Steve Earle pays tribute to Townes Van Zandt, his friend and mentor, on the Townes. Earle stopped by Letterman this week to play “Colorado Girl” from the record, sporting some mean acoustic guitar and shout-outs to my former hometown and state.
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Listen up, Hollywood! There is only one way to handle the remake of a kitschy, campy, ‘60s/‘70s fever dream classic - and, no, we aren’t talking about the way you typically treat this kind of material. Remember Rocky and Bullwinkle (both versions???). Or how about Lost in Space? Does the Scooby-Doo debacle ring a bell? If you take things too seriously, you end up with ineffectual dramatics and mostly maudlin pap. Take it to comic extremes, and you run the risk of ruining the original source in the process. This is exactly what happened when you decided to turn Sid and Marty Krofft’s time traveling dinosaur adventure Land of the Lost into an inappropriate prop comedy nightmare. With or without the casting involved, taking a beloved piece of pop speculative fiction and turning it into a crude, rude gross out just wasn’t the right way to go.
For research scientist Dr. Will Marshall, life as a laughing stock has taken its toll. With everyone from Stephen Hawking to Today‘s Matt Lauer mocking his theories, he’s been reduced to a running joke among local grade school science classes. When a visiting Oxford gal named Holly Cantrell comes calling, she wants to know about the success Marshall has had with his hypothetical time travel device. Sadly, it’s very little. Inspired by her sudden interest in his work, our hero fashions his amazing machine, and the pair go to test it at a local “mystery” spot. There they meet proprietor Will Stanton, a crude man with an even more rudimentary grasp on reality. Suddenly, Marshall’s contraption causes a spike in prevailing “tachyons”, and soon the trio is sent hurtling down a raging rapids and through a waterfall-inspired vortex. Waking up, they find themselves in the proverbial Land of the Lost, a oddball universe filled with ape creatures, lizard men, and rampaging dinosaurs.
Take Step Brothers, remove all the sibling rivalry humor, insert plenty of pee and poops gags, set it all in a surreal backlot that’s half Dino-Lion Country Safari, half Salvador Dali product placement dreamscape, and then pump as much Will Ferrell and Danny McBride at the audience as possible. Call in the Kroffts, give the old coots a paycheck, and name the creation Land of the Lost (after the siblings’ seminal show). Then, sit back and watch as audiences…well, that’s the kicker, isn’t it. This remake/reboot/reimagining of the Saturday Morning stalwart about a family suddenly stuck in time and space is so uneven, so scattered in both approach and tone, that you don’t know whether to laugh or wince, shudder or simply stand up and walk out of the theater. If this is what $100 million buys today, then our country is really in a complete an d utter economic meltdown.
Part of the blame for this overripe frat house flop goes directly to director Brad Silberling. Responsible for past artistic underperformers like Casper, City of Angels, and the should have been Potter Lemony Snicket, the filmmaker feels that the best way to handle the Krofft’s cracked fantasy realm is to simply stick smarmy actors in the middle of a glorified greenscreen and let them riff until something salvageable can be created. When placed in the right realm, Ferrell and McBride can be electric. They can be and usually are funnier than numerous lame laugh-fest wannabes. But here, they do nothing but tread water - and they do so poorly. We except a certain level of irreverence from the duo. What we get instead is an attitude so mocking that it makes the whole experience pointless. If the people on screen aren’t taking things at least semi-seriously, why should we.
This is not to say that Ferrell and McBride are bad, or miscast. Indeed, they are only playing to their preplanned strengths and to an audience ready to lap up every bit of their anger-spawned spoofing. But like Mike Myers in The Love Guru, this is a film for confirmed fans only - and even that’s a stretch, quality wise. Anyone hoping to glimpse a bit of the old Land of the Lost magic will wince when the Sleestaks are transformed into Alien rip-offs, or when beloved Neanderthal Chaka turns out to be a hopeless horndog. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking a nostalgic favorite from several decades ago (right, The Brady Bunch Movie?). But this version pisses all over the original - literally. Indeed, there is a sequence dealing with dinosaur urine that has to go down in history as one of the most pointless bits of forced scatology ever.
But the biggest mistake that this Land of the Lost makes is the total disregard for the sci-fi setting created. Nothing is ever explained here - not even when plot point Enik shows up to send the narrative careening off into heroes and villain mode. Leonard Nimoy’s cameo is cast aside with complete disregard, and the ending is given over to cheap F/X and stunt work. Yet we’d buy all the bumbling and burlesque if we just understood the rules of this particular parallel space. Why the various derelict ships (including a couple of flying saucers)? Why the old school motel with convenient pool (ready for a pointless drug dream montage)? If the dinosaurs and Sleestaks don’t get along, how did they survive each other until now? And why does everything in this particular domain revolve around feces, phlegm, and numerous man/animal bodily fluids?
For those who like their satire glib, snide, and on the decidedly stupid side, Land of the Lost may satisfy. It defiantly builds up a big head of silly steam trying. But in the end, the lack of any real affection for the original series will ward off the Krofft faithful, and Ferrell’s fans haven’t actually been reliable when it comes to making his movie’s consistently successful (right, Semi-Pro and Stranger than Fiction?). Indeed, the only demographic assured of enjoying themselves are the same ADD-addled viewership that makes random hit or (mostly) miss shows like Family Guy a Fox favorite. In fact, if you didn’t see the other names listed among the credits, you’d swear Seth MacFarlane and his band of comedically challenged cronies were responsible for this hopeless hatchet job. As long as you enjoy the actors involved, Land of the Lost will mostly deliver. If you don’t, you’ll vanish into an entertainment void all your own.
Having recently finished Far Cry 2 I found myself wondering what I should play next. I had embraced the holiday rush last year, so I had plenty of games to choose from, and I browsed through my collection looking for one that sparked my interest. Since this happened to coincide with E3, I bombarded myself with press conferences, videos, write-ups, and hands-on previews, all hyping the big games to be released in the coming year, and suddenly my collection didn’t seem as interesting as it did last week. I found myself getting more excited for those upcoming games than for the games I already own.
So much of the gaming culture revolves around upcoming games. Previews make up a major part of any news coverage, especially during the build up to E3. Gamers’ desire for the “next big game” is so strong that a ten second trailer for Modern Warfare 2 is cause for a surprising amount of fanfare, and companies make announcements of announcements in order to start the hype as soon as possible. Many people sell older games in order to afford newer games, and Gamestop’s record profits are a testament to how common the practice is. It makes sense then that E3 is the biggest event of the gaming industry. Whereas movies and music have the Oscars and Grammys, award shows that focus on what has come out in the past year, gaming’s major show is a preview event that looks ahead at what’s coming out in the next year.
This kind of attitude is necessary for an industry that relies so heavily on technology. New tech is always being introduced to the gaming world, so developers must always be looking ahead and thinking of new ways to incorporate that tech into their games. Just this week, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all showed off new forms of motion control, so now it falls to developers to figure out how to integrate that new kind of control into games. The future of gaming is always changing, so it’s understandable that the industry would focus more on its future than its past.
A problem arises when consumers adopt this point of view, and become more concerned with what lies in the future rather then the present. I remember times as a teenager when I would be playing a game and all I could think about was what I wanted to play next. I’d continue playing the first game just to beat it, feeling an odd obligation to finish it before moving on, but the moment I was done with it I would never think of it again. Even if I loved a game, once I beat it I no longer cared about it. Such an attitude is not only a disservice to the game and its creators but to me as a gamer. Instead of savoring my time with those games, I’d rush though them so I could stay up-to-date with each new release: Games were a disposable media to be used once and then forgotten.
I enjoy E3. I enjoy the press conferences, videos, write-ups, and hands-on previews, all hyping the big games to be released in the coming year, but I think it’s important not to get too caught up in the hype. I was giddy with every mention of Assassin’s Creed 2, Uncharted 2, and (to my pleasant surprise) Scribblenauts, but I’ve also recently become enthralled with the voice recognition of EndWar and the wonderful absurdity of No More Heroes. In the wake of E3, I’d encourage every gamer to play a game from last year or even from last console generation just to put things in perspective: older games are still worth your time.
A wonderfully well-intentioned flock of stock American-indie scenarios wrapped up in a cosy, folky soundtrack and lavished with charming comic interludes, Away We Go never strives to be much of anything and succeeds quite well in its aims. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, as all works of art should always know their limitations, but it seems like somebody might have tried a little harder. Maybe it’s asking too much, but for the screenwriting debut of two literary wunderkinds (married duo Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida) that just happens to be shot by a director (Sam Mendes) whose last film was one of the great literary adaptations in recent memory (Revolutionary Road), one expects at least a couple attempts to swing for the fences.
It’s possible that the film’s lackadaisical attitude came about quite organically after coming up with such a sparklingly perfect and well-tuned cast. As Burt and Verona, the low-key early-30s couple who set off to find a new place to live after Verona becomes pregnant and they discover Burt’s parents are moving abroad, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph fit together like peanut butter and jelly. Their muted, lo-fi way of living is more than just some hipster statement like the soulful voices always murmuring on the overused soundtrack; their easy-come easy-go attitude and lightly jabbing verbal interplay feeling as lived-in as their junked-up and falling-down house in the sticks.
As Burt and six-months-pregnant Verona make their way around the country in search of a new home, they’re thrown into prepackaged comic encounters whose excellent players almost overcome the caricatured nature of the writing. A fiery Allison Janney and gloomily apocalyptic Jim Gaffigan present a sun-dazed picture of suburban psychodrama, while Maggie Gyllenhaal and Josh Hamilton perform a breathtakingly obnoxious satirical take on foggy-brained college-town intelligentsia smugness. Both segments—in addition to a too-brief appearance by Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels as Burt’s alarmingly selfish parents—appear as self-contained little playlets whose sudden rush of freakish energy leave the rest of the film unbalanced.
Mendes, whose instincts have remained more theatrical than cinematic, throws so much effort into these sequences that the thinness of what holds the rest of the film together becomes readily apparent. When Eggers and Vida’s screenplay calls for Burt and Verona to meet up with comparatively normal people—a couple of college friends in Montreal, or Verona’s lovelorn sister—the resulting scenes play like something from another film. The screenplay’s sketchy, post-slacker, underdeveloped adult melodrama never finds a workable mix with its interruptions of Meet the Parents-like manias. And Mendes’ decision to just string it all together with chapter titles (“Away to Montreal,” etc.) and an amped-up soundtrack meant to carry too much weight makes the whole affair come off like a pack of dashed-off index-card scenes flung into some order and forced to stand on their own. As a filmmaker, the British Mendes seems more at home in stylized settings like the glossy living dead suburbs of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road than the fly-by-night road-trip Americana he wrestles with unsuccessfully here.
Like its leads, Away We Go doesn’t want to make too much of a fuss about any of its components, a decision that leaves many of its more meaningful (and sometimes quite lovely) ruminations on love and finding one’s place in the world stranded without context. What’s left is a finely pedigreed comic road film that, when all is said and done, is too finely-tooled for the NPR set to have much life left in it.