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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

October 2: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but all those zombies roaming the land aren’t gonna kill themselves. But you can have a multiplex-like experience at home with a collection of the right DVDs. And when someone asks you on Monday, “Hey, did you see Zombieland this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I fought the undead scourge from the safety of my sofa, with laughter as my weapon.”
INSTEAD OF: Zombieland, in which nebbish Jesse Eisenberg and kickass Woody Harrelson team up to kill the walking undead in a zombie-ravaged America, and have a blast doing it…

WATCH: Shaun of the Dead (2004), with which this flick will inevitably be compared; though they are very different — Zombieland isn’t a parody, as Shaun is — they do share a certain sly disdain for the conventions of zombie horror. The undead are on the march, funny style, in Sam Raimi’s 1992 action horror comedy Army of Darkness (aka Evil Dead III), which may make you wish that Bruce Campbell’s slayer of the undead Ash were along for the Zombieland ride. For more Jesse Eisenberg on the hunt, try The Hunting Party (2007), in which he and Richard Gere search for a war criminal in Eastern Europe. Woody Harrelson is scary-scary, instead of scary funny, in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), as an on-the-road spree killer sending up America’s love of violence.

INSTEAD OF: The Invention of Lying, Ricky Gervais’s new film — he wrote and directed as well as stars — about a fantasy world in which no one ever lies… until he stumbles upon the concept…

WATCH: Liar Liar, from 1997, just to get it out of your system. Though that one is about Jim Carrey as an inveterate fibber who is bewitched into telling nothing but the truth, the two films are hardly mirror images of each other… unless we consider the near-genius brilliance of Gervais’s flick the total opposite of the tedious obviousness of the Carrey movie. More of Gervais’s cleverness is on offer in the TV series The Office — the British original, of course, which Gervais created, not the American spinoff, which he has nothing to do with. For another witty film about lying, check out Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (2002), about a charming con artist who lies for a living (as a bonus, it features Jennifer Garner, Gervais’s costar in Lying). For humor with a similarly irreverent style, any given Monty Python movie will do: try Life of Brian or The Meaning of Life; Gervais does get as philosophical in his comedic ponderings on lying and truthtelling as the Pythons do.

INSTEAD OF: Whip It, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, about a teenager (Ellen Page) who discovers a new love in tournament roller derby…

WATCH: Donnie Darko (2001), which Barrymore executive-produced, for a taste of where she has been going with her work behind the camera; the image of alienated adolescence here is much darker than that of this film, but the freshness of its approach isn’t dissimilar. A darker side of Ellen Page is on display in the horrifying Hard Candy (2005), in which her disaffected teen takes matters into her own hands when she perceives a threat to herself. For a scarier skate chick, there’s always Heather Graham’s Rollergirl in Boogie Nights (1997): you do not want to get on her bad side. For a startling and entertaining look at women breaking ground in rough sports, see the 2004 documentary Lipstick & Dynamite: The First Ladies of Wrestling, about the pioneers of the 1940s and 1950s.

INSTEAD OF: Capitalism: A Love Story (expanding to wide release this weekend), Michael Moore’s new polemic about the collapse of the ongoing global economy…

WATCH: Moore’s very first film, Roger & Me (1989), about the local collapse of the economy of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, in the wake of General Motors’ downfall; it could be seen as the first chapter in the story he continues in the new film. The bigger picture of the shocks rocking the financial world and impacting all of us — even the non-CEOs among us — can be pieced together from other recent documentaries, including 2008’s I.O.U.S.A. (about United States’ runaway national debt), 2006’s Maxed Out (about the predatory practices that have contributed to the credit crunch and the consumer debt crushing America), and 2006’s Who Killed the Electric Car? (about how American auto companies quashed products that consumers loved and were good for the environment but bad, perhaps, for corporate bottom lines).


Where to buy:
Army of Darkness [Region 1] [Region 2]
Boogie Nights [Region 1] [Region 2]
Catch Me If You Can [Region 1] [Region 2]
Donnie Darko [Region 1] [Region 2]
Hard Candy [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Hunting Party [Region 1] [Region 2]
I.O.U.S.A. [Region 1] [Region 2]
Liar Liar [Region 1] [Region 2]
Lipstick & Dynamite: The First Ladies of Wrestling [Region 1] [Region 2]
Maxed Out [Region 1]
Monty Python’s Life of Brian [Region 1] [Region 2]
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life [Region 1] [Region 2]
Natural Born Killers [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Office [Region 1] [Region 2]
Roger & Me [Region 1] [Region 2]
Shaun of the Dead [Region 1] [Region 2]
Who Killed the Electric Car? [Region 1] [Region 2]



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