Saturday, August 6, 2011

Michael Barnett's new documentary SUPERHEROES world-premieres on HBO

"Having superpowers does not necessarily make you a superhero," notes one of the self-titled breed featured in this bizarre (in so many ways) new documentary that premieres Monday night, August 8, on HBO. "Having super-motivation and doing super deeds: I think that's what makes you a superhero." To TrustMovies' mind, that word "necessarily" in  the above sentence rather immediately places this speaker into the mode of comic-book reality. So, then, some people do possess superpowers?  Say, Superman, Santa Claus, God and Rupert Murdoch? (Well, until the latter's staff began its "breaking-and-entering" phase.)

In SUPERHEROES, the new, yes, documentary(!) directed by first-time filmmaker Michael Barnett (shown below) and produced by Theodore James, we meet a bunch of would-be superheroes who dress in costume (that often disguises the face) and set about making our world a better place. But do they? That's up for grabs. The initial demonstration of this is exhibited via the speaker's words accompanied by animated frames that tell the story of how he protected a woman undergoing a terrible beating. I'll buy that. Or maybe not. The movie-makers do damn little investigation of whether or not anything their assembled "cast" says is verifiable.

Accompanying these people on their rounds produces no real confrontations, so we're left to listen to them ramble on, interrupted by a few other talking heads.  One is that of a policewoman, Lt. Brown, who expounds on how vigilante justice is problematic (good-ness knows, we've had movies telling us the same thing for years now). Then some kind of psychologist takes the other route, explaining and perhaps trying to justify these would-be mother's (and daddy's) helpers. The two viewpoints cancel each other out.

Which seems appropriate, as much of this movie appears to cancel itself out. So many of the folk whom we meet in this odd film -- Xtreme Justice League (and Mr. Xtreme, shown below); Zimmer, Lucid, Z and T.S.A.F. (the "T" is silent), from what they call The New York Initiative; Master Legend (who in one nutty moment, tells a paraplegic that he (Master Legend) has a pipeline to god: "He always listen to me!"); Zetaman; Dark Guardian; Thanatos (shown at bottom, from Canada!) and, as a corrective, I guess, Life (who services Manhattan's homeless) -- seem to have but a nodding acquaintance with what many of us would call reality.

Zimmer, quite waif-like for a superhero, wants to corral the bad guys who prey upon gays, but his modus operandi smacks, as the Lieutenant points out, of entrapment. "Never drink to drunkenness," Master Legend tells us as he downs a beer, though it looks he's halfway there already. Mr Xtreme -- overweight, with parents who make fun of him, no social life and few of the skills one would imagine a superhero needs (we see him in a fighting match, which he loses) -- seems simply sad.

Throughout this documentary, there's a queasy sense of mixing up life and fantasy, reality and dreams. And this is apparent not just in the cast of "superheroes" but within the film-making team itself. Its organization is all over the place, to the extent that we're not sure just what the aim is: to explain, help, hinder or make fun. It may be true, as a couple of the heroes point out, that "society just isn't working anymore," but will a costume and good intentions make it all better?

Well, among these heroes is one who manages a Toys-for-Kids project, while another provides the homeless with deodorant and toiletries. That's a plus. Finally, they all meet at -- yes -- Comic-Con in San Diego, which perhaps is where they really belong. As unsure as I am about the usefulness of these superheroes, I am equally flummoxed by the point of this documentary. However, if a bunch of rabid, tea-party Republicans can bring our nation to the point of breakdown over a phony debt crisis that no one really believes in (or why was the debt ceiling raised without quibble a dozen times under George W. Bush -- who spent three times what our current and rotten-to-the-core President has spent?), then I suppose it is perfectly OK to look to superheroes (or people who somehow think they are superheroes) to solve our problems. Holy shit -- it just hit me: This may be the perfect documentary for our end-of-times!

You can see Superheroes on HBO, starting Monday evening August 8 at 9 (Eastern and Pacific time). Check your local HBO schedule for further showings (click on the link, go to the bottom of the screen, at right, and click on Schedule). Eventually, I expect, there's be streaming and/or DVDs.

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