Thursday, May 31, 2007


A Movie You Could Only Love . . . On an Airplane

What's up, everyone?

These days, Our Man in LA does a lot of traveling for work, and when you go almost anywhere in this great land of ours from the Left Coast, you get an in-flight film. Generally, they're not the kinds of movies that you'd generally shell out 9 or 10 bones for. You know the kind - animated films not by Pixar that take place in a toilet . . . or anything starring Tim Allen.

Or a little art house spectacular that I'm here to discuss.

A little gem called . . . ROCKY BALBOA.

Oh yes. And as someone who has witnessed the trials and travails, the slice of life ethos of Robert "Rocky" Balboa in episodes I, II, III, IV and V: Go for It!, I figured, "Yes! This is going to be craptastic!"

By the way, if the picture in this post were at all legible, you'd see Rocky. And FYI, this line of sarcastic delivery is an homage to FLETCH, which is a callback to yesterday, which is . . .

Aw, never mind.

Anyhoo, here's the thing that about ROCKY BALBOA that got me down. It's nowhere near as ridiculous as I thought it would be. Fact is, that as Rocky movies go, it's probably no more ludicrous than Part IV (the one in Russia with an actor playing Gorbachev). It's a fair bit better than V: Go For It!

I know! Yikes!

I'm not going to spend much time going through the convolutions of the plot. For one, it's out of theaters. For two, I don't believe that any of you could get it at a video store and maintain your dignity. That's why it's an airplane movie, people.

But OK. Just so we're clear on the pros and cons of this little flick, here's Our Man in LA's take:

First of all, this is what I buy from ROCKY BALBOA:

1) That Rocky, now retired, owns an Italian restaurant with a small sports bar area. It's called Adrian's, after his late wife (who died either because of "woman's cancer" or because Talia Shire had too much pride).

2) That Rocky walks around the restaurant most nights, telling stories of his big fights to tourists and guys who pay a little extra for a nice bottle of wine.

3) That Rocky's son - Rocky Jr. - is a huge loser who only maintains employment because his bosses would really like to meet his dad.

4) That Rocky might pine for fighting and think he's got one more good fight in him. I'd even be willing to believe that he might wish he'd thought of the Foreman grill, but not everyone can be soooo innovative.

5) That Paulie, his brother-in-law, is a drunk, moronic loser with barely enough money to cover his bills. You know, in contrast to the drunk, moronic loser who mooched off Rocky in the other movies.

And 6) That boxing's really not all that popular anymore, and boxing promoters are looking for something - anything - to make the sport interesting.

Now here's what I don't buy . . . hope I'm not spoiling anything here.

1) That Rocky, age 60, could go 10 rounds - 10 ROUNDS! - with a 25-year-old heavyweight champ.

Actually, that's about it.

Don't go out and rent it. It's silly, and the clerk at your local Blockbuster will snicker at you every time you come in. And it's not bad enough to have real camp appeal. It'd hardly be worth talking about , but Our Man in LA's gotta blog lest he be called out again.

So Sly Stallone's not all that great anymore. The jokes aren't so good, the fighting's silly, but I did snicker when I heard this dialogue exchange --

Rocky: Yo, it ain't over till it's over.

Heavyweight Champ of the World (the current one): What's that, from the 80s or something.

Rocky: Yo, that's probably from the 70s.

Laughed out loud, I did. Then I quickly looked around to make sure nobody heard me. Didn't matter, of course. Who cares what the guy in 27 C thinks of me? Go back to your soliataire, 27C!

Later . . .

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Don't mess with the Fletch, boy, you'll get Our Man in LA

Howdy, everyone. Just in case you wondered if I could do this two days in a row . . . I can. There. Ha!

So anyway, my pal Doc Noel and I were talking via e-mail today, and he brought to my attention this here link from Slate magazine:

In it, the writer, whose name I've already forgotten and don't feel like looking up, derides the mid-80s Chevy Chase movie FLETCH as being horrific and awful, a relection of the Reagan era seeping into entertainment.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I loved FLETCH as a kid, read all of Gregory MacDonald's FLETCH books, and that even now, I could probably quote the whole movie to you . . . close to verbatim. But to be fair to the writer, I'll also admit that there are a number of gags in that movie that fall totally flat now and probably should have then.

That's not my issue. My issue is that I don't think the writer quite understood the movie. He equated it with ANIMAL HOUSE, WEDDING CRASHERS, and a couple of other films in the "Wacky and Wild Comedy" vein, but he missed . . . wait for it . . . wait . . .

The subtlety.

OK, I know that sounds ridiculous. But look, folks. When in film school at the University of Texas (go Longhorns), one of my crowning academic acheivements was my paper NERDS, ANIMALS, AND OUTCASTS, a whopping 42-page genre study of movies like ANIMAL HOUSE, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, and so on. The paper got a lot of praise from the film faculty, who lauded my outright bravery at having the guts to look into the dark heart of this unexamined genre.

To me, the major benefit was getting to watch ANIMAL HOUSE again, not to mention getting to present my paper to peers and faculty. You haven't lived till you've seen hardcore film students react to Gilbert from REVENGE OF THE NERDS say, "Join us, because nobody will ever truly be free until nerd persecution ends."

So anyway, Slate guy missed the point. Here's a contrasting contention about FLETCH's role in the cinema of the 80s, courtesy of Our Man in LA, reprinted with the assumed consent of Doc Noel:

Hadn’t seen this, but I’d have to agree with you – he didn’t get it. On a number of counts, I’d argue. Not the least of which is that I don’t think the movie ever says straight out that Stanwyk is a Mormon. He’s from Utah, yeah (along with Marvin, Velma, and Provo). He’s a bigamist, yeah. But he also makes reference to drinking, which Mormons don’t do. There’s one line – “making him a bigamist, even in Utah” which sort of winks at the Mormon tradition, but again I don’t know if I’d see this as an anti-Mormon text.

I also don’t know if I’d qualify this as a polemic for the Reagan admin, either. I always took it more as a semi-straight adaptation of Gregory MacDonald’s mystery novel with a lot of Chevy Chase-esque sight gags and disguises. Chase had gags like this in a lot of his movies of this period – Spies Like Us, Oh Heavely Dog . . .

Also, I think the writer makes a big mistake equating Fletch with Animal House or Wedding Crashers. And by the way, I don’t think Wedding Crashers is in exactly the same category as Animal House, either. Wedding Crashers is a lot like Stripes, actually. Two wacky guys (who don’t quite fit in to polite society) are placed in an atmosphere where they’re most likely to struggle, and eventually they succeed because they don’t quite fit in. Those two movies are much closer to the screwball comedy model – that’s my opinion, but I’m fairly certain that even 10 years after grad school I could put together a pretty quick and dirty genre study that backs me up.

Animal House is more of a group narrative, and it’s not really about liberalism, either. And while we’re at it, the Omegas don’t exactly qualify as Eastern liberals being cut up by pre-Reaganite Deltas. Neidermeyer’s a fascist. Marmalard’s a future Nixon White House guy. Meanwhile, Flounder will later be a hippie “encounter specialist”, Pinto is the editor of National Lampoon, and the 20 years later mockumentary tells us that Boon’s a doc filmmaker and basically, Bluto is Bill Clinton.

Not to mention the fact that no, the Deltas aren’t fighting for their right to party as much as they’re fighting back against being under the thumb of their oppressors. Paraphrasing my own argument from a million years ago, Animal House (and to a lesser extent, Revenge of the Nerds and dozens of other take-offs) are no less about the rise of the underclass over artistocratic oppressors than, say, something like Animal Farm. In one, it’s pigs and sheep. In another, it’s jocks and Belushi.

But I totally digress.

Anyway, I’d suggest that while some of Fletch’s gags don’t hold up and yes, are fairly lame, the writer’s still mis-classified the movie. Fletch is an action movie with a comedian in the lead. It belongs with Running Scared and Beverly Hills Cop, not Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds. So the agenda’s a lot different. Fletch is telling the story of the knight that slays the dragon, more or less. His dragon is the drug ring of Chief Karlin and Alan Stanwyk. His trapped princess is Mrs. Stanwyk.

Just like Running Scared has two knights who are funny and wise-cracking and who defeat the dragon played by Jimmy Smits and rescue . . . whoever played Billy Crystal’s ex-wife. And so on. They’re straight-up adventure narratives, with a comedian in the lead, and without the pyrotechnics that would later define things like Lethal Weapon.

But Lethal Weapon’s part of the same category, though that might sound crazy. Take away the big explosions and pyrotechnics, but keep around Riggs and Murtaugh, and basically, you’ve got a movie like Fletch or Beverly Hills Cop.

And even though I’ve spent a ridiculously long amount of space on this, why not go a bit further? What do all of those movies (Fletch, Running Scared, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon) have in common? A lot. 1) A heroic do-gooder (or two) who fights the good fight in often unorthodox ways; 2) a hero’s boss, who’s itching to take the guy down a notch (Fletch’s editor Frank, the Captain in Running Scared, and so on); 3) A nasty villain who seems to be getting away with his nefarious plan; 4) A certain amount of light detective work to keep the plot spinning; 5) A big fight sequence at the end with some pyrotechnics; and 6) a lady in distress, who needs to be saved by the knight.

Oh yeah, and 7) at the end, no matter how much trouble the hero should be in because of his (or their) wacky yet effective methods, he (or they) receive a total reprieve for everything. Think of Fletch giving his expenses to Frank and going on vacation on Mr. Underhill’s charge card. Or of the Beverly Hills cops letting Axel Foley off the hook. And . . . and . . . and . . .

Yeah, I went to film school.

See you later, true believers.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Karma Credit Bill Comes Due

Our Man in LA has been away from the blog for a good long while. Sorry to all those folks out there who check in from time to time, only to get nothing more for their troubles than an entry that dates back months (and a pretty political one, at that).

Basically, things have been crazy out here in the City of Angels, and I’ve had barely a moment to update anything. And, the way Our Man in LA figures it, he cannot be forced into a writing a nothing post just to keep the blog updated.

But apparently he can be shamed.

Yeah, it seems that Reggie Newton, official pal of Our Man in LA, called me out last week for being less than an exemplary blogger. That’s right – the same Reggie Newton who had a “Happy Hanukkah” posting up on his blog for 378 straight days.

But he’s right. I’ve been less than faithful. Mostly because after years of collecting the benefits of the move to California, the Karma Credit Bill has come due, and it’s time for me to pay back – by being busier than . . . well, than something that is extremely busy.

So what’s up? In a litany of bullets, my days include:

  • The premiere of FREEDOM BOUND, the new show from City at Peace – Los Angeles, directed by Our Woman in LA, and featuring the acting, singing and dancing talents of 45 kids from all over the LA area. The show premieres this weekend – running June 1st through 3rd at the Nate Holden Theatre. An online flier is above for those of you who might be out here in the land of sun and fun over the next few days. Our Man in LA is on the board of advisors for City at Peace – Los Angeles (wonder how he got that gig?), so everyone here at Casa Wieland is excited to see the show come to fruition.

  • Work, work, work. A lot of travel over the past few months – a trip to Washington and Baltimore that ended with an intense stomach flu. A couple of trips to the Windy City. A trip to Portland, home of Doc Noel and likely base of operations for either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden. Not to mention a couple of new responsibilities that have crept out of the woodwork.

  • A couple of scripts – one for a short film I’ll be directing over the summer, the other for the manager.

  • In-laws descending on the City of Angels this weekend for the aforementioned showing of FREEDOM BOUND. That’s right. All the in-laws.

And so on.

Look, we all know how these things go. Generally, I take a hiatus from the blog, and then I come back with a head of steam and for a few weeks, I’m blogging like a house afire. And then I burn out again.

So I’m not making any promises here on what’s coming tomorrow. But I will say that in days to come, I’ll bring back my top and bottom lists; I’ll explain why Veronica Mars might even be better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I’ll talk about DC Comics’ 52 and Countdown series, not to mention the death of Captain America; I’ll talk about the movies I’ve seen this summer, both on TV and in the theatre . . . and we’ll go from there.

But folks, I understand that a big reason that people tune into Our Man in LA is to get a little bit of insight into those crazy people who dwell on the left coast. To hear about fires and earthquakes and celebrity murder trials.

Now I’ll admit that fires are losing their uniqueness. Georgia’s got them now, too. But we had a bunch up in Griffith Park a few weeks back, and fear of the blaze spreading to Our Man in LA’s Los Feliz neighborhood scared a lot of the rich people who live on the hills out of their palatial mansions.

This little tidbit from the LA Times fire blog spells out everything you need to know about life in SoCal. It is, if you will, and Jon Stewart permitting, our Los Angeles moment of zen:

Returning to a burned landscape
Stephen Halbert swept ash from his brick patio this morning, trying to clear it before his wife returned to the 1926 house on Aberdeen Avenue they have lived in for seven years. Halbert had been standing outside his home at 8 p.m. Tuesday watching the glow of the fire grow closer and redder when neighbor Kirstie Alley drove up and told him to leave. He grabbed his cats and his computer and jumped in his black Prius.
Halbert's wife spent the night with friends in the San Fernando Valley, where she had been rehearsing a play. He spent the night of his 57th birthday in his car at a nearby Albertson's parking lot with a handful of other evacuees. He was too wired to sleep and wanted to stay up to listen to the radio. Besides, he'd left his wallet in his house.
Returning just after 6 a.m. today, Halbert was grateful to the firefighters but saddened at the loss of so much parkland, where he and his wife hike. But the movie sound man found something to be optimistic about. He'd never heard so many birds singing, he said.
-Mary Engel

That’s right. Mansions, Kirstie Alley, fires, laptops, cats, and a Prius. Take that, Karma Credit Bill! Our Man in LA delivers!

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