Friday, November 17, 2023

Cucalorus Dispatch #3: With Love and a Major Organ, Playland, Summer Solstice, and RATS!

(Kim Albright, 2023, Canada, 92 minutes)

British-Canadian filmmaker Kim Albright's feature-length debut, With Love and a Major Organ, takes a metaphorical expression, and makes it literal. According to Psychology Today, giving your heart to another person "manifests profound love."

What if instead of doing so in the conventional way, you could rip it out of your chest and hand it over to them, still beating? Chances are, you'd be dead before you completed your grim task, but what sounds like a horror-movie premise powers a non-gory film that plays more like an office comedy or a rom-com where everything is slightly skewed. It's funny, but in a deadpan, absurdist way. It doesn't hurt that Anna Maguire as Anabel and Hamza Haq as George are charming as the potential couple.

(Georden West, 2023, USA, 72 minutes)

Of all the hybrid documentaries I've ever seen, Georden West's Playland, which screened at Seattle's TRANSlations Film Festival earlier this year, is possibly the most beautiful. West looks back, in a theatrical manner, at a refuge for Boston's queer community that existed between 1937-1998, and cinematographer Jo Jo Yam bathes every sequence in a golden glow. 

The actors, who represent workers, performers, and customers from different eras enact out scenarios that provide a glimpse into the lively atmosphere that once swirled around this space, bolstered by intricately-detailed production design, beaded and feathered costumes, an eerie electronic score, and a combination of pop songs and classical pieces (the primary actor/performers, who are all quite effective, include Pose's Danielle Cooper, Aidan Dick, and drag star The Lady Bunny). Look closely, and you'll spot a swan, or a reference to a swan, in most every sequence. 

Audience members looking for facts and figures will leave disappointed, as several Letterboxd reviews attest, but there's no rule that a documentary has to have an overtly literal-minded narrative--though this one incorporates audio interviews and newsreel footage at crucial moments--when a filmmaker would prefer to conjure up something impressionistic. 

Anyone interested in queer history, in addition to the work of David Lynch and the ghostly filmography of Roy Andersson will find much to enjoy.  

(Noah Schamus, 2023, USA, 81 minutes)

A sweet, overly passive trans actor spends a weekend in the country with a cisgender college friend that tests their relationship in Noah Schamus's touching feature. After the screening Schamus, accompanied by editor Christopher McKee, acknowledged that some details were inspired by personal experience, and I would believe it, because they ring true. Whether trans or not, we've all befriended or at least met that person--usually a woman--who is always impatient, emotional, and dramatic. 

Leo (Adam's Bobbi Salvör Menuez) has to figure out whether it's worthwhile to have Eleanor (Marianne Rendón, Mary Harron's Charlie Says) in his life, not least when he felt like he was just her hanger-on in college. The two actors are exceptional in their very different roles. 

(Maxwell Nalevansky and Carl Fry, 2023, USA, 83 minutes)

I may have seen Carl Fry and Maxwell Nalevansky's RATS! at 10pm, but this wild, over-the-top stoner comedy is the quintessential midnight movie (near as I can tell, Fry is based in Austin and Nalevansky is based in Brooklyn). The co-directors along with a number of their high-spirited cast and crew were in attendance, so it was a boisterous screening. Plus, "Convulsions" programmer/emcee Aaron Hillis came dressed as a giant rat.

The story revolves around graffiti artist Raphael (newcomer Luke Wilcox) who gets in over his head with a crazy cop (an unhinged Danielle Evon Ploeger) and other Pfresno, Texas eccentrics. The action moves fast and furiously, and gets very, very bloody towards the end. It absolutely won't be to all tastes, but the actors are so good, I'm certain we'll see several of them again, and I hope we do. 

Wilcox and Khali Sykes as Bernadette, a goth-punk woman he meets while doing community service, are great together, have obvious star quality, and are very easy on the eyes, if you're into that kind of thing (Darius Autry is also hilarious as Mateo, their partner-in-petty crime). In person, the actors are just as attractive and charismatic as they are on screen. Nalevansky and Fry wisely have them keep things grounded in reality, which only make the craziness that surrounds them seem all the crazier. If Japanese wild man Sion Sono made a stoner comedy set in Austin, it would look a lot like RATS!

Playland screens again on Sat, Nov 18, 4:30pm at Thalian Black and Summer Solstice screens again on Sun, Nov 19, 1:15pm at Thalian Main. Click here or more details. There are no more screenings of With Love and a Major Organ and RATS! Images from Film Inquiry (Anna Maguire), IFFR / Variety (Playland), MUBI (Bobbi Salvör Menuez and Marianne Rendón), and Cucalorus Film Festival (Luke Wilcox and Khali Sykes). 

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