Saturday, November 30, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Prince Avalanche (2013) ***½

R, 94 min.
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: David Gordon Green, Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigur∂sson (film “Either Way”)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne

“Sometimes I can do things that aren’t really possible.”—Alvin, “Prince Avalanche”

Perhaps that’s what writer/director David Gordon Green thought when he decided to abandon his indie film roots and start making stupid big budget stoner comedies. Like most others, I very much enjoyed the stoner ramblings of “Pineapple Express”; but Green’s next two outings “Your Highness” and “The Sitter” were two of the worst movies of the past five years. What’s worse, Green seemed to abandon the ideals that had made him a unique and imaginative artistic force in his previous work. Because of this, “Prince Avalanche” is more than just a return to form for one of the most promising film artists of the Aughts, but it is a reassurance that he hasn’t totally lost his mind and bought into the Hollywood machine.

The film is set several months after a devastating 43,000-acre forest fire in Texas. It focuses on two road workers who are in the fire area to restore the roads with fresh centerlines and reflector posts. They work very independently, camping out in the ravaged forest just beginning to show signs of new growth and life. Set in the late 80s, everything is still done pretty much by hand, without the automation we’d expect from such a job today. The older worker is in a relationship with the younger man’s older sister. He’s hired the boy on as a favor and finds little potential in the boy. Still the two go at a daily grind in their slow and tedious task.

I think the whole film may just be an examination of what it is to be a male human. Each man represents a different aspect of the male personality. Isolated as they are in the wilderness, many of the typical testosterone driven traits of being male never really enter into it. There isn’t the physical posturing often found in male behavior, although it rears its head when it’s called for. The older man represents the more content form of maleness. He has no problem being silent. He’s set in his ways. He enjoys being alone. The younger one only thinks about partying and sex, neither of which can be found in spades in the charred out remains of the mountainside.

However, at their core they are just two boys playing around in the woods. They lie and they pretend and they get into petty fights. When things get more serious they are there for each other despite their differences. Theirs is a warm and pure existence, which is also how I would describe the movie at its core. Green has once again found the childlike themes of adults that so permeated his early output. His cinematographer, Tim Orr, has also been released once again to fill Green’s canvas with beautiful images and a distinct atmosphere of cold rainy destruction that is once again birthing the childlike nature of these two men. It isn’t the mind-blowing success of Green’s freshman outing “George Washington”, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to that than watching Jonah Hill bash his way through an inferior R-rated version of “Adventures in Babysitting”.

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