J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sundance Shorts: Rat Pack Rat & Pleasure

They are extreme professions, but you will not see reality shows about them on the History Channel. The E! Channel, maybe. Neither protagonist of will have a typical day at the office. One celebrity impersonator will also get stuck with his worst request ever in Todd Rohal’s Rat Pack Rat (the more highly recommended of the two), which screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Dennis looks worn down and frail, but the Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonator can still turn on the Candyman for his Craigslist clients. This will be a tough one though. His command performance will be the birthday present for an adolescent Rat Pack fanatic wasting away from a terminal condition.

Helmed by The Catechism Cataclysm’s Rohal, Rat probably generated a lot of nervous laughter during its screenings from those expecting similar lunacy, but it is a distinctly sad and sober film. Eddie Rouse is fantastic as “Sammy,” conveying all his weariness and regret, while also evoking some of the pathos of the original Davis. It would be a fascinating film to see in dialogue with Armando Bo’s The Last Elvis, a previous Sundance selection that also explores how impersonators relate to their famous inspirations.

The protagonist of Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure also works in show business, in a far more professional capacity. Right, she does blue movies (always a mainstay of festival programming). Initially, it is a typical workday for Marie, but there is buzz one of her colleague will shoot a maneuver that sounds like it would defy the laws of physics, but evidently happens from time to time.

Pleasure is sexually charged, but not sensual.  It analyzes the day-to-day details of her business with clinical detachment. Probably the most intriguing element of the film is her relationship with Samson, a co-worker who clearly has eyes for her, notwithstanding what they do all day, often together.  Yet, for Marie, he represents more of a Survivor style alliance. It is probably the only subtle aspect of the film, nicely turned by Jenny Hutton and Christian Brandin.

While neither film is what you might call fun, both create a distinctive vibe and Rat Pack Rat is strangely affecting.  Both should expect considerable play on the festival circuit, given Pleasure’s subject matter and Rohal’s cult reputation, following their screenings (as part of separate shorts programs) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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