Take Five
By George Rose
October 14, 2009

We were paranormal before paranormal was cool.

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 sports Web site.

Surprisingly, I had some free time this weekend. I wasted it, of course, playing video games and drinking with friends, but that doesn't mean the free time wasn't present. I was also lucky enough to squeeze in a few movies. In my opinion, that all makes for a great weekend. In the opinion of my parents, well, I still don't have a full time job so whatever I did this past weekend was a waste. I'm aware my main concern should be a job search. The reason I'm having so much trouble looking for a job? Nobody that I've spoken to that has a job is happy. My cousins hate their post-graduation jobs and are therefore constantly miserable. My parents never come home thrilled. One college friend has taken to drinking every day after work to cope. He only drinks three of four beers on the weeknights so it's not quite time for an intervention. The point is that nobody is happy with their work situation and that doesn't make me any more motivated than I already am. In my mind, there's only one real way to spend my time: procrastinating and watching movies. Here's what I dug up.

Zombieland (2009)

I meant to make mention of this movie in the last article since I saw it when it came out two weeks ago, but I forgot. Yeah, that happens. I've recently turned off my memory switch because, well, what's the point of remembering that I'm jobless? Things go in one ear and out the other. Ideas come and go without retention in my mind. I've become a certifiable couch potato whose only concern is digesting as much Hollywood provided entertainment as possible. I'm already halfway through season three of Lost! But in the midst of that vegetative state, I broke away from the couch and went to the movies to see Zombieland. What a wonderful use of my time that turned out to be!

Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, Zombieland is about the survival of four humans during a zombie apocalypse. Sounds familiar, right? What makes this story different from your average Dawn of the Dead or Resident Evil is the comedic angle taken, substituting failed attempts at fear for hilarious zombie battles and unforgettable cameos. After all four characters come together they find themselves on a quest for the rumored salvation land of other survivors, stopping along the way at the home of... a person whose name I will not spoil.

Eisenberg's debut shows he has all the talent and attractive awkwardness of Michael Cera, Stone's Superbad costar. Stone has come a long way since then, moving up the ladder first with House Bunny and now this. There doesn't seem to be anything too special about her but I'd be lying if I said I don't love watching her in any of her roles. She's beautiful but has a down to earth vibe that makes me want to be her best friend. I'd kill zombies with her any day. And as for Breslin, well, it's nice to see she's growing up and choosing roles that broaden her fan base. I loved her in Little Miss Sunshine and I loved her in Definitely, Maybe. But seriously, Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl? Zombieland was a good decision for all involved, cast and audience alike.

Fear (1996)

You know who needs a rebound? Reese Witherspoon. Let's take a look at her last few major roles: Monsters vs. Aliens (voice role, doesn't really count), Four Christmases (it took Vince Vaughn and a holiday theme to become a moderate hit), Rendition (don't remember it? Nobody else does either), and Just Like Heaven (box office bomb). This is all she has done with her time since Walk the Line won her an Oscar over four years ago. Four years! Sure, Four Christmases made about $120 million but it sits at 25% on RottenTomatoes and is only 82 minutes long. What about that suggests quality? And here I thought Reese was set for superstardom after her Oscar glory.

Well, before she got the statue and before she was Legally Blonde, Reese was an adorable, baby faced actress who was just too cute to resist. Election was great, Cruel Intentions is still one of my favorite movies, Pleasantville was surprisingly good, and Overnight Delivery is a great reminder of the comedic starting points of both her and Paul Rudd. But when I was cleaning my room this weekend I found my old VHS collection. You know, those old cassettes that look too bulky and outdated to sit next to the DVDs and Blurays on the display shelf. Among those movies I found Fear, one of Reese's earlier movies and one of the few VHS tapes I purchased before realizing DVD was the wave of the future.

Also starring Mark Wahlberg and Alyssa Milano, Fear is about a teenage girl (Witherspoon) who is part of a loving family. What does any girl with a loving family and big cozy house do? She rebels and doesn't listen to her parents. After following her friend to a club one night, she meets a guy (Wahlberg) and begins to fall in love. That is, until the guy turns out to be crazy and obsessed with her. He quickly starts to tear apart her family and ultimately hunts them down in their home with his friends. Is it a top notch quality film? No, but if you're going to watch a cheesy Reese Witherspoon movie, you might as well watch one that wasn't made in an effort to capitalize on her Oscar. She's young, perky, and doesn't look like she has an eating disorder (seriously, her chin never stuck out that much as a fuller figured youngster).. It's one of her few movies that I own and because I just rediscovered it I figured I'd pass it on to you. Enjoy it soon, before she tries her hand at another comeback with the ten films she has in preproduction. With so much on her upcoming slate, will she really have time to turn any of those into top quality product?

The Sweetest Thing (2002)

A few nights ago I was visiting my friend's dorm at a nearby college. As we were hanging out and watching TV, he invited a few girls over. I could have cared less but my friend wanted to impress them so he said they could bring over any movie they wanted and he would watch it with them. Is impressing a girl really that simple? It seemed so, right up until they whipped out The Sweetest Thing. I really didn't want to watch that movie. There are a million chick flicks they could have forced upon us, a genre I actually quite enjoy. Because New Moon is right around the corner I was aching to watch Twilight but, in an effort to be a good wingman for my friend, I put a smile on my face and agreed to watch The Sweetest Thing, a movie I had only previously seen bits and pieces of on TV.

Maybe it's because I was only 17 when the movie came out and, therefore, too young and sexually inexperienced to get some of the jokes, but The Sweetest Thing really wasn't as bad as I remembered it. In fact, it was quite funny. Cameron Diaz stars as Christina, a woman who enjoys life and casual sex in equal measure. She thinks she has men all figured out until she meets Peter (Thomas Jane) in a club one night and realizes she might have some real feelings for him. Yes, I understand the first mistake of this movie is giving the audience hope that love is found while drunk at a dance club but that's hardly the point the movie is trying to make. With the help of her equally whorish friends Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair), Christina continues to encounter sexual hilarity and searches for her Mr. Right, the man that got away.

I almost have a hard time recommending this movie because it's 25% on RottenTomatoes, has an extremely bland poster, has a cast that makes it feel like a direct-to-DVD movie, portrays attractive women as nothing but shallow, and falls completely flat with some jokes. There's one song and dance number (oh yes, it breaks out in the middle of a restaurant) about how women fake arousal and lie to men about the size of their penis that's truly disturbing. "Too big to fit in here!" chanted repeatedly now haunts my thoughts. Only because it's so unrealistic (realism is present when those nearby give dirty looks at the girls, but quickly fades when those same onlookers help create background music using utensils) is it a distraction, but the rest of the scenes more than make up for it. When the movie uses a bit more subtlety to hint at the women's hormones, real comedy begins to shine. When Jane brings a dress "stained" by a man from the night before into the dry cleaner and finds herself surrounded by a school field trip and her childhood priest, I really couldn't help but laugh out loud. While not a comedy classic or the stepping stone the three leads were hoping it would be, it's one of the few female driven sex comedies that remotely compares to the quality of Sex and the City. If nothing else it's only gotten better with age, and isn't that just about the best compliment you can give a shallow woman?

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The few that haven't seen this movie have at least heard of it. It was a pop-culture phenomenon back in 1999, costing pennies to make and raking in over $100 million at the box office. Why was it so big? Because for the longest time people thought it was a real documentary. Instead, it was just among the first horror movies to use a handheld camera, no big name celebrities and a horror villain that you never actually see.

The premise is simple: three film students go to Maryland to research the urban legend known as the Blair Witch. They go on a two day hike through the woods in search of facts regarding this legend but instead find themselves lost. Panic and fear set in, leaving the three students on a hunt for their survival, trying to escape the clutches of the forest and the ominous presence that surrounds them. The students begin disappearing, eventually leaving nothing behind but the footage they took that was discovered a year after they all went missing. It doesn't sound like a whole lot goes on but the movie really is creepy upon its first viewing, especially if you see it under the pretenses that it's an actual documentary. Needless to say, it's not. The students are actors and the Blair Witch is a made up myth that became successful enough to warrant a sequel, Book of Shadows. The sequel flopped, of course, because the gimmick had been revealed. That shouldn't take away from the original, though. It really is a great movie to watch late at night when the only thing on TV is the abysmal Prom Night. Brittany Snow really does deserve better.

The real reason I'm recommending The Blair Witch Project is because we have the same sort of sleeper success on our hands in the form of Paranormal Activity. Still in limited release, Paranormal Activity uses the handheld camera trick to invoke realism surrounding ghostly encounters of a haunted couple. Or so I hear. I haven't seen the movie yet but have heard rave reviews from a few friends that have. Also, as a marketing major in college, I'm extremely impressed with how the movie has positioned itself: rather than throw another horror movie in the faces of impressionable teenagers during the Halloween season, the film ends its trailer saying "if you want to see the movie, demand it in your area." You go to the Web site, find your location and request the movie be released there. I don't imagine the tactic working for every film, but it's fascinating how well genre fans have responded. The movie is already set for a nationwide release, per demand, and has been raking in boatloads of cash relative to the film's minuscule cost. Let this be a reminder of clever movies from the past and those to come. At the very least, it's clever marketing.

Big Man Japan (2007)

Because the only new movie to come out this weekend was Couples Retreat (and let's be honest, despite the great cast it has looks absolutely dreadful), I decided not to go to the movies. It was a painful decision but it seemed necessary. That was until someone suggested we check out the Trenton International Film Festival. I didn't even know that existed in my area until a friend suggested we go, and after we saw there was a Japanese monster movie showing on Saturday night we knew there was no better place to be.

Directed by and starring Hitoshi Matsumot, the movie is sort of a hybrid between Godzilla, Hancock and TV's The Office. It's about a man, known as Big Man Japan, who grows hundreds of feet tall when he is electrocuted through the nipples at a government agency. His mission is to protect Japan against the slew of monsters that attack, all of which are unlike any monster in Godzilla. There's no Mothra or Mechagodzilla here. Instead we have giant stink monsters that mate in the middle of a city and a giant baby, among others. What makes it like Hancock is the way in which Big Man Japan doesn't seem to enjoy or care much about his heroic title. It doesn't help that so many of the Japanese citizens think he's lazy and problematic, but it definitely adds to the humor of the movie. In fact, the theater owner made mention that the movie isn't to be taken seriously. It's meant to be enjoyed and laughed at, which isn't hard considering The Office style in which it's shot. Between battle sequences, Big Man Japan is interviewed by the camera man. Sarcastic humor isn't usually found in Godzilla movies but it works extremely well here, given the different elements used to tell Big Man's story.

The experience as a whole was a blast. I discovered a new little venue right around the corner from my house, can now say I've been to an International Film Festival and got to see an awesome Japanese monster movie that most people in America probably haven't heard of. Unfortunately the festival is over so I won't be able to report on any of the other movies playing, but I'm sure I'll be able to dig up some fun ones for next week's Take Five. Until then, enjoy what looks to be a great weekend at the movies with the releases of Where the Wild Things Are and Law Abiding Citizen.