Monday, 23 July 2018

The Dictator (4 Stars)

I decided to watch this film again today because my first review, written in 2013, has crept into my top 10 most popular posts list again. As I write this post it's in 10th place. By tomorrow it will either have climbed a few places or fallen out again.

My readers are fickle. Not all of my posts are good. I know that. What surprises me is that the posts I consider below average quality so often have more readers than my best posts. It shouldn't really surprise me. Let me explain what's happening on my blog below the surface:

The top 10 list that I publish in my sidebar is the most read posts of the last 30 days. That's the most meaningful list, in my opinion. I also have lists available of the most read posts of the last 24 hours and the most read posts of the last seven days. Those lists are less significant because they're very volatile. When I publish a new post it usually has a lot of hits over the first 48 hours. This is because I have a lot of followers who read my new posts on a regular basis. That's not just the 22 blog followers listed on my page, I also have followers in Google Plus and Facebook. Almost all of my new posts enter my top 10 posts of the week, but they drop out of the list again after a week and are replaced by newer posts. Maybe one post a week generates enough interest to make it into my top 10 posts of the month. If it's popular enough it might stay in the list for a few months before disappearing again.

Then there are the posts that I call Dauerbrenner, the German word for perpetual flames. Some of these posts, like the Femme Fatales TV series, remain in the list for a year or longer. Others, like my first review of "The Dictator", are in my list for a few months, then disappear for a few months, then come back again. My Dauerbrenner (the German word sounds much better than the English translation) are the result of search engines sending readers to me. It's possible to deliberately use keywords to attract readers, but I don't do that. I write normal prose at all times. However, it sometimes happens that the combination of the words in my normal prose attracts a mass of readers who are looking for something else. For that reason many of my Dauerbrenner get a lot of hits out of pure luck.

There's one other problem in the way that Google sets up its searches. There's a process which Google calls canonicalisation (sic). That's a horrible word. What it means is that if two pages on a web site have either identical content or identical names only one of them is considered "canon" and included in search results. There's an HTML flag for search engines that can determine that a page is to be treated as the important page among a collection of duplicates or near-duplicates, but if this flag is included in more than one of the duplicates the search engine crawler can get confused and exclude the wrong one. Just include <link rel="canonical" href=> in the header. If this flag isn't used the newest page is usually treated as canonical. That might be useful for an online catalogue which replaces old products with new products that have the same name, but it makes things awkward for my blog as a film diary. If I review a film three times it's common for the first (i.e. the oldest) review to be the best because I have less to say on repeated watchings. That also means that writing this review today will stop my old review getting as many hits.

Which are my best and which are my worst reviews? That's a subjective opinion, but I'm an honest judge. It's not just about the length. Sometimes I write a post and even as I'm writing it I think to myself, "This isn't very good, but I've got to finish it now I've started". Other times I write something and I think, "Wow! I really expressed that well". As a rule of thumb I tend to write better reviews of films that I don't like than the films I like. Take this review, for instance. I've written six paragraphs and I still haven't said anything about the film.

Sacha Baron Cohen plays Admiral-General Aladeen, the dictator of a middle eastern country called Wadiya. This is a strongly satirical film from beginning to end, mocking both dictators and America's reaction to dictators. Aladeen is based primarily on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, but there are touches of other dictators in his mannerisms. Most apparent is that Aladeen surrounds himself with beautiful female bodyguards, just like Gadaffi used to do.

I want to be surrounded by women like that. Where do I sign up to become a dictator?

The bodyguards might all be beautiful, but the most attractive is the head guard Etra, played by Busty Heart. Her fighting style can only be described as Boob Fu. She uses her breasts as weapons. She can knock men unconscious with her breasts, and she can suffocate men between her breasts.

There are worse ways to die. I wouldn't try to defend myself. This isn't just something shown in the film, it's a real life ability. Busty Heart has appeared on talent shows smashing thick planks with her breasts.

In between the humour serious messages are contained, so ironical in their directness that we have to stop laughing for a moment. In a speech before the United Nations General Aladeen says:

"Why are you guys so anti-dictators? Imagine if America was a dictatorship. You could let 1% of the people have all the nation's wealth. You could help your rich friends get richer by cutting their taxes, and bailing them out when they gamble and lose. You could ignore the needs of the poor for health care and education. Your media would appear free, but would secretly be controlled by one person and his family. You could wiretap phones. You could torture foreign prisoners. You could have rigged elections. You could lie about why you go to war. You could fill your prisons with one particular racial group, and no one would complain. You could use the media to scare the people into supporting policies that are against their interests".

The film is also a love story. Aladeen goes into hiding after an unsuccessful assassination attempt, and he meets the owner of a biological food store. I'll let her describe it in her own words:

"This is my store. This is the Free Earth Collective. We are a vegan, feminist, non-profit cooperative operating within an anti-racist, anti-oppressive framework for people of all or no genders".

In other words, she doesn't know what she's fighting for. She's against everything and for nothing. Aladeen falls in love with her when he sees her shouting at a policeman. Opposites attract.

The newspaper shown above looked correct at first, until I saw the error. The words "scouring the rubble, investigators found" are repeated at the bottom of the first column and the top of the second column. That's just sloppy.

One thing that I regret about the Blu-ray release is that it doesn't have enough extra features. When Sacha Baron Cohen was promoting "The Dictator" he made several controversial appearances, for instance at the Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival and on television talk shows. I've seen these on YouTube, of course, but it would be better to have all the videos gathered together in high definition on the Blu-ray disc.

This is a hilariously funny film, but obviously not everyone has a sense of humour. The film was banned in several eastern European countries. In Italy a reference to the Italian prime minister had to be removed. Interestingly, even though "The Dictator" was shown in German cinemas it has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray.

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