While you ponder whether Netflix is in trouble, just because it reported loosing 200,000 subscribers recently while at the same HBO (that's on CRAVE in Canada) gained 3 million, think of more important things. Many of them. Two big documentary festivals are starting soon and it's not too early to check the line up. Hot Docs out of Toronto starts Thursday, April 28, and DOXA out of Vancouver starts May 5. Both are streaming many of their offerings to customers anywhere in Canada. I'll be reviewing some but there are too many to do more than a bit of coverage. You can check out what they have by visiting these sites: https://www.doxafestival.ca/ and https://hotdocs.ca/

And, you can read about some Earth Day documentaries and these other movies here right now.

The Northman: 4 ½ stars

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: 3

Going Circular: 3 ½

Polar Bear: 4

The Biggest Little Farm, the Return: 3 ½

The Last Tepui: 4

Hit the Road: 4

The Bad Guys: 2 ½

THE NORTHMAN: History, mythology, paganism and lots of bloodletting brew together in a stew that is absolutely impossible to turn away from. It's mesmerizing, even if it's not all that emotionally involving. Some late dabs of regret from the revenge-seeking character at the centre don't make this a psychological tale. Its payback pure and simple and comes from an Icelandic legend about the Vikings. A king makes his son promise to avenge him if he's killed, which he is, by his own brother who takes off with his wife. If that sounds familiar, you're right. Shakespeare drew on it to write Hamlet.

Courtesy of Focus Features

Amleth, played with wild intensity as an adult by Alexander Skarsgård, raids villages to capture slaves until a blind witch (Björk, yes the singer) reminds him of his promise. He learns that some of his slaves are being sold to a farmer in Iceland who turns out to be the murderous uncle (Claes Bang), still living with the captured mother (Nicole Kidman). Amleth pretends he's a slave, gets himself taken there, gets further inspiration from another slave (Anya Taylor-Joy) and does what he promised. The film is loaded with brutality but also, under the direction of Robert Eggers and writing by Icelandic novelist Sjón, much more. There's extreme attention to historical accuracy in how the Vikings dressed, acted and what they believed in. Some feels fanciful, like an early scene in which the young Amleth is taught to howl like a wolf to show his warrior future. But the dabblings in witchcraft, bodies of ancestors hanging from a tree and the carefully choreographic battle scenes feel like a true picture of back then. And very well-acted by a stand-out cast. (In theaters all over) 4 ½ out of 5

THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT: This almost defines the concept of post modern. It's meta for sure. Nicolas Cage plays himself (or a version called Nick Cage). His best film roles are behind him, he's desperate to get a new one that has a King Lear feel but with debts mounting accepts a high-paying job to attend a birthday party for a very rich fan (Pedro Pascal) on Mallorca Island in Spain. The guy knows all his films, says Face/Off is his very favorite and has a room of Cage memorabilia. He's also written a screenplay for him.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

He may also be a dangerous arms dealer. So says a CIA agent (Tiffany Haddish) who wants to recruit Cage to take him down. At the very least she puts a communications link on him to follow and advise him. The film becomes a Euro-action romp, with equal parts mystery, family drama (involving the fictional Cage's daughter, wife and ex-wife), political thriller (kidnaps and election-fixing) and above all a Nicolas Cage fest for his fans. One of its concerns, spoken out in parallel to the main plot, is how to write a screenplay, not just popcorn audience fare but, you know, nuanced, character stories. It's all part of the meta aspect here, funny, silly and a light good time. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

GOING CIRCULAR: They're billing this as the most optimistic film yet about the climate crisis but I have my doubts. Its got very good arguments by four people who've come to their own conclusions about the emergency but look what it says has to be done. We, governments, billionaires, the financial system and corporations all have to change our attitudes, stop trying to get rich, consume less, waste nothing, drop the cutthroat competition in business and work together because we're all part of the same system. Yes, we need all that but it won't be easy or soon, if ever. The film then is like a sermon, well-intentioned but not a promise.

The four who explain their personal conversions are James Lovelock, who developed the concept of Gaia, which some thought meant the world will heal itself and we don't need to do anything. He says it means our planet is one system in which everything works together and what's discarded is converted to be used elsewhere. Biologist Janine Benyus, Wall Street executive John Fullerton and art-and-engineering theorist Arthur Huang explain how they incorporated that idea into their work. Huang, for instance built an entire hospital in Taiwan out of discarded materials. But recycling and using less are only part of it. We have to accept that everything on earth is interconnected. The concept is called “circularity.” Watch for the film locally. In Vancouver it's playing at 5:30 today at the VIFF Centre as part of Earth Day, with a discussion afterwords. 3 ½ out of 5

POLAR BEAR: This is Disney's annual wildlife documentary for Earth Day and it's sure to be valuable to engage your child in a talk about climate change. Or maybe just yourself, if you need a refresher, or maybe some more inspiration to think about it. A mother bear and two cubs certainly have to think about it as the film follows them with spectacular cinematography through several seasons.

Courtesy of Disney+

We learn a lot. They need the ice floes to move about on in their hunt for food. There's a very tense scene as the mother quietly sneaks up on a seal lying unaware the stalker is approaching. Later we see that the ice is receding, getting thinner and dangerous. Conversely, the mother has learned to use that fact to evade enemies. She also resorts to hunting walrus meat and instead of seal and sometimes there's only seaweed to eat. The cubs hate that; they are no vegetarians. But your kids will like the family atmosphere in this film. It's narrated from the daughter's point of view by Catherine Keener. There's a lot about how annoying the brother is, how the mother is an inspiring teacher and how menacing adult males are, when they come around. But it's climate change that is the main lesson told and shown in the film by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson a couple of old hands with nature films. (Disney+) 4 out of 5

DISNEY+ also has two other films for Earth Day this year.

THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM: THE RETURN: It was almost three years ago that I reviewed the original movie about a Los Angeles couple who bought a farm and worked to restore the soil there. It had been made barren by monoculture farming and they brought it back with "diversity." They planted a range of crops, let animals roam free and created a system in which every part contributed. That's "circularity" too. "The ecosystem of our planet works the same way," says farmer John Chester.

This brief film checks back to see how they're doing. Just fine, thank you, except for one thing, The animals are getting old. When do you let them go? Emma, the momma pig for instance. She's given birth to 6 litters, one with 17 piglets. Now she's declining. What to do? They have to face the darker side of farming. 3 ½ out of 5

THE LAST TEPUI is from National Geographic's Explorer series and gives us adventure, drama and tension in one man's quest for knowledge. Dr. Bruce Means studies frogs in the Guyana rainforest but since he's almost 80 he can't get up the mesa-topped mountain called a tepui where the undiscovered species may be. No scientist has ever explored up there. Nat Geo put together a team with a biologist and a couple of climbers to go up for him. One is Alex Honnold, probably the most daring free climber on earth and the subject of the Academy Award-winning film, Free Solo. The climbing scenes here are just as thrilling. They have to go up some 800 feet of sheer cliff, around an outcropping called a “roof” and dangle from underneath it at times. When they get over it, there are tarantulas but luckily, tadpoles too. And terrific cinematography. 4 out of 5

HIT THE ROAD: Here's another fine film from Iran made by the son of Jafar Panahi, who has made many himself but ran into government opposition. Panah Panahi picks up that thread, maybe. He doesn't give a full answer about what he's telling us in the movie but he does give lots to think about.

Courtesy of Films We Like

A family sets out on a roadtrip. The dad has a leg in a cast; the younger son is chatty and more aware of the world than most around his age. The older son is quiet. The mother seems fearful. There's mention of losing a house to pay for bail. There are mysterious phone calls and skimpy directions of where to go and who will meet them. The characters don't explain it all to each other and we don't really know what's going on, or why. And yet it's never boring. The drive feels like a real family outing and the reasons for it may involve politics, surveillance and escape. May. We're guessing but we're engrossed. (Art house theaters) 4 out of 5

THE BAD GUYS: The books by Australian writer Aaron Blabey seem to be popular and this film from Dreamworks by French animator Pierre Perifel will probably be too but I have a couple of big problems with it. It's way too loud and frenetic, not uncommon in these cartoon movies, and it's surprisingly cynical. I don't think it carries a particularly good message for the kids it is aimed at. "Huh?" the creators might say. It's all about bad guys learning that being good is better, what can be wrong with that? I'll get back to that.

Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation

In the film a gang of bank robbers, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Shark and Ms. Tarantula, are caught after a frantic car chase and taken into a social experiment by a social scientist, Professor Marmalade. He says he can turn them to be good. And they do come to learn the benefits of good behaviour and doing good for people. But can they be trusted? Nobody around them can be, including the Professor, a do-gooding politician and a police chief. Not only is it unreliable, the story comes in way too much wisecracking dialogue. The voice cast is good though. In the same order I've written the characters, they are Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Anthony Ramos, Craig Robinson, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Alex Borstein and Lilly Singh. (In theaters) 2 ½ out of 4