The Hangover Part II
At one point in The Hangover Part II , Zach Galifianakis puts a bottle beneath the robes of an elderly Buddhist monk as they ride together on a bus through the streets of Bangkok. This makes it look as though the monk has an erection. Zach has recently befriended a monkey, and the monkey promptly starts in nibbling at the monk’s fake boner. The passengers laugh, and Zach beams, “When a monkey nibbles on a penis, it’s funny in any language.” If you agree — if you are laughing just thinking about it — then you will most likely enjoy the movie, and you can stop reading here.
Still with me? Okay. The Hangover Part II is very much part of the “bigger, louder, dumber” tradition of sequelizing. That’s not so bad when you’re making The Fa6t & Furiou6: This Time They’re Rocket Cars. But it’s deadly when you’re following up on a comedy that relied heavily on charm and heart, even as it trafficked in strippers and beatdowns.
Once again, we’re treated to the unlikely trio of Alan (Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms), and Phil (Bradley Cooper), waking up to the problem of an impending wedding, a missing person, and no memory of the night before. But this time, instead of Vegas, they’re in Bangkok. Instead of a missing tooth, there’s a severed finger. Instead of a regular stripper, there’s a stripper with a penis. And instead of stealing a pet tiger, the boys kidnap the aforementioned monk and start a riot. Welcome to Hangover: The Exxxtreme Edition. There’s even a river jump during the inevitable car chase.
Maybe all this reads funnier than it felt. But how it felt was joyless, drained of life…a rote parade of mechanical hijinks. Director Todd Phillips once made a documentary about the sometimes-scary world of college fraternities, and the first Hangover bore the stamp of a man who had observed and understood guy culture. Here, he’s just pandering.
Parting gift: yes, there is another naughty photomontage during the credits. Yes, it goes further than the original. Think ping-pong balls.
If Unforgiven was Clint Eastwood’s mud-spattered testament to the rotten life of a gunslinger, then it might be fair to call 13 Assassins Takashi Miike’s mud-spattered testament to the rotten life of a samurai. Because for all a samurai’s badassery with a sword and noble talk of honor, he still lives to serve his master. (At least, that’s the claim made repeatedly during the film, and it’s a claim that is never answered, let alone refuted.) And if your master is a rotten bastard…well, you’ve still got a job to do.
So there’s your setup: young Lord Naritsugu is a regular Caligula, raping and killing at will and chalking it up to the duties that the ruled owe their ruler. (Though the gore is relatively restrained until the final showdown, Miike gets in a signature disturbing image early on by showing us one of Naritsugu’s mutilated, still-living victims.) Even worse, he’s half-brother to the Shogun and is on his way to becoming an advisor to the throne. At the head of Naritsugu’s guard is the samurai Hanbei. He’s not thrilled about his bloodthirsty master, but he knows his duty is to defend his Lord.
Meanwhile, wise government official Sir Doi sees that “chaos and suffering will befall the people” if Naritsugu ascends, so he secretly commissions retired-samurai Shinzaemon to gather a team and assassinate the wicked Lord. Shinzaemon and Hanbei are old classmates and sparring partners; now, they seem destined to cross swords one last time.
What follows looks wonderful and feels familiar, even if you haven’t seen Eiichi Kudo’s original version. I’m guessing that the conventional storytelling — right down to the ridiculously drawn-out final battle against hordes of inept guardsmen — serves to highlight the element that remains unconventional: the peasant Koyata. Lean, filthy, and full of cunning, Koyata joins the assassins as a guide and eventually fights alongside them. Like Seven Samurai’s Kikuchiyo, he claims to be descended from the samurai class. Unlike Kikuchiyo, he is full of scorn for samurai arrogance and imagined superiority. (Instead of honor, Koyata longs for his boss’s wife.) And you know what descendents do: they inherit. There’s a reason for all that mud clinging to the samurais’ robes.
How to Live Forever
Curiously unused subtitle: What a Drag It Is Getting Old. There’s a great black comedy to be made from the documentary material in How to Live Forever. I’m thinking here of the blunt declaration made by the founder of the Ms. Senior America Pageant that he simply cannot allow a swimsuit competition, of the notion that “the dead man is unwelcome” at a Boomer funeral, of people who laugh for no reason in an effort to improve oxygen flow and so ward off dementia. (“We just look crazy!”)
But documentarian Mark Wexler doesn’t come across as wanting to make a joke out of death, in part because he’s not quite ready to regard it as an unavoidable tragedy. He won’t even look the Reaper full in the face; instead, he suggests his real fear is of “the uncool trappings of age.” So he handles all these potentially lacerating moments with a gentle touch and instead spends his time crisscrossing the globe to talk to the long-lived about how they do it. But while the old folks are remarkable — especially the ones who drink and smoke and crack wise — they don’t offer much in the way of secret wisdom.
Along the way, Wexler checks in with various scientists and researchers devoted to the idea of keeping people going indefinitely, mostly by replacing parts as they wear out. Here, philosophy comes into play, and we are treated to a few moments of proper tension. At one point, Wexler juxtaposes an advocate of calorie-poor diets with the Falstaffian Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold. Do you want to live long or live well?
As I said, there’s plenty of good material here. But the film meanders and doubles back on itself; at one point, even Wexler can’t bear the thought of another old-timer or another scientist. It’s almost as if he’s afraid to reach the journey’s end.
Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Thai plantation-owner Boonmee is dying. Naturally, his relatives come to stay with him during his last days, including his sister-in-law Jen and his nephew Tong. Unnaturally, his deceased wife Huay also shows up. So does his long-lost son Boonsong, now transformed into a ghost monkey, after having taken one for a mate. And there, gathered around the dinner table, is the substance of Uncle Boonmee: death, the afterlife (or, in some cases, the beforelife), and man’s connection to the primal, ancient, dripping natural world.
It’s a charming, oddly moving scene, largely because of the living’s equanimity upon encountering the dead. Jen asks Huay if she received the things Jen sent her via the temple (“Yes, they comforted me.”). She wonders why Huay looks so young, and Boonmee knows the answer: Huay is the same age as when she died. Then attention shifts to Boonsong — he of the glowing red eyes and resplendent black fur — who tells Boonmee that the spirits and animals in the jungle outside can sense his sickness. Boonmee must make ready for his final journey.
In a funny way, the film is a more profound meditation on the mystery of death than anything in How to Live Forever. The uncertainty; the helplessness; the stubborn suspicion that this life matters, that it is not the only life there is: it’s all so achingly human. (When your dead wife comes back to you, what does she do? She helps to drain your kidney, just as she would have done in life.)
As he prepares, Boonmee looks back on his current life and on his lives before this one. Some are humdrum, others reek of mythic significance. He regrets the past (“I killed too many communists”) and ponders the future (“How will I find you?”). Nothing is hurried, and director Apichatpong Weerasethakul takes no pains to spell out his intentions. But by the time he is finished, it’s a tough call between the cave and the city.