By Anne Brodie Dark, as ever, gritty as ever, but in a surprisingly analog métier, The Batman untangles the origins story of Bruce Wayne’s justice-seeking alter ego Batman in his sophomore year fighting crime and his sworn enemies, The Riddler and The Penguin. Gotham City’s Mayor is murdered in his study leaving his young son an orphan. Election day approaches as a fraught city demands change. There’s a serial killer on the loose, wiping out city officials, hiding behind trucker convoy-esque faux military drab and weaponry. Lawless street zombies roam the decayed hellhole, ruined by embedded political malfeasance, tied to gangsters and the police force. Citizens would be entirely unprotected were it not for The Batman. In danger? Throw a shaped cloth over a searchlight and his symbol shines in the night sky. He will heed the call. Robert Pattinson as Batman takes to the material passionately, giving him ungimmicky gravitas. Buff as can be, with fighting skills, an urgent, compelling sotto voce delivery, and chiseled cheekbones you just want to pinch, it is his elegant interpretation of the superhero that stands out. Pattinson abandons previous personas as this man/bat with ease. Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle – The Cat – is tiny but equal in heft, drive, and passion for justice. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as a stout Oswald Cobblepot, Paul Dano plays the nascent Riddler’s end-of-his-rope psychosis, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, John Turturro, Barry Keoghan, Peter Sarsgaard, and memorable character actors help give the film wings. A new Batman era is upon us, new landscapes are created and it is good. Five minutes shy of three hours and I didn’t check the time once. In theatres.
Clifton Collins Jr. is Jackson, The Jockey feeling a lifetime of racing horses heavy on his body and mind. He’s getting older and the bones and muscles don’t bounce back from injury as they once did. He’s in an existential crisis, wondering what he’s accomplished and what lies ahead. He watches younger jockeys suffer career-ending injuries, concussions, broken bodies, and spirits, but his encouraging partner Ruth (Molly Parker) supports him. Their intimate intensity is the central joy in this dour, bittersweet meditation on what the hell we’re doing with our lives. Due to Jackson’s health issues, this is likely his final season so he’d like to finish with a win at the upcoming championship race. He and Ruth find a good new horse and training begins when Gabriel (Moses Arias in a thoughtfully strong performance), a raw young wannabe jockey appears claiming to be his son. Major complications, as well as life stories told by real jockeys, enrich this lovely film. The body language between Parker and Collins is exquisite, expressive yet subtle, they seem extensions of one another. There are no love scenes but also every scene is a love scene. The film’s dependence on nature, horses and their spirits, and unspoken things is just as intimate and captivating. At Bell TIFF Lightbox and select theatres.
Shelley Thompson’s feature debut Dawn, Her Dad & the Tractor is a great first step film to open discussion with children about LGBTQ+ issues and the people inside the acronym. Rob Wells from Trailer Park Boys nails it as a gentle, conventional milk farmer in Nova Scotia, in shock following the death of his beloved wife and his long-unseen son’s coming out as female. The family, Don, now Dawn (trans actor Maya V. Henry) and Tammy (Amy Groening), and her fiancé Byron (Reid Price) join their father at the farm for the funeral preparations and spend a few tense days dealing with grief and shock and trying to get along as Dawn’s sister and father do not approve. The next-door farmer drops by and says when news of their mother’s death came on the radio, his cows stopped chewing and listened. Magical touch. Dawn can’t reach her stony father. She deals with instances of trans hate in town, and one of the perps puts her in danger because he can’t cope. But allies come forward, the sisters draw up a peace pact and bit by bit dad thaws. The family’s transformation is the heart of the story and then community, and love of all kinds. It’s lifelike and hopeful, a message needed today especially given new anti-trans laws in Texas. The film was one of twelve projects in the NY Writers Lab (supported by Meryl Streep/Nicole Kidman) and one of ten scripts invited to Cannes for the Breaking Through the Lens initiative in 2019. And Nova Scotia songwriters Rose Cousins and Breagh Isabel provide haunting music. Select Cineplex theatres across Canada.
Toni Collette and terrific Australian actor Bella Heathcote star in Netflix‘s superior WIP series Pieces of Her, now on the service. Mother and daughter Laura and Andy are on the outs so they arrange a detente lunch out after Andy’s shift as a police dispatcher. They’re arguing when a young man enters the restaurant and shoots two young women, and holds diners hostage. Andy noticed Laura’d spotted him before he fired, and he’s coming their way. In a split second, he plunges a knife into Laura’s hand and she slits his throat. Investigating officers ask Andy if her mother had military experience, she says no and her mother tells her not to talk to the police. Strange reaction. The media releases a video of her actions (someone was recording not texting police). That night at home, Laura angrily tells Andy it’s time she moved out and act like an adult. Andy’s completely broadsided and leaves for her stepfather’s (Omari Hardwick) but spies a man sneaking around her mum’s property and follows him. He attacks Laura and they kill him. Laura sends Andy away with a suitcase full of money, a burner phone, and detailed instructions to leave Georgia and drive north to Maine – with no explanation. She’s followed but doesn’t head north, instead of going to a longtime family friend in Texas. There she’s spooked and escapes towards Maine but she’s being followed so heads home to protect Laura. Pieces of Her is a deliciously, excruciatingly intense drama, with more twists and turns than fusilli – two women determined to survive against massive shocking threats. I dare you not to binge.
Renée Zellweger makes her broadcast television debut in a fat suit in Global TV‘s true-crime series The Thing About Pam on March 8. The two-time Oscar winner is astounding, so over-the-top, so zany and sneaky, so perfectly detailed and executed it’ll knock you off your beanbag. She’s Pam Hupp, best friends with cancer patient and mother Betsy Faria who in 2011 was discovered dead, stabbed 52 times, in her home, killed sometime after Hupp drove her home. Farias’s husband Russ is arrested and jailed for the crime, tried and found guilty, and was then exonerated. So, what happened to Betsy? She had recently changed her will, removing her husband’s name and leaving the bulk of her estate to Hupp. Hupp couldn’t have killed her; she had timestamped alibis. She had taken control of Betsy’s cancer battle and home life against her family’s expressed wishes. She was over-friendly, nosy and aggressive, and was not wanted in the Faria home, but she and Betsy were lifelong besties so she took precedence over her weak relatives. Even dogs run from Hupp. Judy Greer’s smarty-pants lawyer Leah Askey is determined that Russ be found guilty but out of towner Joel Schwartz (Josh Duhamel) believes his client Russ is innocent so he starts digging and checking alibis … and timestamps. This is a sensationally fun (sorry) study of a personality peculiarity let loose on a peaceful community and spreading its toxic fumes. Wow! Produced by Zellweger. Stream Global on STACKTV and the Global TV App.
Season 2 of Apple TV+ outstanding docuseries Dear… celebrates human achievement and hope via letters from grateful fans to the celebrities that inspired them. This season, the late great André Leon Talley, Viola Davis, Malala Yousafzai, Jane Fonda, Ava DuVernay, Billy Porter, Sandra Oh, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Laird Hamilton read letters written to them by people whose lives were changed by them. Biographical interviews with the stars lay out their views of their own lives and struggles, what helped them carry on, and how they adapted to change. Peabody Award-winner R.J. Cutler directs with a humane touch, and as much as you might try to fight tears of recognition, they’re coming – these stories are in ways all of ours, overcoming obstacles, dreaming dreams, and fulfilling them. The celebrities reached global recognition. Ordinary people who found comfort and hope in their star’s life story reveal how they were transformed by it and how they were able to make their own place in the world thanks to the star. The letters are touching and honest in this series unlike any other that I’ve seen. Season one of Dear… featuring Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Spike Lee, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Yara Shahidi, Stevie Wonder, Aly Raisman, Misty Copeland, Big Bird, and more, is also available on Apple TV+.
Keith Maitland’s startling doc Dear Mr. Brody takes us back 50 years to the psychedelic age and a man who became a superstar; he received rooms full of mail from people who took him up on his offer – free money to whoever needed it. Apparently, 21-year-old Michael Brody, Jr., a “hippie oleo margarine millionaire” and perhaps billionaire decided to solve the world’s problems by giving away his fortune to those in need. Naturally, he was mobbed, followed, and adored, tossing $100 bills into crowds. He was on the Ed Sullivan Show! Ex-wife Renee reflects on those heady times of philanthropy and hippie ideals, Brody’s extensive PCP use, an album he released, and what became of him. Recently, 32 thousand letters sent to Brody were found in a bunker. Not one had been opened. Researchers go through them reading aloud, while Maitland interviews Brody’s son, and letter writers all these years later. As for Brody, he had a rough and short life. He burned his home down, was treated with heavy drugs for paranoid schizophrenia and a “Messiah complex”. And Maitland takes all the information and brings it down to its essence. But you’ll have to watch to find out what that is. TVOD.
Hany Abu-Assad’s shocking political thriller Huda’s Salon follows two women trapped in a politically based existential drama. It begins in a salon in Palestine where Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi) is going to have her hair done. She passes a Banksy art installation on her route there – he designed a hotel on the border with Israel. Her gossipy hairstylist (Manal Awad) slags off mutual acquaintances and Nadia’s notoriously jealous husband and makes her a cup of coffee. Reem passes out immediately; she’s taken into a back room and stripped and a naked man lies on her. Huda takes pictures. When she awakens, Reem demands to know what happened and why – the photos will be given to her husband unless she agrees to work for the secret service of the occupation. She is to become a traitor and if she tells her husband, she will pay dearly. The man in the photo pays shortly thereafter, set afire by loyalists. Huda has compromised many clients by now, choosing women based on their husbands being “a-holes”; she knows she’s be killed if she stops. The film’s shocking third act is a kick in the gut; we have freedom here while many so many places in the world don’t, and Abu-Assad’s story shows the inescapable consequences with a supple script and electrifying undercurrents. TVOD.
Courteney Cox produces and stars in the oddball Starzplay limited series Shining Vale – a comedy, horror-fantasy outing with Greg Kinnear, Rob Morrow, Judith Light, Mira Sorvino, and Twin Peak’s Sherilyn Fenn. A Brooklyn family uproots and hauls out to rural Connecticut to begin anew in a 1789 rambling mansion. Cox’ Pat insisted on the move to get away from memories of a cheat she did with a repairman. Now hubby Terry (Kinnear) has a long commute until he’s fired and dons permanent full pandemic at-home gear and permanent glass of whiskey. How will they pay for the house? Their rebellious daughter’s hooking up with a devout Christian and changing, her son is in some kind of screen fugue. Pat’s an erotic women’s author and thinks she writes better with booze, add the ectoplasmic presence of several fifties people (Sorvino and co.) who love to scare Pat out of her wits. So why has everything gone wrong? Why was the home so cheap? Why is she losing her mind? Is she possessed? She discovers a photo of the spirits she’s been seeing and a Scrabble game tells her “Daisy was the last to die”. Yikes! It’s fast, furious, filled with f-bombs and nightmares, whiskey and wine and she thinks the new book’s turning out great. But is it?
Amanda Seyfried takes on infamous drugs cheat Elizabeth Holmes in the Hulu and Disney+ series The Dropout. Known as the “world’s youngest self-made female billionaire” Holmes dropped out of college to launch an ambitious idea – revolutionizing the health care system. Holmes had been in the top ten students at Stanford, and as a freshman, had been allowed to participate in graduate classes. Laurie Metcalfe plays a professor who brings her down a few notches encouraging Holmes to redouble her efforts. Her dream is to invent something the world needed in the biotech world and so she did, a gizmo that could test a single drop of blood for 70 conditions. She set up Theranos using her tuition money and developed and sold the product but it didn’t work and she knew it. Naveed Andrews is Sunny a wealthy tech guy decades older, her only friend and co-conspirator according to the US government. In 2015 Holmes stood trial on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud, in two plots, one to defraud investors, and another to defraud doctors and patients of multiple millions of dollars. Not a particularly strong series but an eye-opener, especially considering Holmes was 19 when it all started. Co-stars Anne Archer, Michaela Watkins, Sam Waterston, and William H. Macy.