Film Review: When Today Ends

When Today Ends

Michael Leoni wrote and directed When Today Ends, a docu-style drama presented as found footage from four teens who turned to social media to combat their depression. As we follow them through their days, we start to see darkness under their smiley internet personas and rehearsed affirmations. The meaning behind the title begins to take shape. These are the faces of suicidal kids who won’t make it through the day. Leoni’s narrative feature debut is a powerful missive on a far-too-invisible mental health crisis. It’s the sort of film that should be shown in schools, if only the schools weren’t part of the problem. 

The one thing I wish Leoni had done was include a kid who really did seem to have everything but was still struggling internally. Suicidal depression can manifest even in kids who aren’t being beaten every day or berated at home. But the kids we do meet are fully formed, unique souls with fears, wants, and voices all their own. There’s Jenna (Jacqui Veni), a smart and kind college student whose persona of perfection is also her biggest stressor. There’s James (Derek Breezee), a hockey champ who doesn’t understand why the rest of his team has it in for him. Nicole (Gavin Leatherwood) is a trans girl trapped in a dangerously conservative community who must hide her true self from peers and family alike for her own safety. Megan (Angel Guadalupe) is a high school student who feels invisible until she takes drastic steps to be seen.

Leoni uses a “curated media” motif to legitimize a story shot entirely on cell phone. And it mostly works. Despite the low-budget feel of the production, the performances are all outstanding. The actors understand their characters in a very holistic way. They are fully-formed people who really feel like they’re only a comment away from interacting with you. Sometimes it gets so real that it’s almost voyeuristic but you’re so invested in their well-being that you are compelled to stick around. The bad news is that the kids aren’t alright. Not by a longshot. 

It’s about time we as a society started showing some goddamned empathy for teenagers. Even without the pressures the kids face in When Today Ends, there just isn’t a teen out there truly having a good time. The high school curriculum is challenging. They’re tired all the time because they’re hormonal and their bodies are still growing. Teens are basically expected to work a full-time job with extracurriculars and then do homework, all while deciding whether or not they want to go to college, and if so, where, and what will they study and can they even afford it? If they have crushes or best friend drama or bullies or siblings, that just adds to the pile. They’re so busy and under insane amounts of pressure and then grownups get mad at them for being sleepy. That’s the BEST base scenario for being a teenager. What if your parents are in the midst of a messy divorce or a close family member is sick, or your family can’t always afford food, or you’re being bullied and you don’t even understand why, or you’re trans and your parents are scary Christians? Suicide is never the answer, but you can start to see why it might seem appealing to many kids. Especially when their parents or teachers blame them for their problems or worse, ARE the problem. 

On a personal note, this movie made me realize how awful a punishment it is to take a teen’s phone away. Grounding them is one thing. But isolating them from their peers, when they already feel so painfully alone most of the time is a next level cruel. I like that When Today Ends doesn’t paint social media as the problem but rather as a tool to combat the problem. Yes, it can be misused but is mostly very positive and even a reason that some teens have lasted this long. 

When Today Ends is currently streaming on multiple platforms.

Paid in Puke S6E5: Zola

On this episode, we’re on an emotional rollercoaster with Janicza Bravo’s 2021 crime drama/comedy, “Zola”, based on the viral Twitter thread by Detroit waitress A’Ziah “Zola” King in October 2015. It stars Taylour Paige as the titular protagonist, and Riley Keough as the shady lady who roped Zola into a nightmarish weekend in Florida. It’s possibly our shortest Hot Probs segment to date, as Bravo knocks this one out of the park.

This discussion inspires a new t-shirt (it’s always a good idea to MIND THE VIBES) and several P.S.A.’s.

You won’t wanna miss this Lunchtime Poll, as we tell stories of times we got in over our heads with some sketchy people. 

PS: Forget that Rolling Stone article. Allison P. Davis has the real scoop at Vulture. 

Paid in Puke is available on all major podcast platforms or you can download this episode directly by clicking here!

Paid in Puke S6E4: Carol

On today’s episode, we’re falling in love with Todd Haynes’ 2015 romantic period drama, Carol, starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Sarah Paulson. We’re joined by special guest, Alicia Mullins of Gal Pals Watch Podcast, who gives us all the Superfan details about the film and the source material (Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel, “The Price of Salt”). 

There’s an awful lot of Harge hate and swooning over Cate Blanchett’s ethereal presence and silky voice, as well as marveling at Carol’s brass ovaries for standing up for herself in the 1950s, despite having so much to lose. Carol simply rules.  

Paid in Puke is available on all major podcast platforms or you can download this episode directly by clicking here!

Paid in Puke S6E3: Abortionpalooza 2021

On today’s episode, we’re discussing the tragic state of underage abortion rights in the United States through thematically similar, but tonally opposite films: Eliza Hitman’s 2020 drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always starring Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder; and Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s 2020 comedy, Unpregnant, starring Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferriera. 

There are some Hot Probs, but these films are both great in their own right and feature some really incredible debut performances.

Despite the heavy subject matter, we manage to keep it light on the Two Lunchtime Polls for the Price of One! 

Paid in Puke is available on all major podcast platforms or you can download this episode directly by clicking here!

Paid in Puke S6E2: I, Tonya

On today’s episode, we’re setting the record straight with Craig Gillespie’s 2017 bio dramedy, “I, Tonya”, starring Margot Robbie, and Allison Janney. This film is a little miracle with its pitch-perfect performances, Rashomon story-telling, meta fourth-wall breaking, Cohen-esque comedy, ACAB-ery, and a bangin’ soundtrack to boot. We manage to have a very fun conversation about a very HEAVY-hitting story, the egregious double-standards in sports crime prosecution, and what happens to a woman who is “the wrong kind of poor” in this country.

This episode references a groundbreaking piece on Tonya Harding by Sarah Marshall. Check it out.

Paid in Puke is available on all major podcast platforms or you can download the episode directly by clicking here!

Paid in Puke S6E1: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

On our series 6 opener, we’re setting sail with Howard Hawke’s 1953 musical comedy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, starring the incomparable Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe! This movie is gay in every sense of the word! It’s a mood lifter, a thirst trap, and a subversive musical romp. Marilyn and Jane are the ultimate multi-taskers, dazzling audiences, dodging private detectives, dismantling the patriarchy, and even making a little money along the way. What’s not to love?

On the Lunchtime Poll, we try to figure out the weakness about which our friends need to keep us in check.

Paid in Puke Podcast is available on all major podcast platforms or you can download the episode directly by clicking here!

Film Review: Here Alone

Pandemic movies that were shot pre-COVID and released after the outbreak are now so prevalent that they need their own genre. Maybe we could call it Prescient Pandemic Horror. Rod Blackhurst (Amanda Knox) directed one such offering in 2015. Here Alone premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival received a theatrical release in 2017. Four years later, it’s been resurrected to audiences who will likely relate much more closely to the story of a zombie pandemic survivor who wrestles with sharing her precious resources and personal space with strangers. Their presence also forces her to reckon with survivor’s guilt surrounding the fate of her husband (Shane West) and baby. 

Written by David Ebeltoft, Here Alone follows Ann (Lucy Walters), a woman who has settled into a survival routine following the deaths of her husband and infant in a recent-ish zombie pandemic. There is a Kelly Reichardt-ness to the direction, particularly in the rural setting and long stretches without dialogue. We watch Ann go about her routine, keeping herself safe in the woods away from the deadly threat lurking in the urban areas. She keeps two camps: One in her car and one by a lake, splitting her time between the two. She uses the lake site in good weather to bathe and wash her clothes and the car site as shelter from the unpleasant elements. She keeps careful track of her rations and only goes on supply runs when absolutely necessary. She also consults a hand-written guide book for foraging, and doesn’t always get it right. But barfing and passing out is better than dying of hunger. Protective measures on the supply runs involve bleeding into a jar to set up a decoy, covering herself in animal feces to mask her own scent, and saving her urine in a bucket for a quick dousing if she’s being pursued. 

One day, Ann runs into a teenager and her older male companion in need of medical attention. Ann is hesitant to help, but she concedes to the daughter’s pleas. She sets up a tent for them, bandages the man’s headwound, and shares her rations. A significant portion of the film involves the three of them sitting silently around a campfire, carefully crunching on the minute morsels they must call their dinner. 

While the man heals, the girl tells Ann their story. They are a step-father and daughter heading north (presumably to Quebec) in search of a safe haven that has been broadcasting a beacon to survivors. Olivia’s (Gina Piersanti) mother succumbed to the virus and it’s been the two of them ever since. When Chris (Adam David Thompson) heals, he shares his side of the story, which involved having to kill his wife in front of her daughter. They’ve been in search of a safe place to call home ever since.

Ann doesn’t reveal much of her trauma to her reluctant roommates, but Ebeltoft shows the audience in periodic flashbacks. Ann’s condescending and gruff husband was somewhat of a survivalist and he directed her in packing up and getting the fam out of Dodge. He also dictated to her the survival guide and went on supply runs while she remained at camp with the baby. Of course, there’s no baby or husband in the present so we know something awful happened to them. Eventually, we see those awful things and they go a long way toward explaining Ann’s wariness of Olivia and Chris as well as her reluctance to leave her camps, however dangerous it is to stay in one place. 

Olivia seems protective of her step-father, but their bond is more complicated than that, as we learn when Chris begins to show a romantic interest in Ann. Olivia’s jealousy throws a very dangerous wrench into the works when Chris invites Ann to join them on their journey up north. 

What sets Here Alone apart from other zombie films is its focus on the survivors. We rarely get a glimpse of the threat that decimated humanity. We just know it’s out there. Sometimes, we hear an inhuman snarl or wail, but we mostly stay with the living in isolation hoping to avoid the plague that got them there. Also, no one ever says the word “zombies”. But whatever is affecting people, it starts as little red rings on the stomach, and ends with an automaton craving for human flesh. 

The performances from leads aren’t bad, and I’m sure the casting was budgetary, but script and direction are so strong that it’s hard not to think about how much more impactful the film would be in the hands of more dynamic performers. Imagine what Ryan Gosling could do with a monologue about having to kill his wife in front of her daughter. Or what Michelle Williams or Tessa Thompson could do with extended periods of silent survival. 

Overall, Here Alone is a riveting film with home-hitting elements like the initial uncertainly surrounding how bad things would get with the “virus”, the prevalence of masks, and how quickly one can get used to being alone, despite the mental unhealthiness of isolation. There’s a subtle message about coping here that I haven’t seen much in genre films. Ann wonders how Chris is able to make jokes and try to have fun on occasion, when he has experienced so much loss. He tells her, “I choose what to remember and when to remember it.” Ann, on the other hand, wears her trauma like an armor. Neither of them is wrong. We do what we must to survive. One nice thing about our pandemic is we don’t have to murder anyone ourselves to keep from getting infected. 

Film Review: The Pink Cloud

The pandemic has inspired loads of films about isolated people because isolation is where we’ve all been for a year and a half. Surprisingly, The Pink Cloud was filmed pre-COVID, but you wouldn’t know it by the way it poignantly captures the maddening nature of being stuck inside. This quiet Brazilian sci-fi feature posits: What if, when the deadly thing hit, you were immediately confined where you stood indefinitely. You’re at a slumber party with your fellow tweens and one single dad. You’re at the grocery store with strangers and your partner is at home, alone. You’re spending a leisurely morning with the person you picked up in a bar the night before, expecting them to leave soon. No walks around the block to cool off. No therapeutic trips to Trader Joe’s. These walls are now your entire world. 

That’s what happens to the protagonists of The Pink Cloud, a meditative, understated disaster film from writer/director Iuli Gerbase. In this case, the McGuffin is a toxic, pink cloud that inexplicably rolls in all across the globe and kills anyone who breaths it in within 10 seconds…

Read the rest on Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: WYRM

It’s difficult to impart a sense of Christopher Winterbauer’s feature debut, Wyrm without making it sound like a bit of a drag. The films’ own synopsis compares it to Yorgos Lanthimos (presumably The Lobster) and Todd Solondz, (presumably Welcome to the Dollhouse). The film also lends itself to comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite, but again, this is unfair. Winterbauer’s film, based on his 2017 short, isn’t nearly as nihilistic as Lanthimos or Solondz, and it’s much more nuanced than Jared Hess’ breakout smash. On its face, the script is about the mortifying awkwardness and quiet indignity of junior high sexuality, but underneath, it’s a poignant exploration of grief and the myriad ways it manifests. 

Wyrm (Theo Taplitz) is the unfortunately-monikered titular protagonist and his origin story is tragic. Born with a heart condition, he is the latest of bloomers, and literally the last kid in his 8th grade class to complete his Level 1 Sexuality Requirement. Until he’s kissed by a willing romantic partner, Wyrm must don a bulky, chafing collar around his neck, telegraphing his predicament to everyone he encounters. His twin sister, Myrcella (Azure Brandi), was once his closest confidant. But now that she’s “popped her collar,” she wants nothing to do with him and is even angling for her own room…

Read the rest on Hammer to Nail!

Paid in Puke S5E10: Fast Times/The Anniversary Party

On our series 5 finale, we’re doing a double shot of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates, with Amy Heckerling’s 1982 comedy debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, written by Cameron Crowe, and 2001’s Mumblecore template drama, The Anniversary Party, written and directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Alan Cumming. These two films are spiritual sequels, linked by JJL and Cates’ twenty year friendship. Fast Times is also Amy’s favorite movie of all time! Both of these films find a perfect balance between the realistic struggles of women in these respective places in their lives, and belly-laugh comedy. Plus hella abortions.

Two movies means we double your pleasure on Meaningful Passages and Lunchtime Polls!

Paid in Puke is taking a break but we’ll return soon with Series 6!

Download the episode here!

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