Monday, November 2, 2009

Why I Loved "Land of the Lost"

Did you grow up watching "Land of the Lost" when it was a television series in the mid 1970s? If so, you will remember the Sleestak, Holly's braids, and the family's little ape-like pal, Cha-Ka.
Put those cheesy memories aside so you can enjoy the current theatrical remake of the series.

Though the film has taken a critical bashing from some, I disagree. It was fun and silly and captivating from start to finish. Will Farrell as 'Marshall' leads 'Holly' and 'Will' into a tachyon- chasing adventure that catapults them back to a very unusual, ancient time.

Here's what worked:
1. Changing the original father and two children into three adults (two scientists and a beer-bellied opportunist) creates greater humor without the forced drama of children in peril.
2. "Grumpy," the scheming and vengeful dinosaur (with a sense of humor, too) was a brilliant twist on the typical, blundering giant. One could argue that Grumpy nearly steals the show.
3. Matt Lauer's cameo. Seriously, the guy can act. I see him on "Mad Men," cohorting with Jon Hamm.
4. The wonderfully creative way in which our three-some end up in the Land of the Lost is through the mouth of The Cave, a desert tourist attraction that brings visitors on a boat ride into an underground, spooky theme-park-type cave. Chasing tachyon signals to this location, all three head in.
5. A Sleestak gone bad. Very bad. Taking-over-the-world type of bad.
6. Will Farrell's dependable, lovable, hilarious bumbling scientist.
7. Danny McBride is cast to perfection as the cave proprietor turned Land of the Lost survivor.
8. Cha-Ka's life of debauchery and glory.

Silly, great fun. Sign me up.

Woody Meets Larry and it 'Works'

Is it even necessary to start out by saying that I'm a huge Woody Allen fan? Is it even possible for someone to love film without being a huge Woody Allen fan? I say, no. The man is a genius. Yes, he's become a tad predictable in adhering to the New York-intellectuals-lament-love-with-age-diverse-pairings-and-ultimately-come-together-during-celebratory-party-while-vintage-clarinet-jazz-music-colors-the-scene formula. But there's still a little magic there.

To find Larry David inhabiting the lead (the Woody role, par usual) in "Whatever Works" is Woody's most brilliant casting to date. Larry David is so lovable and believable that we can even forgive the absurdity of the prerequisite, later years Woody standard: the nubile young beauty who falls in love with the cantankerous old man. We can also forgive the silliness of 'Boris Yellnikoff' (David) suddenly addressing the camera while his friends look on, wondering if he has lost his marbles. The typically semi-natural Woody dialogue becomes butter in David's mouth. Never a pause, never a falter, never a blip in how normal it all seems.

Yellnikoff is a bitter, self-proclaimed genius who lives alone in Manhattan. When he arrives home one night to find a needy young girl on his doorstep, he begrudgingly takes her in. 'Melodie' (Evan Rachel Wood) is the starry-eyed Southern girl who pours honey all over Yellnikoff's bile. When Patricia Clarkson, as her mother, 'Marietta,' enters the scene, we're in for a wild joy ride. From a repressed, religious Southern self-righteousness, to an expressive, uninhibited, threesome-living artist, Marietta makes a delicious transformation. 'John' (Ed Begley Jr.), Melodie's father, makes a less believable transformation.

Loaded with truisms about religion, politics, and the general state of things, burdened with a familiar plot, and sugar-coated with a formulaic ending...still. "Whatever Works" works, thanks to the wit and wisdom of Larry David.