J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, March 10, 2014

NYICFF ’14: A Town Called Panic—The Christmas Log

Santa is coming, so Indian and Cowboy are minding their behavior, but even their Christmas best is completely unruly and impulsive. The holidays only come once a year, but chaos reigns 365 days a year in this provincial village of plastic toys. Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar give viewers one of the rowdiest Christmas specials ever with A Town Called Panic: The Christmas Log, which screens as part of Short Film Program One at the 2014 New York International Film Festival.

The bickering Cowboy and Indian (they are Belgian, so they use politically incorrect terms) have not matured one whit since the Panic feature film.  They still live with the infinitely more responsible Horse, trying his patience daily. When their fooling around accidentally ruins the Christmas log for Horse’s dinner party, they finally push him too far. Exasperated, Horse calls up Santa and cancels their gift delivery. Naturally, Cowboy and Indian try to fix the situation, but only make matters worse.

Right, so Merry Christmas one and all. Do not look for any cheap sentiment here. Linus will not explain the true meaning of Christmas, nor will the Grinch be joining the citizenry of Whoville for a Christmas roast. Instead, Town Called Panic delivers a feast of increasingly reckless lunacy that only molded plastic figurines could survive. In short, it is all good stuff.

At twenty-six minutes, Christmas Log is the longest film in Program One and a reasonable substantial fix for fans of the feature. However, Panic die-hards will miss hearing Cowboy and Indian calling each other “bastards,” presumably in accordance with the holiday spirit. It also makes Log somewhat more appropriate for the boundary-pushing NYICFF. Even still, the same ruckus vibe shines through.

In contrast to Cowboy and Indian’s bad behavior, the other standout of program one kindles the fires of youthful idealism and the spirit of discovery. Three classmates think they have unearthed a previously unseen fossil in Katerina Karhánková’s The New Species, but the adults just do not get it. It might be a simple story, but somehow Karhánková executes it with a tone that is both ironic and inspiring.

For animation connoisseurs, the Town Called Panic will be the main event, but the entire block is consistently entertaining. Jazz listeners will be particularly interested in Anna Kadykova’s The Mole at Sea, which features the stylish swinging of the Chizhik-Jazz-Quartet. Frankly, “In the Still of the Night” seems like a strange thematic choice to accompany the titular burrower on a Mr. Hulot-esque beach excursion, but so be it. On the other hand, Shakti-era John McLaughlin’s “Luki” is perfectly appropriate for Anna Khmeleskaya’s “The Centipede and the Toad,” a visually distinctive fable set amid India’s primordial rain forest. Recommended pretty highly for animation fans, especially those who appreciate a little stop motion slapstick comedy, the NYICFF’s Short Film Program One screens again Saturday (3/15), Sunday (3/23), Saturday (3/29), and Sunday (3/30) at various venues throughout the City.

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