October 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 the idea of just lying on a tropical beach — even if you have to pretend the sofa is made of sand — sounds so much more appealing. 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, did you see Couples Retreat this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I reminded myself of the time when Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn had something actually funny and interesting to say.”
INSTEAD OF: Couples Retreat, a would-be comedy about four couples who take a vacation at a tropical resort that turns out less paradisiacal than any of them would have liked…

WATCH: If you really must have have more not-very-funny grossout “romantic” “comedies” set amongst palm trees and beautiful beaches, you’re in luck: it’s a running motif of late. Last year, there was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which also happens to star Retreat’s Kristen Bell; the year before that, there was The Heartbreak Kid, with Retreat’s Malin Akerman. If you want a good movie about midlife crises and negotiating the ups-and-downs of marriage and committment, try writer-director-star Alan Alda’s 1981 flick The Four Seasons, in which three couples vacation together multiple times over the course of a year, to bittersweet results. If you just want a reminder of when pals Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn — who play pals here, and wrote the script jointly — were putting their considerable talens to good instead of evil, see the film that put them on the map: 1996’s Swingers, which is clever, funny, and observant about young men in the way that Retreat would like to be about slightly older men, and isn’t.

Couples Retreat is the only new wide release this weekend, so DVDs may be your only options if you’ve a hankering to see any of these limited-release flicks:

INSTEAD OF: The Damned United, in which Michael Sheen portrays infamous soccer coach and larger-than-life personality Brian Clough, who was sort of the Vince Lombardi of British football…

WATCH: Sheen has made a career out of playing famous real men, but you probably haven’t seen this film: The Deal, a 2003 British TV film about some vaguely underhanded politics that put Tony Blair (Sheen, pre The Queen) in the Prime Minister’s office. (That film is from screenwriter Peter Morgan, as United is, too.) For more British football, you can’t go wrong with the feel-good Bend It Like Beckham (2002), in which Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley kick the ball around. For awesome sports coaches, try another based-on-reality tale in 2004’s Miracle, about the coach (Kurt Russell) who led the American ice hockey team to Olympic glory in 1980; or Walter Matthau’s totally invented curmudgeonly Little Leaguer in The Bad News Bears (1976).

INSTEAD OF: An Education, about a teenaged girl’s (Carey Mulligan) coming of age in early 1960s London, via a relationship with a smooth-talking older man (Peter Sarsgaard)…

WATCH: If you want a taste of what all the fuss over newcomer Carey Mulligan is about, watch the Doctor Who episode “Blink” (available in the “Complete Third Series” box set); it has won numerous awards and is a fan favorite thanks, in part, to Mulligan’s charming and palpably charismatic presence. (See almost makes you forget that David Tennant barely appears in the episode at all, which is high praise indeed.) Sarsgaard has been all over the big screen of late, in increasingly higher-profile roles: take a look back at 2004’s Kinsey, in which he portray an assistant to the sex researcher, for a reminder of the uncommon sensitivity that distinguishes him. For another look at the perceptiveness and understanding that Danish director Lone Scherfig brings to this film, see her previous English-language film, 2002’s Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, a comedy about suicide that is poignant, compassionate, and hilarious. Screenwriter Nick Hornby is no stranger to stories about men who have a problem with dealing with reality (as Sarsgaard’s character does in Education): my favorite may be About a Boy (2003), in which Hugh Grant gets a lesson in how to be a grownup.

INSTEAD OF: The Boys Are Back, in which Clive Owen has to learn to be a father after his beloved wife dies…

WATCH: We’ve never seen such a soft side to Owen before, but the closest — ironically — may be in 2007’s Children of Men: he plays a man in a childless world who takes on an unexpectedly paternal responsibility. Australian director Scott Hicks has been making lots of movies in Hollywood lately; Boys is his first return home since Shine (1996), in which Geoffrey Rush plays a mentally ill musician (also based on a true story, as Boys is). There are few genuinely honest films about fatherhood; one of the best is 1979’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, Kramer vs. Kramer, about Dustin Hoffman coping with single fatherhood when his wife abandons him and their young son.

Where to buy:
About a Boy [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Bad News Bears [Region 1]
Bend It Like Beckham [Region 1] [Region 2]
Children of Men [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Deal [Region 1] [Region 2]
Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series [Region 1] [Region 2]
Forgetting Sarah Marshall [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Four Seasons [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Heartbreak Kid [Region 1] [Region 2]
Kinsey [Region 1] [Region 2]
Kramer vs. Kramer [Region 1] [Region 2]
Miracle [Region 1] [Region 2]
Shine [Region 1] [Region 2]
Swingers [Region 1] [Region 2]
Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself [Region 1] [Region 2]

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