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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

HBO’s ‘Bad Education’: the full review

Movie theaters remain closed, at least for the time being, and so we movie fans continue to do what we can both to see movies and support our favorite theaters. For me, that largely means streaming movies that provide the Magic Lantern with some needed revenue.

But I watch movie through other streaming services, too. Here's my latest review of an HBO film, which I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Some actors are born to play certain roles. John Wayne, for example, was the perfect choice to play Ethan Edwards in “The Searchers.” No one but Julie Andrews could have played Maria in “The Sound of Music.” Same for Heath Ledger as The Joker in “The Dark Knight.”

And, seriously, what other actor could have pulled off the “Ezekiel 25:17” speech in “Pulp Fiction” better than Samuel L. Jackson?

The thought of certain actors perfectly cast in certain roles came to me last week as I caught an afternoon showing of “Logan,” starring Hugh Jackman, the 2017 film directed and co-written by James Mangold – and the final installment in the so-called “Wolverine” trilogy, which includes 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and 2013’s “The Wolverine.”

Jackman, I realized, was born to play The Wolverine – and especially the elderly version of the mutant character featured in “Logan.”

That’s saying something, actually, considering how varied the Australian actor’s skills are. Not only does he look good without a shirt – something my late brother used to refer to as the Captain Kirk Clause – but as “Les Miserables” and “The Greatest Showman” prove, he can sing and dance.

Moreover, he can play light comedy, be convincing in both romantic and action leads and, as films such as “The Prestige” and “Prisoners” show, he can do straight drama.

Unfortunately, his range hasn’t always worked in his favor because, at times, the film industry hasn’t known what to do with him. And he, or at least his agency, hasn’t made the best choices. Remember “Kate & Leopold”? Or “Australia”?

I do, though I wish I could forget both of them.

And so when I learned that Jackman was cast in the lead role in “Bad Education,” an HBO film directed by Cory Finley and based on the true story of a New York school superintendent who embezzled millions of dollar from his district, I wondered if he could pull it off.

Jackman plays Frank Tassone, a guy who has everything. Or seemingly so. Always impeccably dressed, someone who can recall a parent’s name at will, able both to charm an auditorium full of adoring fans and to win over the most needy of soccer moms, Tassone is everybody’s best friend.

He maintains this façade – and, yes, it is a façade – because he is able to use his innate charm to improve the district’s ranking, both bettering its students’ chances of getting into elite universities and, in the process, upgrading the property values of those same students’ parents.

At the same time, however, he is stealing the district blind – maintaining both a swanky Manhattan apartment and a house in Las Vegas, taking expensive vacations and using district funds to pay for anything he wants, including cosmetic surgery.

And he isn’t the only one. His financial officer, Pam Gluckin (played by Allison Janney), is stealing, too, paying for a beach house and other amenities.

Yet when a nosy high-school reporter begins investigating, and things start to fall apart, Tassone blames the whole mess on Gluckin, massages the egos of the school board – especially the board president (played by Ray Romano) – and manages to stave off his own ruin. For the moment.

Eventually, though, Tassone’s scheme falls apart. And the question remains: How is it possible for good people to fall prey to the wiles of someone who lies to their faces while stealing everything he can?

Finley, working from a screenplay that Mike Makowsky constructed largely from a New York Magazine article, never does find a satisfactory answer, other than the age-old cliché that people seldom see beyond their own personal wants and needs. And, to my mind at least, he ends up being a bit too forgiving of Tassone. 

Still, he gets great work from Jackman, who captures the perfect nuances typical of a born con-man with a talent for self-preservation. And if Frank Tassone isn’t exactly a role he was born to play, it’s certainly one that he does as well as anyone could.