True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, January 18/18
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…
A Ghost Story
Right out of the gate, it’s important to note that how much you enjoy A Ghost Story will be tied to your mood going into it. The film, a small project that director David Lowery jumped into with a stripped-down cast and crew, right after finishing a big Disney film, is quiet, dreamlike, and one of the best stories about grief to come out in 2017. But due to its deliberately methodical pace - and the presence of actors Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who can rub viewers the wrong way – the movie’s definitely not for everyone.
The story is that of a woman known as M (Mara) who loses her husband, C (Affleck) in a car accident. Over time, it becomes clear that C is lingering in their home in the form of a white-sheeted ghost. He retains all his memories of his life with M, but can’t communicate with her, other than through the occasional ghost-like misbehaviour of power surges or moving around household objects. C eventually becomes tied to the physical location, unable to move on, and over time he witnesses all the changes that have happened and will happen there over the centuries. A Ghost Story is a unique experience, and if you can get past some of the odd comedic moments (like a subtitled conversation with another ghost) it can be very rewarding.
This 2015 release from Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, The Shape of Water) is perhaps one of his lesser-known films, partly due to the way it was marketed when it came out. The distributor made the movie out to be a full-bore horror, but in fact it’s closer to a gothic romance (with some occasional but terrifying sequences).
The movie centers on Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring American author in the late 19th century who encounters Thomas (Tom Hiddleston), a seemingly wealthy baronet and inventor. They fall for each other, but Edith’s father disapproves. Not long afterwards, Mr. Cushing is murdered, prompting Edith to move to England with Thomas, only to discover that Thomas lives in a crumbling manor house with his unstable sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith soon finds herself haunted by horrifying ghosts, and suffering from some sort of mysterious illness, forcing her to investigate the history of the house and discover the truth of Thomas’ interest in her.
Due to the fusion of genres and the many classic movie influences, it’s possible that casual viewers just didn’t know what to make of the story, and thus couldn’t recommend it to others. Which is a shame, because Crimson Peak is brimming over with lush visuals and a tragic story. It also shares some DNA with Del Toro’s earlier Spanish-language work The Devil’s Backbone, an extra reward for fans of the filmmaker. Hopefully its run on Netflix Canada will get it the attention it deserves.
Halt and Catch Fire – Season 4
I’ve written before about my love for Halt and Catch Fire, a show that’s always seemed under-seen by many in-the-know TV viewers. The latest block of episodes are now available, from the show’s fourth and final season, bringing an end to the stories of (fictional) computer pioneers Gordon (Scoot McNairy), Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), Joe (Lee Pace), Donna (Kerry Bishé), and Boz (Toby Huss). Now in the mid-nineties, the season picks up with its characters trying to find a niche in an industry turned on its head by the emergence of the Internet, and still grappling with the same failures to communicate that have doomed many of their ventures in the past.
For anyone interested in technology, or those curious about the types of people who existed on the fringes of stardom in the tech industry, this show is a must-watch. The performances are secretly some of the best on TV in the past few years, and the new season keeps the energy up with some bold narrative and visual transitions. I don’t know what will replace the show in my stable of favourite ongoing TV series, but here’s hoping the creators (Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers) have something up their sleeve.
My Life as a Zucchini
It’s fair to say that stop-motion animation is a slowly dying art form; very few production houses remain that actively produce shorts or features in the style. What’s more depressing is that despite the stunning technical achievements of recent stop-motion films like Laika Studios’ Kubo and the Two Strings, the animation establishment is still wholly in favour of handing the biggest industry prizes to CG animation titles.
This was the fate of My Life as a Zucchini, a Swiss-French stop-motion film from 2016 that went up against eventual winner Zootopia at last year’s Oscars. It’s possible that the logline of My Life as a Zucchini - which deals with a young boy’s experiences with an abusive father, a stay at an orphanage and the foster system – didn’t produce the right (read: Disneyfied) kind of family-friendly vibe that Academy voters expect from the animation category. Nevertheless, the critical praise for the film was loud and comprehensive, with a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of over 120 reviews, so perhaps the best we can do is give it some love during its run on streaming services.
It Comes at Night
I’m not much for horror films, but if there’s one thing that will draw me out to one, it’s when the villain/monster is left unseen for most of the runtime. It’s one of the oldest, and yet most effective, tricks in the book, and it’s apparently used to great effect in It Comes at Night, a post-apocalyptic horror starring Joel Edgerton that came out this summer. The film serves as the mainstream breakthrough for Trey Edward Shults, a young filmmaker who seems set for a big budget helming job after this film netted an 88% RT score and made big profits on its tiny $2.4 million budget.
The plot concerns a man (Edgerton) who secludes himself, his wife and teenage son in a remote cabin following a deadly pandemic. They believe they are safe until another family appears, hoping to seek shelter with them. Rather than research further than there, I think I might just dive right into this one, and experience the chills first-hand.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Season 2
I’m still not entirely sure whether I’m a committed fan of Dirk Gently yet, but after watching the first season when it came out last year, it definitely made an impression. It’s a Netflix Original/BBC America co-production that’s wholly impossible to categorize; a sarcastic, genre-bending comedy, it follows the titular “holistic detective” (Samuel Barnett) and his reluctant sidekick Todd (Elijah Wood) on an unpredictable, sometimes time-hopping adventure. Along the way, they encounter possessed corgis, goons with electrified crossbows and astral-projection hammerhead sharks.
Season 2 picks up with Gently himself being kidnapped, and Todd’s attempts to track him down. All the wild supporting characters return (including a manic Michael Eklund as an “emotion vampire”) as well as some new additions, including a bounty hunter played by Alan Tudyk. I expect to be fully confused but oddly charmed by this new block of episodes.
Winner of the Best Picture Oscar at the 2016 ceremony, Spotlight hearkens back to the old tradition of justice-oriented journalism movies like All the President’s Men and Broadcast News. It’s one of those movies with an all-star cast playing idealistic reporters and news executives, and a hot-button, real-life issue - in this case the systemic cover-up of sexual assaults by Roman Catholic clergy in Boston.
Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci and Live Schreiber head up the cast, delivering a rousing ode to old-school investigative reporting. Spotlight is likely hitting Netflix to capitalize on the recent release of Spielberg’s The Post, another film in the based-on-a-true-story journalism genre. Whatever the reason, Spotlight comes highly recommended, as long as you can stomach some of the more disturbing facts it uncovers.
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!