Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Aaron Katz is back with the genre-jumping, mumblecore-mystery COLD WEATHER

As the maker of my favorite mumblecore movie so far -- Quiet City -- Aaron Katz holds a place of esteem in TrustMovies' overcrowded heart. That film -- with its wonderfully dear characters whom the viewer wants to protect and nourish (rather than, as too often happens with m'core, shrug off) and its pristine, tactile cinematography in which even the NYC subway system manages to look gorgeous -- is a special favorite of mine in a genre that I don't overly appreciate. How could I not have great expectations for Mr. Katz' new one, COLD WEATHER? To some extent those expectations are fulfilled, even if, by the finale, they remain wanting.

I suspect that Mr Katz, shown at right, has more affection -- visually, at least -- for his adopted New York borough than for his hometown of Portland, Oregon, if what we see in his earlier and recent films are an indication. Portland (where I've been maybe once in my life, and as a boy) looks dank, gray and particularly uninviting -- even the seashore seems unappealing -- compared to the luster and beauty he finds in Brooklyn. The one truly spectacular scene (in a movie filled with some of the most drab locations imaginable) comes near the beginning as the film's main characters, a brother and sister, visit what looks like a landmark of sorts: the bridge backed by a huge waterfall, shown below.  We see this from afar, which is stunning enough, and then up close.

Brother Doug, our main character (played by Quiet City's Cris Lankenau) has come back home to reforge ties with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Something of a misfit who so far has failed (or never finished) everything he's set his mind to, from school to employment, he seems initially needy and maybe even a little nuts. The scene in which he, completely unannounced, pulls his sis from her place of employment in the middle of the day to go see the sea treads close to defying credibility.

Things pick up with Doug takes a job in an ice factory and becomes pals with Carlos (Raul Castillo, from Paraiso Travel). They pick up further when his ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) appears, hooks up with Carlos and then involves them all in something mysterious -- which we won't go into here due to spoilers afoot. When the movie ventures into mystery territory -- which is Katz's choice and desire -- it comes alive on a whole new level but also never quite congeals.

Though our hero Doug claims an appreciation for and understanding of Sherlock Holmes, the mystery has the odd and slightly off-kilter feel of the Hardy Boys visiting a porno site. It's never clear just what is at stake or how serious or even dangerous the whole thing might be. Consequently, while some suspense and the off-hand thrill appear now and then, more questions are left unanswered going out than coming in -- which is not perhaps the best idea for mystery-genre satisfaction. As for the bro/sis conflict/resolution, this, too, remains somehow out of our grasp by virtue of our not really knowing enough to care -- which eventually translates into not caring enough to want to know more. The details chosen here for exposition are more often flabby  than vital or specific. They don't resonate nor help expand characterization.

Still, the movie remains never less than  loosey-goosey pleasant, and its cast is certainly game. Mr. Lankenau, with his beady eyes, open face and scruffy, semi-beard, makes an interesting protagonist; Castillo is an asset who might have been made better use of (he disappears well before the finale), while Dunn and Rikoon are respectively solid and mysterious.

Cold Weather (which open in the midst of our own), from IFC Films, begins performances this Friday, February 4, in NYC at the IFC Center, and comes to On-Demand via Sundance Selects on February 9.

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