Documentary Review: The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

Release Date: April 30th, 2015 (limited)
Directed by: Jon Schnepp
Written by: Jon Schnepp
Music by: Frederick William Scott
Cast: Nicolas Cage (archive footage), Tim Burton, Kevin Smith

Super Skull Ship, 104 Minutes

Review:

Superman Lives was a film that never happened but I have always been intrigued by what it could have been.

Years ago, there was a picture of a long haired Nicolas Cage in a Superman costume with his eyes half shut; it looked really bizarre. Most fans of superhero films have probably seen this famous picture at some point or another. But that really set the stage for what this bizarre interpretation of Superman was.

Hearing that Tim Burton was working on the movie and that Kevin Smith had written a script for it, made this project even more bizarre. Burton had a falling out with the studio after issues arose during the production of what would have been his third Batman movie and Smith was a comic book fanboy that was mostly known for his stoner comedies that featured Jay and Silent Bob.

No one seemed to know much else about this strange project though. So once I heard about this documentary, I had a very strong desire to check it out, especially since we got to hear the details from the mouths of Burton and Smith.

On one hand, this was a truly strange motion picture but on the other hand, it wasn’t as insane as one might think if they saw that photo of Nic Cage.

This documentary was pretty solid and it covered a lot of ground from a lot of different angles. Everyone has their own version of the events and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but this was an interesting story, nonetheless.

I’m actually glad that the film didn’t get made and that we got Superman Returns instead of this, even if it’s far from a perfect film. Superman Lives wasn’t really in tune with what Superman is. It could have been an insane and awesome motion picture in its own way and maybe the creators should revisit this concept as a movie for a new character that isn’t one that already comes with 80 years of his own lore built in.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about superhero filmmaking or films that never materialized: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four or Jodorowsky’s Dune for instance.

Documentary Review: The Lost Arcade (2015)

Also known as: Arcade (working title)
Release Date: November 14th, 2015 (DOC NYC)
Directed by: Kurt Vincent
Written by: Irene Chin
Music by: Gil Talmi

26 Aries, Wheelhouse Creative, 79 Minutes

Review:

I had a high school friend that used to talk about all the great video game arcades in New York City. By the mid-’90s, he was living in Southwest Florida but his stories of these really cool and iconic places always made me want to go check them out. I never got to though, as they started shutting down, one after the other. But at least the Chinatown Fair was going strong. But then a few years ago, it had to shut its doors and I never got that authentic NYC arcade experience.

This documentary covers the ’80s and ’90s NYC arcade scene but mostly focuses on the Chinatown Fair and the love that the local gamers had for the last real bastion of coin-op gaming culture.

Several people are interviewed for this documentary and it does a great job of telling their stories and showing their love for the Chinatown Fair.

I didn’t go into this documentary expecting much, I just wanted to feel a little bit of nostalgia for old school arcade gaming and I was hoping that people’s love for this iconic spot would at least tell an interesting story.

It really hits you in the feels though, as everyone’s passion comes through the screen. I think that anyone that used to have a special place that used to make them feel great can relate to the film. Most of us have lost something from our youth that truly made us happy. This film is more about coping with that loss and trying to move past it than it is just about the great Chinatown Fair.

This is an engaging documentary. It pulls you in and makes you see things through the eyes and experiences of its subjects. That’s really what any good documentary should do and this succeeds at just that.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other video game documentaries from recent years: The King of Kong, Chasing Ghosts, The Art of the Game, Indie Game: The Movie, Free to Play, Ecstasy of Order, Special When Lit, etc.

Documentary Review: Jack Kirby: Story Teller (2007)

Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Cast: Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson, Bruce Timm, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Marv Wolfman

Marvel Studios, Sparkhill Production, 20th Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching through a lot of comic book documentaries on YouTube, lately. I came across this one that discusses the work and legacy of Jack Kirby.

I’m not sure if this was made as a special feature on a DVD, as it was produced by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Maybe it was included on one of the Fantastic Four DVD releases a decade ago.

Anyway, if you appreciate and admire the great work of Jack Kirby, this is a really engaging documentary.

It is rather short, considering the long career of the man but it does cover a lot of ground. It also interviews a lot of other comic book greats that worked with Kirby or were inspired by him.

This feels like a quickly thrown together low budget fluff piece and if I’m being honest, Jack Kirby deserves a proper documentary or a real biopic. As much as this does talk about how much Jack did, I still don’t feel like it captures the real importance and scale of it all.

But this is still a worthwhile watch because there really isn’t anything better… yet.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book industry biographical documentaries.

Documentary Review: Crumb (1994)

Release Date: September 10th, 1994 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Music by: David Boeddinghaus
Cast: Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Charles Crumb, Jack Harrington

Sony Pictures Classics, 120 Minutes

Review:

Robert Crumb is a pretty intriguing guy. He’s one of the greatest cartoonists of his generation and he made several iconic comic strips that will go on to outlive him. The man is such a unique character that he can carry this documentary on his own.

And I guess that’s a pretty good thing as this film just sort of follows him around on average days. It doesn’t really go too much into his work and his impact, it kind of just assumes that you already know who he is. Some important career things are mentioned and discussed a bit but this really is more or less “a day in the life of…” than a retrospective or biographical work.

But that’s kind of a problem for me.

You see, I know who Robert Crumb is, I am familiar with his more famous work but this film should have had a lot more about why this guy is important, as I feel like the layperson might not pick up on it. They may just see this and go, “Oh, that guy is good at making art caricatures and stuff” and then not really appreciate the context of what’s happening on screen and why Crumb is a pretty important cultural figure.

This is enjoyable but for something lacking context and narrative depth, it’s too long. There just isn’t enough meat, even though director Terry Zwigoff is feeding you a pretty large meal.

I need more protein and less filler, thank you.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Comic Book ConfidentialIn Search of Steve Ditko and other older comic book documentaries.

Documentary Review: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (2009)

Release Date: July 21st, 2009
Directed by: Eric Matthies
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Zack Snyder, Gerard Way, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein

Eric Matthies Productions, Warner Bros., 29 Minutes

Review:

I believe that this was originally included on the DVD release of Watchmen back in 2009 but I never owned the original DVD so I’m not sure.

This documentary is very tied to the movie, however, as most of the interviews are with the actors from the film, as well as its director, Zack Snyder. But we also get to hear from some comic book personalities, such as Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, as well as Len Wein and Gerard Way.

Cast aside, this is not a documentary about the film adaptation, it is about the original comic book, which many consider to be one of the all-time masterpieces in comic book history. Carla Gugino even refers to this as the Citizen Kane of the comic book medium. She might not be wrong there and frankly, I’ve found few people that weren’t moved by Watchmen in some way.

This is a shorter documentary than it should be, as this great work deserves to be explored for more than 29 minutes. But still, it is informative and really gets into the messages within it, its philosophy, its style, the art and its cultural impact.

I’m not sure if there is a longer and more comprehensive documentary on the Watchmen comic but this is fairly satisfactory until one eventually gets made. Maybe HBO will do it, as they are now coming out with a Watchmen TV show.

If you love the comic, which you should, this is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the 2009 Watchmen movie and other recent comic book documentaries.

Documentary Review: So Much Damage: How Image Comics Changed the World (2017)

Original Run: November 20th, 2017
Directed by: Jon Erwin
Written by: Michael Avila
Music by: Paul Terry

Syfy, 5 Episodes, 15 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is the second documentary I have seen on Image Comics but this isn’t just a rehash of what was already covered in the slightly superior The Image Revolution.

This one was broken out into five 15 minute web episodes and put out by Syfy, who used to be the much cooler Sci-Fi Channel before they changed their channel’s spelling into something stupid.

Anyway, like The Image Revolution this documentary interviews all the key players and gets their stories. But what I like most about this is how it spends a good deal of time talking more about modern Image Comics and not just the revolution of 1991. As cool as that revolt was, modern Image has grown into something that I don’t feel any of the founding members could have fathomed back then.

It’s always fun to hear these guys talk about themselves, their experiences and the creation of Image, as it was a really exciting thing for me to experience as a fan in 1991. It was and still is the coolest thing that happened in the comic book industry in my lifetime.

So this certainly stirs up nostalgia but that doesn’t mean that this survives on that alone. It’s informative, has a good pace and is well organized and presented.

Younger comic book fans today will probably find some value in this, even though it’s made to attract the older fans who remember all of this like it was yesterday.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

 

Documentary Review: Comic Book Confidential (1988)

Release Date: September 10th, 1988 (Toronto Film Festival)
Directed by: Ron Mann
Written by: Charles Lippincott, Ron Mann
Music by: various
Cast: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Sue Coe, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Al Feldstein, William M. Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Harvey Pekar

Sphinx Productions, Cinecom Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

This might be the best documentary on comic book history ever made, even if it is thirty years old and might feel a bit dated now.

I first found this as a kid around 1990 or so. A guy that used to work at my local video store gave me his personal copy to borrow and I had to copy it, which I did and then enjoyed for years until the tape warped to shit. I then got it again via a torrent site but finally, all these years later, I now own an actual copy of it.

I was inspired to watch this again, after checking out the commentary done by Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg on their Cartoonist Kayfabe channel on YouTube. Everyone that’s into comics should check them out, by the way. It’s one of my favorite channels to watch at the moment and I’ve thought about writing about it, as well as a few other channels I enjoy.

Anyway, I love everything about this documentary. All the interviews are pretty engaging and pull you in. It spends time on a bunch of comic book creators from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Everyone gets their time to talk about their work and their creative style.

This also has great music sprinkled throughout and fantastic editing techniques that still look great and that more documentary filmmakers could benefit from using. Creatively, the execution of this documentary felt ahead of its time and honestly, that’s probably why it sucked me in when I was eleven years-old.

Comic Book Confidential also came out in a time when I was drawing my own comic books. This, along with The Comic Book Greats video series, which I’ve also been reviewing episode by episode, were great resources for me as a kid that was trying his hand at the comic book medium.

The highlights for me were seeing Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman talking about their craft. This also made me a fan of the work of Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. It was also my introduction to Sue Coe, who a lot of my straightedge and vegan friends in my teen years were hardcore fans of.

Comic Book Confidential is, hands down, a must own or at the very least, a must see documentary for long-time fans of the comic book medium. Solid, through and through, and its also a fun and interesting experience.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries reviewed on this site: In Search of Steve Ditko, The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men just to name a few.