Cheapest by the Dozen: The "12 Movie Action Pack" Pt. 1

Eagle River Rd. coming up on Wal-Mart
Even in my quietest, most reflective moments, I cannot escape the movies.

My recent trip to Eagle River, Alaska was meant as a tonic to my senses, a restorative designed to prompt deeper memories that would aid me both psychologically and in my writing. Such a visit to my secondary hometown (born on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, but grew up in my prime childhood years in Eagle River) was supposed to allow me to reflect on a period of my life long past. Lunch with a childhood chum was the first order of business, then a stop by his parents' home in my old stomping grounds, and ultimately, a short visit to the then-beloved house we lived in next door prior to my parents' divorce (to which my brothers and I, to this day, always refer as "the green house").

And the trip proved to be exactly as refreshing as I expected. I delighted in seeing my old friend Mike again and catching up on details and rumors of past friends and neighbors, and trying to work out in my head the locations and timeframe of certain events from our past. Following lunch, my erstwhile pal, Robear, and I were indeed intending to make that stop at Mike's parents house (which we did), but on the way there, came the intrusion of something which I had not been planning: Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart on Eagle River Road was not built or even conceived before I moved out of the town in my teenage years. But somewhere along the way since, Eagle River's commercial interests expanded, and with it came certain big box stores and chain restaurants, chief amongst them Wal-Mart. I am not saying this as a diatribe against commercialism; I am just merely pointing out that the times changed, and so did the prospects for the shoppers of Eagle River. And it was built less than a mile from my old home. While we had no idea what a "Wal-Mart" was when we were kids, the fact that we had to ride out bikes down from the mountains a couple of miles just to buy baseball cards or comic books from any store in Eagle River should tell you that had such a temple of the free market been erected in our youth, it would have become our Mecca. We would have loved such a place, not all that far from our neighborhood off Eagle River Road, deeply and emotionally.

The shirt that I found at Wal-Mart. The nose
was borrowed. And the mustache was a gift.
The reason for the sidetrip to Wal-Mart was for but a single purpose, which then swiftly evolved into a dual one. Several of my close friends and I were scheduled to march in a parade in Downtown Anchorage in a couple of days for the Fourth of July, and Robear needed to find a couple of medium-sized American flags to go with our banner (for our Invisible Dog Club, a long-standing tradition in our group of friends which had sadly laid dormant for about a decade until the previous year). Since we were already at Wal-Mart, and the company is well-known as being the capital of the Über-Patriot, I decided to take a peek around the store to see if I could find a decent Captain America-style t-shirt to wear for the parade. We found success in both ventures. Robear found his flags, and I found an official Marvel shirt for only $10, which fit my XL belly as well as a shirt with stretchy fabric could, but on my way to finding that shirt, my eye was captured by a rather large bin sitting near the registers. 

In recent years, I have learned to avoid rather large bins that are sitting near registers, since they are only there to trap the impulse buyers among us. Impulse buying is something I have had to resist since moving to California over a decade ago, but especially now that I am without a regular job and have little cash at hand, I have brought such offhand purchasing almost entirely to a standstill. But, sitting there staring at a rather large bin filled over its top edge by a certain product, my past came back to haunt me. Not so much in the DVD years, but when VHS was still the thing, I regularly haunted the rather large bins sitting near registers. In fact, they were rather regular stops for me. I found many of what my stupid brain perceived as incredible videotape bargains in those days, not necessarily at Wal-Mart (where I have rarely shopped) but at various Target, Best Buy, and Fred Meyer stores. A so-so movie that seems unfathomable to purchase at $14.99 seems absolutely perfect and worthwhile at $4.99. (Well, sometimes... it really depends on the movie and/or who the star or director happens to be.) The thought would be, "Well, I have 20 bucks in my pocket. I can bring home four new movies to add to my collection." The quality rarely mattered, as long as it fit into the general scheme of my library, which was heavy with horror and science-fiction titles.

Once DVD hit, however, and finding copies of films that had been released in their proper theatrical aspect ratios became the status quo of collectors, the bargain bins rather went away for me. This is mainly because I started caring about which version of a film I had in my collection, and so many of the DVDs in the bins featured blockbuster films cropped down from their respective widescreen ratios to the standard 4:3 format used on television. There were also rumors about certain retailers (Wal-Mart chief amongst them) editing objectionable content out of some films. Of course, to do so is patently illegal without the consent of the creator of that content, so if there were copies like that in stores, it would have been due to the studio releasing a separate cleaner version, not the store itself. But still, the rumors were out there for many years, and I just decided to not get involved in purchasing items which may have been tampered.

So, there I was, inside a Wal-Mart for the first time in about a year (since I visited Idaho), and I was staring anew into the crammed depths of one of those rather large bins sitting near the registers. Inside its thick cardboard walls, the rather large bin held several hundred DVDs, each selling for the LOW LOW LOW price of only $5.00 apiece! "HOW CAN YOU FUCKING RESIST?," the rather large bin practically shouted at me. Since I had a couple of minutes to kill and I was, for the first time in a great while, at peace with the world -- I was, after all, on my own time, on vacation, in my home town, waiting for my friend -- I decided to flip through some of the titles briefly. I saw covers featuring Pierce Brosnan, Julia Roberts, Brendan Fraser, Will Smith... but nothing that I would really consider owning or, if I had seen the film, worthy of another viewing, even at five bucks. I kept dragging my hand through the bin, hoping to find something that could even halfway pique my interest, but it seemed there was little chance of that.

And then I found the 12 Movie Action Pack.

Now, of the DVDs that I am least prone to purchase in a rather large bin near a register, it is usually the movie multi-pack. I don't mean a box set where each movie is on a separate disc and you can be reasonably assured that a certain amount of care went into the transfer, duplication, and design of the materials. If a true box set of certain filmmakers or genres is available at a great price, you can rest assured that I will eye such a product with great interest. No, I am talking about the cheapie sets where several films are crammed onto a single disc or two, and where the quality is probably not as great as one would wish for a film that is nowadays going to be most likely projected onto at least a 44-inch screen or larger. You really do get what you pay for in these instances, and I will tell you from the outset that such a condition is exactly what I planned to find in a set simply titled 12 Movie Action Pack for only five bucks at Wal-Mart.

There were some other factors at play here, however, that made it impossible for me to resist buying the 12 Movie Action Pack. First, there was the packaging. On the front cover, the tiny posters for the first six movies in the set appear, and going from left to right, the leads for the films were Nicolas Cage, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jason Statham, John Cusack, and Sylvester Stallone. On the back, the stars for each of the second six films were Rich Franklin (some UFC guy of whom I have never heard before), Morgan Freeman and Cusack (again), Kiefer Sutherland and Melora Walters, Woody Harrelson, Cage (again) and Nicole Kidman, and Michael Shannon. The four stars that are touted on the DVD cover with just head shots and their last name, however, in a series of larger pictures, front and back, were Statham, Van Damme, Cage, and Lundgren. I was shocked, speaking of action stars, that "A"-lister Sly Stallone was not among the four shown on the cover instead of more "B"-prone Lundgren, which of course made the set catch my notice even more.

Secondly, on first glance while in the store, I thought that of the twelve films in the set, I had never seen any of them. Not a single one. It's not that straight action films are not my thing, it's just that it requires a pretty remarkable trailer -- such as Mad Max: Fury Road, though that, of course, has major sci-fi overtones, carrying it more into my movie wheelhouse -- to get me into a theatre to see a film in that genre these days. There was also a realization that, in my normal course of movie bouncing, that I was not likely to ever see any of the films in this set without some form of unexpected interference, i.e. my purchase of a DVD set such as 12 Movie Action Pack

Third, another intriguing aspect was the fact that I had only ever heard of three of the films in the set: the fairly well-received though financially unsuccessful Rampart with Harrelson; War, Inc. with Cusack, of which I remembered the trailer and that it had actually hit theatres at one point; and The Iceman, a biopic of the infamous Mafia hitman played by the quite often terrific Michael Shannon. [More on this title later...] Of the rest, I had no memory of ever having heard of their titles. I chalk this up to general ennui with the bulk of Hollywood filmmaking, to the point where I can now see trailers several times and still completely forget that such films have ever been released. It is likely that I saw the trailers for half of these films and completely erased them from mind. Or it is just as likely that, except for the three that I mentioned, I truly have never heard of them.

I finally ran into Robear again, and as we made our way to leave, I made a second stop at the rather large bin sitting near the registers, and said, "I will not be leaving without THIS!" and grabbed the 12 Movie Action Pack. We made our silly purchases, and then carried on with the rest of our afternoon as planned, seeing my old neighborhood, Mike's parents' house (which had expanded greatly from the old days), and my old house, which was now under new ownership. (Mike had talked to the new owners a couple of days before, and they said they would be happy to show me the place on Saturday, but when we arrived, they were, to my ultimate disappointment but slight, unspoken relief, not home. It would have been a bit odd and out of character for me.)

And the 12 Movie Action Pack? Well, it sat on my parents' coffee table for the remainder of my stay at their home in Anchorage, where I always had the intent of queueing it up in the DVD player but never did. However, on my first full day upon returning back to Southern California, I finally cracked into the DVD to see what potential treasures or horrors I would find...

[To be continued...]


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