Movie a Day Blog has difficulty objectively viewing the work of alumnae of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, since I inevitably end up rooting for their success. That doesn’t mean I always like their movies, as Aaron Katz, the co-director of LAND HO!(2014) would attest since we turned down his submission of his first feature, DANCE PARTY (2006) for the RiverRun Film Festival.
Katz has since forgiven us (I hope!) and gone on to show his films at RiverRun, but more importantly, has gained international success as the director of QUIET CITY (2007) and COLD WEATHER (2010).
He is often described as a prime practitioner of the mumblecore sub-genre, small, quiet films about characters generally flailing about in their lives, and reflecting their characters, the films tend to be without much structure or purpose. I never thought the label fully fit Katz, who is more eccentric and funny at the beginning of his career than other mumblecore practitioners like Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers were at the outset of theirs.
LAND HO! is certainly the first geriatric mumblecore variant: two oldsters, wonderfully portrayed by Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn, take a road trip through highly scenic Iceland, gawking and ruminating, getting lost and finding some new parts of their selves. This type of film is very difficult to pull off: it doesn’t have the propulsive force of movie narrative that keeps a story chugging along, nothing much happens along the way, yet Eenhoorn’s character is a different man at the end of LAND HO!, and Nelson’s probably is, too.
Eenhorn is in LAND HO! because he starred in THIS IS MARTIN BONNER (2013), directed by Chad Hartigan another UNCSA alum director, and a good friend of Katz’s and his LAND HO! co-director, Martha Stephens, whom I also taught at UNCSA. These are wonderful skeins of connections between students who graduated in different classes, yet share a common preparatory experience.
Nelson was an amateur actor discovered by Stephens and featured in her previous two features, PILGRIM SONG (2010) and PASSENGER PIGEONS (2010), and he’s a natural in front of the camera. It’s his bigger-than-life personality, alternately intrusive and inspirational, that gives LAND HO! what energy it possesses, which turns out to be like the impressive geyser they visit: infrequent, but immensely enjoyable when it happens.
That pretty much sums up LAND HO!, which either you vibe to or you don’t. It’s not overly introspective, it avoids melodrama like the plague, feeling much more comfortable with awkward silence, and I laughed often and loudly. Katz and Stephens have melded their quite different sensibilities in their previous work toward a common goal, and I thought successfully so. As a meditation on aging, and acting your age, it was that rare commodity, an intelligent and funny road comedy. I’ll be watching where that road takes Katz and Stephens, two of the bigger talents to emerge from a program that has already produced David Gordon Green, Jeff Nichols, Jody Hill, Craig Zobel, Danny McBride and Travis Beacham. Not bad for a school only now just turning 20.