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 Nest

Sean Durkin’s long-awaited follow-up to 2011’s Martha Marcy May Marlene begins with a static shot of an unassuming suburban car port circa 1980-something and an ominous score. The family who dwells inside the house are indeed about to have their lives turned upside-down, but it’s not because of a ghost, demonic possession or a violent home invasion. The monster that terrorizes the family in The Nest is capitalism, and it’s a most insidious foe because it is pervasive, amorphous, and so, very real.

Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley) stars as Rory, a British business man in the nebulous field of “finance”, who feels he has spent enough time wallowing in American mediocrity so that his horse-loving wife, Allison (Carrie Coon, TVs Fargo, The Leftovers) can be close to her family. He longs to return to the lucrative and fast-paced office life he enjoyed in London before he became Husband of the Year. He’s had enough of bringing Allison coffee every morning and getting the kids off to school so she can go to work at the local stables. When we first meet Rory, he’s schmoozing it up on the phone with an old colleague, and definitely trying too hard. If you wonder how well Rory’s schtick goes over in the London office, you’ll find out soon enough that most people see through his shit immediately. They keep him around because he seems “a nice enough chap” or perhaps because it’s because he looks like Jude Law. Regardless, Rory manages to carve a space for himself in his old office, and has already planned out everything before saying word one to Allison…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: I’ve Got Issues

The landscape of film and television is about to change. Robert Pattinson made it two days on a big-budget movie set before contracting COVID, which means the entertainment world is nowhere near ready to return to “normal”. We simply can’t have that many people in a room together without endangering each other’s health. Now is the time for directors like Steve Collins to shine. His latest effort, I’ve Got Issues, is a low-budget collection of existential vignettes starring an average of no more than 2-3 characters at a time. What could be safer to shoot? You don’t even need to gather a bunch of effects artists together for post-production. Someone in a basement with a single laptop could handle that job. Wham, bam, cinema!

Of course, you’d have to be into the premise. With I’ve Got Issues, Collins posits that day-to-day life of regular folk is a lonely, emotionally draining, seemingly pointless uphill battle. (At the moment, I reckon he’d have a hard time finding someone to argue this notion.) Collins handpicked a cast of character actors with a capitol C to embody his Joe and Jane Does in their Sisyphean lives. Among them, Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore), Maria Thayer (TVs Eagleheart) Paul Gordon (The Happy Poet), Sam Eidson (Zero Charisma), Byron Brown (Mustang Island), and John Merriman (Sister Aimee). Comedian Jim Gaffigan provides occasional narration with a bleak, deadpan delivery that’s nonetheless tinged with hope. The actors are all fully committed to their scenes which helps sell the absurdity…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

Film Review: The Mentor

The Mentor

the-mentor-05

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: I Used to Go Here

Kris Rey (formerly Swanberg) follows up 2015’s Unexpected with similarly-themed story about a woman who is coming to terms with the fact that her best-laid plans have gone awry. Kate Conklin (the always sublime Gillian Jacobs) is a writer experiencing the fallout of an ill-received debut novel. Following the cancellation of her book tour and a broken engagement, she attempts to plug the bursting dam of her heart by accepting an invitation to visit to her alma mater in Carbondale, IL. The host is her former mentor/crush David (Jemaine Clement) who invites her to do a reading for his class and spend a couple of days meeting with his students. Kate seizes the opportunity to immerse herself in the last place where she felt full of creative possibility. She relishes the chance to feel like a successful writer for a bit before facing the music. Unfortunately for Kate, the old adage, “you can’t go home again” isn’t just for childhood.

I love Rey’s approach to titles (Rey has an earlier film called It Was Great But I Was Ready to Come Home).  In I Used to Go Here, Kate never utters the titular line, but the sentiment is present whenever she interacts with people in Carbondale. Rey’s story is peppered with many characters who feel fleshed out despite their minimal screen time. One such character is Kate’s pregnant friend Laura (Zoe Chao) who talks Kate through her various crises on the trip while sitting around at home in Chicago about to pop. The film is produced by the Lonely Island which means that Jorma Taccone predictably pops up to act unexpectedly creepy…

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

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.