don’t throw stones; you don’t know

On Friday I had the neighbors, Ryan and Erin, over for wine and cheese. We sifted through each other’s movie piles to find good films to laugh over. Neither Erin nor Ryan had seen Road House, so we put that in first.

If marginal utility theory means anything, then I should get more value out of most purchases than I spend on them. But sometimes the ratio skyrockets so far out of whack that I give thanks to the healing power of capitalism. My Dickies messenger bag, for example: I spent $50 on it three years ago and it has easily brought a thousand dollars of convenience into my life. Or my copy of Mind Performance Hacks. Or the Bed of Ages: a Simmons model that the company no longer makes, that I dropped just over a grand on (including frame and headboard) five years ago. I spent enough on the Bed that it’s a close thing, but I still come out black.

Road House has vastly exceeded the $8 I paid for it in the Target discount bin. In the two years I’ve owned it, I’ve watched it at least six times. Maybe one of those times I watched it alone. Every other time, I’ve had friends over, cracked some beers and introduced them to Patrick Swayze’s magnum opus.

Why does Road House work on every level? The fight scenes are fun, as I’ve said before. The hayseed, outdated setting allows for some ironic laughs – particularly when the locals gawk over Swayze’s tanned bod. “He looks like he’s from a coast!”, Erin commented.

But what makes Road House so oddly great is that it’s a well-paced film on a picayune subject. You can almost watch the hero’s status rising and falling on screen, as if on a stock ticker. Anyone who wants to write an action movie should own this on DVD and watch it until it breaks. I am not kidding in any way.

Afterward, we watched Demolition Man, which has a similarly tight plot even if the setting makes us snicker. Stallone, Bullock and Snipes each have one setting (smart-aleck, perky and cocky, respectively), and the movie suffers whenever it asks them to deviate. The story shepherds our heroes from setpiece to setpiece, even if we have to swallow some improbable coincidences to get them there. Perhaps that’s one of the benchmarks for a good action movie: how easily we can believe the transition between car chase and shootout.


and I owe it all to you

Patrick Swayze died Monday evening, succumbing to a long battle with cancer at the age of 57. This gives me an opportunity to go into detail about one of my favorite Swayze movies: Road House.

Road House is a great movie.

I enjoy Road House without irony or shame. While the fashions depicted therein might be dated and parochial, I don’t find them any sillier than the flat doughboy helmets Burt Lancaster busts out of the armory in From Here to Eternity. If the trashiness of the setting keeps you from taking the movie seriously, then imagine it takes place in a Brooklyn nightclub, with a hip-hop soundtrack, and our hero’s a storied young bruiser from Marcy. It’ll be just as dated 20 years from now.

In Road House, the heroes are larger-than-life heroes, and the villains absolute villains. Patrick Swayze, as Dalton, plays a man who brings deep philosophy to a dirty business. And Ben Gazzarra, as the sinister Brad Wesley, carves up the town of Jasper with glee. Road House abandons naturalism for bold strokes of melodrama. Does it make sense that an entire town would stand idly by while Wesley’s hired goons drive a monster truck through a car dealership? No. But it gives Gazzarra an opportunity to cackle and Swayze an opportunity to glare. And it also ends in one of the movie’s funniest lines: “you got insurance, don’t you?”

Of course, no one settles into Road House for the Manichean struggle between good and evil. They want to see fights. And not only are there plenty of fights – one-on-one, three-on-one, fist-on-knife, pool cue vs. face, holdout pistol vs. throat rip – but they’re all well-staged. Not even our heroes – Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott, as the father figure we all wish we’d had – can take down half a dozen men and walk away fresh. They end most fights staggering and sore, drenched in sweat with their arms hanging at their sides. And those are the fights they win. Compare that to Jason Bourne, who can disarm six cops without mussing his hundred-dollar haircut.

Road House is that rare bird: a movie that devotes excellent craftsmanship to picayune subject matter. The fight scenes are entertaining and well paced. The dialogue’s as realistic as Shakespeare and twice as quotable. And Jeff Healey’s raspy blues-rock soundtrack keeps the whole movie funky. So what if it takes place in a town in Kansas that no one’s ever heard of?

Swayze pulled off the lead like no one else could. He carried himself with that tricky blend of lethal readiness and total serenity: a man who knew how to fight but preferred not to. Consider Swayze, the reluctant warrior, in Dirty Dancing, who suffers false accusations under the club’s upper-crust guests; or in Point Break, who knows that Keanu Reeves is an “Eff. Bee. Aye. Agent!” but can’t bring himself to kill him. This is how we should want all our men to be: confident but never cocky, vigilant but rarely violent.

Rest easy, mijo. We’ll see you.


look at the tested and think there but for the grace go I

At 90s Night this past Friday, I ran into KT, who had fully recovered from her case of K.I.D. (though I hear there’s 18 to 25 years of outpatient visits). I only got to see her briefly. And b0st0n regular jenskot (no known alias) showed up as well with a friend of hers from school. But the high point of the evening was running into Erin L. and Matt W. I hadn’t got to dance around to Bosstones with Erin since … 2001? Holy hell. College was a long time ago.

“It’s good that we’ve run into each other now,” I yelled to her over the music, “at a point in our lives where our hair is the best it’s ever been.”

# # #

Saturday, after brunching with Rachel V. in the morning, I went to Lisa B’s birthday party at her sky-rise in Medford. I lost several games of flipcup but stayed sober enough to drive home, partly by loading up on an insane number of carbohydrates.

Someone put The Princess Bride on TV about half an hour before I left. “What do you think would happen if Andre the Giant fell on you?” Steve M. asked me.

“He’s a bit taller than me,” I observed, “but he’s three times my weight. So I doubt he’d even …”

“Three times? Jesus.”

# # #

Sylvia and RJ mentioned earlier in the week that they’d never seen Road House, so I dragged them to my apartment on Sunday evening to watch it.

“She can’t make eyes at him,” RJ complained, as the Kelly Lynch / Patrick Swayze romance began to bud. “That sketchy bar owner’s already been sizing him up.”

“This movie has both homo- and hetero-eroticism,” I told him. “You’re allowed to have both.”

“I guess.”

# # #

Monday I attended my first Yelp! Elite event. I don’t know who’s making money off these things; it’s happening in a way that’s invisible to me. If you’re an “Elite” reviewer – and if they let me in, how hard can it be? – you get invitations to monthly events at local bars. Corporations provide gift bags and free drinks and snacks. Guests pay nothing. This has to profit somebody; I’m not sure who.

The February event was at Noir on Monday night. Not only did I chat up Serpico, Kim, Joanna and Brian – folks I see all the time – but I went out of my way to meet strangers, too. I mingled, which is shocking if you know me. And I loaded up on fancy appetizers and downed three Maker’s Mark Manhattans in ninety minutes. Either the bacon and spinach dip really soaks up the bourbon or they poured the (free) drinks light, as three Manhattans will normally floor me. But I was in good enough shape to watch people ice skate.

“Are you going to skate?” Lauren R. asked.

“Nope,” I said, gesturing in the air a foot above my skull. “My center of gravity’s right about here.”

“Well, we’re going to.”

“Great. Remember to fall on your forearms, not your hands. Have fun!”

the way you love me is frightening

On Friday, I brought Marie up to speed on the joy of Road House. “Do places like this exist in the real world?” she asked. “Yes,” I told her.

I tried to access Vanguard‘s website on Saturday, but discovered that:

  1. You need a separate account for retirement planning and for individual investing. I can see an argument for that, but you figure Vanguard would at least put some links up indicating that. I spent 15 minutes poring over my 401(k) page before realizing that there was no way to just put dollars into other funds.
  2. Customer service doesn’t come in on Saturdays.
  3. All of their FAQ links point back to the home page. Convenient!
So Vanguard lost my business. I tried Sharebuilder next, but it took each page about 90 seconds to load, which strained my already bruised patience. I get easily frustrated with poor website layout.

Grace came over and we had some beers to celebrate her passing the Massachusetts Eye Doctor Legal exam. She can now legally prescribe eyes, as opposed to selling them out of the back of her van.

On Sunday, I auditioned for Gorefest – always a fun time, and I expect big things of Bobby as a director. Then I picked up some provisions for Serpico, Auston and Katie when they came over to game (the World’s Smartest Man jumped inside Serpico’s head; it was fun). After that, I grilled up some greasy organic hot dogs and watched The Bank Job, which is a greasy organic hot dog of a movie: made with an eye toward healthier filling, but still fun and tasty where it counts.

It rained a lot.

I think I better knock … on wood

Patrick Swayze diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, an asymptomatic cancer with a 5% survival rate inside the first five years.

Jeff Healey, famed blues guitarist, dies at 41.

Am I the first person to notice that a death curse is stalking the stars of Road House? Quick – someone check on Ben Gazzara!

Also: I know I’m the first person to remark that the brothel Eliot Spitzer patronized at some cost was named after that shitty Kevin Kline movie from about six years back. I know there has to be a better Kevin Kline movie to christen a cathouse. My suggestions:

  • Fierce Creatures
  • Consenting Adults
  • I Love You To Death
  • In & Out

Actually, those were all pretty mediocre movies. Why is Kevin Kline well regarded again?