5 Movies Like Barbie (2023) On Max (HBO Max)

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For the longest time, American media coverage was skewed to justify the presence of US forces in Arab states. Control Room unveils that bias by following Al Jazeera at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. One of the biggest Arab media outlets at the time, Al Jazeera dared to cover both sides of the war, but by doing so put a target on its back. It was vilified by both the US government, which called it an Osama mouthpiece and the Arab world, which called it a Bush ally. 

Control Room shows the difficulty (if not sheer impossibility) of achieving journalistic balance, objectivity, and integrity. Through interviews with Al Jazeera reporters and US military officers, we witness how lines are blurred, loyalties are tested, and purpose is shifted in a state of war. A seminal work on media bias and press control, Control Room is vital and enlightening, a must-watch to understand the inner workings of the fourth estate. 

Genre: Documentary, War

Actor: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Josh Rushing

Director: Jehane Noujaim

The Automat is a charming documentary about the historic place it names—a spacious self-service cafeteria that fed thousands of people during a good part of the 20th century. Through nostalgic footage and delightful interviews with the likes of Mel Brooks, Howard Schultz, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Automat successfully convinces you that more than just some gimmick, it was a cultural landmark, a piece of Americana whose existence alone taught an entire generation integral values like democracy, diversity, and hard work. It’s also straight-up hilarious, especially when Brooks attempts to direct the film himself, or other subjects salivate as they recall the Automat’s unbeatable menu. It’s more anecdotal than academic, so if you’re looking for a sweet, sentimental, and simple watch, this is it.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Carl Reiner, Colin Powell, Elliott Gould, Howard Schultz, Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Director: Lisa Hurwitz

Rating: TV-PG

If you’ve ever been puzzled by “Greek life”, this documentary will go some way to demystifying that somewhat baffling phenomenon of American college culture. Bama Rush follows four hopefuls as they “rush” the University of Alabama’s sororities, a TikTok-viral weeklong recruitment process so cutthroat some candidates spend months preparing for it. The documentary digs deep into why these young women put so much time, energy, and money into joining what the film hints is a largely unforgiving and reductive element of campus life. What it finds is pretty affecting: they’re really just looking for acceptance and belonging.

Threaded throughout are director Rachel Fleit’s reflections on her own history with those motivations, having grown up with alopecia. Though it does illustrate that rushing isn’t so dissimilar from other quests for acceptance, this parallel is sometimes clunkily drawn — and can seem somewhat self-indulgent in places, given the documentary’s comparatively surface-level exploration of more systemic issues. A late development shifts Bama Rush into an even deeper self-reflexive mode, as the film itself becomes a contentious issue in the process it’s documenting. Despite its flaws, turns like this — and its participants’ extraordinary candor — help make Bama Rush an often illuminating look into an opaque world. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Rachel Fleit

Composed of archival footage of the titular musical legend and testimonials from those who worked with him or whose lives were profoundly impacted by his courage, Little Richard: I Am Everything feels comprehensive but is also oddly lacking. The documentary makes a bold, confident claim: that all popular music today can be directly traced to his work. And when the film lets itself get into full music nerd mode, it's easy to be convinced. But after you accept that perspective on Little Richard, the rest of the movie seems like it's just spinning its wheels, covering key moments in the artist's life and career without really challenging or substantiating long-held ideas about him.

Chief among these is Little Richard's shifting feelings toward his own queerness—proudly expressing his true self one year, then openly denouncing his own homosexuality the next. This subject matter is ripe for difficult but insightful analysis, which the film just never gets around to. It begins to feel like the believes there is no more discussion to be had about him. And that may very well be true; he deserves the flowers that were denied him for so long. But this attitude doesn't necessarily make for the best documentary.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alan Freed, Billy Porter, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, John Waters, Little Richard, Mick Jagger, Pat Boone, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Valerie June

Director: Lisa Cortés

In the saturated sphere of sci-fi and superhero movies, Gray Matter just doesn’t cut it. The film, which was produced as part of the filmmaking workshop/reality show Project Greenlight, doesn’t add anything new, much less its own spin, to a story we’ve heard countless times: that of a young kid learning to harness her supernatural powers for the first time. If you’ve seen Carrie, Firestarter, or more recently Stranger Things, then you’ll be able to predict how most of Gray Matter turns out. It is watchable, sure, enjoyable even in the first few minutes where it promises a world chockful of lore, but it never fulfills that promise. To be fair, the performances are solid and the technicals maximize what limited resources the movie has (it looks more decent than you’d expect a small-budgeted sci-fi production to be), but the pros don’t outweigh the cons in this case. It’s simply too empty and generic to be elevated by anything else. 

Genre: Science Fiction

Actor: Andrew Liner, Garret Dillahunt, Jessica Frances Dukes, Mia Isaac

Director: Meko Winbush

Rating: PG-13