True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, Sept 6/17

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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…

Love and Mercy

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If you’re a fan of musician biopics, it’s hard not to recommend this 2015 release that charts the life of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Wilson is played first by Paul Dano and seen wrestling with the fame he built up as a young star. Then John Cusack takes over to dramatize Wilson’s later life, when he was dealing with mental illness and manipulative hangers-on who exerted powerful control over him. Love and Mercy didn’t get much of a wide release during its theatrical run, but with a 91% RottenTomatoes score, it’s a music film that offers a few more layers than the typical hagiographies that populate the genre (like the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic).

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If you missed Silence during its stay in multiplexes, but consider yourself a big Martin Scorsese fan, you may want to do some reading before venturing into the master’s most recent work. Silence is a challenging film, not only due to its brutal imagery, but its topic: the film depicts the trials of two Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan.

At a time when the country was strongly isolationist and persecuted Christians, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) are sent to investigate the apostasy (the renouncing of one’s faith) by their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). What follows is a deeply personal work by Scorsese, where long stretches of time are devoted to the inner turmoil of wondering whether your prayers mean anything. If you’re in the right mood, Silence is a striking thing to watch, and Garfield does some of the best work of his career. But it’s definitely not the kind of seething gangland material some may expect from the director.

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Hidden Figures

There’s a reason Hidden Figures racked up a handful of Oscar nominations in the most recent contest: it’s one of those bright-eyed, crowd-pleasing films that shine a light on dimly understood moments in history. The movie follows three black women working for NASA during the run-up to the Apollo missions, all eminently qualified for high-level positions but relegated to support roles due to their race.

Each woman (played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe) has a different specialty, and they encounter varying obstacles - Henson’s character is on the front line, trying to deliver crucial mathematical formulas to a team of white male engineers, Monáe’s character is contributing to the design of the re-entry vehicle, and Spencer’s character champions the effort to train staff on the new computer system. It all comes together in a package that reaffirms why we need more stories like it on screens.

Archer - Season 8

With the addition of Archer Season 8 and the return of Bojack Horseman to Netflix this week, it’s a great month for adult-themed animation on the platform. To be honest, I’m often surprised that Archer has lasted as long as it has, especially since the show has long since moved away from its roots as a parody of the spy genre.

But the producers of the show were quick to find completely different but equally satisfying concepts for recent seasons, including a jaunt where Archer (H. Jon Benajmin) and company become drug dealers, or last season’s run where they become private detectives in Hollywood. This season goes off in a new, but related direction: a time warp to 1940s Los Angeles, giving the proceedings a distinctive L.A. Confidential vibe. After about five episodes, I can confirm that it’s the same Archer you know and love, but there’s some extra fun to be had now that the time period is locked in (compared to the deliberately flexible setting of past seasons).

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September seems to be the month of catching up on 2016’s Oscar noms, at least as far as Netflix Canada is concerned. Fences was another strong contender in the major categories, and some believed that star Denzel Washington was due to scoop up his third acting Oscar, though the award ultimately went to Casey Affleck.

Fences was also Washington’s latest directing effort, though some initial viewers (myself included) felt he struggled to break away from the restrictions of the film’s source material (a play by August Wilson) and transport the action beyond the confines of a single location. Nevertheless, the film is a showcase of fine performances, and more than worth a viewing if you like any of the talent involved.

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Personal Shopper

You can officially call me a fan of Kristen Stewart. That’s not something you would have caught me saying even five years ago, but Stewart’s shift to working with European art house directors and to smaller American productions proves that she’s a talent to watch for the long term. One of the more notable among her recent collaborations is with French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, who cast her in his powerful 2014 movie-industry drama Clouds of Sils Maria, and again in last year’s Personal Shopper, a ghost story without any of the typical trappings of the genre.

Stewart plays Maureen, an assistant to a cruel and self-obsessed celebrity named Kyra. When Maureen isn’t doing her employer’s bidding, she’s trying to figure out what happened to her twin brother, who died of a rare disease and may be trapped as a ghost in rambling old house near Paris. Personal Shopper works because Assayas doesn’t try to inject too much mythology into the film: we’re not sure if Maureen’s supernatural experiences are real, or even what might happen to her if they are. Aside from a potentially deal-breaking texting scene that may drive away less patient viewers, Personal Shopper is a must-watch for people curious about Stewart’s career trajectory.

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I Am Not Madame Bovary

This Chinese comedy popped up on the festival circuit last year and collected a lot of critical praise, but I had no idea why until doing a bit of research. It tells the story of an increasingly ambitious civil disagreement between a husband and wife (Fan Bingbing) in China who stage a fake divorce to get access to some additional property, but end up coming to blows when the husband re-marries and tries to ruin the reputation of his ex-wife.

As a commentary about China’s still-archaic marriage laws and the social implications of infidelity and divorce, the decision to approach this story as a comedy probably helped with selling a potentially dry topic to a wider audience. I Am Not Madame Bovary feels like a solid way to sample some international cinema without suffering through unnecessary pretension.

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!