Review by Tatiana Miranda
In its past two seasons, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy has proven itself to be more than just a superhero series with its core centered around wacky family dynamics and intriguing fight scenes. More compelling than its plot and characters is the show’s use of music, which is understandable considering the comic book’s co-creator is Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance. Since the premiere of the first season and its continuation in season two, The Umbrella Academy has stayed true to its dynamic humor and crazy adventures, and while season three has remnants of these, it is ultimately lackluster in comparison to the show’s previous installments.
The crux of The Umbrella Academy’s conflict is the recurring apocalypse that the family and superhero team the Umbrella Academy must get rid of. This is the villain of all three seasons, even though it takes the form in different ways each time. In season three, after traveling back to the present day after exploring the sixties in season two, the group returns to discover that there is no longer an Umbrella Academy, but instead, an alternate Sparrow Academy filled with a new cast of superhuman characters. While trying to fix the reality-bending and apocalypse-causing problems they’ve caused, the Umbrella Academy also confronts their seemingly more cohesive counterparts the Sparrow Academy.
Season three’s premise is intriguing, with its main appeal centered around the Sparrow Academy and the unique, never-before-seen powers they exhibit. While the dynamic between the two groups is entertaining to watch, it’s abundantly clear that the Sparrow Academy’s presence is for plot purposes as its members are quickly cast aside. The alternate dimensional aspect of the season also provides the question of what life would look like for the Umbrella Academy if they hadn’t been the Umbrella Academy. Klaus, or Number Four, takes initiative in finding this out, but the exploration of this possibility falls short when it is revealed that the consequences of their past actions disallow them from meeting the alternate versions of themselves.
Besides the half-baked plotlines, season three is also underwhelming in a technical sense. Whereas the previous two seasons included intricately choreographed and cleverly edited fight scenes, the very few fight scenes that are in season three are lazy and filled with poor CGI. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the new season is its badly done CGI, which, while it never was the show’s strong suit, it wasn’t as jarring and uncreative as it is here. With season three taking an even darker and zanier approach in terms of plot than the previous seasons, its lack of creative editing and realistic CGI rids the season of any real potential.
Overall, while The Umbrella Academy’s season three has some poignant and fun concepts, its flaws outweigh any real positives the season might have had. It is a disappointing turn in what was one of Netflix’s most interesting series and poses the question of what can be expected for season four — if it even makes it to that point.
The Umbrella Academy season three releases on Netflix on June 22.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard are both Emmy winning television veterans who have written for shows like Parks and Recreation, The Good Place, Master of None, among other modern classics. Their next outing is the new series Loot, a new series from Apple TV+. Despite having a strong leading actress, this show has all of the worst sensibilities of millennial culture and wastes its cast and premise on a show that falls into tired tropes and clichés.
Molly Novak ends her marriage of twenty years to an influential billionaire and suddenly finds herself 87 billion dollars richer. She attempts to enter the next stage of her life while also trying to adapt to her new environment and hopefully do some good with her money through philanthropy. Centering a show around an unfathomably rich billionaire definitely isn’t the most believable premise, and it’s not one that will initially elicit sympathy from its audience, but there’s still potential for wholesome themes and timely messages in this premise.
Unfortunately, the show makes it clear early on that it is content at being a barely superficial exploration of the issues at its core. It covers this in meandering subplots that don’t do much to progress its story and fail to inspire laughter more times than not. The script is riddled with overused dialogue, unfunny pop culture references, and an emotional core that doesn’t try to understand its characters particularly well.
The only saving grace of this show is its performances which still teeter on the cringe side a fair number of times. I personally, really enjoyed Maya Rudolph leading the show as Molly, but the mileage her performance gives will vary by viewer. Out of its large cast the other actors who stand out as being entertaining are MJ Rodriguez and Ron Funches. However, regardless of how charismatic these actors are, they are still fighting an uphill battle as the material they’re given isn’t particularly memorable.
This show features the most insufferable aspects of millennial television comedies, and it undermines that natural talent and chemistry of its cast. It will briefly touch on the social implications of its premise but fail to do anything substantial with that. It’s a show that doesn’t feel like it came from its creators who have been a part of some of the biggest modern T.V. comedies.
Loot might find itself a loving fanbase especially for those who are partial to its cast and style of humor, but some will find this comedy show to be lacking in laughs and depth. The jokes never land properly, the dialogue is unoriginal, and it doesn’t do much with its well-assembled cast.
The first three episodes of Loot will be available on Apple TV+ on June 24, and new episodes will come out on subsequent Fridays. All 10 episodes are reviewed.
Review by Cole Groth
If I had to choose genres of film that I enjoy the most, horror would fall to the bottom. I find that, too often, horror films end up being massive disappointments, whether from their gut-wrenching endings (demonstrated frequently in the Saw series), my general dislike of gore, or a low production budget leading to lots of technical failures. However, I try not to judge films from their covers, which led me to Shudder’s latest horror flick, Revealer, which delivered an exceptionally fascinating film on what appears to be a low budget.
The basic premise of the film follows a hot-tempered stripper, Angie (Caito Aase), who is forced to survive the apocalypse with a judgmental Christian, Sally (Shaina Schrooten). The premise is undeniably interesting, and the script, written by Michael Moreci and Tim Seeley, effectively explores every avenue possible within a brisk 86-minute runtime. Both Aase and Schrooten are extraordinarily effective within the confines of the peep show where most of the action takes place. While there are certainly moments that push their acting abilities to the limits, I don’t have many complaints.
At times, this movie is funny — it's ridiculously campy — but it consistently holds up as a solid horror flick with lots of tension. I haven't seen enough campy films to be a great judge of the subgenre, but I enjoyed how over-the-top the gore was and how unbelievably strange it was at times. The gore isn't quite gross enough to feel unwarranted, but it got the job done, making me squirm several times. The set design is a key element because while there are only a few sets, each one feels unique and fascinating. It’s not quite expansive enough to feel like it doesn’t take place on a set, but they’re still interesting enough to serve as a visual spectacle.
Beyond the horror elements that are done fairly well, this is a film about religion. Set in the '80s (with plenty of references to prove it), the script spends a lot of time focusing on how religion impacts society and criticizing judgmental Christians while also analyzing the complex dynamics between religious and irreligious people. Now, there are plenty of moments where it feels obnoxious and preachy, but there were some very interesting conversations between the two leads that were excellent insights into both perspectives. Speaking of the character dynamic, one of my bigger issues with the film was the constant back and forth between Angie and Sally. It’s frustrating to see the two survive some crazy attack only to start arguing about the minutiae of why these attacks are happening. Even though it felt preachy, I still believe that Bracey did an excellent job developing the two characters with every moment he got. Even though I didn’t care much for either of the two at the beginning, I found myself cheering at every victory they scored by the end of the film. There are some pretty neat twists and turns, and I was rooting for Angie and Sally every step of the way.
Backing up the solid cinematography, acting, and the script is a beautiful score. Alex Cuervo does a phenomenal job at using synths to create an ethereal score that can effortlessly shift from ridiculous violence to moments of calm reflection. The pacing is good enough to keep me interested throughout the whole film, and the score helps because it always feels like it’s a necessary addition. On a visual level, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but it doesn’t quite seem like the vibe that director Luke Boyce was going for. He embraces the campiness to make a film that serves as both a decent meditation on religion, a solid horror/thriller, and an occasionally hilarious piece of media.
If you’re a serious fan of horror, Revealer might scratch whatever itch for scares you have, but I didn’t find many genuine scares. It doesn’t feel very sanitized, but it’s not hard to see that Bracey sacrificed some of the horror elements for conversation-based moments. I adored the villain's design but found myself disappointed with how little screen time he got. Even running at 86-minutes, this film has a disappointingly low horror-to-time ratio and would be better off if it was a bit more aggressive. Still, though, I think that this worked very well as a Shudder original as a whole. I’d recommend this film to most horror fans, whether you’re a veteran scare enthusiast or a newbie looking to get into one of the most creative genres of film (even if I’m not the hugest fan of it).
Revealer will release to Shudder on June 23.
Review by Sean Boelman
Serving the same crowd that has made Downton Abbey and Bridgerton such successes, Mr. Malcolm’s List is another charming new period romance. And while it may be predictable in every way, an exceptional cast and a buoyant script allow this to be a worthy entry into a genre that apparently still has plenty to offer.
The film follows a young woman who courts a wealthy suitor as part of an elaborate ruse designed by her friend who was rejected by him. It’s pretty much the same as any high-society melodrama set in 19th century England that you can think of, but if you’re a fan of that type of story, it’s certainly very charming.
Yet even despite its predictability, the light nature of the script keeps things moving along very nicely. The target audience for this movie has probably seen and read dozens of stories like this, so they will be fully aware of where this story is going to end, but the intrigue lies in the relationship dynamics at the center of the film.
It is amazing how fully fleshed-out all of the characters in this movie are. Their personalities all fall into the common archetypes of the genre, and yet still feel attached to the characters. It’s a tried-and-true approach — the rags-to-riches story of someone finding love with another person who is more wealthy but needs to find the beauty in something beyond high society.
The cast here is all-around excellent. Freida Pinto is a very charismatic lead and brings a lot of wit and charm to the role. Sopé Dìrísù is an appealingly staunch love interest. And the supporting cast is rounded out nicely with funny supporting turns from Zawe Ashton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Theo James.
These types of films (and the novels upon which they are based) are well-known for being progressive in terms of their feminism, but the color-blind casting of this movie is a welcome delight. Many of these adaptations are overwhelmingly white, and it is nice to see one that features people of color in the leading roles.
Emma Holly Jones’s direction is also very accomplished. She previously directed a short film adaptation of the same source material, meaning that she is obviously very passionate about the story. And it’s a very formal period piece with solid costuming and production design to replicate the Regency era.
Mr. Malcolm’s List is exactly what you would expect — a charming, funny Regency melodrama. If that is your cup of tea, this movie will not disappoint as long as you don’t go in wanting something out of the ordinary.
Mr. Malcolm’s List hits theaters on July 1.
Review by Sean Boelman
Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building was a smash hit last year — a perfect storm of a showcase for one of the brightest young stars right now, a reunion of one of the most beloved comedic duos of all time, and a parody of one of the hottest forms of entertainment of the moment. This second season took that success and used it to make something even funnier and smarter.
Picking up where the last season left off, we again join our crime-solving podcaster trio as they set out to investigate another murder, this time, one that they are themselves persons of interest in. Bigger stakes, quicker wit, and more unpredictability go a long way in making this feel distinct from the first season in a welcome way.
One of the best things about this series is that it creates mysteries that legitimately keep the viewer guessing. And this season is perhaps even more unpredictable than the last, with a lot of twists and turns that will throw audiences off the scent of the culprit. Eight episodes in, there are still a ton of different directions that the story could go.
The new season explores fame in a fascinating way. A lot of murder mystery sequels go the copycat killer route, so much so that this has effectively become the easy way out. But the flaw with this is that it can become derivative quickly. Even though this new mystery (deliberately) brings back a few beats from the first season’s mystery as potential red herrings, it’s not a carbon copy.
Like any good second season, this season introduces exciting new supporting characters while enriching its leads in a fascinating way. Thankfully, the show preserves the dynamic between the central trio, which is what allowed the series to work so well in the first place. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez are all at their absolute A-game — and clearly having a blast.
The most notable new additions to the cast are Michael Rappaport, playing a hard-nosed detective with a mind to bring down our heroes, and Cara Delevigne as a love interest for Gomez’s character. Both have a smattering of funny scenes, but don’t distract from the main draw of the central trio.
There are some fascinating things going on here on a stylistic level, and while nothing quite matches the brilliance of the Theo Dimas episode from season one, there are some amazing moments that show how kinetic this series is. And yet, even though there are these stylistically distinct episodes, the overall vision of the show is consistent.
Season two of Only Murders in the Building somehow improves on a series that was already one of the best comedies on streaming. Yet again, this is sure to be the talk of the town thanks to its genuinely smart and satisfying blend of mystery and comedy.
Only Murders in the Building streams on Hulu beginning June 28, with subsequent episodes streaming on Tuesdays. Eight out of ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
Jon Kasbe and Crystal Moselle are already accomplished documentary filmmakers in their own right, so a project teaming the two of them up was sure to be an exciting prospect. Sophia might be a conventional movie in many ways, but the humanity and tenderness with which it approaches its inhuman subject is extraordinary.
The film tells the story of a restless inventor who sets out to perfect the world’s most advanced and lifelike artificial intelligence. It’s a type of story that very easily could have felt overly formal and scientific, but the approach that the filmmakers take is surprisingly grounded for something as scientifically extraordinary as this.
On one hand, the movie is about the eponymous AI as she tries to find her place in the world. It’s an interesting prospect to watch a robotic entity learning about our world, and it would have been nice to see the film go a bit more into this childlike wonder with which she approaches the world.
But perhaps the more dominant force in the movie is Sophia’s inventor David Hanson. He’s portrayed as an almost Byronic hero in this context, a Prometheus of the world of science — but instead of just being punished by his own creators, he is being punished by the people he is giving the gift of knowledge to as well.
Indeed, the film really explores the debate surrounding AI and how the general public is hesitant to embrace the technology because of its potential to be abused. And while it’s clear that Kasbe and Moselle are setting out to present the counter-argument, there is a certain point at which it almost starts to feel like it is letting fear mongering take over.
There is also an interesting father-daughter dynamic in the movie that is really interesting. This is something that we’ve seen discussed in fictional films before — the relationship between creator and creation paralleled to one between parent and child — but the realism of this is brought into question.
On a technical level, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, and that is thanks to wonderful direction from Kasbe and Moselle. It’s a film that feels at once warm and intimate yet futuristic. There are certainly several aspects of Sophia that audiences would generally find uncanny, but the style of the movie prevents that from happening.
Sophia is certainly an interesting documentary, and its unorthodox approach to its material is what allows it to stand out. Although it does struggle with a few of its themes, the ideas it brings to the table are more than interesting enough to recommend.
Sophia will air on Showtime later this year.
Review by Sean Boelman
A great verite documentary can make you care about its subject even if you aren’t initially invested in the topic. Emelie Mahdavian does just that with her sophomore feature Bitterbrush, effectively making a nonfiction Western and offering an unexpectedly compelling glimpse into the world of cowgirls.
The film follows two women facing an uncertain future as they work as seasonal cowgirls, herding cattle across the American West. Watching two women herding cattle and going through the mundanities of their lives may not seem like something that is interesting to watch, but it’s a unique world explored well.
Over the course of four seasons, we get to know these women, watching them as they go about their work and occasionally leisure. Their personalities are wonderfully captured by Mahdavian in a way that really makes the viewer feel like they are receiving intimate access to every aspect of their lives.
One of the most interesting things about the movie is that it explores important ideas of representation without being overly forceful with them. To really foster inclusivity, it takes normalization, not exceptionalism, and by taking this slice-of-life approach, Mahdavian really normalizes what these women are doing.
The film does a great job of getting us invested in their personal lives beyond their professional work. This is a story all about change and coping with the uncertainty of the future, something that all of us have had to deal with at some point or another. While you might not identify directly with their story, the themes are resonant nevertheless.
In a way, the movie is also an ode to friendship. The dynamic between the two subjects of the film is fascinating and the ways in which it grows and develops even over the course of just one year. But like so many of our connections in life, they grow apart as they grow individually, and the movie explores that brilliantly.
Visually, the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at thanks to the way in which Mahdavian and cinematographers Derek Howard and Alejandro Mejía approach the remote American landscape. There have been plenty of beautiful depictions of rustic America before, but this one really stands out.
Bitterbrush is a breathtaking movie, both in how it depicts the American landscape and how it connects the audience with its subjects. Who knew that a documentary about this topic could be as compelling as this?
Bitterbrush is now in theaters and hits VOD on June 24.
Review by Sean Boelman
When one thinks about documentaries focusing on the recording of a specific album, it’s often in connection to a band that they are already a fan of. Stay Prayed Up doesn’t really have the crutch of an enthusiastic fanbase to fall back on — instead, it tries (mostly successfully) to explore the universal power of its subject’s voice.
The film follows Lena Mae Perry and her gospel group, The Branchettes, as they record their first-ever live album. Within the gospel community, Perry and The Branchettes are legendary, and their impact on Black gospel music is profund, but their names are likely to be unfamiliar to anyone who doesn’t follow that genre of music.
Like the similar movie Amazing Grace that came out a few years back, this film tries to capture the power of a religious experience in a documentary. And while Mrs. Perry’s voice is undeniably amazing, this movie doesn’t have the benefit of having one of the most iconic singers of all time at its helm.
The film does benefit from its characterization — letting us get to know Perry and The Branchettes outside of their live recording sessions allows us a glimpse into why their music speaks to them personally. It gives the movie that added touch of humanity that goes a long way in connecting audiences who might not get the appeal of gospel music to the story.
Indeed, we spend so much of the film seeing these people go through what is apparently a genuine religious experience, but simply observing this recording session probably isn’t going to be enough for most audiences. There is no denying that we are watching something special occur, but how that translates to the viewer from afar is less clear.
Thankfully, the movie doesn’t take an overly preachy perspective. Even though there is a heavy religious connotation to all of the music featured in the film, it never feels as if we are simply watching a sermon. But for those audiences who are more religious, this somewhat distant approach to gospel music might be a turn-off.
The ways in which the movie was shot also could have been improved. There is so much energy in this room, and that directors D.L. Anderson and Matthew Durning weren’t always able to capture that is disappointing. They shot the recording in a shockingly straightforward manner, and the result almost feels too academic.
There are certainly some good things about Stay Prayed Up, but for the most part, it’s rather unaffecting. It’s not a poorly-made film by any means, and it’s interesting enough, although for a movie that lives or dies by its power, leaving the audience unstirred feels like a disappointment.
Stay Prayed Up is now in theaters and hits VOD on July 5.
Review by Adam Donato
Abandoned is the first feature film from actor Spencer Squire. Good for him getting a cast of known players such as Emma Roberts, Michael Shannon, and John Gallagher Jr. Squire had worked with Shannon previously, which might have been the connection. Roberts plays a woman who is struggling with postpartum depression. Gallagher Jr. plays her husband who moves with her to an old farmhouse. The couple is somewhat turned off to the house after hearing about the double homicide and suicide that took place with the previous owners by a mother very similar to Roberts. The horrors she experiences are personified by this haunted house in this horror thriller movie. Can she find peace with her new life or will she succumb to madness?
Not unlike Monstrous from earlier this year, Abandoned feels derivative of other horror movies. A woman struggles with her past trauma and her life is turned into a nonstop horror barrage. Speaking of horror, this movie is not very scary at all. Most of the scares are surrounded by flies. They’re always buzzing around her and surrounding disgusting things she finds in the house. There’s not much of a mystery whether or not the horror is more internal or external. It’s very clear this is a personal problem for Roberts's character so the external scary scenes are underwhelming to say the least. It’s nice to focus on the internal conflict, but nothing interesting is done with it. Erick Patterson is most known for writing R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour series and Another Cinderella Story, so the lack of an interesting story is not surprising.
The most noteworthy aspect of the movie is the cast. Roberts is no stranger to the horror genre with Scream 4 and Scream Queens. She’s pretty much the only thing holding this movie above a one star rating. Her relationship with Gallagher Jr. feels realistic. It’s depressing watching Gallagher Jr. try so desperately to make this new life work when most of the time it doesn’t feel like Roberts is on his team. Shannon is definitely in the movie. He plays their creepy neighbor who randomly shows up inside their house uninvited. Their house has personal significance to him and his relationship with Roberts helps bring her out of her funk.
Abandoned provides absolutely nothing new. It’s much more effective as a drama than it is as a horror movie. The cast adds some legitimacy to what is, in reality, a tepid experience of a movie. Roberts fans may enjoy it, but there’s not much here for other audiences. It’s more whatever bad than it is bad bad.
Abandoned is now in theaters and on VOD.
Review by Camden Ferrell
It has been nearly a decade since Baz Luhrmann’s last feature film, The Great Gatsby, came out. For his newest movie, he has decided to make a movie about one of the biggest names in music history. Elvis is a biopic about the King of Rock and his rise to fame and prominence. The erratic pacing and Luhrmann’s signature style may polarize some viewers, and it suffers slightly from its bloated length, but it’s a mostly enjoyable movie with a great leading performance from Austin Butler.
Elvis is still one of the most famous pop culture icons decades after his death, and there’s a lot about his story that audiences might not know. In this movie, we see Elvis’ beginnings as a young boy and as an adult when his career begins to skyrocket. The movie is told from the perspective of his manager Colonel Tom Parker while he’s at the end of his life. This set up is fairly standard for a musical biopic, and its execution is where it really manages to set itself apart from other similar films.
The writing of this movie is decent but nothing remarkable. Nothing in its script is particularly bad, but it can feel too safe and boilerplate to really stand out in this department. It could have also been a little more comprehensive of his life as it seemed to focus heavily on certain periods and gloss over large sections of his life and career.
The thing that people will talk about most with this film is its performances. Specifically, people will talk about the leading performance from Austin Butler. In his first major starring role, he is quite great as Elvis. I wouldn’t say it’s amazing or Oscar-worthy, but he embodies the role very well, and I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the future. Tom Hanks plays Colonel Tom Parker, and his role is surprisingly forgettable for him, and it never really impresses.
Luhrmann’s style is definitely all over this film, and this may be good or bad news depending on who you are. The direction is what makes this film unique, and its flashiness works more than it doesn’t. As a result, the pacing is incredibly inconsistent which unexpectedly makes for a very entertaining first half. However, this problem starts working against the movie in the final half which drags significantly.
At nearly three hours, Elvis could have definitely been shorter while still retaining the charm and eccentric style of Luhrmann. It may not be as comprehensive as one would expect, but Butler is fun to watch, and it definitely sets itself apart stylistically in order to compensate for a somewhat mediocre script.
Elvis is in theaters June 24.