Paid in Puke S4E6: Girls Trip

On this episode, we embark on a Girls Trip with Malcolm D. Lee’s 2017 smash, written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Girls Trip stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, but for us, it’s the Tiffany Haddish show all the way. The woman positively owns the Meaningful Passages segment today. There are some Hot Probs (that’s not at all how absinthe works), but it’s mostly a riotous good time following the Flossy Posse on their New Orleans adventure. 

On the Lunchtime Poll, we talk about memorial girls trips from our pasts.

Film Review: Ringmaster

Ringmaster is a frosty glass of lemonade made from a sloppy pile of lemons belonging to a man called Zachary Capp. Ringmaster directors Dave Newberg and Molly Dworsky were 2 members of Capp’s crew, originally hired to make a documentary television series called “American Food Legends”. The pilot would feature a mid-western man called Larry Lang and his allegedly unparalleled onion rings. Unfortunately, Capp was an untrained, first-time filmmaker fresh out of gambling rehab and Larry was a reclusive and, ultimately reluctant subject. Newberg and Dworksy manage to pull a decently compelling documentary out of Zachary’s “capp”. Their film begs the question, who is real ringmaster? Is it Larry and his literal onion rings? It is Zachary and his documentary production circus? Or is it Newberg and Dworsky, who secretly began filming Zachary when it became clear to them that his original vision was a windmill and he was Don Quixote?

The first half of the film is more-or-less a long-form version of Capp’s pilot for “American Food Legends” complete with a rockin’ graphic that pops in for the occasional narrative punchline. Fresh out of rehab for a gambling addiction, and looking for a change of pace, Zachary decided to leave his job as CEO of a successful housecleaning firm and use the entirety of his recently-acquired inheritance from his grandfather in order to pursue a lifelong(?) dream of being a documentary film and television director. There are SO MANY things wrong with American capitalist society, but one of the biggies is the notion that people with money can and should follow their dreams by any means necessary and against all odds.

Zachary fondly remembers these onion rings that are inexplicably superior to all other onion rings. Fans describe them as “light”, and “not greasy”, and “better than the Bloomin’ Onion”. Nobody knows what goes into Larry Lang’s secret batter other than himself, his sister, and their father, who started serving them at the family restaurant in the mid-twentieth century. The restaurant burned down, but Larry brought the recipe to a bar in his small town. There, he became a local celebrity and his onion rings were a major draw for the establishment. Zachary tracked Larry down, determined to feature the man and his rings in his pilot. Larry initially agreed to cooperate, but in time, it becomes clear that his sister/caretaker is really the one who wanted to pursue the exposure. She had a taste of the spotlight when she wrote and starred in “Mother Goose Workout” in the 1980’s, and she sings showtunes at the drop of a hat like an aimless Linda Belcher. Larry just wants to make his rings and go home.

Capp becomes obsessed with manifesting the narrative that he’s constructed in his head. He believes that if he pulls the right strings, he can make Larry and his onion rings into a world-famous phenomenon. Capp is enough of a salesman to attract the attention of a racetrack owner, the band KISS, and the owner of the Las Vegas Raiders football team. Zachary could make Larry rich and famous if only he would show up and make his onion rings. The trouble is, Larry is not interested in this at all. He’s a simple man with basic wants and needs that don’t involve being on television or signing any sort of contract. The conflict comes when Capp can’t wrap his mind around Larry’s lack of ambition and Larry is too meek to tell Capp to leave him alone. It’s a bad scene that keeps getting worse and you don’t know how much things will escalate before the end. The creeping dread is bolstered by a flash-forward cold-open that hints at Larry’s mental degradation.   

Capp keeps insisting he’s not a bad guy and he only wants what’s best for Larry. But what happens when you only THINK you know what’s best for someone based on capitalist brain washing and therapy platitudes? What if you forget to check in with the person you’re supposedly helping? Capp seeks the perfect ending for his film by any means necessary while his editor tells him they should work with what they have. One off the most damaging things we’ve been taught as children are that we should keep pursuing our dreams at all costs. Sometimes, it’s better to cut your losses before you do some damage you can’t walk away from.

Still, I’m glad Newberg and Dwrosky knew what to do with the hundreds of hours of footage acquired during this 3+ year debacle. They took the rotting fruits of Zachary’s labor and crafted a meta film about obsession, selfishness, capitalist blinders, and addiction that will stick with you for a lot longer than would have a 30-minute show about onions rings.

Film Review: A Place Among the Dead

Fans of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer will forever remember Juliette Landau as Drusilla, the willowy, unhinged cockney vampire who named the stars and played rough with her dollies. The thing about playing a vampire on screen is that, after a few decades, the performer is no longer able to reprise that role convincingly. No amount of Hollywood self-care truly stops the aging process (Paul Rudd, notwithstanding). But Landau comes as close as she can to revisiting Drusilla in her writing/directing debut, A Place Among the Dead. Landau plays Jules, a fictionalized version of herself, who becomes immersed in investigating a string of murders which may or may not have been committed by a vampire. Landau (and, thus, Jules) uses her Hollywood connections to collect testimonials from vampire-adjacent celebrities. These interviews punctuate the true crime documentary she’s crafting about the killer. A Place Among the Dead is an ultra-meta exploration on the ways in which pop culture glamorizes death and destruction whilst trading youth and beauty as currency. The daughter of actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, Landau seasons the brew with a dash of Old Hollywood pathos…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: Flytrap

Boxing Helena meets Under the Skin with a Twilight Zone after-taste, in Stephen David Brooks’ micro-budget 2016 black sci-fi comedy, Flytrap. Jeremy Crutchley (TVs The Blacklist) stars as James Pond, a British ex-pat and astronomy professor whose car inexplicably breaks down in the deep ‘burbs on his way to his new job at UCLA. For some reason, his cell also stops working. At a loss, he reluctantly knocks on the door of the only person who seems home in the area. A comely but odd woman named Mary Ann (Ina-Alice Kopp) invites him in with a glass of wine ready at the ready. But her aggressive hospitality soon turns sinister when James realizes he can’t leave.

At first, Mary Ann claims she’s alone but it’s not long before James meets her roommates, Gilligan (Jonah Blechman, This Boy’s Life) and the Skipper. When James snarkily inquires about Ginger, Mary Ann tells him straight-faced that the Skipper dealt with her when she tried to leave. At this point, James starts to suspect that he may have fallen into some sort of death cult in the midst of their final countdown. All of the fearless crew are stoic, stiff, and dead-eyed. They clearly have some sort of agenda, and it ain’t making a radio out of a coconut.

Brooks’ script is not particularly strong, but Flytrap captivates thanks to a game cast. Kopp is especially adept at maintaining an other-worldly presence. Crutchley projects an affably pompous demeanor as he bumbles his way through his strange captivity. No one has ever looked more threatening in a Hawaiian shirt than Jonah Blechman.

One cast member who gets the short shrift is Billy “Sly” Williams as James’ friend and colleague, Rondell. He mostly stares perplexedly at his phone whilst attempting to reach James. Tragically, no one else calls Rondell during the days James is missing, as evidenced by one shot of his empty incoming call records.

Brooks doesn’t do much to develop his characters but the 80-minute film is heavy on plot and James’ captors are strange and sinister enough to hold one’s attention. We don’t know what these people are capable of, but their threat feels limitless. Likewise, we don’t know James well enough to guess at the parameters of his self-preservation. He claims to be a gentle, non-violent type but there are times he appears to be unraveling under duress.

Flytrap had a brief festival tour in 2016 and is now available on VOD at Amazon and Tubi among other services.

Paid in Puke S4E5: The Farewell

On this episode, we’re talking about Lulu Wang’s 2019 film, The Farewell, which is “based on a real lie” and stars Awkwafina. What are the ethics of lying to your family? Is there any such thing as a “good” lie? What if it’s a stranger you will never see again? 

On the Lunchtime Poll, we reveal lies we have told our family. 

Paid in Puke will take a brief, mid-season break and return on December 1st, 2020. 

Film Review: The Mothman Legacy

Fans of Cryptozoology will find much to enjoy about Seth Breedlove’s latest documentary film, The Mothman Legacy. This film marks his second dive into the pervasive Mothman myth (Mothmyth? Mythman?). The first was 2017’s The Mothman of Point Pleasant, which focused on the accounts of a group of children on one fateful bus trip. Breedlove returns to the West Virginia town which remains the epicenter of Mothman sightings and mythology, and is also home to the world’s premiere museum on the subject. Breedlove interviews “eyewitnesses”, and the family behind the museum who have their own chilling encounter stories.

There are indeed many similarities between accounts, including height (it’s always said to be at least 6 feet tall), vast wingspan (between 10 and 20 feet), and glowing red eyes. It always leaves by shooting straight up into the air at a high speed. More troubling, every person who reports an encounter, also tells of a personal tragedy occurring weeks, or sometimes just days later. Is the Mothman a harbinger of doom, like the Banshee of Celtic lore? As one of the interviewees wisely states, “An absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily indicate evidence of absence.”…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Paid in Puke S4E4: Us

On today’s episode, we have a million theories about the allegorical nature of Jordan Peele’s 2019 horror film, Us, starring Lupita N’Yongo. 

Is it about classism? Capitalism? The failed American Dream? Performative activism? Yes. And so much more. Peele stuns with his super tight scripts and narrative mirroring. ALL of the performers absolutely destroy playing two parts EACH. This movie is so good, ya’ll. Watch it right now if you haven’t already. 

On the Lunchtime Poll, we reveal our “Tethered Tells”. What do we do a little differently that would expose us possible underworld doppelgängers? 

Paid in Puke S4E3: Sweetheart

On today’s episode, we’re taking a deep dive into J.D. Dillard’s Blumhouse Creature Feature, Sweetheart, starring Kiersey Clemons (Antebellum). Clemons destroys as a woman trapped on an island with a Shape of Water-adjacent monster who doesn’t seem to want to make out at all. 

In the spirit of the film, we recorded this episode in Cristina’s back yard with plenty of ambient sound to set the scene, and lots of cameos from Cristina’s dog, Lily, who DOES seem to want to make out with Amy. On the Lunchtime Poll, we reveal our island survival skills (or lacktherof). 

Film Review: Fully Realized Humans

After I had my first baby, I remember thinking that I’d wished people had been more forthcoming with me about what to expect. There are so many ugly surprises along the way to parenthood. Instead, it was a lot of “it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.” But Joshua Leonard’s (The Lie) latest directorial outing, Fully Realized Humans, shows what happens when friends who are indoctrinated into parenthood decide to be brutally honest with the parents-to-be. Turns out, it might be better to discover the horrors for yourself.

Starring Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) and an actually eight-months-pregnant Jess Weixler (Teeth), the film explores what happens when brutal honesty sends the impending parents, Jackie and Elliot, into a sort of mid-pregnancy crisis in an attempt to work out all their shit before their baby arrives. In other words, they want to become “fully realized humans” in order to raise their offspring in a functional environment.

It all starts at a hipster co-ed baby shower, where Jackie and Elliot’s friends follow up gift-opening with a whole lot of opinionated oversharing. You should breast feed, but you shouldn’t tell people they need to breast feed. You should co-sleep but you also should never co-sleep, and don’t even worry about that because you won’t sleep at all. You’ll be too busy worry about crib death. Be ready with a birth plan but know that your birth plan is useless and prepare yourself for having your nethers torn from stem to stern. “But you guys are gonna kill it,” they say, as Jackie and Elliot struggle to catch their breath…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: Baby Frankenstein

Jon YonKondy (Don Quixote) directs this uneven family horror comedy. Despite the deceptive poster art which implies an evil, bloodthirsty titular protagonist, there’s nothing truly horrific in this film apart from some of the dialogue. Instead, it’s a very old school Nickelodeon/Disney-style affair with a group of unknown actors committing whole hog to a flimsy story that is nonetheless a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Kim (Eileen Rosen) has just moved to a neighborhood with her teenage son, Lance (Ian Barling). Kim’s boor of a boyfriend, Ken (Patrick McCartney), helps her move in. But before the truck is fully empty, Ken has stormed the neighboring porch and the inhabitants, John (Mike Rutkoski, who penned the script) and Truth (Cora Savage), a girl around Lance’s age. Lance isn’t in the house long before he discovers a locked door and immediately sets about finding the bolt cutters. What he finds in the corner of the basement is a pint-sized Frankenstein’s Monster-esque creature (Rance Nix) with a glass dome covering a visible brain. This bi-pedal creature is really more like Toddler Frankenstein than baby, with shocking blue eyes and the ability to get into trouble if you’re not watching him. He can’t speak at first, so Lance starts calling him Little Dude. Soon, Truth finds out about him and becomes invested in his safety when they realize a besuited man (Andre Gower, The Monster Squad) from the clandestine Lundquist Industries, is offering $50K the return of what they call “The Asset”. The man tells Ken and his mustachioed army buddy that they are looking for an escaped convict. But when Ken spots Little Dude, he jumps to the conclusion that what they’re actually chasing is a Chupacabra. And he’s determined to reap the reward by any means necessary.

Lance, Truth, and Little Dude (or Baby, as Truth calls him), find themselves on the run, but it’s not so dire that they can’t stop to take a bowling montage break at the alley where Truth works, or go Trick or Treating. Fortunately, it’s close enough to Halloween, that no one seems to questions Little Dude’s appearance, and just assumes he’s a child in a (really excellent) costume. In fact, the only people afraid of Little Dude are the established bad guys who want to profit off of him. Everyone else is instantly charmed. He never gets angry or hurts anyone. Not even when a pushy neighbor forces him to sing for a treat and them gives him an apple for his trouble. It’s reminiscent of the heart-warming aspects of Harry and the Hendersons and E.T. (complete with a nod to the candy-munching extra-terrestrial when he dresses as a classic sheet ghost for Halloween). The kids are wholesome enough to recall the teen romance of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Lance’s mom also goes on an extremely chaste date with Truth’s dad. It’s only slightly tainted by the fact that John tells Lance he hopes to “bump uglies” with Kim before the night is out.

YonKondy takes the soundtrack a little too far, with what seems like wall-to-wall bar rock when he’s not overutilizing Little Dude’s plunky piano theme. There’s some strange exploration of toxic masculinity with Ken that might incite some awkward conversations for the parents of younger viewers. Kids also aren’t going to pick up on the brief Blue Velvet reference. But there’s no blood or violence that isn’t akin to dinner theater fight choreography. If you have 83 minutes to kill with your family, there are worse ways to spend them.