2023 TV & Movie Reviews: RuPaul’s Drag Race / Evil Dead Rise / Beau is Afraid / Renfield / Abbott Elementary / Of An Age

Drag queens, Dracula, overbearing or possessed mothers, public school teachers and Aussie twinks. A lot this week.

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 15

Hand me my reading glasses, child, because the library is officially open. Writing a negative review of RuPaul’s Drag Race gives me no pleasure, as this show has given me so much over the years. I have to be honest, though, so just bear with me…

I first discovered RuPaul’s Drag Race in early college when the girl who directed my improv troupe was obsessed with it along with her theater friends. She was dating my best friend and finest collaborator then, so he and I ended up binging seasons on Netflix in 2010. Seasons three through six felt revolutionary, and while season seven definitely hit a weird quality dip (despite having some of the most talented queens to ever walk through those doors – all of which were passed over for little more than the tightest corset wearer in human history), seasons eight, nine and ten returned the show to that signature quality. Then by season eleven, stuff started to dip, with the most recent seasons being the weakest since the show’s inception – we don’t talk about seasons 1 and 2 and their awful soap opera soft-focus. This most recent season is the worst, though. If seasons thirteen and fourteen hinted that the show desperately needed a structural overhaul, season fifteen damn well confirmed it. This season is super stale with everything from the challenges to the contestants.

The challenges are underwhelming across the board, with a perilous early Snatch Game that must be the worst ever to exist on the planet we call Earth. Sure, Loosey LaDuca does a fine Joan Rivers. Still, it is not a particularly rich or innovative performance that stands up with the best Snatch Game interpretations (Maggie Smith, Judge Judy, Flava Flav, Judy GarlandGigi’s robot). It’s a decent show you’d catch in Reno, at a place that has pretty good burgers. The rest of the Snatch Game performances ranged from wildly ok (Mistress as Rosie O’Donnell) to distressingly terrible (the fucking Mona Lisa?). From there, the challenges got worse and less imaginative, including a dumb sequel to Daytona Wind, whose predecessor wasn’t that great to begin with, and a really expected pre-finale save between two contestants. They seriously should have sent them both home and had it be a two-person finale, or better yet, just crown the winner there cause this season had an obvious front-runner from the start that, to no surprise, ended up taking the crown.

The contestants, besides the winner, were all underwhelming. Even the winner I wouldn’t put into the same category as most all other winners, besides the #1 Greatest Corset Winner of Season 7. We get another big-boned comedy queen in the finale, and she’s very underwhelming compared to the other big girls who have been there before her. I want this review to be something different than me comparing every contestant to similar, better queens that came before them…but I will say this. Towards the end of the season, one contestant gives a long-winded speech about how someone deserves to go home because they are the only queen who isn’t unique and feels old-hat. Each of these queens feels old-hat compared to the immense talent and originality I’ve seen from the mamas on this show. Maybe there’s been so much Drag Race we’ve seen it all. Maybe it’s because drag is so firmly in the heart of the mainstream at this point in time that it’s glaringly obvious it can be better than goofy pageantry stuff from the 1980s. And it is beyond this show. RuPaul is no longer the one-stop-shop of drag it used to be. Listen to Trixie Mattel and Katya‘s podcast, it’s funnier than anything I’ve ever seen on Drag Race in its fifteen-year run. Grade: C (VOD)

Evil Dead Rise

Speaking of wild-ass mammas, Sam Raimi‘s comedic horror franchise about demonic possession returns with another promising reboot that fell flat on its face. The problem with Lee Cronin‘s Evil Dead Rise is its unwillingness to take risks beyond ditching CGI in favor of practical effects. I could get behind that if the movie had impressive makeup set pieces, which it doesn’t. This is the tamest Evil Dead movie yet, with subdued gore and underwhelming kills. The franchise has never been heralded for its fine character development (name another character besides Bruce Campbell‘s Ash), but it’s especially underdeveloped here. We don’t know anything about this family and their pre-existing dynamic other than that the teen boy wants to be a DJ, and the teen girl just looks scared a lot. There’s also a little girl, but it took me writing out this whole review and then going back to add a mention of her to remember. The only memorable performance in this entire movie is Australian actress Alyssa Sutherland as the possessed mama. She delivers an excellent physical performance on the level of the best Doug Jones shit. This makes it all the more frustrating that Evil Dead Rise is so ill-equipped to match her work even for a second. Her performance is terrifying, but the way the character is written and the way they dispense this demon onto the family is so neutered and unthreatening. There’s no signature mind-fuckery that the demons inflict upon the humans’ psyches in this one, and for most of the runtime, the survivors manage to lock the possessed mom out of the apartment. This feels like a horror movie for people who hate horror movies. See Beau Is Afraid instead. That’s a comedy and had six times the bite this fucker had. Grade: C (In Theaters)

Beau is Afraid

How do you even review a movie like this? It’s more of a fucked up, unpredictable visual experience than a traditional narrative with heightening beats. Everything that happens in this movie is so fucked up that most “story” beats feel more like lateral moves, but you’re so blindsided by what’s going on you don’t really care? At least this critic didn’t. There’s barely a narrative to Beau Is Afraid other than a super neurotic mama’s boy trying to get to his mother after his keys and luggage are stolen in the hallway of his apartment. It’s Woody Allen‘s The Odyssey but without middle-aged men dating thirteen-year-olds. Thank God.

The central weirdo, Beau, is played quite perfectly by Joaquin Phoenix in the type of role that seems pretty standard for the actor at this point. Broadway L👏E👏G👏E👏N👏D Patti LuPone plays his domineering and manipulative mother in an act of absolutely brilliant and unexpected casting. Rounding out the ensemble are really good bit performances from Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane (another Broadway legend), Zoe Lister-Jones, Richard Kind, Stephen McKinley Henderson and an absolutely hilarious Parker Posey. Bill Hader even has a cameo as a UPS Delivery guy. Besides the cast, the technical specs are mostly executed well. The film looks gorgeous and manages to evoke that feeling of a waking nightmare throughout most of its runtime. The film struggles the most in regards to pacing. At 179 minutes, it’s simply too long. This feels like an especially self-indulgent Ari Aster director’s cut that somehow managed to sneak past the theatrical cut when they shipped out the prints to theaters. The first hour is excellent, the second hour consistently dips but is strong overall, but the third hour is where you really feel the length. Besides an incredible scene with Parker Posey, so much of act three could have been cut down. Patti LuPone in particular has three monologues that easily could have been one, and the final scene of the movie is so on-the-nose you start to wonder if the overall message of the movie being so obvious and trite is part of the joke of this movie existing in the first place. Whatever it is, I feel like Beau Is Afraid just didn’t stick the landing and connect with me as an audience member. However, there’s a hearty laugh every five or so minutes of this movie which prevent it from ever being anything more than a minor chore to finish.

I admire the daring of Ari Aster, I just wish his celluloid mental breakdown was a little more focused. As it stands it’s like discount David Lynch. Not a bad thing to be in the grand scheme of film. Grade: B (In Theaters)


Another instance of brilliant and unexpected casting is Nicolas Cage as Count Dracula. I’m surprised I’ve never heard any behind-the-scenes studio chatter or Reddit rumblings over the years about how the biggest actor to ever ACT should take on the naturally showboat-y role of the vampire prince himself. Cage delivers a very large and deeply satisfying performance which works with how campy and low-stakes the movie is as a whole. He’s well paired with the always underrated Nicholas Hoult as the titular Renfield, Dracula’s man-slave who attends abusive partner support groups to vent about his boss and feel appreciated. Rounding out the core cast is Awkwafina as a young incorruptible cop in a precinct full of on-the-take motherfuckers. She’s funny and likable, just like the rest of the movie. The whole thing is enjoyable with outrageously fake-looking CGI blood showers, corny dialogue and truly silly characters. It certainly doesn’t offer us anything new, but unlike most horror comedies, it completely understands its limitations and doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. Get it? Cause of vampires? Ben Schwartz might be the MVP here as the dip-shit son of a big-time crime boss. He steals every scene he’s in. Grade: B (In Theaters)

Abbott Elementary Season 2

The funniest show running right now, laugh for laugh, is probably Abbott Elementary. After a basically perfect 13-episode first season, AB returns for an extended 22-episode season that is almost as seamless. Only one or two episodes feel different from the high bar creator/star Quinta Brunson, and crew has set. Abbott Elementary doesn’t break new ground; it merely recycles The Office or Park & Rec’s mockumentary format for a workplace comedy about public school teachers in West Philadelphia. It’s a familiar setup executed near perfectly with one of the best ensemble casts on television. Brunson plays the shy, awkward, and overly ambitious green teacher, while Everybody Hates Chris‘ Tyler James Williams plays the other shy, awkward, and overly ambitious green teacher. They’re obviously perfect for each other in a Pam & Jim kinda way, and a lot of the fun of the show is watching their chemistry and affection for each other slowly build. Both Brunson and Williams are good, but the real stars of this show are the supporting players. Veteran character actress Lisa Ann Walter is hilarious as the Jersey Italian kindergarten teacher. At the same time, Emmy Winner Sheryl Lee Ralph is the perfect foil for her as the other senior teacher who commands even more respect from her students without raising her voice. The show’s real star is Janelle James as Principal Ava, an aloof, ridiculous cartoon of a woman who has her job because she slept with and blackmailed the school superintendent. James gets the best lines (delivered perfectly), and the show’s best episodes generally revolve around her. It’s the best purely comedic performance on television right now. While her co-star Sheryl Lee Ralph is excellent in an arguably more complex and nuanced role, James deserves the Emmy come September. The whole show deserves to be showered in Emmys because in an age where “comedy” television has gotten bleaker and more uncompromising than most “dramas,” having a nice throwback that goes down easy can’t be overvalued. Abbott Elementary is an excellent chaser to television’s darkest days. Grade: A (Hulu)

Of An Age

A small, Australian character-driven gay romance indie you can watch for free if you have Peacock. Of An Age doesn’t break new ground in the genre; only the lead performances save it from a junk pile of movie meet-cute cliches. However, the performances are really stellar. Elias Anton, in particular, is riveting as Kol, a nervous closeted gay Armenian teen who, for some reason, thinks “ballroom dancing” is an excellent way to stay hidden in that closet. Yep. Okay. He’s about to graduate high school, and his typical aspiring actress shit-show of a dance partner, Ebony (a good Hattie Hook), phones Kol at seven in the morning, saying she’s on the other side of their part of Australia or something and that she needs for him to come to get her before the finals of their ballroom dancing competition. She was candy-flipping the night before and has no idea what’s happening. Unfortunately, Kol realizes he’ll never be able to make it back in time for the finals of their competition. Fortunately, Ebony’s gay older brother, Adam, has a car and offers to take Kol two or three hours to gather up Sister Trainwreck. Adam is played by an excellent Thom Green, not to be confused with Tom Green; his bum doesn’t make it onto anyone’s lips the whole movie. In fact, most of Of An Age is about Kol and Adam’s emotional connection rather than physical, though there is one relatively tame sex scene. Anton and Green‘s chemistry carries Of An Age a great deal, and without them or performers of their caliber, this would no doubt feel like a melodramatic television movie. As it stands, it’s a good film you can stream for free on Peacock. Grade: B (Peacock)


Super Mario BrosIn Theaters

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves In Theaters

Beef Season 1Netflix

The Bear Season 1Hulu

Milf Manor Season 1Discovery+

SwarmAmazon Prime

John Wick 4In Theaters

Yellowjackets Season 1Showtime

Scream 6 Paramount+


The Last of Us Season 1HBOMax

Poker Face Season 1Peacock

Cocaine BearPeacock

Return to SeoulVOD

Knock at the CabinPeacock


28 Days HauntedNetflix

Pressure CookerNetflix

Decision to LeaveVOD

Interview with the Vampire Season 1AMC+

Weird: The Al Yankovic StoryRoku+

Bodies Bodies BodiesShowtime

The Kids in the Hall Season 6 Amazon Prime

This Is Going to HurtAMC+

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: