Prince Avalanche (2013)

★★★★

Director: David Gordon Green

Release Date: August 9th, 2013 (US limited); October 18th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Comedy; Drama

Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch

There’s something profound about Prince Avalanche. As of yet I’m not entirely sure what it is. Perhaps the unavoidable sense of insignificance in the wider scheme of things; maybe it’s the occasionally gentle, often idyllic soundtrack; it could even be that gratifying feeling you prescribe to after watching a low-budget, indie-style offering — you know, like you’ve done something good for the little guys. No, I think the sensation is as genuine as the film and the cards it places on the table. Not a King of Clubs, certainly not an Ace. Rather, a Two of Hearts and all the better for it.

Alvin and Lance are both very different. The former writes letters to his sweetheart (the sister of his workmate) and delves in poetry, whereas the latter spends Friday’s eagerly awaiting a weekend on the town and Monday’s trying to piece together events. One thing the men do have in common though is painting traffic lines along a road hidden away by a fire-pillaged wilderness. When we meet them they chant in sound bites, just like colleagues do, but soon enough it’s back to the job: “We gotta lot a’ work to do and it’s a very long road.”

The inconsequential nature of the job wears on the pair, but in doing so highlights the immaterial arena they find themselves haunting. Their work is mundane but their lives are invaluable. It’s 1988 and wildfires have destroyed more than just landscape that Alvin and Lance inhabit. Life has migrated elsewhere, away from a place in which it previously thrived — the only animals left are physically scarred. Other than that, all that remains are Alvin, Lance and their poisonous paint, and even they’re only temporary. This deeply melancholic setting administers a great deal of the film’s character. It also furnishes a few of 2013’s most moving scenes.

Lance is somewhere partying. Alvin spots an elderly woman enclosed in rubble, presumably that used to make up her home. They speak, but we can’t hear much of it. That doesn’t matter anyway; the specifics are personal, it’s the sentiment that matters. The lady was formerly a pilot but she has lost her licence in the fire — proof of her incredible life experiences burnt to nothingness. Director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) adds a slight documentary-esque feel to the scene by remaining distant from their conversation. Alvin says his goodbyes and shortly after finds himself re-enacting daily life amongst more bricks and mortar. Abandoned instantly. Out in this natural mural of devastation material things don’t matter.

Lance returns boasting a new watch. The relationship between the men is strained from then on. Paul Rudd (Anchorman) is Alvin, whose rattled demeanour suggests preferred solitude in the wake of Emile Hirsch’s (Into the Wild) Lance, a well-meaning but insecure fellow. The pair, and they are first and foremost a pair here, bicker when necessary — no doubt fuelled by Alvin’s relationship with Lance’s sister — yet still share a subtly warming dynamic. Rudd and Hirsch work well together with Rudd suitably stepping up as the knowing father figure in compliance with Hirsch’s futility.

Cinematographer Tim Orr has shared many film sets with friend David Gordon Green, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot output. Yes, the obvious organic landscape works in his favour but Orr captures it in all its potency — as our two companions’ relationship and understanding develops, we eventually see some telling shots of emerging wildlife amongst the ash. The ambient soundtrack, scored by American post-rockers Explosions in the Sky and composer David Wingo, is exactly the sound you’d expect in this setting and is exactly the sound what you’d want to hear too. Fluid, low-key and poignant, it has listeners sailing along with the two main characters as they toil in the past, suffer the present and paint the future.

There’s even the odd rush of comedy amongst proceedings that are otherwise slightly bleak. An alcohol-fuelled rage for one, and keep an ear open for Paul Rudd’s exclamation, “She’s hooking up with a masseuse? Gross!” Speak for yourself, Mike. Lance LeGault appears every so often as a hardy, abrasive truck driver and is often the vehicle of funny. Perhaps fittingly, much like Alvin and Lance, his story ends movingly but not wholly. It’s left to the viewer to fill in one or two gaps, which works because Prince Avalanche isn’t trying too hard to be anything. At its simplest it doesn’t really matter. But that’s the allure: the film’s inconsequence compounds the importance of everything else around it. In that sense, it echoes Alvin and Lance.

As i write this review, the wanes of Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo caressing my eardrums, everything feels calm. Urgency has been banished. Time will wait its turn. Prince Avalanche is a lot like that, and if you’ve got the patience you’ll enjoy it as much as i did.

“Just do it, it’s good for your soul.”

Shockingly Good Television

Warning: There will be spoilers (and blood, probably).

Bear with me here, for I am still reeling from last night’s instalment of Game of Thrones (“The Rains of Castamere”). Having recorded the episode to watch later, I browsed through Twitter only to discover an outcry of shock, fury, tears and every other emotion that is not necessarily a positive one. ‘The Red Wedding’ as I believe it is commonly known as amongst dedicated fans of the show (the ones who know everything about everyone, like those guys on Sky Atlantic’s Thronecast — very impressive) certainly lived up to the hype and proved itself to be one of the most shocking television moments I have ever witnessed. If you do not watch Game of Thrones you are missing out — and are also probably a bit fed up with the content that the internet has relentlessly regurgitated over the last day or two.

Therefore, rather than another top five films from me today, I have decided to pick my most shocking television moments. I must stress that I have not seen every television show in the world (in actual fact, I really have not seen that much — particularly older shows), therefore if a stand-out scene from the television show that you watch is not included then it is probably because I have not seen it yet — I have never seen Dexter or Breaking Bad, for example. No, these are the most shocking moments from the shows that I have watched. Also, they are in no particular order, because that would call for more effort than I can muster up after last night’s Game of Thrones malarkey.

Ned Stark’s beheading — Game of Thrones

(Season: 1, Episode: 9 — “Baelor”)

“I hope that’s a rubber sword.”

After being betrayed at the hands of the Lannisters following Robert Baratheon’s death, Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is executed in front of a clamouring crowd at King’s Landing.

This was the audience’s first warning from author George R.R. Martin and show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to stop watching if we did not approve of the death of main characters – because it is going to happen. A lot, evidently. There are three things make this so shocking: the shows willingness to kill off main characters without hesitation; the presence of Ned Stark’s two daughters, Sansa and Arya, at the execution; and King Joffrey’s ruthlessness and lack of mercy towards Stark, even after the latter had confessed to treason and sworn allegiance to the Lannisters. That Joffrey is a bugger. The only unsurprising aspect of this death is that it was at the expense of Sean Bean.

Jack is ordered to kill Ryan Chappelle — 24

(Season: 3, Episode: 18 — “Day 3: 6:00 a.m. — 7:00 a.m.”)

“Dude, i missed.”

As a result of their inability to find terrorist Stephen Saunders in time, Jack Bauer is ordered to kill CTU’s Regional Division Director, Ryan Chappelle.

Although he was never the most popular character in the show, the death of Ryan Chappelle was certainly despairing, not to mention unexpected. This cemented Bauer as a man willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to save the majority. The direct involvement of the President of the United States, David Palmer — he was the one who assigned the task to Bauer — makes this all the more shocking. Chappelle’s revelation that he had no friends or close family, along with Jack’s apology for failing Chappelle, only added to the sombre nature of this scene, telling fans of the show that, sometimes, the bad guys really do get their own way.

Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes are both set in limbo — Ashes to Ashes

(Season: 3, Episode: 8 — “Episode 8”)

“Pub?”

It is revealed that Detective Gene Hunt and the rest of the police officers (including Alex Drake and Sam Tyler) are all dead and left lingering a form of purgatory.

This one caught me off guard, mainly because I was expecting a completely different ending (one which I cannot remember — it was three years ago). It turns out that every episode in both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes is actually a depiction of “restless” police officers who are, unknowingly, seeking a way to “move on” — symbolised by ‘The Railway Arms’ pub. Hunt is the only character who has known this from the beginning, and has been acting as a guide for newly bereaved officers. The limbo explanation is not the most shocking on the list, but it was a nice twist and a fitting end to the show.

Rick kills Shane — The Walking Dead

(Season: 2, Episode: 12 — “Better Angels”)

“That’s not how you play Statues!”

Knowing that a troubled Shane is about to kill him, Rick is forced to turn the tables and act first against his best friend.

The death of Shane at the hands of Rick is arguably the most shocking, and heartbreaking scene, to come out of The Walking Dead thus far. Again, the death of a main character plays a part in the shocking nature of this scene, but the emotional attachment to both characters is also a major player. The audience had known that something was brooding between the pair since the beginning of season one as a result of Shane’s affair with Rick’s wife Lori, but for it to result in the death of Shane was certainly alarming. The proof is in the pudding as far as ratings go, because as a result of Shane’s untimely demise, the episode after this one (Episode 13, “Beside the Dying Fire”) drew over nine million viewers, up from just under seven million this time around, and breaking all sorts of records at the time.

Dr. Thredson is Bloody Face — American Horror Story: Asylum

(Season: 2, Episode: 5 — “I am Anne Frank (Part 2)”)

“I’m too old for this.”

Lana discovers that the man who has helped her escape the asylum, Dr. Thredson, is actually the brutal serial killer, Bloody Face.

Throughout the second season of American Horror Story, the burning question had been: who is Bloody Face? Though many were accused, it was Kit Harrington, a young man blamed for the disappearance of his wife, who was singled out eventually. It sort of made sense (well, apart from the audience more or less knowing it was not Kit due to events broadcast at the beginning of the season) that he was the killer, right? Wrong. It turns out Bloody Face was actually the doctor assigned to help both Kit and Lana, Dr. Thredson. In case you have never seen American Horror Story before and are unaware, it really is, well — mental. This is definitely not the most shocking event on the list, but having Zachary Quinto portray an evil, nasty and downright creepy serial killer was a touch of genius at the pens of the writers.

The flashback is actually a flashforward — Lost

(Season: 3, Episode: 22/23 – “Through the Looking Glass”)

“I left my shaving kit on the island… WE HAVE TO GO BACK!”

Jack’s apparent flashbacks throughout the episode are revealed to be flashforwards, divulging that he and Kate have both escaped from the island somehow.

“We have to go back!” And just like that, Lost hits another home run. This one really blew me away. Known for its signature flashbacks throughout the first two seasons, and majority of the third, Lost creators J.J. Abrams and Cartlon Cuse, masterfully lulled viewers into a false sense of security as Jack’s flashbacks in the finale of season three turned out to be flashforwards, revealing that he and Kate (who is meeting Jack in the scene) were off the island. For the first time in 72 episodes, the audience finds out that some characters have left the island – the whole aim of the characters in the show in the first place. In true Lost fashion, viewers were left with an almighty cliffhanger, with so mention questions remaining unanswered: How did they get off the island? Who else is off the island? Why does Jack really want to go back? And so on. By a distance this is one of the most shocking and surprising moments on this list — it still gets me to this day!

David Palmer’s assassination — 24

(Season: 5, Episode: 1 — “Day 1: 7:00 a.m. — 8:00 a.m.”)

“I want to play a game.”

As he is discussing his memoirs with his brother, David Palmer is shot in the neck by a sniper, and killed.

The assassination of former President David Palmer kicked off season five with a massive bang. Not only was he very popular amongst fans (at least in my view), it also appeared as if the show was gearing up for another season dominated, in part, by his presence. But it was not to be. There are a number of elements linked to Palmer’s assassination which made it so shocking: the attempted murder of fellow prominent individuals in the show, Chloe O’Brien, Tony Almeida and Michelle Dessler (the latter was successfully eliminated) and the revelation at the end of the season that the man behind the orders was current President, Charles Logan. This one came out of absolutely nowhere, particularly for me as I did not watch the series when it aired (presumably word had gotten out that Dennis Haysbert, the actor portraying David Palmer, was leaving the show). 24 had a knack for surprises, but this was certainly one of the most shocking.

Carrie blows her cover in front of Brody — Homeland

(Season: 2, Episode: 4 — “New Car Smell”)

*I’m too good – she’ll never find out.*

Having been unsuccessful at getting Brody to admit he is working with a terrorist, Carrie storms into his hotel room and exclaims she knows who he is and what he is doing, before Brody is taken into custody.

It was fairly obvious that something similar to this was going to occur at some point over the course of the season, but not as early on as episode four. Carrie, believing Brody is on to her after a briefly showing anger during a conversation between the two of them, ends up storming up to his hotel room — with nobody else around — and blowing her cover in front of him. This was a tremendous moment in the shows short history, as the audience was provided with another amazing performance from Claire Danes (and Damian Lewis). As I mentioned a moment ago, this happened so early on in the season that it was hard to believe — at the time I wondered how the writers were going to fill another eight episodes. Thankfully the scene was more than warranted, as the happenings in this episode ended up prefacing events which occurred in the best episode of Homeland thus far — “Q&A”.

Ross says the wrong name at the altar — Friends

(Season: 4, Episode: 24 — “The One with Ross’s Wedding”)

“Wait… you’re not called Rachel?”

As he is in the middle of saying his vows during his wedding to Emily, Ross accidentally blurts out Rachel’s name instead.

Of all the names, Gellar. This was probably a lot more awkward than it was shocking, but it still was shocking nonetheless. The most unexpected moments are often left for the end of an episode, or better yet, the end of a season, and this one closed season five — leaving viewers reeling. The Ross/Rachel dynamic was more or the less the core of Friends throughout the shows existence, and I am willing to bet that the vast majority of fans did not want Ross to marry Emily when this episode aired (in 1999 I was watching Scooby-Doo, not Friends… I still watch Scooby-Doo), so when it looked like there was nothing else stopping the marriage from happening, Ross, in all his glory, surprised everyone — including himself — saving the day in return. Another great moment which kept the audience guessing and left them in high anticipation of season six, I am sure.

Charlie’s death — Lost

(Season: 3, Episode: 22/23 — “Through the Looking Glass”)

I have nothing.

Charlie sacrifices himself to save Desmond, after turning off the transmission blocker and potentially saving everyone else on the island.

The finale of Lost season three really was a shocker alright. In fact, this particular moment is the most shocking in my experience of watching television shows, more so due to who was involved and what was happening to him, rather than it happening out of nowhere. Around the middle of season three it became apparent that Desmond could see into the future and had foreseen Charlie’s death. After Desmond had saved Charlie various times, everyone (well, me) began to believe that Charlie no longer had death in his foreseeable future. That was, until that damn Jack needed somebody to swim to an underwater Dharma station and turn off the transmission blocker. But again, after Charlie had swam down (followed by Desmond) and turned off the jammer, it appeared that he was in the clear. That was, until that damn Mikhail started flooding the station with water. Unselfishly, Charlie locked the door of the room he was occupying in the station in order to contain the flooding, whilst at the same time warning Desmond that the boat near the island was not Penny’s. A highly emotional moment. Somebody pass the tissues.

The end of Matt Smith as The Doctor — Doctor Who

(Christmas Special 2013)

It has not happened yet, but when it does I will weep.

I know Matt. I feel the same way.

So there they are, some of the most shocking television moments I have witnessed. Little Mo clobbering Trevor with an iron was another one that did not quite make it. As I wrote earlier, I have not seen every television show that has ever existed, and therefore I imagine there will probably be a second part to this blog post when I have watched more — hopefully including scenes from shows like Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy and Dexter.

Comment below with the small screen moments that shocked you the most if you like!