Sunday 15 December 2019


15 years after taking on McDonald's and the fast food industry in Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock returns to take on the intensive chicken farming industry, AKA Big Chicken.

In the original Super Size Me, Spurlock uncovered how unhealthy our fast food chains really are by eating McDonalds for every meal for a month, leading to changes to the McMenu and other restaurants following suit to promote a more healthy range of foods. What he hopes to show in this belated sequel is just how successful he actually was, in particular focusing on the chicken farming industry, the bird seeing a huge surge in popularity in the intervening years. To do that he doesn't plan to eat an exorbitant amount of chicken; instead he's purchasing his own chicks, rearing them on his own "Morganic" chicken farm for weeks, then sending them off to slaughter so he can feed them to others in his own fast food restaurant.

I'm sure that Spurlock, who gained notoriety and celebrity after the Oscar nominated success of his first film, never thought for a moment he would legitimately be able to pull the feathers over people's eyes that he of all people was genuinely going to open a fast food restaurant; but the ruse doesn't take up too much of the runtime of this film, instead taking on the myths of so called "healthy" menus, and the language that is used to convince the consumer they're actually eating good food. To do this he wades through the chicken shit and into the bullshit, visiting various US eateries (including a return to his nemesis, McDonald's) and taking apart their claims by reflecting them back on his own chicken filled "grow house". Free range? The definition is so vague that Spurlock installs a curved grate the width of the grow house doorway in order to qualify. The chickens might never see daylight and spend all day in the crowded barn, suffering broken legs due to their weight and heart attacks due to stress, but technically the option for them to step out into less than a square metre of outdoors is there, so free range they are.

The most entertaining aspect of the film is this dissection of the language being used to dupe us into thinking the fast food industry has actually changed in the wake of Spurlock's original outing. It's depressing to see how easy it is to manipulate the facts to make the consumer think they're being a conscientious buyer, opting for "all natural", "humanely raised", "hormone free" chicken, without actually knowing what that all means. Likewise, i'll never set foot in a fast food eatery again without analysing the decor for inspirational but ultimately nonsensical messages written large on the walls, something Spurlock parodies to great effect at the finale of the film with the grand opening of his new chicken restaurant.

Heck, even this film, with this title, is a product of that same marketing strategy, with Spurlock being a canny showman who knows how to sell a film that's only tangentially related to the original Super Size Me. Even if the message doesn't have quite the same impact, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! is still a dizzyingly fun documentary that moves at an incredible pace to fit everything in, edited to within an inch of its life with an average shot length well under a second. Like Michael Moore before him, Morgan Spurlock has become a master of this style of documentary and knows all the elements he needs to include in his film, even if they don't go anywhere.

There's a diversion where Spurlock tries to talk to one of the bigwigs at the National Chicken Council that's ultimately fruitless, but features a spicy interaction with an office worker, so makes the cut. Undoubtedly more effective is the real world impact these intensive chicken farming contracts are shown to have on the farmers and their families. They could easily have been the villains of the film (with one farmer shown to be incredibly blasé about hearing a popping sound as he accidentally steps on a baby chick), but up against the corporate might of American industry and a bizarre payment system rigged to penalise them, they're the everyday Joe fighting the man.

Not unlike the chickens Spurlock raises in the film, the narrative is forever in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own body, but just about holds out until the end; and just like the honest propaganda Spurlock decorates his restaurant with, this film might not have the shock value he's hoping for, but it's smirk-worthy fun whilst also being quite a tragic tale.


SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN! is released on iTunes and On Demand from 9th December 2019

Tuesday 10 December 2019


Following the suicide of her best friend, Liusaidh (Karen Gillan) strives to find comfort by pushing her lifestyle to its limits, hooking up with random strangers and drinking herself into oblivion. Haunted by the image of Ali's (Matthew Beard) death, she tries to come to terms with what happened by replaying the months leading up to his death in her mind.

Stuck in a depressing supermarket job behind the cheese counter and living with her exasperating mother and comatose father, Liusaidh looks for her own kind of solace and relief, usually from casual sexual encounters she has with strangers, followed by a chip supper on the way home. Her biggest step forward comes when answering her phone, often misdialled as a helpline number one digit away, she decides to start talking to an elderly gentleman about his problems and finds strength by supporting someone else; just as she hoped and failed to do for Ali.

The feature directorial debut of Karen Gillan, thematically The Party's Just Beginning shares a few elements with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's magnum opus Fleabag and Sophie Hyde's Animals (starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat), although there's very little in the way of fun or comic relief here to balance the tone. Whereas those "wayward" women lived their lives one night at the time, for Gillan's Liusaidh, you don't get the same feeling that, eventually, everything's going to be okay. There's very little in Liusaidh's life that isn't gloomy, so the optimistic appearance of Gillan's Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Lee Pace as one of her conquests offers some glimmer of hope.

It's a bold, brooding story for Gillan to deliver, and with her star very much on the rise in family friendly Hollywood fare like the Jumanji and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, it's clearly a passion project she's needed to get out of her system. There's obviously a truth to this unflattering slice of life that can only be properly expressed by a native, with Gillan returning to her old hometown of Inverness for a film that isn't going to do much for tourism of the local area.

There's a slight dramatic disconnect in that it's Ali's story that has the weightier themes but is the secondary story behind Liusaidh's, with the structure a little jarring as we flit between present day and flashbacks to Liusaidh's time with Ali with reckless abandon. And it's not exactly the rollocking good time you might be expecting from the (ironic) title; less of a party and more of a "wake up in a bush" morning after hangover that ventures to some extremely dark (but very well-handled) areas towards the finale. Dark and depressing it may often be, but on the whole it's a solid performance by Gillan on both sides of the camera that shows the potential for bigger directorial projects to come.