Take Five
By George Rose
October 30, 2009

Mayhap we as consumers have become too attached to our cell phones.

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.

Though for all that I knock on sports and tend to steer clear of them, I've actually been enjoying the recent baseball games on TV. Anyone who has been watching now knows that the Yankees and the Phillies are going head to head in the World Series this week. Since I live in NJ, this is a pretty big deal. I heard more than one drunken baseball fan slur, "The East coast is going to be on fire!" at the bars the last few days. While I am naturally a fan of the Red Sox – having only gained moderate interest in the sport while attending college in Boston – I am actually part of a family that supports the Phillies. My cousins, on the other hand, are Yankees fans. Yes, I fear a family rivalry is about to start, but at least it will be the result of a battle worth discussing.

A battle much like that at the box office this past weekend: Paranormal Activity vs. Saw VI. The low budget reigning champ vs. the overblown torture porn record holder. That which inspires fun in the medium by climbing the ladder quietly vs. that which robs the medium of fun by capitalizing on it with shiny marketing ploys. You see where I'm going with this? The Gods knew that the Saw series needed to be brought down a level on the pretentious meter; not to the point of extinction but definitely to the point where even a profitable opening weekend would sound off a series of frightening alarms. $14 million is great for a movie with such a low budget, but when an $11,000 movies comes along and b*tch slaps you on the weekend you've claimed for so many years, it's pretty embarrassing. It's about as embarrassing as it will be when the Phillies spank the Hell out of the Yankees in their precious new stadium. Can you tell which team I'm rooting for? Paranormal Activity reigned victorious, so why can't the Phillies?

Really, though, at the end of the day I could care less. Fun rivalries created by sports should remain just that, fun! When things get ugly and fans start getting physical, or even verbally abusive, it just proves we haven't evolved past our ancestors, the apes. Can we really not just watch a stupid baseball game without being able to shake hands afterwards? Must we throw punches, set off riots and create enemies? All I know is that if my cousin doesn't speak to me for a week again, much like when the Red Sox wiped their butts with the Yankees after being down three games in the 2004 series, I'm going to stop watching. It really is no fun at all when you're watching a game with someone who can't be a good sport. That's why I like movies so much. A fun battle like Paranormal Activity vs. Saw VI comes along for the fans and nobody gets hurt. Even Lionsgate is still a winner here! I'm sure they aren't too worried since Saw will be back again next year to try their hand at being THE Halloween series. This time, probably on steroids (see Jason X for an example of a horror franchise getting all juiced up).

Anyway, enough with the baseball jargon. I really can't even believe I wrote anything about sports, but it's not my main interest and is therefore not my main concern to write about. There are more pressing matters at stake, like what you should watch over the next week if you're bored. Well, if you're bored and are near a TV that doesn't have any of the World Series games on.

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

I've been doing this recently, recommending a movie that's currently in theaters. I think it's helpful because sometimes you don't necessarily trust the reviews you find in your newspaper, written by reviewers that are forced to step out of that mindless-mode most movies are best watched with, in order to be detailed and overly critical. I'm not here to rip apart every movie to its core, to find and nitpick over every last molecule of a movie. That can't really be done properly, anyway. Movie going is a personal experience with more than just the production parts affecting how we relate to a film. I think movies that have many flaws can still be enjoyable, and many movies that have won critical praise and Oscars are flat out boring. This week I offer you Law Abiding Citizen, and here's why...

Not because it will win awards (it won't), not because there aren't other movies you could see (there are) and not because it did better than expectations its first two weekends; I'm suggesting Law Abiding Citizen because it was good enough to watch (pretty good, actually), had enough explosions to warrant the price of a big screen ticket, and is the best darn movie either Gerard Butler or Jamie Foxx has made in a while. Who knows when another one of their movies will be this accessible and enjoyable to the mainstream? Together they star in this thriller about a... you guessed it... law abiding citizen, Clyde (Butler), whose family is brutally murdered in front of him. He is then forced to watch an attorney, Nick (Foxx), make a deal with one of the killers to help avoid trial and keep his conviction rate up. This sets Clyde off, who kills the murderers and is sent to prison, where he continues exacting his revenge on everyone that was part of the legal system that wrongfully set one of the murderers free. It is then up to Nick to make right his past wrong decisions and stop Clyde from killing anyone else. The plot is fast paced, the death sequences are inventive and the story captivating enough to overlook its loopholes. Basically, this is a more toned down version of what Saw VI should have been if you swap the clown doll for legal terminology. It's not scary, but it sure is a better way to spend Halloween weekend than watching the Saw series' biggest disappointment.

That Thing You Do! (1996)

You want something fun and peppy? You want to tap your feet and bop your head to some great '60s themed music because you need a break from all the terror and death Halloween promotes? Go rent That Thing You Do! The musical (I think?) is about four young men (Tom Everett Scott, Johnathon Schaech, Steven Zahn and Ethan Embry) who start a band, called The Oneders, in their hometown of Erie, PA. After their first single becomes a smash hit, thanks to their manager (Tom Hanks), they change their name to The Wonders and go on a cross country tour that both establishes and destroys their careers.

This is one of those movies I remember my whole family enjoying together. Because of the era, it's enjoyable for adults, and because of the film's tone, music, characters, and stars, it's enjoyable for the younger generations. I'm actually disappointed it didn't do better at the box office, but I guess this type of movie doesn't usually break records. It's sort of a musical, sort of a faux-biopic of a band that never really existed; neither genre does particularly well unless it's about a more well known brand, which The Wonders is not. Still, it should be worth your time. It's a Tom Hanks movie, for Pete's sake. That man is a movie legend and for good reason; this was his writing/directing debut and it sits at 91% on RottenTomatoes. Is there anything he can't do?

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)

This is much less peppy than That Thing You Do!, so if you're looking for a lighthearted film throughout you should look elsewhere. Don't be mistaken, though, there are still plenty of laughs behind this bestseller-turned-movie. Based on the book of the same name, this story is about a writer named Sidda (Sandra Bullock), whose erratic mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn), goes crazy after Sidda writes an article describing her troubled youth. Vivi's best friends, known as the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, take it into their own hands to reconcile the women and, in the process, share the divine secrets of the group's past in an attempt to prove Vivi's mood-swings stem from a troubled past of her own.

With such an estrogen-filled story and multi-generational characters, it should come as no surprise that there are weepy moments. I myself did not cry, which I have been known to do, but there are still heavy emotions to be felt and lessons to be learned. Making them all the easier to handle are the wise-cracking Ya-Ya's, women who have handled their troubled pasts a bit more appropriately and use laughter (and Bloody Marys) to move past the pain. Though the plot may be much for men to handle, the cast makes it a must-see for anyone who enjoys following actors' careers; great performances are given from the two leads and all supporters, including James Garner, Ashley Judd, Angus Macfadyen, and Maggie Smith, among others.

I know as a man I'm probably expected to recommend tons of action movies and whatnot, but I enjoy my female-driven dramas enough to throw the ladies out there a recommendation or two. Who am I kidding? I'd watch Sandra Bullock in just about anything, like Tom Hanks. I even paid to see Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. I didn't like it much, but not every movie is great because of the writing. Just like sports, sometimes you aren't pleased with what you saw but enjoyed it anyway because of the idols you enjoy following. Sandra is one of those idols for me and, in all honesty, she's made much worse than Divine Secrets. If you think it's really that bad, go watch All About Steve. It will give you newfound appreciation for the Ya-Ya's.

King Kong (2005)

Okay, this one's for the guys. It's got some romance too, but I'm not sure bestiality is enough to deem this one a romantic comedy. I'm sure I don't need to go into extreme detail about King Kong's plot, since it's a remake of a classic that's been remade many times. A group of explorers and film makers sail to an uncharted island, where a giant gorilla and his merry band of dinosaurs and mega-insects are guarded by an ancient civilization. Once the gorilla, or King Kong as we know him, is captured and brought back to New York, he escapes and goes on a rampage to find the actress he befriended back on the island. This inevitably leads to his... well... I won't ruin it for the few who don't know the story.

The remake is amazing. It's everything you could want from a big screen spectacle and is everything the original classic could have been if CGI and Peter Jackson existed in 1933. While the first one should be and is appreciated for its less extravagant approach, this version of Kong should be treasured for being what so many tentpole pictures aim to be and fail. The special effects alone are above and beyond so many of the movies that have since been released, and still it managed to tell a compelling story while also hitting every heart string: love, laughter, terror, suspense and so on. I can't believe how much was accomplished on its budget, since the recent G.I. Joe cost almost as much and accomplished a fraction of the experience. King Kong will keep you on the edge of your seat with eyes wide open, emoting and engaged for every bit of its three hour runtime. Had it not been up against the family-oriented Chronicles of Narnia, it may have been the biggest hit of the 2005 Winter holiday season.

Saw (2004)

That's right, I'm recommending Saw. When it came out, I considered it to be one of the best, most creative horror movies in a long time. Now that I have seen three of its sequels and heard reviews of the other two, the first Saw should win an Academy Award. Seriously, nothing puts a film's value into perspective quite like watching half a dozen clones. You just can't clone the same product so many times without seeing some of the shine come off, and Saw has never looked so bright as it did when Saw VI ruined its good name. While I have nothing but love and admiration for Saw, this is all I have left to say about Saw VI: HAHAHAHAHAHA. Ok, I'm done. No, wait a second, I feel more coming on... HAHAHAHAHA. Ah, that felt good. It's nice to see a bad product do poorly.

I'd like to say you probably know what Saw is about but, given how far off course the series has gotten, I'm sure you think it's about some sort of virus spreading. At least that's what the latest trailers barely hint at. Saw is about a man known as Jigsaw who, after learning he has incurable cancer, decides to use the rest of his life teaching lessons to those who have failed to be decent people. At first it's simple, with Jigsaw capturing sinners and making them do things like cut out their own eye or murder another person in order to survive. After establishing himself and his serial tendencies he begins creating scenarios involving more than one victim, which makes it all the more complicated to figure out who, if anyone, will make it out alive. It also makes it pretty darn tricky to guess who the killer is, in the first movie anyway. The shocking twist of a finale in the first film is the best of the bunch, because it's the least expected and most original of the six in the series.

I hate busting Saw VI's chops because the series really did become a Halloween staple for me and many others, but Lionsgate should understand why; I'm only so mad because I once loved the series so much. It's like a bad relationship that just won't end! Let it go and remember it for all the good times, because the more bad times you create trying to make it work will only make the breakup more disastrous and you'll eventually forget (or stop caring) why it worked to begin with. Plus, there are always other franchises and people to waste money and time on. And if you aren't sold on any of the movies out there, well, there's always the World Series.