Take Five
By George Rose
September 23, 2009

Really, I'm younger and handsomer than Bill Murray.

Welcome to Take Five, your weekly list of five random movie recommendations. Most people don't have time to watch five movies in a week. Most people don't even have five minutes to take a break and relax. Take Five is here to quicken your search for reliable entertainment (or at least movies that I deem entertaining) so you can enjoy what little free time you have. And really, who reading this article doesn't want to spend their free time watching movies? It's not like you're on a sports Web site.

America's Sweethearts (2001)

So who has the Starz cable movie channel package? If you do, then you've noticed that America's Sweethearts has been playing here and there over the past few days. Late one night while flipping through the endless selection that comes with Verizon Fios (get it, people, Fios is awesome), I stumbled onto America's Sweethearts. It was one of the last true romantic comedies of Julia Roberts' career and, while not her best, reminded me of how much I miss her in these types of roles.

Roberts starts as Kiki, the sister and personal assistant of Gwen (Catherine Zeta Jones), a major movie star. Gwen has a new movie coming out with her longtime costar and husband Eddie (John Cusack), only Gwen and Eddie are no longer together due to an affair while filming on Gwen's part. With Eddie now out of intensive therapy and the film's release looming, it's up to Gwen and Eddie to have a civilized reunion at the movie's press junket. It's not your typical romantic comedy but throw in Billy Crystal as their publicist and you know you're in for at least a few entertaining moments.

What makes America's Sweethearts so enjoyable is its cast, an all star crew of Hollywood's most famous and funny. Roberts and Cusack know this genre well, and Crystal is best when he's going for a laugh. While they alone are reason to see a movie, Zeta Jones' turn as a spoiled, stuck up actress is the true highlight. She has never had a role as funny as Gwen, a woman who continues to shock as she sinks to new lows in order to get what she wants. Karma ultimately deals Gwen what she deserves but even then you can't help but laugh. And if she isn't enough to tickle your funny bone, there's always Christopher Walken as the in-movie director of the film. If that man isn't the craziest person alive (and I mean crazy as a compliment), then I don't know who is.

Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003)

Looking for a more serious romance? Don't have cable TV or Starz? Then go to your local Blockbuster (or Netflix, whatever it is that you use to get movies) and rent Girl With a Pearl Earring. Do you remember the days when Scarlett Johansson starred in unexpected indie features? I know I sure do. I have never loved her more than I did early on in her career, when she did movies like Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring. Then she made it big and, as most in the industry tend to do, sold out. Michael Bay's The Island? The Nanny Diaries? You can see her next in the upcoming Iron Man 2. Bet you saw that one coming.

Girl with a Pearl Earring was adapted from a story by Tracy Chevalier and recounts the tale behind the creation of "Girl with a Pearl Earing," a painting by Johannes Vermeer. While little is known about the painting's actual origin, the movie claims the woman in the painting is Griet, a maid in Vermeer's house. The painting was commissioned by Van Ruijven, a man who wishes to have Griet for himself by the time the work is finished. Since Griet is only a maid without many options, she must help Vermeer complete the painting before his wife finds out, before Van Ruijven comes to claim Griet, before the town gossip begins to spread, and before their attraction can get the best of them. It's a very tense romance, though understandable given the time period. The 17th century wasn't easy for anyone and their cross-class love is no exception.

You won't laugh like you would with America's Sweethearts but you will be just as entertained. The scenery is beautiful, the acting is top notch (Johansson was nominated for a Golden Globe), and the faux-history is gripping. The painting it is all based off of seems so simple and elegant, yet the story behind it so complicated and heartbreaking. It was one of the films that really got me into going to independent movie theaters (I was 17 at the time, so indies were still new to me) and one that makes me wish Johansson would return to the genre that made her famous enough to strap on leather jumpsuits for a superhero role.

Santa's Slay (2005)

Some movies don't require a big budget, artistic direction or A-list actors to be entertaining. If they did, the porn industry would be bankrupt. So would the extremely cheesy, yet wonderfully ridiculous horror movie genre. The great thing about horror is that it's just like porn, just without the sex: you take a beloved concept and turn it on itself to make mock entertainment. After Pirates of the Caribbean became a smash hit, the porn industry made Pirates. When the horror industry saw that Halloween was their staple holiday, they came up with a movie that shares the same name. In fact, the recent release of H2 was a remake of the original's first Halloween sequel. There is no end to ripping off ideas and turning them into porn or horror franchises.

Just because Christmas is all about holiday cheer and gift giving doesn't mean it isn't ripe for the lewd picking. Put a Santa hat on a stripper and porn viewers will forget the very definition of the word "plot." It's so easy, anyone can write a script! Heck, there was already a horror movie about snow men called Jack Frost (the 1996 horror, not the 1998 Michael Keaton family film). With scary snow out of the way, there was only one other holiday figure to honor and turn into a horror icon: Santa! Santa's Slay is about... well, Santa... only this version says Santa was a demon that lost a bet to an angel 1,000 years ago. Because he lost the bet, he had to spend the next millennium being jolly and giving gifts, something only a demon would consider real punishment. Fast forward to modern day and the time limit is up. Santa exchanges reindeer for flying ox and candy canes for anything sharp or flammable that can kill all those on his list.

Most of his victims are unknown, though the opening scene is full of C-list celebrities. After the mass murder that is Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan and Rebecca Gayheart, Santa (played by Bill Goldberg) aimlessly kills all those in his path until his Christmas is over for good. And with a gloriously lame tagline like "He's making a list... pray you're not on it," why wouldn't you want to see this movie? Seriously, if even an ounce of you has interest in seeing the recently released Sorority Row, change your minds and go see this movie. It's intentionally funny, not "Hi, I'm Rumer Willis in a horror movie, take me seriously" kind of funny. Or give Santa's Slay as a stocking stuffer this upcoming holiday season. It's a real treat for all!

Misery (1990)

The sad thing about horror is that most of it isn't scary at all. It's all just up-in-your-face nonsense, orchestrated by music that makes you jump more than anything on screen. Blood here, minor plot point there. I just compared horror to porn and, really, is the idea that ludicrous? Most R-rated horror is about the naked victims anyway. Now that I think of it, horror is just porn with more blood. Well... okay, never mind, I'm going into a whole discussion that could get rather graphic and off topic very easily. But going back to horror, even though most of it is bloody nudity, there are some horror movies that can truly scare the pants off of you, or at least disturb you long enough to impact you after the credits have finished rolling. Misery is one of those movies.

Misery is based on a story by Stephen King, who is very hit or miss when it comes to movie adaptations of his books. It and Pet Semetary were two movies I watched and disliked this past summer, both based on his work. The Green Mile was great and joining it on the list of successful adaptations is Misery. The story is about a writer named Paul Sheldon (James Caan) who is rescued after a horrible car accident. He wakes up to discover he is being taken care of by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his "number one fan." It seems innocent at first until we realize that his publishers are on the lookout for him and Annie is by no means in the position to care for another human being. The woman is, for lack of better words, certifiably bonkers. Her loving care turns to overbearing dominance, which turns to freakish obsession, which turns to full-on crazy. The woman is the kind of crazy fan that makes celebrities as weary as they are. Just watching this movie almost makes me want to give up being a writer, though I don't assume I'm popular enough to worry about such loyal fans. Or am I?

Is your favorite writer killing off your favorite fictitious heroine a justifiable reason for holding the author hostage and torturing him? Probably not, but Kathy Bates makes it looks extremely possible for someone to go through the act. She is believable and breathtaking as a mentally unstable fan, completely deserving of the Oscar she received for her role. Misery may not be the scariest movie I've ever seen but it is a very good movie and better than any horror or thriller out in theaters right now. And it co-stars Carrie Fisher as the girls' sorority headmistress full of witty one-liners! Wait, sorry, that's Sorority Row. Oh, Carrie Fisher. Why can't you do more movies like Misery and less teen horror garbage? If only there were something worthwhile to see in theaters so I didn't have to go out and rent movies or scan my Verizon Fios for something to watch.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009)

Oh wait, there is! What a pleasant surprise last weekend at the box office was. After my last article, where I ranted that September is void of quality films, I went to go see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in IMAX 3-D. Holy crap! Maybe I loved it because the movie is based off of one of my very favorite children's books (I was a fat kid, so a book about food was right up my alley). Maybe I loved it because it's an extremely colorful and vibrant animated movie that was a perfect choice for the 3-D treatment. Or maybe I loved it because my friend and I snuck a sixpack of beers into the movie. What?! Don't act like you never snuck in anything before! Having worked in a theater in my teenage years, I'll have you know that movie theater security doesn't differentiate between sneaking in beer or cheap snacks. It's all wrong!

Anyway, the movie is a major extension of the book, which itself is about a town that sees a storm of food fall over their town. In the movie, the storm is caused by a scientist named Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) and followed by an intern-turned-weatherwoman named Sam Sparks (Anna Farris, one of the funniest female comedians working today). After Flint's machine to turn water into food is accidentally sent flying into the sky, small portions of delicious food begin to rain down onto his small island town. His fame and Sam's status as a weatherwoman begin to rise, until the machine breaks down and starts producing meatball meteors. The transition is glorious to watch, as an animated movie full of fun foods is exactly what big screens were made for. There's no chance of seeing such a spectacle in real life, or being able to fully appreciate it on a 20" TV screen at home, which solidifies it as one of the must-see movies in your local Cineplex.

If the plot isn't enough to whet your appetite, maybe the comedy surrounding it is. Mr. T as the town security officer is erratic and hilarious, as is the mayor (voice by personal favorite Bruce Campbell). Seeing as how the sky is raining burgers and ice cream, it's no wonder the mayor went from a man with a Napoleon complex to someone that rivals Jabba the Hut in size. Since I'm still a fat kid at heart, I would gladly stand beneath the clouds with my mouth open, waiting for the next tasty treat to rain into my stomach. But Mr. T, Bruce Campbell and food aren't enough to convince everyone of a fun time at the movies. If they aren't your cup of tea, maybe the Who's Who list of celebrity voice talent is: James Caan, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris and Lauren Graham are along for the ride as well. The only one left to join it is you, the viewers in America who have yet to buy a ticket to see this movie. Don't make the same mistake I did and assume there's nothing to see in theaters. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is fun for people of all ages. Kids will love it. Those who read the book will love it. And anyone who has ever experienced hunger is likely to enjoy it as well.