DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

President Obama may have us all feeling more confident that the collapse of civilization because of credit swap defaults — instead of the way-cooler zombie apocalypse or ape uprising The Movies had promised us — has been headed off for the moment, but that don’t mean a penny saved ain’t still a penny saved. And so herewith a new feature designed to get you through Great Depression II: Electic Boogaloo: your weekly cheat sheet on what movies to rent that’ll make you feel all in-the-know.

We all know how it is. You’d like to get out to see a new movie this weekend, but you can’t find a babysitter or you know that by the time you get done with the laundry/grocery shopping/yardwork you won’t want to do anything but crash on the couch. But you can have something close to that multiplex experience at home with the proper application of rental DVDs. In fact, you might even be able to one-up everyone else at the watercooler come Monday, because while they’re saying, “Hey, did you catch that new Russell Crowe thriller?” you can respond, “Hey, did you see the far superior British miniseries it’s based on?”
INSTEAD OF: 17 Again, in which Zac Efron and Matthew Perry do their sorta take on Freak Friday

RENT: Freaky Friday, of course, either the 1976 original in which Mom Barbara Harris and 13-year-old Jodie Foster trade bodies and lives, to uproarious results, or the 2003 remake, in which it’s Jamie Lee Curtis as the mom and Lindsay Lohan as the slightly older but still angst-ridden teenaged daughter. If you need a boy body-swap story, then you can’t go wrong with the utterly charming 1988 fantasy Big, in which a little kid gets to play grownup in Tom Hanks’ body, including some offscreen nookie with Elizabeth Perkins.

INSTEAD OF: Crank: High Voltage [trailer], in which Jason Statham simply must abuse his body to the point of torture just to keep his heart pumping…

RENT: Well, the obvious selection is the first Crank, from 2006, which is clearly a sign of the cultural death of the Western world, and yet is kinda hilarious anyway. The less obvious choice — and the ones your friends will think you’re so cool for picking, is Frankenstein, the 1931 James Whale classic about the monster brought to life by a jolt of voltage juice who just wants to live. (But please don’t tell Jason Statham I likened him to a monster. I’m afraid of him.)

INSTEAD OF: State of Play [trailer], in which Russell Crowe isn’t afraid to be called a Woodward-and-Bernstein throwback in the age of bloggers as he investigates death on Capitol Hill…

RENT: The 2003 BBC TV miniseries State of Play (which I swear I’m gonna review soon), which inspired Hollywood’s remake, to see two of the greatest actors you’ve never heard of doing their amazing thing. John Simm plays the reporter part that Crowe has in the redo, and David Morrissey is the member of Parliament ensnarled in the death of his aide (Ben Affleck takes the role as a congressman in the Hollywood version). It’s six hours long, so it demands a larger investment of your time, but it’s worth every second. If you’re pressed for time, try the 1999 Russell Crowe flick The Insider instead, which lets him do his same righteous-indignation thing as a tobacco company exec who blows the whistle on the danger of his company’s products. (Did you know that cigarettes cause cancer? Shocking!)

If you’re outside New York and Los Angeles, most likely you’ll have little choice but to skip the following arthouse releases, because they won’t be playing anywhere near you at all. But you can still cheat with a DVD or two…

INSTEAD OF: Sleep Dealer [trailer], the Mexican science fiction flick about the high price of chasing the good life in near future that is wired-up and virtual…

RENT: Until the End of the World, Wim Wenders’ 1991 vision of the year 1999, which today looks like a slightly alternative universe sitting next to ours but still rings with an uncomfortable futuristic vibe. If you can’t find that (it’s out of print in Region 1 on VHS, and has never been released in Region 1 on DVD), then go for eXistenZ, David Cronenberg’s trippy 1999 excursion in a VR game.

INSTEAD OF: Every Little Step [trailer], the new documentary about the Broadway show A Chorus Line

RENT: Richard Attenborough’s 1985 film adaptation of A Chorus Line, starring Michael Douglas.

Where to rent:

Rent DVDs by mail from GreenCine.com, As Low As $9.95 Per Month! Unlimited rentals, choose from 80,000 titles. Free Shipping!

Netflix, Inc.

Where to buy:

Amazon U.S. | Amazon U.K.

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Thu, Apr 16, 2009 1:41pm

This isn’t meant to be a stand in for any of the multiplex offerings, but ‘Man from Earth’ is a good bet for a weekend rental for anyone interested in some cerebral sci-fi storytelling. I only bother to mention this because I can say without hesitation that it was the single best rental choice I made in the last decade.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Thu, Apr 16, 2009 2:01pm

You recommend the movie version of A Chorus Line, MaryAnn? But I’ve heard so many bad things about it. (And the excerpts that have cropped on on TV haven’t exactly changed my mind.)

Besides, there are so many genuinely good musicals that one can rent instead…