Michael Myers has been coming home for decades now, ever since he rampaged through the town of Haddonfield, Ill., in the 1978 horror masterpiece Halloween. The masked killer was supposed to be locked securely within a psychiatric hospital, but he escaped through many sequels and spin-offs. We’re supposed to forget all about those for the new Halloween, which is designed as a direct sequel to the original. (Then why is the new film titled simply Halloween? I worry about these things.) The creepy opening sequence depicts a Michael who’s been safely imprisoned for 40 years. Someone’s had the brilliant idea to transfer him to a new facility, which of course means putting him out into the world, which of course cannot be healthy for the world.
Too Much Johnson, the Orson Welles film (or rather film project) that was long thought lost (the last print was reportedly destroyed in a fire in Welles’ Spanish home in 1970), was found a few years ago and restored. It’s not a feature or even a short, per se, more of an experiment shot to accompany a production of the theater farce “Too Much Johnson,” but at least the first section plays just fine on its own as a tribute to silent slapstick comedy with Joseph Cotten doing Harold Lloyd antics and Buster Keaton chases as a serial philanderer pursued by a jealous husband. The film was unfinished but mostly complete and you can watch both the workprint and a “reimagined” version with the outtakes removed at the National Film Preservation Foundation website. An HD version of both are available through the subscription streaming service Fandor.
I wrote an essay on the film for Keyframe: “This would all be interesting but academic if it wasn’t also entertaining and Too Much Johnson is a hoot. The prologue was designed to open the play, introduce the characters and situations, and set the racing pace for the stage scenes with a wild slapstick chase through the streets of New York to the ship that carries the story to Cuba. It plays just fine on its own (with an assist from intertitles added by NFPF), like an open-ended Mack Sennett farce that races through German Expressionism and Russian Formalism on the way to the docks. The subsequent sequences, both much shorter and apparently incomplete, are not as self-contained or coherent but they do feature some eye-opening moments for Welles fans.”
The third wave of Amazon Prime Instant Video Pilot Season shows will be available to sample on Thursday, August 28. As in previous waves, Amazon has made the pilot episodes of five new shows available to all Amazon customers (you don’t have to be a Prime member to watch them), and they will decide which shows move forward to full series based on audience feedback.
This time through, they have enlisted some interesting directors to create for the small screen. Whit Stillman heads to Paris for The Cosmopolitans, a continental romantic comedy, David Gordon Green (director of Pineapple Express and HBO’s Eastbound and Down) stays home in New Jersey for Red Oaks, a coming-of-age comedy set in 1985 (it’s produced by Steven Soderbergh), and Jay Chandrasekhar offers the sitcom Really, about a tight-knit group of married couples in Chicago. Each of these are in the half-hour format.
There are also two hour-long shows: Marc Forster (World War Z) takes the helm on Hand of God, starring Ron Perlman as a judge of dubious morals who goes vigilante after receiving messages from God, and writer / producer Shaun Cassidy delivers Hysteria, with Mena Suvari as a neurologist faced with virtual virus spread through social media.
Nicolas Cage has been garnering a lot of approving notices for his title performance in Joe, and it’s easy to see why. He’s backed away from some of the tics that dominate his wilder turns, and at age 50 he’s seasoned, with a face that looks lived-in.
But let’s not say he’s mellowed. Never that.
Still, Cage is not the best part of Joe. He’s solid, but the movie itself is strongest at creating a sense of place, a strange subculture found off the main road. Credit for that goes to director David Gordon Green, a native Arkansan who can work in near-plotless form (All the Real Girls) or in multiplex comedies (Pineapple Express). The place is rural Texas, which is depicted as just remote and insular enough for a guy like Joe to quietly disappear.
What makes Prince Avalanche a summer movie? Maybe it’s the aimlessness of its wandering story line, even more than the literal backdrop for the thing: two guys on a summer job sprucing up a lonely road in West Texas. A recent fire has burned the surrounding countryside, which gives the setting a pleasant, haven’t-quite-seen-this-before-in-a-movie quality.
The guys are Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch), and they really don’t get on. Alvin wears a mustache of self-satisfaction, as befits a man with a secure collection of platitudes and a condescending air to match. Lance is the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend (Seattle’s own Lynn Shelton, heard only on the phone), and Alvin tries manfully to impose his standards of behavior on his younger cohort. They putter along the blasted landscape, painting new yellow lines on the road and arguing about what constitutes mature behavior.
It’s to director David Gordon Green’s credit that the eventual revelation that Alvin’s life is not as together as he’d like to think is treated not as gotcha irony but as a natural piece of confused masculine existence.
David Gordon Green rose to prominence as a kind of folk poet of southern regional cinema, creating unconventional but compassionate portraits of young folk in rural cultures in the films George Washington, All the Real Girls and Undertow. With Pineapple Express, a stoner buddy comedy with James Franco and Seth Rogen, he began a three-year sojourn in Hollywood comedies that produced Your Highness and The Sitter and the HBO comedy series Eastbound and Down with Danny McBride.
Prince Avalanche, a modest, warm-hearted tale of two guys on a rural road crew on winding forest roads in 1988 Central Texas, gets Green back to the basics. The film has the quality of an American short story, easy-going, laconic, seeped in rural atmosphere, analog technology, and a slower way of life than the movies rushing through the multiplexes. So it’s somewhat surprising to discover that it’s actually a remake of an Icelandic film called Either Way, completely recast by the southwestern setting and the sensibilities of Green and his two stars, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.
I talked with Green in May 2013 at the Seattle International Film Festival, the afternoon before he debuted the film for Seattle audiences. After a few years of Hollywood comedies with big advertising budgets, he was back in the indie world where word of mouth builds interest. It’s a world in which he’s right at home. “Man, I could do that all day,” he remarked as we shifted from chatting about some of the recent films he’s seen to talk about Prince Avalanche. “I’m better at talking about other people’s movies.” He was being modest. Prince Avalanche was clearly a labor of love and that love came out in our interview.
Keyframe: How did you first see the film Either Way and what about it made you think that you wanted to remake it as an American film?
David Gordon Green: I wanted to remake it before I saw it. Someone who hadn’t seen it was telling me about the idea of it and I said, ‘I want to remake that.’ So I watched it for the first time thinking about how I would remake it. So I’ve never seen it honestly. I’ve only seen it under the guise of what I would do to it so it’s not really fair to those guys. I love their movie, I think it’s amazing and it’s beautifully shot. Have you seen it?
Keyframe: I’ve seen your film but I have not seen Either Way.
Green: You should see Either Way, it’s masterfully done, very beautiful, almost all done in master shots, very little coverage in the movie. It’s really a warm-hearted, charming movie, very much the inspiration for where we went with Prince Avalanche. I think Avalanche is a little bit more absurdist an a little bit more emotional, but this movie really struck me for the simplicity and beauty of it and kind of a Waiting for Godot quality, the lost existence of man and men struggling with identity and masculinity. I really loved the architecture of that film and felt a lot of opportunity to bring my own relationships and my own ideas, my own internal dialogue, my own internal conflicts, relationships with women, relationships with myself, relationships with nature and incorporate that all into the framework of Either Way.