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This week: action! Netflix’s big September update contains some giddy action thrills both recent and classic, with Ang Lee’s experimental (and awesome), Will Smith-starring Gemini Man and Tony Scott’s Man on Fire landing on the service simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the new doc Schumacher looks to explore the man behind the vehicular action, and Gunpowder Milkshake looks to make an action star out of Karen Gillan.
On the gentler side, the stage show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie makes the leap from stage to screen via Amazon Prime Video.
Please note that a subscription may be required to watch.
Schumacher - Netflix
Netflix’s documentary feels grown from the same soil as Asif Kapadia’s excellent F1 doc Senna, with its contemplative tone, mixture of home video footage, archive racetrack and interview footage, and minimal visual interjections from talking heads.
Schumacher is a pretty unassuming subject, a kindly man who doesn’t seem to love talking about himself too much, and the trio of directors Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Michael Wech and Vanessa Nöcker emphasise and plays up those humble qualities: first his salt-of-the-earth upbringing, then his discomfort with the hype and publicity of being a sports star, and his dislike of the press.
It inherently makes for a less magnetic personality than Senna — who for a time is on the film’s mind — but does its best anyhow. Despite its focus on the fresh-faced F1 star doesn’t feel like brand new territory in terms of its style, and approach to its study of the personal and the professional lives of its subject, but Schumacher is an interesting watch for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the name.
Gunpowder Milkshake - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
Riding the wave of endless John Wick lookalikes, Gunpowder Milkshake is the latest film to pay homage to the Keanu Reeves action vehicle, with diminishing returns. Its story is pinned to a matrilineal story, one of an assassin (Karen Gillan) still embittered by her mother’s abandonment of her, though paradoxically choosing to follow in her footsteps.
The most conspicuous nod to Wick comes early with an assassin armoury in a library. With its arcane features and fetishistic double entendres about guns, it can only feel like a lesser iteration of the Wick films, only without the intoxicatingly bizarre intrigue.
Watch: Karen Gillan talks to Yahoo about Gunpowder Milkshake
Director Navot Papushado also throws some other things at the wall, the film recalling Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino’s particular mix of references to noir, westerns, anime and Hong Kong action flicks and jukebox of old pop music. It’s realised in the blue and purple neon tones everyone is now familiar with from the Wick films alike, but as with a number of other films seeking to replicate Stahelski’s success, it flounders in exactly the wrong place: the action.
The wide shots and long takes that John Wick garnered some acclaim for are here but they only serve to expose how limp the fight choreography is. When it does start cutting, it only disorientates. It can feel unfair to compare such works directly to Leitch and Stahelski’s films (nothing inherently wrong with homage after all), but Gunpowder Milkshake constantly invites the comparisons. It’s a hollow replication - all of the flash, but none of the substance.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie - Amazon Prime Video
A stage-to-screen adaptation of “a true story that became a musical sensation” (originally based on a Channel 4 documentary), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie arrives on Amazon Prime Video this weekend. Insecurity and prejudice surrounding sexuality have by no means gone away even with the increasing prevalence of queer experience and culture onscreen and on-stage, Jamie’s problem isn’t its messaging — which is fine, and positive — but more in its own closed-off perspective: both because of its being from a mostly cis white point of view, as well as a limited visual imagination.
First time film director Jonathan Butterell, who directed the London stage show as well, doesn’t seem to know what to do with on-screen space when the characters aren’t singing and dancing, and no number of Bianca Del Rio cameos can stave off the disconnect that forms between the drama and the musical numbers. Even when the singing starts, while there’s choreography that will probably delight fans of the stage show, there’s not an abundance of variety.
Watch a trailer for Everybody's Talking About Jamie
An exception might be in the track 'This Was Me', which has Richard E Grant’s character walk Jamie through his complex, tumultuous history of drag and oppression in the UK, through home video footage, in a rare moment of cinematic creativity from the directors - even if the song doesn’t really stick in the mind.
Later, 'Work of Art' plays with shifting colour and a shifting background. But these are brief flashes of inspiration, the rest of Jamie feels, sadly, less worth talking about.
Also new on Prime Video: The Mad Woman’s Ball
Man on Fire - Netflix
Potentially Tony Scott’s finest work with Denzel Washington, Man on Fire is equal parts minimal and ridiculous: a stripped back revenge narrative paired with some melodrama and ridiculous kills (one in particular with a bomb will be a talking point).
Denzel plays the ex-CIA operative John Creasy, who reluctantly accepts a job as the bodyguard for a 10-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning) in Mexico City. After first clashing they form a bond, but the girl is kidnapped, and Creasy brings his wrath down on those responsible.
It’s a film that takes a little while to warm up but once Man on Fire gets going, it really sets ablaze, a deliriously good time with a genuine air of tragedy about it, as Denzel’s trademark charm and humanity becomes gradually reduced by the acts he commits.
Also new on Netflix: Gemini Man