If "Siskel & Ebert & the Movies" had been emceed by an improv comedy duo and recorded with beers nursed over a leisurely hour and a half, it might have sounded something like the podcast of Burlington residents Lincoln L. Hayes and Tim Bridge.
Last week, Seven Days sat in on a recording session in the den at Hayes' house in the New North End. Behind the podcasters stood shelves crammed with DVDs. On the wall was a poster from the original Star Wars, along with a pair of framed awards that Hayes' short film "Pillow Talk" picked up as part of the Vermont Filmmakers' Showcase at the 2015 Vermont International Film Festival. Hayes' two cats, Cleopatra and Daenerys Targaryen, curiously prowled the room and occasionally interrupted the episode; at one point, Daenerys tried to drink this reporter's water.
The movie under discussion was the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which marked author J.K. Rowling's screenwriting debut. It earned a disappointing (by lofty Harry Potter standards) $75 million in domestic box-office receipts during its opening weekend.
Early in the podcast, Bridge acknowledged the presence of a journalist in the room.
"It's kind of weird, I'm not gonna lie. It's like I'm being watched," he remarked. "I feel like I'm in a movie where they couldn't afford a two-way mirror."
But Bridge and Hayes quickly settled into back-and-forth banter, which became increasingly contentious when it turned out they had divergent opinions of the film. Hayes said he "had a lot of fun at the theater," and wants "to see more of these fantastic beasts, and I want to know where to find them." For his part, Bridge thought the movie suffered from an excess of subplots and expository character development, especially given that the studio has plans to turn it into a franchise by "making [four] more of these goddamned movies."
Unlike Siskel and Ebert, whose televised movie debates in the '80s and '90s could turn downright nasty, Hayes and Bridge diffuse moments of discord with comic relief. "This must be what Mike Pence felt like when he was attacked by those Hamilton fellas," Bridge quipped at one point, referencing the vice president-elect's recent run-in on Broadway. When the discussion turned to the character of Credence Barebone, Bridge launched into his best John Fogerty impression, hollering, "Some folks are born with wizard powers" to the melody of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son."
Bridge, 24, is a film major at the University of Vermont who does standup comedy when he's not working part-time at the Windjammer Restaurant. He placed third last month in the Vermont's Funniest Comedian contest at the Vermont Comedy Club.
Hayes, 32, also works at the Windjammer to fund his artistic pursuits. As a filmmaker, he collaborates with his wife, Rachel Riendeau, who starred in and cowrote the story for "Pillow Talk." The couple founded Pretty Beard Productions in 2015; its most recent release was "#Dinnergate." The spoof depicts a news conference that's called when a husband (local comedian Dennis Lemoine) burns dinner and provokes the ire of his wife (Riendeau). Hayes and Bridge appear as reporters.
Hayes originated the podcast with Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Kyle Anderson in 2011 under the title "The WTF Are You Watching?! Podcast." When he met Bridge last year, after one of the latter's performances at North End Studios with the improv comedy group the Unmentionables, Hayes was seeking a new partner.
In its original form, the podcast sported the tagline "We watch shitty movies so you don't have to" and specialized in reviews of awesomely awful movies of the so-bad-it's-good variety. After Bridge entered the fold, the format changed. When just Hayes and Bridge are holed up at Hayes' house, they discuss a new release. When a guest is involved — which occurs about half of the time — they ask that person to choose a film they're particularly passionate about.
The pair originally conceived the revived show as a live event at the Vermont Comedy Club. After a couple of unsatisfactory attempts, they realized they hadn't established the right rapport to take the show on the road. Now, with 20 episodes under their belts, they're reconsidering public appearances, they said.
"We're going to explore it more in the future," Bridge said. "We needed to build a base. We needed to know what this podcast was."
Hayes actively promotes the venture on social media. In the aftermath of the Fantastic Beasts episode, he acknowledged that he was a bit harsh in his rebuttal of Bridge's critique.
"I'll be the first to admit it: I was kind of a dick in this one," Hayes wrote on Facebook when posting a link to the podcast.
Riendeau chimed in, commenting that while she "loved the movie," she concurred with many of Bridge's points. She particularly agreed with his assessment that the British-born Rowling made a laughable mistake when she specifically name-checked the state of Arizona as a place of mystical wonder.
"I will concede and agree," her husband wrote in response.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Two Cinéastes and a Bunch of Films Make for a Lively Local Podcast"