Film Review: Night Sweats (2019)

42MdnaAJust in time for the Coronavirus, Andrew Lyman-Clarke’s second feature harnesses the anxiety of mysterious deadly diseases in his inconsistent thriller, Night Sweats. Allegedly based on true events that happened to his friend, Seth Panman, the story follows a young skateboarder and recent transplant to NYC, as he investigates the sudden death of his roommate. He slowly uncovers a pharmaceutical conspiracy tied to the self-help start-up True Healing, whilst pursuing a relationship with a dispassionate waitress. Lyman-Clarke’s script is compelling enough to hold a viewer till the end, but it’s ultimately disappointing and misogynist to boot.

The story kicks off with Yuri (Kyle DeSpiegler) arriving in the Big Apple from Colorado, wide-eyed and hopeful. His new roommate is Jake (John Francomacaro), a childhood pal who works as a videographer for True Healing. The clandestine company sells personal trauma interviews to Pharmaceutical companies and also purports to be creating a library for people who have experienced similar traumas. Yuri doesn’t think much of Jake’s job until one night when Jake inadvertently interrupts a Yuri’s date with MK (Mary Elaine Ramsey) by barfing all over his room and suffering a seizure. Yuri has only just dialed 911 when a neighbor claiming to be an EMT knocks on the door, does something unseen with Jake, and then leaves before the real paramedics arrive. Yuri thinks back on this man the next day when he learns Jake didn’t survive the night.

His suspicions grow when an eccentric woman from the CDC (Allison Mackie) shows up asking questions and collecting vomit samples. Dr. Freeman suggests that Jake took some bad Molly, prompting Yuri to check his room for the stash. Instead, Yuri finds a microphone hidden inside a trophy that True Healing “awarded” Jake for completing 100 interviews. This propels Yuri into Gittes/Chinatown territory, as he takes over his roommates’ job at True Healing to find out the truth at any cost.

Yuri suspects he’s in over his head when he meets Jake’s old boss, Nick Frankenthaler (John Wesley Shipp, TVs Dawson’s Creek, The Flash) who is not a nice man. His paranoia grows when he discovers that True Healing has a high employee turnover rate, and that whatever killed Jake seems to be spreading. Can Yuri unlock this insidious puzzle box before it’s too late?

The principal cast do their level best with a twisty, but otherwise unremarkable script. The camera work isn’t too distracting, except when attempting to show the first-person effects of the disease. Yuri’s motivations are not particularly clear either. He seems to get over the death of his “best friend” within hours and hardly mentions him again except in relation to his investigation. We don’t know anything about their relationship other than the fact that they met when they were 5. His single-minded mission to expose a conspiracy seems to have very little to do with avenging the death of his friend.

Despite these issues, a discernible micro-budget, and a poorly-realized degenerative brain ailment, the film could have worked were it not for the big reveal. I won’t spoil it, but it involves egregious slut-shaming that absolutely cancelled out any enjoyment I would have otherwise gotten from the mystery itself. There was truly no need for it either, and it suggests that perhaps Lyman-Clarke has some issues to work out with an ex-girlfriend. To quote the film, “Denial is a powerful thing.” Filmmaker, heal thyself.

Film Review: Buck Run

buck run poster

Nick Frangione (Roxie) directs Buck Run, an indie drama loosely based on his lonely teen years in rural Pennsylvania. We meet Shaw Templeton (Nolan Lyons) during a pivotal period in his life. His mother has just died in her bed and he doesn’t know what to do. He’s estranged from his father, bullied at school, and ignored by his teachers. When he takes his frustration out on a stranger, he is arrested and eventually, they locate William Templeton (James Le Gros). Shaw can either go home with dear old dad or be turned over to the state. William convinces a skeptical cop that he’s clean and sober and has a place for Shaw at his ramshackle cabin. What follows is a slow-paced unraveling of a boy dealing with unimaginable loss, and a father forced to face a reality that he’s been putting off since his marriage ended. Buck Run isn’t a ton of fun, but it is a nice character showcase for the leads and a calling card for a talented cinematographer.

The title refers to the heavy hunting culture present in Shaw’s hometown. It’s so ingrained that kids are allowed to take a week off of school to hunt every winter. The film never seeks to explain the significance of the pastime, but does a fair job of incorporating it into the lives of the characters. When William’s not at the bar, or trying to make money at the swap meet, he’s in the woods with his longtime pal, John (Kevin J. O’Connor). William and John are close enough that John lent him $5000 to help “buy his wife out” of their marriage, but not so close that William actually used the money for that purpose. In fact, William never did get a divorce – a fact John learns after his wife’s death. John seems more annoyed than sympathetic, but he must not be too mad about it because he continues to socialize with William, only bringing up the money every other time.

When Shaw’s not napping under his hoodie at school, or hiding from bullies, he’s at the funeral home, trying to get some answers about what’s happening with his mom’s body. They’re not particularly sympathetic to him and even call the cops on him at one point. Basically, everywhere Shaw goes, he gets beaten, yelled at, or arrested, despite the fact that it’s a small town and everyone knows that his mom just died. Shaw’s lack of emotion exploding into fits of rage sometimes make it seem as though this is headed into David Fincher territory, but it never does.

Cinematographer Anna Franquesa Solano (The Farewell) holds your attention with her interesting composition. There’s not a lot going on in this town, so she has to find beauty where she can, and she succeeds more than once, whilst conveying the brown and beige world that Shaw reluctantly traverses.

First-time screenwriter David Hauslein leaves a lot to the imagination, particularly in regard to the family matriarch. We can work out that Shaw’s mother died of cancer after ailing at home for a long time. Flashback scenes show Shaw helping her to the bathroom and bringing her sips of water. But we don’t know what their relationship was like before she got sick. We don’t know why he loved her beyond the fact that she was his mother. We don’t know why William could never bring himself to finalize his divorce or why he visits her house without Shaw and sobs on the carpet. Her absence is palpable, but no so much her presence. Buck Run would have worked better as a short. But as it stands, the cinematography and performances carry the film and it’s worth a look.

Paid in Puke S1E8: Black Christmas (2019)

Sofia Takal’s re-imagining of the beloved 1974 horror film keeps our yuletides dark (but in a good way)! Black Christmas responds well to a modern social justice revamp, but you’ll never guess who DIDN’T like it (hint: #notallmen). Sure, there are some Hot Probs, but it’s nothing that hasn’t befallen a million dude-helmed horror movies before it. Black Christmas stars Imogen Poots and the absolutely dee-lightful Alesye Shannon.

black-christmas

We also ask: What holiday object would be your weapon of choice when battling a group of enrobed misogynists?

This is our last episode of season (series) one! Please join us again mid-Feb 2020 for our next batch of episodes which will include such delights as Bound, Muriel’s Wedding, and the original Bechdel example, Alien!

In the meantime… lick it up, baby!

Paid in Puke S1E7: The Craft

We’re back in that golden year of cinema, 1996, to discuss Andrew Fleming’s one-of-a-kind teenage witch (not to be confused with Teen Witch) escapade, The Craft! It’s rife with Hot Probs, but Fairuza Balk’s performance cannot be denied.

the craft episode image

Lucy Green is back in Keggers With Kids, and we also reveal what we would have used witchcraft for in high school (or, in Lucy’s case, middle school).

And finally, Amy tells a HILARIOUS story about the famous murderer who hails from her home town.

Paid in Puke S1E6: Carrie

We dive head-first into Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror classic, Carrie*! It’s Keggers With Kids all episode-long as we’re joined by 12-year-old Lucy Green to discuss public school sex ed, detail-oriented bullies, and Piper Laurie’s one-of-a-kind line readings.

Carrie

We also reveal what we would do with telekinesis. And, for a special treat, check out our Facebook page to see who wore it (pig’s blood) best: Carrie or Amy!

*Editor’s note: We had some audio issues during the recording of the episode. My apologies for the inconsistent levels and my big, stupid laugh occasionally piercing your eardrums. -Jessica

Film Review: Most Likely To Succeed

1succeed

“Success” is an abstract word and the measure of it is entirely relative. However, there are a couple of benchmarks that most “success” stories have in common including financial stability and steady employment. In her debut documentary, Pamela Littky (a photographer known for her candid celebrity shots) follows four high school seniors from different backgrounds who were all voted Most Likely to Succeed by their graduating class. Littky checks in with her subjects during formative moments over the course of a decade as their plans shift and their perspectives change and broaden. The result is a thought-provoking meditation on privilege and a compelling case study on what it really means to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps.

Littky’s subjects are two working-class African Americans from Michigan, one white middle-class girl from Florida, and one affluent white boy from Los Angeles. In Detroit, we meet Charles (who goes by Disco), an athlete who was born with a drug addiction and became independent from his adoptive parents his senior year of high school. He looks forward to getting a job and building the family he never had. Quay lives with her single mother who suffers from a heart condition, and all she really wants is to be able to support her family with steady employment. Sarah’s parents are both pastors and her biggest concern when moving into her college dorm is whether or not she brought enough pairs of jeans. Peter worries that his social awkwardness will persist at Brown University. The one thing they all have in common is that they are good people who deserve happiness. For some, it will come easily. For others, it will seem perpetually out of reach…

Read the rest on Hammer to Nail!

Paid in Puke S1E5: Abortionpalooza 2019!

In this episode we compare and contrast Alexander Payne’s 1996(!) debut, Citizen Ruth (starring the magnetic Laura Dern) with Gillian Robespierre’s 2009 debut, Obvious Child (starring our dream BFF, Jenny Slate). Both are about abortion. Who gets it right? Who gets it wrong?

abortionpalooza 2019 episode image

Also, we rant about our pregnancy trope pet peeves and discuss how far into a relationship one waits before they fart in front of their paramour.

PS: We have since learned that Gillian Robespierre pronounces her first name with a hard G. Our apologies for the (repeated) error.