Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes


Roger Ailes, kingmaker.

(2018) Documentary (Magnolia)  Glenn Beck, Austin Pendleton, Sarah Ellison, Alisyn Camerota, Warren Cooper, Linda Newman, Karyn Kesler, Kenneth Johnson, Felycia Sugarman, John Cook, Stephen Rosenfield, Kellie Boyle, Glenn Meehan, E. Jean Carroll, Terry Anzer, David Shuster, Joe Muto, Lydia Corona, Bo Dietl, Richard Shea, Marsha Callahan, Tamara Holder.  Directed by Alexis Bloom

There is no doubt that Roger Ailes is a polarizing figure. Among conservatives, he’s a genius and kingmaker who was responsible for the elections of Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. He is also the creator of Fox News, the virtual house network of the GOP. For liberals, he is the devil incarnate, a man who learned his trade from Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl and whose “fair and balanced” tagline for his network was of the utmost irony.

So depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on, you are going to look at this either as a hatchet job or as a call to arms. It’s very difficult to review a biographical documentary about someone like Ailes without your own politics getting in the way. I will be as honest as I can be; I have no love for Ailes and his legacy, but then again, neither does the director – as she makes abundantly clear.

Much of the film revolves around the sexual harassment scandal that would eventually bring one of the most powerful men in America down. Although we don’t hear from former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson who initiated the suit, we do hear from Fox News personalities Glenn Beck, Alisyn Camerota and David Shuster. We also hear from women who have accused Ailes of sexual coercion, going all the way back to his days as a producer on the Mike Douglas Show which at the time was the only talk show on daytime television.

Even the soundtrack, which sounds appropriate for a thriller, makes no bones about where Bloom’s sympathies lie. While she does a pretty good job of summarizing the man’s career, there is no attempt to talk to people who loved Ailes – and there were many. Although Beck was willing to go on camera and discuss some of the darker sides of Ailes’ nature, no other big Fox News personality did, nor any members of Ailes’ family. We therefore get a fairly one-sided presentation of the man.

Ailes passed away in 2017 before this documentary came out; a hemophiliac, a fall in his home caused him to bleed to death. By that time, however, he had been rendered persona non grata at the network he created. That he survived only a year after his fall from grace is not surprising.

I get the need to vilify the man; his lack of regard for the truth and for facts in favor of building a narrative that fits the conservative point of view is disturbing, and we are living with the fruits of that poisonous tree. Ailes took his cues from Adolph Hitler and P.T Barnum, telling the big lie to appeal to man’s baser nature, and changed the world. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny that he is very much responsible for the world we live in even now, three years after he’s gone. That, at least, is a legacy.

REASONS TO SEE: A chilling look at the manipulation of the electorate. A mixture of admiration and horror.
REASONS TO AVOID: Extremely one-sided.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor/director Austin Pendleton and Ailes attended grade school together.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, FlixFling, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/9/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bombshell
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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Lancaster Skies

The Greatest Showman


Hugh Jackman knows this movie is a snow job.

(2017) Musical (20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eric Anderson, Ellis Rubin, Skylar Dunn, Daniel Everidge, Radu Spinghel, Yusaku Komori, Daniel Son, Paul Sparks, Will Swenson, Linda Marie Larsen, Byron Jennings, Betsy Aidem. Directed by Michael Gracey

 

Phineas Taylor Barnum once famously said “There’s a sucker born every minute” and that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American consumer.” The fact that this movie has done the kind of box office it has is proof of that.

Barnum (Jackman) is a penniless dreamer who has married a beautiful rich girl named Charity (Williams) whose family his father once worked for. Her father most assuredly does NOT approve of the match. Barnum has big plans to buy a specific mansion near where they grew up but no means to get there but after losing yet another low-paying job disappears on him, he decides to go into business for himself, using a little financial chicanery to secure a bank loan to open up his Museum of Oddities.

At first business is slow but his wife believes in him. It’s just when he begins to add human acts – bearded ladies, Siamese twins, General Tom Thumb a performing little person, trapeze artists and acrobats does his business begin to thrive. Upper class playwright Philip Carlyle (Efron) is taken by the show and by a trapeze artist name Anne (Zendaya) in particular but it still takes Barnum some fancy talking to get him to invest in the Museum as a partner.

While on an overseas trip he hears the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind (Ferguson),, then the most famous singer on Earth, perform at Buckingham Palace and is completely taken by her voice and her beauty. He offers to bankroll her tour of the United States as her manager for which she would get an unheard-of (at the time) guaranteed sum. The tour threatens to bankrupt P.T. but it also threatens his marriage as Lind tries to seduce him and leave his wife for her.

.A suspicious fire burns down the Museum and all of a sudden Barnum is left with nothing again; furthermore his family of unusual acts is no longer feeling the love, having seen him turn their backs on them and treat them like unwelcome guests. Can this dysfunctional family reunite and rebuild?

I had high hopes for this, particular given that Jackman is in the title role. It’s perfect casting and Jackman who cut his show biz teeth on musical theater in Australia is more than up to the task, being the big reason to see the movie. His natural charm and likability shine through and even when he’s acting like a jerk you still like the guy and like me were pretty sure he would come around to his senses.

Unfortunately after that it’s a very short list of reasons to see this. While I like the theme of inclusiveness (although they tend to bang the audience over the head with it), after that there are some key components to the film that simply aren’t up to snuff. First and most glaringly is the songs. They are absolutely dreadful; all of them sound pretty much the same and none of them really are the kind you’ll be humming after you leave the theater; as I write this I can’t remember the tune to a single one of them. That’s very bad news for a musical.

The writers for whatever reason seem to stick a song in even where one isn’t needed and in fact the musical number ends up disrupting the flow of the film. Personally I loved the idea of a musical about Barnum but it needed a capable songwriter to write the music and lyrics. This sounds like it was written by Broadway hacks which it certainly wasn’t; the folks involved wrote the music and lyrics to La La Land and did a much better job with that property. There is not one song here that is anywhere near as memorable as “City of Stars.”

The writers also play fast and loose with history (for example, there is no evidence whatsoever that the relationship between Barnum and Lind was anything but a business one) which isn’t an original Hollywood sin but there are so many characters here that were invented out of whole cloth – certainly Barnum had plenty of interesting people in his life that could have made appearances here. Poor Michelle Williams has so little to do that her smile begins to look awfully strained by the end of the movie. Even CGI couldn’t save it – except that the CGI that the movie does utilize is uniformly terrible.

I could go on and on. Barnum’s children here are essentially perfect movie kids whose presence is superfluous and disruptive. There are too many anachronisms in the dialogue to shake a stick at – but why kick a horse when it’s already down, except not only is this horse down it’s also been lit on fire, stabbed through the heart, shot, beaten with a crowbar and drowned in a vat of acid before being miraculously resurrected and buried alive. Actually, the horse has it better than those who must watch this movie. See it for Jackman if you must but see it at home so you can turn it off when you start to feel yourself beginning to need to do whatever it takes to stop the torture.

REASONS TO GO: Hugh Jackman is charismatic and charming. The “different is okay” theme still resonates.
REASONS TO STAY: The songs are generic and awful. There are too many historical liberties taken and the children are an unnecessary distraction. It feels like the writers were flailing around a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and some sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the costumes used in the film are the property of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and have been actually worn by performers.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/518: Rotten Tomatoes: 55% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chicago
FINAL RATING: 4/10 (all Jackman)
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Off the Menu