February 26: DVD alternatives to this weekend’s multiplex offerings

We know how it is: You’d like to go to the movies this weekend, but soldiers in gas masks have your town surrounded and will shoot on sight if you try to leave. 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 Crazies this weekend?” you can reply, “No, I exposed myself to other deadly virus movies instead.”
INSTEAD OF: The Crazies, a remake of a 1970s George Romero virus horror flick, in which small-town sheriff Timothy Olyphant and his wife, town doctor Rhada Mitchell, fight to survive both infection and the government cleanup crew intent on wiping out the whole town..

WATCH: The Andromeda Strain (1971), the granddaddy of virus disaster stories, and Patient One of the entire subgenre; this one focuses on the scientists who respond to the annihilation of a town by a spaceborne bug that crashes to Earth. A more modern version of a similar story is the entertainingly cheesy Outbreak (1995), featuring Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and Renee Russo earnestly trying to save everyone through white moonsuits. One of the most purely enjoyable adaptations of any Stephen King work is the TV miniseries The Stand (1994), which follows the good-versus-evil battles of a small group of Americans who are immune to a genetically engineered bioweapon that kills more than 99 percent of the population; major supernatural elements put this one squarely in the fantasy realm. The Mist (2007), also an excellent adaptation from King, isn’t about a virus but about monsters from another dimension descending upon a small town, but it’s similar to The Crazies in its focus on a small group of townsfolk trying to ride out the disaster.

INSTEAD OF: Cop Out, the attempt at buddy action cop comedy parody by geek filmmaker Kevin Smith, featuring Bruce Willis in a sort of sendup of his Die Hard role and Tracy Morgan as his clownish partner…

WATCH: Beverly Hills Cop (1984), the film that may be considered to have launched the modern action comedy… and which Cop Out makes clear references to in its soundtrack. Or try Lethal Weapon (1987), with Mel Gibson’s crazy cop run amuck while Danny Glover’s veteran tags along after him: this might as well be the film that Cop Out is modeled on, and which it hamhandedly tries to imitate in a postmodern way that doesn’t understand how to do that. To see where the buddy action comedy might have gone, check out Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005), from Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black: this neo-noir crime comedy actually is Lethal Weapon twenty years more sophisticated. Since anything resembling Kevin Smith’s abundant personality has been deliberately excised from Cop Out, rewind to his first film, the belligerently spirited Clerks (1994), and remind yourself why we fell in love with Smith in the first place.

That’s it for wide releases, but also opening this weekend is one of the films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars:

INSTEAD OF: A Prophet (Un prophète), the French film about a half-Arab, half-Corsican teenager (newcomer Tahar Rahim) who transforms himself from a naive kid to a powerful gangster in prison…

WATCH: GoodFellas (1990), the ultimate movie about a boy with conflicting ethnicities growing into gangsterhood. But A Prophet (Un prophète) is, above all, a prison movie, and cinema history is rife with other examples that complement this film. Spike Lee’s excellent 25th Hour (2002) explores the last day of freedom for a man (Edward Norton) about to begin serving a long sentence, and touches on the anticipated deprivations of prison life that also feature in A Prophet (Un prophète). For a truly harrowing look at prison life, check out Midnight Express (1978)… if you can stomach its sadistically violent portrait of a Turkish prison. For a more uplifting prison story, see The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957): though it has its moments of horror, its tale of the resilience and secret resistance of American POWs in a Japanese camp during WWII is quite stirring.

Where to buy:
The Andromeda Strain [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Beverly Hills Cop [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The Bridge on the River Kwai [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Clerks [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Goodfellas [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Lethal Weapon [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Midnight Express [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The Mist [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
Outbreak [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
The Stand [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]
25th Hour [Region 1/U.S.] [Region 1/Can.] [Region 2]

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