• by Wes Singleton

A few short movie reviews

Well, life has changed drastically in the last 6 weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including going to the movie theater for movies, which explains my absence from reviews. I've been watching far more TV (and I'm not usually a TV guy), but I have caught a few movies recently. Here are some short reviews.

Extraction - Netflix

Rated R, 118 minutes

Grade: C

Extraction is the flashy new Netflix Chris Hemsworth (Thor) action thriller, produced by the Russo Brothers (Anthony and Joe), who directed many of the Avengers films and directed Marvel movie stuntman Sam Hargrave in his directorial feature debut.

I could describe Extraction in a few words: bullets, brawn and buckets and buckets of blood. Hemsworth carries the film, about rescuing the son of a kidnapped crime lord. While it's entertaining in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, it's also hardly surprising and mostly forgettable, thanks to an excessive amount of violence and blood, including the overlong finale, which is one of the bloodiest things I've seen onscreen in recent memory.

Blow the Man Down - Prime Video

Rated R, 91 minutes

Grade: B+

Blow the Man Down is the low-key, low-budget and clever dark crime dramedy from newcomers Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, who directed and wrote the film that is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Sisters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla Connolly (Sophie Lowe) attempt to cover up a gruesome run-in with a dangerous man. To conceal their crime, the sisters must go deep into the criminal underbelly of their Maine hometown, uncovering the town's darkest secrets.

Funny, dark and wholly original, Blow the Man Down has an edgy Coen Brothers feel to it, with some enjoyable, subtle twists and turns. It comes recommended, especially to see one of my favorite character actresses, Emmy-winner Margo Martindale, steal the movie as a delightfully bad madam. The singing fisherman is also a nice touch. Definitely worth a viewing.

Circus of Books - Netflix

Unrated, 86 minutes

Grade: B+

Circus of Books is the delightful, bittersweet documentary on Netflix about Barry and Karen Mason, an unassuming Jewish couple who ran a couple of large adult book stores and gay pornography shops in Hollywood and for awhile was one of the largest distributors of gay porn in the United States.

The director of the documentary is the Mason's daughter Rachel (who is an accomplished artist and filmmaker), and it provides an insightful look into their business, but it also is a heartfelt look at how such as unassuming, middle class couple (Karen is devoutly Jewish) would be a close ally and supporter of the LGBTQ community as a result of their shop, especially since one of their sons is gay too.

With the rise of technology, both pornography and meeting others have shifted online, which led to the closing of their two legendary shops in Los Angeles, though it hasn't ended their support of the community. Circus of Books is a charming look at how an unexpected business venture transformed the lives of one family and impacted many others. Definitely worth a look.

Bad Education - HBO

Unrated, 108 minutes

Grade: A-

Bad Education is the sharp, well-acted new HBO dramedy that looks at a real-life school scandal in Long Island, a story that first broke the pages of its school newspaper.

Based on a New Yorker article on the events, Hugh Jackman is Roslyn Superintendent Frank Tossone and Oscar-winner Janney is his Assistant, Pam Gluckin, both who embezzled millions for years from the

district and were able to get away with it because Tossone was so well-loved and the district had superb education ratings. They got away with it until one keen student news reporter named Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan) starts digging and uncovers the truth.

This is sort of like the Reese Witherspoon comedy Election, occasionally told with the same satirical punch, except it's a true story. Bad Education is written by Mike Makowsky, a screenwriter who also happened to be a student in Roslyn at the time and has some nice insider knowledge to the events. Jackman and Janney both shine in award-worthy roles as the administrators who lived the good life, driving fancy cars, wearing nice clothes and eating great meals, until it caught up to them in a bad way. Though the film takes some liberties with the truth - there were many more involved than the film indicates - I do wish it had focused more on Janney's Gluckin (her Long Island accent is lovely and spot on), who was really the mastermind behind the scandal and stole more money than Tossone did. Still, Bad Education is timely, entertaining and thought-provoking, and one of the year's best films.