January 15: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, except the apocalypse has arrived, and you’ll be busy protecting your books from rampaging hoards of desperate readers. 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 Book of Eli this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I hit the postapocalyptic road on other vigilante journeys instead.”
INSTEAD OF: The Book of Eli, in which Denzel Washington shepherds a Very Important Book through hoards of illiterate denizens of the New Dark Ages to a promised land somewhere out West…

WATCH: The Road Warrior (1981), in which Mel Gibson fights gangs of postapocalyptic bikers for access to gasoline, which was a clear influence — at least stylistically — on the Hughes Brothers’ new epic, as it has been on a generation of similarly themed films. Books don’t enter into Road Warrior’s equation, but reading is a key factor in the hope that The Postman (1997) brings, as Kevin Costner’s titular postnuclear traveler inadvertently restarts lines of communication between the isolated villages in which humanity struggles on; as a bonus, it’s about as cohesive (which is to say, not much at all) as Eli is. For more of Denzel Washington as a dude indulging in violence he deems righteous, see Man on Fire (2004), in which his Mexico City bodyguard gets pretty biblical on the bad guys who cross him. For more of Gary Oldman in creepy mode — he plays Eli’s power-hungry villain — see Francis Ford Coppola’s hilariously ridiculous Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), for Oldman as perhaps the most accidentally funny Vlad ever.

INSTEAD OF: The Spy Next Door, in which Jackie Chan’s secret agent agrees to babysit his girlfriend’s monstrous brats in order to get them to like him so that their mom will agree to marry him…

WATCH: The Pacifier (2005), which is much the same movie — and equally awful — in which Vin Diesel’s Navy SEAL is compelled to change smelly diapers and otherwise debase himself by caring for children. Or you could try Are We There Yet? (2005), also from Spy director Brian Levant, which puts a spin on the motif by eschewing the elite-soldier angle for its unwilling male babysitter protagonist: instead, Ice Cube is just a regular schmoe forced into child care. For better adventures in babysitting, don’t miss the minor 80s classic Adventures in Babysitting (1987), from director Chris Columbus and starring Elisabeth Shue as a heroine actual skilled in the looking-after of children. If you need Jackie Chan in another unintelligible action comedy, there’s always The Tuxedo (2002), the point of which movie remains a mystery.

INSTEAD OF: The Lovely Bones, in which Saoirse Ronan’s teenage murder victim watches from purgatory as her family and her killer get on with their lives…

WATCH: What Dreams May Come (1998), in which Robin Williams wanders around an afterlife of his own making, and later journeys through Hell to rescue the woman he loves. The afterlife and the real world interact beautifully in the classic A Matter of Life and Death (1946), aka Stairway to Heaven, in which an RAF pilot (David Niven) who should be dead in battle gets overlooked by his angel in the chaos of WWI and ends up resuming his life on Earth on time borrowed from eternity. For a grimmer look at how one murdered woman affects those left behind, see The Dead Girl (2006), in which the death of a drug-addicted prostitute (Brittany Murphy) ripples unexpectedly through a California community. For a far better Peter Jackson film about teenaged girls, don’t miss his Heavenly Creatures (1994), which depicts the intimate relationship between two girls, complete with fantastical dreamscapes of the imaginary world they create together.

Where to buy:
Adventures in Babysitting [Region 1] [Region 2]
Are We There Yet? [Region 1] [Region 2]
Bram Stoker’s Dracula [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Dead Girl [Region 1] [Region 2]
Heavenly Creatures [Region 1] [Region 2]
Man on Fire [Region 1] [Region 2]
A Matter of Life and Death [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Pacifier [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Postman [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Road Warrior [Region 1] [Region 2]
The Tuxedo [Region 1] [Region 2]
What Dreams May Come [Region 1] [Region 2]

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