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Land Ho! (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

LAND HO! (2014)

Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Alice Olivia Clarke

Written and Directed By: Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens

The Short Version

Two senior citizens hit the road in Iceland to do some soul-searching… and some doobies.

There’s much more to it than that, if you care to look.

It’s not Hollywood; it’s humanity.

Paul Eenhoorn anchors the film through strength of craft, even while others are talking.

Land Ho! is well worth your time, and your contemplation afterward.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GARLIC & HERB BRIE.

Light enough for the party and sophisticated enough to think about.  Garlic for sharpness, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the “herb.”


Pairs Well With...

ROSÉ.

With a bite of pepper.

“Well guess what?”


Ah, the good old fashioned road movie.  Two or more people head off to parts unfamiliar, have a zany adventure that may or may not involve tossing a mattress off of a Las Vegas rooftop, and learn a little bit about life, the universe, everything, Zen, and the art of motorcycle maintenance along the way.

Land Ho! is and is not that movie.  Oh, it’s got the premise and the basic outline down, but in terms of how it plays out… that’s a different kettle of fish altogether.  Whether or not that fish is tasty depends upon how one chooses to approach the experience.

Approach it like a jaded critic, and you might see a film with a great premise, solid story elements, a mixed cast, and execution that doesn’t quite finish, even at the subplot level.

Approach it like a regular human being – say the sort for whom half the fun of going to Starbucks or some other such place is watching all of the other people – and you might see something else: something personal, something with heart, something real.

Last time I checked, I’m not made of jade.  Land Ho! isn’t Hollywood; it’s humanity, and that’s refreshing.

The premise is as simple as it gets.  Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) are ex-brothers in law with little in common save for the fact that their former wives were sisters.  (Mitch is divorced; Colin is a widower.)  Out of the blue, Mitch surprises Colin with an all-expenses-paid trip to Iceland, and hilarity – and humanity – ensues.

Nothing new, right?

Had a big Hollywood studio bankrolled Land Ho! from the start, that probably would be true.  But the indie-minded writing and directing team of Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens have something else in mind.  The familiarity of Land Ho! isn’t the sort one feels because one has seen this in dozens of other movies (the situations never quite play out according to standard formula); it’s the sort one feels because one knows someone just that guy on the screen in real life, even if that someone one knows isn’t necessarily a guy and isn’t necessarily white of mane.

Neat trick, that.

In theory, Land Ho! belongs to Earl Lynn Nelson and his character of Mitch.  After all, Mitch has the loudest voice and he’s not afraid to use it to bluster at and over everyone else at nearly every opportunity, which, by extension, also happens to give him most of the dialogue.  (Think “frat boy” meets “senior citizen without a filter,” toss in an American Southern accent, and you’ll have a pretty clear picture.)  He’d also be straight up insufferable if not for two things.  First, there’s the fact that Earl Lynn Nelson puts forth such an honest performance that one can’t help but recognize Mitch as that one friend or relative every last human being in the English speaking world seems required to have.  The character is utterly obnoxious, but he’s still likable, for the most part – at least for the space of an hour and a half.

Second, it’s not really Mitch’s movie.  The fact of the matter is that Land Ho! belongs to quiet Colin and the man who plays him, Paul Eenhoorn, who also happens to be the film’s most accomplished actor with his decades-long resume.  Nelson may do most of the talking, but Eenhoorn provides the gravitas to anchor things down.  (Want proof?  Watch the scenes where Mitch is present and Colin is not.  The difference is huge.)  It’s a subtle thing – on the surface, Colin is just as much of a regular guy as Mitch, only calmer, better-mannered, and far less outwardly aggressive – but the subtlety is exactly what makes it all work.  Eenhoorn doesn’t make a point of going out of his way to show that he’s far and away the best actor present; instead, he uses his talents to lift everyone else’s game along with his own.  Without him, Land Ho! falls apart, its gaps exposed and its lighter resumes showing; with him, though, the positives take center stage, along with the pure humanity of it all.

And so, when the standard setups don’t go where the audience might expect them to go (I’m absolutely certain that you won’t be expecting what happens after Colin finally relents to peer pressure and accepts Mitch’s invitation to smoke a joint, for example), it’s not a disappointment, or cause to lament a failure to follow formula.  Thanks to the particular energy that Paul Eenhoorn brings to the picture, the work of Katz and Stephens can be appreciated for what it truly is rather than what Hollywood has trained the world to think it should be.  What it is is a slice of how real life plays out, where not every moment is zany, where Mike Tyson’s tiger never has cause to show up, and where not every detail discussed is either on point to a central theme or brought to a clear resolution.  Some things are worked out; others are not.  Every character grows in some way, but the threads are never tied off.  (Raise your hand if you’re expecting there to be a shot of the plane taking our boys back home from Iceland.)  From a critical viewpoint of checking off the boxes required for standard storytelling, Land Ho! could be considered infuriating… but if one takes a step back, that’s how life’s stories really are.  The trip doesn’t have to end for the tale at hand to have done its job.  Each and every scene, from the always-awkward meals to the frequent games of film trivia to the decidedly non-avant garde tour of the art museum, is completely, utterly honest.

Honest, refreshing, and thought provoking. And yes, heartwarming and fun and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, too… even taking into account the occasions where one might be tempted to reach for the duct tape if Mitch says just one more word.  Besides, he does figure it out eventually.

Can’t abandon the entire formula, after all, can we?

Bottom line, Land Ho! isn’t the “two old men on the road” movie that you might be expecting, and it’s all the better for it.  Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens have brought something special to the screen, and Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson use their very different talents and perspectives to give it a spark of life that sets it further apart from other representatives of its genre.  If you’re ready to step away from the explosions and the superheroes for an hour and a half, Land Ho! is definitely worth your time, and your contemplation afterward.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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