Land Ho!Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/25/14 14:00:04
There is something to be said for filmmakers (or anyone) getting out of their comfort zone. Both directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens are known for certain types of movies - Katz for some of the better youth-oriented mumblecore to come out while that was a word people used and Stephens for films set in Kentucky. Neither seems likely to make a film following a couple of senior citizens to Iceland, but that''s what they've done working together, and it turns out to be a very good call.The two men are Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), who became friends after marrying sisters but haven't seen each other much since the women left the picture (Mitch divorced, Colin was widowed). Mitch comes to visit Colin in Kentucky, and then springs a surprise on him - he's purchased two round-trip tickets to Iceland, and insists Colin come with him.
Why does Mitch want to go to Iceland specifically? In a pleasantly surprising turn of events, it is simply a matter of him never having been to Iceland and wanting to see the place. Katz & Stephens don't necessarily give the film much Icelandic character in terms of the people - there's nary a subtitle to be found, and almost every character who has a speaking part is also a tourist coming from the United States or Canada (Colin's originally Australian, but he's been in the U.S. for some time), and there's not much play give to how they're in a foreign land but still sticking to their own people. It does provide a fantastic backdrop visually, especially once the guys get outside their nice Reykjavik hotel. The black volcanic sand is a constant reminder that this isn't the average road trip, along with the steam rising from from hot springs surrounded by scrubby greenery. And some shots are just beautiful, with cinematographer Andrew Reed backing off the lo-fi look he used for the films he shot for Katz but not over-emphasizing digital sharpness.
Instead, the focus is squarely on Mitch and Colin,who make for an entertaining odd couple. The broad strokes are familiar - Mitch is kind of crude while Colin is a bit more reserved, but they get along well, with Mitch able to pull Colin out of his shell and Colin able to occasionally catch Mitch flat-footed enough to shut him up for a second. It's perhaps best illustrated when it comes to how they talk to women, with definite discomfort at Mitch's exaggerated compliments and awkward focus on appearance compared to how Colin will dive in with questions that let them talk about what interests them. Part of it is just them being themselves, and part is deflection, helping each other out.
There are a couple of very fine performances behind the characters, as well. Eenhoorn and Nelson come across, in retrospect, as a sort of Lemmon & Matthau pairing without particularly imitating those actors. Eenhoorn is the veteran of the pair, at least where film is concerned, and he does all the right things to improve a scene at the margins and builds a complete character that fits every detail without checking boxes. Earl Lynn Nelson's only credits on IMDB are in Martha Stephens's previous movies, and he gives a big, expansive performance that never feels false for as much as it is very funny.
And it is a very funny movie, full of Mitch and Colin playing off each other and the odd surroundings right up until the final shot, even if there are occasional detours into weightier matters. Stephens and Katz break things up nicely, so that even though we are mostly sticking with the same two guys for an hour and a half and they're not changing all that much, they don't ever feel like they're repeating themselves aside from when they come back around to watching movies. Rather than dropping an endless supply of challenges on the pair, the movie is in many ways a stream of pleasures, from reunions to gourmet foot to photography to natural wonders. A nifty score by Keegan DeWitt and a soundtrack that pulls from Monster Rally's new album doesn't hurt, either.Doesn't sound like a bad way to spend ninety-odd minutes, does it? "Land Ho!" is a charmer of a movie, putting smiles on faces even as it lets the audience get to know these two guys well enough to make them good, interesting company.
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