Doc Review: “Superheroes”

Tonight, Michael Barnett’s “Superheroes” is the latest film to premiere as part of HBO’s Summer Series program of new documentaries. A sufficiently fascinating look at real-life costumed crusaders (like a true “Kick-Ass”) around the U.S., it wasn’t produced by HBO, so it’s great that the doc is airing on the cable network in general, let alone was chosen as part of this weekly spotlight. Obviously the geek niche appeal figures into the deal since it’s hardly as well-crafted as some of the other titles included in the series this year (it does look a whole lot better than “Sex Crimes Unit,” at least). But as silly as much of it is, there are a lot of great points made beneath the surface of the characters’ showcases. For real real-life superheroes, I recommend you seek out Steve James’ “The Interrupters,” but this doc is worth checking out too.

I excitedly started following “Superheroes” in early January, in anticipation of its Slamdance unveiling. From there I reviewed the doc for Cinematical, in which I noted it’d be popular enough through VOD and online outlets. HBO is an even greater place for it to debut. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

The film doesn’t exactly mean to make fun of the characters, but it is easy to laugh at much of what they do and say in the film. Some, like Master Legend are sillier and less intelligent than others. But I have to admit to feeling guilty in finding humor in their idiocy, just as I’m led to feel at the end of ‘Dinner for Schmucks.’ It’s okay, though, since a lot of the RLSH represented don’t seem to mind being viewed as a joke as long as they’re visible and can thereby bring awareness to the causes they’re fighting for.

Often ‘Superheroes’ comes off as also being more about the problems of the world than the costumed crusaders on screen. Through people like “Zetaman,” “Life,” “Mr. Extreme” and the simply named “Super Hero,” we are made to think about the issues of homelessness and violent crime, as well as police corruption and bureaucracy that lead to the necessity for these RLSHs to pop up in cities across the nation.

Watch the film’s trailer and a bunch of clips after the jump, and hopefully you’ll tune in tonight at 9pm for more.

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Doc News: John Steinbeck, Hilary Swank, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, Muhammad


– An exploratory documentary that would make Andre Bazin proud: an adaptation of John Steinbeck‘s non-fiction book “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” has begun from producer Robert Kanter, who has just acquired the rights. The plan is to recreate, as in somewhat reenact, Steinbeck’s six-week scientific exploration of the Sea of Cortez with marine biologist Ed Ricketts in 1940. Filming will start next year and will have a sort of environmental agenda. The doc can’t be entirely faithful, obviously, and Kanter aims to present how the flora and fauna have changed in the past 72 years. He also states that he hopes to attract a perfectly fitting actor to narrate the finished work. For more info, see the press release here.

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Doc News: Elton John; “Big River Man”; DocPoint NYC

– HBO Documentary Films has picked up Cameron Crowe’s “The Union,” which documents the collaboration of Elton John and Leon Russell, which does make it sound like an advertisement at worst, a making of film for an album at best. Having made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival last month, the cable outlet will give the rock doc its TV premiere in January 2012. Crowe, who was a music journalist before becoming a filmmaker, finally dove into documentary this year with a double dose. His other new rock doc, “Pearl Jam Twenty,” arrives to fans-only delight this fall.

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Must-See: “How to Die in Oregon” Debuts on HBO Tonight!

One of the best docs to come out of Sundance this year — in fact, it took the grand jury prize in the fest’s U.S. documentary competiton — is Peter D. Richardson’s “How to Die in Oregon.” And now you can finally see this tissue-box-depleting film, as it premieres on HBO tonight. Tackling the topic of Death With Dignity, which is a better way of saying physician-assisted suicide, and its legality in Oregon, you’re sure to be either debating or bawling or both by its end. Here’s an excerpt from my review from Sundance:

‘How to Die in Oregon’ features no bells and whistles or big narrative surprises or interesting camerawork that gets most docs notice these days (though the excellent final shot/moment is a distinct and unexpected way to end). All it has, and all it needs, is a controversial topic addressed sufficiently and respectably. It does raise awareness and inspires a conversation. There is not one of us who this moral dilemma and debate could not affect one day. So it will possibly scare you as much as it will rip your emotions. Even if you try to guard yourself up. I’ll be honest, I prepared myself so much to not get upset with the tragedy that I ended up exploding at a moment of sudden joy experienced by one of the characters.

Just go in knowing that pretty much every character you meet will probably die, maybe even on screen. It won’t necessarily keep the tears away, but it might help some.

Watch the trailer after the jump. And either prepare with or afterward visit All These Wonderful Things for a great interview with Richardson.

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Trailer: “Bobby Fischer Against the World”

One documentary that keeps eluding me this year is “Bobby Fischer Against the World.” Directed by Oscar nominee Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola, USA”), the film premiered at Sundance, where I couldn’t fit it in, and later screened at the Miami International Film Festival, where I again missed it. It’s about to debut on HBO on June 6 (airing through September 11). Before then, though, you can see the doc on the big screen in NYC for one night only next Thursday, June 2, as part of IFC Center’s Stranger Than Fiction series (the summer season of which begins tonight). Garbus will be there for a Q&A, also, so be sure to get tickets in advance here.

As for what it’s about, this should be clear from the title. Of course, people thought “Searching for Bobby Fischer” was going to be about the chess legend, so maybe a title with his name isn’t exactly so obvious. But it is about Fischer, and “the disturbingly high price [he] paid to achieve his legendary success and the resulting toll it took on his psyche.” Also of note: this is the last work edited by the late, great Karen Schmeer, who was killed in 2010.

Watch a trailer made by Dogwoof, who will distribute the doc in the UK July 15, after the jump.

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