True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, November 27/17
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…
I, Daniel Blake
While I can’t call myself a huge fan of Ken Loach, I can see why he grabs a certain kind of movie lover. Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) makes socially-conscious, sometimes angry films, and points his camera at people or situations that he feels have been shamefully ignored by the broader public.
In the case of I, Daniel Blake, Loach looks at people who fall through the cracks in our modern social welfare state. He follows Daniel (Dave Johns), a skilled carpenter who has lost his wife to illness and is then forced to leave his job behind when he suffers a serious heart attack. Daniel is caught between the grinding gears of bureaucracy: he can’t receive any welfare payments until he begins looking for a job, but he can’t look for a job because his doctor refuses to declare him fit for work. In the meantime, Daniel forms a friendship with a young woman (Hayley Squires) who has relocated from London, another cast-off from society being chewed up by the system. Loach’s movie is darkly funny but also hard to watch, and despite being fiction, it’s filmed with a documentarian’s eye for accuracy and authenticity.
Ben Wheatley’s latest movie was one of my favourites from TIFF 2016, due mostly to how Wheatley takes the concept of a bunch of bad people locked in a location and exploits it to its furthest extent. It begins with an arms deal gone sideways in a Boston warehouse, and barely stops for a breath. Unlike many movies with intense gunplay, Free Fire doesn’t want to end things too early with nameless goons getting shot in the head and chest - instead, it’s all about glancing injuries and shrapnel, incidents that knock the characters down into the dirt but allow them to keep fighting. What weirder is that it’s often played for laughs, despite the violence and desperation of the situation.
Free Fire is essentially one gigantic shoot-out masquerading as a film, a hard-core B-movie with some surprisingly big names (Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy). An excellent pick to shake up your typical weekend action movie session.
A United Kingdom
Cynical moviegoers may look at something like A United Kingdom and see a typical historical weepie with a timely topic (race relations, in this case). But this film has Amma Asante at the helm, so there may be a little more substance on offer. Asante was, after all, behind the tasteful 2013 historical romance Belle, which followed a biracial aristocratic woman in the 18th century.
A United Kingdom brings us forward by over a century, to the lives of Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo). Khama was a prince of his homeland of Bechuanaland, who was living in London after World War II. He meets and marries Williams, bringing her back to Bechunaland when the British government becomes worried that he is stirring up trouble for the mining companies operating in the African country. Despite some marketing that made it seem like it was grubbing for awards recognition, the movie garnered an 83% from RottenTomatoes, so there’s plenty of substance here.
There’s a certain rhythm to Will Smith’s filmography: for every three or four crowd-pleasing, financially successful blockbusters he stars in, there’s an emotional drama positioned to collect Oscar nominations. Unfortunately for Smith, his strategy has never panned out (two Best Actor noms later), but it did get us a handful of his most technically-proficient performances, including 2001’s Ali, where Smith plays the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Directed by Michael Mann, Ali was a perfect example of a film praised by critics but an underperformer at the box office. Ali may not be the greatest sports film ever made, but its easy availability on Netflix and strong production makes it a solid pick, even if it never achieved instant-classic status.
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
When you watch Man on the Moon, the 1999 biopic of performance artist Andy Kaufman starring Jim Carrey (or even just the trailer) it may be a surprise to learn about the insanity that took place on the set. Whereas the movie and its marketing make Jim Carrey’s performance look like one of the star’s typically committed (if eerily accurate) efforts, the truth is far stranger.
Carrey went extreme Method with his performance, staying in character for the length of the shoot and terrorizing his colleagues with pranks and loutish behaviour. Carrey believed it was all in service of capturing the purest spirit of Kaufman in the film, but a new documentary leaves it up to the audience to decide: where’s the line with these kinds of all-encompassing performances?
Carrey himself is interested in the answer, and expounds on his process in a new interview that forms the spine of the film, intercut with hours of behind-the-scenes footage that Universal Studios had previously blocked from release. The film is fascinating at times, but it does feel a bit thinly supported by Carrey’s existential musings. Even so, it’s definitely worth a look for anyone interested in the extremes that people will go to for their art (or on-set shenanigans).
I’ll admit that I was surprised by the strong response that Megan Leavey received when it came out. A biographical film about a Marine who campaigns to be allowed to adopt the bomb-sniffing dog she worked with during her service in Iraq, Megan Leavey seemed like a boilerplate star vehicle for Kate Mara, and wasn’t helped by a confusingly-edited trailer had made the film out to be a mushy tear-jerker.
However, it seems the value came from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s stylistic approach, and not the subject matter. The film collected some strong critical notices, and may be an excellent pick for a Netflix viewer looking for a moving, based-on-a-true-story experience (with the added bonus of heroic dog at the centre of the story).
Mumblecore is a sub-genre that’s poorly understood, often parodied, and sometimes hard to describe. Movies in this category tend to depict listless adults, looking for a direction, who get bogged down with petty grievances and a lack of ambition. In short, mumblecore films may be what middle-aged columnists have in mind when they rant about millenials.
But there are plenty of sharply written, involving movies out there in the mumblecore world to enjoy, and one of their key purveyors is Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha). Greenberg, which Baumbach released in 2010, follows a misanthropic 40-something (Ben Stiller) whose life in New York falls apart, prompting him to move back to Los Angeles and house-sit for his wealthy brother. Stiller makes his character’s misery seem relatable and funny, and though Baumbach’s work tends to stay within some expected parameters, Greenberg can be counted on for some darkly comic observations about American life.
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!