December 18: 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 really hate those 3D glasses– oh, who are we kidding: you’re gonna see Avatar this weekend if you have to knock over someone’s granny for a ticket. But just in case you’re feeling the slightest bit guilty about having to mug an old lady, and you think you might want to try to replicate that immersive IMAX experience with your puny TV and 2D DVD player… well, forget it. It’s impossible. But here’s how you can come as close as possible.
INSTEAD OF: Avatar, the gorgeously enrapturing journey to an alien planet James Cameron leads us on…

WATCH: Seriously, there is no home-theater experience in 2009 that can replicate the sense that you’ve actually been to another planet that Avatar offers. But the story that goes with those visuals is another thing entirely. The exploits of paraplegic marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) on Pandora is pretty much Dances with Wolves (1990): he goes for the adventure; gets his mind blown, his horizons expanded, and his consciousness raised; and stays for the culture (and the alien nookie, of course). All the military stuff — the space marines, the powered armored, the cryo-sleep for long interstellar voyages — is similar enough to what we saw in Cameron’s Aliens (1986) that Avatar could very well be taking place in the same story-universe. For another blue alien who has sex with a human, don’t miss the very funny Earth Girls Are Easy (1988), in which Jeff Goldblum’s furry blue ET gets a full-body shave and then gets it on with Geena Davis. For more of star Sam Worthington, check out the Australian horror flick Rogue (2007), about a group of tourists menaced by a giant killer crocodile; Worthington plays one of the locals along for the ride. (Oh, didn’t you know Worthington is Australian? You can hear hints of his real accent in American Jake Sully’s voice.)

INSTEAD OF: Did You Hear About the Morgans?, about an estranged couple (Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant) who find themselves fixing what’s wrong with their relationship when they have to enter the Witness Protection Program…

WATCH: My Blue Heaven (1990), the hilarious farce about Steve Martin’s New York mobster who is forced to contend with the privations of suburban San Diego when he has to go into Witness Protection. For more from writer-director Marc Lawrence, try Two Weeks Notice (2002), which pairs Hugh Grant with Sandra Bullock in another desperate and unromantic comedy. For better Grant, check out About a Boy (2002), in which his commitment-phobe bachelor learns the true meaning of love; it’s way smarter and way better than it sounds, I promise. Sarah Jessica Parker has not been interesting since the 1980s high-school comedy Square Pegs (which is available on DVD), but if you want a true taste of what she’s doing these days, try Failure to Launch (2006), a truly distasteful movie about men who won’t grow up, the woman (Parker) who makes a living out of being a lying, manipulative shrew, and the passive aggression we’re meant to understand underlies all relationships. Ugh.

That’s it for the wide releases this weekend, but two other new flicks are getting awards buzz. Their limited releases, however, mean most people will have no choice but to check out variants on them at home.

INSTEAD OF: Crazy Heart, in which Jeff Bridges plays an alcoholic, washed-up country singer who’s seen his thunder stolen by the younger superstar to whom he gave all his best songs…

WATCH: Tender Mercies (1983), in which Robert Duvall plays an alcoholic, washed-up country singer who gave all his best songs to his ex-wife; so, totally different stories entirely. (Duvall also appears in Heart, by the way.) All the love Bridges is getting from critics for this performance — which he’s very deserving of — is reminiscent of what happened last year with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler; his portrayal of an alcoholic, washed-up professional wrestler, surprisingly enough, is echoed in many ways by Bridges in Heart (though, of course, Bridges isn’t making a comeback like Rourke was). Even if Bridges wins an Oscar for this performance, which isn’t unlikely, he’ll still probably be best remembered for his iconic “the Dude” in the cult favorite The Big Lebowski (1998). If you need a real-life country musician with substance-abuse problems, don’t miss Walk the Line (2005), in which Joaquin Phoenix channels Johnny Cash.

INSTEAD OF: The Young Victoria, the costume drama about England’s longest-reigning monarch, played by Emily Blunt, about the years just before she took the throne, and just after…

WATCH: Mrs. Brown (1997), in which Judi Dench plays the older, dowager queen, and causes a scandal when she develops a close friendship with a servant (Billy Connolly). For a special treat from Victoria screenwriter Julian Fellowes, don’t miss Gosford Park (2001), a murder mystery set at an English manor in the 1930s; it a delicious bit of Masterpiece Theater cheese. For a genuinely Masterpiece Theater look at a youthful English monarch, there’s always Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen (2005), which did indeed air in the U.S. on PBS, in which Anne-Marie Duff portrays that monarch from her teenaged years onward. For a peek at why Emily Blunt is going to be a huge star, see The Devil Wears Prada (2006), in which she plays an assistant to the titular evil magazine editor: Blunt steals the movie from Anne Hathaway, and almost steals it from Meryl Streep.

Where to buy:
About a Boy [Region 1] [Region 2]
Aliens [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Big Lebowski [Region 1] [Region 2]
Dances with Wolves [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Devil Wears Prada [Region 1] [Region 2]
Earth Girls Are Easy [Region 1] [Region 2]
Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen [Region 1]
Failure to Launch [Region 1] [Region 2]
Gosford Park [Region 1] [Region 2]
Mrs. Brown [Region 1] [Region 2]
My Blue Heaven [Region 1] [Region 2]
Rogue [Region 1] [Region 2]
Square Pegs [Region 1]
Tender Mercies [Region 1] [Region 2]
Two Weeks Notice [Region 1] [Region 2]
Walk the Line [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Wrestler [Region 1] [Region 2]

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