Tag Archives: B

PRINCE AVALANCHE

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B

David Gordon Green, who abandoned his indie cachet to take on big Hollywood projects like “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness,” returns to his roots with this strangely affecting comedy-drama, which he’s adapted from Hafstenn Gunnar Sigurdsson’s Icelandic film “Either Way.” It’s a tale of new beginnings, something reflected in the backdrop—a burned-out Texas forest that will have to regenerate over time. But it’s also a story reflecting past journeys that have led to frustrations that require personal readjustments as well.

“Prince Avalanche”—a title more notable for its haunting sound than any literal meaning—is essentially a two-man show. It’s 1988, and Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are a pair of road maintenance workers painting center stripes and installing reflective mileage markers along a stretch of remote asphalt in an area of central Texas devastated by a 1987 blaze. They’re very different people. Alvin’s an A-type personality, endlessly working to improve himself and meticulously planning out every detail of his present and future, including wedded bliss with Lance’s sister Madison. He looks upon the solitary hours he spends at the job as a chance to read and commune with the outdoors, and writes long letters to Madison. He got the summer job for Lance, a guy only interested in broads and booze who’s bored stiff on the road and looks forward only to the times he can get away from their makeshift campsites and head back to town for another round of partying. No wonder they bicker and complain about one another like an old married couple.

The duo have little company as they go about their tedious work. Their only visitor is a grizzled trucker (Lance LeGault), who stops by to commiserate with them—he’s a member of the road crew, too—and offers them advice about women along with some whiskey. When Lance departs on Friday for a return to civilization, Alvin encounters another person on one of his rambles through the brush, a morose woman (Joyce Paine) who’s picking through the burnt-out frame of what was once her house. Later she’ll reappear with the trucker, whose reaction suggests that she might not be real at all.

There is a turning point in what passes for a plot, however, when Lance returns from his weekend. He’s in a surly mood, the reason for it being revealed over time. And he brings Alvin a letter from Madison which shreds his hopes and turns all his plans to dust. Both men are distraught over how things have turned out for them, and a brawl breaks out. But it quickly turns into something more like a drunken bonding session as they sympathize with one another’s plight.

“Prince Avalanche” is in many respects a kind of “Odd Couple” set in the great outdoors, and Green’s script is rich in alternately amusing and revealing dialogue, made somewhat arch by snatches of deliberately unusual diction. The actors seize on it with glee, Rudd veering from Felix Unger fussbudget to a genuinely pained, angry man with a skill those who have only seen him in fluff will find surprising, while Hirsch does the sloppy Oscar Madison bit nicely, gravitating toward a more introspective attitude toward the close. The late LeGault, to whom the film is dedicated, is a hoot in scenes that play like wild cadenzas, and Payne cuts an appropriately ambiguous figure.

As important to the picture as the cast are the technical contributions. Cinematographer Tim Orr uses the location—an area of Bastrop State Park that was turned into a wasteland by fires in the fall of 2011—brilliantly, periodically dropping painterly shots into images that have a workaday look and going for hand-held frenzy when the action heats up, while the background score by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky complements his work beautifully.

The result is a small-scaled film that offers an alternately funny and sad rumination on the fragility of human affairs. For though who feared that “Your Highness” was a catastrophe that Green might never overcome, it represents a modest but impressive reminder of what he’s capable of.

2 GUNS

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B

Mark Wahlberg and director Baltasar Kormakur came a-cropper with their first collaboration, the flaccid “Contraband,” but they strike paydirt with this follow-up, a buddy-cop action flick with a ludicrously convoluted plot but plenty of energy and good star chemistry. So long as you’re willing to buy into the premise that everyone and everything in America is corrupt—a notion that many viewers will quickly nod in agreement with nowadays—“2 Guns” delivers a barrage of firepower that’s hard to resist.

The picture opens with a scene at a diner in little Tres Cruces, New Mexico, that immediately establishes the rapport between amusingly solemn Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and garrulous goofball Stig Stigman (Wahlberg), a pair of crooks preparing to rob a bank across the street in an elaborate heist that involves jailing the local cops and setting the diner ablaze. After this setup, the picture backtracks to explain how the duo decided to empty a vault filled with proceeds from the drug operations of Mexican cartel overlord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), with whom they’ve established a business relationship. It’s also revealed that the guys aren’t the crooks they seem to be: Trench is an undercover DEA agent and Stig an operative for Naval Intelligence. Of course, each is ignorant of the other’s real identity.

The scheme goes off without a hitch—almost. It turns out that the vault contains not the three million the boys expected, but about forty million more than that. Trench and Stigman take it all, but facing off against one another afterward Stig shoots Trench—not fatally, of course—and delivers the cash to his superior Quince (James Marsden), who answers to their base commander, Admiral Tuwey (Fred Ward). Meanwhile Trench makes it back to his handler—and on-and-off girlfriend—Deb (Paula Patton), and their boss Jessup (Robert Lee Burke).

What neither man knows is that neither side of the equation is playing a straightforward game. And soon the guys are in serious trouble not only with their own organizations, but with Papa Greco and a mysterious operative named Earl (Bill Paxton), who may exude a down-home, aw-shucks Texas vibe but is more steely and ruthless than anybody else in the mix. All of this leads to an avalanche of action scenes—gunfights, car chases, kidnappings, torture interludes, explosions, and even—if you can believe it—a cattle stampede. The latter is just one part of a big finale that involves nearly all the characters and one razzle-dazzle stunt after another, including a totally gratuitous helicopter crash (along with plenty of bodies). It all feels like one of Walter Hill’s wackier macho efforts from the eighties.

“2 Guns” is obviously a giddily over-the-top affair that no one could take remotely seriously, but it works for a couple of reasons. One is that scripter Blake Masters, Kormakur and editor Michael Tronick manage to keep the twists and turns of the plot comprehensible, no matter how ridiculous they become. The other is that Washington and Wahlberg prove well-suited to one another. Though unlikely partners, they manage to express a sense of camaraderie beyond the machinations of the screenplay. And while Wahlberg, with his machine-gun string of nutty observations, gets the lion’s share of the funny lines, Washington is no slouch in delivering his humorous dialogue either. It’s at the moments that the narrative goes into serious mode (as with the stuff concerning Deb as damsel in distress) that things threaten to go off the rails. Happily those moments are few; there’s no deep subtext here to plumb.

The rest of the cast seems to be having a good time, too. Paxton takes pride of place with his drawling badass routine, but Olmos isn’t far behind. Patton and Marsden aren’t given anywhere near the same opportunity to shine, but Ward makes the most of what amounts to a cameo. Technically all is well, with expert stuntwork and effects and sterling widescreen cinematography by Oliver Wood, who uses the locations to superb effect.

“2 Guns” pays its respects to an obvious inspiration, Don Siegel’s 1973 “Charley Varrick,” and its script by Howard Rodman and Dean Reisner from John Reese’s “The Looters,” upfront in the bank heist sequences That’s probably cheaper than an actual credit, but at least it’s something for movie buffs to savor. Speaking of which, that Walter Matthau picture is well worth searching out if you haven’t seen it.