This week’s Roundtable is about pleasant surprises. If you’re like most movie collectors, you’ve made a “blind buy” or two in your day – a movie that you purchased without ever having seen it before. Sometimes this is based on a review you read, or a recommendation from a friend. Sometimes it’s purely a whim. Let’s talk about the blind buys that worked out the best.
This week also brings the triumphant return of Mrs. Z to the Roundtable. For her benefit, we’re going to stretch the definition of “blind buy” a little bit to extend to theatrical screenings and DVD rentals. Feel free to do the same when giving us your picks in the comments. The point here is that these are movies you knew little to nothing about before going in.
Also, I wholeheartedly agree with both of Mrs. Z’s picks, so we’ll let her lead things off.
- ‘Stander‘ – I had never heard of this film when I was invited to a free screening at our local arthouse movie theater. As the opening credits rolled and the movie’s setting became clear, I thought I knew exactly where it was going. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Pretty early on, it takes a left turn that I definitely wasn’t expecting. I’m not going to say too much more because I think this movie is more fun the less you know about it. I will say that it’s essentially an action movie with a good dose of humor, but it’s also much more than that and is ultimately quite thought provoking. It’s based on a true story and earns its R rating with some violence and nudity. (If you want to know if Thomas Jane lives up to the title of his HBO show, this would be your chance to find out.) So be warned if that’s not your thing.
- ‘Happy Accidents‘ – I came to this movie as a fan of director Brad Anderson’s ‘Next Stop Wonderland’. It’s a sweet indie romantic comedy with a dash of sci-fi mixed in. Vincent D’Onofrio may be crazy or he may be time traveler from 400 years in the future here to save Marisa Tomei’s life. Admittedly, the plot is a bit silly, but the actors bring just the right amount of sweetness that you find yourself rooting for this odd couple. There’s also a fun cameo from Anthony Michael Hall playing himself. I think Mr. Z would agree this is a great date movie for people who don’t like date movies.
- ‘PTU‘ – Several years back, I went through a Hong Kong action movie phase. I found a great little DVD shop in my local Chinatown that I could hit on the way home from work. I picked up a bunch of movies there based on little to no information. Maybe I’d heard of the director. (Duh, John Woo.) Maybe I recognized a star. (I think it’s a contractual obligation that Andy Lau and/or Anthony Wong must appear in all movies made in HK.) Maybe the cover art or badly-translated title just appealed to me. My greatest find from this period was ‘PTU’, a fantastically atmospheric and blackly comic police thriller from director Johnny To. I just love this movie. And through it, I found myself diving headfirst into the rest of To’s crazy, astoundingly prolific filmography, which was an incredibly rewarding journey. The movie’s also available on Blu-ray as an import from Hong Kong.
- ‘The Matador (2005)‘ – This is a great little movie that completely slipped under the radar during its theatrical release. Pierce Brosnan spoofs his super-suave 007 persona as burnt-out hit man suffering a profound bout of mid-life depression. To break out of his slump, he decides that he needs a best friend, and picks an uptight Middle American businessman (Greg Kinnear) that he runs into in a Mexico City hotel lounge. Naturally, in his mind, the best way to win a new friend is to show him the most effective way to kill a person. ‘The Matador’ is a very dark comedy that happens to have compelling characters with genuine personal problems and dilemmas. Also, it’s funny as hell. The Weinstein Company released the film on HD DVD, but unfortunately hasn’t yet ported it to Blu-ray. Whatever format you watch it on, disregard the tacky cover art, which makes the movie look like fifth-rate direct-to-Cinemax trash.
- ‘JCVD‘ – I don’t blind buy a lot of movies, because I usually get burned when I do. This is one time that I ejected the Blu-ray feeling totally satisfied with my purchase. Not only did I love it, but I immediately emailed my friends and posted on the HDD Facebook page, telling anyone who hadn’t seen it yet to pick it up and check it out. Now I’m doing it again. At the risk of repeating the river of hyperbole on this one, you really will finish this movie feeling: 1) pleasantly surprised, 2) shocked at how good the Mussels from Brussels can actually be, and 3) wanting everyone you know to check it out and give you their thoughts on it afterwards. Seriously, if you don’t have this one, read our review on High-Def Digest, then pick up your copy on Blu-ray! At the current price of $9.99, you just can’t go wrong!
- ‘Equilibrium‘ – Josh is gonna hate me for this one, but ‘Equilibrium’ is one of my favorite movies. I think it’s brilliant from start to finish, mixing in some amazing action with the whole ‘1984’ thing. As a special bonus, it’s before Christian Bale developed his silly gruff action voice. It’s wicked badass. (Wink.) A friend of mine called me while I was at ‘Best Buy’ one day and told me to buy it. He just said, “Dude, buy ‘Equilibrium,’ watch it and then call me.” I did as instructed – good or bad I knew I was in for a treat – and was pleasantly surprised. It’s like ‘The Matrix’ except less obsessed with silly effects and more full of awesome Sean Beans and Robert the Bruces. Don’t ask me to defend Taye Diggs, but you’ve got to admit, he isn’t awful.
- ‘The Fall‘ – The only blind buy that I’ve bought on the high-definition format (because, let’s be blunt here: shit is unusually expensive), but one that I was nevertheless more-than-happy-with was Tarsem Singh’s ‘The Fall’. Now, I’ve had a rather contentious relationship with Tarsem. I still remember vividly the first time I saw his debut film, the dream-world serial killer movie ‘The Cell’, and wanted to rip a seat out of the theater and hurl it at the screen. That’s how much I hated it. Since then, I’ve come to a better understanding of ‘The Cell’ and what it does. (Chiefly, it rather viciously rips off some of the 20th Century’s most vivid artists – among them Damien Hirst, who should have sued if he weren’t too busy rolling around in large piles of million dollar bills a la Scrooge McDuck). My emotions have mellowed. All that said, ‘The Fall’, which I bought in the heady days of just getting a Blu-ray player and knowing that it would really “pop” off my system (or something), was a true improvement over ‘The Cell’. Not that Tarsem showed any more skill in terms of cohesive storytelling; it’s just as disjointed as ever. Which is as it should be, since most of the movie he shot piggybacking on commercial duties (a day here, a day there). Still, it’s compelling stuff, enough so that genuine auteurs like David Fincher and Spike Jonze signed on to “present” the movie. It’s more or less a perfume commercial or music video amped up and shot for a widescreen theatrical presentation – or, barring that, a really big television screen. Still, I would say it was a worthy “blind buy.” And my god, isn’t that little Mexican girl the cutest?
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
- ‘Ghost Town‘ – Just about everything I pick up is a blind buy, really. I don’t make it out to theaters all that often, and I’m more adventurous with Blu-ray than I was even at my most rabid during DVD’s heyday. I never saw a trailer for ‘Ghost Town’. Never read any reviews. Never heard anyone so much as mention it offhand. All I knew is that it starred Ricky Gervais, and that was enough for me to dive in sight-unseen. How this wound up sneaking in so far under the radar, I have no idea, but I love it. ‘Ghost Town’ grabs what sounds like a really broad premise for a romantic comedy – the ghost of a sleazeball wrangles a misanthropic dentist into trashing his widow’s wedding plans – but it’s all handled with an impressively light touch. Since the movie’s basically a three-character piece and doesn’t get distracted by any dangling subplots, that frees ‘Ghost Town’ up to focus on being really, really funny. Its sense of humor is dry, quippy, and brilliantly understated. Something as small as an indifferent shrug from Ricky Gervais (Oh, your wife just squirted out a kid? Whatever.) can leave me howling. Sure, there’s a mummified penis-in-a-jar, but the movie’s screenplay is too smartly written to go for lazy sight gags, so I’m cracking up at something I’m not even seeing. At the same time, there’s a sweetness and vulnerability when you flip ‘Ghost Town’ over, and the movie juggles that sort of emotion with its outstanding sense of humor exceptionally well.
- ‘Bolt‘ – I hardly find myself buying Blu-rays anymore. The onslaught of titles I have coming my way reviewing for High-Def Digest keeps me more than busy with watching movies. I can count the number of blind buys I’ve had on one hand. I just don’t buy movies anymore, let alone movies I haven’t seen. However, there is one that comes to mind. I’d never seen ‘Bolt’, and my wife was skeptical about getting it even though it had gotten great reviews. I didn’t blame her. This was Disney’s first step outside of Pixar to create a full-length CG animated feature. The main characters were voiced by John Travolta and Miley Cyrus. I can see why she was apprehensive. With one of Disney’s famous $10 off coupons she let me purchase it and it’s been one of our favorites ever since.
Now we turn it over to you. Tell us in the Comments what your favorite blind buys have been.
Hell yes to JVCD! Saw it in the theater and I’m glad I did. Such an unexpectedly amazing movie!
I will start out with the cheesy one, and say The American Girl movies. I started with a rental of Kitt Kitridge because I like AnnaSophia Robb, and ended up buying it. I then caught Felicity on Hallmark, and ended up buying it, Samantha, Molly, and Clarissa on blind buys. Samantha is my all-time favorite blind-buy, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it – its such a feel-good movie.
Now we go to a bit of obsession – Dakota Fanning movies. My first was Uptown Girls, and I saw it because I had a thing for Brittney Murphey, and fell in love (I use the word loosely, no funny business)with Dakota Fanning. This lead to blind buys of I Am Sam, Hide and Seek (WONDERFUL MOVIE) and Man on Fire. It also lead me to watch movies in generas I would otherwise never have watched (Dreamer, Charlotte’s Web), and I caught Push on opening day.
Abigail Breslin is now starting to become that way to me. First movie I saw was Definately, Maybe (lady-friend drug me to it), and this was followed by a blind buy on HD-DVD of No Reservations. I then saw Nim’s Island (I may have my chronology out of whack) at the theater. This lead me to another blind buy…
Signs. But Abigail Breslin was only part of the draw. I don’t care what other people say, I LOVE Mel Gibson, and it seems that everything he touches is cinema gold!
Forbidden Planet was a blind buy on HD-DVD ($5, can’t beat that). In fact, probably half my HD-DVD collection was blind buys – as it was as cheap to buy them as it was to rent them. The Bourne Trilogy was a great example of this! I had never even heard of it until the first one came bundled with the player.
I bought all three Tinkerbell movies and Interview with the Vampire based solely on reviews on this site. Fans of all four of those. Disney seems to have struck gold with the Tinkerbell movies, and I knew absolutely nothing about Interview with the Vampire before I bought it.
Across The Universe was a blind buy. Early Blu-Ray release, and I was hurting for material. LOVE it!
There were several blind buys that I was disappointed in, as I was so hurting for content in the early days. Doom, Monster House, Happy Feet. Horrible horrible movies! But I watched every last minute (except for doom, did not hold my intrest) of MH and HF, admiring how pretty CG was on Blu-Ray!
I just glanced over at my BD collection and realized that my only blind-buys were a couple of Criterion titles I snagged during the summer Barnes and Noble sale, and Sunshine Cleaning (because Amy Adams is the love of my life).
I would have to say I’m happiest with The Red Shoes. I got caught up in the hype whirlwind when the re-issue was released, and that combined with the incredible packaging and art and my undying fetish/love for everything Criterion, I just had to pick it up. What a great decision that was. The PQ is just mind-numbingly beautiful, and the movie is so good that I hated myself for having never seen it before. And how about those bonus features? Jeez.
Mine is probably a tie between District 9 and Pan’s Labyrinth. Both are just plain fantastic movies.
Also, The Fall is such a good movie. I really enjoyed that one.
Mrs. Z. Funny enough, I actually worked on Happy Accidents. That was one disorganized movie.
‘Firefly’ – I had never seen Buffy, never seen Angel, never heard of Joss, never even heard of the show at all. I picked it up blind for my dad who likes watching the sci-fi channel. I watched it with him. BAM! Since then, I bought my own copy and have watched it five times.
‘Love Actually’ – Never heard of it, never even saw a trailer. Got the dvd for cheap at Blockbuster. From scene one, Bill Nighy just tickles me. Now it’s my favorite holiday movie of all time.
‘Once’ – Glen Hansard is a gift. My friend told me to buy this, said I would probably hate this, but take a whack at it. The first viewing, I found the ending lame. But now that I know what the story is, I can see the beauty of it. Bought it blind, I’ve watched it many many times, plus random songs.
‘Way Of The Gun’ – Picked this up blind with ‘Swimming With Sharks’ because it had Del Toro. Five minutes, I was like, “Mother of fuck, did McQuarrie write this?” Sure enough, in tiny print, written and directed. I don’t know how I didn’t know about this until years after, but it was a beautiful surprise.
Oooh, I haven’t seen ‘Once’ but I’ve been really getting into the music. I’ll have to give it a go!
I envy you. There’s a scene in ‘Once’ of such raw power, I wish I could see it again for the first time. I hope you have a badass sound system.
Well… the majority of my Blu-Ray collection has been blind buys, so there have been quite a few amazing films I’ve discovered that way.
I would say, though, that probably my favorite has been the Criterion Collection’s release of Fritz Lang’s “M”, starring Peter Lorre.
I bought “Breaker Morant” based off of the good movie review from this site and a Buy 2, Get 1 free sale at amazon.com. I have my blu-rays arranged from favorite at the top to “embarrassed to own” at the bottom of my shelves. “Breaker Morant” is on the top shelf. I blind bought “The Last of the Mohicans” and “The Sand Pebbles” based off of the good reviews here, but have yet to watch either.
Tell No One. My god, that was an amazing movie!
I would have to say my best blind buy would be “let the right one in”, what a great vampire flick!
Michael S. Palmer
I’m with Mr. Ward on this one. Didn’t know anything about EQUILIBRIUM before hand and really loved it. Wish it was on Blu.
I also happened to be studying abroad when DONNIE DARKO came out, so that found a few years later based off a friend. And my last truly good blind buy was TIGERLAND on DVD for $7 at Best Buy.
I rented “Tigerland” because I was working at Fort Polk and the movie was recommended by coworkers. I’m not a fan of either Colin Farrell or Joel Schumacher, so I was very pleasantly surprised when the movie turned out to be pretty good.
I’m quite “particular” (as a friend once diplomatically put it) about the contents of my DVD & Blu-ray library, and so “blind buys” are anathema. Nevertheless, I have broken that rule on occasion, sometimes with delightful results. Here are three instances that worked out wonderfully:
1st Prize: “Naked Space” (a.k.a. “Spaceship”, a.k.a. “The Creature Wasn’t Nice”) — When I was a kid, I read about a sci-fi spoof called “Dark Star”, made by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon when they were college young’uns. Approximately twenty years later I finally had my chance to see the movie when a local DVD rental store stocked it. I loved the movie and ended up purchasing a copy for my collection, even though some things I vaguely recalled from my reading turned out to be different or nonexistent in the movie after all. Still, it was a great addition to my collection. Then, one day I was in Kmart and I chanced upon a cheapo DVD of “Naked Space”, a sci-fi comedy starring Leslie Nielsen. As I read the back cover, I realized why I had been confused about “Dark Star”: over the years my memory had conflated my readings about TWO different movies, and THIS was the second, “missing” film! For $6 I snatched it up immediately, and I have never regretted that purchase. BOTH these movies rock!!
2nd Prize: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” — This movie has had a few different cuts over the years. I never saw it in theaters and for years had watched only the small-screen variety. When the film finally came to DVD in 2001, it was in yet another cut, never seen before by the public (with new CGI, even). Ever wary of revisions to films I already like, I nevertheless bought the “director‘s cut” and was quite pleased. Years later, when I purchased the “Star Trek: Original Motion Picture Collection” on Blu-ray, getting my hands on the original theatrical cut of the first movie was a major motivation. I was not disappointed—indeed, although I still much enjoy the director’s cut, the theatrical cut is my favorite version.
3rd Prize: “George Lucas in Love” — I first heard of this comedy short subject (a takeoff on “Shakespeare in Love”, replacing the Bard with a college-aged George Lucas failing to see the seeds of “Star Wars” all around him) via a news story on the radio. When I happened upon a DVD edition inexpensively for sale in a retail store, I jumped at the chance. I’ve put a ripped copy on my PSP, and it’s replaced boredom with hilarity many, many times over.
Speaking of Pierce Brosnan, several years ago I groaned when I received a review copy of ‘Seraphim Falls’, a sort of weird artsy Western starring Brosnan and Liam Neeson. It turned out to be tremendous, like a cross between ‘Gerry’ and ‘Dead Man’ (if you like that sort of thing…)
Also has amazing John Toll cinematography, and it’s tragic that I’m the only person in the world who’s ever seen it.