Sunday, August 6, 2006

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Your DVD selections for the summer

Now is normally the time of the month when the hard-working staff here at has sifted through the mountain of book submissions, and -- after debating the finer points of international relations theory in a manner that would have done Bloomsbury or the Algonquin Round Table proud -- selects the much-sought-after prize of being a Book of the Month club selection.

Well, it's August, and it's been really friggin' hot in Boston for the past week or two. This got the staff thinking -- maybe for August, entertainments should be selected that do not tax the mind in such a laborious fashion. Maybe August is the time of lighter fare.

So, without further ado, here are two DVD selections for the dog days of August.

First, for those Buffy fans in the audience, let me recommend what others have urged me to do for several years -- go out and buy the first season of Veronica Mars. The parallels between Veronica and Buffy are quite strong -- formerly-popular-and-now-mostly-alone-but-very-comely girl going to high school in a California town, battling the forces of corruption and evil.

However, Veronica is both less and more scary than Buffy. Less scary in that there are no supernatural demons in the fictional town of Neptune, and there is more than one competent and good-hearted adult in this world. More scary in that the murders, frame-ups, and other evildoings in Veronica Mars all emanate from the hearts of men and not demons -- and as such, exact a greater psychic toll on our heroine. Buffy was better at bringing the funny, but Veronica Mars nails the petty and grand cruelties of high school better than any show I've seen in quite a while.

Don't take my word for it, though. Ask Veronica Mars' biggest fanboy -- Joss Whedon:

Last year, Veronica Mars' best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV, collected on DVD in Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season....

She's a super-sleuth, but the show never forgets that her power is born of pain, and that the kids who don't need to see or avenge every secret wrong are actually happier and more well-adjusted. Yet our identification is always strictly with Veronica, the girl buffeted by the base duplicity of her peers and the unfathomable vagaries of her own heart.

The teen-soap element of the show is just as compelling as the season-long murder mystery. Nobody is who you think they are. Everyone shifts, betrays, reveals through their surprising humor as well as their flaws....

At the center of it all is Veronica herself. [Kristin] Bell is most remarkable not for what she brings (warmth, intelligence, and big funny) but for what she leaves out. For all the pathos of her arc, she never begs for our affection. There is a distance to her, a hole in the center of Veronica's persona. Bell constantly conveys it without even seeming to be aware of it. It's a star turn with zero pyrotechnics, and apart from the occasionally awkward voice-over, it's a teeny bit flawless.

Season two is coming out soon -- check them out so you're all caught up for season three.

If spunky heroines are not your kettle of fish, well, then let me recommend going out and buying a DVD of one of the cheesiest eighties movies you'll ever see -- yes, I speak of Road House.

In Entertainment Weekly, Dalton Ross tries to explain its appeal:

Terms of Endearment. On Golden Pond. Children of a Lesser God. All these acclaimed films came out in the 1980s, but if you had to pick the one movie that best sums up the entire decade, it would be about a bouncer with a goofy name and goofier hair, notorious for spouting such oxymorons as ''pain don't hurt.'' It would be Road House. This Patrick Swayze curiosity symbolizes the excess of the '80s in pretty much every way imaginable, with some of the most awesomely ridiculous barroom-brawl scenes of all time, numerous naked bimbos, and plenty of classic bad-guy taunting (''I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing that's missing is your ass!'').

Which is precisely why Road House exists less as a movie than as a bona fide historical document of the Reagan years, a time in which audiences asked nay, demanded that people be attacked by stuffed polar bears, monster trucks demolish car showrooms, and Swayze do tai chi shirtless and flash his toned buttocks roughly 30 minutes into the proceedings.

Ross misses two things. The first is the hair. Swayze's hair in this move is actually more feathered than co-star Kelly Lynch. Second, he missed the most blatantly homoerotic moment in an action movie -- you'll have to see the move to understand what I mean.

The latest DVD features a commentary track from fellow Road House fan Kevin Smith. Go check it out -- and feel your brain cells wither and die.

posted by Dan on 08.06.06 at 09:23 AM


I believe there is a new commentary track by the voice of MST3K to be downloaded as well.

posted by: Klug on 08.06.06 at 09:23 AM [permalink]

ok, THANK YOU! Veronica Mars freaking ROCKS--it's the smartest thing on TV and the most fun all at once.

meanwhile I've been meaning to tell you, we're finally watching Buffy, about midway through season 2 right now, very much enjoying Spike & Drucilla...

posted by: Sarah L. on 08.06.06 at 09:23 AM [permalink]

ROADHOUSE is so existentally awfully bad in a curious kind of way that it must be seen at least once a year by all real men.

Elliot and Gazarra were way way out there.

And if you look through the IMDb pages, many of the minor players are still working a great deal.

Some strange Karma I guess.

"Its amazing what you can get used to."

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 08.06.06 at 09:23 AM [permalink]

They recently released a straight-to-video Roadhouse 2.

Veronica Mars is one of my two favorite shows on right now. But, like many of today's serialized shows, it's more suited for viewing on DVD than over an entire TV year.

posted by: Jeff on 08.06.06 at 09:23 AM [permalink]

One can't forget Red Dawn. Oh Swayze, you were so plugged into the zeitgeist of the 80's.

posted by: zevatron on 08.06.06 at 09:23 AM [permalink]

Road House is a movie that screams for an entire college course on its symbolism and impact. Maybe a whole department. Road House is the I Ching of movies. It can answer any question about the universe you ask of it. But the answers will always appear in the form of unfathomable drunken punchups and towns so small that the super-wealthy dictator shares property lines with the local flophouse.

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