Nine New Movies You Can Watch in August That Have Been Fast-Tracked From Cinemas to Streaming
Get comfy on the couch with Sydney Sweeney's best performance yet, the latest dazzling 'Spider-Verse' film and a hilarious road-trip comedy.
August 18, 2023
Before the pandemic, when a new-release movie started playing in cinemas, audiences couldn't watch it on streaming, video on demand, DVD or blu-ray for a few months. But with the past few years forcing film industry to make quite a few changes — widespread movie theatre closures will do that, and so will plenty of people staying home because they aren't well — that's no longer always the case.
Maybe you haven't had time to make it to your local cinema lately. Perhaps you've been under the weather. Given the hefty amount of titles now releasing each week, maybe you simply missed something. Film distributors have been fast-tracking some of their new releases from cinemas to streaming recently — movies that might still be playing in theatres in some parts of the country, too. In preparation for your next couch session, here are nine that you can watch right now at home.
Sydney Sweeney is ready for her closeup. Playwright-turned-filmmaker Tina Satter obliges. A household name of late due to her exceptional work in both Euphoria and The White Lotus, Sweeney has earned the camera's attention for over a decade; however, she's never been peered at with the unflinching intensity of Satter's debut feature Reality. For much of this short, sharp and stunning docudrama, the film's star lingers within the frame. Plenty of the movie's 83-minute running time devotes its focus to her face, staring intimately and scrutinising what it sees. Within Reality's stranger-than-fiction narrative, that imagery spies a US Air Force veteran and National Security Agency translator in her mid-twenties, on what she thought was an ordinary Saturday. It's June 3, 2017, with the picture's protagonist returning from buying groceries to find FBI agents awaiting at her rented Augusta, Georgia home, then accusing her of "the possible mishandling of classified information".
Reality spots a woman facing grave charges, a suspect under interrogation and a whistleblower whose fate is already known to the world. It provides a thriller of a procedural with agents, questions, allegations and arrests; an informer saga that cuts to the heart of 21st-century American politics, and its specific chaos since 2016; and an impossible-to-shake tragedy about how authority savagely responds to being held to account. Bringing her stage production Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription to the screen after it wowed off-Broadway and then Broadway, Satter dedicates Reality's bulk to that one day and those anxious minutes, unfurling in close to real time — but, pivotally, it kicks off three weeks earlier with its namesake at work while Fox News plays around her office. Why would someone leak to the media a restricted NSA report about Russian interference in getting Donald Trump elected? Before it recreates the words genuinely spoken between its eponymous figure and law enforcement, Reality sees the answer as well.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE
There's nothing small about Hollywood's superhero obsession, with its 30-movies-deep-and-counting cinematic universes, competing caped-crusader realms, ever-growing spread across screens big and small, and determination to enlist every actor ever (and some actors more than once). That decades have passed, many spandex-clad characters have cycled through a few faces now, and reuniting past and present versions of beloved crime-fighters is the current trend: none are minor matters, either. And yet, when 2018's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse took pop culture's favourite web-slinger back to its animated roots, it made those flesh-and-blood flicks and shows, as well as the expensive special effects behind them, look positively trivial and cartoonish. Five years later, the first sequel to the deservedly Academy Award-winning masterpiece plasters around the same sensation like a Spidey shooting its silk. Give this latest take on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's iconic character by directors Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul) and Justin K Thompson (Into the Spider-Verse's production designer) 2024's Best Animated Feature Oscar immediately.
All the money in the world can't make people in tights standing against green screens as visually spectacular and emotionally expressive as the Spider-Verse films. If it could, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and now Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse wouldn't be so astonishing and exhilarating, look so stunning and feel so authentic. Spider-Man's eight stints in theatres with either Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland behind the mask — and all of the latter's pop-ups in other Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, too — have splattered around plenty of charm, but they'll now always swing far below their animated counterparts. Indeed, when Spider-Man: No Way Home tried to emulate the Spider-Verse by pointing its fingers into the multiverse, as Marvel's live-action world is now fixated upon, it paled in comparison. And, that isn't just because there was no Nicolas Cage-voiced 30s-era spider-vigilante Spider-Man Noir, or a spider-robot, spider-pig, spider-car or spider-saur; rather, it's because as the Spider-Verse movies tell of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore, Wu-Tang: An American Saga), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld, Hawkeye), Peter B Parker (Jake Johnson, Minx), Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight) and more, they truly do whatever a Spider-Man movie can.
Before it busts out licking lucky cats, K-pop-style Cardi B covers, cocaine enemas, threesome injuries and intimate tattoos, Joy Ride begins with a punch. For most of the movie, Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park, Beef) and Lolo Chen (Sherry Cola, Good Trouble) are nearing 30, travelling in China and going on a wild journey in a gleefully raucous comedy. In the 1998-set prologue in White Falls, Washington, though, they're five-year-olds (debutants Lennon Yee and Milana Wan) first meeting, being taunted by a racist playground bully and responding with the outgoing Lolo's fist. Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon screenwriter Adele Lim uses her directorial debut's opening scene not just to start a fast and firm friendship, but to establish the film's tone, sense of humour and, crucially, its willingness to fight. Joy Ride will ultimately get sentimental; however, this is a movie that beats up cultural prejudices and stereotypes by letting its four main female and non-binary Asian American characters grapple with them while being complicated and chaotic.
Hollywood should be well past representation being such a noteworthy factor. That should've happened long before Bridesmaids and Bachelorette gave The Hangover's template a ladies-led spin more than a decade ago, and prior to Girls Trip spending time four Black women on a raucous weekend away six years back. Reality proves otherwise, sadly, so Joy Ride openly addresses the discrimination and pigeonholing slung Audrey, Lolo, and their pals Kat (Everything Everywhere All At Once Oscar-nominee Stephanie Hsu) and Deadeye's (comedian and movie first-timer Sabrina Wu) ways — and in Audrey's case, after being adopted as a baby by the white Sullivans (The Recruit's David Denman and Bridesmaids' co-writer Annie Mumolo), internalised. With its booze- and sex-fuelled antics, Lim's film could've simply been formulaically entertaining, just with Asian American characters in Asia. It certainly doesn't hold back with its raunchy setpieces. But it's a better and more thoughtful feature because it engages with the diasporic experience; "I'm just a garbage American who only speaks English," Audrey chides herself, which the picture she's in unpacks.
NO HARD FEELINGS
Has Jennifer Lawrence entered her Jennifer Coolidge era? With the spirit of American Pie lingering over No Hard Feelings like unpaid property taxes — a pivotal part of the movie's plot — the Silver Linings Playbook Oscar-winner and Winter's Bone, Hunger Games, X-Men and mother! star is flirting with that direction and loving it. No one sticks their genitalia in a warm home-baked dessert or talks about band camp in Lawrence's latest film, but it is a sex comedy about an inexperienced teenager that includes parents giving clumsy advice. It also involves getting lucky with an older woman; while Lawrence is only 32 and plays it here, an age gap — as well as the chasms between millennials and zoomers, and with the generations prior — is essential to the narrative.
The spirit of Coolidge, a game Lawrence, gags about Hall & Oates' 1982 earworm 'Maneater' — a storyline that somewhat riffs on its lyrics, in fact — and battles over class, generational differences and gentrification: that's No Hard Feelings. Based on a real-life Craigslist ad, it's also the next movie from filmmaker Gene Stupnitsky, who penned Bad Teacher and made his feature directorial debut with Good Boys. Where the latter took a Superbad-esque setup but swapped 17-year-olds out for sixth graders, his second flick as a helmer tells a coming-of-age tale on two levels. Percy Becker (Andrew Barth Feldman, White Noise) is the introverted brainiac whose helicopter parents (Daybreak's Matthew Broderick and Life & Beth's Laura Benanti) want to live a little before he hits Princeton University, while Maddie Barker (Lawrence, Causeway) is the bartender and Uber driver who's been in a state of arrested development ever since giving up her plans to surf California's beaches when her mother got sick.
When Pixar is at its best and brightest, the animation house's gorgeous and heartfelt films flow across the silver screen. They glow with colour, creativity, sincerity and emotion. In movies such as WALL-E, Inside Out, Soul, Toy Story 4, Up and Ratatouille, the Disney-owned company's work floats beyond the ordinary as it flickers — and yet, it's also grounded in genuine feelings and insights, even while embracing the now Pixar-standard "what if robots, playthings, rats and the like had feelings?" setup over and over. Accordingly, it makes sense that the studio's Elemental draws upon the sensations that its features usually inspire. It seems like something that was always destined to happen, in fact. And, it's hardly surprising that its latest picture anthropomorphises fire, water, air and earth, and ponders these aspects of nature having emotions. What's less expected is how routine this just-likeable and sweet-enough film is, with the Pixar template lukewarm instead of an inferno and hovering rather than soaring.
Elemental also treads water, despite vivid animation, plus the noblest of aims to survey the immigrant experience, opposites attracting, breaking down cultural stereotypes and borders, and complicated parent-child relationships. The Captain Planet-meets-Romeo and Juliet vibe that glinted through the movie's trailers proves accurate, and also something that the feature is happy sticking with exactly as that formula sounds. Although filmmaker Pete Sohn (The Good Dinosaur) draws upon his own upbringing as the son of Korean expats growing up in New York City and its distinctive neighbourhoods — that his family ran a grocery store is worked in as well — and his own marriage, his second stint as a director is too by-the-numbers, easy and timid. Elemental looks like a Pixar film, albeit taking a few visual cues from Studio Ghibli in some character-design details (its bulbous grassy creatures noticeably resemble Totoro), but it largely comes across like a copy or a wannabe.
THE LITTLE MERMAID
For anyone without a scaly tail, communing with the ocean can be a routine dip, a refreshing splash or a sail into choppy waters. In Disney's latest dance with merpeople and the humans that its main mythical sea creature yearns for (and desperately wants to learn more about), all three prove true. The next in the Mouse House's long line of live-action remakes — albeit with ample CGI helping to bring its sea-dwelling characters to life, but no hand-drawn animation — the new The Little Mermaid from director Rob Marshall (Mary Poppins Returns) is often content to wade where its beloved 1989 predecessor went before. That's the Disney do-over standard. Sometimes, though, this new effort is its own delightful paddle; when 'Under the Sea' echoes against a literal sea of colour, movement, creatures and energy, it's a dazzling Golden Age Hollywood-esque spectacular. There's no escaping the movie's bloat when it's not merrily floating, however, due in no small part to inflating the storyline from the original's 83 minutes to a hefty 135 minutes.
This day at the cinematic beach — glowing highs and waterlogged lows included — keeps the same basic narrative that viewers loved 34 years ago, as loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's 19th-century fairy tale of the same name. A quote from that text opens the film as Alan Menken's revisited Oscar-winning score starts to swell, advising "but a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more". The curious and adventurous Princess Ariel (Halle Bailey, Grown-ish) cries through her siren's song instead, lamenting the strict no-humans rule enforced by her father King Triton (Javier Bardem, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile). And, in rebellious teen-style, she acts out by sneaking off to scour the ocean floor's shipwrecks with her fish best friend Flounder (voiced by Jacob Tremblay, Luca), even when Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs, Snowpiercer) is tracking her every move, and stashing trinkets from the world on land in a secret cave.
JOHN FARNHAM: FINDING THE VOICE
There's no need to try to understand it: John Farnham's 1986 anthem 'You're the Voice' is an instant barnstormer of a tune. An earworm then, now and for eternity, it was the Australian song of the 80s. With its layered beats, swelling force and rousing emotion, all recorded in a garage studio, it's as much of a delight when it's soundtracking comedy films like the Andy Samberg-starring Hot Rod and the Steve Coogan-led Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa as it is echoing out of every Aussie pub's jukebox. Making a noise and making it clear, 'You're the Voice' is also one of the reasons that Farnham's 1986 album Whispering Jack remains the best-selling homegrown release ever nearing four decades since it first dropped. But, as John Farnham: Finding the Voice tells, this iconic match of track and talent — this career-catapulting hit for a singer who'd initially tasted fame as a teen pop idol two decades prior — almost didn't happen.
Whispering Jack also almost didn't come to fruition at all, a revelation so immense that imagining Australia without that album is like entering Back to the Future Part II's alternative 80s. Writer/director Poppy Stockwell (Scrum, Nepal Quake: Terror on Everest) and her co-scribe Paul Clarke (a co-creator of Spicks and Specks) know this, smartly dedicating a significant portion of Finding the Voice to that record and its first single. The titbits and behind-the-scenes anecdotes flow, giving context to a song almost every Aussie alive since it arrived knows in their bones. Gaynor Wheatley, the wife of Farnham's late best friend and manager Glenn, talks about how they mortgaged their house to fund the release when no label would touch the former 'Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)' crooner. Chris Thompson, the English-born, New Zealand-raised Manfred Mann's Earth Band musician who co-penned 'You're the Voice', chats about initially declining Farnham's request to turn the tune into a single after the latter fell for it via a demo.
INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR
Horror franchises like their doors to stay open: years may pass, stars and filmmakers may come and go, but every popular series eventually waltzes back onto screens. That's been true of Halloween, Scream, Candyman, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th and more. It's also accurate of Insidious, which is up to five features in 12 years and returns after its longest gap to-date. For viewers, half a decade has elapsed since this supernatural saga last hit cinemas in 2018's underwhelming Insidious: The Last Key, one of two prequels alongside Insidious: Chapter 3 (because that was the only way to keep bringing back MVP Lin Shaye). For Insidious' characters, though, Insidious: The Red Door takes place nine years after the events of Insidious: Chapter 2. That flick was the last until now to focus on Josh (Patrick Wilson, Moonfall) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne, Platonic), plus their haunted son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, The Whale) — and it's their tale the franchise leaps back into.
Not only starring but debuting as a director, Wilson makes Insidious: The Red Door an answer to the question that no one, not even the most dedicated horror fans, has likely asked: how are the Lamberts doing after their demonic dalliances? The portrait painted when the movie begins is far from rosy, with Josh and Renai divorced, Dalton resenting his dad, and something niggling at both father and son about their past. Neither the Lambert patriarch nor his now college-bound boy can remember their experiences with unpleasant entities in the astral plane, however, thanks to a penchant for handy hypnotism. So, Insidious: The Red Door poses and responds to another query: what happens when that memory-wiping mesmerism stops working?
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS
In the breakout movie of 2022, Michelle Yeoh was everything and everywhere. Multiverses are like that. Now, the Oscar-winner voices a space-robot peregrine falcon in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, and viewers should wish that this only existed in Everything Everywhere All At Once's kaleidoscope of realities. Alas, in this very realm, the newest Transformers film is indeed flickering through projectors. The toy-to-screen series it belongs to is now seven live-action entries in and — apart from 2018 spinoff-slash-prequel Bumblebee — largely still as dull as a smashed headlight. Set in 1994, the current instalment is a sequel to the last 1987-anchored franchise flick, which focused on the yellow-hued mechanised alien that can morph into a car, and also a prequel to 2007's saga-spawning Transformers. It draws upon the Transformers: Beast Wars animation, comics and video games, too, and feels in every frame like a picture that purely exists to service intellectual property that does big box-office business (2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon and 2014's Transformers: Age of Extinction each made over a billion dollars).
Michael Bay, Hollywood's go-to director for maximalist action carnage, might've been enthusiastic about Transformers when he started the silver-screen series nearly two decades back — the Ambulance filmmaker was definitely devoted to crashing together pixels replicating chrome in all five titles he helmed, including 2017's Transformers: The Last Knight — but these movies can't be anyone's passion projects. They show zero feeling, and seem to keep rolling out because the saga assembly line has already been established. New faces and a new guiding force behind the lens (director Steven Caple Jr, Creed II) can't dislodge that sensation with Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. The five-person team responsible for the script give no signal that they even wanted to. The feature's latest two leads (In the Heights' Anthony Ramos and Swarm's Dominique Fishback) do resemble people better than most flesh-and-blood characters in the Transformers world, welcomely, although one gets a sick-kid backstory and another a bad boss. Were the Transformers themselves asked to write the most cliched screenplay they could?
Looking for more at-home viewing options? Take a look at our monthly streaming recommendations across new straight-to-digital films and TV shows — and fast-tracked highlights from January, February, March, April, May, June and July, too. You can also peruse our best new films, new TV shows, returning TV shows and straight-to-streaming movies of 2023 so far
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