True North Streaming: The Best New Titles on Netflix Canada, June 6/18
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…
The Disaster Artist
I’ve been fascinated by the story of The Room for nearly 8 years now, dating back to when I first heard of the so-bad-it’s-good wonder in a Harper’s Magazine article (of all places). This built to a head with the 2013 release of the behind-the-scenes account of the making of the film by Tom Bissell and one of the film’s co-stars, Greg Sestero, which was itself made into a film last year. Starring James Franco and a laundry list of his frequent collaborators and friends, the movie was a highlight of my TIFF 2017 experience, and I recommend it to pretty much everyone, flaws and all.
The filmed version doesn’t fully capture the sheer insanity of Tommy Wiseau (Franco), or make much of an investigation of his mysterious background. But it does preserve one of the key elements: how an improbable friendship survives the test of an impossible film project, and ends up making a bigger splash in the movie world than anyone expected, albeit for the wrong reasons. The Disaster Artist is relatively easy viewing, especially on Netflix, and may make you seem cooler to counterculture film obsessives.
Arrested Development - Season 5 [Part 1]
Head over to my recent review of these episodes for a full breakdown on the second (!) revival of Arrested Development. But this release is also worth including in this list, since it should be counted as a recommendation - despite still seeming like a work in progress. Time will tell if the second block of Season 5, due for release in several months, will make the case for yet another season with the incorrigible Bluth family. But if the anger over Jeffrey Tambor’s alleged on-set behaviour and the news that Portia de Rossi has retired from acting are any indication, Season 5 may be our last taste of Arrested. Fingers crossed it won’t make us long for a Forget-Me-Now.
After a run of three competent but unexciting releases from Pixar (The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, and Cars 3), the studio needed a surefire hit. Coco does the trick - it challenges Up and Inside Out for the title of Most Emotional Disney Movie from the last couple of decades, and does so with a setting and story that we don’t see very often, even outside of animation.
Coco follows a young boy in Mexico named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who struggles with his family’s eccentric ban on music, which dates back to a betrayal in the family’s past. Determined to become a professional musician, Miguel goes on an adventure to the Land of the Dead, running into the spirits of his ancestors and learning a lot about family in the process. It’s all beautifully constructed by the geniuses at Pixar, and if you don’t feel tears welling up during the climactic scene with Miguel’s grandmother, your soul is cold and dark.
Any film critic will wrestle mightily with broadly recommending Darren Aronofsky’s latest. Ultimately, the sheer originality of the movie won me over - you would be hard-pressed to find anything like mother! coming out of theatres last year, at least in North America.
The story, such that it is, traces a young woman known as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives with her brooding poet husband Him (Javier Bardem) in a sprawling home in the middle of nowhere. As the film continues, Mother grapples with a series of visitors and intruders into the house, people that Him welcomes in without consulting Mother, leading to a shocking escalation.
The movie is brutal, oblique, and difficult to watch; sometimes it’s the onscreen violence that disturbs you, and other times it’s the maddening construction of the movie and bizarre dialogue. Nevertheless, if you’re a brave movie viewer who wants something intense to chew on, give mother! a try - expect your reaction in either direction to be pretty extreme.
One of my favourite films of 2017 (and a frequent dark horse choice for my Oscar predictions) you owe it to yourself to see Lady Bird if you haven’t already. The movie is a striking coming-of-age story, and acts as a brilliant debut for its director Greta Gerwig, who emerges from Lady Bird not only seeming like she’s been directing movies for 15 years, but making me excited for anything she tackles next.
Lady Bird tells the story of a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) living in Sacramento in 2000, on the verge of heading off to college. Her family doesn’t have a lot of money, but Lady Bird has her sights set on attending an expensive liberal arts college, less out of a aptitude for the subject area and more because she thinks it would be cool. This is the first of many misapprehensions Lady Bird has about life, but she explores them throughout her final year of high school in surprising and hilarious ways. And if the touching performances and careful screenwriting doesn’t hook you, keep an eye out for Lucas Hedges, who steals every scene he’s in.
It feels like ages since we last heard from the Coen Brothers on screen, even though their last film was only two years ago. Hail, Caesar! follows in the long tradition of behind-the-scenes Hollywood movies like Sunset Boulevard and The Player. Except rather than focus on a struggling writer, star, or producer, the film tracks a more nebulous character: a fixer for a major studio in the 1950s played by Josh Brolin.
Brolin’s character Eddie Mannix is a window into the less-than-ethical practices of the showbiz industry (not new territory, to be sure) but the Coens put a more surreal twist on things by working in a Communist plot and a kidnapping mystery. One of the things that most connected with me was how the Coens depict 50s Hollywood as no less of an assembly line for consumer products than it is today: instead of superheroes and cinematic universes, the town churned out cowboy pictures, musicals and chamber dramas.
I count myself in a relative minority in my love of Hail, Caesar!: while admittedly it isn’t one of the Coens’ most memorable movies, I’m enough of a sucker for the subject matter to recommend it, all while looking forward to the brothers’ return to the Western with their upcoming anthology series.
November 13: Attack on Paris
The going wisdom these days is if you want to succeed as a documentary producer, pitch a true-crime show to Netflix. The appetite for the genre seems to be booming (perhaps with a bust on the horizon?), but nevertheless, the streaming giant has turned to yet another tragic event to examine in a serialized format: the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015.
As someone who travelled to Paris seven months after the attacks, it was striking to still see the expanded police presence on the streets, and this three-part series aims to spend most of its time with the victims of the attack, and avoid sensationalism wherever it can. As Steve Greene from Indiewire points out, the series is more of an oral history and a reflection than an action-thriller in documentary form.
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!