**** Midway through this school embezzlement saga based on a true story, Cory Finley's sophomore film (following 2018's Thoroughbreds) breaks out its version of a Goodfellas montage. Elvis Presley croons "Blue Christmas," but in lieu of cocaine packing, we see PTA baskets stuffed. And instead of cash counting, a PowerPoint presentation shows off early-decision college acceptance rates. It's a dash ironic, but the HBO original is critically revealing how corruption can guzzle accomplishment as its fuel. Embodying that consumption is charismatic superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), who strives to keep his Long Island school district's reputation gleaming despite a brewing scandal. Backed by Allison Janney and Ray Romano, Jackman inhabits his best mode here: a gifted ringleader with a dry rot problem. Every lie is wrapped in an ideal, and it takes the full film to figure out which came first: the ideal or the lie. And while there's not a gun, narcotic or punch in the entire film, Bad Education is a crime movie with guts. After all, it's easy to critique conspicuously wealthy South Shore hypocrites, but connecting those trappings to more widely accepted American aspirations—blue-ribbon public schools and the high-achieving students they produce—well, that's a far more bitter pill. There hasn't been a smarter streaming original this quarantine season. TV-MA. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Amazon Prime, HBO.
*** The latest from French DJ-turned-director Quentin Dupieux begins with a man shelling out 8,000 euros for a used deerskin jacket. The fringe-fronted coat doesn't really even fit Georges (Jean Dujardin, Oscar winner from The Artist), but he's obsessed nonetheless. What follows belongs to a very specific subgenre: Cherished object takes hold of its owner. Think Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling or William Goldman's Magic. While those titles are set in something like our reality, Deerskin follows a man trying to rid a remote French mountain town of all its other jackets. In the process, Georges begins accidentally making a DIY art film with a local barkeep (Adèle Haenel of Portrait of a Lady on Fire). Given that ridiculousness, the tone is a small miracle. Dujardin keeps Georges innocent, almost paternally daffy, as he shuffles toward madness, trying to goad strangers into discussing his new David Crosby-esque duds. Granted, Deerskin at some point simply runs out of ideas or tricks (or both) and shrugs into its destiny as a 75-minute curio. But that's not the worst sin for a bit of absurd diversion. Two of France's biggest stars sell the material for, let's say, 7,950 euros more than it's worth. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. On Demand.
The Sound of the Wind
** While increased mental health awareness is an unequivocal positive for society, the jury is still out on how it impacts our movies. After all, if cumulative awareness equaled improved storytelling, Deadpool 2 would be the best movie ever made. On paper, The Sound of the Wind knows what it's up to, mounting a stock thriller premise: Man finds a bag of money, believes he's pursued by its shadowy owners, skips town; but is this all in his head? Only that last question isn't a question. Writer-director Jared Douglas tamps down all the thriller possibilities. Instead, we infer from the jump that the bag's finder, Lucio (Christian Gnecco Quintero), is suffering from paranoid delusions. On the one hand, that's a socially responsible choice. On the other, we're then stuck for 80 minutes watching an unwell man willfully misinterpret gestures from strangers and loved ones that aren't enough to convince the audience of any conspiracy. No one would doubt the effort here. Douglas is clearly stretching the film's last dime, tumbling into harrowing reaches of California mountains and desert, and Gnecco Quintero gives as committed a performance of pure agony as you'll ever see. It's just…committed to what? He's a vessel for unambiguous pain, not a character. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. On Demand.