December 11: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but you’ve been turned into a frog and know you won’t be able to see over the seat in front of you, not even with a kiddie booster seat. 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 The Princess and the Frog this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I saw other fairy tales — Disney’s and darker.”
INSTEAD OF: The Princess and the Frog, the latest Disney animated feature — its first hand-drawn one in five years, and its first to feature a black princess…

WATCH: 1989’s The Little Mermaid, the movie that kicked off the modern Disney animation renaissance and set the all-singing, all-showstopping standard that’s been imitated often since, including by The Princess and the Frog itself; it also happens to be from the same directors, Ron Clements and John Musker. For little boys put off by a princess movie, a nice option is the underappreciated Treasure Planet (2002) — also from Clements and Musker — which moves Robert Louis Stevenson into outer space. For a decidedly grownup look at the fantasists who created “The Frog Prince,” the fairy tale upon which Princess is loosely based, check out Terry Gilliam’s wild and weird The Brothers Grimm (2005). For an adults-only take on New Orleans, Princess’s setting, see the sexy The Big Easy (1987), about the steamy affair between a cop and a DA in that city.

INSTEAD OF: Invictus, based on the true story of how new South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) brought his divided nation together in the postapartheid mid 90s through the country’s national rugby team…

WATCH: Gandhi (1982), another inspiring look at how one man’s dedication to nonviolent solutions united a nation. For another look at South Africa while apartheid was still the order of the day, don’t miss the stunning Stander (2003), in which Thomas Jane’s white cop wakes up to the oppression he’s part of and goes Robin Hood on the face of his former colleagues. If you want another quirky sports story from director Clint Eastwood, see Million Dollar Baby (2004), about a woman boxer (Hilary Swank) and her unusual journey to self-determination. There aren’t many rugby movies: an astonishing one is Murderball (2005), a documentary about paraplegic wheelchair athletes who play a rough version of the game.

Only two movies open wide this week, but the next is currently playing in limited release and will continue to expand over the next few weeks till it goes wide on Christmas Day; the last will likely remain in limited release but is a potential awards contender.

INSTEAD OF: Up in the Air, in which George Clooney’s frequent traveler discovers that the comforts of the road aren’t quite as comforting as he though…

WATCH: Director Jason Reitman’s Thank You for Smoking (2005), a satire about a lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart) for big tobacco; it mirrors the farcical elements of Air: Clooney works for a company to which other companies outsource the firing of employees. For Clooney in a more serious portrait of corporate heartlessness, there’s always Michael Clayton (2007): his “fixer” can fix even corruption and murder. For another darkly funny look at business travel, see how John Cusack’s hired killed deals with traveling for his work in Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). If just-plain-silly air travel is all you need, you can’t go wrong with Airplane! (1980), the classic sendup of airborne disaster movies.

INSTEAD OF: A Single Man, the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, about a gay man in the 1960s (Colin Firth) who’s mourning the death of his longtime partner…

WATCH: Not much cinema has been based on the writings of Christopher Isherwood, as A Single Man is, but one to try is Cabaret (1972), adapted from his Berlin Stories (among other sources). Straight actors have played gay before — Firth did so in the psychological thriller Apartment Zero (1989) — but perhaps the most famous example is Brokeback Mountain (2005), starring the heterosexual Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal; it’s also a thematically similar tale about trying to live honestly when the world doesn’t want to accept who you are. For a much cheerier look at love and romance in the 1960s, don’t miss the charming Down with Love (2003), about the wooing of a protofeminist Renee Zellweger by professional cad Ewan McGregor.

Where to buy:
Airplane! [Region 1] [Region 2]
Apartment Zero [Region 1]
The Big Easy [Region 1] [Region 2]
Brokeback Mountain [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Brothers Grimm [Region 1] [Region 2]
Cabaret [Region 1] [Region 2]
Down with Love [Region 1] [Region 2]
Gandhi [Region 1] [Region 2]
Grosse Pointe Blank [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Little Mermaid [Region 1] [Region 2]
Michael Clayton [Region 1] [Region 2]
Million Dollar Baby [Region 1] [Region 2]
Murderball [Region 1] [Region 2]
Stander [Region 1] [Region 2]
Thank You for Smoking [Region 1] [Region 2]
Treasure Planet [Region 1] [Region 2]

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