‘Bad Education’ Review: A contemplative fraud drama, with extra credit for Hugh Jackman’s stellar performance

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

There’s a solid chance you’ll be reminded of yesteryear’s college admissions bribery scandal – and the strange swirl of unbelievability, irony and contempt that came with it – when watching Cory Finley’s exceptionally nuanced “Bad Education,” which premieres on HBO Saturday night. Some familiar questions might also resurrect themselves as the real-life history of embezzlement by Hugh Jackman’s corrupt Long Island school administrator is uncovered (don’t worry—that’s not a spoiler so much as the “how” and “what’s next”) in a community where affluence is practically the high school mascot. How could they even consider this? Haven’t they got it easy enough? What’s the end game? 

The answers aren’t so simple. And the parts of the story that are even less simple is what Finley and screenwriter Mike Makowsky are interested in—the ethical thicket that leads people like William SingerLori Loughlin and Jackman’s Frank Tassone to take advantage of systems that are practically begging to be taken advantage of. “Bad Education” is a white-collar caper loaded with moral ambiguity – though the film itself isn’t morally ambiguous – lifted up by marvelous performances and powered by a surprising amount of thematic depth that makes Finley’s “Thoroughbreds” follow-up as enticing to pick apart as it is satisfying to watch. The dollar amount of Frank’s misdeeds numbered in the millions, but that figure isn’t the end-all, be-all as you’d normally expect from these stories. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Three Identical Strangers,’ you only think you know what you’re in for

We typically enter documentaries in a different mindset, a different approach than with typical Hollywood fare.

Familiarity bypasses anticipation not by way of absent excitement, but rather because we expect to delve deeper into a subject we’re already at least somewhat familiar with. Earlier this year, the melancholic “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” underwent that route to excellent ends.

“Three Identical Strangers,” however, defies that expectation. If you know this story, chances are you only know how it begins. As has become customary in the age of instant gratification and mistaking 280 characters on Twitter for a news story, we rarely follow up on the flavor of the 5-minute trend – and that’s where the film seizes its chance to captivate. Continue reading →