That “Mistaken for Strangers” dances along that tightrope so deftly is surely because it was made by Tom Berninger, who, as the younger brother of National lead singer Matt Berninger, suffers from the complex amalgam of pride, envy, resentment and affection one might expect from the striving sibling of a rock star.
In 2010, the National was embarking on the biggest tour of its career; Matt, who grew up in a prosperous family in Cincinnati, invited Tom — nine years younger and, in terms of self-presentation, worlds away from Matt’s cooler-than-thou demeanor — to come along as part of the road team. (In the big-budget comedy version, Matt would be played by Aaron Eckhart with a five o’clock shadow; Tom, without a doubt, would be played by Zach Galifianakis. Get on it, Hollywood!)
The twist is that, as Tom confesses early in “Mistaken for Strangers,” he’s not a big fan of the National. He prefers Judas Priest. He also has some long-buried issues with his brother that inevitably come to the fore during their sojourn in Europe, heightened by the fact that Matt’s four bandmates also happen to be brother duos. What might have been just another anodyne promo piece or solipsistic valentine instead becomes a funny, eccentric and finally deeply poignant depiction of art, family, self-sabotage and the prickly intricacies of brotherly love.
Even with its fascinating psychological subtext, “Mistaken for Strangers” rewards fans with plenty of footage of the National performing, as well as some priceless Spinal Tappish moments between the bumbling Tom and his hip but somberly businesslike employers. (Trying to lure the band’s drummer into partying with him, Tom shares his observations about Matt and the rest: “They seem so coffeehouse and you seem so metal.”)
Once the band returns stateside, the plot thickens and the film opens up, with Tom interviewing his and Matt’s parents about their differences as kids, and revealing more about the National’s tough early years. (“Mistaken for Strangers” has benefited from co-editing by Matt’s wife, Carin Besser, and the expert guidance of executive producer Marshall Curry.) With its tight running time of just over an hour, “Mistaken for Strangers” saves the very best for last, in a triumphantly moving final sequence that somehow explains everything there is to know about two guys who, despite radically different temperaments and tastes, always have each other’s back. -- A.H.
Unrated. Contains brief mild profanity. 75 minutes. Available through Amazon Instant, iTunes and on-demand cable.
There are some real gems in Entertainment Weekly’s March 21 cover story on “criminally underrated” movies, television shows, albums, books and games, with stars such as Tilda Swinton weighing in with their own highly idiosyncratic recommendations of unsung entertainment options. (“Idiocracy,” yes! “Gentleman Broncos,” huh?)
Buried deep inside the print edition is a list of underrated foreign horror films, courtesy of the magazine’s editorial staff. One entry, “Dead Snow,” comes with this intriguing summary: “Nazi zombies terrorize Norway.”
Having followed with some interest the recent explosion of Nordic horror epitomized by the stylish Swedish vampire flick “Let the Right One In” and the darkly comic Finnish fable “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” I had to check out “Dead Snow.” I’m pleased to report that this Scandinavian entry in the zom-com genre — a mix of blood, guts and laughs along the lines of “Shaun of the Dead” — does not disappoint.
It begins with all of the right ingredients: a group of young people in a remote cabin with no cellphone service and a creepy local elder (Bjorn Sundquist) who clues them in to the “evil presence” that lurks in the woods. In this case, the old man’s warning also comes with something of a history lesson. The lingering malevolence is the presence of 300 undead German troops who were driven into the snow-covered mountains by angry Norwegian townsfolk during the Nazis’ World War II occupation of their country. Apparently, they’re still fighting for the motherland.
If it sounds silly, it is, but in the best way. Gags include the sight of a helmeted zombie trying to take a bite of one snow-suited victim, and coming up with a mouthful of goose down. In another equally absurd scene, one of the protagonists is shown rappelling off the edge of a cliff to safety — via a zombie’s unspooling intestines.
Yes, it’s ridiculously gory, with one sequence showing one of the human heroes amputating his own arm with a chain saw after it has become infected by a zombie bite. (Don’t worry, he’s a medical student, so he knows what he’s doing.)
Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola brings a lighter touch to “Dead Snow” than he demonstrated with his English-language debut, last year’s big-budget fairy-tale spoof “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.” Let’s hope that he hasn’t entirely lost the ability to laugh at himself, or to make a B movie. After a warm reception at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead” should be popping up on demand soon enough. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains obscenity, sensuality and plentiful gore. 91 minutes. In Norwegian with subtitles. Available through Amazon Instant, Netflix and HitBliss.
Last month, writer-director Jono Oliver found himself up against Academy Award nominee Lee Daniels and Oscar winner Steve McQueen for the directing prize during the NAACP’s annual Image Awards. Not bad for a first-time feature filmmaker.
Compared to his big-budget competition of “12 Years a Slave,” Oliver’s movie, “Home,” is a much more understated dramatic experience. But it’s no less affecting. The strength of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, a Washington-area native who had a memorable turn as Chris Partlow on “The Wire.” Akinnagbe plays Jack, a 30-something man who struggles with mental illness. Jack is sufficiently medicated to keep a job as a courier, but not yet well enough to move out of the group home where he has made friends and been well cared for.
Jack has a sudden urge to move out and leave group therapy behind. He wants to form a better relationship with his son and also prove that he can function without a safety net. But nothing is going to be easy. Jack has had violent episodes in the past, and his ex-wife and doctors have doubts that he’ll ever be fully self-sufficient. Meanwhile, finding a New York apartment for $550 a month will prove nearly impossible.
Some of Oliver’s directing can be needlessly fancy enough to call attention to itself. But “Home” deals with an important topic we don’t see enough onscreen, and the movie’s depiction of mental illness is sympathetic without pulling punches. We see the world through Jack’s eyes, which allows us to both root for him and fear that he may not, in fact, be ready for his own place. The supporting cast is first-rate, including another “Wire” alum, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and James McDaniel, who plays Jack’s no-nonsense doctor.
Oliver is off to a promising start. Let’s hope it’s enough to get his next go-round a wider theatrical release. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains some troubling images and depictions of mental illness. 112 minutes. Available on DVD and on-demand cable on March 25.
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