Screening Room: ‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’

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Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn (Sony Pictures Classics)

How do you get from the McCarthy era to the Trump presidency via one black-hearted individual? Find out in the new documentary Where’s My Roy Cohn?, opening next week.

My review is at Slant:

For those wanting to stare into the face of misery personified, look no further than Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary about “legal executioner” Roy Cohn. From the opening scenes of Cohn whispering in Joseph McCarthy’s ear in 1954 to clips of him denying his homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis not long before his death in 1986, the man’s hollow eyes show nothing but rancor. His mouth is pursed tight, waiting to launch the next poisoned barb. He looks like a man devoured by hate, a third-string movie villain transported to real life…

Here’s the trailer:

Quote of the Day: What Jim Mattis Didn’t Say

Call Sign ChaosFormer Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, one of those adults we keep being told are keeping things in the White House from being even worse than they are, has a new book out: Call Sign Chaos.

If this essay in the Wall Street Journal, which Mattis and his co-author Bing West adapted from the book, is any sign, there is much he is not saying in the book. To wit, this section on how he dealt with an unnamed admiral who harshly and indiscriminately mocked his subordinates:

I called in the admiral and carefully explained why I disapproved of his leadership. “Your staff resents you,” I said. “You’re disappointed in their input. OK. But your criticism makes that input worse, not better. You’re going the wrong way. You cannot allow your passion for excellence to destroy your compassion for them as human beings.” This was a point I had always driven home to my subordinates.

“Change your leadership style,” I continued. “Coach and encourage; don’t berate, least of all in public.”

But he soon reverted to demeaning his subordinates. I shouldn’t have been surprised. When for decades you have been rewarded and promoted, it’s difficult to break the habits you’ve acquired, regardless of how they may have worked in another setting. Finally, I told him to go home.

There is no indication in this exercise in avoiding the elephant in the room that Mattis ever suggested that the commander in chief should consider not berating or demeaning people, much less just going home.

Screening Room: ‘The Great Hack’

The Great Hack is a new documentary about how Cambridge Analytica worked with private user data happily served up by Facebook in order to minutely target propaganda that helped win the 2016 election for Donald Trump.

Not available on Netflix until this Wednesday, it is already stirring up legal issues in the UK.

My review is at The Playlist:

It’s a sign of how quickly it feels like the world is being torn apart around us that even a ripped-from-the-headlines documentary, such as Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Great Hack,” can feel almost dated…

Here’s the trailer:

Nota Bene: Twitter, Neo-Nazis, and the GOP

In March of this year, Twitter had an all-hands meeting at which an employee asked why the company can’t do as good a job of keeping white supremacist material off the site as they have done with ISIS propaganda?

According to Motherboard, another employee provided a simple explanation:

With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said…

The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued…

Screening Room: ‘The Brink’

In Alison Klayman’s new documentary The Brink, she follows ex-Trump strategist and burgeoning nationalist power broker as he trots the globe fomenting populist revolt.

The Brink just opened in limited release and should be expanding soon. My review is at Slant:

To paraphrase Fran Lebowitz on Donald Trump, conservative firebrand Steve Bannon is a nitwit’s idea of an intellectual. A semi-book-smart gadfly with a decent sense of humor, the vainglorious Bannon thinks in century-spanning terms that always involve him and his cohorts standing heroically at the barricades defending Western civilization. This portrait of Bannon comes through with sharp clarity in Alison Klayman’s immersive documentary on the Republican party’s new Lee Atwater—or maybe their Sun-Tzu, as Bannon would likely prefer…

Friday Music Break: Tom Waits and the Resistance

For his latest album, Songs of Resistance 1948-2018, guitarist Marc Ribot collaborated with other musicians on a numerous of old and new protest songs.

He enlisted Tom Waits to sing the old anti-fascist Italian folk ballad “Bella Ciao” (“Goodbye Beautiful”). You can hear it here, via the video directed by Jem Cohen (who also shot the classic Fugazi documentary Instrument) which collages footage from recent demonstrations in Washington, D.C. behind Waits’ growling protest lyrics.

Screening Room: ‘Dark Money’

(PBS Distribution)

The newest movie from Kimberly Reed is a scorcher of a documentary about the corrosive effects of big outside money on elections in underpopulated states.

Dark Money is opening in limited release this week and should appear soon on a PBS affiliate near you. My review is at Film Journal International:

The Montana that Reed (Prodigal Sons) shows is one of nearly unnatural beauty. Angular cliffs carpeted with bright green pine trees and great sweeping plains unfurl under her frequently airborne camera as though for some pristinely photographed travel documentary. But there’s wrack and ruin amidst the glorious nature. Abandoned mine shafts, rusting derricks, and the oil-slicked expanse of a Superfund lake so poisonous that geese who accidently landed in it died by the hundreds all speak to the legacy of a state with a long history of corruption and resource exploitation…