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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

July 15-17: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but Harry Potter has been sold out since Christmas and, well, that’s the only new movie opening everywhere. 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, can you believe they killed [CENSORED] in that Harry Potter movie?” you can reply, “Hey, can you believe dark fantasy for teenagers was flopping 25 years ago?”
INSTEAD OF: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the latest installment in the adventures of the boy wizard, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the battle against He Who Must Not Be Named…

WATCH: You could have your own little Harry Potter film festival, what with all five of the previous films available on DVD, but that might just remind you what you’re missing. For some classic warlockery, head for Disney 1985 animated flick The Black Cauldron, which was the Mouse’s first attempt to appeal to teenaged fantasy fans and was dismissed by audiences and critics as too dark, which should make it perfect for Harry Potter aficionados. For earlier Disney darkness, check out Fantasia, especially for the “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequences. For a Daniel Radcliffe fix, try the indie December Boys, in which he plays an orphan about to age out of the orphanage, the only home he’s ever known; or the British TV movie My Boy Jack, for a taste of Radcliffe in a grownup role, as a soldier in WWI. For some non-Hermione Emma Watson, there’s the lovely Ballet Shoes, about a girl striving for a creative life while also trying to keep her family together, or The Tale of Despereaux, the beautiful animated tale in which Watson provides the lively voice of a spunky princess. If you need more Rupert Grint — aka Ron Weasley — go for the goofy Thunderpants, a charming fantasy in which Grint’s supergenius helps out his flatulent best friend with his dream of becoming an astronaut (and yes, it’s even sillier than it sounds); or Driving Lessons, a coming-of-age story that also features Julie Walters (aka Mrs. Weasley) as the older woman Grint’s sad teenage boy befriends.

INSTEAD OF: 500 Days of Summer, an upside-down romantic comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that informs you right off the bat that the boy does not get the girl in the end…

WATCH: There are remarkably few romantic comedies that rely on the down-to-earth neuroses of realistic would-be lovers for their complications (instead of ridiculous plot shenanigans), as Summer does, but that’s what you’ll find in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind once you peel away the science fantasy of memory erasure — the need for which is driven, of course, by the desire to avoid remembering heartbreak. Or go for Definitely, Maybe, with its wonderful bittersweetness springing from, in part, the idea that there’s more than one Mr. or Ms. Right for all of us, if only our timing were in sync. Just out on Region 1 DVD is Last Chance Harvey, in which Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman have to figure out how to overcome their own reluctance to see each other. For more Joseph Gordon-Levitt goodness, don’t miss Stop-Loss, in which he plays a soldier profoundly changed by his tenure in Iraq, or The Lookout, in which he delivers an extraordinary performance as a brain-damaged young man trying to cope with ordinary life. For more Zooey Deschanel, try the black comedy Eulogy (it’s one of those funny-funeral family flicks) or her quirky turn in Mumford, as a girl with variety of personal and domestic problems.

Where to buy:

Ballet Shoes [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Black Cauldron [Region 1] [Region 2]
December Boys [Region 1] [Region 2]
Definitely, Maybe [Region 1] [Region 2]
Driving Lessons [Region 1] [Region 2]
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [Region 1] [Region 2]
Eulogy [Region 1] [Region 2]
Fantasia [Region 1] [Region 2]
Harry Potter series [Region 1] [Region 2]
Last Chance Harvey [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Lookout [Region 1] [Region 2]
Mumford [Region 1] [Region 2]
My Boy Jack [Region 1] [Region 2]
Stop-Loss [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Tale of Despereaux [Region 1] [Region 2]
Thunderpants [Region 1] [Region 2]

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