True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, June 11/17
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…
If the surprise Best Picture announcement snafu at this year’s Oscars left you scratching your head, maybe it’s because you haven’t had a chance to catch up with the (eventual) winner, Moonlight. Barry Jenkins’ tripartite film about a young man growing up in a depressed neighbourhood of Miami is a vibrant, powerful piece of work. What’s more, its come-from-behind victory was an oddly appropriate twist in an awards race that had positioned La La Land, a traditional Hollywood-success fairy tale with a predominantly white cast, as the frontrunner.
Not only is the film a technical achievement due to the funding and production schedule Jenkins was working with, but it tells a story that doesn’t get told often enough: the experience of a black man coming to terms with his sexuality, and the life of crime that he can’t seem to escape. La La Land will always be a favourite of mine, but thankfully Netflix Canada is encouraging more people to experience Jenkins’ bittersweet triumph.
Homeland - Season 5
The Canadian platform has been fairly slow in its release of new episodes of Homeland, which in its early seasons was one of the most critically acclaimed series on the air. The Showtime program, which follows the career of a bipolar CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her often self-destructive pursuit of terrorist suspects, has shrunk in profile lately as other major series have debuted. But by all accounts, the show hasn’t dropped in quality. As this block of episodes kicks off, Mathison has relocated to Berlin and is working in the private sector, but she’s naturally drawn back into the espionage game before too long.
Birth of a Nation
The release of Birth of a Nation will go down as one of stranger, and more frustrating, stories to come out of the art-house circuit. In the same year that Moonlight captured hearts and minds for its window into the black experience in 21st century America, Birth of a Nation sought to rewind back to the 19th century, and the slave revolt led by Nat Turner (Nate Parker).
Parker, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, wanted to shed light on a little-discussed moment in history when the slave population tried to reclaim some of their humanity. However, just as the film was appearing at festivals, stories about a (since resolved) sexual assault charge against Parker when he was in college began to surface. Despite the relatively warm critical response to the film itself, the majority of the coverage centered on Parker’s personal life instead of the movie, and the end result was significant damage to the film’s distribution and awards chances. Now that it’s up on Netflix, it’s easier to separate the film from the filmmaker, and I’m curious to see how it works alongside Moonlight as separate chapters in a broader narrative.
The Edge of Seventeen
The high school/coming-of-age drama is a genre that gets revived every so often; sometimes with a supernatural or dystopian twist, and even less frequently as a fresh take on the current smartphone-wielding generation of confused teens. The best example of the latter until recently was Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but now a new film is putting itself forward as the high school drama to beat: The Edge of Seventeen.
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (even for a 2016 film, a female director is still a bonus) and starring Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson, the film collected an outstanding 95% on RottenTomatoes from 166 reviews, with the consensus that the script and Steinfeld’s performance being the key draws to a film that may have floundered in different hands. The Edge of Seventeen seems to prove that there can never be a “definitive” coming-of-age film, and that even something as hallowed as The Breakfast Club must make way for stories that try to decode the very different sorts of young adults of the 2010s.
The Netflix revolution of the documentary category continues with The Keepers. This series, added as a Netflix Original, joins an ever-growing club of non-fiction productions that are getting a much wider audience than they otherwise might, through exclusive distribution by the streaming giant. The Keepers also belongs to the rabidly popular true-crime genre, as it focuses on the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular Roman Catholic nun in the city of Baltimore in 1969. The series tracks down people who knew Sister Cathy, and decades after her death, unravels a disturbing cover-up of sexual abuse in Baltimore, as well as the suggestion that Sister Cathy was killed before she could inform authorities.
Initial criticism of the show suggests it’s both well-assembled and deeply troubling, and yet another example of a TV show that may have a real-world impact, like other recent true-crime releases (Making a Murderer, Amanda Knox, and the podcast Serial). Each new production tries to dig into a cold case or a controversial trial and inform a new audience about an injustice that hasn't received splashy mainstream coverage; it further solidifies Netflix as a threat to more than just movie studios.
This pick is for the acting connoisseurs, and perhaps for the news junkies out there who think they’ve seen it all on today’s cable news shows. Christine is a biopic of the titular reporter (Rebecca Hall) who in 1974 became a (mercifully) rare case of a news worker committing suicide live on air. Christine is the kind of movie that makes a hefty demand of its lead actor: considering that the audience likely already knows how the movie will end, the actor needs to find a way to make their character as relatable and surprising as possible, while not diminishing the mental health message that should emerge from the work. By all accounts, the film is a striking commentary on work-life balance, journalistic ethics, and romantic frustration – a good choice for anyone looking for a heady Netflix session.
One way to look at this new Marvel origin story is as a bellwether, to figure out if you’re still in tune with the massive franchise after nine years of blockbuster glory. 15 years ago, the prospects of a film about a “Sorcerer Supreme” who calls upon the “hoary hosts of Hoggoth” to channel his power would be pretty dim. But in 2016, the idea makes a lot of sense, and to the credit of director Scott Derrickson and the Marvel brain trust, Doctor Strange is a surprisingly enjoyable outing, free from the potentially alienating comic book ephemera.
In fact, Doctor Strange makes use of two elements that turned it into one of my top 5 Marvel films: allowing star Benedict Cumberbatch to crack wise unexpectedly often (defusing some of the sillier portions) and featuring a cosmic, surrealist visual treatment for key scenes. In fact, the latter seems to be continuing now that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has hit theatres and the Thor: Ragnarok trailer is available: a rainbow-coloured, lush production design that brings the movies closer to their source material and makes them far more engaging than the grim, Earth-bound Avengers stories.
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!