The Loudest Voice (2019)

Roger Ailes is back! This time played by Russell Crowe in this somewhat gratuitous cash-in miniseries. Hollywood just loves this story it seems. Whilst Crowe is physically ridiculously too attractive a human being to be Roger Ailes, even under prosthetics and hours of make-up, this glossy, high quality offering from Showtime is an excellent deeper dive into the day-to-day workings inside the Fox News machine from its very beginnings in the nineties, and from the ground up – deeper than we get from the movie ‘Bombshell’ which covers much of the same territory.

If they’re not careful, Hollywood producers will have turned the sexual predator Ailes into a tragic figure by the time they’ve finished, as each new production becomes more and more sympathetic and more and more like a eulogy. This series jumps into a different time period and bubble of events for each episode. Ep 1 covers the Network’s beginnings in 1994, Ep 2 covers the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and so on. Very surprisingly there is no coverage of the seismic, some say decisive, role Fox News played in the 2000 Presidential election, where the channel pre-emptively called Florida for George W Bush against all evidence to the contrary. This was perhaps the high water mark of Fox’s influence and it’s a shame we don’t get to see it in more detail.

The sexual harassment story is dealt with in a powerful and disturbing way, although it focuses mainly on only one of Ailes’s victims, Laurie Luhn. The real-life Luhn actually sued this production for her extremely negative portayal here, eventually settling out of court.

Overall this is a very well made series. Rusty eats up the scenery and clearly has a lot of fun being gleefully mendacious as the villain. He puts in an epic, heavyweight performance. Once again the window into the Murdoch media empire is one of the most interesting aspects of this riveting review of recent American history (for more on the Murdoch back story check out ‘Power Games’). The show presents Ailes’ contribution to White House propaganda and indeed to US foreign policy as a whole as being so influential during his 20+ years as Network chief that his toppling in 2016 comes across as having been, in the immortal words of George Dubbya, the ‘end of an error’.

On The Basis Of Sex (2018)

This biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the feminist Supreme Court Judge who recently passed away, is a timely and fascinating study in miniature of how during the 1960s and 1970s, a process unfolded via the ACLU and spearheaded by Ginsberg that fundamentally transformed American society and lit the rocket of today’s all-consuming identity politics. It was the idea that all laws should be struck down that discriminated ‘on the basis of sex’.

Felicity Jones is excellent as the feisty and tenacious if sour-faced Ginsberg. A fantastic job is done on the production design especially the fun period details and this is a beautifully made feature altogether. Of course it is textbook PC historiography and anyone opposed to Ginsberg’s revolutionary agenda is presented as unambiguously foolish, outdated or corrupt. But the subject matter is so significant and Ginsberg’s life story so extraordinary that it makes for compelling viewing.

I.O.U.S.A. (2008)

It’s all about the money! Or if you like ‘it’s the economy, stupid’. Although this doco is old now, it still makes for interesting viewing because it covers unquestionably the greatest danger facing the United States of America. When you realise the national debt they are talking about here is the $9 trillion figure the debt clock was at in 2009, and this month it hit $27 trillion, it gets even scarier.

This doco makes the difficult to stomach point that the debt issue is completely bipartizan, with neither party being more responsible for it than the other. That doesn’t go down well in today’s super-sectarian political environment, but it remains the reality. ‘When you get extended to the point where you can’t service your debt, you’re finished’ says Paul O’Neill, fired Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush. Looking at the facts in this film, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the USA is being systematically asset-stripped and scheduled for demolition.

Interestingly, while Reagan is often seen as the poster-boy for opposition to ‘big government’, during his term in office the national debt actually grew by the third largest percentage margin of any President’s tenure since the beginning of the Twentieth Century. For the record the worst offenders were: 1) FDR (1,048%), 2) Wilson (727%), 3) Reagan (186%), 4) George W. Bush (101%). Calvin Coolidge was the out-front highest achiever, having decreased the debt by 24% during his term (

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009)

Daniel Ellsberg is one of the most influential men of the 20th Century. In terms of politics, perhaps the most influential of its second half. Arguably, he single-handedly brought an end to both the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, itself the tail end of a political hegemony in the US that had lasted since the early 1950s.

This brooding, intense and comprehensive documentary charts how the polymath Rand Corporation intellectual went from commanding a company of Marines in the jungle as an ultra-hawk and key node in the intelligence-gathering and decision-making apparatus of Secretary of Defence Robert MacNamara, to being the biggest whistle-blower in American history when he released top secret documents exposing the whole sordid covert history of US Government involvement in Vietnam to the New York Times in 1971.

It’s an amazing story, and like many tell-alls by high-level baby boomer insiders being released in the 21st Century, it contains explosive information that investigators during the sixties and seventies spent whole careers trying to get hold of, often unsuccessfully. We in the information age can watch it all unfold in a well-presented and articulate media presentation.

Truman (1995)

Before Gary Sinise’s turn as racist Alabama Governor George Wallace, he played a much grander figure, the unassuming but capable Missourian Harry S Truman.

Like many Presidents who succeeded to the White House unexpectedly, Truman was despised at first but came to be one of the most respected men to hold the position. Not many Presidents win a World War and give birth to the State of Israel. He was a regular guy in an extraordinary position, and that is what makes this biopic interesting.

It may not be hard-hitting political commentary but it is a great ride through the first half of the Twentieth Century, from early car ownership through to early TV ownership, from Woodrow Wilson to Truman’s great wrestle with the hawkish Douglas MacArthur and the beginning of the Cold War in Korea. It’s a perspective that we don’t often get to see, full of insights into major events, key moments and great figures of American history.

Hillary’s America (2016)

D’Souza is the right-wing Michael Moore. Whatever you think of his politics, it’s hard to deny that he is a charismatic and talented film-maker, whose works are highly personal travelogues of ideas full of imagery and smart commentary on the status quo, in which he himself is the endearing and intrepid star. Also like Moore, you can’t really fault or recommend any particular one of his films, they are all very similar: same issues, same preoccupations, same very upfront political bias but all highly watchable because of their wit, creativity and engaging host.

When I first started watching this film, having not seen his smash hit documentary “2016: Obama’s America”, I couldn’t believe he was actually thrown into prison following its high-profile criticism of the then most powerful Chief Executive in the world. But indeed it happened. D’Souza starts this film with an audacious and brilliant re-enactment of his time in the slammer and what he learned there. By the time he gets out, we are all onboard with his journey.

Of course he is an extremely partizan and one-sided observer of American politics, coming from a decidedly Jesuit, Conservative perspective. And he brings all of that agenda to this, his follow-up film that turns into a powerful and flamboyant chronological review of racism in the USA. While he does an admirable fourth estate job of holding the Democrats to account and exposing the pernicious malevolence of their secret plans and forgotten history of slavery, you can’t help but notice the gaping hole where a counterpart criticism of the Republican Party should be for many of the same reasons, if judged by the same standards. But that goes with the territory of a D’Souza movie. It is a bravura piece of film-making only unfortunately marred by a nauseating, unnecessary and ridiculous orchestral scene at the end featuring children singing the Star-Spangled banner! All in all though, this is an entertaining and well-informed roller-coaster ride; super biased, over the top, but fun.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Whatever you think of Michael Moore, he is probably the most prominent documentary maker of the last 3 decades. Whether or not you like the points he makes in his films, it is hard to deny their poignancy and brilliantly effective persuasive power. Call it whimsy, emotionalism, over-generalisation or manipulative shock tactics, he gets his point across. And this outlandish, technicolor explosion of self-righteousness, be it unfocused, arrogant, scattershot and capricious, is his magnum opus. It is not often that an Oscars audience loudly boos one of its own winners, but that happened when Michael Moore’s previous film took out Best Documentary in 2003 and he introduced some of this movie’s themes from the microphone. In short this is an event movie, and probably the most famous and high-profile documentary in movie history.

Depending on your point of view it is either a slanderous kaleidoscope of wild, baseless allegations, or an outrageously brazen example of speaking truth to power. Call it what you will, if you’re interested in US politics, you have to see it. If only to witness an incredible collection of amazing news footage all in one place. Few docos can assemble such an avalanche of big budget interviews and crucial TV moments relating to any major news event, still less one freshly put together in the immediate aftermath, before the dust cloud of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks had settled, so to speak. Moore’s film, controversial though it is, still remains the defining cinematic statement on those attacks, and his analysis of them one of the most influential.

Shut Up And Sing (2006)

In March 2003 George W Bush declared war on Iraq, and the Dixie Chicks declared war on George W Bush. Despite the overwhelming odds in favour of the then President, the jury is still out on who actually won. The Dixie Chicks, hailing from Dallas, Texas, monumentally irritated the pro-war faction right on the eve of war. Not only were they women, but they had the temerity to be thoroughbred daughters of the Lone Star state themselves, and there was more than a hint of a suggestion in their famous anti-war comments that they spoke for the ‘real’ Texas, whereas George W Bush was an imposter.

For these reasons it was open season on the band for years and they were excoriated in the mainstream media for going against the regime. But fans of the Dixie Chicks would not abandon them, and years later this David and Goliath match-up was still ongoing. The political and media firestorm had essentially caused a civil war in the country music world, with both sides equally implacable and unapologetic.

This fly on the wall doc covers the scandal from inside the band’s camp. It is a fascinating study of a trial by media and the limits of free speech in a politically correct corporate culture.

Stranger On My Land (1988)

Hear me out! It’s a B-movie and yes it starts with Tommy Lee Jones in Vietnam, but keep watching! This is a surprising little nugget about sovereignty within the US that covers subject matter pretty much no other movie is willing to go near.

Tommy’s vet goes back home to his family’s ranch, and the story takes off from there.

It’s a very simple movie about a very simple subject – arguably the same subject that has exercised the chief brains within US Politics since the beginnings of the country: Federalism vs. Liberty. Quite possibly TLJ is not the most erudite incarnation of such a venerable struggle, but he gets the job done!

No Safe Spaces (2019)

About the timeliest doc that Americans could watch right now. After the ‘Summer of Hate’ that was May to October 2020, this film is about nothing less than the attempted totalitarian takeover of the United States. Don’t know what totalitarianism is? “Safe spaces” is it. The illegalisation, sanction and suppression of free thought and free expression by the manipulation of mob rule hysteria and mob violence.

Cancel Culture is the issue of the day and this movie opens up the world of US college campuses to a general audience. They have become a pretty strange place! It shines a light on what has been going on there recently, in particular the increasingly toxic radicalisation of America’s youth into an hysterical intolerance of anyone who is different. The battle for freedom of speech and a continued right to be heard for those with individual or challenging opinions is covered here and showcases both leading lights of the ‘conservative’ intelligentsia like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Petersen and Dennis Prager, who along with podcaster Adam Carolla is the host/subject of this doc, and their liberal counterparts who are now also finding themselves being censored and deplatformed by big tech for speaking out about injustice.

It is a formidable subject matter and taken on solidly by Prager who offers an impassioned plea for common sense, the marketplace of ideas and a continuation of freedom in the United States.