True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, October 28/17

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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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Fargo: Season 2

When the Coen Brothers’ Fargo came out in 1996, it represented one of the biggest mainstream successes to date for the filmmakers, who were already building up credit with critics for Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink. Years later, Fargo remained on many 90s best-of lists, even ranking among the best films of the second half of the 20th century.  So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that in the era of Peak TV, Fargo would eventually be marked for adaptation into a cable show, in an attempt to serialize the unflappable, darkly comic Minnesota Nice attitude that coloured the film.

The Fargo series then rose close to the top of the seemingly unfathomable number of “prestige” shows, partly through its anthology structure, which tells a different story every season. The first season, which starred Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Alison Tolman, cheekily continued elements from the film, though fastidiously avoided being a direct sequel. The second season, which rewinds the time period to the late 70s, also re-locates the action, though it’s all part of the same broader universe, much like Marvel and DC are doing on the big screen. Praise of the second season was just as loud as Season 1, which makes me all the more excited to welcome it to Netflix Canada.

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Patton Oswalt: Annihilation

Patton Oswalt is steadily becoming one of my favourite stand-ups, and the two memoirs he’s published aren’t too shabby, either. Following him on Twitter can often be an exercise in deciding how much fury about the Trump Administration you’re willing to consume, so thankfully his new Netflix special explores a variety of the topics he’s been wrestling with lately.

Chief among these is the startling and tragic death of his wife Michelle last year, an event that Oswalt builds into the special in a surprising way: a source of pain and a source of laughter. Oswalt masterfully draws you into his material with deeply emotional segments about the aftermath of his wife’s death, including how it felt to break the news to his young daughter. But he then reminds us we’re watching a comedy special by recounting a bizarrely funny scene from a visit to the cemetery. Annihilation almost re-defines what a stand-up special on Netflix can be, but at lot of that potential rides on Oswalt’s interest in weaving so much of his personal life into his work. Still, I was quite literally crying while laughing at some of Oswalt’s stories, so it seems he accomplished his mission.

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I’d never heard of Nocturama until Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and A.A. Dowd of the A.V. Club talked it up on an installment of their video series, but their description alone piqued my interest. The film, which came out last year in France and is just now hitting North American streaming services, attempts to re-frame the idea of a terrorist attack (all too prevalent in Europe lately) not as a statement of religious extremism, but of a different kind of violence, an attack on the most basic concept of society.

The plot details for this one are very thin, but the majority of the film follows the young terrorists as they hole up in a shopping mall overnight, following a series of attacks they commit in Paris. The film is deliberately opaque about the characters’ motivations, and challenges the audience to draw their own conclusions about what drives them to commit terrible violence: a rebuke of capitalism, a destructive case of boredom, or something more sinister. From the sounds of things, the film is firmly planted in the art house, but it exists as a rare film about terrorism that doesn’t offer a clean conclusion.

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Colossal feels like one of those counter-cultural movies where no matter the premise, your enjoyment is a function of how much you like the cast. In this case, the film features Anne Hathaway in the lead role, as a thirty-something wreck of a woman who’s trying to find meaning in her life following a break-up with her boyfriend (Dan Stevens). What she slowly realizes is that she’s unwittingly in control of a giant monster that’s stomping all over Seoul, South Korea. The psychic connection between Hathaway’s Gloria and the monster is a not-so-subtle metaphor for Gloria’s alcoholism, prompting some mega-size soul-searching on Gloria’s part. Yeah – not the first thing you’d think of given that set-up, right?

Even though I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Hathaway, I’m always interested to check out the smaller projects that stars take on between their glitzier roles. Sometimes the participation of A-listers can bring the filmmakers involved into wider appreciation, and I’m curious to see what the director of Colossal, the Spanish horror auteur Nacho Vigalando, will do with the extra attention he’s gained from this genre-twisting release.

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Stranger Things: Season 2

If you were up to date on all your zeitgeist-ing last fall, then you may have fallen head over heels in love with the latest waypoint on the “80s Are Cool Again!” journey: Stranger Things. Many pixels have since been spilled in writing up the nostalgic pleasures of the show, which follows a series of supernatural happenings in the rural town of Hawkins, Indiana and a group of kids who try to save the world.

Whether it’s the surprisingly listenable synth soundtrack, the heartwarming performances from its young cast, or the delightfully lived-in strangeness of the adult characters (especially Winona Ryder and David Harbour) Stranger Things is swiftly replacing platform stalwarts like House of Cards as the event TV to beat on Netflix. The company seems to know it, too: they placed a countdown on the various versions of the app to the launch of the new season, and timed the release to Halloween - the holiday that most encourages pop culture remixes – one of the other biggest strengths of the series. Now hold up while I try to get through it all in one weekend…

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach is a director most comfortable with modest budgets, a filmmaker who excels at making quiet, sometimes caustic portraits of intellectual people who still can’t get their lives together. He’s also an actor’s director, someone who opens up his films to allow his cast members to show off their best qualities.

So it’s no shock that Baumbach puts all of these habits on display in his newest film, acquired by Netflix at Cannes, and just launching on the service in the last week or two. The Meyerowitz Stories is a family dramedy, centering on the children of a quasi-successful New York sculptor (Dustin Hoffman) who are all struggling with various types of emotional trauma: Matthew (Ben Stiller) is a successful investor who’s hiding problems at home in L.A., Danny (Adam Sandler) is coping with the breakup of his marriage, and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is carrying a dark secret from her teenage years. All of this is shown in comparison to the father played by Hoffman, an irascible artist who may or may not be the origin of his kids’ issues.

If you’ve enjoyed other Baumbach works in the past like Frances Ha, While We’re Young or Mistress America, this ought to be an easy pick. I’m also intrigued by what’s been described as one of Sandler’s best performances, something that we see far too seldom.

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This release puts another mark in the “wins” column for Stephen King adaptations in 2017. Following the lukewarm reception of The Dark Tower by moviegoers, King’s works were the inspiration for a trio of successes: the remake of It broke box office records, Gerald’s Game brought in a 90% Tomatometer and critical notices for Carla Gugino, and now 1922 (a Netflix Original like Gerald’s Game) is performing similarly. Maybe Netflix should just hire King to become a “creative officer” or something.

1922 looks like a fairly generic story on the surface – a farmer (Thomas Jane) murders his wife (Molly Parker) to stop her from selling the land and moving to the city – but the film’s art is in the execution (pun not intended). 1922 is being described as one of the handful of key horror films to watch this year; worthy praise, considering that the genre can often be a factory for some of the least-inspired titles out there.

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!