Lewis John Carlino and Yukio Mishima‘s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (’76) was crap from the get-go. Kids killing a sea captain because he gives up sailing in order to become a landlubber husband…bullshit. Mishima’s fixation upon disembowelment and ritual sacrifice…gimme a break. In the view of John Simon the film was “very pretty to look at, but made absolutely no sense.” But what could the idea have been behind this poster? The film is a dour machismo metaphor of some kind, and yet Kris Kristofferson looks like he’s dancing.
The metaphor of Greg Stillson, the lunatic presidential candidate in Stephen King and David Cronenberg‘s The Dead Zone, is as American as apple pie — a flag-waving monster sociopath. Many believe that Stillson and Donald Trump are cut from the same cloth. Nine and a half years ago I noted that Sarah Palin seemed Stillson-esque on a certain level. So we all know the drill. Now King has said in so many words that Stillson is Trump and vice versa.
From a 4.26 N.Y. Times Magazine interview with author and twitter-hound from Maine:
Last weekend I saw HBO’s Bad Education, a somewhat riveting, fact-based drama about a bizarre heist in plain sight. The focus is the infamous Roslyn embezzlement scandal of the early aughts. But I couldn’t get it up when I tried to write about it. This was because I couldn’t quite comprehend the insanely self-destructive acts of administrative thievery that this film is…well, partly about.
It’s also about the generally insane notion that living high on the hog is everything in life, and that all you need to sleep through this kind of brazen flim-flamming is a little vial of denial.
I understand Butch and Sundance robbing banks in the old days. I understand the gangs who stole jewels in Rififi and Topkapi. I can relate to the British thugs who pulled off the Great Train Robbery of 1963. Because they all thought they had a decent chance of getting away with it. Why rob anyone or anything if you can’t escape the law, right? But I can’t fathom how or why a pair of senior school administrators expected to get away with stealing over $6 million from a prosperous school district in Roslyn, Long Island — the largest public school embezzlement in American history.
Bad Education is about Roslyn’s secretly gay and deeply frustrated school district superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant superintendent and business administrator Pamela Gluckin (Allison Janney) using taxpayer money to buy homes, travel all over, wear swell duds, drive pricey cars, get plastic surgery touch-ups (although not in Prague) and so on. And then wave it all off when questioned by whomever
When Gluckin’s embezzling was exposed, Tassone forced her to resign and surrender her license. But then a reporter for the school’s newspaper uncovered what she thought was a $250K embezzlement scheme involving both of them. The actual figure was much higher. Tassone had pocketed $2.2 million from school district coffers, and Gluckin admitted to stealing almost double that — $4.3 million.
In ’06 Tassone was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison, although he was released in 2010. Gluckin, sentenced to 3 to 9 years in ’06, was released a year later. She died in 2017. Tassone is living comfortably on a lifetime annual pension of $173,495.
Yes, Jackman’s portrayal of Tassone is slick and sad and altogether engaging, and the role is one of his best-written. But he’s playing an incomprehensible sociopath, and I kept asking myself “who believes they can get away with this kind of pilfering? Stuff like this always comes out in the wash sooner or later. It’s all tracable, all on the books…just a matter of time.”
Cory Finley‘s direction is so confident and smooth that it’s invisible. Mike Makowsky‘s highly arresting script is based on “The Bad Superintendent,” a 9.17.04 New York article by Robert Kolker. I read Kolker’s piece as soon as my viewing ended, of course. Here’s an excerpt:
Earlier today, the Academy’s board of governors approved a temporary relaxation of the rule stipulating that a film needs a seven-day theatrical run in L.A. County to qualify for the Oscars. This is transitional but whoa-level historic. For the first time in Hollywood history films that have never seen the light of a projector lamp will be able to scoop up an Oscar or two at the Kodak theatre.
The reason, of course, is the awful, soul-stifling, lifeforce-draining pandemic.
Exhibitors were already on life support and gasping for air due to theatre closings — now they’re having sequential heart attacks. They know that in the affairs of all institutions “temporary” often means “mostly temporary unless, you know, things change or whatever.” The operative phrase is “the thin end of the wedge.”
Variety: “[This] doesn’t mean, however, that any movie premiering on a streaming service is eligible for Oscar gold. To be considered, the streamed film must have already had a planned theatrical release. The film must also be made available on the Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release”
AMPAS president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson, in a letter sent to Academy members: “The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules. The Academy supports our members and colleagues during this time of uncertainty. We recognize the importance of their work being seen and also celebrated, especially now, when audiences appreciate movies more than ever.”
I’ve now watched four episodes of Mrs. America, the nine-episode FX/Hulu miniseries about the ’70s battle over the Equal Rights Amendment, and particularly the conflict between second-wave feminists (Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Jill Ruckleshaus) who fought for passage and the primly conservative Middle American coalition (led by Phyllis Schlafly) who opposed and, sad to say, ultimately won.
All I can say is that I’m hooked, and that I wouldn’t dare miss an episode from here on. It’s a vital watch. There’s a right and a wrong way to make a miniseries out of a blend of recent history and an issue that was once hot-button but has since been bypassed by time and circumstance, and Mrs. America knows exactly how to deal the cards. It’s a model of tight narrative focus, convincing period realism and absolute grade-A performances from the leads — Cate Blanchett (Schlafly), Rose Byrne (Steinem), Tracey Ullman (Friedan), Uzo Aduba (Chisholm), etc. Hell, from the whole cast.
Blanchett will be Emmy-nominated, I’m presuming, but so will Ullman in a supporting category.
A creation of screenwriter Dahvi Walker (Desperate Housewives, Madmen, Eli Stone), Mrs. America just tells the story on a chapter-by-chapter basis — no tricks or curve balls, straight and plain — a story of how the ERA didn’t quite get there, I mean, and how the personalities of all of these high-powered women clashed and grooved and accommodated or didn’t, etc.
Everything really looks and feels like the ’70s in this series. Not pretend-faux ’70s, but the actual genuine decade as it talked, walked, smelled and tasted. The opening credits sequence nails the zetgeist cold.
Plus I feel as if I’ve learned a few things. I didn’t know Betty Friedan was that much of a drinker. I didn’t know Schlafly’s son was gay. I didn’t know about Steinem’s black boyfriend, Franklin Thomas.
The trailers and copy led everyone to believe that Blanchett is the centerpiece of Mrs. America, but Phyllis Schlafly isn’t that much of a dominating force. She’s the steely villain of the piece, the troublemaker, the Midwestern monster. But Blanchett mainly serves a strong ensemble. Byrne and Ullman make just as strong of an impression.
Walker’s primary strategy is to use each episode (nine in all, ending on 5.27) to explore the views and vantage points of the leads — Schlafly, Steinem, Chisholm, Friedan, Abzug, et. al.
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleckk have directed four episodes. Amma Asante and Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre have directed two each. A singe episode (#8) was directed by Janicza Bravo.
I loved the big debate scene between Schlafly and Friedan at Illinois State University in Bloomington, which happened in ’73. Schlafly repeats a much-quoted remark aout por-ERA feminists being “a bunch of bitter women seeking a constitutional cure for their personal problems.” Friedan responds by calling out Schlafly for “hypocrisy” and telling her “I’d like to burn you at the stake” and “I consider you a traitor to your sex…I consider you an Aunt Tom.”
At no time during the first four episodes was I even slightly bored or distracted or checking my watch. It holds, engages, feels right.