True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, March 14/18
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…
In a move that has to be motivated in part by Jordan Peele’s recent Oscar win for best original screenplay, Netflix added Peele’s most recent movie outing with long-time collaborator Keegan-Michael Key, the 2016 comedy Keanu. While the movie passed me by during its theatrical run, apparently it’s one of the better studio comedies from the past two years, netting a 78% on RottenTomatoes – though not much in the way of box office, barely exceeding its budget.
The premise is deceptively simple: two friends (Key and Peele) pose as drug dealers to reclaim a kitten stolen from them by a gang, who have mistaken them for a pair of assassins. Like some of the best sketches on the duo’s Comedy Central show, the basic concept is a jumping-off point for an insane escalation of stakes, leading to drug trips, car chases, and shootouts. Oh, and don’t forget about a supporting performance from Tiffany Haddish, another highlight of the Oscars ceremony who we’ll likely be seeing a lot of in the future.
Hard-core fandom can be a wonderful thing and a terrifying thing – look no further than the loud debate over the upcoming Ready Player One. The indie film Brigsby Bear pushes that idea a step further, by asking what it would be like if the fandom was forced – if a young man grew up entirely walled off from anything other than his favourite TV show.
It’s a troubling thought, especially given the additional details of the premise. James (SNL’s Kyle Mooney) was kidnapped as a baby, kept in an underground bunker and only allowed to watch a single children’s show, produced by his kidnappers. When James is freed after several decades and re-introduced to his biological family, he struggles to adjust to the real world. As a way of healing, he commits himself to completing the unfinished show that defined so much of his life.
Despite the creepy vibes in the setup (and the subversive blending of 1980s TV tropes into the fictional show created for the movie), the general consensus about Brigsby Bear is that it’s a surprisingly observant and heartfelt effort, and a great feature debut for director Dave McCary. And given the supporting performance by Mark Hamill as James’ kidnapper, it’s on my must-see list.
This four-part miniseries experienced a quick conversion into a Netflix Original, airing originally on BBC Two only a month ago. It also has an obvious ripped-from-the-headlines vibe, charting the investigation of a seemingly random murder in London and its connection to a recent wave of immigrants from Syria. But in this case, it’s the cast that catches my attention: Carey Mulligan stars as the key police investigator, who crosses paths with characters played by John Simm, Billie Piper, and Nicola Walker.
While some critics dinged the series for a confusing script or for a story that’s a little too on-the-nose politically, overall the reception of the series was positive. Whether that translates to more episodes is another matter – perhaps we may see the series go the anthology route, and tell a new story if it gets renewed.
John Carney has built a reputation as the maker of movies that are not quite musicals in the traditional sense - they don’t tend to suspend reality for big musical sequences - but still deliver the same dance-in-your-seat experience. After releasing a handful of smaller movies between 1996 and 2001, Carney broke through with Once, a 2007 romance that won an Oscar for Best Original Song. Despite a tiny $150,000 budget, the movie soared to a $23 million box office, thereby gaining the attention of Hollywood producers.
It took six years for Carney to capitalize on this, though – eventually releasing Begin Again, another romantic drama set in the music world, but this time packing a more famous cast, with Mark Ruffalo as Dan Mulligan, a failed producer in search of a new talent to promote. When Dan happens across an indie singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) in a bar, he believes he may have found his ticket to redemption – unless he botches it by selling out.
On release, Begin Again was cited for being a little emotionally manipulative, but apparently it still delivers the “feels”, as the kids say. This recommendation turns partly on the cast (depending on your take on Ruffalo and Knightley). But it’s nice to see Mos Def and a pre-Late Late Show James Corden here, as well as a story that celebrates a more down-to-earth style of music production.
There’s a school of thought that the age of mid-budget movies (traditional thrillers among them) are dying, being replaced by either low-budget sleepers or giant-size blockbusters. That being said, actor-writer-director Taylor Sheridan is making the case to keep them alive. After bursting out as a screenwriter with the excellent 2015 Denis Villeneuve thriller Sicario, Sheridan went on to write the Oscar-nominated contemporary Western Hell or High Water, before jumping into directing with last year’s murder mystery Wind River.
The new film pulls together Marvel co-stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, as an unlikely pair of investigators looking into the death of a young Indigenous woman on a reserve in Wyoming. Wind River collected strong notices from critics, as well as a Best Director prize in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival. As a developing fan of Sheridan’s work, this one has been on my mental watchlist for some time, so it’s good to see Netflix Canada pick it up.
Broadchurch – Series 3
I thought I’d definitely written about Broadchurch in this column before, but apparently not! In any case, the show (created by upcoming Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall), is one of the standout detective series of the past few years. It takes a familiar formula – big-city detective with personal demons relocates to small town for a gruesome case – and executes it with fascinating performances, beautiful cinematography, and a willingness to chase the story beyond the typical confines of the genre.
Broadchurch began with the chilling murder of a young boy, which it resolved in tragic fashion at the end of its first season. Then in season two, unlike many detective shows, it followed the case through the court system, while simultaneously exploring the cold case that haunts the lead investigator Alec Hardy (David Tennant). Now, the final third season is available on Netflix, after finishing its run on ITV in the U.K. in April 2017.
Upon watching the first two blocks of episodes, I found the show so compelling that I’ve deliberately avoided trailers and plot outlines for the new episodes, so I know very little about the framing for the show’s conclusion. But the score on RottenTomatoes for the season suggests that it may be the best one in the series; I think I know what I’ll be diving into this weekend.
Technically, this movie was released on Netflix Canada around a month ago, so it doesn’t fully fit the bill of a new addition. Knowing, however, that it was tragically under-seen during its theatrical run, I felt the need to mention it here.
Midnight Special is an understated sci-fi from Jeff Nichols, who has quietly established himself as a confident, effective filmmaker with works like Take Shelter, Mud and the Oscar-nominated Loving. Nichols’ new film follows a father (Michael Shannon) trying to spirit his mysteriously gifted son away from a religious cult, who have convinced authorities to issue an Amber Alert to get the boy back under their control. As Shannon’s character continues his journey, it becomes clear that his son’s skills may be alien in nature, and that he must try to reunite his son with the world he came from, all while the cult’s members and the government bear down on them.
The film is a strong example of the “show, don’t tell” maxim, something we still don’t see enough at the movies. Combined with a number of strong performances and sense of Spielbergian homage, it’s surprising that Midnight Special didn’t attract a larger audience. Being one of the relative few who saw it during its initial run, I can confirm that it’s thoroughly worthwhile, especially for those who like their sci-fi a little more subtle.
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!