True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, March 5/17
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…
The most recent film by Duncan Jones, Warcraft, made its way through theatres last summer after receiving a drubbing from critics and a surprisingly warm reception from fans of the game series. One of the reasons Jones was picked for that project was likely the natural talent he displayed in two original works that he released in 2009 and 2011, Moon (starring Sam Rockwell) and Source Code (starring Jake Gyllenhaal). Both films featured a grounded, performance-driven approach to sci-fi, and in case you missed Source Code up until now, the movie was just added to Netflix Canada several days ago.
Like Moon, Jones’ feature debut, much of the drama is derived from questions of identity and the possibility of doppelgangers, making the experience much brainier and more philosophical than the standard ticking-clock potboiler at the core of the story. The early peeks at Jones’ next project suggest he’s well on his way to developing a strong career in genre filmmaking, so there’s no better time to get caught up.
When the Netflix Original series Santa Clarita Diet hit the service several weeks ago, one of the shows to which it seemed to owe a clear debt was iZombie, the CW series about a Seattle mortician who also happens to be a member of the undead. Unlike Santa Clarita Diet, however, iZombie isn’t built around its main character eking out vigilante justice to keep her cravings in check; instead, Liv Moore (Rose McIver) eats the brains of the people she autopsies to find out whether they were murdered, and by whom. I wonder what Sherlock Holmes would say about that technique?
iZombie is also a quirky footnote in the story of the Canadian streaming market, as it was one of the key launch titles for Shomi, the Rogers-Shaw platform that tried (and failed) to make an impression with Canadian viewers. In an ironic twist, the show that was supposed to draw viewers away from Netflix has now joined its stable. And based purely on the number of people who have recommended iZombie to me in the past few months, I think I might just check this one out.
The Red Violin
For a column about a Canadian version of Netflix, I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t highlight Canadian titles as often as I should. But one recent addition from a Quebecois filmmaker did catch my eye: The Red Violin, a story that spans several centuries and countries. It follows an expertly-made Stradivarius-like violin as it changes owners, inspiring intrigue wherever it ends up. During its journey, the violin makes it into the hands of an Austrian prodigy, an English composer, a Chinese dissident and eventually to an accomplished appraiser in Montreal, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
The Red Violin picked up an Oscar in 2000 for Best Original Score, and during its release, some critics did point out that the score overshadowed many other components of the film. If you’re a fan of classical music, Canadian cinema or multi-narrative films, though, The Red Violin may be worth adding to your queue.
Aside from the strong showing The Fighter made at the 2011 Oscars (seven nominations and two wins), the film represented a turning point for its director, David O. Russell. After a much-publicized breakdown during the production of his 1999 hit Three Kings, Russell moved from 2004’s I ♥ Huckabees, which opened to mixed reviews, to Nailed, where the film was shut down and eventually re-edited without Russell’s involvement.
Returning in 2010 with The Fighter, Russell proved that he has a knack for finding and developing stories about seemingly ordinary Americans whose lives are like little microcosms of the American Dream. The Fighter dramatizes the real-life story of boxer Micky Ward, who must contend with family pressures in his down-and-out neighbourhood in Massachusetts. One of the reasons The Fighter kicked off a hit streak for Russell (which continued with the likes of Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy) is his ability to draw relatable, award-winning performances from actors, suggesting that Russell has figured out how to harness the fury and passion of his earlier movies into mature, rewarding titles.
Whenever I can, I like to pick out some of the examples of world cinema that are available on Netflix Canada, and one new title fits that bill nicely. Force Majeure (known in Sweden, its country of origin, as Turist) popped up on all sorts of best-of lists in 2014, though it barely missed getting a nod at the Oscars that year. The film follows the aftermath of an avalanche – not the physical devastation, but what happens to a man when he momentarily flees a ski lodge restaurant, leaving his family behind, when it looks like an avalanche will engulf the lodge. When he returns to his family, he must contend with his cowardice and whether his relationships will survive the fallout from the incident.
The film apparently features several scenes that are incredibly difficult to watch, which (oddly enough) makes me even more interested. I’m also curious about the contribution of Norwegian Game of Thrones actor Kristofer Hivju – a performer who almost always injects some screen presence into a scene.
It’s hard to go wrong with Ridley Scott, especially when he brings along a cast that features Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Idris Elba, and Carla Gugino. When it hit theatres in 2007, American Gangster instantly set itself up as a crime epic in the style of Martin Scorsese, covering the rise and fall of infamous crime boss Frank Lucas.
Lucas was best known for smuggling high-quality heroin from Thailand in the coffins of servicemen who died in the Vietnam War, helping fuel the drug crisis that gripped New York in the 70s. The film charts his time at the top of the Harlem crime world, and how the detective Richie Roberts (Crowe) eventually brings him down. Even though I last saw this one during its theatrical run, certain parts still stick in my memory, especially Washington’s self-assured performance.
Anyone who’s read this site for some time knows how soft my heart goes for classic Hollywood. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that when Roman Holiday popped up on Netflix a few days ago, I made a “squee” noise that I’m only slightly ashamed of. That’s partly due to the fact I’ve never seen the film all the way through - don't ask me how, these things happen!
So rather than track down a Blu-ray of suspicious quality (beware shoddy film transfers!), I can now catch up on Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in all their 1950s splendour. The story - written by Dalton Trumbo, under a pseudonym, to get around the Hollywood Blacklist – centres on a sheltered princess (Hepburn) who sneaks away from her embassy to experience the city of Rome by herself. She runs into an American reporter (Peck) who hides his intention of writing a story about the princess while he shows her around the sights and sounds of Rome.
Roman Holiday is one of the most beloved films from the 50s, so it’s a welcome addition to the service. Now if only we could get the Criterion Collection to bring their library to the platform!
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!