‘Totally Under Control’ review: New Alex Gibney documentary offers an incisive and infuriating critique of the Trump administration’s inept coronavirus response.

And now, he brings us “Totally Under Control,” an incisive, lucid and infuriating critique of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that Gibney co-directed with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger. In the old days of film stock and editing room, we’d say that this timely narrative has arrived “dripping wet.” Indeed, this is such an up-to-the-minute account that the filmmakers were able to add a dismally ironic postscript that, just a day after completing the movie, President Trump himself would be diagnosed with covid-19.

Obeying the meticulous, metronomic rhythms of a classic procedural, “Totally Under Control” takes viewers back to what seems like another age, when a mysterious flu in Wuhan, China, was ravaging that community. Starting with the first known case in Washington state, the pandemic arrives on U.S. shores, and the misjudgments, missed opportunities and scrambled responses begin. Tests are hurriedly prepared but prove faulty, and an easy fix is inexplicably overlooked; the federal government pits states against each other in an obscene bidding war for badly-needed supplies; American citizens are given confusing and contradictory messages about the severity of the disease and the most appropriate ways to fight it; tough lessons learned by the previous administration, which battled its own outbreaks, are abandoned in favor of an ad hoc, often incoherent, reinvention of myriad wheels.

Meanwhile, the fatalities pile up. In addition to creating a concise, tonally understated compendium of damning facts and figures, “Totally Under Control” provides a useful comparison with South Korea, which the filmmakers present in side-by-side scenes: In the United States, people come to blows over whether to wear masks while in Seoul, a rapid-response testing and tracing program keeps outbreaks to a minimum and a complete economic shutdown at bay.

To anyone who has followed the news of the pandemic, “Totally Under Control” doesn’t break much news — although one of its most piquant moments features a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy providing a firsthand description of the shambolic, all-volunteer supply-chain effort overseen by Jared Kushner to procure personal protection equipment. Rick Bright, who recently resigned his post as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, is particularly convincing as the kind of apolitical technocrat that the Trump administration seems singularly threatened by. Taison Bell, a physician at the University of Virginia, delivers moving testimony, not just regarding the devastating effects of covid-19, but its disproportionate effect on communities of color.

Gibney and his team were intent on releasing “Totally Under Control” before the election, although it’s difficult to discern whether it will tip any scales (although it will be hard for Forever Trumpers to ignore mask manufacturer Michael Bowen, whose pleas to the president for whom he voted to ramp up production go unheeded). Matters of objective science and empirical observation have now become so mired in partisanship, authoritarian narrative and conspiracy blather that even a film this judicious and straightforwardly informative feels doomed to reach no further than its own self-selected constituency. Should open-minded viewers decide

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‘Totally Under Control’: a title, definitely not a description of the White House COVID response

These kids weren’t working for the task force. They were the task force. “In the entire time I was a volunteer,” says Kennedy, “our team did not purchase a single mask.”

“Totally Under Control” comes to us from the tireless documentarian Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” the Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side”), here collaborating with Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger. Originally scheduled for release in early November, the movie was bumped up to Oct. 13 following the news of President Trump’s COVID-19 infection. You can watch it on demand or via a virtual screening at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which will be hosting a filmmaker Q&A on Oct. 14.

The movie is enraging, necessary, and above all, useful. The year of our dark lord 2020 has brought so many daily outrages that it has become easy to lose sight of the big picture; exhausted by each new revelation of incompetence and denial, we fall off the back of the truck and let the news roll on without us. By simply reconnecting the dots and reminding us of exactly where failure lies, a movie like this is valuable.

From "Totally Under Control."
From “Totally Under Control.”Neon

Where failure lies, says “Totally Under Control,” is with Donald Trump’s White House. Structured as a straightforward chronology — what the news business calls a tick-tock — the film starts in January of this year, as rumors of a “Wuhan pneumonia” started moving through epidemiological and public health circles. It’s a little shocking how long ago that seems yet how quickly the situation deteriorated: The first US case, in Seattle, appeared on Jan. 20; a day or two later, the president told a reporter at Davos “We have it under control.”

That was nonsense, of course. Created during previous administrations, a playbook called “Crimson Contagion” specifically detailed how to combat just this sort of pandemic; it was ignored. Using an enclosed camera set-up wryly dubbed a “COVID-cam,” the filmmakers interview a series of on-the-ground experts about what went wrong, when, and because of whom. Dr. Rick Bright, the former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which handles procurement, talks of a Trump political appointee cutting a program to manufacture N95 masks with the comment “I just don’t see a sense of urgency.”

What becomes palpably clear watching “Totally Under Control” is that a bureaucracy already stacked against rapid response was made infinitely worse by the politicization of the crisis and the gutting of the civil service by the Trump White House. We hear how an Emergency Use Authorization employed to rush out flawed test kits from the CDC then made it impossible to alter those tests so they could be used; lesson learned, Bright later used an EUA to slow down the process when the president demanded the unproven “Trump drug” hydroxychloroquine be made available to the general public.

The filmmakers paint a portrait of an administration of clueless businessmen ignoring the unignorable while the medical and

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Christina Anstead Tries a Totally New Kitchen Design: Will It Catch On?


Christina Anstead of “Flip or Flop” fame has made a name for herself with her modern coastal designs. But as is clear from her new show, “Christina on the Coast,” she doesn’t always stick to her signature styles. How does she do outside her comfort zone?

In the latest episode, “Boho Flair,” Anstead is working with Sabrina and Miguel, who want her to design the kitchen and living room in their Anaheim Hills, CA, home. They have a healthy renovation budget of $70,000, but their project comes with an unusual challenge. With some areas of the house already renovated, Anstead has to match the existing boho style so her upgrades won’t seem out of place.


While boho is not Anstead’s strong suit, she’s game to give it a try. Here’s how she manages to mix and match decor styles, which might inspire some ideas in your own abode, too.



Matching kitchen cabinets and floors: A new trend?

kitchen
This all-wood look is beautiful!

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In an effort to match Sabrina’s artistic style, Anstead decides to take a design risk we’ve never seen her take before: She plans to refinish the kitchen cabinets to match the new wood floors.

wood floors
These cabinets match the wood floors perfectly!

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“In order for all the wood to work, all the stains need to complement each other,” Anstead says. “Otherwise, it’s going to feel random.”

When the cabinets are finally finished, the look is incredible. It’s certainly a lot of wood for one kitchen, but it looks great.

Go for paneled appliances

refrigerator
This refrigerator blends right in with the cabinets.

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With refinished cabinets that match the wood floor, Anstead has firmly established a boho look. Still, she decides to take the look one step further by paneling the fridge with the same material!

“This is one of the first times I’ve done a paneled refrigerator,” Anstead admits. But despite her lack of fridge paneling experience, the result is beautiful.

“It doesn’t even look like a refrigerator. It just looks like a piece of furniture,” Sabrina says.

Break up the boho look with industrial accents

pendant lights
Christina Anstead chose the perfect pendant lights.

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While Sabrina loves boho style, Miguel likes the industrial look, so Anstead is sure to bring in some details for the kitchen. One of those is the pendant lights above the sink—simple and sleek, perfect for this space.


When Sabrina first sees the lights, she’s certainly impressed.

“Those are so beautiful,” she says, “and again, they have that modern with a little bit of that industrial—because of the black.”

When the lights are finally installed, they look perfect. This kitchen is a fabulous combination of both of Sabrina and Miguel’s styles.

Know the right spot for a sink

kitchen
Before, this kitchen felt closed off.

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Often designers organize a kitchen layout so that the sink is situated by the window. It’s usually a great choice because the homeowner can look

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