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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: Prince Avalanche

David Gordon Green is back in arthouse form with the lovely and effervescent Prince Avalanche, a methodically paced, gorgeously shot buddy/road trip/ghost story loosely adapted from the Icelandic film Either Way. Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are stuck out in the middle of nowhere, living out of their tent and highway maintenance truck as they wend their way slowly down an endless ribbon of stagnant highway, methodically painting yellow line after yellow line in a hypnotic rhythm, interspersed with a staccato bang, bang, bang as they hammer metal poles with reflectors alongside the highway, marking their path as they go.

They make an odd couple. Alvin, who fancies himself to be smarter and therefore better than the rather dense Lance, studies German on audiotapes, blaring his lessons from an giant boombox as they work, while Lance complains that it’s putting him to sleep. Alvin’s self-righteously set on self-improvement and study; he’s a bookish, reclusive sort of guy, and he’s using this job at least in part, it seems, as a justified way of having space and solitude from his stagnant relationship with his girlfriend, Lance’s sister. Lance, on the other hand, aspires to neither big thoughts nor big dreams, and finds the endless stretches of quiet and loneliness, with no one but Alvin for company, to be excruciatingly dull. Lance’s tastes are simple: he likes beer, comic books, loud music, hot chicks, and “getting the little man squeezed.” He only has this job because Alvin is doing his girlfriend a favor – and perhaps because it makes Alvin feel important to be able to impart his own brand of knowledge and wisdom onto this guy he perceives to be beneath himself. With Lance, Alvin can play the role of mentor — a role, one suspects, that he otherwise has few opportunities to play.

The one thing that breaks up the dull routine is the semi-regular appearance of a crusty old character driving another truck around the area, who stops by periodically to offer sage advice, humor and bottles of moonshine to help the time slip past faster. Along the way, the film veers slightly off the lane of odd couple buddy film and into a ghost story of sorts, when Alvin encounters an old woman sifting through the rubble of her burned-to-the-ground house. “Sometimes I feel like I’m digging through the ashes of my life,” she tells him – but whether that sad and lovely line refers to her or to Alvin is left for us to sort out. Later on, Alvin and Lance see the woman get into the old man’s truck, but he denies that anyone is there. Is she a ghost? Are they both?

There is humor here, but of the gentle, nudging, self-aware kind more than broad slapstick, save for one scene toward the end that injects a quick dose of mostly painless comic relief. But mostly there is an excavation of character going on here, as Alvin sorts and sifts through his own understanding of who he is and his place in the world. A letter for Alvin forces him to reassess things he thought he knew, causing him to dig through his own ashes in search of the answers to where he’s veered off track. A confrontation with Lance further shakes things up for him, shattering his view of himself as the one who has it all together.

Prince Avalanche was shot in Bastrop State Park in central Texas not long after wildfires devastated the area, and blackened, fallen trees and road kill create an interesting visual juxtaposition against tentative new growth, evoking a cycle of life and death, destruction and new birth. The color yellow appears symbolically throughout, from the bright yellow paint used to paint fresh dividing lines on old asphalt to equally bright wildflowers sprouting up out of ashes and charred remains of trees. Green is working less in the territory of non-stop-laughs bromance (and thank goodness for that) and back to working more in the artsy realm of the calm and quiet, the metaphoric and visually evocative. And working with the beautiful and poetic, for me, is exactly where this often brilliant, sometimes frustrating filmmaker belongs.

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“I was 15 when I first watched Sally Hardesty escape into the back of a pickup truck, covered in blood and cackling like a goddamn witch. All of her friends were dead. She had been kidnapped, tortured and even forced to feed her own blood to her cannibalistic captors’ impossibly shriveled patriarch. Being new to the horror genre, I was sure she was going to die. It had been a few months since I survived a violent sexual assault, where I subsequently ran from my assailant, tripped, fell and fought like hell. I crawled home with bloody knees, makeup-stained cheeks and a new void in both my mind and heart. My sense of safety, my ability to trust others, my willingness to form new relationships and my love of spending time with people I cared about were all taken from me. It wasn’t until I found the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that something clicked. It was Sally’s strength, and her resilience. It was watching her survive blows to the head from a hammer. It was watching her break free from her bonds and burst through a glass window. It was watching her get back up after she’d been stabbed. It was watching her crawl into the back of a truck, laughing as it drove away from Leatherface. She was the last one to confront the killer, and live. I remember sitting in front of the TV and thinking, There I am. That’s me.”
~ Lauren Milici On “The Final Girl”

“‘Thriller’ enforced its own reality principle; it was there, part of the every commute, a serenade to every errand, a referent to every purchase, a fact of every life. You didn’t have to like it, you only had to acknowledge it. By July 6, 1984, when the Jacksons played the first show of their ‘Victory’ tour, in Kansas City, Missouri, Jacksonism had produced a system of commodification so complete that whatever and whoever was admitted to it instantly became a new commodity. People were no longer comsuming commodities as such things are conventionally understood (records, videos, posters, books, magazines, key rings, earrings necklaces pins buttons wigs voice-altering devices Pepsis t-shirts underwear hats scarves gloves jackets – and why were there no jeans called Bille Jeans?); they were consuming their own gestures of consumption. That is, they were consuming not a Tayloristic Michael Jackson, or any licensed facsimile, but themselves. Riding a Mobius strip of pure capitalism, that was the transubstantiation.”
~ Greil Marcus On Michael Jackson