On Screens in August • Familiar ring: proof not much has changed in a decade

Honestly, this could be Thrones or Rings. Nobody looks overly elfish or undead
August 19th, 2022 6:32 pm| by Ben Hamilton
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Not much has changed content-wise over the last decade. Just take a look at the line-up that greeted viewers in 2012 and compare it with the class of 2022. The only difference is that the blockbusters are heading straight for our homes.

Same shit, different decade  
First off, we had The Hobbit, the first serious Middle Earth spin-off. Two rather lame sequels followed and now we have The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Sep 2 on Amazon Prime), rumoured to be the most expensive TV series ever made.

Marvel Sudios released The Avengers, its first multiple superhero film, but not its last. Ten years later, the absurdly-titled She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (Aug 17 on Disney +) is yet another TV series to carry the brand.

Game of Thrones released its season two, with the battle scene in episode nine ‘Blackwater’ setting new standards for the industry. More juggernauts followed until its inevitable conclusion in 2019, but raising the torch again is prequel series House of the Dragon (Aug 22 on HBO Max) – a second season looks likely to follow.

George Lucas sold the Star Wars rights to Disney in 2012, but few could have anticipated the onslaught of movies and series that followed. Andor (Aug 31 on Disney +) – the story of the male lead in Rogue One, again played by Diego Luna – is the latest.  

And finally, DC Comics spawned perhaps its greatest cinematic triumph, The Dark Knight Rises. A few barren years have passed, but long-awaited series The Sandman (Netflix since Aug 5; 66 on Metacritc) promises to restore its credibility among comic book connoisseurs.  

In Westeros and in elf
The timing of the Rings and Thrones franchises’ releases is almost too eerie: like Saruman’s been hardwiring Melisandre. Released just 12 days apart, they’re arguably the biggest series of the year, if not the decade.

With a budget of at least 1 billion dollars stretched over five seasons, The Rings of Power will end up dwarfing (pun intended) the 15 million dollars Thrones was spending on every episode by the end of its run. And it’s not exactly splashing out on the cast, favouring suitability over stardom, assembling an ensemble of undeniable diversity, from faded British comic Lenny Henry to Ned Stark duo Robert Aramayo (young self) and Joseph Mawle (younger brother). Worryingly, most of the main characters have elfen names, so permission to snooze.

In contrast, House of the Dragon has set about recruiting almost every quality British actor who didn’t appear in the original – how the likes of Ian McShane and Richard E Grant must be kicking themselves for taking on such limited cameos in Season 6. Matt Smith, Paddy Considine, Rhys Ifans, Olivia Cooke and Bill Paterson are cool in school, again with virtually no American actors (in 73 episodes of GoT, there were only four).

The director’s rut
The big worry with these behemoths has to be the quality of the direction. While there’s been a decade-long trend in which the top actors (beyond Tom Cruise, name me one who hasn’t … okay Jake Gyllenhaal, Nicolas Cage, Christian Bale and Angeline Jolie … we looked it up!), big budgets and production value expertise have been steadily moving over to television, the top directors continue to work solely in cinema.

Given the tendency for the showrunner to call the shots (like in the MGM era), ‘the auteurs’ just don’t do telly. Granted, a few take total control (Susanne Bier with The Night Manager, The Undoing and The First Lady, and Cary Joji Fukunaga with the first season of True Detective) and Marty’s done a few one-offs – the aforementioned ‘Blackwater’ was helmed by British director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) – but often series are let down by the varying skills of a mixed bag.

Godfather origins Paramount series The Offer should have been the bomb, but instead it was released to disappointing reviews in late April. Take a closer look and you’ll discover that four of the ten episodes are standouts – and surprise, surprise, they all have the same director: Adam Arkin (yes, Alan’s son).

Apple of our eye
While She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and Andor will be released later in August, The Sandman arrived last week, and the reviews are half decent. Its mainly adult audience should be pleased. Likewise, Thai diving rescue film Thirteen Lives (Amazon Prime since Aug 5; 33) is being streamed after an obligatory week at cinemas.

Nevertheless, perhaps the critics’ highest praise this month will be reserved for the miniseries Five Days at Memorial (Apple on Aug 12) starring the always dependable Vera Farmiga. This was the script that Ryan Murphy was sizing up for the third season of American Crime Story, and it is heartening to know that John Ridley, who helmed five episodes of the riveting first two series of ACS (OJ and Versace), is co-directing.  

Apple is a safe bet for quality these days, with two more potential gems on the way. Danish actor Claes Bang has found himself another baddie’s shoes to fill in Bad Sisters (Aug 19), even though this Irish-set dark comedy does start with his funeral. Created by Catastrophe co-writer Sharon Horgan, this looks like a safe bet to please, and the same looks true of London-based comedy Everything I Know About Love (Aug 25), finally a star vehicle for the talents of Bel Powley, the British intern from the first season of The Morning Show.

To be fair, Amazon Prime is also having a good month. Along with The Rings of Power and Thirteen Lives, it will have high hopes for Samaritan, the tale of a superhero (Sylvester Stallone) who may have not died in a titanic battle as was presumed 25 years ago. With able support from Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, director Julius Avery’s last film was the zombie WWII flick Overlord.

There aren’t that many returning series this month – Never Have I Ever (S3; Aug 12) and Locke & Key (S3; Aug 10) are back on Netflix, while The Outlaws (S2; Aug 5) returns to Amazon Prime – but there is a returning film: baseball all-female yarn A League of their Own (Aug 12 on Prime).

Don’t board this train!
At cinemas, meanwhile, the budgets are more modest, but there’s still plenty of quality. British 2021 dramas Ali & Ava (Aug 4; 77) and Juniper (Aug 4; released but no score yet) are heart-felt and satisfactory – the latter with yet another compelling turn by Charlotte Rampling. Jordan Peele has once again underlined his capabilities in horror with Nope (Aug 4; 77), but the less said about See for Me (Aug 4; 59) the better. And the documentary Fire of Love (Aug 11; 88), which charts the relationship of two volcanologists, is beautifully shot.

Perhaps the most keenly awaited film is Bullet Train (Aug 4; 49), but it’s best avoided, despite Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock onboard. Instead jump upon After Yang (Aug 25; 79) with Colin Farrell, about a family coping with the death of their android child; I Came By (Aug 31 on Netflix), the tale of a Banksy-like artist (George Mackay) who gets more than he bargains for when he breaks into the flat of London big-wig (Hugh Bonneville); or Prey (Disney+; 70), the latest Predator film, a prequel from the 1700s complete with Comanches.

Finally, we have After 4: After Ever Happy (Aug 25; NRW). You would have thought that ‘after’ the first three, we would have had enough. The Lord of the Rings is surely a case in point.

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