What to watch: The best movies new to streaming from 'Is That Black Enough For You?!?' to 'Ambulance'
Wondering what to watch? It’s an action-packed week for streaming, with a number of explosive releases on the horizon for the weekend.
Biggest and loudest amongst those releases is Michael Bay’s Ambulance which, despite its loudness and constant forward momentum, might be the closest to something like a small scale passion project for the Bad Boys director.
At the same time, Netflix releases Lost Bullet 2, a follow up to a lean, man-on-the-run actioner. It’s not all gunfire and burning rubber on the platform however, with the release of a couple of other fascinating originals, including the film essay and documentary Is That Black Enough For You?!?, and the latest animated feature from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon (Wolfwalkers, The Breadwinner), My Father’s Dragon.
Read more: Everything new on Paramount+ in November
The former seeks to unpack a history of African American cinema in the 1970s and its impact on film in the present day, with effects that can too often go unspoken. The latter is a children’s film, directed by The Breadwinner’s Nora Twomey and starring Jacob Tremblay as well as Stranger Things’s Gaten Matarazzo.
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Is That Black Enough For You?!? (2022) - Netflix (Pick of the week)
“To me, the most exciting part of cinema history is when the word Black is associated with films like this, to this”, the film critic Elvis Mitchell, presenter of Is That Black Enough For You?!?, says of a shift from technicolour dramas like Black Narcissus to the Blaxploitation classics like Black Sampson.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in November
The personal start to the documentary and film essay, on the history of African American cinema in the 70s, continues through to Mitchell speaking of an anecdote from his mother. He explains how movies changed the way she dreamed and links that profound affect on the human subconscious to the kind of images that the movies project onto us. Starting with the stereotypes and appropriative Blackface that even the greats — Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Donen and a breath of ominously minstrel-like cartoon characters from Disney — frequently indulged in.
Mitchell expertly and compellingly unspools this personal discomfort and complicated relationship with the movies that he loves into a fascinating and pointed historical journey, through mainstream interest and independent cinema and small scale genre flicks to bonafide classics.
It’s one punctuated by a prestigious line-up of interviewees, including Samuel L. Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Charles Burnett, Laurence Fishburne, Zendaya, Harry Belafonte and Billy Dee Williams and so many more.
It’s a veritable who’s who of black acting and directing talent, all with fascinating personal perspectives of how their careers have evolved as a result of this moment in cinema, and how the movies spoke to them in different points of their lives, and what was lacking — such as Jackson’s complicated feelings about the movies with mostly white casts that he grew up watching during segregation.
It’s a well balanced and involvingly intimate approach to a bounty of Hollywood history. It contextualises the cinema of the modern day as well as the foundations of its structural racism, and how films evolved beyond “the periphery of the white man’s gaze” from even before the 70s, reaching back into the black directors of the 1920s that circumvented the studios that ignored and locked out of the theatres that they owned; Mitchell clarifies misconceptions and frequently circumvented myths about the scarcity of early black film.
Not to mention the enterprising ways that directors like Melvin Van Peebles got their films made and screened through what his son Mario Van Peebles hilariously refers to as “racial jiujitsu”. The etymology of “blaxploitation” also becomes a fascinating talking point — about how it represents a kind of commodification, a way to package the signifiers of a broad film movement, as well as its being controlled by white creatives, all while discussing the other complications.
All in all its a valuable film essay, a smart and compelling synthesis of wide scale consequence and personal stakes in the cinema, of a moment when black audiences could see their lives reflected without having to search for the subtext — it’s right there in the title.
Lost Bullet 2 (2022) - Netflix
Following up the muscular thriller Lost Bullet, Lost Bullet 2 is a delightful little mid budget action film nestled in the background of Netflix’s expansive library.
Over time, the service has revealed itself to hold a wealth of mid-budget films that nowadays would usually thrive in the video market, but ooze style and eclectic flair regardless — take the recent Day Shift, films like Furie or Triple Threat as a few more flashy examples.
Lost Bullet 2 directly carries on from the man-on-the-run story of the first, with the mechanic Lino now focused on getting revenge on the corrupt cops who killed his brother and his mentor.
The film takes a little bit of time to warm up as it reorientates the audience after the events of the first, taking a breath to establish its new stakes before beginning its revenge plot in earnest with a number of impressive car chases during which cars are flipped and launched through the air as through they’re entirely made of springs, with a handful of quick and mean fight sequences in between. While it lacks some of the urgency of the first film, it makes up for that with some fun stunt work.
Also on Netflix: Synchronic (2019), My Father’s Dragon (2022), Wendell & Wild (2022)
Ambulance (2022) - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
The corny fade-out of Ambulance’s title treatment, fading out so to leave the letters “LA” highlighted in yellow, immediately betrays the undercurrent of corny earnestness and sincerity in the presentation of Michael Bay’s perpetual motion action film.
A frustrated ode to underpaid and abandoned emergency service workers and military veterans kickstarts the film’s nonstop narrative, as Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his career criminal adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) undertake daring bank robbery to fund the astronomical medical bills for Will’s wife.
Read more: Everything new on Sky & NOW in November
The best laid plans of course immediately combust with Bay’s signature brand of over-the-top pyrotechnics, laced throughout a brutal gunfight recalling the action centrepiece of Michael Mann’s Heat. From there, as the title suggests, a stolen ambulance becomes the focal point of the film as the brothers hijack one with its attendance paramedic (Eiza Gonzalez in a firebrand performance) in tow, struggling to save the life of a cop the two shot in their escape.
The prolonged, multistage car chase that follows is invigorating, as well as a surprising showcase of the potential of drone photography, which here carries a personality and thrilling sense of vertigo not commonly seen in the usage of this method.
As Danny and Will, Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II make a riotously entertaining odd couple, provoking and bonding through firefights and absurd renditions of the song 'Sailing'. The film runs a little long, but there’s rarely a dull moment.
Also on NOW: Morbius (2022)