DVD Alternatives to This Weekend's Theatrical Offerings

We know how it is: You'd like to go to the movies this weekend, but you will be kung-fu-ing your way through the mall in an attempt to get your Christmas shopping done early. But if you pop in the right DVDs before you collapse for the night after your retail-warrior battles, you can achieve a similar entertainment effect. So when someone asks you on Monday, "Hey, did you see The Warrior's Way this weekend?" you can direct them toward even better martial-arts spaghetti Westerns instead.

INSTEAD OF: The Warrior's Way, in which "a warrior-assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands after refusing a mission," which is all we can know about it since the film wasn't screened for critics...

WATCH: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird (2008), a South Korean outlaw adventure set in the Asian equivalent of the American West: Manchuria. Or try the strange Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), a Japanese spaghetti Western, from director Takashi Miike, about battling clans and a mysterious gunslinger who joins their war. For more from Geoffrey Rush, who appears in Way in an as-yet unknown capacity, check him out in the Australian western Ned Kelly (2003), in which he plays the hard-edged lawman brought in to arrest the titular scoundrel. To see Kate Bosworth, who portrays the love interest in Way, get to play the lead in her own story, see Blue Crush (2002), in which she's a surfer preparing for a major competition.

That's it for wide releases this weekend; the week after Thanksgiving is traditionally a slow one. But here are some options if you can't see two new limited releases:

INSTEAD OF: The Nutcracker in 3-D, a horror show of a sugar-plum fairy dream, in which a little girl (Elle Fanning) and a prince who's been turned into a nutcracker battle John Turturro's Hitler-esque Rat King (this opened for Thanksgiving and was supposed to go wide this weekend, though it's likely that bad reviews reduced that to a limited expansion)...

WATCH: The Nutcracker Prince (1990), an innocuous animated flick that at least does no damage to the traditional fairy tale. Or try The Nutcracker (1993), a live-action ballet starring a young Macaulay Culkin as the Nutcracker Prince. If you want a holiday movie that most approximates the insanity that is this new Nutcracker, you should see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), one of the worst movies ever made, in which the jolly old elf is kidnapped by aliens but wins them over with holiday cheer (it's even worse than it sounds). For more Christmas terror, check out Jack Frost (1998), in which Michael Keaton's dead dad is reincarnated as a snowman and starts hanging out with his young son; it's supposed to be heartwarming but it just plain terrifying.

INSTEAD OF: Black Swan, in which a ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) who finally gets her dream role -- the lead in Swan Lake -- finds herself slowly descending into madness ... or perhaps being deliberately driven there...

WATCH: The Company (2003), Robert Altman's drama about a ballerina (Neve Campbell) about to graduate to a starring role in her dance troupe. For a classic psychological thriller about a woman who may or may not be disturbed, don't miss Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), about a woman (Joan Fontaine) haunted by the memory -- or perhaps the actual ghost -- of her new husband's (Laurence Olivier) dead first wife. For more of Natalie Portman living in a shadow world, see her in V for Vendetta (2006), as the ally of a notorious antigovernment terrorist. For another look at the mind games director Darren Aronofsky likes to play, see his harrowing Requiem for a Dream (1990), in which drug addictions take over the lives of four very different people.

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MaryAnn Johanson's harrowing dreams can be found at FlickFilosopher.com. (email me)