On Screens for August: Saving grace of lockdown is that Swamp Thing has identified himself

The clock is ticking down, or should that be up, to ‘Tenet’
August 14th, 2020 5:00 pm| by Ben Hamilton
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In these post-lockdown times, nobody wants to go to the cinema to be confronted by our reality. It’s bad enough being reminded of social distancing through the lobby and popcorn, but once your arse is in the seat, the last thing we need is another reminder!

So why on earth are so many of the offerings this month about an impending apocalypse best avoided by spending an eternity indoors. And even worse, the distributors have seen fit to serve up numerous films featuring facemasks.

To whet our appetite for the sci-fi Tenet (Not Released Worldwide; at cinemas Aug 26), a film postponed so many times it will be a period drama by the time it comes out, we have been treated to swathes of Christopher Nolan films, including his entire Batman trilogy complete with Bane. Talk about facemask envy.

Just like lockdown
In Greenland (NRW; Aug 27), the pressure is on Gerard Butler’s character to get his family to an underground bunker up north – presumably with a nobler cause for surviving than the cannon fodder evaporating before their very eyes. Is Butler back in favour after his Fallen trilogy, or are we just used to seeing him fashion improbable outcomes?

Season 3 of The Rain (Aug 6) brings more cheery apocalyptic fare. This Danish Netflix series seemed to work best when the main character was hiding in a bunker – probably because we weren’t being exposed to the naff special effects its meagre budget can barely cover. And so does Train to Busan 2: Peninsula (July 30). Really, who needs another zombie film right now?

And beyond Batman, the facemasks will probably be out in force with X Men: The New Mutants (NRW; Aug 17) and Project Power (Netflix from Aug 14). The former, an origins film about characters you’ve never heard of, promises it is the last ever X Men film – please say this is so! – while the latter concerns a pill that yields an undefined superpower. Throw in a few phobias and we’ve got Superman with vertigo or an arachnophobic Spiderman – superheroes who hate themselves more than I do.

Always bet on black
Is horror the right kind of escapism? Possibly not, but anything historical is comforting in light of what has happened in 2020. Well timed in light of the increased awareness surrounding BLM, both Antebellum (NRW; Aug 20) and Lovecraft Country (82 on Metacritic; HBO Nordic from Aug 17) are dystopian dramas set during dark periods of American black history and, beyond watching Tenet, they’re your best bets for viewing pleasure this August.

Both are endorsed by Jordan Peele, the latter on the basis that it is from the team that produced his hits Get Out and Us, only minus him, and the former through the role of executive producer. Judging by the trailers, no expense has been spared on convincingly recreating their respective Underground Railroad and 1950s segregation eras.

But we’re not sure we can absolutely advocate for Antebellum. It’s more arthouse than Lovecraft Country (based on the acclaimed 2016 novel by Matt Ruff) but less multi-layered. And the inclusion of time travel is a little limp. Is it more horrifying for a black woman living in Trump’s America to experience barbaric racism than one living during the antebellum period preceding the American Civil War?

The ‘art’ of success
Hold that thought, because with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend (79; Aug 5 on Netflix) you really do get to decide and, according to the critics, it’s a whole lot more fun than the Black Mirror attempt last year. Still, not sure we can watch the 51 episodes aired since 2015 to really enjoy this TV movie.
And given the current lockdown climate, the central premise of the sitcom – that its protagonist begins episode one escaping from a doomsday cult’s underground bunker – is a little off putting.

Far more agreeable, surely, are the trio of films featuring oddball couples. In Bull (65 on Metacritic; Aug 20), a crippled black rodeo rider mentors an unruly teenage girl taking an interest; I Still Believe (41; July 23) tells the story of a pop star’s romance with a handicapped girl; and Summerland (55; Aug 20) brings together a lesbian author and a young evacuee – the hit the British film industry so wants Gemma Arterton to have, but despite all her World War II gusto can’t quite accomplish.

No relation to Felicity
Instead of depending on whimsical scripts, perhaps Arterton should follow the path trod by comedian Sarah Kendall, who writes and stars in Frayed (Aug 19 on HBO Nordic), a 1980s-set sitcom about a woman returning to Australia from her rosy life in London.

Equally bingeable is the second season of Dirty John (Aug 14 on Netflix), and it’s difficult to tell from the trailer who our sympathies should lie with: adulterous hubby Christian Slater or spurned bunny-boiler Amanda Peet.

The New Pope (Aug 1 on HBO Nordic) is also back for a second season, this time with John Malkovich doing his best to match Jude Law’s detestable pontiff from the first. But the people seem to like it …

Just like their man in The Swamp (Aug 5 on HBO Nordic), the metaphor often applied to the need to drain Washington DC of all its unsavouriness.

It’s a grim reminder of the world we live in, which many might argue has been in partial lockdown for nearly four years.