True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, June 11/16
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…
The recent George Clooney/Julia Roberts thriller Money Monster showed that filmmakers are still drawn to movies about the 2007/2008 financial crisis and its side effects. For all its faults, Monster occupies a certain slot in the financial drama genre: movies that examine the people at the top of the Wall Street pyramid (which also includes far better movies like 2011’s Margin Call and 2015’s The Big Short).
Meanwhile, Ramin Bahrani’s 2014 film 99 Homes takes a different, and possibly more relatable, approach within the genre. Bahrani tells the story of a single father (Andrew Garfield) who’s evicted from his home by a shark-like businessman (Michael Shannon) and forced to help him evict other people in order to earn back the house. The film dives into the morality (or lack thereof) of people who make a living from others’ misery, and where the line is drawn between providing for your family and being part of a community.
Bahrani has been steadily making small indie films since 2005, and was once hailed by the late Roger Ebert as the "director of the decade" for the 2000s. For that reason (and the fact that 99 Homes is tracking at 92% on RottenTomatoes), I’ve eagerly added the film to my list.
As I was painstakingly building my list of movies to see at TIFF 2015 this past September, one of the films that jumped off the roster was Victoria, the new film from Sebastian Schipper (a frequent collaborator with Tom Twyker). The reason the film caught my eye wasn’t so much to do with the story, but the way the film had been made: an unbroken single take (lasting nearly two and a half hours!). Even more fascinating were the heist-film elements woven into the plot, which made the idea of a film that happened in real time all the more immersive.
Victoria turned out to be everything I hoped for. It’s a feat of filmmaking technique, but it doesn’t distract from the wild and yet surprisingly plausible story of the heroine Victoria (Laia Costa), a young Spanish woman who’s recently moved to Berlin. Late one night, she gets swept up in an impromptu bank heist by a quartet of young Germans she meets at a club, an adventure that starts out fun and rebellious but builds to a harrowing conclusion. Even if you don’t watch many foreign films (though this film does have a lot of English dialogue), Victoria comes highly recommended, if only as a reminder that there’s still plenty of innovation happening at the movies.
Out of Africa
It’s always nice when big Oscar winners from decades gone by make their way to Netflix. It’s a chance to catch up on the title everyone was raving about in a particular year, and an opportunity to reflect on the future of some of the more recent triumphs. The latest example of this is Out of Africa, which is now back on the Canadian service after an absence of a few years.
Directed by Sydney Pollack and winner of seven Oscars at the 1986 ceremony, the film is a period romantic drama set in British East Africa, starring Meryl Streep as a Danish baroness who falls in love with a big game hunter (Robert Redford). Intriguingly enough, while the film raked in awards recognition when it came out, it hasn’t maintained a good reputation with critics. It currently holds only a 53% RT score, one of only a few Best Picture winners to have a “Rotten” distinction on the site. If you’re in the mood for a sweeping, old-fashioned romance, or you want to catch up on the earlier work by Streep, Redford and Pollack, this one is worth a look – but bear in mind you may not be 100% satisfied.
The Good Dinosaur
The recent appearance of Pixar’s second 2015 film The Good Dinosaur (the other being Inside Out) on Netflix was kind of bittersweet for me. On one hand, I was glad to be able to catch up on a Pixar film I’d never seen. But on the other hand, I felt a bit sad that I hadn’t gone to see it in theatres, which I’ve done with almost all Pixar’s releases for the past 10 years or more.
In part, my delay seeing The Good Dinosaur had to do with the initial reception of the movie, which billed it as more kid-friendly that Pixar’s other work, and little too formulaic. For the uninitiated, the movie imagines a prehistoric world where the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs never happened, leaving the dinosaurs as the dominant species on Earth and humans as their pets.
The film was plagued by problems in development, which perhaps diluted the core concept a bit. Nevertheless, I’m still proud to be a Pixar connoisseur, so I’ll be closing the gap in my viewing very soon.
There are plenty of rumours (many of them flimsy) circulating over who will take over the James Bond character from Daniel Craig, and one of the names that pops up constantly is Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Beasts of No Nation, The Wire). While I agree that Elba might be well-suited to the role, I’m not sure whether Elba really needs to play 007, after all his excellent work as a similarly conflicted keeper of the peace in BBC’s excellent detective show, Luther.
The first three seasons of the show have been up on Netflix Canada for a number of years, but since Elba just recently reprised the character after a two-year hiatus, Series 4 of Luther is now available on the streaming service. If you haven’t seen any of Luther yet, fix that now – it’s easily some of Elba’s best work, and it includes some of the more challenging and disturbing material to be covered in the police mystery genre.
There’s likely not much need to sell you on The Martian, which just popped up on Netflix Canada a little over a week ago. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi adventure (with an emphasis on the science in science-fiction) was one of my favourite movies from 2015, since it combined a fascinating “Cast Away in space” story with energetic performances and a thoroughly pro-science message. There’s no better time to catch this one if you haven’t seen it yet; don’t worry, the disco tunes in the soundtrack are much better than Mark Watney (Matt Damon) makes them out to be.
Good Will Hunting
Netflix seems to be on a bit of a Matt Damon kick this past week, since it also brought back one of Damon’s breakout films for another stay on the Canadian service: Good Will Hunting, the 1997 film that netted Damon and his screenwriting partner Ben Affleck an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
The film, directed by Gus Van Sant, is required viewing for anyone interested in the filmographies of Damon, Affleck and their co-star Robin Williams (who also won a Best Supporting Actor award for his work in the film). The movie follows Will Hunting, a young janitor at M.I.T. who possesses a genius-level skill for math, despite having received no formal training. Hunting attracts the attention of an M.I.T. professor (Stellan Skarsgard), who discovers that Hunting’s gift is held back by inner demons that resulted from a tragic and abusive childhood.
To make the most of his talents, Hunting is paired with a therapist (Williams) who takes on the unenviable task of trying to reach a kid who feels like the entire world is trying to hurt him. What becomes clear, though, is that Hunting will only succeed if he can admit that he needs help in the first place.
If you’ve never seen the film, it’s easy to see why the Academy singled out Damon and Affleck for their writing work; Good Will Hunting is full of memorable chunks of dialogue that have gone on to become some of the most recognizable lines from the films of the 90s. It’s also a great way to enjoy one of Williams’ most sensitive performances. Though I’ll admit: it might be a bit odd to see Damon in this role and then take him in as the titular super-assassin in the upcoming action-thriller sequel Jason Bourne…chalk it up to acting range, I guess?
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!