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.

Paid in Puke S4E2: Antebellum

On this episode, we puzzle over the myriad negative critical response to this highly-anticipated social justice horror debut from writer/director team, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz (Bush + Renz). 2020’s Antebellum stars the singular force of nature that is Janelle Monáe, as well as a killer comedic turn from Gabourey Sidibe. (Baxter apologizes for repeatedly mispronouncing Gabby’s surname, but we got the corrective drop in there and she’s got it now).

We take a break from the heavy convo about rampant racism for a fun Lunchtime Poll inspired by Gabby’s takedown of a would-be suitor. And Amy’s eldest child, Logan (they/them), returns in Keggers with Kids.  

Paid in Puke S4E1: Jezebel

On our Series 4 premiere, we discuss Numa Perrier’s stunning 2019 debut, Jezebel, starring Tiffany Tenille and Numa herself! We have a lot of love for this semi-autobiographical tale of a young woman helping her struggling family play the bills by taking a job in the burgeoning Cam Girl industry of the late nineteen-hundred-and-nineties. Tenille plays a young Numa-proxy coming of age under the tutelage of her older sister, Sabrina (played by Perrier). Perrier describes it as a love story between sisters, and we love any story that depicts sex work as work with an emotional and physical toll. 

Also, one of our segments get a long-overdue re-branding and we reveal our Cam Girl names in the Lunchtime Poll. 

Film Review: The Mentor

The Mentor

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There’s a fine line between pretentious indie film and pretentious indie film satire. Moez Solis not only walks that line in his debut feature, The Mentor, he also repeatedly crosses it in both directions. It’s worth checking out for its atypical protagonist – an aspiring filmmaker who is also a young woman of color. Solis’ script has echoes of Cecil B. Demented and Adaptation but he may have gone a little too far with the meta-ness.

Nilah (Brandi Nicole Payne) is a student in need of a mentor. She solicits the sage advice of touted indie filmmaker, Claire Adams (Liz Sklar) to find the inspiration and resources she needs in order to complete her first film. But their session is cut short when they’re kidnapped by a desperate group of indie filmmakers who want to hold Claire ransom in exchange for a production budget.

The Mentor is voiceover heavy, but not overly expository. We’re privy to Nilah’s obsessive internal artist monologue. Payne commands the screen with her presence, as she quotes the Gods of indie film and her “mama” to illuminate her motivations.

“Mama always said you needed a guide to get to anywhere of importance.”

Here, Nilah is our guide through the seedy underbelly of the Art Life. Nilah and Claire’s captors sport bird masks and matching code names: Mr. Owl (Mike Bash), Mr. Raven (Michael James Kelly), Mrs. Hawk (Julie Lockfield), Mr. Emu (Santiago Rosas), and Mr. Pigeon (Corey Jackson). At first, it is unclear what this group wants, other than to argue over the “rules” of independent cinema. Eventually, they reveal their motivations. But then a larger conspiracy unravels, and it turns out that everyone is wearing a mask of one sort or another.

The best thing Solis did was hire Payne and Sklar. If Nilah was just another white Incel with a script, and Claire was a middle-aged male blowhard, this thing would be practically unwatchable. Instead, he gives us two women at very different stages in their artistic journeys, discussing the finer points of what it takes to get a film made. Any woman with an IMDb credit has had to work approximately 80% harder to get there. Claire and Nilah’s conversations take on double meaning as the story plays out according to doctrine they’ve elucidated.

I also have to hand it to Solis for using Werner Herzog as the name-checked filmic inspiration for pretty much all of the characters. Herzog is dynamic and wholly original, and not who most pretentious film types latch on to as their patron saint.

Solis presupposes that what aspiring indie filmmakers really want in a mentor is someone to tell them they’re undiscovered geniuses. It also scathingly exposes the hypocrisy of artists that believe mistreating people is part of the process. But I feel like Solis painted himself into a corner by (as he has stated in interviews) purposefully creating a film that requires multiple viewings to properly appreciate. It’s one thing to plant Easter Eggs. It’s entirely another to make a film that you HAVE to watch repeatedly to fully grasp. There’s not much for laypeople or casual cinema-goers to enjoy. However, I can see this one becoming a hidden gen amongst artsy up-and-comers.

Film Review: Toss It

tossit2Michele Remsen’s debut feature, Toss It is billed as an “anti-romantic comedy” and it’s a great elevator pitch, to be sure. But once the elevator stops, there’s not quite enough there to back it up. It is a romantic comedy in the sense that it’s about a mis-matched couple finding their way to love through an exchange of witty banter. In doing so, the film eschews the hijinks customary in the romantic comedy genre. But the film’s second act brings in two other couples connected by blood and it becomes more of a pro-W.A.S.P.y family dramedy.

Remsen co-stars alongside Phil Burke as Emily and Finn respectively – two middle aged longtime friends who trade barbs like Beatrice and Benedick but are wary of entering into a relationship. Emily is jaded about men in general and Finn’s promiscuity does nothing to lessen her exasperation. Finn’s brother, Bobby (Eric Goss), is following the traditional path their parents took of marrying young and immediately climbing aboard the baby train. Finn is torn between following his heart with Emily or considering his philandering father, Jim (Stephen Bogardus), proof that some men just can’t be monogamous. Emily has feelings for Finn but doesn’t want to live like Finn’s mother, Adele (Blair Ross), turning a blind eye to infidelity.

Adele and Jim don’t particularly like Bobby’s bride, Natalie (Allison Frasca), but Bobby thinks she’ll “make a great mother” and knows what she wants out of life. Finn, takes after his dad in the flirtation department but doesn’t know how to reconcile his prowess with his desire to be loved. Finn may or may not love Emily. He doesn’t know for sure because he’s never been in love. She thinks she might love him but knows his reputation and doesn’t want to get hurt. They’re both approaching middle age and, as the only single people left at Bobby and Natalie’s wedding, they talk about finally giving it a go. But when Emily backs out at the last minute, Finn ends up in bed with Marie (Jenny Zerke), a pseudo bohemian and Natalie’s maid of honor. Marie says that she only slept with Finn to piss off Natalie, for whom she still carries a torch. (I’m not exactly sure why she thought this would work…) It doesn’t affect Natalie and Bobby’s relationship at all, but it does result an extremely homophobic rant from Natalie and Emily deciding this is proof that Finn can’t be trusted.

But then Emily and Finn have some time to think and, after a chance encounter in Vegas, they decide to give it a go, only to have life interfere immediately. The hours-old couple must convene with Finn’s family at his childhood home to face a tragic loss. Finn leaves Emily to fend for herself while she encounters the demanding and closed-minded Natalie (Allison Frasca), Adele, who is verging on a breakdown, and pervy Uncle Claude (Malachy McCourt) who insists on telling dirty jokes and kissing all the new women in the family on the lips. There’s the family you have, the family you choose, and then the family you get when you choose one person and they come with a whole bunch of family that you would otherwise avoid at all cost.

Remsen’s script contains a lot of heady themes. Is romance overrated? Are people who follow a traditional path just deluding themselves? It is unhealthy or a kindness to pretend your partner’s infidelities never happened? Is there still time to reinvent yourself in your sixties?

There is a definitely an audience for this film, and I hope they find it. But I had a hard time getting past the heteronormative, white, upper class perspective. In 2020, I just can’t abide a storyline that suggests women sleeping together is a phase that one must get over in order to have a truly meaningful relationship with a man. Natalie says as much when Marie confesses her love. Later, Marie does indeed find a man and that whole conflict is resolved. One could argue that Remsen was merely inventing characters, not condoning behaviors, and maybe she even knows people exactly like this. But we’re not far enough along in the fight for fair and accurate representation on screen to have a character be so ignorant and hateful and then have the recipient of that ignorance later prove the bigot right.

I very much support women in film and I’m thrilled that a woman “of a certain age” is doing it for herself. There is an audience for this film. I wish Remsen the best of luck. I’m sure there are plenty of affluent white folks who still want to see their myopic world view in cinema without any of that pesky diversity poking through, but it ain’t me.

Paid in Puke S3E10: Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town

izzy ep artOn the Series 3 finale, we go on a journey with Christian Papierniak’s 2017 indie stay-cation road movie, Izzy Gets the F Across Town, starring Mackenzie Davis and a buffet of character actors including Annie Potts, Alia Shawcat, and Carrie Coon.

It’s not without Hot Probs, but Papierniek’s debut transcends the usual romantic comedy plot of a woman trying to get back with an ex by making Izzy an anti-hero you don’t mind rooting against. it also showcases the people she meets on her car-less journey across the expanse of L.A. Plus, the seminal Riot Grrrl soundtrack kicks ass.

On our Lunchtime Poll, we tell tales of fraught journeys from our personal pasts.

Paid in Puke returns with Series 4 in Fall 2020. In the meantime, keep your heads and masks up!

Paid in Puke S3E9: Lynn Shelton Special

lynn ep artOn this episode of Paid in Puke, we pay tribute to the late Seattle film auteur, Lynn Shelton, who recently passed away unexpectedly at the age of 54. We celebrate her career with 2013’s Touchy Feely, which Lynn also wrote, and 2014’s Laggies, written by Andrea Seigel.

Touchy Feely stars Rosemarie Dewitt and Ellen Page. Laggies stars Kiera Knightly and Chloe Grace Mortez. They share common themes of women who are at an existential crossroads and must take drastic steps to move forward.

Lynn was very beloved, not just in Seattle, but by all who knew her. Rest in Power, Lynn.

Paid in Puke S3E8: Reality Bites

reality bites ep imageOn today’s episode, we pay a visit to the GenX saturated year 1994 with Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, Reality Bites, starring pod fav Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofalo. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as we’d hoped as we learn in what is perhaps our longest Hot Probs segment to date. Is Troy Dire the shittiest love interest of all time? Just how bad is it that Helen Childress’ script sidelined the one gay character and made the AIDS crisis all about white women?

Still, Keggers With Kids reveals that the youth of today can find some things to like about this film even if they will never understand what Lelaina sees in Troy.

Paid in Puke S3E7: Eighth Grade

eight-grade-2On today’s episode, we relive Eighth Grade with Bo Burnham’s 2018 dramedy, starring Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton. We discuss the horrors of co-ed pool parties, class superlatives, getting surprised by your crush, and that awful scene in the car…

There’s a lot of dark territory here, so we lighten things up in the Lunchtime Poll with a little game of M.A.S.H., and Baxter’s husband and kids provide some nice constant background noise because quarantine.

Film Review: In Bright Axiom

In Bright Axiom

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Spencer McCall presents In Bright Axiom as a documentary, but it never feels truly real. That’s partly because the subject matter is the disillusion of a sort of elaborate puzzle hunt club that operated under the guise of a cult. But it’s also due to McCall’s relationship with the Latitude Society and its here-unnamed founder, self-funded entrepreneur Jeff Hull. Hull was the man behind the curtain who created an experience unlike any other, and managed to populate The Latitude Society entirely through word-of-mouth. He held it together for a time with elaborate, faux-mystical experiences and free drinks. But in the end, the Society crumbled. And now all we have is this weird film that, like the clandestine Latitude Society promised more than it delivered.

There’s a place in this world for biased documentaries. I love a good memoir film, a la Sarah Polley, for instance. But In Bright Axiom would benefit from an outside perspective. As a result of McCall’s direct involvement with the San Francisco-based Latitude Society, the finished product feels more like an infomercial than a document. Especially since McCall’s only other film (The Institute) covers an earlier iteration of Hull’s brain child, The Jejune Society.

That said, there is much in this film to hold the viewers’ attention. McCall goes to great lengths (with the help of Hull as executive producer) in order to reenact what occurred within the Latitude Society. It always began with an invitation. An existing member would recruit someone that they deemed “of like mind and heart” by giving them a sparse white credit card that depicted a logo, a unique code, and a web address. Should the recipient choose to move forward, they would make an appointment via the website to arrive at a non-descript door with 5 minutes of their time window (lest their card be rendered invalid). Inside, they would find a fireplace and a hole leading to a slide. If they went down the rabbit hole, so to speak, it would lead to an elaborate, Matrix-like scavenger hunt throughout the city that eventually brought them to a banquet in the Mendocino woods, where they would meet other Society members for free drinks and revelry. This was Chapter One. New chapters became available to existing members, and one could become further immersed in the fabricated mythology of the Latitude Society, which included a set of code words and special greetings (i.e. “In Bright Axiom”), and the requirement that members maintain “absolute discretion” at all times.

At one point, someone refers to Latitude as an “international temporal fellowship society”. The problem with creating something free-form and then calling it a “society” is that the members will eventually want to get involved in shaping it and will start to question your leadership. In a cult with a figurehead, the followers tend to be a lot more open to the idea of handing over some cash. But because Hull at first stayed anonymous, and presented the experience as more democratic in nature, the people revolted when management asked for a mere $36 a month from each member in order to keep the lights on. These people didn’t care that they’d been kept in elaborate puzzle hunting and free drinks for months. They weren’t going to pay a dime. And thus, Hull shut it down, to the dismay and bewilderment of Latitude members. It’s absolutely fascinating how this played out. They don’t get into it too much in the film, but I recommend you seek out a couple of companion articles to illuminate the business aspect of Hull’s vision and why exactly it failed.

McCall’s film features interviews with several people involved in The Latitude Society. No one is named, but you can pick Hull out. He’s the guy dressed as Max from Where the Wild Things Are, complete with tinfoil crown. This outfit must have been a calculated choice, but the symbolism eludes me. We also hear from recruits who were led to Latitude by acquaintances and even complete strangers. They discuss how they got involved, how it affected their “real” lives (especially the “absolute discretion” part), and where they were when it all fell apart.

There is one sort of figurehead for the Latitude Society who appears in In Bright Axiom. He’s called The Professor, and his vibe is up-close magician meets motivational speaker. He’s played by real-life “leadership” guru, Geordie Aitken. He looks like a walking red flag to me, but a lot of people seem to buy his shtick. The Professor purports to be on a lifelong journey of self-discovery via the Latitude Society. He reeks of insincerity.

There almost needs to be a documentary about the documentary. For instance, I’d love for someone to explore why many cults can bleed their members for money, but these people were positively indignant at the notion of spending $36 a month for an experience they claimed changed their entire perspective on reality. Even you consider the experience merely immersive theater, it’s not unheard of to charge for theater. But for some reason, asking for money is what ultimately broke this society and they never address the psychology of that. Instead, In Bright Axiom feels like an after-the-fact recruitment video – as if McCall and Hull are trying to get back at the members for killing it, by showing us some of the magic and then saying it’s dead. Perhaps it’s partly because the base tenant of the Latitude Society is “Absolute Discretion” that the film merely skims the surface of the experience. But if discretion is still important to them, despite the Society’s downfall, why make a film at all?