Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in August 2020
Cancel your plans to get stuck into a top-notch new HBO horror series, an engaging documentary about a Disney composer and your next true-crime obsession.
August 24, 2020
Not all that long ago, the idea of getting cosy on your couch, clicking a few buttons, and having thousands of films and television shows at your fingertips seemed like something out of science fiction. Now, it's just an ordinary night — whether you're virtually gathering the gang to text along, cuddling up to your significant other or shutting the world out for some much needed me-time.
Of course, given the wealth of options to choose from, there's nothing ordinary about making a date with your chosen streaming platform. The question isn't "should I watch something?" — it's "what on earth should I choose?". Hundreds of titles are added to Australia's online viewing services each and every month, all vying for a spot on your must-see list. And, so you don't spend 45 minutes scrolling and then being too tired to actually commit to watching anything, we're here to help. From the latest and greatest to old favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue for August.
NEW STUFF TO WATCH NOW
Viewing US race relations and the nation's treatment of its black residents through a horror lens has long been Jordan Peele's jam, dating back to his Key & Peele days. Anyone who has seen Get Out and Us, the two films he has directed thus far, also knows this — and it is evident in Hunters, the TV series he executive produced earlier this year, as well. So Lovecraft Country, HBO's new horror drama based on the 2016 of the same name, was always going to be in Peele's wheelhouse. He's an executive producer again, and he's firmly in his element. Set in the 50s in America's south, this extremely well-executed series follows returned soldier Tic Freeman (Da 5 Bloods' Jonathan Majors), his uncle George (Project Power's Courtney B Vance) and his friend Leti Lewis (Birds of Prey's Jurnee Smollett) as they set off on a road trip to both find Tic's missing dad and locate African American-friendly places for George's Green Book-style guide. Their journey takes them to a part of the country where famed real-life sci-fi and horror writer HP Lovecraft found inspiration for his tales, too — and the results are smart and unnerving on multiple levels.
The first two episodes of Lovecraft Country are available to stream via Binge, with new episodes added weekly on Mondays.
Not to be confused with Bong Joon-ho's creature feature The Host, nor with the terrible sci-fi romance of the same name based on a novel boy Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, Shudder's engaging new horror flick Host is relevant to the absolute minute. The setup: bored in COVID-19 lockdown, a group of British friends (Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward and Edward Linard) decide to spice up their weekly Zoom catchup by enlisting a medium to conduct an online seance. Obviously, anyone who has ever seen a scary movie before knows that this is a bad plan, and that things won't end well. It's not so much what happens here that serves up the film's thrills, however, but how director Rob Savage (Strings) unfurls this creepy, timely premise. Frightening and tense features solely set on computer and mobile phone screens are by no means new — see Unfriended, Searching and Profile, just to name a few — but this is a savvy, cleverly staged and suitably spooky addition to the genre.
Host is available to stream via Shudder.
I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK
One of the true-crime highlights of the year so far (no, Tiger King really doesn't come close), I'll Be Gone in the Dark delves into the search for the Golden State Killer. If that sounds familiar, that's because the case has been splashed across news headlines of late — including this past weekend, when the culprit was sentenced for his crime spree more than three decades after he last committed the 13 murders, over 50 rapes and more than 120 burglaries that made him the scourge of 70s and 80s-era California. Knowing the most recent developments doesn't spoil this six-part series, though. It's too layered, too full of insight and information, and too tied to author Michelle McNamara, too, to suffer that fate. McNamara wrote the book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, that the show is based on. And, her story is as much a part of the series as the case she spent years fixating over, with the writer's text published in 2018 after her tragic 2016 death from an accidental overdose.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark is available to stream via Binge.
Blasted with disapproval by her mother for her choice of vocation, strip club employee Mercedes (Brandee Evans, Lethal Weapon) comes back strong: "Nah ma, it's art. I transport motherfuckers," she retorts. It's a powerful moment in P-Valley's first episode, but this is a powerful show all-round — and one that 100-percent treats its central activity as an art form. Created by Katori Hall and based on the playwright and journalist's stage production Pussy Valley, the series follows the ins and outs at erotic dance establishment The Pynk in the Mississippi Delta. The arrival of newcomer Autumn Night (Elarica Johnson, A Discovery of Witches) provides the program with its dramatic catalyst, but P-Valley is concerned with everyone in The Pynk's vicinity. Bold and vibrant in its storytelling, characters and visuals alike — neon features heavily — this series not only tells tales that aren't often seen on-screen, but does so with a clearcut and compelling vision. It's soapy at times, but it's also detailed, raw and utterly involving.
The first six episodes of P-Valley's first season are available to stream via Stan, with new episodes starting again from Sunday, August 30.
Imagine this: as part of an annual program designed to teach high schoolers about citizenship, leadership and US politics, a thousand teenage boys spend a week building their own (fictional, obviously) government. They form parties, come up with platforms, campaign for votes, endeavour to find consensus on topical issues and, for some attendees, try to reach Boys State's highest office of governor. If you think you already know how this would turn out, especially given the divided nature of American politics today, you're actually right. Still, watching it happen in the excellent documentary that's also called Boys State is another thing entirely. Taking a deep look at the next generation, interrogating their ideals, seeing what rhetoric these 17-year-olds have picked up and witnessing their willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed, this film is exactly what it aims to be, providing a glimpse of the US in a microcosm as well as a potential insight into the country's future. As directed by Jesse Moss (The Overnighters) and Amanda McBaine, it's also engrossing and striking, not to mention unsettling and optimistic in equal measure.
Boys State is available to stream via Apple TV+.
Maybe you're a Space Invaders aficionado from way back. Perhaps you've always had some sort of Nintendo console in your house. Or, you could prefer computer role-playing games — or mashing buttons in combat titles like Street Fighter II. Whichever category you fall into, six-part documentary series High Score is here to take you through the history of video games, particularly focusing on the 80s and 90s. It provides a wide-ranging snapshot of a broad topic, complete with personal anecdotes from a wide array of folks involved in the industry in various guises, and will certainly get you hankering for some retro fun. That said, there are omissions. If you correctly think Tetris is the best game ever made and deserves all of the attention and adoration possible, you might be disappointed, for example. Still, the whole thing is narrated by Charles Martinet, who has otherwise been known as the voice of Mario, Luigi, Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Wario, Waluigi and Toadsworth since the 90s.
High Score is available to stream via Netflix.
If Adam Cullen had been any other artist and Erik Jensen any other journalist, Acute Misfortune may not exist. In 2008, the former invited the latter to stay with him, see him at his best and worst, and channel his rollercoaster ride of a life story into a biography — and, as dramatised by actor-turned-filmmaker Thomas M. Wright in one of the very best Aussie films of the past few years, the results are simply blistering. Just as Jensen didn't shy away from Cullen's erratic, frequently controversial nature at any point, nor does this stunning drama, which could never be accused of being a straightforward biopic of the Archibald-winning painter. Aided by stellar performances by Snowtown's Daniel Henshall as Cullen and Babyteeth's Toby Wallace as Jensen, as well as a script by co-written by the real-life Jensen, this is a warts-and-all portrait that lays bare not only its subject, but Australia's fascination with festering masculinity, and it's a lively and compelling watch from start to finish.
Acute Misfortune is available to stream via Stan.
Disney loves celebrating Disney, and also adores dipping into its own back catalogue. But Howard, its latest project to fit that description, stands out. After spending much of the past decade making or planning live-action versions of its big animated flicks like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, the Mouse House is now going the documentary route to pay tribute to a man pivotal to all three. Indeed, if it wasn't for Oscar-winning lyricist Howard Ashman, fans everywhere may never have sung the lines "be our guest", "darling it's better down where it's wetter" or "you ain't never had a friend like me". A playwright who tasted theatre success and failure, proved a hit at Disney by helping them pump out beloved hits, and also passed away at the age of just 40 due to complications from HIV/AIDS, Ashman's is quite the story. He was behind the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors as well, and collaborated with fellow Disney composer Alan Menken — and, as told primarily via warm recollections overlaid across archival footage by filmmaker Don Hahn (Waking Sleeping Beauty), Ashman couldn't be more worthy of this touching tribute.
Howard is available to stream via Disney+.
ONES TO WATCH OUT FOR LATER IN THE MONTH
If there's one thing that the horror genre is fascinated with — and ghost stories especially — it's the way the past continually lingers over the present. Unsurprisingly given its moniker, Hungry Ghosts also adopts the topic; however this is a gripping four-part Australian supernatural drama with a difference. Following four Melbourne families, three of whom are of Vietnamese descent, the show is tied to the annual Hungry Ghost Festival, where some Asian communities venerate the dead. As the event approaches, an old war tomb is reopened in Vietnam — and, suddenly, spirits start terrorising twenty-something nail salon worker May Le (Catherine Văn-Davies), as well as others in her orbit. Moody and intriguing from the outset, Hungry Ghosts serves up effective spooks and scares. Most impressive, though, is its deep contemplation of the way that people are haunted by their troubles, fears and previous actions (including the long-lasting impact of conflict, such as the Vietnam War, on the program's multigenerational web of characters). Also a standout is the series' diverse cast, with the show starring 30 Asian Australian actors and more than 325 Asian Australian extras.
Hungry Ghosts starts streaming via SBS On Demand from 9.30pm Monday, August 24, with new episodes added at the same time each night until Thursday, August 27.
CULT CLASSICS TO REVISIT AND REDISCOVER
Maybe you couldn't get enough of Orphan Black back when it originally aired, with the Canadian sci-fi thriller hitting screens between 2013–17. Perhaps you heard its name pop up again and again and were intrigued by the premise, but never got around to binging your way through it. Either way, all five seasons of the acclaimed series have now hit Amazon Prime Video, if you're looking for your next marathon viewing session. That's 50 episodes of twisty clone-fuelled thrills — because, yes, that's what Orphan Black is all about. It starts with a woman, Sarah Manning, watching her doppelgänger commit suicide, then assuming her identity. Where it goes from there is too labyrinthine for a quick summary, but Sarah soon discovers that she has more than one likeness as part of an illegal experiment. Obviously, it's an enthralling premise, and one primed for plenty of surprises. And star Tatiana Maslany (Destroyer, Perry Mason) is a powerhouse, deservedly scoring multiple Emmy nominations for her work.
All five seasons of Orphan Black are available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
Top images: Lovecraft Country, Eli Joshua Ade / HBO; Hungry Ghosts, Sarah Enticknap / SBS.
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