True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, Dec. 13/16
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…
WHITE RABBIT PROJECT
If you were a regular Mythbusters fan and are still mourning its unique blend of popular science, culture critique and love letter to the maker community, Netflix is jumping in to ease your pain. The “build team” from Mythbusters of Kari Byron, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci have brought a new show to the platform with a lot of familiar components from their segments on Mythbusters, featuring nutty experiments related to all sorts of topics, including history, criminology, physics and futurism.
Having watched the first three episodes, I can report that the show still has some room to grow before it’s as satisfying as Mythbusters, but the hosts are as engaging as always, especially when they team up on various experiments. Now if only they can get Jamie Hyneman or Adam Savage to guest-star.
Reggie Watts: Spatial
I can’t exactly remember when I first began following Reggie Watts’ work - it feels like he burrowed his way into my mind and has been there a lot longer than it seems. On the surface, it’s easiest to bill him as a stand-up comedian, but that does a disservice to his jaw-dropping musicianship. Watts has a stunning ability to generate entire songs purely with bits of his voice, looped and improvised through gadgets he brings with him onto the stage. Combine that with a deadpan delivery and a stream-of-consciousness style and you get a comedy special that blurs the line between jokes, performance art and trippy concert. I can’t wait to sample more of Watts’ thoroughly entertaining madness.
10 Cloverfield Lane
It’s been a notable year for small-scale but stirring sci-fi: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is on many top critics’ best-of lists for the year, Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special made for restrained, contemplative moviegoing and Dan Trachtenburg made a strong feature-film debut with 10 Cloverfield Lane. Now the last of those three is running on Netflix Canada to help viewers catch up on one of the great genre releases of the year.
Loosely connected (emphasis on loosely) to the 2008 found-footage spectacle Cloverfield, this new film follows a young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who’s run off the road and taken in by an eccentric, short-tempered doomsday prepper named Howard (John Goodman) who’s convinced the apocalypse has arrived. Only as Michelle explores Howard’s bunker (where he has quarantined himself, Michelle and a younger man named Emmett) does Michelle begin to realize that perhaps Howard’s delusions aren’t as unfounded as she believed. While certain parts of the plot (including the survivability of certain events) strain the overall plausibility, 10 Cloverfield Lane gets points for keeping the audience guessing longer than most movies in its position.
I just caught up with Calvary over the weekend, and I’m very pleased I could finally check it off my watchlist (where it’s been for over a year). Directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of Martin McDonagh, who made In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths), Calvary is centered on Father James, a Roman Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson) operating a small parish in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. As the film begins, James receives a matter-of-fact death threat during a confession, from a man who claims to have been abused by another priest when he was a boy. The man’s logic is that by killing a good priest like James, he can make a stronger point about the corruption and self-serving nature of the Church. Then James must go about his week, wondering what to make of the threat until he meets the man the coming Sunday.
Since this is a film by one of the McDonagh brothers, the potentially dreary subject matter is balanced out by a dark sense of humour - a combo that fits in well with the larger body of works coming out of Ireland these days. Gleeson gives a finely layered performance, and he’s supported by a great cast that includes plenty of the best Irish actors working today, including Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Larry Smith, who brings out details in lighting, both exterior and interior, that elevates the piece even higher.
Whereas his partner-in-crime Quentin Tarantino has been more warmly accepted by mainstream moviegoers and critics, Robert Rodriguez is quite happy to remain a pulp filmmaker. His films dwell on the fringes - they’re too well-produced to be direct-to-streaming B-movies, but not clean enough to sell to a wide audience. Despite Rodriguez’s hazily-defined status in Hollywood, though, the movie that is arguably his crowning achievement to date, 2005’s Sin City, finally made it to Netflix in the last week.
Oddly, the movie’s 2014 sequel (a hefty commercial failure compared to the first installment) has been available for over a year, but now’s your chance to catch up on the original - a de-saturated, heavily stylized neo-noir that looks like it was ripped from the pages of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Benecio del Toro, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke feature in a huge cast spread across multiple violence-soaked storylines; it’s a kind of comic-book movie that the industry is only this year learning to make again with the likes of Deadpool and Logan.
Apparently to get its users psyched up (and/or informed) in the run-up to the release of Silence, the newest film by Martin Scorsese, Netflix Canada has been making several of the legendary filmmaker’s earlier works available on the service. His 1995 film Casino popped up about a month ago, and now comes 1973’s Mean Streets, Scorsese’s third feature as director but the first one where moviegoers began noticing his unique voice. Mean Streets also marks the second Scorsese collaboration with Harvey Keitel and the first with Robert De Niro, two partnerships that would lead to plenty of success for the director and the two actors.
Mean Streets leans on Scorsese’s own experience growing up in New York City’s Little Italy, telling the story of a wannabe gangster (Keitel) who feels hampered from pursuing his life of crime by his irresponsible friend (De Niro). Keitel’s character must choose whether his ambition will force him to abandon his friendship, and whether his deep-seated Catholicism will allow him to live with the decision.
Aside from the authenticity of the story and the memorable performances, Mean Streets is one of those earlier films by an established director that can lend a whole new context to the work you’re already familiar with. From that perspective, it’s clear Netflix has film buffs’ backs in the the run up to the latest Scorsese release.
Get On Up
James Brown was the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, so it’s surprising there haven’t been more biographical movies made about him. Maybe it’s because you can’t really talk about James Brown (or play him) without being honest about his many personal failings: his dependence on drugs, his fiery temper and the many incidents of domestic abuse he perpetrated against his family.
By most accounts, Get On Up, starring Chadwick Boseman as Brown, gets a lot of things right in its portrayal - not just Brown’s poor behaviour offstage, but his absolutely magnetic performances, too. Brown is one of those figures who supplies plenty of fuel to the discussion over separating artists from their art, so I’ll be watching Get On Up with an eye on accuracy and my ears open to the undeniable funk.
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!