Jul 31, 2023

From Blue Beetle to Bottoms: 10 of the best films to watch in August

(Credit: Universal Studios)

1. Strays

In Josh Greenbaum's live-action / CGI comedy, Will Ferrell provides the voice of Reggie, a border terrier who gets lost in the city, and meets some other dogs, including a Boston terrier (Jamie Foxx), an Australian shepherd (Isla Fisher) and a great Dane (Randall Park), who help him find his way home to his master, Doug (Will Forte). Sounds sweet, doesn't it? The twist is that Strays isn't for children. Unlike the characters in most talking-animal films, these ones swear at each other and get up to all sorts of other antics which account for the film's R rating in the US. "It's really very funny but emotionally grounded," Greenbaum told Tamera Jones at Collider. "It's a film about relationships, unhealthy, toxic relationships, how we deal with them, how we found our own self-worth, how our friends play into that." But mostly it's about dogs swearing at each other.

On general release from 17 August

(Credit: Amazon)

2. Red, White & Royal Blue

An on-and-off transatlantic affair between a posh Brit and a free-spirited American? So far, so Richard Curtis. The key difference in Red, White & Royal Blue is that both the Brit and the American are men. Adapted from Casey McQuiston's novel – a BookTok sensation – this romantic comedy revolves around Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez), the son of the US president (Uma Thurman), and Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), the grandson of the British king (Stephen Fry). Its director is Matthew López, who won a Tony for his play, The Inheritance. "I never imagined I'd read a book with a queer Latine character at the centre – a character who is smart and passionate and flawed and hopeful," López told Anna Moeslein at Glamour. "I think having this book in my life when I was younger might have made it a little easier. I knew immediately that I wanted to bring it to the screen."

Released internationally on Prime Video on 11 Aug

(Credit: MGM)

3. Bottoms

Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott, director and star of 2021's Shiva Baby, reunite for another outrageous comedy, although this one features a lot more black eyes and broken noses. Sennott and Ayo Edebiri (The Bear) play two queer best friends who are tired of being the most unpopular people in their high school. Their plan is to start a self-defence class in the gym, mainly to attract cheerleaders, but it soon becomes a brutal fight club. "Ready for American Pie to look tame?" says Kristy Puchko at Mashable. "With Bottoms, Seligman and Sennott, who co-wrote the screenplay, reveal a story that is way wilder, way wackier, and way, way more gay than the typical teen sex comedy churned out by Hollywood... Bottoms is not only riotously entertaining but also sure to establish itself as a queer, chaotic landmark among its iconic predecessors."

Released on 25 August in the US and Canada

(Credit: Warner Bros)

4. Blue Beetle

In DC's latest superhero extravaganza, Jaime Reyes (Xolo Maridueña from Cobra Kai) becomes the host of the Scarab, an alien gadget that turns into a suit of high-tech armour, and puts him into conflict with the villainous Carapax (Raoul Max Trujillo). The trailer might make Blue Beetle look too close to Iron Man for comfort, but this is the first superhero blockbuster to have a Mexican lead character, several scenes with Spanish dialogue, and a largely Latino cast and crew (including a Puerto Rican director, Angel Manuel Soto). "The only thing that is on my mind right now is just the fact that he's Latino," Maridueña told Variety when he was cast. "I have so much pride in getting to be a part of this project with Ángel [Manuel Soto]... I don't want to stand on the soapbox for too long, but representation is so important."

On general release from 18 August

(Credit: SBS Production)

5. Passages

Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange, Little Men) moves from the US to France for his latest nuanced romantic drama. Co-written with frequent collaborator Mauricio Zacharias, Passages sketches a jagged love triangle, although how much actual love is involved is open to question. Its narcissistic anti-hero is Tomas (Franz Rogowski), a German director working in Paris, who tries to juggle his husband Martin (Ben Whishaw) and his girlfriend Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). With "a streak of caustic humour and a cool, bristling intensity... Passages may not be Sachs' best, but it's his boldest," says Jon Frosch in The Hollywood Reporter. "The writer-director packs more incident, life and unassuming complexity into 90 minutes than most filmmakers muster in twice that run time."

Released on 4 August in the US

(Credit: Signature Films)

6. King on Screen

Stephen King might not write screenplays, but he is still one of the most significant writers in cinema history. Beginning with Carrie, Brian de Palma's 1976 film of his first novel, more than 80 films and TV series have been based on King's books and short stories, including such beloved horror movies as The Shining, Pet Sematary and It, and plenty of major works in other genres, including Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption. In Daphné Baiwir's documentary, several of the directors who have adapted King's books discuss the idea that his relatable characters and small-town settings are just as important as the monsters that beset them. "While it obviously helps if you're familiar with his body of work," says Louisa Moore at Screen Zealots, "King on Screen is an enjoyable and informative documentary with plenty for the uninitiated to savour."

Released on 11 August in the US

(Credit: Music Box Films)

7. Fremont

Fremont, California is home to around 30,000 people of Afghan descent. This film, named after the city, follows Donya (newcomer Anaita Wali Zada), who feels alienated and alone. A young woman who worked as a translator for the US government in Afghanistan, she is stricken by insomnia and guilt about leaving her family behind. But Babak Jalali's low-budget, black-and-white comedy drama offers Donya some hope when she opens up to her therapist (Gregg Turkington), and gets a job writing the messages for Chinese fortune cookies in nearby San Francisco. "It's an intimate dramedy that strikes a delicate balance between melancholy and wryness," says Hannah Strong in Little White Lies, "Fremont is a stylish, sweet evolution for Jalali, and a poignant reflection on the modern immigrant experience."

Released on 28 August in the US

Gal Gadot in Heart of Stone

8. Heart of Stone

There is no shortage of spectacular action movies about globe-trotting secret agents, but, even now, almost all of those secret agents are men. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) wants to change that. Intended as the first film in a franchise, Heart of Stone features Gadot as Rachel Stone, a spy who must stop a powerful device, the Heart, from falling into enemy hands. (Yes, really: the device is called the Heart, the heroine is called Stone, and the film is called Heart of Stone.) "The thing that Gal and [producers at] Skydance spoke about a lot was they wanted Rachel to be a character that wasn't just a female actress playing a sort of male character, but a woman at the heart of it who was responding differently," the film's director, Tom Harper, told Sydney Bucksbaum at EW, going on to describe how the character's humanity was central to the film. "She has emotions, she finds things difficult. It's not straightforward. The relationships were real and there was always a sort of emotional reality all the way through."

Released on 11 Aug on Netflix

(Credit: Roadside Attractions)

9. Dreamin' Wild

Bill Pohlad's Love & Mercy told the bittersweet story of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, with Paul Dano as the young Brian, and John Cusack as his middle-aged self. Pohlad's directorial follow-up is another unconventional rock'n'roll biopic with a similar back-and-forth structure and casting technique: Noah Jupe and Jack Dylan Grazer play the teenage Don and Joe Emerson, who record an album on their family farm in 1979. Unlike the Beach Boys, though, they never hit the big time. Their music didn't become popular for 30 years, by which time they are played by Casey Affleck and Walton Goggins. Is the brothers' belated success a dream come true, or a crushing reminder of the lives they could have had? Dreamin' Wild is "another moving tale of personal and artistic redemption", says Marshall Shaffer at Playlist. "Pohlad deals in people, not legacies or iconographies. He's rooted in hardscrabble humanity, not the heightened stakes of hagiography."

Released in the US on 4 August

(Credit: Lionsgate)

10. White Bird

Adapted from RJ Palacio's hit novel, Wonder (2017) was a drama about Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a boy who was bullied at school because of his facial deformity. White Bird is the sequel, but it isn't the sequel you might expect. Rather than continuing Auggie's story, it follows Julian (Bryce Gheisar), one of the boys who bullied him. And rather than focusing on Julian, it has Julian's grandmother (Helen Mirren) recounting her memories of being hidden from the Nazis as a Jewish-French schoolgirl during World War Two. The film is directed by Marc Forster (A Man Called Otto, Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace). "Sometimes life brings us the rare and beautiful possibility to inspire and uplift the human spirit through the act of storytelling," Forster told Matt Grobar at Deadline, "and it is my heartfelt hope that this film will do just that. White Bird is a story about the power of kindness and its ability to grow exponentially once set free."

Released on 25 August in the US

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1. Strays2. Red, White & Royal Blue3. Bottoms4. Blue Beetle5. Passages6. King on Screen7. Fremont8. Heart of Stone9. Dreamin' Wild10. White BirdBBC Culture Film and TV ClubFacebookTwitter