Filmmakers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, who have teamed up for Land Ho!, have individually premiered all of their previous features at SXSW Film Festival. They're each known for films where characters are deep in exploration -- about themselves but also perhaps, a mystery (Cold Weather, Passenger Pigeons) or even a landscape (Brooklyn in Quiet City, Kentucky in Pilgrim Song). In Land Ho! (which premiered at Sundance this year), the same type of exploration takes place -- this time in Iceland -- with two primary characters who are gentlemen in their retirement years. It's a change for Katz, whose characters are usually in their late teens/early twenties.
No matter what the age of the characters, however, Stephens and Katz sustain the audience's interest in the type of story that sounds terribly slow and dull when explained in print, but is very rewarding as it unfolds onscreen. Two retired brothers-in-law, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), couldn't be more different. Mitch is a brash New Orleans doctor who loves talking to people -- and he has no filters -- smoking pot and unabashedly admiring women. Colin is a quiet, thoughtful Australian, frequently embarrassed or annoyed by Mitch. The two embark on a trip to Iceland together, beginning in Reykjavik and heading to less populated locales.
The focus of Land Ho! is the relationship between the Mitch and Colin, and how they affect one another, and where that leads over the course of the movie. The chief entertainment value is Mitch's dialogue, which is often outrageous and eye-opening (I had never heard steak compared to the female anatomy before). Of course, the film's best moments occur when he's not that way, but the conversation is never dull.
Set in a gritty Brooklyn neighborhood during a cold, gray January, The Drop is a twisty crime drama that glooms along at a measured pace. The somber experience is elevated by the skillful performances of the lead actors, and it must be said, by the presence of a pit bull puppy who helps drive the action and counterbalance the moral decay around him.
Don't worry, director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) hasn't turned sentimental on us. The world he shows us here is a mean one. Justice comes in the form of bad things happening to bad people, but since nothing good really happens to anyone, these moments are hollow victories.
In his last film performance, James Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a bar manager bullied into misery by Chechen crime bosses. Tom Hardy is Bob, a stoic bartender, and Noomi Rapace is Nadia, a down-on-her-luck waitress. Life is far from ideal for any of them (there are very few smiles in this movie), but all have strong survival instincts and are doing their best to get ahead.
That's where wildcard Eric Deeds comes in. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts with a truly frightening combination of unpredictability and charisma, Eric's presence and actions pull everyone into a defensive pattern of starts and stops. Though physically much different than he was in Bullhead, Schoenaerts is just as intense here -- he and Roskam make a good team when it comes to skillfully pummeling an audience with a dark story.
One of my favorite movies so far this year has been The One I Love. I was going to preface the film's title with a summary of its genre -- for example, "the delightful romantic comedy" or "the taut suspense thriller" but as you know if you've heard anything about the movie, the less said the better. It defies genre, and is just as twisty as last year's smart horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods. Check out Marcie's vague but heartfelt review for -- well, not details exactly, but at least a recommendation.
Director Charlie McDowell and actor/producer Mark Duplass were in Austin last month to promote the movie, which opened in Austin at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar last Friday and will continue through next Wednesday, at least. You can also catch it on various online VOD outlets. As you probably know, Mark and his brother Jay Duplass used to live in Austin, back in their Puffy Chair days, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to sit down with these gentlemen and talk about the film ... to the extent that is possible without spoiling it. We also talked about release strategies and at the end, Austin itself.
Slackerwood: The biggest question on my mind is ... how do you talk about this movie in public, in interviews and so forth?
Mark Duplass: We've become experts. We talk a lot about the themes of the movie, and we talk about the process, and we talk a lot about what it's been like -- trying to market a movie with limited information in a marketplace where you're just trying desperately to get people into the movie theater, so you're saying more and more and more and more ... and how can you do it when all you can say is very little? All kinds of ways to talk about it.
By now you have had the chance to see The Dog, one of Drafthouse Films' most intriguing acquisitions this year. If not, you can watch it online via Amazon or Vimeo. Released in theaters last month, the documentary covers the remarkable character John Wojtowicz, aka "The Dog," inspiration for the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon about a man who robbed a bank pay for his male lover's gender reassignment surgery. I saw the movie during SXSW earlier this year.
Stunned after watching the intimate portrait from Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, I made my way to meet them during SXSW, at the end of a hotel hallway across from another room where (ironically) Snoop Dogg was also meeting the press. Here's the transcript of our two-on-one interview.
Slackerwood: John Wojtowicz died in 2006. What work or shooting on the film have you done since then?
Frank Keraudren: The first four years we shot John exclusively, maybe a little bit of his mother. After that, we had this blueprint of the film, which was a long monologue with a lot of empty spots on the screen. We had already looked up other people that we wanted to find. It took a long time to track down people, but after John passed away we interviewed all the other people who appear in the film. He knew we were going to talk to them. He was perfectly fine with it, but I think while he was alive a lot of them had been antagonized by him to the point that they didn't really want to deal with him. So that dictated the sequence of events, and it allowed us to flesh out the film and explore scenes like the prison sequence we couldn't really build without finding George, who was the third wife that he married in prison, and stuff like that.
So why did The Last of Robin Hood leave me completely cold and even slightly disgusted?
This story about Flynn's last days and his relationship with Beverly Aadland, whom he met when she was 15, feels pointless and even occasionally dull. Perhaps it's meant to be another installment in a series of Realistic Portrayals of Stories from Hollywood Babylon, along with The Cat's Meow ... but that movie had style, humor and character depth that this movie lacks. Filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland portrayed teenage characters much more successfully in their previous feature, Quinceanera.
Dakota Fanning plays young Beverly, whom Flynn nicknames Woodsie, his "little wood nymph." He falls for her, she succumbs after an unbelievably rough start ... and more unbelievably, the relationship is aided and abetted by her mother, Florence (Sarandon), a stage mother who is willing to overlook a little statuatory rape to gain her daughter stardom, riches and prestige.
The story opens with Beverly arriving back in LA after Flynn's death "in her arms" in Vancouver, facing a vicious pack of press. Florence is approached by a biographer, and most of the movie is told in flashback with her voiceover. This method works terribly -- the voiceover is painfully obvious, and it's impossible to tell whether we're seeing the story as Florence would tell it, or if it's meant to be more objective.
Firmly ensconced in the Great Depression, a young destitute couple is faced with a tough choice -- how to survive with two newborn sons when they can barely feed themselves -- in the drama The Identical. William Hemsley (Brian Geraghty) finds the answer at a evangelical tent service as the preacher Reece Wade (Ray Liotta) reveals that his wife Louise (Ashley Judd) is barren. The Hemsleys give one of their sons to the Wades with the promise that neither boy is to know of the other until after their biological parents pass away.
Blake Rayne debuts as the twin brothers who live very different lives. Drexel Hemsley achieves fame and fortune as a rock and roll star. Ryan Wade grows up under the ever watchful eye of his preacher father and patient mother. He tries to please his father by becoming part of the ministry, but he knows that it's not the true calling that he hears and shares with his estranged brother -- that of music.
Few films explore the creative process as insightfully -- and bizarrely -- as Frank.
A strange, genre-defying mix of dark and slapstick comedy, Frank follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a struggling British musician whose life is forever changed when he joins an avant-garde pop band with an unpronounceable name, the Soronprfbs.
As the band spends months recording a new album in a remote cabin in Ireland, Jon discovers his bandmates are enormously talented and predictably oddball. Singer and theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a snarling terror. Drummer Nana (Carla Azar) says almost nothing (we sense this may be a good thing), and bass player Baraque (François Civil) is a snooty Frenchman who apparently speaks only in insults. But the oddest of the lot is Frank (Michael Fassbender), a charismatic but emotionally disturbed lead singer who, afraid to face the world directly, wears a giant papier-mâché head at all times.
It's so hard to not know what a film is about these days. Trailers, social media, even overhearing a conversation can ruin a film in an instant for a person. But one thing that caught my attention about The One I Love is that I not only had no clue what it was about -- no one else seemed to know either. It's hard for me to figure out how to review this film without giving too much away, because I feel that that is what makes it so unique. The element of surprise is one that can so easily be ruined, so I'll try my best to watch my details.
Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) have been married for several years. The film opens with a lovely anecdote by Duplass about how the two met, and how they fell in love instantly. But, like most couples, they've hit a wall in their relationship. They need something to "renew" their spark. Per the suggestion of a marriage counselor (Ted Danson), they seek out a long weekend retreat in the mountains of California. Just the two of them... or so they believe.
Ari Folman, director of the bleak animated history Waltz with Bashir, adapted a novella by acclaimed Russian author Stanislaw Lem for the screen in the movie The Congress. Folman's take on Lem's The Futurological Congress is only vaguely true to the source material. Instead of a male hero, we have actress Robin Wright... playing actress Robin Wright. If only this cinematic work didn't hold the talented actress back. While Lem's novella is (supposedly, I haven't read it) a black comedy, Folman's half-animated film is dark and troubling.
Bravo to the director for selecting an older -- by Hollywood standards, anyway -- actress to base this film around. Much is made of Wright's Texan background and decision to age naturally; actually, much is said about Wright, as she sits silently and takes criticism. To put it in terms today's teens will recognize, there is a lot of mansplaining going on here.
Conversations in the first half of The Congress happen to her, with men spouting monologues about their early lives or breaking down for her the mistakes she made in her career. The film opens to Wright quietly crying as her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) berates her for her faulty decision-making. These men want what's best for her, you see. They just want to profit off her as well.
Wright is convinced by her agent and studio head Jeff Green (Danny Huston, John Adams, Children of Men) to have herself scanned so Miramount Studios will own her image for 20 years. During that period of time, she can't act, but can do whatever else she likes. She almost refuses, worrying that "the gift of choice" is taken from her if she signs. But at no point in this film does it ever seem that she is given any choice. She signs the contract because her son is ill, falling into the archetype of the weary, long-suffering mother. Wright's character has no desires or wants for herself, no power and no real agency.
The Trip to Italy is easily the most sumptuous movie of this year, taking us to fine restaurants with stunning Italian surroundings as we listen to a soundtrack of classical music.
But like a tasty meal with somewhat stingy portions, The Trip to Italy isn't fully satisfying. Or at least not as satisfying as its predecessor, the hilarious 2010 film The Trip.
The sequel reunites Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and writer/director Michael Winterbottom for another culinary-centered road trip, this one to the Italian locales of Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. (Like The Trip, The Trip to Italy is a theatrical cut of a three-hour, six-part BBC TV series.) Coogan and Brydon once again play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour Italy in search of great food, lodging and sightseeing. To give their adventure some literary gravitas, they travel to sites visited by the English romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent time together in Italy starting in 1818.