Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on the comic book series of the same name, Amazon’s The Boys has become a megahit with audiences in its three seasons so far. While fans anxiously await the show’s fourth season, we are getting a glimpse into the other corners of this world they’ve created. Gen V is the first live-action spinoff of The Boys, and even if it’s not nearly as captivating, this is still an enjoyable show with plenty of blood, shock-value, and NSFW moments.
This spinoff follows the lives of young heroes at Godolkin University (aka “God U”). These are the first generation of supes who know that their powers are derived from Compound V, and it’s a glimpse at a side of the world that hasn’t been explored before. This show primarily follows Marie as she navigates her freshman year at God U. There’s drinking and partying like at all other colleges, but this school isn’t like most. These kids have a wide range of powers and are vying for the chance to be ranked Top 10 which can hopefully give them a chance to rub elbows with some of our favorite characters from The Boys.
The show’s writing retains the signature vulgarity of its source material but doesn’t manage to capture its charm and wit. It’s laced with profanities but sometimes lacks the clever punch that made The Boys work so well. It also doesn’t have the benefit of feeding off the same commentary it had. Yes, it still occasionally explores the corruption of the superhero industry, but this isn’t the focus. It mainly focuses on a college girl and a crazy conspiracy she gets wrapped up in as she tries to survive and thrive in school. It’s still a fun story, but it isn’t nearly as sharp as one would hope for a show of this caliber.
All of the performances in the show are solid, but none of them really stand out. Jaz Sinclair leads the show as Marie, and she is an enjoyable actress to watch if nothing else. She has a handful of effective moments due to the character’s troubled past that are fun to watch. She’s supported by a large cast who all do well in their respective roles. Lizze Broadway is enjoyable as Emma, and the show does take advantage of using her shrinking abilities to grotesque and shocking effect at times. I do want to point out the somewhat impressive role of Jordan Li which is played by both London Thor and Derek Luh. These two seamlessly feel like a single individual with subtle differences that always make them interesting to see in the show.
Despite its flaws, nobody can accuse this show of being tame. It is full of blood and guts which audiences are probably expecting at this point. Even if you’re preparing for the worst, there are some moments in the show that will still manage to shock you. There are scenes that are wincingly grotesque that can even rival moments from The Boys. When its story and central mystery may leave you wanting more, you can always rely on the shock factor to keep you entertained.
Gen V is an enjoyable spinoff if nothing else. It’s a decent appetizer to get you ready for the next season of The Boys, but it certainly won’t live up to its standard. It’s interesting to see this side of the world, and there are plenty of cameos that are great to see play out as well. This might not end up being one of your favorite shows, but for fans of this superhero universe, it’s worth watching.
Gen V premieres its first 3 episodes on September 29 with new episodes coming out on subsequent Fridays. Six out of eight episodes have been reviewed.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The documentary, 26.2 to Life, begins with a quote from Lao Tzu. “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” This perfectly sums up the thesis of this movie. Having its premiere at the 2022 Doc NYC Film Festival, this is the feature documentary debut from director Christine Yoo. Either too long or not dense enough, this is still an inspiring story of redemption, freedom, and perseverance that thrives in its exploration of humanity.
San Quentin is California’s oldest prison, and it’s also home to a 1000 Mile Club, a volunteer-led running group that trains inmates for their annual marathon. This movie mostly follows three men’s stories. We learn about their background and what got them in prison as well as their own personal growth since their incarceration and how running has impacted their lives. Even people who haven’t been incarcerated will find something to relate to and connect with through these unique stories since these are not simply stories about inmates but about unique and human individuals.
The film’s three main subjects are Markelle, Tommy, and Rahsaan. Each of these men have a captivating and emotional story to share, and they all serve different purposes. Markelle’s story is a harrowing account of the abuse-to-prison pipeline. Tommy speaks to the devastating effects of racism and gang activity. And Rahsaan shows the power one’s voice and writing have on the world even when behind bars. While their backgrounds are different, their stories all converge as they train for this marathon. It’s interesting to see how training for this marathon serves a different purpose for each of them personally and helps them achieve their own definitions of redemption and freedom.
All of the subjects are enjoyable to see on screen. They are all intimate in their interviews and candid with the audience. I don’t think this documentary would work if they didn’t allow themselves to be vulnerable. By letting the audience in on the details of their troubled pasts, it gives them a unique opportunity to connect and empathize with individuals they might not have known otherwise.
My main qualm with the movie comes down to two things. It’s either too long or not dense enough with content. It’s already a short movie, but there are sections that feel less engaging, and I think the movie would have benefitted from more screen time for the subjects’ testimonies. However, if this is all they can get from the three subjects, it might have been worth making the movie denser with additional inmates or more details about the actual mechanics of running a marathon. The movie mentions how much of an athletic accomplishment running a marathon is, but the movie could have benefitted from more detail to illustrate to audiences how great of an accomplishment it truly is especially in the conditions of San Quentin.
26.2 to Life is a solid documentary about a unique running club in one of California’s most storied prisons. It features some great content from its main subjects who are each fighting their own personal battles. It was great to see Yoo explore the universal and human aspects of their stories and treat them as equals and not as second-class citizens. You don’t typically think of marathons as a path towards redemption and freedom, but these men might make you see it differently.
26.2 to Life is in theaters September 22.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are two directors that you may have heard about in recent years for a number of years. They were the directors of the completed and cancelled Batgirl movie last year. They also directed Bad Boys for Life in 2020 as well as did some television work with shows like Ms. Marvel. Rebel is their newest film which had its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. This is a visually inventive and at times heartbreaking anti-radicalization movie that tackles serious issues facing people in these affected communities.
Kamal is a rapper living in Belgium. After some troubles with his lifestyle and family, he heads for Syria in an attempt to volunteer and aid victims of war. Against his will, he joins an ISIS cell and must endure the horrors of war and violence. His younger brother, Nassim, looks up to him and becomes the target of ISIS recruiters back home. Their mother, Leila, must work and try and save her youngest son from the same fate that befallen Kamal. This story is powerful and rooted in family dynamics as well as timely social issues regarding the war in Syria.
Written by both directors as well as Kevin Meul and Jan van Dyck, this script tells an emotionally effective story that blends genres well. It’s part melodrama, part action, part thriller, and part musical. This is a concept that should have been difficult to pull off on paper, but these writers manage to somehow do it. Nothing feels out of place, and all scenes flow together well. Its narrative beats feel similar at times but still have enough spins to make it feel distinct in its own right.
The acting throughout this movie was great as well. Aboubakr Bensaihi leads the film as Kamal, and he gets a chance to display his vast range of emotions. Watching his character go from a carefree rapper in Belgium, to a disturbed and tortured figure in ISIS is heartbreaking but is the core of the movie as well. Amir El Arbi, who plays Nassim, is decent enough to stand among the rest of the cast, but as a young actor, doesn’t do much to make his mark the same way his co-stars do. Lubna Azabal plays Leila, and she portrays a mother’s concern and passion so well, and she truly shines in the film’s second half.
The most exciting part of this movie was its visual style. Whether it was music video style numbers or horrifying depictions of war, the directors execute these scenes beautifully with some magical camerawork. Utilizing a decent number of longer takes, it gives the film an engaging and meaningful lens to capture its story. When they’re done with the fourth Bad Boys movie and are ready for their next project, it’s clear these directors are the real deal and are capable of delivering an inventive piece of film.
Rebel is occasionally hard to watch with its tough but honest depictions of the war in Syria. However, this is not just any other war movie. Adil & Bilall craft a captivating movie that combines genres in a creative manner without losing the emotional core of the film. It’s thrilling, it’s dramatic, and it’s gut-wrenching in all the right places.
Rebel is in theaters September 15.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Every year since the 2019 release of After, we have received a new movie in the series based on Anna Todd’s young adult romance series. We have finally arrived at the fifth and seemingly final film in the franchise, After Everything. This is the first movie in the series to not be based on one of Todd’s books directly, and it is the first to be written by long-time director Castille Landon. Although it is admittedly the strongest of the series, this final chapter is yet another laughably bad romance movie that glamorizes horrible behavior and revels in its own fake-deep musings and narrative.
After the events of the previous film, Hardin is now alone. Tessa has broken up with him over the book he published without her consent, and she has moved on. Plagued with a troubling bout of writer’s block, Hardin travels to Portugal to confront his dark past in hopes that this can be the start of repairing his relationship with Tessa. This is a premise that is heavily focused on Hardin and his backstory which may or may not work for viewers since Tessa is missing from most of this movie.
Landon’s first attempt at writing for this series is not great by any means, but it’s certainly not as bad as the worst the series has to offer. The first four installments set a low bar for their writing, but at the very least, Landon surpassed those low expectations. However, it’s abundantly clear that she lacks nuance with her characters and motivations and also struggles with its dialogue. These are problems that are not unknown to fans of the series, so I don’t see it winning over any new converts, but it likely won’t deter dedicated fans.
Hero Fiennes Tiffin is tasked with carrying this movie more than previous installments playing the boding Hardin Scott. His acting chops still aren’t impressive, and his mannerisms are barely tolerable at best still. His dialogue and delivery never really work, and it is unfortunately laughable at times. Mimi Keene is a newcomer to the series as Nathalie, a woman from Hardin’s past. While she’s nowhere near as enjoyable as in her previous work, she is still the best part of this movie. Granted, it’s not great, but it works on a much higher level than any other actor in this film.
Like the past movies, this one still has a problem with how it approaches unhealthy and borderline abusive behavior. I think the transgressions are on their biggest display in this movie though. Especially with regards to Hardin’s backstory and how it’s handled in the present day, this definitely does not send a great message. For a series that has such a large teen following, I wish Landon would have course-corrected the series’ troubling history with this behavior. It does try to show development especially when talking about the series topics of personal boundaries and consent, but it doesn’t feel tasteful by the end.
After Everything is pretty much everything you expect from the series at this point. There’s nothing in this that will please newcomers, and there’s nothing here that will turn away fans. One can only hope that this is officially the end for Hardin and Tessa, and I can’t say I’ll be sad to finally be free from this romance series.
After Everything is in theaters September 13.
Review by Camden Ferrell
It has been over 20 years since the release of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a sleeper hit that went on to be nominated for an Oscar against all odds. Even as someone who didn’t care for the original, I can still recognize it has its distinct charm and established niche in American cinema. However, I can’t say the same for its 2016 sequel and even less so for this year’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. Directed by star and writer of the franchise, Nia Vardalos, this third installment is an undeniable mess of a movie. It features puzzling and erratic pacing as well as an overstuffed and rushed story that creates a film devoid of its own signature charm and appeal.
Constantine, the patriarch of the family, has passed away. He leaves behind his ailing wife and the rest of his family including our protagonist Toula. To satisfy his dying wish, Toula and her family set off on a trip to Greece in order to visit her dad’s village and honor his memory at a local reunion. In Greece, she learns more about her father, her family, and herself all while trying to track down her father’s best friends. This is a sweet premise that could have been a nice sendoff for the family while also telling an endearing and funny story of family, but this film chooses to pile on unnecessary subplots and weird comedic moments instead.
Written yet again by Vardalos, this is easily the worst script of the series. The prior entries were fairly standard romantic comedies that were conventional to a fault but still had a noticeable identity. It’s genuinely hard to believe this film came from that same writer. There’s no charm or personality, and all of the characters have devolved into even more of a caricature. The transition from scene to scene feels completely unnatural and disorganized, and it fails to even work as a comedy most of the time. It takes countless attempts at humor and comes up short far too often.
The only thing that is remotely consistent with the rest of the franchise is its acting. This series has never been known for its performances, but they’re usually at least bearable. While there are some cringy acting moments in this third movie, it’s still bearable as a whole. It’s harmless more than anything. And I can’t really fault them considering the weak material with which they were provided.
This is Vardalos’ second time directing, and it’s clear she still needs more practice. The pacing for this movie was abysmal, and it was bewildering how these problems got past so many sets of eyes. Jokes are frequently cut short or drawn out. Edits are wildly and erratically placed. This problem is significantly exacerbated by the several subplots that come and go as they please, and the movie has a hard time keeping up with whatever’s going on.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 might still please fans looking for a fun time, but it feels unfinished and lacks the fun family dynamic the series has become known for. Many might notice the effects of certain cast members being underutilized, and the lack of cohesion can turn off genre-enthusiasts. If this is the last that we see of this family, it’s a shame they couldn’t receive a better send-off.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is in theaters September 8.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Before, Now & Then had its premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Bear and won the Silver Bear. This movie was adapted from the first chapter of the novel Hais Darga Namaku. Written and directed by Kamila Andini, this is a tender and profound exploration of womanhood and its struggles among the backdrop of 1960’s Indonesia even if it can be bogged down by its slow pace.
Nana is a beautiful woman who is currently the wife of a wealthy plantation owner in Indonesia. However, her heart still remains with the memory of her first husband who was murdered in a civil war a decade prior. She carries on with her daily life while still being haunted and dreaming of her past and the life she had lost. In this time, she confronts the infidelity of her husband by befriending and connecting with his younger mistress Ino. Together, they share their personal secrets and desires, an act that allows them to access emotions and liberation denied by their patriarchal society. This premise is one with great potential for exploring its central themes and lends itself to still timely social commentary.
Andini’s writing is quite strong for the most part. Some of the earlier scenes in the movie do meander a bit, but by the time the crux of the story comes around, her writing is top notch. The way she writes dialogue between its central characters is beautiful while not feeling forced or artificial. There is a scene in the final half of the movie between Nana and Ino that is breathtakingly well-written and helps overcome to movie’s previous shortcomings.
Happy Salma leads the film as Nana while Laura Basuki plays Ino. Both women give fantastic performances that feel appropriate to the story being told while also feeling authentic and original. They capture the nuance in their relationships well and have great chemistry in their scenes together. The supporting cast is quite forgettable in comparison, but also significantly less important in the grand scheme of things.
Andini’s direction is always confident but not always ideal. The first half of this movie is slowly paced, and it takes some time to arrive at the defining moments of the movie. This can lead to early scenes feeling slow, but this issue is corrected by the second half where the pacing gets better, and the movie becomes more captivating. In addition to this, the movie boasts gorgeous cinematography by Batara Goempar and music by Ricky Lionardi. Both of these elements stand out in the film without undermining its story and characters. It’s a delicate balance that Andini handles very well despite some minor hiccups.
Before, Now & Then tells a beautiful and personal story that balances 1960’s Indonesian turmoil with a universal story of womanhood that may still resonate today. It has great lead performances accompanied by solid writing and directing from Andini. This may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think it at least deserves a chance from everyone.
Before, Now & Then is in theaters August 25.
Review by Camden Ferrell
The DC Extended Universe might have ended for all intents and purposes with this year’s The Flash, but DC is back with a new movie that will connect to their new cinematic universe. Blue Beetle is finally reaching the big screens after years of development. This new superhero movie is directed by Angel Manuel Soto whose most recent feature film was 2020’s Charm City Kings. This is a fun and simple superhero origin story that has enough heart and charm to make up for its shortcomings.
Jaime Reyes is a recent college graduate who is ready to make his mark on the world. Unfortunately, once he returns home, he finds his family is suffering through tough times and that finding a job is harder than expected. However, a chance encounter with an ancient Scarab, he finds himself turned into the superhero Blue Beetle. Even though this is a beloved superhero, it’s an old-fashioned origin story that will appeal to fans of the character while also introducing him to those unfamiliar with his story.
Written by Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer, the script’s biggest flaw is also what makes it so endearing. The movie doesn’t take narrative risks at all, and it follows familiar beats while adhering to specific superhero tropes. But this isn’t a movie that needs ambition and subversion to succeed. When the movie is about the bonds and strength of family and coming into one’s own, it doesn’t always have to be fresh and exciting to satisfy viewers. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, but it’s the characters and their unique relationships that give the movie its soul.
Xolo Maridueña leads the film as Jaime, and for his first starring role in a movie, he does a decent job. He has the good looks and youthful charisma to pull the character off. It’s not a particularly complicated role, but it is one that will make or break the film. The only other character that really stands out is George Lopez who plays Jaime’s cousin. It’s no secret that he’s a naturally funny person, and this movie gives him a chance to make audiences laugh with his over-the-top antics and reactions. The rest of the cast is passable at best and noticeably lacking at worst. Susan Sarandon, who has delivered many iconic performances in her career, appears to phone it in as this movie’s villain.
The movie is never astounding, but it’s also never bad. It’s an enjoyable and straightforward superhero movie that all audiences are going to enjoy. The suit itself looks fantastic, and there’s some decent fights and choreography throughout. It can feel the slightest bit too long, but it’s so crowd-pleasing that it’s forgivable. At its core, it’s a movie about family, and I think many viewers will resonate with that message.
Blue Beetle is a strong introduction for the titular character to the big screen. It may not hold much rewatch value, but for one viewing, it’s quite entertaining. Some of the acting is subpar, and the story is as predictable as they come, but for those looking for a fun and relaxing time at the movies, this isn’t a bad choice at all.
Blue Beetle is in theaters August 18.
Review by Camden Ferrell
High School Musical: The Musical - The Series first aired on Disney+ in 2019, and they are embarking on their fourth and final season. Created by Tim Federle, this was a show that was able to quickly cash in on some nostalgia and meta humor thanks to the popular 2000’s film trilogy. A show that started out earnestly and decently has slowly lost its charm and become an occasional cringe-fest that’s hard to look away from, and this final season continues this trend we’ve seen for the last few years.
Summer camp is over, and everyone is back at school. Their lives are changed in unique ways thanks to their experiences last season as well as the fallout of the documentary that was filmed about them. Their drama club is attempting to put on a stage production of High School Musical 3, but fate has other plans. Disney is filming High School Musical 4 at their school, and this greatly conflicts with everyone’s plans. Relationships are tested and changed, and these kids reconcile with their imminent futures. It’s the same stakes and drama you’ve come to expect from this show, so audiences should know what to expect.
From a writing perspective, the show is still rather weak. It definitely feels like fully grown adults trying their best to relate to young audiences, and it feels disingenuous. Awkwardly shoehorned Gen-Z phrases and forced pop culture references don’t ever let this show feel natural or relatable. Otherwise, the writing is just standard teen Disney+ fare, and it’s tolerable at best.
After a season of summer camp, most of the main cast returns to their original posts, and we see newcomers from last season remain in these characters lives. There are some notable omissions, but not many that weren’t already alluded to in previous seasons. The ensemble delivers performances on par with previous seasons for better or worse, not noticeably improving or worsening. Like past seasons, there are a handful of cameos for fans of the franchise, but it’s underwhelming and doesn’t make up for the cast’s shortcomings.
One thing I can credit the show with is appearing to have a steady and natural progression towards a conclusion for its characters. In its first 6 episodes, it’s nicely planting the seeds for all their characters to get a proper ending without rushing it unnecessarily. It shows planning on the part of its showrunners and writers even if it all feels far too predictable. I’ll also credit the show for leaning heavily into their more progressive aspects even if it can make an already unnatural show feel even more forced and pandering.
High School Musical: The Musical - The Series does not do anything to surprise viewers. You will likely feel the same way about this final season as you did about previous ones. Borderline unwatchable at times, but that’s to be expected at this point from the series. Guilty pleasure at best, but overdramatic teen cringe at worst, this season should hopefully give our characters a satisfying send off years in the making.
High School Musical: The Musical - The Series Season 4 premieres on Disney+ on August 9. Six out of eight episodes have been reviewed.
Review by Camden Ferrell
As a director, Bill Pohlad is most known for 2014’s Love & Mercy, a fantastic look at the creative process and life of Brian Wilson. His newest movie after several years, Dreamin’ Wild, follows lesser-known musicians. Thanks to some confident lead performances, this biopic overcomes some of its lulls and shortcomings while hopefully bringing more attention to Donnie and Joe Emerson.
Donnie and Joe are brothers from a blue-collar family who grew up making music together. Time has passed, and they’ve both lived different lives. However, their old music is being rediscovered many years later, and they are given a chance to perform once again together. This new cult following inspires the resurgence of memories and decisions that haunt them as they try and make the most of their second chance.
Written by Pohlad, he once again employs a non-linear narrative structure, and it works relatively well in this movie. He does a decent job at shaking up the biopic formula and framing flashback sequences in new ways. It’s interesting how both future and past intertwine well in a way that conveys how previous actions haunt our characters in present time. While the structure is admittedly enjoyable, the dialogue doesn’t always work well and might be too straightforward for the themes of guilt and family it’s trying to express.
The most enjoyable part of this movie comes from is reserved but strong performances. Casey Affleck and Walton Goggins lead the film as the adult Donnie and Joe, respectively. Affleck employs his reliable subtlety that adds a very nuanced layer to Donnie, and this really helps audiences empathize with the struggle he has with his past. Goggins plays well off Affleck and while he’s not given nearly as much material to work with, he fits snugly in with the rest of the ensemble. Noah Jupe and Jack Dylan Grazer give decent yet less memorable performances as the teenager version of our leads.
While Pohlad’s last movie plays into the insanity of Brian Wilson’s genius, this movie is a lot more meditative and intimate in scope. This works well on an emotional level but doesn’t always provide for the most entertaining story at times. He has the occasional problem with maintaining momentum in this movie because of its nature. However, the musical scenes are all fun to watch. It’s a conventional execution of non-conventional musicians, and it works more than it doesn’t.
Donnie and Joe Emerson may not be household names, but Dreamin’ Wild is a solid way for more people to learn about them. Affleck is a great lead, and the narrative structure was a nice change of pace from the typical musical biopic formula. Pohlad can’t quite capture the magic of his last movie, but he still capitalizes on some emotional payoffs that audiences will really enjoy in this movie.
Dreamin’ Wild is in theaters August 4.
Review by Camden Ferrell
DC’s animated series, Harley Quinn, stands out among a sea of comic book content by being unapologetically raunchy and goofy. Since 2019, audiences have watched the explicit, gory, and crass antics of one of DC’s most beloved characters. Season 4, which comes out imminently, is no different. Thanks to another round of outrageous and hilarious episodes, paired with more great voice acting, this newest season proves that the show is not running out of steam anytime soon.
Spoilers for season 3, but Harley is a good guy now, and she is the newest member of the Bat-family. However, this major life change doesn’t come without some adjustments. Harley and Poison Ivy are still madly in love, but their individual paths of life lead to complications both serious and comedic. Fans can expect more engaging storylines for this ensemble to embark on with enjoyable results.
This is a show that I believe excels due to its consistency. From its very first episode, this show has had reliable humor and dialogue that made it fun to watch. This season doesn’t stray from that tried and tested format, and it doesn’t need to. These characters are still hilarious to watch, and this season provides more raunchy jokes and dialogue to help push its narrative along. Obviously, there are some swings and misses, but you can always rely on each episode to have its fair share of laughs.
The voice cast has always been one of the most appealing aspects of the show, and they’re all still delivering immensely with this. Kaye Cuoco reprises her role as Harley Quinn, and I still can’t imagine anybody else playing her in an animated show. She embodies her perfectly, and really brings the character to life. Lake Bell also excels as Poison Ivy as usual, and she always plays well off Cuoco’s performance. As usual, this show features an extensive cast, all of whom bring their own personality into this unique group of DC characters.
These episodes have some great narrative choices to keep viewers guessing, and it’s great to see Harley adjust to her new role and new life. The Bat-family is an interesting new change to the status quo of the show, and it gives the show plenty of new material to explore. In addition to the fun stories being told, fans can also look forward to the usual helping of sex and blood galore, and I’d even say this might be their raunchiest season thus far.
Harley Quinn continues its hot streak with a quickly paced fourth season that is as reliable as ever. Never amazing but never bad, this season will please its fans and hopefully encourage newcomers to start the series. You can expect plenty of adult-oriented entertainment to accompany your helping of comic book adjacent media with this show.
Harley Quinn season 4 is streaming July 27 on Max. Nine out of ten episodes have been reviewed.