Emperor (2013)

Based on a true story, General MacArthur – a wonderfully grisly and crinkled Tommy Lee Jones – is debating whether to charge Emperor Hirothio as a war criminal due to Pearl Harbour.  He puts Brigadier General Bonner Fellers – a tired and greying Matthew Fox – in charge of establishing his involvement.

There’s a complicated backstory to Hirothio’s reign during the Second World War, with historians still debating today as to how guilty he really was. So it’s a shame that Director Peter Webber (Girl with the Pearl Earring) packs such a weighty and true story into a lean 98 minutes and spends half that running time having Fellers reminiscing about a former Japanese lover. The film’s flashbacks bring nothing, except a reinforcement of Fellers’ niceness and detract from what should be the meat of the story.

It could be argued that the Emperor is merely an omnipotent spectre in a script where Feller is the sole focus, but Fox is so utterly un-engaging that it just seems a waste. This is particularly annoying as Jones is so good. When the gnarled MacArthur finally meets with the recently humbled Hirothio, you want to soak up the clash of cultures. However we’re given very little time to do so before we’re brushed outside with Feller. Emperor is a potentially engaging historical drama transformed into a Titanic-lite tale of love and loss.

Evil Dead (2013)

Sam Raimi’s 1981 The Evil Dead is, to some, the definitive cult classic. Its tale of kids being stalked in the woods by demons, whilst not perfect, has a place in many a horror-phile’s heart. It would be a foolhardy person to want to take on board a 21st Century remake. Cue Fede Álvarez, a first time director, who has been backed by Raimi and original star Bruce Campbell as executive producers.

Australia has had to wait a while for Evil Dead to get a release, and even now we’re only getting a limited one. So, is the Book of the Dead worth opening one more time?

Álvarez is obviously a massive fan of the original and has said as much in interviews. He laces the film with numerous nudges and winks to it through dialogue, sound effects and set pieces. The problem is that for a long time it just feels like a checklist of things fans would want to see. As such, it all starts to feel a bit samey; as if we’ve trundled through this corpse-strewn path before.

When the film does manage to throw off the shackles of familiarity towards the second half, it really finds its purchase and very rarely lets up. It becomes a cacophony of chaos and cartilage. Álvarez throws everything at the screen from nail guns to shotguns to blood to vomit in an effort to make us jump; which he succeeds on doing at several points. Once the screen becomes awash with a literal rain of blood, it’s extremely hard not to be swept up in the moment.

Evil Dead recalls a time when horror movies were less about getting you onto a cinema seat and more about making you jump out of it. It was a brave move to remake such a beloved film, but they just about pull it off.

Chemsex (2016)

Chemsex is an extremely confronting documentary. It has to be. Directed by William Fairman and Max Gogarty, the film focuses on a subculture embedded in social networking, such as Grindr, that allows men to hook up not only for vanilla sex, but drug-fuelled sex. Admittedly there’s nothing new about the combination of sexual activity and narcotics, whether you’re gay, straight or bi. Chemsex knows this and instead highlights the how easy it can be to go from a gripping one-night thrill, to something much darker.

Fairman and Gogarty, with no narration, follow the lives of several chemsex aficionados as they live and love across the UK. All ages, all different walks of life, they have all been part of the chemsex lifestyle which sadly threatens to consume them whole. On the other side of the coin is David Stuart, a health worker at 56 Dean Street, an outreach centre in London. Stuart doesn’t look upon his patients as good or bad. They’re just people. ‘It’s not binary!’ he points out.

Stuart has seen, as we do through the documentary, how the phenomenon goes from being a cheeky dare to something that chips away at a person, leaving them utterly hollow. Despite insistences from some that they can, as the old cliché goes, quite any time they want, they often find out too late that they can’t.

There will be some who use Chemsex to propagate a myth which reinforces their own problematic ideas of alternative lifestyles. They will see men talk openly and honestly about the pain they put themselves and others through. They will see men exposing their souls to an unjudging eye. They will hear their stories and, despite everything, they will come out the other end sharpening their caustic putdowns and gearing themselves up for their next outpouring of bile, whether online or, sadly, in parliament. What they say will not be the least bit helpful and will simply demonise these people, whilst turning their backs on the good work David Stuart and his colleagues do every single day. Don’t be one of those people. See this with your eyes wide open.

Excess Flesh (2016)

Jill (Bethany Orr) is average in every way from her height, her looks to her weight. There’s a chance that Jill could live a fairly average life, free from drama, if it wasn’t for her flatmate Jennifer (Mary Loveless). Jennifer works in the fashion industry; she’s hot, she’s sexy and she can eat whatever she wants without putting on weight. Jill idolises her and she knows it, calling out Jennifer on the slightest things and immediately apologising and bending the frumpy flatmate to her will. When Jennifer’s putdowns become too much, Jill snaps and holds the model hostage, putting her through a series of humiliating exercises centred around her eating and good looks.

This feature length debut from Patrick Kennelly follows in the same footprints of Jimmy Webber’s Eat; being a body horror that hangs its narrative off eating disorders and the people who develop them through trying to establish some sort of control. Jill gorges on pop tarts and corn chips, much like Jennifer. Both women purge themselves of their ‘sins’ through vomiting, and yet it is Jill who always comes out the worst. Jennifer gets the men she wants, she gets the clothes she wants, she has the friends she wants. Jill’s trophy cabinet includes a nosey neighbour, and a potential lover who scurries off between Jennifer’s legs eventually.

It’s a common complaint that women are bombarded with perfection on a daily/weekly/minute-to-minute basis by images hawking the ‘perfect’ look. Jennifer is a personification of this trend, screaming and spitting in Jill’s face constantly to fornicate off but also be her friend. The metaphor is obvious but Kennelly doesn’t seem to want to hide behind symbolism. He wants you to understand in simple terms where he’s coming from and his eventual destination. At least, he does at the beginning. After a deliberately slow start that allows the viewer to settle down into the world of Jill and Jennifer, with it’s parties, sex and burritos filled with corn chips, Kennelly leads them into a room where food is god and the believer’s flesh is weak.

This is a very angry film that vomits flames at society. Through stylised camerawork and lighting, Kennelly’s paints a world where consumption of all kinds is the key to happiness. Witness Jill vomiting in slow motion before ending in a moment of orgasmic pleasure. Listen as Kennelly ramps up the sound so you hear every bite of red velvet cake. It’s a horrific blend of sight and sound. And yet, at times, the film gets too caught up in its own vitriol and the narrative drag at times. It’s a minor complaint, but Excess Flesh could do with losing the occasional dream sequence to speed things along.

Excess Flesh is a fetid example of body horror; whose message is obvious but it’s intentions are good. It’s squalid and vicious and guaranteed to make you feel nauseous. If you’ve ever watched Girls and prayed there would be an episode when Hannah finally snapped, this is that episode.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

In what feels like seven decades in the making, two of DC’s mightiest heroes go toe to toe in an all-out no holds barred smack down. This, we’re assured by Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor several times, will be the gladiatorial fight of the century. Is it though?

Don’t let the action figures and pint sized pyjamas on sale in Kmart fool you. Batman v Superman is not a kid’s film. Nor is it even a family film. This cinematic interpretation is aimed squarely at the adults who want, nay demand, that their childhood obsessions grow up with them. This is translated into a cinematic universe where Batman tackles paedophiles and sex traffickers by branding them with a hot bat symbol, where Superman’s deeds in Man of Steel resulted in the deaths of thousands and Lex Luthor waxes lyrical about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and sends jars of urine to his enemies before blowing them up. This is a DC comic filtered through the lens of a bad fan fiction. This not a universe I want to live in.

It may be an old fashioned way of thinking, but superhero movies need to show their heroes being, well, super. In Batman v Superman – a title bout that doesn’t happen till around the two-hour mark – both of our heroes are rarely seen doing anything remotely so.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Ben Affleck is in danger of tripping over his brow due to how furrowed it is. He lives in a modern condo down river from a desolate Wayne Manor. He spends his nights with literally faceless women and having violent visions about Henry Cavill’s Superman. Having seen the blue tighted one effectively turn Metropolis to dust two years previously, the playboy millionaire is concerned for the welfare of America at the hands of aliens. In a sense, he’s the Donald Trump of superheroes.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) struggles with his work life balance as the media slowly becomes obsessed with Superman and the untold damage his heroics have caused over the years. Would it have hurt the film to have a simple scene of Clark enjoying being a superhero? Evidently so. If you enjoyed moody space Jesus in Man of Steel, you’re going to get a kick out of watching him crying in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the whole murky affair – and director Zack Snyder has really gone out of his way to drain this comic book movie of most hues – is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Though even then, it’s hard not to feel her appearance would have had more effect had it not been spread thinly across every trailer in the last six months.

Later this year, Marvel will throw their own one on one into the cinema with Captain America: Civil War. It’s important to mention this, because with ten films down, Marvel has earned the right to have Captain America and Iron Man square off. This only the second film of the DC Cinematic Universe, and quite frankly everyone needs to be given time to breathe and think about what they really want to do. Sony’s aborted Amazing Spider-Man trilogy shows that trying to capture the same lightening as Marvel is going to be hard. DC can pull it off if they stop trying to rush everything and overstuff the film; spending close to three hours throwing everything at the screen in the hopes that something sticks.

There are several cameos, and (so. many.) dream sequences, that obviously hint at future adventures, which is fine. However, when a certain Justice League member turns up from the future to warn Batman about the past, and who is never referred to again for the rest of the film, its evident that DC comics doesn’t care for the casual viewer. They want the fans. They want the fan’s money. It’s marketing at it’s most cynical.

Overlong, dull and pretentious, Batman v Superman is the superhero movie that dyes its hair black, plays Lana Del Rey songs repeatedly and refuses to call Mum’s new lover Dad no matter how much Steve insists.

Hillbilly Horror Show Vol.1 (2014)

‘Nuttier than a squirrel fart’ runs the tagline of Hillbilly Horror Show Vol. 1, hinting at the kind of humour you can expect in this horror anthology. If you find the smell of rodent methane funny that is. However, despite a title that suggests copious amounts of sons of the earth gory humour a la Redneck Zombies, Hillbilly Horror Show is actually a platform for independent filmmakers to show off their talent through various shorts.

Host Bo has salacious feelings towards his ‘sister-cousin’, whilst Cephus is a tongue-tied type whose indecipherable mutterings can only be translated by cousin kisser Bo. They

deal out the kind of puns that would make the Crypt Keeper sigh as they make their way through a collection of DVDs they’ve purportedly found on the side of the road.

What of the shorts themselves? Well, as anthology aficionados will understand, you take the rough with the smooth if you’re going to get to the end. With Hillbilly Horror Show, despite there only being four shorts on offer, the rough outweighs the smooth.

First up is Frankie and the Ant, a two-hander between two shady types on their way to a hit. The strongest of the four, it also suffers from being derivative, feeling like one of those Tarantino rip-offs in the 90s, and a ripping a joke wholesale from Fargo. That said, I could have stayed in this world for longer than it allowed me to. As soon as it gets going, it comes to an abrupt end.

An animated short about two skeletons entering a form of duel entitled Doppelganger is our next film. Whilst technically rather brilliant, it unfortunately just left me feeling cold. In addition, when you stack it up against the other shorts, it feels out-of-place, like it shouldn’t be introduced by two grown men and a woman in a bikini.

Amused is a wordless chase through the woods, as murderous men sporting rictus grins vehemently pursue a woman. Despite it’s musical score that suggests otherwise, very little happens as our heroine moves from one set piece to another. On a positive note, the scenery looks lovely.

The Nest is a love note to the eco-horrors of yesteryear, such as The Swarm, Dogs and others. In the middle of Nowheresville, USA, a diner owner is selling her own brand of highly addictive honey. Meanwhile, the town’s bovines are being chewed up and spat out by something not human. Are the two things connected? Of course. Will it enthrall, surprise and astound you? Maybe. Taking up the majority of Hillbilly Horror Show’s running time, The Nest looks great, but is dampened by questionable performances and special effects. It could be argued that this is deliberate to fit in with the tone of the films it acknowledges, but even so, it’s not worth the run time.

A problem that runs across all four shorts, regardless of quality, is that they each keep their end credits within the ‘horror show’, as opposed to being left till the end. As such, the whole caboodle comes across as the patchy result of someone throwing a bunch of YouTube movies onto iMovie and hoping no one will notice. We’re not saying the filmmakers don’t deserve their dues, but think about how long you’d last with ABCs of Death if each letter was followed by its production credits, instead of being rounded up for the end. Would it make Ti West’s M section any more tolerable? Didn’t think so.

Hillbilly Horror Show VOL. 1 will certainly appeal to some (but not many). Perhaps those who are willing to negate quality horror for bikinied bosoms may wish to take the plunge.

Harmontown (2014)

Soon after his much publicised firing from NBC in 2013, Dan Harmon, infamous creator of Community, decided to take his podcast, Harmontown, across the country in a series of live shows that see him continually airing his dirty laundry, overthinking and over drinking. Filmmaker Neil Berkeley (Beauty is Embarrassing) was there for the ride and his documentary, also titled Harmontown, paints a somewhat entertainingly light portrait of the tortured artist.

Harmon, for all his neuroses and insecurities, is incredibly media savvy and within five minutes of the film starting, he’s already deconstructing the tropes of documentary making; mock-chastising Berkeley for setting up a scene of him getting in his car by asking the writer to pretend there’s no camera in his vehicle. He’s a performer and unafraid to pull back the curtains on secrets both professionally and personally. His podcast is filled with moments of introspection wherein the bearded artist questions who he is and why he can’t stop his predilection to sabotage himself.

Like Harmon himself, Harmontown never really scratches the surface of what make him who he is. Berkeley’s footage is separated with talking heads from Harmon’s previous employers and colleagues. Sarah Silverman is one of the many to admit that Harmon’s talent is second only to his desire to destroy himself. And it’s this point that is constantly brought to the forefront as we’re exposed to numerous examples of Harmon’s inability to be happy. Whether it be reliving a drunken fight with his partner at the time, Erin McGathy, in front of his audience whilst she stands, frozen, trying to mine some humour out of something she clearly doesn’t find funny, to admitting that he’s struggling to finish off commissioned work in favour of his own podcast.

There’s no denying Harmon’s talent, but Harmontown, at times, feels like it celebrates his inability to pull his head out. Yes, his work has touched the lives of those who attend his shows, but there’s only so long you can support someone who says they have a problem but refuses to do anything about it. It’s probably no surprise that Harmon was a producer on the film as, despite Berkeley’s insistence he had free-reign, we are continually asked to ruffle his hair and say ‘oh you!’

The Harmon hard-core will lap this up but, as documentaries go, Harmontown is the perfect exercise for Community fans in learning to separate the art from the artist.