Ten Films and TV Shows You Need to Stream in August
Spend your couch time watching Rose Byrne's ace aerobics dramedy, a wild genre-bender about a nun fighting AI and a stone-cold Korean masterpiece.
August 31, 2023
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 Aotearoa'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 anything, we're here to help. We've spent plenty of couch time watching our way through this month's latest batch — and, from the latest and greatest through to old and recent favourites, here are our picks for your streaming queue from August's haul.
BRAND NEW STUFF YOU CAN WATCH IN FULL NOW
Whether they attend Truham Grammar School or the neighbouring Higgs Girls School, most of Heartstopper's teenagers have much to say, often via text. But perhaps the most apt line of the entire Netflix series so far is uttered by Isaac Henderson (first-timer Tobie Donovan), the quiet bibliophile among the show's main friendship group. "I read all these books where people fall in love and I still have absolutely no idea," Isaac advises in the web-to-page-to-screen hit's second season. As a webcomic, a graphic novel and also a TV series that proved an instant smash when it debuted in 2022, Alice Oseman's creation couldn't better embody this reflection. Heartstopper is Isaac's yearning and confusion turned into art, even as the series remains sweet and joyous in every episode. Isaac gets his own storyline in season two, exploring what that lament means to him as he unpacks his own identity, and it's among the show's weighty narrative threads. But everyone in Heartstopper, from central couple Charlie Spring (fellow debutant Joe Locke) and Nick Nelson (Kit Connor, Little Joe) to their maybe-more-than-friends pals Tao Xu (newcomer William Gao) and Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney), plus classmates Tara Jones (Corinna Brown, Daphne) and Darcy Olsson (Kizzy Edgell), live his telling statement in their own ways.
Tales about getting swept away by first love adore conveying the rush, buzz and head-over-heels effervescence evoked by the pivotal experience. Awkwardness often factors in, but rarely the reality that no one ever truly knows what they're doing when it comes to romance. A chronicle of coming of age and also coming out, Heartstopper makes the truth that every teen is just doing their best and following their heart one of the show's core guiding concepts. And mostly, usually with each other's help as they traverse the full onslaught of adolescent emotions, this supremely likeable, relatable crew of high schoolers knows that they don't, can't and won't ever have all the answers. Brought to the screen by Oseman as the series' creator and writer, plus director Euros Lyn (Dream Horse) behind the lens — together, they've respectively penned and helmed all 16 episodes, eight in season one and that amount again in season two — Heartstopper spent its debut offering watching Charlie and Nick gravitate into each other's orbits. When the pair were sat next to each other in form class at the beginning of a new term, a friendship and then more swelled. Season two finds them officially and happily boyfriends, and with Nick's mother Sarah (Olivia Colman, Secret Invasion) supportive about Nick's bisexuality. Telling the rest of the world when he chooses to is part of his latest journey, always with the protective Charlie by his side.
JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL
The man knows how to rock a hat: Timothy Olyphant (Full Circle), that is. He knows how to play a determined lawman with a piercing stare and an unassailable sense of honour, too, and television has been all the better for it for nearing two decades. Pop culture's revival culture has benefited as well — first with HBO's 2004–06 western masterpiece Deadwood returning as 2019's Deadwood: The Movie, and now with 2010–15's US Marshal drama Justified making a comeback as miniseries Justified: City Primeval. Olyphant was perfect in both the first time around, and proves the same the second. Indeed, Deadwood: The Movie's only problem was that it was just a made-for-TV film, not a another season; Justified: City Primeval's sole issue is that it spans only eight episodes, and that a next date with the Stetson-wearing Raylan Givens hasn't yet been locked in. This continuation of Justified's initial six seasons arrives eight years after the show ended for viewers, but also finds Raylan with a 15-year-old daughter. And it's with Willa (Vivian Olyphant, Timothy Olyphant's real-life offspring) that he's hitting the road when a couple of criminals reroute their plans.
Now based in Miami, Florida rather than Justified's Harlan, Kentucky, Raylan is meant to be taking Willa to camp, only to be forced to detour to Detroit, Michigan to testify. It isn't a brief stop, after the Deputy US Marshal makes the wrong impression on Judge Alvin Guy (Keith David, Nope), then is personally requested to investigate an assassination attempt against the same jurist — teaming up with local detectives who are adamant about Detroit's particular ways, including Maureen Downey (Marin Ireland, The Boogeyman), Norbert Beryl (Norbert Leo Butz, The Girl From Plainville) and Wendell Robinson (Victor Williams, The Righteous Gemstones). You can take Raylan out of rural America and into the Motor City, as Justified: City Primeval does, but even with silver hair atop his calm glare he's still Raylan. So, he'll always stride around like a lone gunslinger who has seen it all, will confront anything, and is perennially valiant and resolute — and silently exasperated about humanity's worst impulses, too — as Justified: City Primeval welcomes. New location, passing years, the responsibilities of fatherhood, more and more lowlife crooks (including Boyd Holbrook, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny): they haven't changed this character, and audiences wouldn't have wanted that to happen.
It was back in March 2022 that the world first learned of Mrs Davis, who would star in it and which creatives were behind it. Apart from its central faith-versus-technology battle, the show's concept was kept under wraps, but the series itself was announced to the world. The key involvement of three-time GLOW Emmy-nominee Betty Gilpin, Lost and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof, and The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon writer and executive producer Tara Hernandez was championed, plus the fact that Black Mirror: San Junipero director Owen Harris would helm multiple episodes. Accordingly, although no one knew exactly what it was about, Mrs Davis existed months before ChatGPT was released — but this puzzle-box drama, which is equally a sci-fi thriller, zany comedy and action-adventure odyssey, now follows the artificial intelligence-driven chatbot in reaching audiences. Indeed, don't even bother trying not to think about the similarities as you're viewing this delightfully wild and gleefully ridiculous series.
There's also no point dismissing any musings that slip into your head about social media, ever-present tech, digital surveillance and the many ways that algorithms dictate our lives, either. Mrs Davis accepts that such innovations are a mere fact of life in 2023, then imagines what might happen if AI promised to solve the worlds ills and make everyone's existence better and happier. It explores how users could go a-flocking, eager to obey every instruction and even sacrifice themselves to the cause. In other words, it's about ChatGPT-like technology starting a religion in everything but name. To tell that tale, it's also about nun Simone (Gilpin, Gaslit), who was raised by magicians (Love & Death's Elizabeth Marvel and Scream's David Arquette), and enjoys sabbaticals from her convent to do whatever is necessary to bring down folks who practise her parents' vocation and the show's titular technology. She also enjoys quite the literal nuptials to Jesus Christ, is divinely bestowed names to chase in her quest and has an ex-boyfriend, Wiley (Jake McDorman, Dopesick), who's a former bullrider-turned-Fight Club-style resistance leader. And, she's tasked with a mission by the algorithm itself: hunting down the Holy Grail.
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
No one should start watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's 16th season with its eighth and last episode (last for this season, that is; the already record-breaking TV comedy, which became the longest-running live-action American sitcom ever with its 15th season, has been renewed for a 17th and 18th go-around). Still, the final instalment from this current batch, called 'Dennis Takes a Mental Health Day', is one the show's best-ever chapters. As a character study of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's most arrogant and abrasive member of its main quintet, aka Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton, Blackberry) — and yes, given his company, that's some feat — it's phenomenal in stepping through how his twisted mind works. A whopping 170 episodes in, it's also a prime example of the series' constant eagerness to push and stretch itself. Season 16 also features It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia instalments that are so classic that they could've aired years ago, not that the program ever repeats itself, but this run also keeps challenging how It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia tells its tale, unpacks Dennis and company, and satirises Pennsylvania's worst Irish bar owners.
Howerton remains mesmerising as one of the show's Reynolds twins throughout season 16; however, so does Kaitlin Olson (Hacks) as his sister Dee. This far in, Charlie Day (Bupkis), Rob McElhenney (Mythic Quest) and Danny DeVito (Haunted Mansion) could all play Charlie Kelly, Mac and Frank Reynolds in their sleep, too — but there's no coasting here, only going deeper into what makes the Paddy's Pub crew who they are. Their responses to any given outlandish situation, aka It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's bread and butter, might seem predictable on the surface. Even what proves true, though, nothing is ever straightforward. Amid the scheming, plotting, conning, fighting, revenge plans and more, this bunch constantly unpack and parody America at its most problematic, and western attitudes overall as well. They're as sharp and ridiculous and hilarious now as they were in 2005. In their sights this time: inflation, gun violence, reality TV, chess, celebrity endorsements (complete with a spectacular couple of guest stars), child-friendly food and amusement joints, bowling and, of course, mental health.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia streams via Disney+.
NEW AND RETURNING SHOWS TO CHECK OUT WEEK BY WEEK
ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING
Corpses and killings don't normally herald joy on-screen, even in pop culture's current murder-mystery comedy wave, but Only Murders in the Building isn't just another amusing whodunnit. There's a particular warmth to this series. In each of its three seasons to-date, the New York-set show has unleashed amateur gumshoes upon a shock death, with its key trio sifting through clues and podcasting the details. Along the way, it has also kept telling a winning story about second chances and finding the folks who understand you. Only Murders in the Building's ten-episode third season relays that tale again, expanding its portraits of artist Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez, The Dead Don't Die), theatre director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short, Schmigadoon!) and veteran actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin, It's Complicated) — and of their friendship. Once more, it embraces the power of chemistry, both within its narrative and for audiences. That isn't new; when the show debuted in 2021, it felt like the murder-mystery comedy genre's version of a cosy embrace because its three leads were so perfectly cast and their odd-throuple characters so full of sparks. While Mabel, Oliver and Charles wouldn't be a trio if it wasn't for a building evacuation, a murder and a love of true-crime podcasts, their connection isn't merely fuelled by chatting about the murders in their building, with crossing each other's paths changing their respective lives.
There's a death in season three's initial episode — it first occurred in season two's dying moments, to be precise — and, of course, ample sleuthing and talking about it follows. The victim: Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania), a silver-screen star best-known for playing a zoologist who fights crime by turning into a snake in the blockbuster CoBro franchise. (Yes, if those movies weren't just Only Murders in the Building's Ant-Man gag, existed IRL and starred Rudd, they'd be a hit.) But Only Murders in the Building's latest run also opens with Mabel, Oliver and Charles in places that they wouldn't be if they were solo. Largely, that applies emotionally: Mabel is more grounded and open, and now thinking about the future more than the past; Oliver has faced his career fears, resurrecting his showbiz bug with a new show; and Charles is less misanthropic and more willing to take new chances. They're also frequently in a different location physically thanks to Oliver's comeback production Death Rattle (which is where Meryl Streep fits in). No, the series isn't now called Only Murders in the Building and on Broadway.
THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART
In The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, blooms are rarely out of sight and petals never evade attention. Adapted from Holly Ringland's 2018 novel, the seven-part Australian miniseries is set on a farm that cultivates native flora. It dubs the women who tend to them, an ensemble from various backgrounds largely seeking refuge from abusive pasts, "flowers" as well. Whether stem by stem or in bunches, its characters use florets as their own secret language. And yet, as much as bouquets linger, getting all things floral on the mind, star Sigourney Weaver burns rather than blossoms. Fire is another of the show's strong recurring motifs, so it's still fitting that its biggest name is as all-consuming as a blaze. She needs to be that scorching: this is a story about endeavouring to survive while weathering woes that ignite everything in their path. Weaver also draws upon almost five decades of thriving before the camera, often playing steely, smart and sometimes-raging women. Her on-screen career began sparking with Alien, the film that made her an instant icon. Since then, everyone has heard her performances scream — and, in The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, she's again dazzling.
Flowers frequently surround Weaver's June Hart far and wide. With a carefully selected cutting, the shotgun-toting matriarch of Thornfield Flower Farm can say all she needs to. That's what the eponymous Alice (Ayla Browne, Nine Perfect Strangers) quickly learns about her grandmother when she arrives at the property following a tragedy, becoming one of the farm's flowers after losing her pregnant mother Agnes (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Hotel Mumbai) and violent father Clem (Charlie Vickers, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power). The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a tale about traumas, secrets and lies that lurk as deeply as the earth — about the choices and cycles that take root in such fraught soil, too. When nine-year-old Alice relocates fresh from hospital, the determined June, her doting partner Twig (Leah Purcell, The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson) and their adopted daughter Candy Blue (Frankie Adams, The Expanse) aim to shower the girl with sunlight to blaze away her horrors. You can't just bury problems, however, then hope that something vivid and colourful will grow over the top. Dedicating its first half to Alice's childhood and its second to 14 years later, when she's in her early twenties (Alycia Debnam-Carey, Fear the Walking Dead), The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart understands this immutable fact in its core.
Rose Byrne made her acting debut in the 90s, with Echo Point, Wildside, the OG Heartbreak High and Two Hands among her earliest credits. Physical sends the Australian star a decade further back, and the results have kept proving insightful and astute across three seasons. Created by Annie Weisman after the writer and producer previously pondered domesticity in Desperate Housewives and Suburgatory, the series bends and stretches with Byrne (Insidious: The Red Door) as Sheila Rubin, a San Diego housewife when the first episode dropped in 2021 — and an aerobics star not long afterwards. Slipping into a leotard, then getting the blood pumping, isn't just exercise for Physical's protagonist. The late, great Olivia Newton-John mightn't have sung "let's work through our troubles while working up a sweat" (unsurprisingly; it isn't catchy), but that's the thrust here. Among those struggles: Sheila's opinion of herself, including of her body; her relationship with food as a result; the self-critical voice in her head; and her marriage to Danny (Rory Scovel, Babylon) and its impact on her self-esteem.
Physical takes the darkly comedic approach to Sheila's ups and downs, including the self-loathing, the lack of fulfilment, the catharsis that aerobics brings and the professional path that it sets her on. In the show's ten-episode third and final season — three being the magic number, just like with Reservation Dogs — its central figure is doing well but wants more, including national exposure and fame. Sheila has also learned to be kinder to herself, at least as herself. When Hollywood actor Kelly Kilmartin (Zooey Deschanel, Dreamin' Wild) encroaches into her territory, she's the new scolding tone in Sheila's brain. Physical has always boasted a stellar cast that can flip between laughs and drama as swiftly as the show does, which is often, and Deschanel is no exception as a newcomer in this swansong run. That said, Byrne's comic chops keep proving a dream (see also: this year's Platonic), while Dierdre Friel (Second Act) is a constant scene-stealer as Sheila's friend and business partner Greta. Physical packs an emotional punch, too, as it embraces Sheila's imperfect journey and her imperfections in general.
Physical streams via Apple TV+.
In this or any other galaxy, whether here, near or far, far away and a long time ago, Star Wars streaming shows can't all be Andor. In cinemas, the franchise's movies can't all be Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, either. So, in both formats, they aren't always the weightiest and most grounded instalments that the series has ever delivered, all while demonstrating about as much interest in nostalgia as Jar Jar Binks has in not being annoying. The latest TV effort in the George Lucas-started space-opera saga, Ahsoka doesn't want to follow exactly in the last new Star Wars small-screen entry's footsteps, however, even if it's another sidestep tale about battling evil that champions folks who are rarely at the fore. Instead, it has intertwined aims: serving up a female-led chapter and drawing upon the franchise's animated realm. So, as it tells of eponymous ex-Jedi padawan Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson, Clerks III), it links to streaming's three seasons of The Mandalorian and 2021–22's The Book of Boba Fett, and also springs from animated film Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the TV series it spawned, plus fellow animated shows Star Wars Rebels and Tales of the Jedi.
Ahsoka's inter-franchise Star Wars links are strong, then, but it isn't just for fans who've watched every frame that the saga has ever sent hurtling across screens. Cue diving deeper beyond the obvious Star Wars fodder while still engaging more-casual franchise viewers. Cue another tale of mentors and students, too, with Ahsoka once a pupil to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Obi-Wan Kenobi) before he went to the dark side. Then, she passed on knowledge herself to rebellious, flame-haired Mandalorian Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Guns Akimbo). Thanks to the man who became Darth Vader, Ahsoka is wary about the Jedi order and cautious in general. Via her prior time with Sabine, she knows the difficulties of being a guide to a headstrong protégée. While the series gives its central figure nefarious foes to battle, it also has her grappling with her past traumas, mistakes and regrets. She's guarded there, too; when rebel crew member and now-New Republic general Hera Syndulla (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)) suggests that the way forward might involve enlisting Sabine's help, Ahsoka is uncertain. But only the youngest of the main trio can unlock a pivotal orb that holds a map that could lead to exiled Imperial officer Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen, The Kingdom) and Ahsoka's fellow one-time padawan Ezra Bridger (Eman Esfandi, The Inspection).
A RECENT CINEMA RELEASE YOU SHOULD CATCH UP ON
Book in a date with 2 M3GAN 2 Furious now: even if it doesn't take that name, which it won't, a sequel to 2023's first guaranteed horror hit will come. Said follow-up also won't be called M3GAN 2: Electric Boogaloo, but that title would fit based on the first flick's TikTok-worthy dance sequence alone. Meme-starting fancy footwork is just one of the titular doll's skills. Earnestly singing 'Titanium' like this is Pitch Perfect, tickling the ivories with 80s classic 'Toy Soldiers', making these moments some of M3GAN's funniest: they're feats the robot achieves like it's designed to, too. Although unafraid to take wild tonal swings, and mining the established comedy-horror talents of New Zealand filmmaker Gerard Johnstone (Housebound) and screenwriter Akela Cooper (Malignant) as well, this killer-plaything flick does feel highly programmed itself, however. It's winking, knowing, silly, satirical, slick and highly engineered all at once, overtly pushing buttons and demanding a response — and, thankfully, mostly earning it.
Those Child's Play-meets-Annabelle-meets-The Terminator-meets-HAL 9000 thoughts that M3GAN's basic concept instantly brings to mind? They all prove true. The eponymous droid — a Model 3 Generative Android, to be specific — is a four-foot-tall artificially intelligent doll that takes the task of protecting pre-teen Cady (Violet McGraw, Black Widow) from emotional and physical harm deadly seriously, creeping out and/or causing carnage against everyone who gets in its way. Those Frankenstein-esque sparks, exploring what happens when humanity (or Girls and Get Out's Allison Williams here, as Cady's roboticist aunt Gemma) plays god by creating life? They're just as evident, as relevant to the digital age Ex Machina-style. M3GAN is more formulaic than it should be, though, and also never as thoughtful as it wants to be, but prolific horror figures Jason Blum and James Wan produce a film that's almost always entertaining.
A STONE-COLD CLASSIC FILM TO WATCH (OR REWATCH) IMMEDIATELY
Spike Lee (Da 5 Bloods) remaking your movie is a massive compliment, but Park Chan-wook's magnificent Oldboy didn't ever need that tick of approval. The former's US-set and English-language version of the latter's stone-cold Korean classic is great as its own film — albeit maligned when it released ten years ago, so much so that it skipped a cinema date Down Under as a result — but the latter's original is a work of brutal, powerful and astonishing art for the ages. That's Park's wheelhouse, of course. When it arrived in 2003, his Oldboy was the middle chapter in the acclaimed auteur's Vengeance Trilogy, after all, following 2002's Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and preceded by 2005's Lady Vengeance. Joint Security Area, Thirst, Stoker, The Handmaiden, TV's The Little Drummer Girl, 2022's very-best film Decision to Leave: Park's resume is filled with remarkable efforts; however, that he'll always be synonymous with Oldboy, as well as its hammer and live octopus, isn't because nothing else on his filmography beats it. Every Park movie is its own gem in its own way — again, Decision to Leave was the finest film of 2022 — but this one is 100-percent designed to hit hard.
The story: it's 1988, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik, Big Bet) gets drunk and misses his daughter's fourth birthday, then needs a pal to collect him from the police station. But the sloshed businessman doesn't make it home. Instead, he's forced to spend 15 long years in a hotel room that he can't leave, all while being imprisoned by kidnappers that are committed to keeping him alive, too. Of course a quest for revenge springs from there. Adapted loosely from a Japanese manga of the same name, Oldboy's narrative throws up surprise after surprise before, during and after its protagonist's captivity, though. Every element of the plot makes a statement. Every decision that Park makes as a filmmaker does, too. This is a raw, dark exploration at human nature, as helmed with incisiveness, anchored by a stunner of a lead performance and featuring a corridor-set action scene to end all action scenes — and it's always worth watching, be it on a screen big or small, for the first time or as a revisit. Right now, a date with Oldboy also means celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Need a few more streaming recommendations? You can also check out our best 15 new shows from 2023's first six months, top 15 returning shows over the same period and best 15 straight-to-streaming movies from January–June.
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