True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, July 12/17
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…
What We Do in the Shadows
It’s not very often that movies made in New Zealand hit the big time (except for Peter Jackson’s massive Tolkien adaptations), so when a smaller-scale title does emerge, it’s worth celebrating.
In this case, we have a mockumentary released by Taika Waititi (The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok), one of the country’s more internationally successful talents. The film follows a quartet of vampires living together as roommates in present-day Wellington. Waititi himself plays Viago, the most agreeable of the group, while co-director Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) plays the debaucherous Vladislav and Jonny Brugh appears as Deacon. Together, they have to contend with keeping their true natures a secret in the 21st century, which is made more difficult when they accidentally “turn” a local party animal named Nick. The film is full of quirky, quotable sequences and self-aware humour, but one of the absolute best moments is an encounter with the local chapter of werewolves - a scene that has inspired a TV spin-off.
The 2017 Oscars ended up being a much more dramatic showdown than anyone expected, but one of the smaller stories that emerged during the race was the comeback of Mel Gibson as an industry-respected filmmaker. Gibson brought the Second World War drama Hacksaw Ridge to the awards circuit, and proved that despite some of the horrible incidents in his past, he’s still capable of delivering a beautifully crafted, emotionally rewarding movie.
Focusing on a little-known story from the Pacific theatre, Hacksaw Ridge covers the service of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector to the war who insisted on heading into the fray as a medic, all while refusing to carry any sort of weapon or taking the life of an enemy soldier. It takes some time for Gibson’s film to actually get Doss to the front (Doss had to win a military court decision first) but once the guns begin firing, you can tell that Gibson is in his element. Garfield’s strong performance was rightfully highlighted by the Academy, so if you can suspend your judgment of the filmmaker (as well as some of the silly measures Doss takes to avoid violence), Hacksaw Ridge is a thoroughly watchable war movie.
One of the newest Netflix Originals to go live, GLOW seeks to capitalize on two major trends: the need for more female-led programming (always important) and 1980s pop culture (we’ll see how long that lasts). It dramatizes the behind-the-scenes adventures of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a league of female combatants with larger-than-life characters that presented a rare chance for women in Hollywood in the 80s to play more than a secretary or a love interest.
Even though the fighters they play are outlandish caricatures, Ruth (Alison Brie), Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and their fellow cast members find a certain kind of subversive empowerment in their new roles, and the bouts soon become a cult hit for their cokehead director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). The show is currently tracking at 96% on RottenTomatoes, suggesting that there’s lots to love about Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch’s show, and that it may itself become a hit for the streaming platform.
Another contender at this year’s Oscars, Elle occupied an intriguing spot in the Best Actress category. In a race with two former winners (Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep) and two relative newcomers (Emma Stone and Ruth Negga), Elle’s lead actress Isabelle Huppert was poised to run up the middle and claim the award as a dark horse.
While that didn’t end up happening, Elle remains an important development in both Huppert’s and director Paul Verhoeven’s careers. After plenty of success with splashy American movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, Verhoeven returned to Europe, and it wasn’t until Huppert began attracting attention for her work in Elle that Verhoeven’s name was being bandied about by critics again.
The story concerns a businesswoman (Huppert) who is raped by a masked attacker, but refuses to report it, setting off a chain of mistrust and personal crisis. Certainly not the lightest material on the platform, but a worthwhile watch for thriller aficionados.
Strangely enough, sometimes it’s tricky to find strong Canadian content to recommend on Netflix Canada (other than CBC TV shows or small-scale indies). But the new film from renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar actually has a Canadian connection: it’s based on a collection of short stories by Nobel Prize-winning Canadian author Alice Munro. While Almodóvar relocates the action to Spain, the multi-generational structure of the stories remains, recounting the trials and tribulations of an estranged mother and daughter. Almodóvar is well known for his eccentric characters and visual flourishes, and to see how he interprets a story set in a very different culture and place sounds fascinating.
Welcome to Me
I’m a bit of a sucker for eccentric indies, and this 2015 Kristen Wiig vehicle fits the bill. Wiig plays a woman named Alice Klieg who suffers from borderline personality disorder, who wins an $86 million lottery jackpot. Alice takes the money and launches a bizarre autobiographical talk show modelled after The Oprah Winfrey Show, complete with a replica of Alice’s house and a series of odd and sometimes dangerous on-air segments.
The film, which also stars Wes Bentley, James Marsden and Linda Cardellini, did relatively well with reviewers but failed to clear more than $650,000 at the box office. The critical consensus suggests that it’s not a knockout release, but something that’s both consistently funny and slightly disturbing. File this one as a dependable pick if you’re just casually browsing on Netflix, especially if you like any of the actors involved.
If you’re a Bill Murray fan, it’s hard to go wrong with one of his classic comedies from the 80s. Stripes was made during the beginning of Murray’s rise to stardom, following his run on Saturday Night Live. It’s a military comedy, featuring Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman (both of whom would later work with Murray on Ghostbusters), and traces the mishaps perpetrated by a gang of ineffective American soldiers. Stripes may not be one of the top films to come out of Murray’s comedy collaborations, but as an early waypoint on the Murray timeline, it’s worth a look.
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!