It's funny that no matter how much I acknowledge karma exists, I am constantly surprised when it rears its ugly head. This summer I flew first class to Greece on a Delta Buddy Pass (my aunt is a Delta employee), spent two months pretending to date a woman, and drank for free every night at my uncle's beachside bar on the island of Chios. Yet, I was shocked at the end of the two months when karma come full circle and took it all back.
By George Rose
September 9, 2009
The girl I was dating? Yeah, that ended. Apparently my Take Five article is more popular than I knew. I thought it was limited to my family and friends, and maybe a handful of sporadic readers. In actuality, it made its way to Greece, which led to my secret being exposed, which led to me fleeing the country. Oh well, back to my more honest adventures in America.
My Delta Buddy Pass? Yeah, that's a standby ticket. And when I arrived at the airport on September 1st to flee the country, I discovered that the plane was full and I couldn't get on it. I also couldn't get on any other flights back to America, so I was forced to spend the next 24 hours stranded in the Athens airport. At that point, I wasn't the least bit surprised that I was unable to use the bathroom; it's not easy carrying two months worth of luggage into a restroom without at least the slightest bit of fear someone is going to sneak a bag of crack into your carry-on. Wouldn't that just be the cherry on top of the cake, me getting arrested in Greece for something I didn't do? And I guess there aren't handicapped people in this country because they seem to have forgotten to make stalls large enough to accommodate them. Oh well, sucks more for the person who uses the plane's port-a-potty after me.
And my two month unpaid bar tab? Well, I never planned on paying that, but when I got to the airport I learned there are other standby flyers that have been waiting at the airport for THREE days for a flight to America and all of them are higher up on the standby priority list. What does this mean? My options were to either return to the island of Chios for another week when the flights are less full (um, no thanks), to live at the airport hotel for a few days for $300 a night (that cost will start to add up quickly), or to spend $1,000 on a guaranteed ticket for 11 a.m. on September 2nd. In case you still haven't figured it out, I'm $1,000 poorer and in desperate need of a spacious bathroom. Thanks, Karma!
Everything comes full circle, always and without subtlety. But like the always reliable karma, there is always a silver lining. It took lots of screaming on the phone to my father (for which I owe him an apology) and half a pack of cigarettes to find that silver lining, but it's the one that is always there for me when my days are the darkest: Movies. What better time to watch a couple of movies and let you know what I think of them? Once back in America, the Take Five formula will return to me recommending five random movies for your viewing pleasure. They are personal favorites and you might disagree with them, but I'll always justify my selection in some way. But as far as this article is concerned, here is the final version of Take Five from Greece. I never thought I'd say this but, "Thank God the summer is over!" I should have known kicking off the season with X-Men Origins: Wolverine was foreshadowing for the many letdowns to come.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
Speaking of summer disappointments! Okay, so I didn't watch this in the airport, but it was one of two movies I got to see at the outdoor theater in Chios. The first (The Reader) was in the beginning of the summer and was very good (Grade: A-). The second was Pelham 1 2 3, which I saw just a few days ago as my bon voyage gift with my Greek friends. I requested one more outing to the garden theater and the only movie playing that day was Pelham. In retrospect, I should have gone drinking for free one more time.
The movie is a remake of a movie based off a book. After two previous outings, you think the story would be done to death. Director Tony Scott thought otherwise. John Travolta stars as a former Wall Street big shot named Ryder (Really? The guy riding the train is named Ryder? Yawn!) who hijacks a subway. He starts to make all sorts of threats and demands, and the poor soul on the other end of the receiver is Denzel Washington. What should have been a routine day at work has turned into a crash course in criminal negotiating, not something the already stressed out employee wants to deal with on top of his pending felony charges for taking a bribe while on the railroad job.
At first, I was surprised by all the negative criticism the movie received earlier in the summer. Despite Travolta being named Ryder (seriously?!), the characters initially seem complex and their back-and-forth banter is rather entertaining. The acting starts superb then it just gets outright ridiculous. Travolta starts screaming "mother f*cker" so often it loses its punch and his voice begins to crack. Though Washington plays his part with believable dismay, I couldn't help but think someone had just kicked his child into traffic. Sure, the situation calls for confusion and panic, but his eyes were glossed over in sadness nearly the entire time. Emoting is one thing, being overly emotional is another. How am I supposed to believe this pansy saves the day? But he sure does play a great pansy!
After the train is hijacked, the action starts and the movie gets into its groove. Demands are made, hostages are taken and killed, and everyone is just so utterly helpless. Sometimes I wonder if cops and the city governor (played here by an unusually bumbling James Gandolfini) would really deal with such nonsense. Sure, you can't put a price on the lives of 17 train passengers (though Travolta does, at around $10 million), but how many people were harmed and how much public property was damaged in racing the money to the right subway station on time? It's not like the passengers were worth saving, either. A man who is too scared to take a piss? An obnoxious child who doesn't understand a hostage situation? A retro teenager who is video chatting with his girlfriend while on a subway? I've never opened my laptop on a subway, let alone turned it on and entertain someone with kissy faces and affection.
At this point, I wasn't surprised in the least when his laptop got more screen time than he did. After the train comes to a screeching halt, he drops it underneath his seat. Later, when the criminals rig their own wireless Internet in the tunnels (I'm pretty sure that isn't possible), the video chat is reactivated and the kid's girlfriend begins streaming the footage on their Web site for the whole world to see. Well, gee, it's a good thing he dropped it, because it ends up being the only way the cops can identify who Ryder really is. But, aw shucks, the computer loses power and hope seems lost. Until it magically regains power? My computer never does that. If anything, it dies sooner than the little icon on the bottom right of my screen promises. And what do the bad guys do when they find this computer? Do they shoot the kid for aiding in the derailment of their plans? No, they chuckle!
The film is completely contrived, no fewer than 30 minutes too long, and ends before the only scene I really wanted to see. For a moment, when Washington calls his wife to let her know the scenario, she pleads with him to promise to come home and not get hurt. Bring home milk, she begs! They need milk and she needs him. This unknown actress got the biggest reaction out of me during the whole movie. Because of her, I actually wanted to see him bring home milk. And just before the credits roll, he walks up to the house with milk in hand. But since the movie is shot like a Grand Theft Auto trailer, Scott feels there is no point in showing their reunion. All we get is a fade away smile. Suddenly, Wolverine doesn't seem so bad.
Overall Rating: C-
Scream 3 (2000)
After learning I would have to pay $1,000 to be stranded in the Athens airport for 24 hours, I needed two things: to watch people die and to laugh. For the last article I watched Halloween: H20 and it re-inspired my love for late '90s horror. And if you want cheesy '90s horror that is both filled with death and laughter, Scream 3 is your best bet. None of the Scream movies are all that horrifying. There are cheap thrills and entertaining death sequences, but nothing that will keep me from sleeping. Their value comes mostly from the witty dialogue and mock-tones. Maybe I'm too old and numb to horror, or maybe the genre has just lost its luster, but if nothing else the Scream movies are fun to watch and just what I needed to start feeling better after contemplating my own mass murder spree among the Athens airport employees. They really just have no sympathy for stranded Americans.
The final entry in the original trilogy (a fourth movie is in the works, probably to stop Michael Bay from remaking them) is by far the funniest and for one main reason: Parker Posey. The first movie made fun of the genre, the second teased the notion that horror movies inspire killing sprees, and the third makes fun of Hollywood itself. Posey shines as an actress playing the Gale Weathers character in the movie-within-a-movie called Stab 3: Return to Woodsboro. This was the role that put her on my radar and I have enjoyed her ever since. She has the timing and look of a lady who should spend less time in indie features and more time headlining comedy. But enough about her, let's talk about the movie.
After leading lady Sydney Prescot has been hunted down and tormented twice, a new killer is on the loose. While the production of Stab 3 is in progress, those playing the parts begin dying in the order they die within the script. The problem is that there are three versions of the script, to help prevent the ending from leaking onto the Internet, so we aren't sure who will die next. That, and we aren't sure if the killer will go after the star acting in Stab 3 or the person the character is based off of. It's not like it matters, anyway; if you want stylized death you should probably go see The Final Destination in 3-D. If you want genuinely entertaining horror movies that helped redefine and rejuvenate the genre, the Scream movies are worth a look. But if you like horror, you've probably already figured that out for yourself.
Though Neve Campbell's Sydney isn't likely to be in the fourth entry (I hope a cameo is in place, maybe as the first death of the movie?), it should still be as good as the rest. Courteney Cox and David Arquette are perfect as the confused reporter and cop in love, constantly bickering and making eyes at each other as bodies pile up around them. The supporting cast usually isn't all that stellar but they aren't relevant enough to be anyway. The show is all about Campbell, Cox and Arquette. Though the removal of Campbell will scare (ha) away some viewers, I have faith original director Wes Craven will pull out something great. It will be filled with one-liners, horror references, rules of the genre and stars galore. After watching Scream 3, I was still $1,000 poorer but was in a noticeably better mood. I didn't even mind the crying children that were allowed to roam the terminals while I was quietly watching my movie. Well, okay, I did mind them. But at least I didn't want to kill them.
Overall Rating: B
After watching a comedic horror movie, I figured I'd keep my good mood rolling and watch a fun kung-fu action movie. My college roommate is big on all things Asian (his women, cartoons, movies, etc.), and while I am also a fan, I'm not the one who spent $5,000 to go to Japan for a two week trip after graduation. In any case, one of the non-burned DVDs that he loaned me was Oldboy so I assumed it would be one his favorites. Karate kicks, here I come!
Oh. My. God. Oldboy is NOT a kung-fu movie. I mean, there are a few fighting sequences, but the movie isn't anything you will ever see Jackie Chan or Jet Li star in. It was not the adrenaline kick I was looking for to keep me up for the 24 hours I have to sit in the airport. It was not fun or lighthearted. It was not inspirational. I do not have the urge to go out and kick some Delta flight attendant butt. I want to cry, continue hating the world, and never spread another rumor again (though rumors aren't my weak spot, if anything I talk about my personal truths too much).
For all that it isn't, the movie is amazing. It is stylistic, dark, gripping and affected me 100% from start to finish. The movie begins with the drunken Ho Dae-su being kidnapped and confined for 15 years of his life. One year into his capture, he learns he has been framed for the murder of his wife. His daughter's whereabouts are unknown, as are his captors and the reason he is being held in a small room with nothing but a bed and bathroom facilities. The first 15 minutes of the movie show his fall into insanity over 15 years, and while we will never truly understand what it's like to be that sort of crazy, you sure do start to feel uneasy.
After he is released, we follow Ho's journey as he tries to discover why he was captured and who would do such a thing. Over those 15 years, he made a list of everyone he has wronged, a list that took up the pages of several notebooks. Yet he is clueless, left with nothing but a new outfit and a cell phone, which his captor uses to lead him into the direction of truth. Then the mind games really begin. He meets a beautiful sushi chef named Mido and together they go on the search for his lost daughter and the man he aims to exact his revenge on. The initial plot seems simple but as it unfolds so do the layers of the truth, and that's where the film turns into a full on nightmare.
This is one of those movies that you think is just a haunting drama that turns into a complete mind-f*ck. Not like, "oh, remember how in Fight Club, it was all just his imaginary friend?!" No, not like that at all. At first, we find out that Ho was imprisoned for spreading rumors in high school. For a moment, I thought the film took the lame way out, revealing a corny story about childhood nonsense. Really, who cares about calling some girl a slut? That's no reason to imprison someone and it isn't close to why he was. The madness of the first half of the movie is partially weakened by this initial assumption but all that is meant to do is lower your expectations, because once you think the movie is plotted around a childhood quarrel you are sent into some of the most disturbing revelations I have seen in a movie. Ever.
The rumors spread? Only the tip of the iceberg. The ways in which the villain exacts his revenge on Ho? Let's just say I'd rather be eaten by Hannibal Lecter. I had to go outside and smoke three cigarettes after watching it I was so distorted. Walking around the airport became a nightmare in and of itself, my loneliness consuming me only a fraction of how it screwed with Ho's mind. The many standby fliers waiting around for flights, napping soundly in their sleeping bags, looked like a sea of the dead. Children became demon munchkins. Flight attendants became... well, flight attendants.
One of the reasons my roommate loves the Asian culture so much is because it is void of boundaries. Because Asians are generally tame people, always working together to better the whole, they are rewarded with such extreme entertainment. This movie is not for the faint of heart. I could barely stomach when Ho was ripping the teeth out of one of his foe's mouth with a hammer but, in retrospect, that maybe have been one of the Disney-light moments of the film. This movie will haunt me for hours to come, in a good way. In a way that proves a movie can be disturbing but meaningful, unlike the Saw sequels and Hostel movies. Like the proverbs the characters reference and later use against each other, the movie has depth at its core. It's just surrounded by death and manipulation. Just because it's horrific doesn't mean it isn't powerful. Because of its severe impact on me, Oldboy will be regarded as one of those epic movie-going experiences that reminded me why I enjoy watching movies so much in the first place: to feel something different, outside of "normal" life. Even if what I feel is awful and awkward. Thanks a lot, roommate. Now I never want to have children.
Overall Rating: A-
P.S. I Love You (2007)
In an attempt to think happy thoughts again, which I figured Oldboy had made me incapable of, I decided to watch one of my favorite romance movies. I saw it with one of my best American friends, Kaity, when it was released in theaters and she has never let me live that day down. You'll learn why in just a bit.
The movie starts off about Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler) as a young married couple that got hitched just a bit too early. Their relationship was built entirely on passion and they forgot to incorporate some of that adult logic that keeps couples together for a lifetime. They fight, make up, then fight again. While their relationship is difficult, it's still very much endearing. Butler can be loveable rolling around in a pig pen (in my book, anyway) and Swank, for the first time, seems appropriate as the lead in a love story. She's not the prettiest tool in the shed but for a role like this the producers needed an actress that can, well, act. Someone that can be emotional, not just pratfall around until Hollywood says she's ready for love. The reason P.S. I Love You calls for more depth is because, early on into the film, Holly's husband dies. Not what you expected from your average romance, right?
Or maybe it is. I don't know. What I know is that I expected the movie to be a boring drama about a woman's recovery from the death of her husband. Since I was going through a breakup of my own at the time, I went to see the movie to look for moving-on tips. What I got was something else entirely. After Gerry dies, Holly begins to receive letters from her dead husband. No, not letters written by a ghost. That would just be tacky. These are letters that Gerry wrote prior to his death, letters he knew would help Holly heal. Now THAT'S romance and love! As Holly reads the letters, we are offered flashbacks of their relationship. It's then that we understand why their complicated love was worth fighting for at the beginning of the movie. Granted, how they fell in love is a bit unrealistic, but since I was in an emotional place I was very much receptive to everything I witnessed. Let me remind you again of one of my beliefs: movie watching is a personal experience.
Gerry has Holly do all sorts of things. The first instructional letter starts off small, ordering her to go out with her girlfriends and party a little. They eventually lead to her going to Ireland, where they first met and where Gerry's parents still live. You can imagine how emotional that part of the movie is. If you can't, let me explain my reaction to it. After buying into the fairy tale, I started crying. Not weeping. Not tearing up. There was a full on monsoon coming out of my face, which my friend Kaity thought was hilarious. While our relationships and their fallouts were different, I felt close with Holly. When she was sad, I was reminded of why I was sad. When she gave up hope, I gave up hope. And when she recovered, I was left with hope.
I went into the movie hoping for tips, but instead fell in love with Gerry and was broken hearted when I learned that I had to move on after his death. Moving on sucks, it isn't easy and it takes a long time. Sure, my ex leaving me wasn't the same as a husband dying but in those two hours it all felt the same: Holly and I were both alone and both needed to learn to find love again. The key to success? Time and experience. Time doesn't necessarily heal all wounds, but the new memories you make and experiences you allow yourself to have over time eventually create a "new you" and push away the past that once hurt so bad. Though the past can never be forgotten, it can be the starting point for a much bigger journey, one that leads to happiness and new love. P.S. I love you no longer has the same effect on me as it did in that first viewing, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still impact me. If nothing else, I learned that while Oldboy was a traumatic experience, there are positive ones that will come afterwards that will leave me better than I once was. P.S. I Love You did just that, all over again.
Overall Rating: B+
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
24 hours in the Athens airport were finally over and I was ready for my trip back to America! Watching three movies was great, something I missed doing from childhood. You know the days, when you'd sit on your bed all curled up and just watch, watch, watch movies until your mother threatened to not feed you if you didn't come out of your room. Well, you might not know those days, but I sure do. Feeling upbeat again after P.S. I Love You, I thought karma was back on my side and ready to reward me with a safe flight back. Would karma be kind enough to reward me with a decent on-flight movie?
No, it wouldn't. Or maybe it would. Less than an hour onto the flight the screen comes on, only to reveal X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I thought about skipping it so I could catch up on all the sleep I had missed, but decided against it so I could give Wolverine a second chance. One thing I learned about movies is that your expectations going into them have an effect on your criticism of them. Being a die-hard X-Men fan with extremely high expectations of Wolverine, it's no surprise that I didn't enjoy watching it back in May. It felt too much like a video game and not enough like an origin story about one of the X-Men's most complicated characters. The involvement of Cyclops also infuriated me, since he was supposedly the reason they wouldn't put Gambit into the X-Men trilogy. The whole movie reeked of hypocrisy and poor producing, and I swore never to watch it again.
Fast forward almost four months and here I am watching it again on the US Airways airplane. The plot is still the same as it was a full summer ago: Wolverine and Sabertooth don't age and grow up to partake in almost all of the relevant wars of the last few decades. They are brothers, war heroes and, most importantly, mutants that heal quickly and fight like animals. They are imprisoned after the army discovers they are not human, only to be released by the hands of a high ranking officer named Stryker. He is creating a group of special-ops mutants to do some of the more serious bidding of our nation. Or so we think. After Wolverine decides he doesn't want to be an animal, he breaks away from the group, moves away to become a lumberjack and falls in love with a beautiful woman. All seems to be going right for Wolverine until Stryker returns, claiming that Sabertooth is on a killing rampage, attacking all the former members of the special-ops group.
Everything up until this part of the movie is interesting and entertaining. The acting is good enough for a summer popcorn flick, the action is relevant to the story line, and the plot seems close enough to Wolverine's comic book origins that I'm willing to overlook some of the inconsistencies. But the second half completely drops the ball, swapping all that was right with the first half for mindless entertainment that only teenage parents and their action-figure buying children would care about. That's what I thought the first time around and it isn't so far off from what I thought the second time. Once Wolverine's love is killed, he vows vengeance and goes on the search for Sabertooth. In a matter of maybe 45 minutes, Wolverine encounters half a dozen mutants and gets into some of the most absurd fight sequences with them. Only this time, because I had reduced my expectations of the movie, I was able to enjoy the scenes more. Read that again: I didn't enjoy them, I enjoyed them more. Wolverine on top of a helicopter? Gambit makes an entire alley explode? Will.I.Am in a cowboy hat? Hey, at least I'm still not stuck in the Athens airport. I guess there are worse things.
Watching Wolverine a second time wasn't like watching Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring again. I never read the books, so I hated LotR:FotR the first time. It was long and boring. But the second time my expectations were removed, and I was given a chance to look less at the pictures on the screen and actually pay attention to the words and plot. Now, I can't watch LotR enough! Wolverine wasn't nearly as deep or long as LotR, but on the second viewing I was able to look deeper than some of the shallow, easy shortcomings of the movie and really watch the movie as an objective viewer. The action, while absurd, is summer fun. The plot, which is missing in the second half, is still more prominent than in movies like G.I. Joe. The overall review? Better than the C- I gave it the first time around.
What karma has taught me is that you get what you give. I was not my usual self in Greece and was punished at the end of my trip for acting like a jerk throughout. But, like I have said before, people and movies deserve second chances. Just because the surface gives off one impression and expectations distort the rest doesn't mean that there isn't something of value underneath. Sometimes, though, karma works in reverse. I was punished with my first viewing of Wolverine at the beginning of the summer and here I am watching it again on the last day of the season as I return to the US. It's better than I had remembered it all summer and hopefully the people I hurt in Greece can one day regard me the same way: something that built up for a long time, disappointing when revealed and something that the second chances it needs to prove it's not as bad as you once thought. At least better than a C-, anyway.
Overall rating: C+