Odd Job: Selling my old DVDs
I had just finished telling the children at the after-school program where I work about the toy I spent two years saving up to buy as a kid. A toy I absolutely adored and used to play with all the time. And now Doug, a scruffy-haired second grader, was raising his hand and asking the inevitable follow-up question: “What happened to it?”
“I dunno.” I answered. “It’s probably in my parents’ garage somewhere. Ya see,” and then I prepared to impart some knowledge. Something deep and meaningful. Something that would hopefully stay with them for the rest of their lives. And something that would leave me incredibly satisfied with my own teaching abilities. “Most things you buy won’t make you happy forever.”
I paused to let my illuminating wisdom disperse into the air and be understood in all its complexity, but a second later Doug was blurting out, “Well, yeah. Nothing you buy will make you happy forever.” He was right, of course. It isn’t that most purchases won’t make you happy forever. It’s that all purchases won’t make you happy forever. So there you have it. Two seconds into my attempt to impart life-changing knowledge, some seven-year-old was running intellectual circles around me. It’s possible I’m not that good a teacher.
Recently, I’ve started to look at all the things I own and think about how the things you buy won’t make you happy forever. My bookshelf is overflowing with books I will never reread and my closet is full of clothes I will never wear. Yet I hold onto them for no comprehensible reason. So this week, I did something about it. I started selling my stuff. Namely, my old DVD’s.
I set aside a dozen or so classics like “Back to the Future” and “Extras,” then sold off the rest of my films to friends and Newbury Comics.
It was a little sad parting with movies I used to enjoy, but even sadder to realize how many I owned that I never liked in the first place. To be forced to think about how I wouldn’t be so broke if I hadn’t bought so much crap I never wanted over the years.
I suppose these are good thoughts to be having. After all, remembering how frustrating it was to spend so irresponsibly before will help me to spend more responsibly in the future. And since telling the story of the time I sold 30 DVDs for $35 is pretty boring, today’s blog post is about the three movies that did the best job teaching me to spend responsibly this week. The three dumbest movie purchases of my life.
3. Hotel Rwanda. The discount DVD racks at most stores usually feature movies with premises so awful they leave you questioning the direction of humanity. They offer films starring Sinbad and straight-to-video sequels of originals you never watched. But the discount rack at Blockbuster was a little different. It was full of movies you didn’t actually want, but could absolutely talk yourself into. All under a banner crying 4-for-$20. And so you’d think, “What do I have to lose? I’ll have something fun to watch tonight, and own four solid movies going forward.” Then you’d get home and realize you didn’t actually feel like watching any of them, and the answer to the question “What do I have to lose?” is “$20 and your Saturday night.”
“Hotel Rwanda” was the poster child for these movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Hotel Rwanda is bad. Well before I saw it on the discount rack, I watched it and concluded that it is either a fine movie if I’m being honest or an incredibly moving piece of art if I’m trying to come off as compassionate when talking to people I just met. But regardless of how good it is, it is a movie about the Rwandan genocide. And I probably should have taken a moment to ask myself, when will I ever get the urge to watch it a second time? When am I going to be “in the mood” for Hotel Rwanda? Will it be when a date comes over and I want something to play in the background while we make out? Will it be when I’m sick and stuck in bed all day? During movie marathons with friends? Lazy Sundays? When is the point in your life that makes you say, “Sure I could watch ‘Good Will Hunting’ or season one of ‘Arrested Development,’ but you know what I could really go for right now? Something about the mass extermination of a sect of people that I’ve already seen before.”
2. TMNT. If you’re like me, you grew up having a steady stream of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles intravenously dripped into your blood. Throwing temper tantrums begging your parents to buy you yet another action figure and singing the TV show theme song on repeat until your older sister wanted to throw you through a window. If you’re like me, you also look back on this as the happiest time in your life.
As with all objects of childhood adoration, you would occasionally be tricked into buying something just because your favorite cartoon characters’ names were on it. The worst example of this for me was the VHS of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles concert where live actors sang original songs like “Coming Out of Our Shells!” It featured awful music, horrendous acting, and an embarrassingly bad storyline where Shredder steals April’s voice and the turtles have to bring it back by playing one last awesome song. If you want to see the climax of the film, skip ahead to 1:11:00 and press play, then just stop whenever you lose the will to live.
Do you think the actors playing the turtles called their friends before or after they finished shooting to tell them that they finally got their big break?
But you probably don’t really regret these occasional hiccups of awful Ninja Turtle purchases, because, at the end of the day, it was your parents’ money.
And then you probably grew up, liked the TV show a bit less, started paying for your own stuff, and stopped buying things just because they were affiliated with the Ninja Turtles. This would be where our paths diverged. Because when I saw a movie called “TMNT,” a 2007 CGI Ninja Turtles film, there was no doubt I would buy it. Even if the back of the DVD case had exactly one review saying, “A great family adventure. Fun, fast and full of charm” by a guy named Moriarty at Ain’t It Cool News. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If a DVD has one review on it and it’s from something called “Ain’t It Cool News,” don’t buy it. Just walk away from the store and never come back.
On the plus side, the movie featured the voicework of Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Laurence Fiburne, at least two of whom have way too much of a career to stoop to being in this movie.
1. Welcome to Mooseport. But the number one movie I shouldn’t have bought is “Welcome to Mooseport.” Because unlike “TMNT,” I had seen this movie before. And unlike “Hotel Rwanda,” I didn’t like it. So why did I buy it? I have no idea. But maybe now that you know I’ve made purchasing decisions like this at various points in my life, you don’t have to wonder how I ended up so broke.
In this film (Gene Hackman’s last), Ray Romano plays an everyman who runs for mayor of the town of Mooseport against Gene Hackman who plays the former President of the United States. It is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a movie with that premise. It certainly makes sense that Gene Hackman retired after shooting. If I made this movie, I would quit acting too.
The movie is not only a weak film, but was also a sad constant reminder on my shelf that this was Gene Hackman’s last contribution to the world of cinema. This from the guy who did “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Mississippi Burning” and “Hoosiers.” And he went out on Welcome to Mooseport? That would be like if Brett Favre finished his career playing like garbage for the Minnesota Vikings. Or if the former President of the United States ended his career by running for Mayor of a small town called Mooseport. Oh my God, I never realized this film had so many layers.
That toy I spent two years saving money to buy was called the Technodrome. It was the bad guys’ lair in the Ninja Turtles TV show, and I loved that thing. Kind of funny that one of the best purchases I ever made came from a love of the same entity that led to what I now call one of the worst purchases I ever made. Of course, I’m being unfair. I didn’t buy the movie because I wanted to watch it. I bought it because it reminded me of something from my childhood that made me happy.
The kids in my class no longer care too much about the Ninja Turtles. It’s a fad from a different era. They’re interested in something called Ninjago, a show about four ninjas who each have their own colors, are led by their Sensei and work together to fight an evil villain. Seriously.
The kids play with their toys and quote the TV show with the same intensity that I did when I was seven. They are unapologetically, devoutly in love with a cartoon show and its characters.
As adults, we desperately seek something that will make us feel that happy. But it’s easier when you’re a kid. When you’re a kid, you can find pure elation in a piece of plastic. When you grow up, you have to start looking for happiness in your love life and your career and boy is that harder.
So maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself about buying something because it reminded me of the time when buying something could make me happy.
-  I assume somewhere between 30 and 70% of these movies are bought ironically. ↩
-  How come more songs don’t have exclamation points in the title? ↩
-  Which two? That’s a good question. I know Patrick Stewart is one of them, but I’m not sure who’s the other. ↩
-  I saw none of these, but I am told that they are quite good, so I’m just going to leave that sentence in there like I know what I’m talking about. ↩
In some but not all articles, names or identifying characteristics or individual lines of dialogue have been changed to protect identities or because remembering exactly how things happened is hard. But in every case, an effort was made to maintain the integrity of these events that did indeed actually happen.
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