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.