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August is traditionally a weird month, both for film and television. It’s when studios usually release blockbusters that seem a little too odd for the first stretch of summer and the last moment before networks premiere their shows in the fall. But Covid-19 — to say nothing of viewers’ changing habits — has thrown a lot of those traditions out the window, at least up to a point. The month’s biggest multiplex movies, for instance, include a video game-themed comedy that looks more like The Truman Show than Mortal Kombat and second stab at one of the DC Universe’s strangest superteams. Let’s start our look at August there.
The Suicide Squad (Theaters, HBO Max, August 6)
Writer/director James Gunn more or less wiped the slate clean when he took over DC’s second Suicide Squad movie, which might be just as well. The first was a mess with a few bright spots, like Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn. Harley’s back for this sequel, alongside Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller as the ruthless commander of the eponymous team of villains forced conscripted to take down even worse villains. (Think The Dirty Dozen, but with superpowers and spandex.) Idris Elba and John Cena are among the more notable newcomers and the trailers suggest Gunn will bring some of the lightness and rude humor that made his Guardians of the Galaxy films so fun. Watch on HBO Max here.
Annette (Theaters, Prime Video, August 20)
Cannes festival-goers were alternately wowed and baffled by this new musical directed by Leos Carax (Holy Motors) featuring songs and taken from a story by Sparks (the long-running brother group who recently served as the subject of an Edgar Wright documentary). That was probably inevitable. Both band and director have proven divisive but those who love the movie — in which Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard play first-time parents — seem likely to be over the moon for it. Watch with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime here.
Vivo (Netflix, August 6)
This year will see the premiere of not one but two Lin-Manuel Miranda musicals. Its release kicked back a year, In the Heights hit theaters and HBO Max in June. August brings the premiere of this animated film for which Miranda wrote the songs and provides the voice of Vivo, a music-loving kinkajou who has to beat the odds and travel from Havana to Miami to deliver a love song. Watch on Netflix here.
Val (Prime Video, August 6)
Drawing on hours of footage he shot over the course of his life, Val Kilmer looks back on his career, and forward to a future in spite of being sidelined by his battle with throat cancer. The film promises a candid look at a Hollywood leading man who never seemed that comfortable with his stardom. Watch with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime here.
Reservation Dogs (Hulu, August 9)
It’s a welcome development that 2021 has seen not one but two comedies led by Native American creators, though any resemblance between the new series and Peacock’s Rutherford Falls probably ends there. Co-created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, Reservation Dogs follows the misadventures of a quartet of indigenous teens in Oklahoma doing everything they can — inside and outside the law — to save money for a move to California. Watch with a free trial to Hulu here.
What If… ? (Disney+, August 11)
Always one of the most reliably weird comics put out by Marvel, What If…? explored what might have happened if key moments in Marvel history went another way. What the comic book did for Marvel zombies who knew every twist and turn in the Marvel Universe, this new animated anthology series looks to do the same for viewers steeped in Marvel Cinematic Universe lore. Creator A.C. Bradley has promised episodes will vary from the comedic to the tragic, starting with an episode that ponders what might have happened if Peggy Carter had taken the Captain America Super Soldier serum. Watch on Disney+ here.
Homeroom (Hulu, August 12)
Director Peter Nicks had already begun making a documentary about the 2020 class of an Oakland high school before the Covid-19 pandemic took the year in an unexpected director. Homeroom completes a trilogy of films about public institutions in Oakland and, based on the reaction out of Sundance, Nicks rose to the challenge of the unprecedented moment, following a handful of students as they prepare to face a changing world. Watch with a free trial to Hulu here.
Don’t Breathe 2 (Theaters, August 13)
A blind man living by himself in a virtually abandoned Detroit neighborhood, Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) looked like an easy mark in the 2016 horror thriller, Don’t Breathe. His would-be robbers found out otherwise, however, in a film that made it hard to figure out who to root for, especially after Norman was revealed to have some pretty dark secrets. This sequel unfolds years after the original, when Norman has become an adoptive father, which sounds like a nice set-up for a sequel, albeit one probably destined to take a turn for the bloody.
Free Guy (Theaters, August 13)
Pity the poor non-player character, destined to play their small, often sad, rolls in video games before being forgotten. But what would happen if one such character became such aware? That’s the premise of this comedy starring Ryan Reynolds as Guy, an NPC in a Grand Theft Auto-like game who becomes capable of taking his fate in his own hands. Jodi Comer co-stars as one of Guy’s creators who becomes part of a race against time when the game becomes scheduled to be shut down.
Respect (Theaters, August 13)
Aretha Franklin’s life didn’t lack drama, from the early death of her mother to Franklin’s struggles to be noticed to her abusive first marriage. Franklin, who was involved in this biopic prior to her death, didn’t really like to talk all that openly about her past, however, so it remains to be seen how frank this new biopic will be. It’s certainly cast well, no matter what, however: Jennifer Hudson, a performer with both the acting and singing chops to take on the role, plays Franklin. Forest Whitaker and Marlon Wayans co-star as, respectively, Franklin’s celebrity preacher father and her first husband/manager.
Beckett (Netflix, August 13)
When American tourists Beckett (John David Washington) and April (Alicia Vikander) become involved in a car accident in Greece, Beckett finds himself a fugitive — and maybe the pawn in some larger game. Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, a longtime collaborator of Luca Guadagnino (who serves as producer) directs from his own screenplay. Watch on Netflix here.
CODA (Theaters and Apple TV+, August 13)
The toast of this year’s Sundance, this moving drama from Sian Heder stars Emilia Jones as the only hearing member of a Massachusetts fishing family. (The title stands for “Child of Deaf Adults.”) Her already difficult task of juggling her high school studies and attempts to have her own life with her familial obligations gets upended when she develops a desire to sing, encouraged by the arrival of a new music teacher (Eugenio Derbez). Watch on Apple TV+ here.
Heels (Starz, August 15)
In a small Georgia town, two brothers (Stephen Amell and Alexander Ludwig) have different visions for the future of their late father’s wrestling promotion in a series set to explore the gritty reality of the sometimes less-than-glamorous world of pro wrestling. This is the first major role for Amell, a longtime wrestling fan (and occasional wrestler), since Arrow drew to a close. Watch with a free trial to Starz here.
Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu, August 18)
Nine visitors to a wellness retreat (played by an all-star cast that includes everyone from Melissa McCarthy to Michael Shannon to Regina Hall) discover not everything is as serene as it first appears in the latest attempt from David E. Kelley (The Undoing, Big Little Lies) to turn a best-selling novel into a must-watch miniseries. Nicole Kidman presides over the gathering as Masha, the resident wellness expert who probably knows more about her guests than they suspect. Watch with a free trial to Hulu here.
Reminiscence (Theaters, HBO Max, August 20)
Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy makes her feature debut with a noir-inspired near-future thriller starring Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister, a specialist in allowing residents of a devastated Miami to relive happier times. Rebecca Ferguson co-stars as a client whose allure might prove his undoing. Watch on HBO Max here.
Cryptozoo (Theaters, August 20)
Cartoonist Dash Shaw has been winning over readers of off-the-beaten track comics since he was a teenager via books like Bottomless Belly Button and Cosplayers. With the well-received 2016 film, My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea, Shaw branched out into animation, a development fathered by this even more ambitious second feature starring the voice of Lake Bell as Lauren, a fearless protectors of the creatures found at her refuge for strange, mythical, and freakish animals.
The Night House (Theaters, August 20)
One of the wonderful things about horror is the way the genre can keep offering up new variations on familiar premises. There have been countless haunted house movies but if a new haunted house movie is good, who cares? This second feature from David Bruckner stars Rebecca Hall as a widow living alone in the lake house built by her late husband — a place that becomes host to terrifying visions.
Chapelwaite (Epix, August 22)
Before the events of Stephen King’s 1975 novel Salem’s Lot made Jerusalem’s Lot a bloody mess, the town already had a dark history. King chronicled that earlier chapter in the 1978 short story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” the inspiration for this new series set in the 1850s and starring Adrien Brody as a widowed father who relocates his family to his ancestral home, a place with dark secrets. Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire co-stars as a writer working for The Atlantic who gets drawn into his troubles. Watch on Epix here.
The Chair (Netflix, August 27)
When Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) becomes the first woman to serve as Chair of her college’s English department she discovers the promotion comes with a set of problems, some of them tied to a coworker (Jay Duplass) involved in a mounting scandal. The first project produced as part of David Benioff and Dan Weiss’s Netflix deal, the six-part miniseries is written by Amanda Peet. Watch on Netflix here.
Candyman (Theaters, August 27)
Not a remake but a follow-up to the original Candyman, this new film directed by Nia DaCosta makes the gentrification that’s come to the former site of Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing projects central to its plot. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as a childhood Cabrini Green resident who returns to his old neighborhood as a successful artist only to find that the ghosts of the past haven’t quite been laid to rest.
Vacation Friends (Hulu, August 27)
What happens on vacation stays on vacation, except when it doesn’t, in this new comedy starring John Cena and Meredith Hagner (Search Party) as a hard-partying couple who unexpectedly show up at the wedding of a pair of vacation acquaintances (Lil Rel Howery and Yvonne Orji). Directed by Clay Tarver, a veteran of Silicon Valley, this looks like the sort of broad, amiable comedy that doesn’t make it to theaters that much but seems to be finding new homes on streaming services. Watch with a free trial to Hulu here.
Only Murders in the Building (Hulu, August 31)
Steve Martin hasn’t really done much in the way of acting lately, not that he hasn’t stayed busy playing music, writing plays, and touring with his pal Martin Short. Apart from a cameo in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Martin hasn’t had an on-screen role of any significance since The Big Year in 2011. That changes with this new series, co-created by Martin, in which he plays a true crime fan who finds himself drawn into a real-life mystery (maybe). Short and Selena Gomez co-star as fellow crime obsessives. Watch with a free trial to Hulu here.