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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

April 9: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but it’s your significant other’s turn to pick the doings of your date night, and you went to the movies last week. But you can have a multiplex-like experience from the comfort of your own sofa with a collection of the right DVDs. And when someone asks you on Monday, “Hey, did you see Date Night this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I had a cozier at-home date with Tina Fey and Steve Carell.”
INSTEAD OF: Date Night, in which New Jersey couple Tina Fey and Steve Carell head out to dinner in Manhattan, only to have their evening out go disastrously wrong…

WATCH: The Out of Towners (1970), in which Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, visitors to New York from Ohio, find that the city is not as friendly to tourists as it could be. Or try True Lies (1994), James Cameron’s action farce about a married couple (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis) whose marriage gets a boost when his work as a spy spills over into their marriage. For more Steve Carell in a more down-to-earth romance, don’t miss him as the ridiculously charming Dan in Real Life (2007), in which his widower doesn’t have to heart to steal his brother’s girlfriend, even though she’s Juliette Binoche. For more Tina Fey, see Mean Girls (2004), the high school black comedy in which she costars; she also wrote it, based on her own high school experience.

INSTEAD OF: Letters to God, a Christian drama about a young boy with cancer who writes letters to God, which inspire everyone around him — including his neighborhood postman, who collects the letters — to improve their lives…

WATCH: Dear God (1996), a comic take on the same idea, in which Greg Kinnear’s con artist/postal worker takes it upon himself to answer the letters to God that end up in the dead-letter pile. For a more direct line to the Almighty, revisit the charming Oh, God! (1977), in which unwitting supermarket manager John Denver becomes the mouthpiece of God (George Burns). For more schmaltz about a little boy inspiring people, see Pay It Forward (2000), which at least features good performances by Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey, and Helen Hunt. For just one improbable missive that lifts the spirits of a whole town, see the delightful The Love Letter (1999), in which one unsigned romantic note is believed by everyone who reads it to be addressed to him or her.

This last one was originally meant to open wide this weekend, and it’s a shame that it won’t. But if it isn’t coming to your town, you’ll have to resort to other options.

INSTEAD OF: The Runaways, the based-on-fact story of Joan Jett (Kristin Stewart) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and their groundbreaking forays into rock stardom in the 1970s…

WATCH: Sid and Nancy (1986), about the drug-fueled life of Sex Pistols punk rocker Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman); like The Runaways, it doesn’t glamorize substance abuse or the chaotic lives of rock stars (though a small minority think it does). Or check out Cameron Crowe’s wonderful Almost Famous (2000), about a rock band on the upswing of fame in the 1970s; the band is fictional, but the story is based on Crowe’s own experiences as a music journalists at the time. Also based on fact is Rock Star (2001), in which Mark Wahlberg is hired by the band Steel Dragons because he’d sung in a tribute group; it was inspired by the real-life story of Judas Priest band member Tim “Ripper” Owens, who replaced Rob Halford. For a movie-to-real-life turnaround, see The Commitments (1991), an invented story about a Dublin soul band that came true as the actors in the film began to tour and perform as an actual band.


Where to buy:
Almost Famous [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The Commitments [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Dan in Real Life [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Dear God [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The Love Letter [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Mean Girls [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Oh, God! [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.]
The Out of Towners [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Pay It Forward [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Rock Star [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Sid and Nancy [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
True Lies [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]



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