May 31, 2021

ADVENTURES IN THE BUDGET BIN: Not All Dollar Trees are Created Equal


There’s a new Dollar Tree opening up near my house, and believe it or not, I’m actually kind of excited for it. Maybe that’s a testament to just how uneventful my life has become. 

Of course, the older I get, the more I appreciate being able to describe my day-to-day existence as ‘uneventful.’ I’m not sharing exotic vacation photos with Facebook friends who pretend to give a shit, nor has a mid-life crisis Harley-Davidson found a new home in my garage. At the same time, there have been no devastating surprises, either. No grave news from the doctor, no financially-crippling expenses, no kids to bail out of jail, no conversations with the wife that begin with “We need to talk.”

So yeah, I’ll take uneventful every damn day of the week.

But why is Dollar Tree such a big deal, especially since there’s already one just a 10 minute drive away? Well, first of all, the new store is only a 5 minute drive, occupying what used to be a Pier 1 Imports. It's amusingly ironic that Gresham, Oregon’s most jaw-droppingly overpriced store is being replaced by its cheapest. 

Second, not all Dollar Trees are the same. The 10-minute store is cramped, filthy and always looks like the supply truck simply drove through the front window and exploded. Worst of all, it almost never stocks movies. Conversely, I recently swung by a different Dollar Tree that was clean, spacious and, most importantly, stocked with a pretty decent selection of Blu-rays that wouldn’t normally be worth the 30-minute drive. But since I was on the way to a doctor’s appointment, why not make a quick stop?

As an actor, Ben Affleck has always been wildly hit-or-miss, but the ones he directs himself are generally pretty solid. There are even a few I'd consider great.
Live by Night (Blu-ray) doesn’t rank up there with Argo or The Town, but it’s far from terrible. Affleck directs himself and a decent cast in this period gangster film where he plays an Irish mobster who ends up working for the boss of a rival Italian mob. While it’s certainly no Goodfellas and sometimes gets a little poky, there’s an exciting, bloody climax that makes it well worth a buck, as does Zoe Saldana (it’s been awhile since I've seen her not painted green).

If you loved such black comedies as The Hunt and Ready or Not but haven’t yet seen The Belko Experiment (Blu-ray), drop what you’re doing to see if your local Dollar Tree management saw fit to stock it. Written by James Gunn, this under-appreciated horror-comedy features a great cast of familiar faces - whose names escape you - as co-workers trapped in their office building and forced to kill each other. Morbidly funny and brutally violent, the film has a mile-wide mean streak. Even some social commentary can be found in all the mayhem. For the mere price of a candy bar, Belko offers a plethora of sick thrills.

In the 40+ years since Phantasm, director Don Coscarelli hasn’t really done much of-note outside of that beloved franchise (and the quality of some of those sequels have been dubious). The few times he does venture outside his comfort zone tend to be comedy-horror hybrids, like Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End (Blu-ray). To be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest Coscarelli fan and have only enjoyed a couple of his films. John Dies at the End is still on my “yet-to-watch” list, but even if it ends up being more Phantasm IV than Bubba Ho-Tep, it’s still worth some loose change to find out. Good cast, too.

I’ve noticed Dollar Tree appears to have deals with certain distributors. So if you've ever enjoyed a movie released by Magnet, there’s a good chance it’ll eventually end up in a “Weekly Wow” bin. Here’s hoping they’ve come to a similar arrangement with RLJE Films, who release all the horror stuff that plays on the Shudder streaming service, because I nabbed copies of Trick (Blu-ray) and Boar (DVD). I wouldn’t go as far as to call either of these films good, but Trick tries to put an interesting spin on the slasher genre and almost succeeds. Boar is a clumsily-directed, poorly-acted Aussie thriller featuring a giant pig doing the Jaws thing. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to resist nature-run-amok movies, even the bad ones. On the plus side, Boar offers the rare sight of a victim whose head is impaled by the titular critter’s tusk...and surviving (however briefly).

After making my purchases - with a bag of ‘Onyums’ thrown in to build-up the waistline -  I continued to my doctor’s appointment. I’m happy to say the examination was ‘uneventful’ (though not-for-long if I keep throwing Onyums in my basket). At any rate, this surprisingly lucrative movie haul has me hoping the new Dollar Tree - opening just a stone's throw away - has similarly superior management.

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