Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mumblecore for (and with) seniors: Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens' LAND HO! hits theaters

In the elevator descending from the Sony building, just after one of the critics' screenings for LAND HO!, I glanced over at the young woman who was looking about as glum as I was feeling. "The thing about movies starring senior citizens," I suggested to her, "is that those seniors probably should have supporting, rather than leading, roles."  A smile came to her face, and she agreed -- at least about the film we had just seen. In a movie such as Philomena, Judi Dench easily commands the screen, as did the ensemble casts from feel-good schlock like RED and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In the new film from mumblecore duo Aaron Katz (shown at left, whose Quiet City is my favorite of all the mumblecore movies I've seen) and Martha Stephens (shown below, who gave us the lovely Passenger Pigeons, a few years back), the two old men -- one, the other or both of whom are on-screen for the entire 95 minutes -- don't quite have the personalities to keep us en rapt. They're a little bit charming but a little

bit drab. Nor have Mr. Katz and Ms Stephens given them all that much interesting to say or to do.

Initially, it seems that the movie might take off, as it surprises us via a beginning that looks and sounds clever, professional, and even rather mainstream/ commercial. We meet our two protagonist brothers-in-law: Mitch (played by Earl Lynn Nelson, below, right) a elderly, overweight and overwrought (but still practicing) doctor, and the retired and considerably slighter and quieter Colin (played by Paul Eenhoorn, below, left).

These two are in some ways like oil and water, but there's a bond between them, made up perhaps of past history (they were married to two sisters, one of whom is now divorced and the other dead) that keeps them barely on track. Mitch has, without consulting Colin, purchased a pair of tickets for a trip to and tour of Iceland. Colin is clearly less well-off than Mitch and so is soon persuaded to tag along.

In Iceland they connect, coincidentally, with some younger female relatives of Mitch, of which little comes. And they have other small adventures, the very recapping of which is beginning to put me to sleep as I type this. They talk and spat and go places and do things of little consequence, and finally they connect with an attractive middle-aged women from Canada, to whom Colin is attracted and she to him. And that's it.

Some critics are over the moon about this little movie, but I had to pinch myself a few times to stay awake. The performances are as good as they can be, given the material, which is believable enough, but rather paltry. The same can be said for the characters of the two old men. I think we could learn a whole lot more about them than we do here.

I don't mean to imply that Land Ho! is a dead loss. There are funny bits scattered throughout. The two leads are pleasant enough, though Mr. Nelson wears out most of his welcome early on. There is little drive or propulsion to the movie, and though it is as "real" as you could want, it sometimes comes close to being as boring as hell.

The actress Alice Olivia Clarke (above) adds some much-needed oomph as that Canadian vacationer toward the end of the film. After awhile, though, watching the movie is like being made to sit through some very lengthy footage of someone else's vacation.

Land Ho! opens tomorrow, Friday, July 11, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, and in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. In the weeks to follow, it will open all across the country. Click here then scroll down to see currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

Co-writer-director Aaron Katz will be at the Royal in 
Los Angeles this weekend to participate in Q&A’s after 
the 7:40 PM screenings on Friday and Sunday, July 11 and 13.

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