DVD Alternatives to This Weekend's Theatrical Offerings

We know how it is: You'd like to go to the movies this weekend, but some maniac has you shackled in his torture chamber and is threatening to pour hydrochloric acid down your throat. But if you ask him to set up a DVD player while you wait, you could have something like a multiplex experience from the discomfort of your imminent death. And when someone asks you on Monday, "Hey, did you see Saw 3-D this weekend?" you can consider yourself lucky to still be alive to hear the question.

INSTEAD OF: Saw 3-D, the latest go-round in which crazy person Jigsaw torments, tortures, and brutally punishes those people he believes deserve it...

WATCH: Hostel (2005), in which American tourists in scary Europe are targeted by perverted businessmen who pay to torture them. For a classic horror flick about punishing those whom some madman believes has earned it, see I Dismember Mama (1972), about a guy with serious mommy issues. Dismemberment goes art house in Boxing Helena (1993), about a demented surgeon (Julian Sands) who chops off the limbs of the woman he is obsessed with (Sherilynn Fenn) and keeps her in, yup, a box. For a bit of gender reversal on the violence, see Misery (1990), in which Kathy Bates holds her favorite author, James Caan, hostage by breaking his ankles.

No other new films dare to go head-to-head with Jigsaw this week, but two smaller films are expanding to almost-wide status. But you still may not find them near you, so:

INSTEAD OF: Conviction, in which Hilary Swank gets a law degree in order to prove that her brother (Sam Rockwell) is innocent of the murder of which he has been convicted...

WATCH: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), for another, much odder look at a complicated but loving brother-sister relationship, which isn't often broached on film. For another wrongful conviction with a lot more action, don't miss the modern classic The Fugitive (1993), in which prison escapee Harrison Ford must prove his innocence on his own. For more Hilary Swank in activist mode -- in another film based on a true story -- see her as a crusading teacher in Freedom Writers (2007). For more of Sam Rockwell as an outlaw of a different sort, see him as the outrageous Zaphod Beeblebrox, con artist and former galactic president, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005).

INSTEAD OF: Catfish, a documentary about a New York photographer who falls in love with a woman he meets on the Internet, only to have his expectations about her dashed once he meets her in person in ways he never could have imagined...

WATCH: You've Got Mail (1998), the original rom-com about online romance, in which Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan connect only via email; in person, they can't stand each other. For another documentary about romance that some suspect is all a put-on, see Paper Heart (2009), in which Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera portray themselves and their relationship ... unless it's all invented. For a fictional look at the profound impact a love letter can have on a romantic soul -- as the long exchange of emails, IMs, and text messages has in Catfish -- don't miss the charming The Love Letter (1999), in which an anonymous mash note is mistakenly believed by many people in a small town to be addressed to them. For another look at how the Internet is changing how we live today, see the documentary We Live in Public (2010), about how personal privacy is slipping away in the digital age.


MaryAnn Johanson writes love letters to movies at FlickFilosopher.com. (email me)