True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, May 2/16


True North Streaming is a semi-regular column highlighting some of the best new additions to Netflix’s Canadian service. Like many of you, every so often I get a pleasant surprise when I discover a cool movie or TV show that’s just popped up on Netflix’s often-maligned sister platform. These posts will help you filter through the often quirky mix of Netflix Canada’s offerings and find the most valuable ways to waste some time.

And with that, in no particular order…

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Halt and Catch Fire – Season 2

Technically, the latest season of Halt and Catch Fire has been on Netflix a for a few weeks, but I’ve been enjoying the show so much that I’m bending the rules a bit. The drama, which airs first on AMC, tracks the ups and downs of a handful of computer pioneers in the so-called “Silicon Prairie” of Dallas, Texas in the mid-1980s.

The show stars Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy, Pushing Daisies) as a Steve Jobs-esque visionary salesman who gets himself hired at a simple Dallas electronics firm that makes mainframes and calculators, and decides to transform it into a revolutionary PC-industry underdog. Along for the ride are a soft-spoken computer engineer (Scoot McNairy) and his software-genius wife (Kerry Bishé) and an idealistic, brilliant coder (Mackenzie Davis).

The show doesn’t waste much time explaining its tech-heavy concepts, and some of the episodes heap on an almost implausible amount of dysfunction. Nevertheless, its second season offers some fascinating insight into how our hyper-connected world in 2016 came about.


Pawn Sacrifice

Despite his stardom fading slightly in the post-Spider Man years, Tobey Maguire’s choices of film roles have seemed fairly careful, if few and far between. His latest movie Pawn Sacrifice, which debuted at TIFF 2015, features Maguire as chess legend Bobby Fischer, focusing on when Fischer challenged Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) to one of the most famous games of chess ever played. Aside from the pressures of the symbolic matchup of an American and a Russian during the Cold War, the movie also dives into the mental illness that would plague Fischer for the rest of his life.

Pawn Sacrifice (directed by the reliable Edward Zwick) has been bouncing around a limited release schedule since the festival season, and it was just added to Netflix a few days ago. I’ll be checking it out mostly to see more of Maguire and Zwick’s work, who both deserve more attention than they currently get.


High Plains Drifter

The classic movie category isn’t always the most well-developed part of Netflix, but every so often some high-calibre stuff pops up for a while. The latest title like this to catch my eye was High Plains Drifter, one of the more well-regarded Clint Eastwood westerns, and the second film Eastwood directed.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who’s ever enjoyed Eastwood’s outings as mysterious gunslingers: he rides into a town that has a problem, and soon offers his Neeson-esque “particular set of skills” to the citizens to help sort things out. Formula aside, High Plains Drifter still sits at 96% on RottenTomatoes. It’s also handy to have it on Netflix, since it doesn’t always get included in the huge Eastwood box sets available on Amazon.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Disney/Netflix Canada partnership is bearing fruit again this week, as the streaming service wisely released the film that precedes the upcoming Captain America:Civil War. The film picks up after the first Avengers film, sending Steve Rogers into an investigation of his own SHIELD organization when he feels they’ve begun to overreach into the liberties of the people he’s sworn to protect.

While I wasn’t the hugest fan of The Winter Soldier when it first arrived in theatres, maybe this Netflix release will be a good opportunity to see whether the 1970s-political-thriller vibes in the film that fans and critics loved will help me like it more on a second viewing.

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Chuck Norris vs. Communism

One of the reasons I’m actually pretty satisfied with my Netflix Canada subscription is the availability of quirky documentaries, and this film seems like a perfect example. Chuck Norris vs. Communism is a docudrama (in that it combines re-creations with actors and interviews with real people) about a little-known episode in Communist-controlled Romania in the 1980s.

As the film explains, government censorship kept most Western entertainment out of Romanian movie theatres and away from radio and TV broadcasts. But a black market for VHS copies of translated Hollywood films, especially action flicks featuring Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone, soon emerged. The film’s synopsis suggests that this “sowed the seeds of a revolution”, which might be overstating things a bit. Even so, I’m always interested in how the consumption of movies was shaped by history, so this is going into my queue.


Infinitely Polar Bear

This film has a lot going for it: an indie drama directed by an emerging female talent, starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, and examining an often poorly understood topic: manic depressive disorder. The story follows a father (Ruffalo) who probably isn’t well enough to care for his two young daughters alone. But when his wife his offered a spot at Columbia University, he’s left to look after the girls in Boston, in spite of his illness.

Sometimes mental illness can be over-simplified or turned into a caricature in popular entertainment, so I was a bit skeptical when the trailer for Infinitely Polar Bear first surfaced. But after reading a New Yorker write-up on the director, Maya Forbes, the film sounded like a great example of how indie cinema is still a great place to look if you’re getting tired of Hollywood superheroes.

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The Legend of Korra

It’s possible that many animation junkies will have already tracked down The Legend of Korra, the sequel series to Nickelodeon’s acclaimed Avatar: The Last Airbender. Unlike its predecessor, Korra ended up with a non-traditional release: it started out on TV before moving to online platforms during its third season. So in case The Legend of Korra slipped you by during its initial run, both seasons are now up on Netflix's Canadian cousin. From what I’ve heard, the creative team worked a lot of depth into the series, including what might have become one of the first LGBT romances in a teen-oriented animation program.

Side note: for an excellent look at how fans can take ownership of a show when it’s cancelled, I highly recommend this episode of PBS Digital Studios’ Idea Channel.

What did you think of this list of Netflix recommendations? Are there any notable recent uploads on the Canadian service that I missed? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers!