, finally let the other shoe drop and kicked him out. Of course this was bound to happen eventually, which makes me wonder how Assange thought that remaining a prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy for years was actually better than serving a prison sentence (for whatever real or imaginary crimes) and then getting out.

The internet comments on Assange’s arrest don’t line up in the usual left/right way you would expect.  Assange is an anti-American leftist and normally should expect support from…anti-American leftists.  Although that still seems true for the international set, the domestic anti-American leftists are split.  Most applaud his work in helping to severely damage US national security by releasing a treasure trove of classified information from the Manning leaks, but hurting Hillary and helping the Orange Man to win the Presidency?  Unforgivable!   On the right, the split is reversed.  Some applaud Wikileaks in preventing a Hillary-Apocalypse, but others hate the national security damage he helped cause.

And where do I come down?  I think he’s an anti-American leftist who hates the US and would do anything he can to bring it down.  However, that’s no different than the Publishers and editorial staff of The New York Times, Washington Post, and many if not most US newspapers and media outlets.  They also are anti-American leftists who hate the US and would do anything to bring it down.  And all of those newspapers and TV news outlets have published or reported on all matter of stolen classified information from Manning, Snowden, and innumerable leaks over the years; all damaging to the US.  And they are all, Assange included, protected by the First Amendment.

As a work around, the Department of Justice has made up a charge of conspiring to hack government computers, something I don’t recall ever being mentioned during Manning’s trial.  You can read the indictment here.

A few years ago, I would have just swallowed that story and accepted it, however the past few years have worn away any trust I might have had in the DoJ. Simply put, I just don’t believe it. Manning already had access to the SIPRNET, the Secret level government classified network, and apparently had so few, or no duties while deployed in Iraq that he could sit in front of his workstation for his entire shift, for weeks and months on end, copying files to a CD.  Manning didn’t need any extra passwords to unload a treasure trove of classified information.

If this case gets as far as discovery, I imagine his lawyers should demand some sort of evidence that the information was not already available on SIPRNET with the passwords and accesses that Manning already had.  I have a sneaking suspicion though that it will never get that far.

Tucker, Ben Shapiro, and John Adams

I came across this video over the weekend of Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro, engaged in a newish debate of populism versus traditional conservatism™.  You can easily guess who was taking what side.

Where those two differ, I’ve already decided which side of the line I’m on, but what caught my eye about this mini-debate occurred about five minutes in.

Shapiro: “…the John Adams formulation was that this constitution was only built for a moral and virtuous people, it wasn’t built for any other.  There are two ways to actually tackle that.  One is to say we are no longer moral and no longer virtuous, so we have to change-freedom, and the other is to say, well, if we want to maintain the freedom we have to become moral and virtuous again.”

Hmmm…that is the question isn’t it?

The John Adams quote…

…was considered a truism in an earlier age, particularly in the mass democracy distrusting founding fathers. Carlson and Shapiro never resolve the issue in the few minutes of the debate, but it’s a good question none the less.  A representative government is the trickiest and most difficult type of government to pull off, and requires several preconditions, including those mentioned here.  If you don’t have an ethical electorate, how are you going to have ethical electoral results?  Obviously you can’t, and although Shapiro seems to hold out some hope that the populace can be made virtuous again, I see no mechanism to do that.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tolled the bell for our system of government.  It’s been wobbly for a long time and shows no signs of righting itself.  Historically, aging democracies end in some sort of tyranny.  Is that where we are heading? I confess I don’t have any answers for this, but it’s important to at least be aware of the questions.