Do you feel like you’re drowning … but you haven’t even left your couch? Welcome to the Great Content Overload Era. To help you navigate the choppy digital waves, here are The Globe’s best bets for weekend streaming.
BlackBerry, the miniseries (CBC Gem)
When the U.S. cable channel AMC announced last week that it was going to be airing a three-part miniseries version of Matt Johnson’s feature-film BlackBerry, certain corners of Film Twitter burst into fits of online shock, and maybe even a little outrage. How dare a channel, perhaps desperate for fresh content because of the Hollywood strikes, cut up and extend an already excellent comedy! Or, um, maybe these greedy network execs – whose sister company IFC has the U.S. distribution rights to the Canadian film – just wanted to crassly boost the bottom line for their investment!
The truth is that a miniseries version of BlackBerry was always part of the plan – and it’s a made-in-Canada plan at that, with AMC/IFC only playing a minor after-the-fact role. The entire project originated at the CBC, where Sean Silcoff and Jacquie McNish’s non-fiction book Losing the Signal was first optioned and developed. When Johnson and his producing partners came into the mix, part of the deal was that they would make a feature-length film – released this past spring, to deservedly universal acclaim – as well as a CBC miniseries. Thus, the world has been gifted two different versions of the same story, an unprecedented feat in Canadian screen synergy.
With about 14 minutes of extra footage – including more scenes involving Cary Elwes and Mark Critch – and a more episodic editing structure that plays around, Rashomon-style, with certain key scenes, this new BlackBerry lands as a fascinating, parallel-universe version of Johnson’s original film. It is not a replacement, nor is it exactly superior. Just ... different.
Fans of the movie will find that much more to savour, especially from the lead performances of Jay Baruchel (as Mike Lazaridis) and Glenn Howerton (Jim Balsille). CBC viewers who have never heard of the film will get an extended window into the method of Johnson’s madness. And Johnson obsessives like myself will have fun intricately charting all the myriad differences and tweaks. Everyone wins.
Albert Brooks: Defending My Life (Crave, starting Nov. 11 at 8 p.m.)
Structured as a dinner conversation between two lifelong friends, with plenty of talking-head and archival footage slipped in between, director Rob Reiner’s new documentary on the genius of his buddy Albert Brooks isn’t blazing any new paths for documentary cinema. But it is also an hour and a half of intensely funny people (not only Reiner but also Larry David, Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman etc.) talking about the funniest man alive, so what more could you possibly want?
Casual fans of Brooks who only know of the comedian through his brilliant voice work on, say, The Simpsons and Finding Nemo will learn delicious details about his early life (his real name: Albert Einstein), while even hardcore fans should stumble upon new details (such as the perfect anecdote about his father’s final moments on Earth). Along the way, everyone will come to realize just how essential Brooks has been to the history of modern comedy, from the basic structure of Saturday Night Live to the dominance of the mockumentary form.
The Killer (Netflix)
With his reputation for cold, calculating precision, there doesn’t seem to be much ocular space left in the demanding eyes of David Fincher to focus on comedy, that loosest and most improvisational of art forms. Yet here he is – the perfectionist of Se7en and Zodiac who notoriously requires as many takes from his actors as he does fine-pixel analysis from his visual-effects team – making his first true comedy with the excellent new hitman tale, The Killer.
The film opens in Paris, where a nameless hitman (Michael Fassbender) is waiting to pull the trigger on his latest mark, some wealthy so-and-so who someone far wealthier wants dead, for reasons unknown. One fatal mistake, though, and now our killer is on the run from his shadowy employer. Which is when Fincher’s film pushes the humour harder, faster, meaner. Bodies are just gags to be cleaned up, and cleaning up is best sound-tracked to the Smiths. Already, there are complaints that The Killer is too light of a lark. But even without the massive historical weight of, say, The Social Network or the decades-spanning horror of Zodiac, The Killer arrives fully formed as top-tier Fincher. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
If I recall correctly, when Amazon was close to purchasing MGM Studios, there was one big fat live-and-let-die stipulation that came with the deal: Keep your filthy streaming hands off anything to do with James Bond. The Broccoli family that keeps a notoriously tight grip on the franchise has, a few excellent video games aside, abstained from diluting the brand with TV series (James Bond Jr. seems so obvious) and the like. Well, either my memory is faulty or something inside the Bond empire changed, as Prime Video is rolling out 007: Road to a Million, a reality-TV spin on the everyone’s favourite government assassin. The pitch: Nine “everyday” people are set off on a global Bond-inspired adventure in a race to win $1-million. Brian Cox, who has never appeared in a 007 film, has been paid what one can only assume is Succession-style money to play some sort of spin on a Bond villain. Is Sir Ian Fleming shaken in his grave, or merely stirred?
There’s no real new reason to watch (or re-watch) Bong Joon-ho’s 2020 Oscar-winning triumph. But in the absence of anything new from the South Korean filmmaker – his follow-up, the sci-fi thriller Mickey 17, is still five months away from release – a visit back into the basement apartments and high-end mansions of Bong’s Seoul is more than warranted. An exhilarating and furious indictment of class struggle, Parasite might be the masterpiece the director has been working toward his entire career. Mixing the social outrage of Snowpiercer, the wild humour of Okja, the heartwarming family drama of The Host and the slow-boil vengeance of Mother, Bong’s unpredictable ride about a family of grifters remains a genre-hopping triumph.