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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

March 26: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but you dropped a pocketwatch in the shower and now you’re stuck in 1857. But you can have a multiplex-like experience in the 19th century (assuming you remembered to bring along your portable DVD player) with a collection of the right DVDs. And when someone asks you on Monday, “Hey, did you see Hot Tub Time Machine this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I quantum leapt into other protected timelines instead, and oh, um, the South didn’t win the Civil War or anything, did it?”
INSTEAD OF: Hot Tub Time Machine, in which four guys (John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke) travel back to 1986 and party like they’re teenagers again in the era of big hair and legwarmers…

WATCH: Back to the Future (1985), the classic that Tub desperately would like to invoke, but does so only to its detriment, by reminding you how poor an imitation it is; just like Marty McFly, there’s a character whose very existence is threatened if the timelines are changed. Changing timelines is the basis of the hilariously awful thriller The Butterfly Effect (2004), in which Ashton Kutcher has the power to alter reality via foreknowledge of the future (but cannot prevent the film itself from being made); this movie is name-checked in Tub. The Tub characters’ striving to put right what went wrong in their lives in 1986 is more than a little reminiscent of the TV series Quantum Leap (1989-1993), about a time-traveling scientist (Scott Bakula) who finds himself “leaping” uncontrollable into other people’s bodies throughout the mid 20th century and has to solve their problems before he can leap away; the Tub travelers see their younger selves in the mirror much as Bakula’s leaper sees not himself but the image of the leapees. For a reverse “see the future and change my life” fantasy, see 13 Going on 30 (2004), in which a teenaged girl quantum leaps into her adult self (Jennifer Garner) and learns some lessons about how to live a better life.

INSTEAD OF: How to Train Your Dragon, the animated action fantasy about a Viking boy (Jay Baruchel) who learns to tame the creatures believed by his people to be so dangerous that they must be exterminated…

WATCH: Lilo & Stitch (2002), also from Dragon writer-directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, which employs a similar theme — child befriends creature it probably wouldn’t have if the grownups had any say in the matter; the dragon Toothless in the new film physically resembles the alien Stitch in some ways. Surprisingly few movies have featured dragons before, and almost none of them are much good, but many Generation Xers have fond memories of The NeverEnding Story (1984), another children’s adventure fantasy that features the doglike luckdragon Falkor. For grownups, there’s Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky (1977), in which Michael Palin’s medieval peasant must hunt down a terrible dragon. Also for adults only is the Viking horror adventure The 13th Warrior (1999), a semirealistic take on the legend of Beowulf in which the Norse fighters — with the help of an Arab traveler (Antonio Banderas) battle strange and terrifying monsters.

That’s it for new wide releases this weekend, but these arthouse flicks are debuting in some cities:

INSTEAD OF: Chloe, an erotic thriller about a Toronto woman (Julianne Moore) who suspects that her husband (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her, so she hires a call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to try tempt him and report back…

WATCH: Nathalie… (2003), the French film upon which this new flick is based — it’s gotta be even sexier in French, right? For other perilous games of deception and seduction, see Dangerous Liaisons (1988), about bedhopping 18th-century aristocrats. For more from director Atom Egoyan, see his other erotic thriller, Exotica (1994), set at a Toronto strip club. For another look at screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson’s unexpected perspective on female sexuality, see Secretary (2002), about an office worker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who finds herself in a sadomasochistic relationship with her boss (James Spader).

INSTEAD OF: Ca$h, in which Sean Bean’s bad guy attempts to retrieve his suitcase full of illicitly acquired cash from the nice couple (Chris Hemsworth and Victoria Profeta) who found it and had a ball spending it…

WATCH: Shallow Grave (1994), Danny Boyle’s delightfully grim psychological thriller about three roommates and best friends (Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor, and Kerry Fox) who turn on one another when their new lodger dies and leaves behind not just a corpse but a suitcase full of case. Boyle revisited the theme again with less greed and more sweetness in Millions (2004), in which two young brothers discover a bagful of pound notes and argue about how best to use it (help the poor? or spend it on themselves?) For more of Sean Bean as a villain, check out the wildly goofy National Treasure (2004), in which he wants to steal the Declaration of Independence and only Nicolas Cage can stop him. For a darker look at the wages of the criminal life from Ca$h writer-director Stephen Milburn Anderson, check out his South Central (1992), about a man (Glenn Plummer) who finds leaving behind his gang past difficult. (Oh, and if you’re in Region 2 or have a region-free player, you can already watch Ca$h on DVD.)


Where to buy:
Back to the Future [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The Butterfly Effect [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Ca$h [Region 2]
Dangerous Liaisons [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Exotica [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Jabberwocky [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Lilo & Stitch [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Millions [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Nathalie… [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
National Treasure [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The NeverEnding Story [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Quantum Leap [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Secretary [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Shallow Grave [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
South Central [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.]
13 Going on 30 [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The 13th Warrior [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]



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  • If you’re going to recommend time travel movies, MaryAnn, why not the original 1960 version of The Time Machine or the 1979 alt history effort Time After Time?

    Back to the Future aka Hot Car Time Machine always struck me as the type of overpraised piece of cinematic schlock which gave science fiction a bad name. Even an outright fantasy like Portrait of Jennie would be better. (Though I suspect you’d prefer a version in which the haunted artist was female and the mysterious visitor who proved to be her muse turned out to be male.)

    Surprisingly few movies have featured dragons before, and almost none of them are much good, but many Generation Xers have fond memories of The NeverEnding Story (1984), another children’s adventure fantasy that features the doglike luckdragon Falkor.

    I’d like some also had fond memories of 1981’s Dragonslayer, a fantasy film which showed promise–at least as long as the dragon was in view. The scenes with star Peter MacNichol by himself, alas, were a different story.

  • Ahem…

    Surprisingly few movies have featured dragons before, and almost none of them are much good, but many Generation Xers have fond memories of The NeverEnding Story (1984), another children’s adventure fantasy that features the doglike luckdragon Falkor.

    I’d like some also had fond memories of 1981’s Dragonslayer, a fantasy film which showed promise–at least as long as the dragon was in view. The scenes with star Peter MacNichol by himself, alas, were a different story.

  • Ahem again. This just isn’t my day.

    Surprisingly few movies have featured dragons before, and almost none of them are much good, but many Generation Xers have fond memories of The NeverEnding Story (1984), another children’s adventure fantasy that features the doglike luckdragon Falkor.

    I’d like to think that some also had fond memories of 1981’s Dragonslayer, a fantasy film which showed promise–at least as long as the dragon was in view. The scenes with star Peter MacNichol by himself, alas, were a different story.

  • MaryAnn

    If you’re going to recommend time travel movies, MaryAnn, why not the original 1960 version of The Time Machine or the 1979 alt history effort Time After Time?

    Because in this instance, BTTF is a clear inspiration for HTTM. Also: I don’t think it’s a piece of overpraised schlock. :->

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