Bad Education. The story behind the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history is the subject of the latest HBO original film. Hugh Jackman stars as Frank Tassone, the beloved superintendent of the Roslyn school system whose hands on relationships with the students, parents and faculty leads them to become the 4th best district in the nation. Allison Janney plays Pam Gluckin, the district business manager and Tassone’s closest ally and confidante. When sophomore Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Biswanathan) starts what was intended to be a fluff piece for the school newspaper, she unlocks a web of deceit and theft that would forever alter everyone involved. Mike Makowsky – who was in Roslyn’s middle school when the scandal broke – has written a screenplay that skillfully peels away the deception and hypocrisy. But it also gives the primary characters enough depth and nuance that make you have some understanding behind their motivations. Jackman gives one of the best performances of his career as Tassone, who slowly moves from confident and assuring, to calculating and conniving with a subtlety that is truly astonishing. Janney’s performance as Gluckin is the exact opposite – Rocking the Long Island accent, Janney is pitch perfect as Gluckin, who, unlike Tassone, is pretty open about her excesses and her rationale behind them. With dynamic turns by Biswanathan (as the young reporter who uncovers the widespread theft), and Ray Romano (as school board president Bob Spicer), along with superb direction by Corey Finley, this is a film that should receive strong consideration during awards season. Bad Education is available now on HBO.
My Darling Vivian. Vivian Liberto’s role in Johnny Cash’s life has often been portrayed negatively – when it’s been discussed at all. Director Matt Littlehoover looks to shed new light on this missing chapter in the Cash narrative with this new documentary. With full access to Liberto’s home movies and 1000 letters that Cash and Liberto wrote each other while Cash was in the Air Force, Littlehoover tells how their devotion to one another just happened to coincide with Cash’s career ascension. But as Cash’s star rose, touring demands, his growing drug addiction, and Liberto’s bouts with depression, ultimately ended their 13 year marriage. The film also shows how Liberto had to privately endure a series of public humiliations: having to go to court to prove her Italian-American heritage to stop a wave of cancelled tour dates in the South – and to end death threats from the KKK; being excommunicated from the Catholic Church after she divorced Cash; and, worse of all, having her role in raising their four daughters – which she basically did by herself – all but erased and reimagined after Cash married June Carter. Though the remembrances from Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara Cash are absolutely devastating at times, they do balance it out with stories that capture her warmth, resilience, and love that she shared for them, grandchildren and, for Cash, despite the fact that both remarried. Littlehoover has crafted a dynamic portrait that correctly gives a balanced perspective of a key figure in the career and life arc of a country music giant. My Darling Vivian is available on Amazon Prime through May 6th.
Adventures In Moviemaking. For the latest installment of the Criterion Channel series, host Peter Becker sits down with Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time, Uncut Gems) to discuss how their father fueled their love of movies, finding their own voice as filmmakers, favorite New York movies and much more. To see two young filmmakers have such an expansive depth and knowledge of cinema spanning several generations – much of which is reflected in their work – should give fans hope that the future is indeed bright. They pack a lot into the episode and you wish it could have gone on longer. Adventures In Moviemaking with the The Safdie Brothers is available now on The Criterion Channel.
Betty. After the success of the film Skate Kitchen, writer-director Crystal Moselle adapts many of that film’s aesthetics to this new six part HBO series. Set in New York City during the summer, it follows a diverse group of young women skaters trying to find their place in a male-dominated world. There’s the sharp, no-nonsense Janay (Dede Lovelace); her super chill until things are not chill Kirt (Nina Moran); the stylish filmmaker Honeybear (Moonbear); the cool, weed vape pen dealing Indigo (Amani Russell) and Camille, a skilled skater who continuously tries to prove her worth to the boys within their circle. Using downtown New York as a backdrop, Moselle captures the vibrancy and energy of being a city kid hanging with friends, looking for love, a good time and, of course, acceptance among their skating peers. It’s another promising new series from the HBO camp. Betty airs Friday nights at 11pm on HBO.
Good Souls, Better Angels by Lucinda Williams. Lucinda Williams wouldn’t have known that a global pandemic was happening, but for her latest studio album – her first in 4 years – it sounds like most of the material was written over the past few months. Her biting critique of the President, ‘Man Without A Soul, has been getting a lot of attention, but the rest of the album is loaded with stinging observations of a world gone wrong (‘Bad News Blues’, ‘Bone Of Contention’); abusive relationships (‘Wakin’ Up); and extended dark meditations that look for light at the end of a very dark tunnel (‘Big Black Train’, ‘Pray The Devil Back To Hell’, ‘Shadows & Doubts’, ‘When The Way Gets Dark’). 40 years after her debut, Williams is still at the top of her game, anchoring a band that effortlessly shifts from bar room rockers, back alley blues and moody, jazz-infused ballads – all with a defiant, punk rock edge bubbling underneath. It’s another winner from a singer-songwriter who never disappoints. Good Souls, Better Angels by Lucinda Williams is available now through Amazon, Apple Music and all major streaming outlets.
Stay home, donate to someone who needs it, help a friend, check in on someone stay six feet away, and wear a face covering. See above.