Talking Movies: Circus of Books, Bad Education and Colette

Spling reviews Circus of Books, Bad Education and Colette as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a documentary, a drama and a biographical drama.

Starting off with a documentary now on Netflix…


A straight, Jewish couple in LA recount the story of how they became one of the biggest distributors of hardcore gay porn in the United States.

Director: Rachel Mason

Features: The Mason Family

– While the subject matter may be quite racy, the real focus here is on Karen & Barry Mason, and their family.
– an intimate family character portrait, this documentary explores the lives of an ordinary Jewish family running a risque business
– the story plays out against the decades of change from a sociopolitical standpoint through morality campaigns, misconceptions around AIDS, the Los Angeles gay community, the digital age and how it impacted their family and business
– directed by their daughter, the filmmaker has unprecedented access to photo albums, home video footage with special insights into their family dynamics
– it’s a fascinating documentary about how the Circus of Books came to be, served as a hub and even led its owners to become producers
– the documentary includes magazine covers, video clips and various paraphernalia, yet these displays are more informational than gratuitous and treated with restraint
– from porn mogul Larry Flynt to gay porn superstar, Ted Stryker, the interviews are authentic, varied and entertaining much like the documentary itself
– the unlikely duo help sustain the comedic premise as the film takes on a tender and heartwarming tone, moving through the ages and radical changes with their family remaining a constant
– from dalliances with the law to living double lives, Circus of Books is entertaining, surprising and has a rich spectrum of emotion
– on the surface it may be offensive to some yet its heart is pure and end-of-an-era story is compelling

An excellent 8 on the splingometer

Moving on to a drama now on Showmax…


The beloved superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district attempts to cover up the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history.

Director: Cory Finley

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Ray Romano and Allison Janney

– Jackman’s played many strong characters completely immersing himself in superhero films, musicals and dramas
– Bad Education is no different, echoing the political slant of The Front Runner and giving him the platform to wrestle with his character’s devilish charms
– it’s amazing to see just how expressive his face can be, ironically using less make-up for one of his most well-groomed characters to date, allowing every line in his face to contribute to one of his best performances
– he’s supported by Janney, another dependable Hollywood stalwart who has continued to deliver excellent character performances
– Finley uses Jackman and Janney’s built-up and trusted film careers against us in a drama about keeping up appearances
– in terms of weighting, the school system drama has similarities to Brexit: The Uncivil War starring Benedict Cumberbatch both about an intelligent disruptor taking advantage of a trusted system
– a free-ranging tale about fraud, it’s a small movie with big performances about how little lies snowball and eventually catch up with us
– something of a cautionary tale, it also speaks to the power of the press and the importance of whistleblowers, however acute the short-term effects
– a powerful story, strong performances and a sharp script contribute to an absorbing drama, which could have been even more powerful with a bit more wiggle room and bolder brushstrokes from a more seasoned director

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally a biopic now on Showmax…


Colette fights to reclaim her author name and challenge gender norms after her husband gets her to ghostwrite for him.

Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Fiona Shaw and Dominic West

– Knightly is no stranger to period romance dramas and seems right at home in the title role of Colette about the influential and bestselling French author
– while not a perfect casting call against the likes of Helena Bonham Carter or Rachel Weisz, she makes it fit, showing a remarkable escalation of ability and understanding through the years with Colette being one of her best yet
– playing opposite West as infamous libertine, husband and author by the name of Willy, the two have an uneasy and fractious chemistry that serves as the tinder for this grimy biopic
– based on their collective talents as writers, dealing with the ownership of material, the trappings of being a Parisian socialite and their many affairs there’s an undercurrent of debauchery and treachery
– Colette is a sumptuous affair, bedecked with authentic and ornate finishes, wardrobe and style
– elegant yet dark, it recalls Mary Shelley and the Glenn Close drama, The Wife, employing many similar themes
– as admirable and beautiful as it is to behold across all departments, it lacks the impact necessary to leave a lasting impression
– Westmoreland has a great eye for what works, yet struggles to compose and land critical dramatic moments
– Colette makes a lively portrait of an unusual marriage without veiling it’s feminist perspective, yet doesn’t reach its true dramatic potential

A solid 7 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

CIRCUS OF BOOKS… an authentic, intimate, fascinating, layered, heartwarming and surprising family portrait with a twist… An excellent 8

BAD EDUCATION… Jackman and Janney’s strong performances activate this entertaining, sharp and thoughtful embezzlement drama… A solid 7

COLETTE… while it lacks spark, it remains a bewitching biographical period drama with a strong lead performance… A solid 7

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!