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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

November 25: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this long holiday weekend, but you won’t be able to move off the sofa after all that turkey, plus: football! 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 Old Dogs this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I watched a bunch of other dads-suck movies that came before.”
INSTEAD OF: Old Dogs, in which John Travolta and Robin Williams get unexpectedly saddled with seven-year-old twins and go on to demonstrate what awful parental figures they are…

WATCH: Wild Hogs (2007), in which a bunch of suburban dads escape their terrible lives of 5,000-square-foot McMansions and mass consumerism by riding off into a motorcycle sitcom; Dogs seems keyed to appeal to the same audience, down to same star (Travolta) and same director (Walt Becker). Hollywood has made something of a comedic subgenre out of the notion that men are simply incapable of caring for children, and neither John Travolta nor Robin Williams (both of whom are fathers themselves) seem to have any dispute with the notion. Travolta starred in 1989’s Look Who’s Talking as an inappropriate babysitter; and Williams forced his horrible family into an awful road trip in 2006’s RV. For the very worst of the lot, perhaps, there’s Daddy Day Camp (2007), in which Cuba Gooding Jr. attempts to corral small children and mostly ends up putting them in mortal peril… for your amusement. To say that none of these movies is any good is an understatement: they’re crimes against humanity. But if you really feel you’re missing something by missing Old Dogs, this what you need.

INSTEAD OF: Ninja Assassin, in which Korean pop star Rain goes rogue on the clan of very bad martial artists who hire themselves out as murderers for hire…

WATCH: Go for the real thing, and check out Bruce Lee in the movie that started the modern craze for martial-arts cinema: 1973’s Enter the Dragon. To see how the genre is changing for the better (instead of for the worst, as Ninja Assassin demonstrates), don’t miss 2003’s Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, in which Tony Jaa shows he’s the new Lee. For a better example of what director James McTeigue can do, see V for Vendetta (2005), one of the better comic-book adaptations of recent years. See how screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski made his name by watching any of his 1990s TV series, Babylon 5, set on a peacekeeping space station and an important thematic forerunner to series like the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

Fantastic Mr. Fox also opens wide this week, but I gave you DVD alternatives for that a few weeks ago, when it opened in limited release. With no other new wide releases on offer for the holiday weekend, we’re left with one limited release likely to go wide, and likely to make a showing in critics’ awards and the Oscars:

INSTEAD OF: The Road, in which a father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) try to survive physically and emotionally on a dying Earth…

WATCH: Director John Hillcoat’s previous film, The Proposition (2005), an Australian “western” that is just as grim and brutal — in a good way — as this film. For another taste of Viggo Mortensen this intense and powerful, see Eastern Promises (2007), in which he portrays a Russian mobster in London who’s not as vicious as he thinks. As a portrait of a bleak and horrifying postapocalyptic world, nothing beats the 1984 BBC TV movie Threads; it’s not available on DVD in Region 1, but if you have a region-free player, though, it’s worth a look-see as long as you can stand being tormented by nightmares afterward. Otherwise, try the 1998 Canadian film Last Night, which is, like The Road, not about the heroes trying to avert apocalypse but about how ordinary people cope with it once it arrives.


Where to buy:
Babylon 5 [Region 1] [Region 2]
Daddy Day Camp [Region 1] [Region 2]
Eastern Promises [Region 1] [Region 2]
Enter the Dragon [Region 1] [Region 2]
Last Night [Region 1]
Look Who’s Talking [Region 1] [Region 2]
Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior [Region 1]
The Proposition [Region 1] [Region 2]
RV [Region 1] [Region 2]
Threads [Region 2]
V for Vendetta [Region 1] [Region 2]
Wild Hogs [Region 1] [Region 2]



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