Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four” (2015) is disingenuous in some ways, but I was still thoroughly engaged by writer-director Marty Langford’s documentary. It chronicles a strange incident in the history of superhero cinema: Bernd Eichinger’s Constantin Film and producer Corman made a “Fantastic Four” film in the early 1990s for the ultra-low (in film terms) price of $1 million, and then it was not released – except via bootlegs, which is why it has a cult following and why this docu is able to show clips.
She Makes Comics” (2014) is invaluable simply for its existence. Although it juggles a bevy of comics-related topics and raises more questions than it answers, director Marisa Stotter’s documentary illuminates women in the industry like never before, putting faces to famous names. Driven by interviews with dozens of key women in comics — along with historians, fans and comic-shop clerks – the 70-minute film leaves an overwhelming impression that women have – and always have had – an important place in the field.
The creation stories of the three biggest DC heroes all have a notable amount of injustice behind them. “Superman’s” Siegel and Shuster and “Batman’s” Bill Finger were denied credit for decades. But the story behind “Wonder Woman” – where there has never been debate that William Moulton Marston created her – is the weirdest, as chronicled in the biopic “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” (2017).
Sometimes I watch behind-the-scenes bonus features of movies I kind of liked, then like them more when exposed to the enthusiasm of the creative team. I imagine the movie as it could have been, had it achieved what it was aiming for. “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?” (2015) is a 104-minute bonus feature for a movie that was never made in the late-1990s, and it really makes me want to see the nonexistent film. I’ll just have to tell myself the end product probably wouldn’t be as good as the pre-production art makes it seem.
As its title suggests, “Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics” (2013) only chronicles DC villains, but that’s not a problem since “Batman” is widely acknowledged to have the best rogues gallery in comics, plus there are icons like Lex Luthor from “Superman.” Indeed, one of the interviewees – most of whom work on DC comics or animated series – notes that there have been literally thousands of villains in the DC Universe’s history.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” (2011) chronicles a slice in time in the history of San Diego Comic-Con International, held over four days every July. In 2010, as director/co-writer Morgan Spurlock follows five convention-goers, the event still features comic-book dealers, but it’s certainly a step into its commercial era where studios get to test film clips and fans get to be the first to experience a taste. The 88-minute documentary only pays lip service to the convention’s history, which dates back to a gathering of 300 people in 1970, instead focusing on the modern mass of geek humanity.
Batman & Bill” (2017, Hulu) is about the fight to correct one of the great injustices of early comic book history – the omission of “Batman” co-creator Bill Finger’s name alongside Bob Kane’s. The documentary weaves from tragedy to fun to hopelessness to delight, avoiding that grim feeling found in most chronicles of injustice, while also contrasting the sweat-shop work process of the 1940s comic industry against this new age when writers are known and celebrated.
2021 will be a hugely transitional year for television and cinema as they react to our new post-pandemic habits. It could also be hugely entertaining year for audiences, as we get all those delayed 2020 releases plus some new ones. Here are my picks for three TV shows and three movies to see this year, plus a rundown of other big series and films:
Wonder Woman 1984” has automatic goodwill by being released straight into our homes for free (if we already have HBO Max), and director/co-writer Patty Jenkins cashes in a lot of it in the early going. We like Diana/Wonder Woman because she’s so perfectly played by Gal Gadot, and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor has great chemistry with our heroine, and Kristen Wiig makes a decent Barbara/Cheetah. But after a neat Themyscira triathlon in the style of ancient Rome featuring kiddie Diana (Lilly Aspell, returning from the 2017 original), the sequel moves to 1984 Washington, D.C., and switches to a plodding pace.
With Christmas approaching, it’s a good time look back at the films of Shane Black, the unofficial King of Christmas among moviemakers. Although he may not have any overt watch-it-every-year “Christmas movies” – his first hit, “Lethal Weapon,” comes closest to that celebrated status – he peppers holiday trappings into his films more than any other major filmmaker today.