Panique au village (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
“Panique au village,” written and directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, was an oddball of an animated film. The characters in the film were toys but they didn’t necessarily play the role of the figure they inhabited. Humans and horses were equal beings, horses could play the piano, while cows were used as either food or weapons against intruders. When Indian (voiced by Bruce Ellison) and Cowboy (Stéphane Aubier) had forgotten that it was Horse’s (Vincent Patar) birthday, they panicked and tried to brainstorm for a gift. They figured it would be a nice if they built a barbecue set for Horse before he returned home from picking up the neighbor’s kids, but they accidentally ordered millions of bricks instead of the fifty they had in mind. The delivery of the bricks was a catalyst for an adventure that awaited the three friends which led them to the center of the earth, a land of ice, and an underwater dwelling. As much as I enjoyed the protagonists’ dizzying energy, I think the picture would have been better off as a short film. The first twenty minutes was spot-on; it reminded me of the simple days back when I would just sit in front of a TV and watch Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner’s formula of the former setting a trap in which he was convinced would work without a glitch and the latter escaping and not breaking a sweat. This animated picture had an easy formula to follow, too. A tragic thing would happen, like a house being demolished, and the characters would rebuild from the ground up without making a big deal out of the situation. This was highlighted when one of the characters stated, “There’s always tomorrow.” In a series of simple scenes and without saying the actual words, it was able to highlight that hard work, perseverance, and forgiveness were important aspects of a successful life and maintaining meaningful friendships. Although unconventional, I thought the movie was beautifully shot. Close-ups revealed the flaw of the animation so the majority of the scenes were shot from afar. To recompense, there was always something happening on the background particularly when such a shot was indoors. One should take notice of the amusing details during Horse’s birthday celebration when everybody was dancing like it was high school prom or disco in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the sudden change of pace near the middle made the film feel highly uneven. I felt like it eventually ran out of creative ideas to keep us entertained. The toys were more than plastic things in “A Town Called Panic.” They might not have felt pain when landing from a hundred-foot fall but people who love the idea of just being alive will love these toys and find this bizarre film fun and zany.
Peep World (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
It was Henry Meyerwitz’ (Ron Rifkin) 70th birthday and his children were less than happy to celebrate over dinner. Nathan (Ben Schwartz), the youngest of the clan, wrote a book called “Peep World,” an extremely accurate portrayal of his dysfunctional family. Cheri (Sarah Silverman), his only sister, hated him for exposing her idiosyncrasies and self-loathing. On the other hand, Jack (Michael C. Hall), the eldest, was the responsible one. His architectural business was about to collapse because he was easy with money. When Joel (Rainn Wilson), the least ambitious sibling, called to ask for help in terms of pecuniary matters, Jack was always willing to lend a hand. Written by Peter Himmelstein, “Peep World” had the ingredients to construct a truly scathing film about family members who just did not mesh well. Unfortunately, the writing was limited. I noticed that it consistently went for easy laughs when it didn’t need to. For instance, Nathan, concerned about his tendency to prematurely ejaculate, turned to a dubious-looking doctor for a solution. Naturally, the drug didn’t work and it left his penis erect for several hours. There was a painful scene in which Nathan had to deliver a public reading and he desperately tried to hide the bulge in his pants. As the scene unfolded, I couldn’t help but think that the material was better than it was. Why lean on slapstick instead of further observing the seething rage within the family? All of Henry’s children were messed up in some way and they blamed him for how they turned out. But I found it odd that there was not a single scene of Henry prior to the uncomfortable, to say the least, dinner sequence. When Henry was on that table ready to celebrate his birthday and ecstatic to see his children, I just felt sorry for him because no one was really there to celebrate the father’s life. Perhaps we weren’t supposed to take Henry’s side despite not knowing much about him, but when he went around that table and pointed out to his children what he had done for them, I just saw the four as ungrateful brats. None of them would have gotten away with so much in my family. I do have to single out Taraji P. Henson as Joel’s supportive girlfriend. Out of everyone, her character was the one I identified with the most. She was a strong and honest person without having to be cruel, so unlike everyone else in the film. I wanted to know more about her. Henson was fantastic; when she shared a shot with all the other actors as they screamed at each other’s faces, I found my eyes being drawn to her. Since I related to her most, I wanted to see her facial expressions and how she processed the many spilled secrets of the broken family she was about to be a part of. Directed by Barry W. Blaustein, “Peep World” was occasionally brilliant yet filled with critical missteps which significantly weighed down the project. Although capable, the material didn’t soar.
The Boys in the Band (1970)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Michael (Kenneth Nelson) was the host for Harold’s (Leonard Frey) birthday party and all of their friends were invited. Donald (Frederick Combs) arrived early and we learned that despite Michael’s lavish way of living, he was essentially a kid with little regards to money. He got tired of things easily which could be seen by the many times he changed his clothes before and during the party. All of them considered themselves as homosexual but they ranged from the masculine, like Hank (Laurence Luckinbill), to the feminine, personified with great energy by Cliff Gorman as Emory. Some of the invited friends attended with their lovers (Reuben Greene, Keith Prentice). Another was a birthday present (Robert La Tourneaux), a “midnight cowboy” for the birthday boy. “The Boys in the Band,” based on Mart Crowley’s play, is known as the first movie that tackled homosexuality directly. I was mesmerized by the script and the performances. There were many stereotypes but even I can admit that some of them were true. I found qualities of myself and my gay friends in most of the characters; its goal was not to reinforce the stereotype but use it as a template that beneath it all, every type of gay man is different from one another despite society forcing the ridiculous idea that we belong to one category. Instead of putting homosexuals under only a positive light, I admired the film’s audacity to tackle many negative thoughts and emotions. I may not agree with some of the decisions that certain characters made, particularly Michael’s cruel game, but I was able to relate to the isolation they felt despite being surrounded by others, the anger and sadness they experienced when love wasn’t reciprocal, and the fear of wanting to belong with anyone, homosexual group of not, for a stamp of approval. The person I found most fascinating, and the one who I believe as the heart of the picture, was Hank. He was married to a woman for years, had kids, and had the painful experience of coming out to them. The addition of Michael’s former roommate in the university, a self-proclaimed heterosexual, named Alan (Peter White) made the party’s dynamic more complex. Was there an attraction between Hank and Alan or were the two just friendly? After all, Alan was very uncomfortable being surrounded by gay men. Despite Hank being gay, Alan took comfort in the fact that Hank acted straight. I thought that was very honest because I’ve met straight guys (and some of them I consider friends) who would make remarks about someone from afar being a “queer” or a “fag” while in front of me yet they fully know where my attractions lie. The heavy subject matter in the second half was balanced by funny and witty tête-à-têtes and one-liners when the party was just beginning. “The Boys in the Band,” directed by William Friedkin, was released over forty years ago but it still has relevance in today’s more accepting time because the LGBT community still faces similar issues today.