Revisiting Gems: #3 Prince Avalanche (2013)

This is a film that nobody saw coming, and erm… nobody saw. Which is a travesty considering how complete it is as a film. Perhaps the notion of spending ninety minutes with two characters who paint the lines on roads for a living didn’t excite too many. Not to worry though, as this movie is so much more than that. As mentioned Paul Rudd’s Alvin and Emile Hirsch’s Lance are two men who spend their summer painting the road, not just anywhere, but in a forested area which has been devastated by a fire. Alvin is a true outdoors-man who thoroughly enjoys the solitude that accompanies the job at hand. He dates Lance’s sister, and seems to genuinely love her. However, maybe at times he is too wrapped up in himself and his peace and quiet away from the world that he loses track of the important and real things in his life. Lance is not quite as sweet, is much younger than Alvin, in fact barely an adult, and yearns for the weekends when he gets to return to the town. Lance may be doing all the wrong things, seemingly having little respect for girls, and hooking up with his friend Kip’s girlfriend, but Hirsch brings a warmth to the character. He’s not an out and out bad guy, merely a young man lost in the world, and as a viewer, you cannot help but sympathise with his struggle to find his way.

These two very opposite characters, both flawed in their own ways, could have made for an extremely cliched film. However, the stellar performances from both leads means it never strays into such territory. There is a genuine warmth and a true emotional heart to the film, with the events unfolding in a seemingly natural way. Nothing is forced.

Tragedy looms large over the whole film, always there in the background, both metaphorically and literally. It shapes the film and thus the characters. One stand out scene is when the pair meet an elderly woman in a red sunhat who is searching through the ash of what used to be her home looking for her pilot’s log book. It’s heartbreaking, and what makes it even more fascinating is that the story was real. The crew stumbled upon her searching her now destroyed home for her log book, and asked her to be in the film. A wonderful moment that rips at the heart strings.

Perhaps the best scene in the whole film is when Rudd’s Alvin spends a few moments acting out a scene in the burnt remains of a house. He’s trying to recreate life in a now lifeless place. He’s entertaining himself, perhaps distracting himself from the loneliness of the life he currently leads. It’s magical. It’s haunting. It’s astounding. For the rest of the film it stays with you, much like the poor woman in the red sunhat, and it looms over the audience the same way it looms over the characters. David Gordon Green must be given credit for much of this. As director and screenwriter, he blends tragedy and comedy, splatters of romance and drama, into a unique mix that very few films manage to achieve. It’s consistent, the characters are real, and a film you can’t look away from. For such a low budget movie, there’s no real higher praise. You simply have to sit back and let the beauty of the film flow over you, taking every joyous moment with every crushing defeat.

It’s only been a few years since this film was released, but there is reward in re-watching it, unlike many recent movies. In another ten years there’s no doubt it’ll be looked back on may be not as a classic, but as a very solid, under-appreciated gem.

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Revisiting Gems: #2 Requiem for a Dream (2000)

*Spoilers ahead*

Arguably the first of Darren Aronofsky’s masterpieces, Requiem was a hard hitting ‘drug’ film following the highs and lows of four addicts, which shot its director as well as actor Jared Leto into super-stardom. Looking back now fifteen years later, does Requiem continue to disturb and amaze?

Short answer: Yes. The direction of Aronofsky remains excellent, with the increased number of frames and use of split screen continuing to be exemplary. The shots of the drug taking are still amazing and really add to the aura of the film. It’s a perfectly toned piece, with no part out of place. The four main performances remain truly magnificent also. Jared Leto’s Harry could easily be a truly horrible character, he barely visits his mother and when he does he steals from her; he’s a drug addict who is willing to allow his girlfriend to sell her body for drugs. However, Leto manages to make his actions at least partially redeemable. Sure he does all these horrific things but it’s all for love, he’s trying to provide for the love of his life. Obviously though, what he is trying to provide is drugs. Jennifer Connelly’s Marion is in the same boat as Harry, a drug addict but one who is in love. They’re perfectly destructive for each other.

Perhaps the two stand out performances though are by Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn. Wayans plays Tyrone, an addict friend of Harry’s who just wants to escape where he came from and honor his late mother. Wayans often gets a lot of criticism for his acting but this performance no doubt proves his abilities. Burstyn’s Sara is the mother of Harry who gets a phonecall telling her she’s going to be on the television. This leads to an accidental drug-fueled breakdown over the course of the film as she aims to fit into the red dress she wore at her son’s graduation which she hopes to wear on television. She is the most sympathetic character in the film, an unwitting victim of addiction, who you are really rooting for. All the lead characters have something to hold onto which makes the audience want to see them succeed, but Aronofsky’s film is not one to take the easy way out. Based on the book of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr, Requiem highlights that actions have consequences, especially when it comes to drugs.

It’s a heartbreaking, at times excruciating, watch, but it still remains essential viewing. It has stood the test of time, and is up there with the best films Aronofksy and the cast have been involved with.