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: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Comic Review: Daredevil: Guardian Devil

Published: November, 1998 – June, 1999
Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Joe Quesada

Marvel Comics, 180 Pages

Review:

I loved this Kevin Smith run on Daredevil back in the day when it was new. But it is shockingly twenty years old now, which makes me feel old as shit and even though it is still a pretty good story, it doesn’t resonate with me as profoundly as it did back in the day.

I guess I just don’t care about religion or mysticism anymore because I grew up and moved away from the heavy handed religious influence that stifled me in my youth. Also, decades later, I’m kind of over Kevin Smith’s commentary on Catholicism. And while Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil is bound by his Catholic beliefs, it just doesn’t make for an interesting story for me anymore.

I’m going to get into major plot spoiler territory here. So turn away if you want to read this.

The religious mumbo jumbo in this is just a big illusion created by Mysterio, who is mostly a Spider-Man villain. He gives his reasoning as to why he wants to screw around with Daredevil but it’s pretty fucking meh. Apparently, Daredevil has been drugged the whole time. I’m not sure how a drug can last for days on end but I guess this explains why he found it necessary to throw a baby off of a fucking roof. Sorry, but I wanted to throw this book when that happened… way before we got an explanation to Daredevil’s bat shit behavior several issues later.

Additionally, none of the characters really act rational in anyway. I guess, again, this is due to Daredevil being high as fuck but if I have to read six or seven issues before the explanation, I’m just going to assume that the writer doesn’t understand or know these characters. Had I been reading this as a new comic now, I would’ve quit on issue no. 1 or 2.

I’m not even really sure why I liked this story in 1999 or so, other than I thought Kevin Smith was a genius back then, I was still under the influence of religion and I thought that Dogma was Generation X’s Ben fucking Hur.

On to the positives.

I liked the art, I liked the villain lineup and I was really happy with the confrontation between Daredevil and Bullseye. Back in the early ’90s when I was hardcore into Daredevil, a big reason for that was Bullseye. I loved him just as much as Daredevil and maybe even a little bit more. He’s a complete fucking badass and underutilized by Marvel. Hell, he was completely shitted on in the 2003 Daredevil film. So when I can get some solid Bullseye shit, I’m a fan. So kudos to Smith for giving me the Bullseye I love.

Anyway, this was once a beloved book in my collection. Now I just stare at it wedged between the Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti Daredevil books on my shelf and feel like this doesn’t belong.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The Daredevil stories that followed, as well as Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow. I hope I don’t hate his Green Arrow story now too. I need to revisit it really soon.

Film Review: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Release Date: March 31st, 2017 (WonderCon)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Ernie Altbacker
Based on: The Judas Contract by Marv Wolfman, George Perez
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Stuart Allan, Taissa Farmiga, Brandon Soo Hoo, Jake T. Austin, Kari Wahlgren, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci, Miguel Ferrer, Gregg Henry, Meg Foster, David Zayas, Kevin Smith (cameo as himself)

Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment, 84 Minutes

Review:

“They prepared well. Their reaction time is much better.” – Robin, “Robin, stop complimenting the bad guys.” – Nightwing

I don’t watch a lot of the animated films that DC Comics puts out but it was hard for me to not check out an adaptation of The Judas Contract, as it was a story I loved when I was reading Teen Titans as a kid in the ’80s. Granted, I haven’t read it since the ’80s but it was my introduction to one of my all-time favorite characters, Deathstroke.

And yes, Deathstroke is a big part of this, which was a big selling point for me.

This film starts with a sequence that sees Starfire meet the Titans for the first time. It then fast forwards to a time where she is in charge and Dick Grayson has been off being Nightwing for awhile. Dick comes back and works with this new version of the team. However, one team member is a spy for the villains of the story, one of which is Deathstroke.

I love how all of the characters were used in this and I also loved that there was a bit of profanity and a level of violence that lets you know that this isn’t a cartoon for kids. I guess this is the norm with a lot of the DC animated feature films now, which is kind of cool considering that I’m an adult that has grown up watching these characters for decades but am too old to really dig a Saturday morning cartoon at my age.

The voice acting was well done, the action was solid and the script was really good. You felt for these characters and their struggles.

You also get to see a cameo by Kevin Smith playing himself in the animated DC universe.

I was happy with this and am glad that I gave it a shot. Honestly, it’s made me want to check out some of the other animated features by DC.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other recent DC Comics animated features.

Film Review: Clerks (1994)

Also known as: Inconvenience, Rude Clerks (working title)
Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith
Music by: Benjie Gordon (music supervisor)
Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Walt Flanagan, Joey Lauren Adams (voice)

View Askew Productions, Miramax Films, 92 Minutes, 87 Minutes (TV cut), 102 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“This job would be great if it wasn’t for the fucking customers.” – Randal Graves

I’m that asshole that doesn’t love Clerks.

Yes, I do like Kevin Smith’s older work and I do appreciate this film and what it led to for Smith and his characters. However, out of the Viewaskewniverse stuff, this is my least favorite chapter. Still, it opened the door into a world that I came to love and it serves as a sort of prototype to what would become the norm for Kevin Smith, at least for a half dozen of his films.

I think that my biggest problem with the film is that Dante is such a fucking whiner. I like Brian O’Halloran but his Dante character is such a tense ball of angsty shit that it is extremely hard to give a shit about his shitty day. Jeff Anderson’s Randal is a total dick but at least he’s amusing and he isn’t a basket case like Dante.

What does make the film work though, is the chemistry of Dante and Randal. Neither are likable but their banter is funny and amusing, even if it does sound overly manufactured and they don’t talk like real people. But that was a trope of ’90s Gen-X slacker movies: characters that talk super witty, super sarcastic and think that everything sucks while somehow espousing some sort of nonsensical philosophy with every breath. In fact, one review of the film said, “…a script so full of words that it probably rivals the telephone book in size.” I can’t argue against that.

The film also only works as an absurdist comedy. There are too many scenes that just seem to be completely outside of reality. While everything in this film could happen, there is just too much weird shit going on for this to actually all happen in a single day. And the plot doesn’t seem to matter, as it is just scene after scene of random, strange things happening.

Now it may sound like I am harping on the film but I’m really not. I like the weird bits but it’s kind of unclear if the film is supposed to be absurdist or realistic. And you can’t really find that answer by comparing it to Smith’s other Viewaskewniverse films because they all have a different tone. Personally, I have to view this as an absurdist, almost surreal comedy.

I’m sure that a lot of these ideas came from Smith’s experience working Dante’s job at the same store in real life. And because of that, the film does capture a sense of realism in its critique of menial retail jobs. I’ve worked these jobs too but I wasn’t as much of a crybaby as Dante or as much of a dick as Randal. Although, I was pretty sarcastic and hated the sight of customers.

But that’s what makes this a hard film to process for me. There is a bit of realism and a lot of absurdism. The opening scene with the gum sales rep trying to create an in-store uprising just to sell more gum is ridiculous. I would’ve tossed that guy out on his ass in two seconds. Some of these characters just don’t act like real people. Okay, most of these characters.

Although, this was probably the most authentic version of Jay & Silent Bob ever captured on film.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Ther other films set within Kevin Smith’s Viewaskewniverse titles: MallratsChasing AmyDogmaJay & Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II. Also, the Clerks animated series.

TV Review: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics (2017- )

Release Date: November 12th, 2017 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various

AMC, 6 Episodes (so far), 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Since Robert Kirkman can do whatever the hell he wants at AMC, considering that The Walking Dead is such a giant money generator, he gave us this show.

I’m pretty happy with the result though because there really hasn’t been a lot of comic book documentaries in the mainstream. This show serves to tell some of the most important stories in the long history of that industry.

Kirkman isn’t on screen for this series and each episode seems to be made by different people but generally, it all has a cohesive style and each episode is pretty interesting.

So far, there is just a single season comprised of six episodes. These episodes cover the formation of Marvel and the relationship of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the creation of Wonder Woman, the legal battles of the rights to Superman, how comic books responded to 9/11, the history of Milestone Comics and lastly, the history of Image Comics.

Each episode is pretty solid and provides a lot of information that even I didn’t know about, even though I’ve known about the gist of all these stories. My favorite episode was the one about Milestone Comics because it is a story that is really important and hasn’t been told yet.

I hope that the first season did well enough to make a second season possible. I really enjoyed the show, loved the format and thought that it was marvelously produced and executed on screen.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Some of the more recent documentaries on comic books: The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

Film Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullally, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, J. J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Kate Upton, Kevin Smith, Ike Barinholtz

New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Rabbit Bandini Productions, Ramona Films, A24, 103 Minutes

Review:

“No, no! Very necessary. I need to show my ass to sell this picture.” – Tommy Wiseau

This was one of the most anticipated film sf 2017. It wasn’t just anticipated by me, though. Anyone who had seen Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic The Room was probably in line on opening night. Plus, it was directed by and stars James Franco, a guy with a deep personal connection to Wiseau who probably still doesn’t get enough credit for his talents.

The film also stars little brother, Dave Franco, as Greg Sestero, Tommy’s best friend and the author of the book this is based on, also titled The Disaster Artist. The book is a pretty exceptional look into The Room and into Wiseau’s life and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Because even though I did like this film, the book has so much more that Franco couldn’t fit into a two hour movie.

In fact, there are a lot of things in the book that I wish had made it into the movie but I understand why time wouldn’t permit it. I really would have liked to have seen Sestero’s experience working on a Puppet Master film or all the stuff in the book surrounding The Talented Mr. Ripley and how Mark in The Room was named after Matt Damon but Wiseau mistakenly called him “Mark”. But the fact that we got the James Dean bits, was pretty cool.

Both Franco brothers did a great job of bringing Wiseau and Sestero to life. While James will get most of the acting props in this film for his portrayal of Wiseau and how he mastered his accent and mannerisms, I want to be the one person to actually put the focus on Dave. You see, Dave was the actual glue that held this picture together and made it work. He is the real eyes and ears of the audience and we really take this journey with him, as we did in the book. Dave Franco put in a better performance here than he has in his entire acting career. That isn’t a knock against his other work, it’s just great to see him evolve as an actor and display that he has the skills his older brother does. Hopefully, this leads to bigger and better things for the younger Franco and I assume it will.

This film is littered with a ton of celebrity cameos. Bryan Cranston even plays himself back when he was still working on Malcolm In the Middle, before his big breakout on Breaking Bad. The one cameo I loved and had actually hoped to see more of, as the character was more prominent in the book, was Sharon Stone’s portrayal of Iris Burton, Sestero’s agent. I also loved Megan Mullally as Sestero’s mother but who doesn’t love Mullally in everything?

You also get a lot of other celeb cameos, as they introduce the movie. Having known about it and having read the book, I didn’t need the intro but it serves to educate people going into this film blindly and it was still nice hearing some famous people talk about their love of The Room and its significance.

The Disaster Artist serves the story of the book well and the film was a delight. It didn’t surprise me in any way and it was pretty much exactly the film I anticipated. That’s neither good or bad, as Hollywood biopics are usually very straightforward.

Even though there weren’t surprises in the film, this is a fantastic story, that at its core, is about a man not giving up on his dream and forging his own path against those that held him back and told him “no”. The real story behind it all, is that Wiseau’s tale is an underdog tale and it’s a true story, not a Hollywood fabrication. Wiseau did something incredible and although the reception he got might not have been what he initially wanted, he did rise above all the adversity and became a star in an arena where he wasn’t welcome.

The lasting power of The Room isn’t just about how incredibly bad it is, it is that once people know its story, it is hard not to feel an intimate connection to Tommy Wiseau, a guy that should serve as an inspiration in spite of his bizarre personality and tactics.

Rating: 8/10