Wondering what to watch this weekend? This week in streaming brings both surprising originals and new blockbuster favourites. In the former category, is the documentary Sr., directed by Chris Smith: a film following Robert Downey Jr. as he looks to chronicle the life of his filmmaker father Robert Downey Sr., who has since passed away.
It’s both a touching tribute to a parent and a fragmented, multifaceted reflection on their complicated relationship, and how it ties in with their respective cinematic careers, with both taking rather radically different paths from the other.
Meanwhile on NOW, Matt Reeves’s methodical but spectacular crime noir take on The Batman comes to streaming, the Caped Crusader now back with a bit more of an emo flavour courtesy of a brooding Robert Pattinson. But the film is more entertaining than that might suggest — Reeves recognising Gotham City as a madhouse, one where a man in a big bat costume can look relatively sane.
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Sr. (2022) - Netflix (pick of the week)
Robert Downey Jr. is known the world over for his part in the box office dominating MCU movies, which made him one of the highest paid actors in the world. That mainstream scale is knowingly contrasted with the underground, counterculture work of his father and the subject of the film, Robert Downey Sr., known for directing films like Putney Swope, a film taking a swipe at advertising as well as racial politics in Hollywood.
The rather personal story, released in memoriam of the late Downey Sr., is directed by Chris Smith, and the film is, in its own words, a kind of attempt at some course-correction for Jr. being the better known Robert Downey.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in December
Of course, Downey Sr., being the director that he is, starts wanting to make his own version of the film, and Sr. then becomes a fascinating project of two points of view meeting each other halfway, through the images captured as well as the interviews with Sr. and Jr., as well as a number of Sr.’s contemporaries.
Watch a trailer for Sr.
Its eccentric construction feels like a move to emulate the anarchic style with which Downey Sr. directed his own films, a strange clash of both home video and biography, as well as a linear and non-linear approach to understanding a person and their relationships. It’s knowingly elegiac from the beginning, even though made over three years with Downey Sr.’s participation, whose health is in decline due to Parkinson’s, some of the film showing the family and the man himself preparing for the end.
There are some interesting insights into the family dynamic that emerge regardless of the films concern about how it’s going to create something authentic: like the surrogate parental relationship between Downey Sr. and Paul Thomas Anderson. Downey Jr. pointedly, jokingly and self-deprecatingly, remarks the Boogie Nights director was “the son my father wished he had”, in a more personal evocation of the difference between the father and son’s film careers.
It’s the beginning of an acknowledgement of the complications in growing up in a house where everything — even a chaotic fight between siblings — could be something to film, or more eclectic childhood film viewing “let’s just say… we weren’t watching Fantasia”.
Read more: Robert Downey Jr. reveals bold new look
That comes back around in their frank, and quite moving discussions of their mutual history with addiction, where they show how directly the films that Sr directed and that Jr starred in, addressed these volatile, difficult moments in their lives.
Jr.’s natural showmanship sometimes threatens to take over the film but this part of his character is an acknowledged part of their relationship, and feels surprisingly sweet, or “sweetly narcissistic”, as Sr. puts it.
Overall Sr. is both an interesting biography of a maverick filmmaker and a complicated ode to a father now passed.
Also new on Netflix: Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2022)
The Batman (2022) - NOW with a Sky Cinema Membership
Now the most cinematically iterated superhero next to Spider-Man, unlike the newer films starring the wall-crawler The Batman feels like it has a fresh, distinct visual identity and clarity of purpose.
Directed by Matt Reeves, best known for Cloverfield and then the latter two films of the new Planet of the Apes trilogy, the details feel idiosyncratic while the broader strokes feel familiar. This is in part because of how Reeves pulls in a wide history of Batman comics.
Read more: Everything new on Sky/NOW in December
It draws from the original Bob Kane and Bill Finger comics, and from Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli, to Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (there’s a lot of the latter two in this, surprisingly), alongside its clearly signposted Fincher and detective noir influences. That's not to mention the production design which approaches the gothic expressionist vibes of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s expressionist, art deco Gotham of Batman the Animated Series.
Watch a teaser for The Batman
There are so many things it gets spot on about the tone masking its intentional silliness through its very dedicated, shadowy neo-noir aesthetic. The soft focus and forced perspectives of Greig Fraser’s hallucinatory low light photography highlights Batman’s narrow and obsessive perspective of what his “Gotham Project” should mean as it slinks through dank alleyways and dark penthouses.
Even with all that darkness it’s a colourful film, with bold colour direction that stands out. In a similar sense, despite his scowling and brooding behind a mask for about 80% of his screen time, Pattinson is one of the most expressive Bat-men, something that’s assisted by smart costume design that allows us to see him emote despite the cowl.
The film becomes an uneven sprawl of a Zero Year adaptation as it crams in plot developments like there’ll never be another Batman movie — but it’s anchored by Batman saving the orphaned child of the dead mayor in a moment of metaphorical salvation. The thematic bookends of The Batman are what keep its slew of sometimes contradictory plot developments from completely falling apart — the simple reevaluation of the priorities of his mission, as seen in the man he avenges and the child he saves.
That, and it remains pretty fun to watch anyway.
Also new on NOW: Together Together (2021) from 3 December
Cow (2021) - BBC iPlayer
The first documentary by acclaimed British filmmaker Andrea Arnold is something of an unexpected one: an observational doc about the daily life of a female milking cow and her calf.
Shot in a cinema-verité style with little in the way of music nor narration, through digital handheld camera Arnold zooms in close to her subject. She simply follows, in search of empathy for her subject, a stylistic decision which places it alongside the similarly empathetic animal documentary from 2020, Gunda, which chronicled the daily existence of a pig.
Read more: Everything new on Disney+ in December
Arnold captures both the curious societal moments between farm animals as well as more disturbing imagery - all plain to see, with little editorialising, contextualisation or imposition of anything other than her visual perspective of what’s happening. It makes for an interesting experience, though mileage may vary (there is at least 10 minutes of footage of just grazing).
Also on BBC iPlayer: Sliding Doors, The First Grader