December 4: 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’ll be busy planning your robbery of an armored car so you can pay for your holiday celebrations. 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 Armored this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I watched a bunch of other heist movies instead.”
INSTEAD OF: Armored, a crime drama about a group of security guards who decide to hold up the armored-car company that employs them…

WATCH: Do not miss director Nimród Antal’s debut feature, 2003’s Kontroll, a deeply intriguing look at ticket collectors on Budapest’s subway system; it may sound unlikely, but it’s a great film, very spooky and atmospheric. One of the great heist movies of recent years is the 2003 remake The Italian Job, which — among other things — used those tiny Mini Cooper cars (so different from armored cars!) in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine could be so entertaining. For more of the Matt Dillon renaissance — he plays one of the ringleaders of the Armored heist — see the unexpectedly tender You, Me and Dupree (2006), in which he plays a new husband who has to, regrettably, kick out a slacker pal who’s mooching. To see what Skeet Ulrich — another of Armored’s good guys-turned-criminal — can do when he’s given half a chance, check out his short-lived TV series Jericho, in which he portrays a Blackwater-style mercenary turned good guy in the wake of widespread nuclear terrorism on U.S. soil. It’s good stuff.

INSTEAD OF: Brothers, Jim Sheridan’s drama about how the presumed death of a Marine (Tobey Maguire) in Afghanistan impacts his family, particularly his wife (Natalie Portman) and his brother (Jake Gyllenhaal)…

WATCH: Brothers, the 2004 Danish film upon which Sheridan based his; it’s similar in plot but different in tone and sentiment than the American transfer. To experience more of Sheridan’s power as a filmmaker who handles powerful emotion with delicate grace, see 2002’s In America, about an Irish family’s experience as immigrants to New York; it’s based on Sheridan’s life, and it’s a lovely story. For other deeply affecting stories of America’s current occupations in the Middle East upon the homefront, see In the Valley of Elah (2007), about the murder of a soldier after he returns home, and Grace Is Gone (2007), about how military husband John Cusack copes when his soldier wife is killed in action.

INSTEAD OF: Everybody’s Fine, a perceptive family drama about a lonely widower (Robert DeNiro) who hits the crosscountry road in an attempt to reconnect with his adult children after the death of his wife, who had held the family together…

WATCH: I’d recommend the 1990 Italian film upon which this is based, Stanno tutti bene, but it doesn’t seem to be available on DVD in either Region 1 or Region 2. Instead, see what else writer-director Kirk Jones is capable of in his 1998 debut, Waking Ned Devine, a wildly funny and touching film about how a small Irish town handles a lottery windfall, or 2005’s Nanny McPhee, starring Emma Thompson in a story about awful brats who need whipping into shape and the terrible parents who let them get that way; it’s surprisingly sweet, actually, without every being syrupy. For more DeNiro-as-a-dad, try 2000’s Meet the Parents, a grossout comedy in which Ben Stiller tries to impress his future father-in-law (DeNiro) and fails. (I’m not a fan of this film, but lots of folks seem to like it.) For a lighter look at traveling for family purposes, don’t miss John Hughes’ 1987 comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which ends up being as poignant as it is hilarious.

INSTEAD OF: Transylmania, a (supposed) comedy about college students doing a semester abroad in Romania…

WATCH: If all you need are bouncing boobs — of both the mammary variety and the unsocialized-nerd variety — you’ll probably be happy with National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze, from the same “creative” team of nontalents. If all you need is not-funny vampire comedy, you could try 1995’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, from Mel Brooks and featuring an old and tired Leslie Nielsen as the titular bloodsucker. Or, go back to 1985 for the goofy anti-classic Transylvania 6-5000, starring Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. in a sort of Ghostbusters ripoff. Or, hey, go straight for the horror-comedy gold, and watch Ghostbusters again. I’m not sure why anyone even tries to make a movie that’s both scary and funny after that 1984 masterpiece.

Where to buy:
Brothers [Region 1] [Region 2]
Dracula: Dead and Loving It [Region 1] [Region 2]
Ghostbusters [Region 1] [Region 2]
Grace Is Gone [Region 1] [Region 2]
In America [Region 1] [Region 2]
In the Valley of Elah [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Italian Job [Region 1] [Region 2]
Jericho [Region 1] [Region 2]
Kontroll [Region 1] [Region 2]
Meet the Parents [Region 1] [Region 2]
Nanny McPhee [Region 1] [Region 2]
National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze [Region 1]
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles [Region 1] [Region 2]
Transylvania 6-5000 [Region 1] [Region 2]
Waking Ned Devine [Region 1] [Region 2]
You Me and Dupree [Region 1] [Region 2]

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