Friday, May 27, 2016

Scrounging for cheapies, plus Killers, Uninhabited, The Boys Next Door

I still miss going through the cheapie bins of PV'd movies at Rogers Video, y'know? So many odd little gems did I find, often for $3.99... it used to be one of my favourite ways to shop for movies, back when there were still video chain stores out there. Things were so inexpensive you could take chances, and often discover a little gem you'd never heard of before. You could pick up the box, examine the art, flip it over, read the blurbs, check the fine print to see if there were names you recognized; streaming and torrenting movies can never match the tangible, physical reality of poking through a bin. You often knew that you were taking a chance, when you took your little stack of films up to the counter, but the low stakes inspired a bit of an adventurous spirit, and often there would be a pleasant payoff when you got the DVDs home. Pawn shops and used DVD places just don't compare, in part because many are too expensive - Lely's, say, or that Vintage Media place on Granville; if they even have discount sections, it's only for stuff they have a dozen or more copies of already, so there are no discoveries to be had. On the other hand - especially if you get out into the suburbs - there are shops where you can find DVDs and Blu's for $1 or $2; but such stores generally only get in mainstream stuff, because that's what people bring them, because that's the sort of shit that you generally FIND in the suburbs, and because that's what they mostly prefer to sell, anyhow - items they know there's a market for. Even Value Village is hit or miss if you're shopping for items in the long tail, and they're the place most likely to have the DVD missing from the case, or else scratched to hell.

But cheap movie hawks like me can still find the odd gem, if you know where to look. The most interesting place to shop these days - though it's hardly reliable, and hasn't netted me much lately - is Dollarama, believe it or not. I've found Blu-Rays of Adam Wingard's The Guest - which I'd been eyeing up earlier that day at a HMV for $25 - and that great insect microphotography documentary from a while back, Microcosmos, getting them for $3 each. There have been a few "can't resist" classics (Smart Money, with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, or something with Robinson and Bogey called Bullets Or Ballots - I never knew Malcolm X had borrowed the title of a gangster film for his most famous speech!). And a few months ago I stumbled onto a DVD copy of a memorable "right to die" drama from the 1980's, Who's Life Is It, Anyway?, with great performances from Richard Dreyfus, John Cassavetes and Christine Lahti, for only $2; it's a film I've had long fondness for, and fully intended to buy someday, so getting it on the cheap was a delight. It's almost the same as the Rogers bin, because you're generally more inclined to be kind to a movie you've bought if you didn't pay enough to feel ripped off by it. I mean, around Halloween, at the Metrotown Dollarama, I found an Australian ghost story with an outdoor survival edge, Uninhabited, that I would never have considered for $20, and may not have even enjoyed at that price - but was delighted with when the cost was only a couple bucks. It's a film even those inclined to steal movies via torrent probably would never come across; it has no real cult following, has no one advising you to seek it out, has mostly negative reviews. But there in the $2 bin, the physical object itself has an attraction that the movie more than lives up to. (Once again, as per a pet peeve of mine, the box art nowhere lets you know that it's an Australian film, except maybe in the fine print, because the people packaging it wrongly figure that everyone wants Amurrican movies only).

The big disappointment, however, when it comes to thrifty gamblin' on movies is HMV. They have all these 3/$15 titles, which, depending on atmospheric conditions, you can sometimes mix and match with other twofer or threefer titles and sometimes can't (they seem to keep changing that policy, or else it's really just at the discretion of staff, because I've been told both that it is and isn't possible, sometimes on the same day by different employees).  Problem is,  those bins are stocked, generally, with the most obvious, crowd-pleasing items you can imagine - big hits from five years ago that have peaked, tapered off, and now can be moved out at the lowest price imaginable, because the herd animals out there will buy enough of them that even at $5 per, there's plenty of money to be made. There are sometimes good movies in the bins - Chronicle, Starship Troopers, The Men Who Stare At Goats, even Polanski's Chinatown and The Ninth Gate sold that way for awhile, and in Blu, too! - but more often than not, lately, I don't even bother. It's been simply too long since I found anything I wanted.

Until yesterday, that is. With no intention to buy, just killing an idle moment, I was flipping through their actual DVD section (because they persist in bringing in some horror movies in DVD but not Blu, for some damn reason) when I saw a box set of Donnie Yen thrillers, filed under "S" for one of the films in it, Special ID, priced at 3/ $15. What? I loved Yen in the first two Ip Man movies, which is all I've seen of his work as yet; two of the films in the set got pretty mixed reviews, but one of them, Flashpoint, is apparently considered a classic - so what the hell!

And though I resent it, having found one item at a price I couldn't miss, I turned my weary eyes on the 3/ $15 DVD bins (because there really aren't many 3/$15 Blu bins left). I fully expected the same crap - "oh, look, it's Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell!" - but was happy to pick up and examine any title I *didn't already know.* (Because that's how you find the fresh stuff).

And what do we have here? Killers: a Japanese-Indonesian horror movie with tons of rave reviews on the box?  How can I possibly resist that? I didn't even realize until after I got it home and started watching it - I have an hour left to go as I type this - that it's produced by Gareth Huw Evans, of The Raid: Redemption fame; that it's directed by the Mo Brothers, who co-directed with Evans the cult compound gorefest "Safe Haven" in the movie V/H/S 2; and that it co-stars the cult leader from that film, and from The Raid 2, Epy Kusnandar, who is one of the most ridiculously charismatic and unquantifiably appealing actors out there, these days (may more movies be made with him!).
And yes, folks, taking the movie home and playing it, I'm filled with that cinephilic "Scratch and Win" joy that is all too rare these days. For $5, Killers is just fantastic; it would have been fantastic at $20, too, but I never would have done a blind buy at that price, which is why it's such a great idea for HMV to include a few obscure movies like this in the cheapie bins, alongside all the "safe" titles that I turn my nose up at. It has a great story: a Japanese serial killer who brutally murders women posts footage of his crimes on the internet. An Indonesian journalist, frustrated and defeated by his attempts to bring down a corrupt businessman named Dharma, watches the videos, and - after a chance moment of brutal violence falls upon him and pushes him over the edge - is inspired to start killing the corrupted bigwigs (including a pedophilic lawyer, played by Kusnandar) who have laid his life low. He's a moral vigilante, not a sociopath - at least for the first half of the film; not sure where hour two will lead - but he posts footage of his crimes online, as well, and soon finds himself corresponding with the Japanese serial killer in question...

So that's two films - or four, if you count that one of them is a box set of three - and usually that means a frustrating hour-long hunt for a third purchase, especially if they've toggled back to the "no mix-and-match" policy that sometimes is in effect - but lo, there in the very bin with Killers is The Boys Next Door. This is a film I've thought about for years, since I first saw it as a teenager on VHS, which I remember as being an effective little horror/ drama. Penelope Spheeris made it somewhere between Suburbia and Wayne's World, and it has a lot more of the former in its DNA than the latter. I'm not at all interested in revisiting Dudes, her other in-between film, where she reversed her Suburbia-era judgment that you can't teach an actor to be a punk but you can teach a punk to be an actor, and (boo!) cast professional actors as punks, but The Boys Next Door is a film that has haunted me for thirty years, that I've wanted to revisit for awhile. It's about two California teenagers (one of whom is played by a very young Charlie Sheen) who end up on a killing spree. I remember it both for its mood of despairing nihilism, which unsettled me when I saw it first, and because it features on the soundtrack Iggy Pop and James Williamson's song "I Got Nothin'," which I hadn't heard before, from their album Kill City.
So that's a nice experience, all too rare: HMV has delighted me. They should think of me when stocking their cheapie bins more often. By contrast, my two blind buys there this month - a Scream Factory Blu called Cherry Falls, which I shelled out nearly $30 for, and an unremarkable Ti West movie called The Innkeepers, which is packaged as some sort of Gothic ghost story but which proves to be a half-comedic portrait of messed-up millenials - have both been disappointing, lesser films, and are soon to make the trek with me to Videomatica to be traded in (for Sssssss, if you must know).

Videomatica is great, too, of course, but Killers - for five bucks! - is still the find of the month.

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