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HBO's wrenching 'Allen v. Farrow' builds a damning case against Woody Allen's credibility and egomania

What with all the documentary series and special reports that taken on such fallen superstars as R. Kelly and Michael Jackson some cinematic reckoning for Woody Allen was inevitable.

That the task fell filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering to make HBO's "Allen v. Farrow" will surely be a relief to some and predispose others to approach everything contained within the four-part series with skepticism, perhaps even doubt.

Where you fall on this scale depends on how you would answer the first question Dylan Farrow poses in her 2014 open letter: "What's your favorite Woody Allen movie?"

How much you believe of "Allen v. Farrow" depends on your answer to that question. Dick and Ziering are aware of this, and a good portion of the series' fourth hour features critics and academics wrestling with the conundrum of whether one can separate the artist from his art, and whether one should have to once they've been made aware of the artist's odious actions.

We have known about Woody Allen's taste for women many years younger than he since 1979's "Manhattan," where he plays a 42-year-old twice-divorced comedy writer dating a 17-year-old girl. At the time of its release Allen also was twice divorced and 43, and while a man's art isn't always an imitation of his life one of the women featured in "Allen v. Farrow" alleges that Mariel Hemingway's "Manhattan" character is based on her.

The other version of that story is the one we already know, the tortured and squeamish "the heart wants what it wants" fairy tale that ends with Allen married to Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter. Farrow and Allen were still in a 12-year relationship when he and Previn conducted a secret affair that officially began while Previn was a freshman in college. According to witnesses who worked at Allen's apartment building and who are referenced in one episode, their sexual relationship was very much active while Soon-Yi was still in high school.

This is the part of Allen's mythology that people accept because millions of people have a favorite Woody Allen movie, or several; because he's a quirky artist, a writing and cinematic genius. His adopted daughter Dylan Farrow's 1992 sexual abuse allegations were buried and overlooked in the lurid coverage of Allen's affair with Soon-Yi, and the famed filmmaker's people successfully painted Mia Farrow as a woman scorned and a liar. (Allen consistently denies ever having abused Dylan.)

That is the case Dick and Ziering make in "Allen v. Farrow" which replays this history from Dylan's and Mia's points of view and is supported by several of Farrow's still-living children – including Fletcher Previn, Ronan Farrow, Frankie-Minh Farrow, Quincy Farrow and in audio-only clips, Daisy Previn.

Allen's side is presented via excerpts from the audiobook recording of his 2020 memoir "Apropos of Nothing." The series' filmmakers reached out to him, Soon-Yi and Moses Farrow, who eventually turned against his mother and accused her of being abusive. All of them declined to participate in the project.

Documentarians aren't obligated to be objective, and if you know Dick and Ziering's track record you can safely guess without seeing "Allen v. Farrow" that Woody Allen does not come off well here.

The filmmakers first came to national attention with their 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary "The Invisible War," a sobering account of the widespread sexual misconduct in the military and the near-total lack of recourse or support for victims. They applied the same critique of institutional failures to universities in 2015's "The Hunting Ground" and took on the music industry's propping up of rape culture in 2020's "On the Record."

None of these are facile examinations and each requires the filmmakers to piece together the victims' wrenching accounts and furiously mine documentation for whatever corroboration they can construct to make the most forceful case possible. The accused never agrees to give their side.

Mounting an attack against institutional failings is in some ways simpler, than taking on a Hollywood god, especially one who cultivates an image of being awkward, nerdy and clever. We expect systems to fail us, but afford special dispensation to the artists whose work speaks to our souls.

If there is a dividing line in "Allen v. Farrow" that separates the film from being a straight bullseye and a piece that somewhat leaves wriggling room for reasonable doubt, it is one drawn in the ink of the viewer's compassion.

"Allen v. Farrow" is necessarily an intimate tragedy laid bare for all to see, one in which an abuse survivor agrees to bare her scars again and again, bringing unwarranted agony down on her mother in the process. Seen as a family quilt sewn with cherished home movies and old photos, placed next to recently filmed shots of Farrow sequestered at the family's Connecticut retreat, the series is a devastating tragedy.

Taken as an assembly of documentation discrediting Allen, there's enough to back up Dylan's insistence that Allen sexually assaulted when she was seven years old, including Farrow's videotaped interview of a very young Dylan explaining what happened to her in the days after the event was alleged to have taken place.

The filmmakers polish the images' clarity in earliest episodes as the Farrows construct their portrait of family life, filtering the footage to look darker and fuzzier as Allen's shadow weighs heavier over them.

Then again, maybe that's the psychological effect of the head spinning at taking in everything that happens after Dylan's accusations go public. The recordings of phone conversations where he threatens to destroy Farrow, the step-by-step examination of all that led to the faulty Yale-New Haven Hospital report Allen made public to destroy Dylan and Mia's account, all of it chips away at Allen's credibility.

And there is valuable hindsight contributed by people like Connecticut prosecutor Frank Maco who found enough evidence to pursue a criminal case against Allen but did not out of fear of traumatizing Dylan. So the world moved on, and Allen continued to make movies.

A few production aspects of "Allen v. Farrow" are questionable, like the lack of clarity as to when Daisy's audio interview was recorded and the context in which her comments were offered. We're left to assume that the filmmakers could only persuade her to lend her thoughts without using her image, but how do we know they made those recordings?

"Allen v. Farrow" also whisks through its examination of media complicity and the susceptibility of the gossip machine, making it easy for public relations machines around powerful men to prop up predators and bury their victims' reputations. We know this to be true based on what we know about other powerful beastly people – Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves – and their influence the used to wield in newsrooms. But when the film insinuates that the New York mayor's office is behind the dismissal of a New York social worker's findings that Dylan's allegations were plausible there isn't anything to back that up beyond hearsay.

But you can't deny the reality of the adult Dylan Farrow's uncontrollable shuddering at the memory of her abuse. The rage you may feel at witnessing all of this and watching a succession of female performers praise Allen for all the thoughtful parts he wrote for women, or at Diane Keaton defending Allen in a Today show interview with Matt Lauer (of course!), is very real.

Scene after scene showing Hollywood's elite giving Allen standing ovations and praising his genius long after Dylan's case went public in 1992 take on a nauseating tone.

I may be one of the rare cinema lovers who never liked Woody Allen. "Allen v. Farrow" crystallizes why that is by revealing the sinister egomania fueling his vision as it shapes his art and the world around him. That makes me lucky because don't have to bargain with my conscience about the art and the artist. Given that he's preparing to direct his 51st film, which is being produced in Europe, I wonder how many people's affection for Allen will be affected by the case against him as it is presented here.

"Allen v. Farrow" premieres Sunday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m. on HBO.



Allen v. Farrow: Official Trailer | HBO www.youtube.com

'I finally got a fascist nutcase out of my bed': author recounts dumping her MyPillow

Thursday morning will forever be remembered as the first time in who knows how long that I woke up without neck pain, back pain and creaky joints. Untold millions may have awakened similarly refreshed, the result of a temporary relief that sanity has been restored the White House and the nuclear football is no longer in the hands of an unpredictable madman.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

But I credit this atypically sound night of sleep to an additional factor: I finally got a fascist nutcase out of my bed. In this respect I suppose my household may have something in common with Jane Krakowski.

According to a report in The Daily Mail, Krakowski secretly dated Mike Lindell, Donald Trump's weirdo bestie and inventor of the infamous MyPillow, for nine months. A statement from Krakowski's publicist to Page Six denies the story, stating "Jane has never met Mr. Lindell. She is not and has never been in any relationship with him, romantic or otherwise."

However if the tale turns out to be true at least she kept her alleged lapse in judgment brief; my husband and I have been resting our troubled heads on four MyPillows for the better part of a decade. Our only excuse is sheer laziness. (This paragraph has been updated.)

They were gifted to us by my mother-in-law, a devoted worshipper at the church of "As Seen TV," who first introduced Lindell's bestselling products to us during a hometown visit. Thanks to her, our lives have been blessed with many direct-to-consumer-marketed devices over the years, including but not limited to: one Snuggie, the Clapper, and countless packages of ShamWows.

Usually she sneaks them in under elaborate Christmas wrapping. In this instance, she secretly replaced the old pillows on her guest room bed with a pair of MyPillows with all the wily verve of an instant coffee taste tester. If memory serves, she asked how we slept, and we must have responded "fine" because she insistently sent us home with the two sacks of open-cell poly foam fill we slept on, shipping two more as presents later.

We didn't turn her down because our existing pillows were old and crappy, and here were four that perked right back up after a few cycles through the dryer.

Admittedly for a long time we didn't think our MyPillows were bad, mostly because we barely thought about any of the pillows we purchased before we got these. They were also free, which is a main reason the devil's fun bags lasted in our home for as long as they did despite the fact that they were yellowing, getting flatter and miserably irregular as time trudged on.

Still, they're also entirely machine washable.

But then Lindell tried to hawk overthrowing the government with all the slickness and subtlety of Wile E. Coyote trying to tiptoe away from an amateurish trap only to have it snap on his ankle, triggering an anvil to drop on his head. Following the elections he loudly peddled lies about widespread voting fraud involving Dominion machines; in response Dominion fluffed up a legal letter warning of pending litigation.

Lindell also funded buses to the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection in Washington D.C. And after it went over about as well as a post-taco Tuesday Dutch oven, he popped up at the White House with notions of convincing former president Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law.

At long last I looked at the offending nap cushions, turned to my husband and said, "I'm sorry, but we really need to get rid of these."

"I was thinking the same thing," he grimly muttered.

Could I have sauntered over to some big box store and picked from the replacement options there? Of course. Instead, for the first time in my life I decided to research my purchase instead of throwing my money at some down-stuffed floozy that would eventually make my life worse. More than this, I wanted some level of assurance that the manufacturer wasn't a complete kook. In other words, I decided to treat my pillow selection with more or less the same level of vetting I'd give the people I vote for, with the difference being I intended to sleep with it.

At the time we acquired our MyPillows neither my mother-in-law nor my husband nor I or suspect most of America had a clue as to the extent of Lindell's depravity. Back then – "then" probably being around 2013 or 2014 – Lindell was mainly known to insomniacs and convenience enthusiasts.

We placed him in the same category as Billy Mays, Ron Popeil and Vince Offer – fast-talking late night hucksters pushing products of variable usefulness. This one, promoted as "The Most Comfortable Pillow You'll Ever Own!" led Lindell to call himself a "sleep expert" and tout his American-made pillows as the solution to chronic neck and back pain, sleep apnea and an assortment of other bodily nags, ailments and chronic diseases.

These claims would eventually make him the subject of many lawsuits.

Anyway, even after Lindell started popping up next to the game-show host-turned-feckless authoritarian, even after he tried to sell poison as a snake oil COVID cure, we nervously assured ourselves that the money that funded our pillows was spent long ago and not by us.

This time the decision I made would be completely on me, so I decided to use a combination of consulting consumer evaluation lists and poking around a few "about us" sections of the recommended companies' sites. I cannot claim this to be anywhere close to a scientific method or on the same level as an investigative report. The only thing I knew is that I wanted those lumpy crimes out of my home, and I didn't want to trade them for a product supporting a company that might be somehow as bad as Lindell or possibly worse . . . but smarter because they remained quiet about it.

Here's the sad, honest truth: If Lindell hadn't loudly participated in multiple assaults on America's people and its democracy over the course of 2020, it's highly likely I would still be sleeping with the enemy. I am not proud of this.

Since I spent most of 2020 trying to ignore that crackbrain, several of his other abhorrent acts escaped my notice, including his assistance in bailing out Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with gunning down two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Yes, I know. I should have trashed the pillows then.

Let he or she who has never quenched their thirst with a Coca-Cola or a Fanta; used IBM products; quoted Coco Chanel or treated their illness with a drug manufactured by Bayer cast the first stone.

But capitalism follows some version of the comedy equation of tragedy plus time when it comes to persuading the masses to forget details like Nazi collaboration. Lindell's walrus-mustached face is up in our collective business right now, and at long last some companies are de-platforming him in the same way tech companies banished his messiah.

Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's, H-E-B and Wayfair have all dumped Lindell's products; Krakowski allegedly cut him loose last summer, and following a brief search for new bedding options so have I.

Kristin Wiig returns home to 'SNL' for a holiday edition rife with promise and peril

Whether the year in which they air has been defined by soaring highs or miserable flops, the holiday episodes of "Saturday Night Live" are . . . consistent. People who keep up with the long-running late night sketch series approach each December's jaunt with an air of anticipation if not outright excitement, particularly its year-ending episodes.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

For those, Lorne Michaels brings in the big gun hosts: Matt Damon left tinsel-sparkled memories in the wake of his 2018 appearance. Last year Eddie Murphy made headlines with his return to "SNL" and revived a number of his old hits, including Gumby; Mister Robinson, the down-on-his-luck double for Mister Rogers; and Buckwheat. Nightmarish as 2020 has been, 2019 wasn't exactly all strippers and parades either, making Murphy's return welcome if not a shoot-the-moon performance. That his stint was largely composed of retreads was beside the point – we were simply happy for a visit from a friendly face from way back when.

That brings us to Kristen Wiig, the latest returning "Saturday Night Live" alumnus to tuck the show into its midseason nap. Since exiting the sketch show, Wiig has expanded her repertoire to include bonafide dramas, and on Christmas Day she'll be tearing into Wonder Woman as The Cheetah in "Wonder Woman 1984." Our expectations for her this weekend are much simpler.

Wiig is her "SNL" class' Kate McKinnon equivalent, the clutch player with dozens of characters and impressions under her belt. This all but guarantees a troop through past seasons and a few clapter-inspiring cameos from her famous cohorts. Maya Rudolph is already nearby, what with her impression of Kamala Harris saving Jim Carrey's disastrous Joe Biden parody on the regular. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler might pop in too.

As likely are signature character revivals that fit the season: Gilly? Target Lady? Dooneese? They can climb down that list like a ladder, and they will. In the way of all half-glass empty optimists, I am bracing to be underwhelmed with the expectation that Wiig will clear the middle rung where I've placed the bar. It's also 2020, and I'm not in the mood to be taxed by anything anymore. Bring on Wiig's Judy Grimes playing "Black Jeopardy," why not? Like everyone else I'll be watching with my head on a pillow from a prone and deflated position.

Closing out the year with old friends coming back to "SNL" isn't a regular gift, but they have done it a few times over its 46 seasons, and it's an easy win. Among the alums who came back to ring in the holiday with viewers are Bill Murray (in 1981), Jimmy Fallon (2011 and 2013), Martin Short (2012) and Fey and Poehler in 2015. Murphy has seen out the old year three times now, hosting in 1982 and 1984 when he was at the height of his powers. One imagines these homecomings to be something of an easy walk for the writers, particularly with a host like Wiig. Hand her some doll arms and an off-putting elf suit and you've got a fine way to kill 10 minutes.

We're all due an easy win, a bit of midwinter's rest. And surely many of us are curious as to how "Saturday Night Live" will enter 2021 now that the man Alec Baldwin has been clowning for years now is getting booted from the White House and – fate willing – our screens, newsfeeds and subconscious.

Baldwin's Donald Trump facsimile was tremendous for "Saturday Night Live" in the administration's early years and a simple magnet for giggles before the novelty wore thin. The sketch show's fall return did not ignore the election but retrained the spotlight on Carrey and Rudolph's Biden/Harris ticket, a dicey proposition since the audience loves Rudolph and was less enamored of Carrey's Biden. But as of Saturday we won't have the "Kidding" star to kick around anymore: he announced his retirement from portraying the president-elect on Twitter.

Over the last few episodes the creative stagnation in the scripts has become tougher to countenance but forgivable; the cast, crew and writers lived through the same year as everyone else, and if the skits were flat, no one could blame them.

Bringing back Wiig at the end of this stretch is a good thing. Her appearance also underscores the promise and peril of these alumni returns, though – they spark our nostalgia for what was and make us notice the ways in which the present cannot live up to the past.

This weekend, though, Wiig also has an opportunity to remind us that the time will soon be here when we may not be wrung out on a Saturday night following a week of processing multiple acts of dangerous, heartless stupidity committed by our leaders. Maybe she'll be able reassure us that a shift in our mood lurks but a few weeks away instead of years.

Perhaps whatever goodwill she can engender will inspire everyone at "Saturday Night Live" to aim to be something beyond imitative and reactionary. Wiig once observed, "When you go out of your comfort zone and it works there's nothing more satisfying." She's not wrong . . . and we so badly want to be satisfied by "Saturday Night Live" in the coming year.

The final "Saturday Night Live" episode of 2020, hosted by Kristen Wiig, airs Saturday, live at 11:30 p.m. ET/ 8:30 p.m. PT on NBC.

Masquerading as a right-wing news outlet, Newsmax's dull repetitiveness is stupefying — and intentional

Home shopping networks exist beyond the critic's purview. They just sort of do what they do with low production value, living or dying on the charms of their hosts. Plus, it's widely understood that despite announcers' assurances that what they're selling is solid and true, the real deal, much of what they're hawking is of questionable quality.

Absorbing hour after hour of Newsmax made me contemplate the great American appeal of home shopping consumerism and its strong attraction to the emotionally vulnerable, people seeking out that unknown item to fill some gap in their life they cannot name. Newsmax mimics that approach, only instead of dealing in sleeved blankets and cut-rate gemstones, it sells concentrated alarmism and far-right extremist fantasy.

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'All of that noise is destructive': Shep Smith reflects on Fox News and the war on truth

At several points during Salon's recent conversation with CNBC anchor Shepard Smith, he talks about noise. "The noise is just so loud. You've got have some quiet time," he said, referring to the space he carves out for himself during the workday when he retreats to his spartan office, puts his feet up and listens to music to harvest a little peace from the day's cacophony.

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'The Reagans' shows how the Gipper paved the way for politicians pretending they aren't racist

Forty years after Ronald Reagan's ascent to the presidency his legacy is still treated with kid gloves. Centrist Democrats seeking to find common ground with Republicans quote him as if he were a saint, the modern example of a conservative with bipartisan appeal save for, you know, a few mistakes he could not recall. In 2003 CBS was set to air a fictionalized miniseries that romanticized Ronald and Nancy Reagan but was hounded by the GOP until the network shunted it off to Showtime, the same network airing Matt Tyrnauer's new docuseries "The Reagans,"

"The Reagans" doesn't adequately dig into who Ron and Nancy were or tell us much of anything we don't already know about them within its four hours. But at some point somebody should.

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What's next now that Trumpism needs Fox News more than Fox News needs Donald Trump?

In the recent past a person may have dared to imagine a world with a significantly muted Donald Trump. Nearly 78 million voters pushed to make that a reality, spurred on in no small part by the desire to simply shut him up. That's understandable. The man takes up a lot of mental real estate whether people want him to or adamantly do not.However, that dream is predicated on the notion that the media organizations serving as Trump's megaphone – Fox News, in the main – would wean themselves off of the endless mutual ego-stroking that joined man and network at the hip over the last five years.

But with around 73 million voters indicating their comfort with another four years of Trump's madness, the one certainty is that while Trump may recede from the center of our lives, Trumpism isn't going anywhere. The difference, at least for Fox, will be in finding and anointing the next star for the right wing to rally around.

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Meghan McCain Nation: Anyone baffled at how Trump's margin among white women went up hasn't been watching 'The View'

On the day after the election, Meghan McCain was feeling nostalgic. Accompanying an Instagram graphic that urges, among other observations, "Vote for whomever, but it will be up to us to rebuild the division this political process has established by being decent, respectful, kind, loving, supportive, and compassionate human beings during these trying times" were a few of McCain's personal thoughts.

"My first Election Day without my dad is my first with my daughter Liberty. Feeling overwhelmed with nostalgia and warm sentiments about the circle of life. . . " she wrote.

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Fox News was in a 'purple haze' on election night until Trump's wild claims gave them clarity

In the midst of Fox News' prime time Election Day coverage, network anchor Chris Wallace advised his colleagues to approach all reporting on vote returns with caution.

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Trump's town hall is just another ratings ploy from 'The Apprentice' network

Never forget that when it comes to the phrase "news business" the word that carries the most weight is "business."

Speaking of which – and not coincidentally – avid fans of "The Apprentice" in its heyday may recall Donald Trump's second-favorite catchphrase, after "you're fired", was some variation of, "It's nothing personal, it's just business."

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The traumatizing terror of Trump's debate performance: We just witnessed an assault on democracy

Let's talk about trauma.That term has made the rounds extensively over the last decade or two, and to a particularly heightened degree within the last four. No coincidence there, considering the rise of the #MeToo movement and the national televised hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleging that he sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.But that event opened old wounds across the nation while also leading to profound and nuanced discussions about the lasting impact of trauma on its victims — particularly the way that trauma plays havoc with the memory save for a few horrifying details.

Trauma's shock can numb us to the horrors in which we're engulfed, sometimes to the point of creating feelings of intense disturbance around events, places and practices that are under normal circumstances completely safe. Only those who deal out trauma or deny its existence dismiss its impact — that is, if they even acknowledge they've traumatized anyone.

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'There's no agreement on facts': Filmmaker Alex Gibney's look at Russian interference shows how weak American democracy is

Hacking our democracy was distressingly easy. Alex Gibney's two-part documentary series "Agents of Chaos" on HBO leaves no room to argue otherwise. By the end of Gibney's four-hour examination of how the Russians interfered with our elections, the filmmaker has explained the connections between Russia's takeover in Ukraine and its own suppression of dissent to our own government's tactics in 2020, and the cyber assault on our voter databases and the Democratic National Committee's servers is laid out with equal precision.

But the part of the story that really stands to rob a person of any shred of trust in our system's resilience is the notion that a sizeable amount of Russia's success in aiding Donald Trump's election can be attributed to the efforts of social media trolls groping around in the dark, finding the weak spots in our society, and splitting them open with a maul . . . and that they were funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, "Putin's Chef" a former fast food salesman who kept on failing upward.

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Is Trump mentally unstable? Mental health professionals, historians, George Conway & the Mooch all say yes

Let us presume that if you intend to watch "#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump" you probably agree with director Dan Partland's angle. That also means nothing the firm's experts have to say about their impressions of the man or his fitness to govern is particularly revelatory.Instead, think of the film as an 83-minute warning against handing another four years of the presidency to Trump, spelled out by an assortment of mental health professionals, historians, experts on authoritarianism, a former intelligence officer . . . and Lincoln Project co-founder George Conway and former Trump super pal Anthony Scaramucci.

Right about now maybe you need to hear from these people about as much as you may be hankering for another four days of the GOP's lie-tastic tent revival.

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Forget the headliners: Night 2 of the DNC featured America's true heroes and stars

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Chuck Todd haters: We take your point – but it doesn't look like he's going anywhere

Hating on Chuck Todd is easy 'cause he's terrible.

That's the general consensus at which Twitter has arrived about the MSNBC host and "Meet the Press" moderator. And at the risk of arousing the rage of the social media mob, it's not quite fair.

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