Before reading about the new movies, notice these TV events. They're valuable backgrounders.

Winter on Fire is a Netflix documentary (labelled a hidden gem) about Ukraine's fight for freedom. Not now, eight or nine years ago when a revolution started by students brought down a government. The issue then? Closer ties to Europe. The film captures so much of the popular resistance that you'll wonder why Putin dared to inflame it again. But he has.

Carbon is an unauthorized biography of the element we now fear is overwhelming us but started as a basic building block of life. This Canada-Australia co-production lets it tell its own story. It's a novel approach in the climate change file. Carbon speaks with the voice of Sarah Snook (she's the daughter in the HBO series Succession). Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of several scientists appearing and B.C. filmmaker Niobe Thompson executive produced the film. CBC's The Nature of Things and CBC Gem are showing a 44-minute version, starting Friday night. Another one, twice as long, is planned to play in theatres.

As for regular movies, they're serious-minded this week, too, even Batman. Here's the list.

The Batman: 4 stars

Scarborough: 3 ½

Oscar shorts: various ratings

Jockey: 3

THE BATMAN: He's been in the movies since 1943 so what can you do with him that's new? Matt Reeves, who wrote and directed, seems to have taken a cue from an animated series that played on TV and made him and his Gotham City dark and cynical. I don't remember as much corruption in previous films, but then I haven't seen them all. Almost nobody in here is good. Renewal, espoused by the politicians, is a scam. When Reeves wrote this Donald Trump was in power so there's some holdover attitude here. It unfortunately adds to the disrespect for public figures these days.

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Having said that, I'll add that this is a very good film, if not the best in the line, surely close. Robert Pattinson, who's been in art house films after his Twilight vampire nights, is grim and hard as he ponders what's happened around him and even discovers a scandal in his own family's history. The film is squarely focused on him, not the villains who usually steal the show. He's only two years into this crime fighter role, quite unsure of himself and brooding that he really is just an avenger. "Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal," he complains. Crime has gotten worse. Corruption has grown and now the Riddler (Paul Dano) is going after it by killing prominent people and leaving cryptic puzzles. Batman is joined by Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) who leads him into a secret club and the domain of the man who really runs the city, a gang boss played by John Turturro. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin and Andy Serkis plays Alfred, the butler. It's a film noir, a serial killer chase and a civic clean-up film and far more than a comic book movie. It's also so involving that you hardly notice that it's almost three-hours long. (In theatres everywhere) 4 out of 5

SCARBOROUGH: I used to live in that eastern part of Toronto and was looking forward to this one. That part of town isn't in the movies very often. It's too ordinary, suburban I guess. Maybe too low-income. More than I remember, at least compared to what the film portrays. I was close to rewarded by it. It's heartfelt, has deeply emotional scenes and an acute understanding of the problems the people in it are facing.

Courtesy of Level Films

The film focuses on three children and the adults around them. Bing (Liam Diaz) is Filipino, Sylvie (Mekiya Fox) is Indigenous and Laura (Anna Claire Beitel) is white but with neglectful parents. She and mom are scrambling before they're evicted from their apartment. The problems common to all are poverty and various forms of indifference. There's a drop-in center run by a welcoming teacher wearing a hijab (Aliya Kanani) but seems to be constantly insecure. A supervisors' emails give orders that don't serve the clients.

We feel the struggles these people are in. One child has a brother with an intellectual disability. Another has a drug-addled mom and a dad who switches between detachment and anger under the guise of protection. The cumulative effect is very moving. It's from a novel by Catherine Hernandez, who also wrote the screenplay for first-time directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. The acting is excellent but I've got two small complaints. It doesn't say much new and there's an agenda. Almost all the white people are bad; others are angelic or victims. Some whites are badly cast. The poor and hungry father looks too healthy and a snide matron seems out of place, though the white bureaucrat who finally shows up is perfectly cast. The film is a main contender at the upcoming Canadian Screen Awards. (Playing now in Toronto, Hamilton and Saskatoon and going wider next week). 3½ out of 5

OSCAR-NOMINATED SHORTS: The big films get the press but there's always much to enjoy with these short ones. As usual, they're grouped into three programs, Animated, Live Action (sometimes given a 10-minute intermission) and Documentary (long enough for a 20-minute intermission).


Canada has an entry, Affairs of the Art, in which an elderly woman reflects on the art she didn't pursue and the odd obsessions of her children.

A cel from Affairs of the Art from nfb

My favourite though is Robin Robin, a new one from Ardman in England with its usual sense of humour. They're the Wallace and Grommit people. Here they've got a bird, raised by mice and joining them on forays to steal food. And trying to outdo them. Enjoyable. Gillian Anderson and Richard E. Grant are among the voice actors.

DOCUMENTARY (these are up to to 39 minutes long)

There are very good films about a family in Afghanistan and about homelessness in America, but I have two favourites.

The Queen of Basketball is a true feel-good film about a star woman basketball player (three national championships, first basket by a woman at the Olympics in Montreal, drafted by the NBA but declined) recalling her career.

Lusia "Lucy" Harris, as she is now in the film.

She's eternally cheerful, even about some mild regrets.

When We Were Bullies is also a look back, by a man who participated in a bullying incident almost 50 years ago and sets out to meet others who were there, and also the victim and a teacher. Very involving.

LIVE ACTION (short dramas)

Please Hold is my favourite. It's only 19 minutes long but stocked with ideas about the future and artificial intelligence. A young man is arrested by a drone, put into a prison where there seem to be no people running it and everything is done by computers. He's never told what he's charged with, but animated lawyers on computer screens suggest taking a plea deal any. Like other visions of the future, it could be.

In Toronto and Vancouver theatres now and available on demand starting March 22.

JOCKEY: This film won raves when it premiered at Sundance because it gives us a different angle on the world of horse racing. It's not the owners or even the horses we're asked to feel for, it's the jockeys. They suffer injuries, broken bones, even backs, more than I had realized. The film lays it all out, twice in speeches by riders listing the injuries they've had. There's an especially moving scene as the main character we follow (played by Clifton Collins Jr.) visits a colleague in hospital and sees him almost totally wrapped in bandages. “You can't be afraid of death,” he tells him.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

He's on his way out himself, he realizes. His hand shakes and an arm sometimes goes numb. But he's working to win one more race for a trainer played by Molly Parker when along comes an aspiring jockey (Moses Arias) who says he's his son. That's debated (and later cleared up) but it sets in motion a bigger theme, getting old, when is it time to give things up, how important is a man's work to him and what will he do after? There's an elegiac tone and bittersweet reflection that keeps you strongly interested. (In theatres in Toronto and Vancouver) 3 out of 5