Take Five
By George Rose
September 15, 2009

My nose is the appropriate size for my body type!

Summer is over with the passing of Labor Day. I think we can all agree that there's no need to wait until the official start of fall on September 22nd. The weather right now is cold, cloudy, and overcast; what about this suggests summer is still in full swing? Maybe this weather is only present where I live in the Northeast. Maybe global warming really has shifted the seasons out of balance. Or maybe I just think too much. Any way you slice it, summer feels over. Hopefully the drama has ended with it.

One thing that reminds me so painfully that summer is over – the absence of big opening weekend blockbusters. Gone are the days of the Decepticons and Hogwarts wizards. We have arrived at the start of the lackluster fall schedule. Gerard Butler stars in Gamer, a movie that feels like the child of Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man and Jason Statham's Death Race. Yawn. Neither of those were any good so I don't imagine their inbred offspring would produce the hit Butler needs to make him a reliable solo star. Though I will admit the release of his Law Abiding Citizen in October looks promising and co-stars Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. Still, it will need to earn more than Gamer's $9 million on opening weekend to prove his celebrity.

No trial is necessary for writer/director Tyler Perry. His stage-to-screen incarnations of the beloved Madea character average opening weekends over $20 million and gross over $50 million, proof that his unique blend of comedy and drama is always somewhat in demand. His latest, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, opened to $23 million. That's great by September "standards" (ninth biggest September opening), and even Perry's (his third biggest opening), but we are nowhere near summer successes like Transformers 2 ($109 million). We aren't even close to the critically reviled wannabes like G.I. Joe ($55 million).

In fact, just a quick glance at the upcoming releases shows that there probably won't be a $50+ million opening until November 6th's A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey. But how can September even expect to compete with behemoths like May or the holiday season? Sure, September's slate looks entertaining enough with movies like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Informant!, and Surrogates coming out, but where are the Star Treks and Ups? November, that's where, and it's all Hollywood's fault. They're too unoriginal to produce consistent quality but too greedy to stop pumping out five new movies a week. Because of this, the dumping ground known as the fall movie season is too flooded to let the few bright stars shine.

Being bombarded by B-movie fillers during the next month should be enough to convince me of finding other hobbies, but a true movie fan never gives up. There is always one bright star somewhere in the distance that provides the light at the end of the tunnel. For me it's probably Twilight's New Moon, but that's more because of my vampire fetish than it is for the series itself (never read the books). With Season 2 of True Blood now complete, my next fix won't be until Twilight 2. The break is good, but what about movies like Love Happens is supposed to make the withdrawal any easier?

Until November, Netflix will be my new best friend. There is always a personal favorite waiting to be watched again and plenty of unseen classics to help restore faith. In fact, there are still some late-summer movies in theaters that you'd be lucky to catch too. If Hollywood is going to try and con us into watching their September slate (really Sandra, All About Steve? Sigh.) we'll just go elsewhere for quality entertainment.

But what to watch? So many long lost titles to chose from and so little time. That's probably why you're reading this article right now. Need a few suggestions? Finally found five minutes to relax and decided to watch a movie? I can't promise our tastes will be the same but I can promise they will all be better than last weekend's Sorority Row. While Hollywood may have betrayed us by releasing it, the $5 million it made has restored some of my faith in the movie-going public. Keep up the good work, everyone, and enjoy these titles. You might need them to survive the next few weeks at the empty Cineplex.

District 9 (2009)

I know you can't help yourself. I sure can't. Even with all the fall garbage coming out, I feel compelled to be at the movie theater. Those big seats, that bottomless popcorn, that massive screen! How do some people resist? But if you insist on going to the movies, you should at least see something worthwhile. I know it can feel awkward when you ask the ticket sales person for admission to a movie that came out several weeks ago but some movies are worth jumping on the bandwagon a little late. District 9 is one of those movies.

The movie was advertised as a war movie following the integration of aliens as habitants on this planet. Twenty years prior to modern day, a harmless spaceship was discovered over Africa. The creatures – known as "prawns" for their resemblance – that were inside now live in slums and have developed lifestyles similar to our own. From the commercials, I was led to believe a prawn rebellion was on the way in an attempt to flee back to their home planet. This could not be further from the truth.

If anything, it's the government that creates chaos first after they attempt to relocate the prawns to another more controlled district. The way the movie is filmed captures the modern warfare feel perfectly, using interviews, on-site newscasting, and even flashes to the perspective of the aliens, which is often touching. You really start to feel compassion for the once-feared extraterrestrials as they are given a much more civil nature compared to other alien invasion movies. But the story isn't even really about them; it's about one government agent who becomes exposed to some alien biotechnology and his quest to stop his transformation into a prawn.

As one of the first movies I missed while on vacation, I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of all the hype surrounding this movie. Its story is fast-paced and riveting with the agent's search for a cure at the core, but it's the relationship with his wife that humanizes it all and aids the viewer in making a deeper connection. Not only do we follow the fugitive agent through the slums, but we get to watch the rise and fall of his love story as he slowly transforms. It's one of those rare sci-fi movies that incorporates themes and storylines that can also attract women, an idea the genre might want to take note of. Because of its universal appeal, and breathtaking action and special effects, I highly recommend everyone see this in theaters while it's still out. And really, it's September – what else could you possibly want to see?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

You want to see what it's like to be a transformed freak of nature and live among close-minded humans? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shares that single aspect with District 9. Though rather than dealing with the transformation process or trying to reverse it, TMNT deals with life after the mutation of a few turtles into full-grown, pizza-eating ninjas. I may have forgotten to mention, this isn't for adults like District 9. TMNT is very much for the young at heart.

Anyone who has seen a Saturday morning cartoon in the last twenty years knows about TMNT. You may have forgotten about them, since cartoon toy lines like Transformers and G.I. Joe overshadow it with their extravagance, but they were once among the most popular franchises for children. That's why the first live-action TMNT movie was actually a $100+ million box office hit. The novelty seemed to wear off by the second go-round (it grossed less than half what the first one made), which is a shame since I think it's the better of the two movies. Who cares about giant ninja turtles learning how to fight? That's just, well, childish. Why watch the origin story with a much smaller budget when you can watch the real essence of the show in an action-packed, big budget sequel? With the origin out of the way, there's room to mutate other animals too! God bless sequels.

Okay, fine, it's not critically acclaimed and you'll likely hate it if you've never seen the cartoon, but c'mon! There are so many terrible TV show-to-movie updates out there (gee, it just breaks my heart that the Dallas movie can't get off the ground) and audiences keep supporting them with blind devotion. Luckily movies like this past summer's Land of the Lost proved that audiences aren't always fooled by reinventing old shows, but one that shouldn't be missed by true fans of the series is TMNT 2.

If you don't see it because of blind devotion, then at least give it a shot out of curiosity. The Sex and the City movie is really just five episodes stuffed into one ticket price; the joy of TMNT is that the movie offers something entirely different, mutating the turtles as we knew them into live action entertainment. It even uses old school puppetry instead of the more cartoonish CGI. It may not seem like a revelation now, but in the eyes of a six-year-old, it's just about the greatest idea since mixing peanut butter and fluff. So if you have kids, show them these movies before Michael Bay buys the property and casts Shia LaBeouf as the turtles' mutated rat leader, Splinter. Don't laugh, because I wouldn't put it past him.

Spirited Away (2002)

Just because I grew up and now find TMNT slightly less engrossing than I once did doesn't mean I don't still appreciate animation. One of the movies I was sad to have missed while on vacation was Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo, the most recent animated movie by the legendary Japanese director. I got the chance to see it in the last few days and thought it was wonderful, but not as good as his previous work Spirited Away.

This movie tells the trippy story of a young girl named Chihiro. After moving to an unfamiliar town, her reality starts to transform into a twisted amusement park alt-realm where she must locate and free her parents. With the help of a young man named Haku, she explores this world and all its mysterious creatures and spirits until reality is restored. I'm not usually a fan of Asian animation but found myself unable to resist the allure of Miyazaki's world. This was also the case with Ponyo, as the film is beautiful and thought provoking, but the world introduced in Spirited Away is much deeper adventure that will leave you as bewildered about your own reality as Chihiro is with hers.

When Chihiro's parents turned into pigs because of their greed, I knew I wasn't watching a mindless DreamWorks Animation cartoon. Miyazaki's work is covered in metaphors and mind games, allowing his mature viewers to enjoy adult themes and complications while watching work that leaves you as enchanted and giddy as a child. Though I know people who consider this style of storytelling and animation to be too much to handle, requiring more brain activity than the senseless, escapist fun so many prefer when watching a movie, it really is worth checking out if you want a completely unique movie-going experience. If you don't trust me, trust the Academy; it won the Best Animated Movie Oscar in 2003.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Speaking of unique experiences, did you know there is a drinking game that references Edward Scissorhands? It's called "Edward 40 Hands." I was just introduced to it a few days ago and thought it was genius. Then again, I think most drinking games are genius. What you do is buy a 40oz bottle of beer and duct tape it to your hands. You can't undo the tape or get rid of the bottle until you drink the entire thing. Because duct tape is uncomfortable (especially on hairier male hands) and you usually take having function hands for granted, drinking quickly becomes a priority and initiates a race among the drinkers. The game might not be as innovative at the movie but it's still a ton of fun and gets the party going.

Other than you needing hands to drink the beer, I can't see any reason it's related to the movie. But learning the game reminded me of the movie and now I'm going to recommend it. The movie is about a Frankenstein-style creation that is brought to life before its completion. Since the monster's creator died before he could finish building his entire body, Edward is released into the world with Swiss Army Knife hands. It's a charming and stylistic story about this emotional creature's integration into normal suburban family life, helmed by the always imaginative Tim Burton. It was one of his earlier, more creative collaborations with Johnny Depp, before they both sold out and started remaking classics into modern freak shows. Ok, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn't terrible and the upcoming Alice in Wonderland in 3-D looks pretty good, but long gone are the days when these two made unexpected career choices.

If Johnny Depp and Tim Burton aren't enough to whet your appetite (forgetting their Sweeney Todd will help), maybe the inclusion of Winona Ryder will. Just as the movie is for its male talent, Edward Scissorhands is a reminder of the days when Winona was a celebrity to reckon with. Depp and Burton are sellouts now and Winona is a kleptomaniac, but they didn't become famous for making bad early choices. Ryder stars as the daughter in the suburban family and love interest to Edward, giving a performance full of the angst and sincerity we once relied on her to deliver. Hers isn't the only one worth noting, as all the acting is top notch, but she's one of the bigger pleasures of the movie because we haven't seem much memorable work from her since. While Burton and Depp have gone on to increasing fame, Edward Scissorhands is a reminder of the genius that sparked their never-ending appeal and is a throwback to the days when Winona was a tolerable actress. If nothing else it inspired Edward 40 Hands and that alone is reason to watch the movie.

Dogma (1999)

While this weekend brings the new Matt Damon comedy The Informant!, there is no promising that it will be any good. Sure, the trailers look funny but that doesn't mean anything; how many times do trailers show the best or only funny parts to a movie? If you want a guaranteed good laugh with Matt Damon, Dogma is a movie for you.

Being written and directed by Kevin Smith should make it enticing enough, but given the typically low grosses of his movies I'd say you all need some more convincing. This clever story follows a bitter woman named Bethany who is dragged into a battle of biblical proportions. After learning that two fallen angels (Damon and Ben Afflect) are plotting to re-enter Heaven and destroy existence, Bethany is recruited to stop them with the help of a 13th Apostle, a trashy muse, one of God's messengers, and Kevin Smith-staples Jay and Silent Bob.

Jokes range from intelligent commentary on religion and society to the fart-joke humor one would associate with any Hell-sent monster made entirely of feces. Dogma is truly funny because of this blend, allowing the kid inside to laugh without thinking and the adult behind to wheel to laugh at the ironic logic. Though I'm sure Damon's The Informant! is better off without a beast made of poop, I hope it has the ability to conjure as many heartfelt laughs as Dogma.

This weekend in September actually looks half decent. With both The Informant! and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs on the way, there should be something bearable for everyone. If not, hopefully you can find something here on this week's Take Five. And if that still doesn't work, then it might be time for you to turn off your TV and go outside. All these options and you still can't find something to watch? Well, at least it's fall. You can always watch the leaves change colors.