Reviews

Superheroes

Dash Mihok and Spencer Clark deliver strong performances in this subdued story of a wounded Iraq veteran and a young aspiring filmmaker both adrift in life.


Superheroes

Director: Charles Shyer
Cast: Dash Mihok, Spencer Treat Clark
Distributor: IFC Films
Rated: Not Rated
DVD Release date: 2010-01-04
"You know you're not the only fucked up person in the world" -- Nick

The above statement conveys the attempt at connection between two men adrift in life. Superheroes is not a superhero film, but an anti-war story about a wounded veteran and a young filmmaker. It's a very understated film with many long silent shots wherein everything is shown rather than told. The mood ranges from somber to grim, with precious few moments of humor and ease.

Spencer Treat Clark plays Nick, the young filmmaker and Dash Mihok plays Ben, the wounded veteran. Ben was a reservist, never intended to be on the front lines. He was injured on a patrol in Iraq, when his jeep was taken out by a bomb planted in a dead dog. He blames himself for not figuring out the trap, and has survivor's guilt combined with PTSD and depression from being left by his wife while he was deployed as well as guilt for a tragic accident. So basically, this is a perfect recipe for being messed up.

Nick meanwhile, video tapes his ex-girlfriend's dance rehearsals, and his unresolved emotions come through without being said just as Ben's issues emerge through action and reaction to stimuli. The dance scenes are a silent counter-point to the story of the two men's slow-burn friendship.

Moments of emotional breakthrough emerge at seemingly random intervals, with several traumatic flashbacks where Ben believes himself back in Iraq. Other moments come from Kelly, a fellow soldier in the VA meetings who rants about how her injuries have made her unattractive to her husband. In one scene in the woods outside the country home which is the film's primary set, a pine cone is equated to a mine, as Ben delivers an expose into the feeling of paranoia that developed while on patrol.

Some of the shots are from third-person traditional camera angles, and some are first-person handheld, as recorded by Nick's camera. The doc-within-a-film quality allows for shaky focus and zooms when one of the characters in filming, which adds a raw quality to many of the more emotional shots. There are a number of sequences comprised of seemingly unrelated shots, shifting in and out of focus, shots of the woods around the house, cutting back and forth with little regard to cotinuity. The pseudo-documentary is intermittent, mediating several of the scenes of emotional breakthrough -- Nick's presence is notable because of cutting back and forth between cameraman first-person perspective shots and more traditional third person shots.

Narratively, I found the ending lacking as far as characterization, even if it was emotionally true to what happened leading up to the end. Without a meta-textual or self-referential quality, the ending might have been much more of a disappointment, a frustrating violation of narrative expectations.

There have been a number of anti-war films about veterans of the second Gulf War and US military action in Afghanistan, but Superheroes is notable for being a quiet, self-contained work that is skillfully understated, with powerful performances, especially from Dash Mihok as the wounded warrior. In the commentary, writer/director Alan Brown mentions that some of the initial response to the film concept was that even in 2005, the topic had already become passé for Hollywood, though we've seen another wave of such films in the last couple of years (including Brothers, The Hurt Locker, and Dear John).

The DVD includes a commentary track by Alan Brown and Dash Mihok. Alan talks about casting the two leading men, including Alan and Dash relating the story of their conversations that lead into Dash coming on to the project. Alan also discusses the short shooting schedule, the editing, Dash's process in preparing for the role, the reason for the dance scenes' inclusion in the film (the dance rehearsals were originally a larger part of the story, but was cut down to being a Greek Chorus-style series of interludes to comment on the main plot without words).

7

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image