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Movie Review

Cold Weather

Cold Weather
Come to "Cold Weather" expecting a good mystery, and you'll likely leave disappointed. But keep an open mind to this genre mash-up—which brings together elements of comedy, noir, and the love-it-or-hate-it mumblecore movement—and you'll recognize that writer-director Aaron Katz's latest is a beautifully shot, expertly paced little film that surprises throughout and represents a great leap forward for its creator. Katz is one of the directors most closely associated with mumblecore, the ultra-low-budget style of filmmaking that emerged in the last decade and is widely associated with the South by Southwest Film Festival and a DIY ethic. Katz's two previous features—2006's "Dance Party, USA" and 2007's "Quiet City"—are considered foundation pieces of the genre. But in "Cold Weather," the filmmaker builds on his previous efforts, conversational movies that focused more on dialogue than story, to tell a story that feels at times Hollywood, at others Austin.

As "Cold Weather" opens, we're introduced to Doug and Gail, siblings and roommates who recently moved from Chicago to their native Portland, Ore. Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is back in town for the sort of unremarkable office job that is a necessary drudgery for so many American 20-somethings (especially in the movies). Doug (Cris Lankenau) is back because Gail is back. A college dropout who studied forensic science and devours Sherlock Holmes novels, Doug is adrift, neither happily nor unhappily. He takes a job working the night shift at an ice factory, where he befriends Carlos (Raúl Castillo) a hobbyist DJ and closet "Star Trek" nerd. When Doug's ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) shows up in Portland, the four form the beginnings of a social clique, engaging in their fair share of sitting around and chatting over card games and diner milk shakes.

Then, just when you think that "Cold Weather" is that kind of movie, it suddenly isn't. Rachel vanishes, and her disappearance brings out Doug's inner Holmes, with Gail and Carlos taking turns as Watson. A briefcase full of money, a mystery man in a cowboy hat, and a thieving pornographer crop up, but the film never quite loses its casual, comic charm. Lankenau is fantastic and funny as Doug, whose arms and head hang straight down when he walks, and who is nerdy and slackery without being too much of either. Dunn brings a spot-on elder-sister vibe to her scenes with Lankenau, and Castillo is great as the X-factor character who challenges Doug while serving comfortably as his sidekick.

"Cold Weather" never quite rises to Holmes (or Phillip Marlowe) level, but that feels intentional. Katz is riffing on the mystery element without fully embracing it, using it as a way to play with characters that he obviously has a great deal of affection for. If the plot were ratcheted up, it would risk consuming those characters. Instead, Katz gives himself space to linger—on long and lovely shots of the Pacific Coast, on comic tangents about pipe-smoking and driving skills. Call it patience, call it indulgence, but "Cold Weather" is a better film for it.

Genre: Drama

Written and directed by: Aaron Katz

Starring: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raúl Castillo, Robyn Rikoon.

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