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.
By George Rose
December 2, 2009
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Zombies were once synonymous with horror. If you heard about the undead, it was most likely a horror film and it was most likely overblown with cheap thrills and gore. In other words, it was everything you wanted from a movie. Who doesn't want to see awesome, unique death sequences in all the various situations where you might encounter zombies? There was a time when you could only find such entertainment in the horror isle, but the sub-genre has grown so popular it has been redone and mocked many times over. They're so popular they've crossed over genre (see Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland for examples). Despite their many forms, I'm glad these survival films are released. I think zombies are a more likely outcome to the end of the world than, say, asteroids or global warming. Any minute now, a lab-tested monkey is going react poorly to a new chemical. Or an asteroid with foreign toxins will infect the earth. No matter how you look at it, there are a million ways such a zombie outbreak could occur and Dawn of the Dead is one of the best ways to brush up on your survival techniques.
Before this past week, I had never seen the original Dawn of the Dead. I've seen tons of zombie movies and even the Dawn of the Dead remake, but never the original. Have I seen Night of the Living Dead? Yes, but still never its original sequel. I always just figured I saw the remake and, therefore, saw a stylized version of the original, so I'd be wasting time going back to watch a poorer quality copy of the same movie. Nope, I was wrong. By removing the modern-norm of stylizing old concepts, Dawn of the Dead is given a more gritty, raw look at the zombie story. The core-plot is essentially the same – a couple of people try to survive zombies while stuck in a mall – but the entire surrounding film is different. The characters are different, the pacing is different, the deaths are different; so much about the film is different that it's almost a shock they considered Zack Snyder's version a remake. Both are amazing in their own right, but this week I'm recommending the original because of how shockingly entertained I was. I knew an old zombie movie made by George Romero would be great, but given how much I liked the remake I went into the original with low expectations. Like most zombies, the movie will sneak up from behind and take your breath away.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Speaking of zombie movies being mocked, Simon Pegg did just that with Shaun of the Dead. I'd recommend that movie right now to go along with Dawn of the Dead, but I'm pretty sure I recommended it many articles ago. But when given lemons, I try to make lemonade; the original Dawn of the Dead made me think of the remake, which made me think of Shaun of the Dead, which made me think of the talent known as Mr. Pegg, which made me think of his hilarious collection of films. One of his films, in the same absurd-comedy realm as Shaun of the Dead, is Hot Fuzz. Both were directed by Edgar Wright, both were written by Pegg and Wright, and both are incredibly funny.
Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a London cop who is just too good at his job. He's good in the outrageous Schwarzenegger way, where getting the bad guy means setting off a chain reaction of elaborate stunts and action. Though, like Shuan of the Dean, Pegg means to mock the genre. He's definitely no Rambo – in fact, he's more Geek Squad than Greek God – but he sure treks around in uniform like he could save the world from a Michael Bay invasion. After establishing his character as the unlikely badass, he is reassigned to the small town of Sandford, which seems just a tad too peaceful. The movie would end right there without some underground criminal activity, and it is there that Angel finds his purpose and another reason to go on a wild goose chase to save the day. If you know the Pegg name (he was in this year's best movie, Star Trek) and haven't seen Hot Fuzz, I highly recommend it. For those unaware of Pegg's talents, Hot Fuzz is funny and accessible enough for all to enjoy.
Ever since I saw the trailer for The Princess and the Frog, Disney's Christmas release that hopes to reinvigorate 2D musical animation, I realized how little I care for the genre to make a comeback. Believe me, I'm all for an African-American princess finally gracing Disney's presence, I just wish it had come a decade sooner. What about the movie looks appealing? The trailer showcases a weird, fat crocodile that comes off more obscene than kid-friendly, and when it isn't focusing on him it's outlining what appears to be a frog romance. That's right, it's like a hybrid between Beauty and the Beast, Shrek and The Rescuers. Or that's what I gather. Based on the money it's currently making in limited release, it's going to be a smash hit. My guess, though, is that the early money is coming in because of the novelty and will wear out quickly. Some of Disney's best animated musicals performed below expectations, and while I personally am not rooting for The Princess and the Frog to join the ranks of the underrated, I won't be surprised if/when it appears on someone's Top 10 list at the end of the year. I also won't be surprised when it makes less than $100 million.
It reminds me of one of the last moderately successful Disney animated musicals, Hercules. After Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King blew the lid off expectations, the bar had unfairly been risen for future releases. While initially pushed aside as a disappointment, Hercules remains one of my favorite Disney musicals. It's about Gods! Half-Gods! Titans! I'm Greek, so these things excite me by nature, but after recommending Clash of the Titans last week I've sort of been on a mythology kick. Using the voice talents of Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito and James Woods, the story follows Hercules, a God who has fallen to regular human status after Hades poisons him. Once he becomes a teenager, he discovers his true heritage and must become a hero, so he can defeat Hades and return to his family on Mount Olympus. What he comes to learn is that becoming a hero has nothing to do with physical strength so much as self-sacrifice, and even more importantly than that, love. It's a great deal of fun watching these known legends experience their story through Disney's magical, musical touch. If nothing else, it's void of that creepy, sexual predator of a crocodile.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Like it did with Dawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, my mind took one film and zoomed off to another. Recommending Hercules was inspired by watching the Clash of the Titans remake trailer last week, which reminded me of the original Clash of the Titans, which reminds me of other classic films regarding mythology and religion (which, in my opinion, is mythology). Those they were released decades apart, the look, feel and history nature of the story of Clash of the Titans reminds me of The Ten Commandments, another movie I was introduced to by my parents when I was a kid. While it was probably their way of forcing their history and religion on me, it was done in a much less invasive way than church itself. Sunday School did nothing for me when it came to teaching me about the Bible, since my cousin was in my class and all we did was goof around, but The Ten Commandments has resonated with me throughout my entire life.
The biblical story, while entertaining, is not something I ever took seriously. Moses (someone many of you have probably heard of) helps free a bunch of slaves from the clutches of an Egyptian Pharoh. In order to gain his Egyptian following and strike fear into the eyes of the Pharoh, Moses must show everyone all the really cool things he can do with the power of God on his side. He can turn his staff into a snake and part the ocean with a wave of his hand. God also throws in some great action, turning water to blood and killing off children because their doors aren't marked in pigs' blood. Aren't bible stories fun?! Removing religion and the known story from the equation, the film itself is worth checking out given its epic scale and production. If it were released today, it would be directed by Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich. It's an event film for all ages and is a story you won't forget, even if you don't believe in the religion it's derived from.
The Flintstones (1994)
I was going to think of another film to recommend as the fifth title for this week's Take Five, but as I was writing the rest of it I was enjoying The Flintstones in the background. Anyone who hasn't lived under a rock in the last 100 years should know The Flintstones, since it was a classic show that has been a rerun favorite for kids over many generations. Hollywood turned The Ten Commandments into a blockbuster title in the same way they made The Flintstones. It's all just a bunch of idea-mongering by Hollywood execs; first they find the classic fiction (see how I called Moses fiction just there?), then they buy the rights, then they make a live action extravaganza that is so life-like it's almost enough to convince me it's based on truth. Only Moses and Fred Flintstone are equally unrealistic. Moses parts oceans and Fred transports his family in a car that operates with the running of his feet. The real shock is that Fred isn't also in the bible. I'm not sure why, since cartoons have taught me just as much about life as church.
The film version of the cartoon follows Fred (John Goodman) and his wife Wilma (Elizabeth Perkins) as they navigate the stone age, and their friendship with Barney (Rick Moranis) and Betty (Rosie O'Donnell). Fred and Barney work at the local rock query, but when Fred accidentally gets promoted to a management position, moral and professional boundaries are broken, helping the caveman develop into a more understanding, evolved family man and friend. The characters are perfectly cast, the mini-prehistoric inventions both clever and funny, and the overall tone something that would make Hanna-Barbera proud. It's a great reimagining of an old story and was a great way for me to enjoy writing the rest of this article.