May 29: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We all know how it is. You’d like to get out to see a new movie this weekend, but you’ve been dragged through hell all week at work, and vegging out on the sofa sounds a whole lot more appealing than getting your sneaks stuck to a multiplex floor sticky with Golden Topping(TM) residue. But you can have something close to that new-movie smell 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 see that new Sam Raimi flick?” you can respond, “No, I saw the cult movie that was the clear inspiration for it instead.”
INSTEAD OF: Up, the latest collaboration between Disney and Pixar, about an old man, a little boy, and a talking dog who travel the world by balloon-powered house…

RENT: The 1956 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Around the World in 80 Days, in which David Niven flies around the planet in a hot air balloon. As a narrative, it leaves a lot to be desired for today’s audiences, but remember that back then, no one had color TV, never mind a flatscreen plasma, and no had had the Discovery Channel or NatGeo. This superwide Technicolor travelogue to exotic places would have wowed its first audiences in the same way that Pixar’s gorgeous animation and Disney’s 3D will today. Or, if you need to go darker, check out 1975’s A Boy and His Dog, a postapocalyptic nightmare in which Don Johnson talks to his genetically engineered mutt… and the dog talks back.

INSTEAD OF: Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi’s dryly comic return to his horror roots…

RENT: Raimi’s Evil Dead II, from 1987, and see where the director’s sense of humor and sense of horror spring from. Imagine if the Three Stooges teamed up with Chuck Jones to make a splatter movie, and it might look something like this hilariously bizarre movie. (And if you’re hoping for a Raimi-traditional Bruce Campbell cameo in Drag, you’ll be disappointed, but Campbell is the wacko star of this one.) For more hellish funny business, go for 1991’s Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, in which the titular doofuses visit the underworld and play Twister with Death. (I recommended the other Bill and Ted flick as an alternate last week. Hey, if Hollywood will keep going back to the trough of classics, so will I.)

INSTEAD OF: What Goes Up, in which Steve Coogan’s depressed investigative journalist gets even more depressed after he encounters a gang of even more miserable teenagers…

RENT: 2000’s Wonder Boys, which features perhaps the best wretched writer ever in Michael Douglas’s frustrated novelist. For another look at the miserable-teen side of the equation, go for 1985’s The Breakfast Club — the high-schoolers here could be the “real” versions of the kids moping around that movie

INSTEAD OF: The Brothers Bloom, the crime caper about con men Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo who try to swindle dough out of ditzy heiress Rachel Weisz (which I suggested a different alt for two weeks ago, but now the film is expanding much wider)…

RENT: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the 1988 comedy in which Michael Caine and Steve Martin’s con artists try to swindle “soap queen” Glenne Headly out of all her money. This is one of the funniest movies ever made, and it’s set and was shot in the gorgeous French Riviera, so as cinematic escapes go, it’s perfect.

Where to rent:

Rent DVDs by mail from, 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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