THE HANGOVER PART TWO ***
When a film labels itself “PART TWO”, as this one does, you may be forgiven assuming that this, second “part” of the story was always intended (you’ve seen the first half / third / quarter; here’s the next bit); barring that, you might at least assume that the second “part” of the story moves the story along in some compelling way (the greatest example here being “THE GODFATHER PART TWO”). THE HANGOVER PART TWO however feels neither like a long-planned secondary act of a grander story nor the natural elongation of a story that demanded further elaboration: it actually feels like a bigger, louder, more expensive remake of “THE HANGOVER”. Essentially, it posits the three characters played by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis into almost exactly the situation they were in last time (due at a wedding, they awake, desperately hungover, in a strange hotel room with no memory – individually or collectively – of what happened to them the night before; they must figure out their movements of the night before in order to get to the wedding without destroying their friendship with the groom / bride or both). Many movies have had sequels that are rehashes of the original but very few have been so blatant as this one: indeed, the phrase “I can’t believe this is happening again!” is screamed out about three times, and as audience members, we can be forgiven for feeling the same thing: “I can’t believe they’re just giving us the same movie again!” Ultimately, though, it’s not the same movie, just the same premise and plot: this movie is bigger and much, much darker, eschewing jokes for situations that feel actually dangerous (and at times, grotesque); if you knew nothing about the first film, and stumbled upon this one on late-night television eleven minutes in, you could be completely forgiven for thinking it was some sort of thriller, involving three American guys under pressure in Bangkok. And indeed, Bangkok’s the star here; the monkey who features so prominently on the posters does not turn out to be nearly so interesting a carry-along as the baby in the first one, and the three leads are no longer a surprise (that said, Bradley Cooper easily takes honours here, mainly for playing the situation for real; Ed Helhs goes in the opposite direction entirely, mugging, leaping and screaming incessantly; as is his style, Zach Galifianakis sort of exists in his own world, or at least his own movie). The kicker, though, is that this time, bigger is better, and by the end of the film I’d enjoyed it more than the first one: its bigger scale suits the kind of big entertainment it wants to be (and for which the first didn’t have the budget); Bangkok is infinitely more interesting that Las Vegas; and the “buddy-love” – the affection shown by these friends for each other – comes to feel something like real by the end of this one. It simply, in the end, has more heart. The weird thing is, you don’t need both movies: this one simply replaces the first one, like a more expensive, and softer, pair of shoes, and now you can toss your old pair away.
JULIA’S EYES ****
The latest mega-horror-blockbuster from Spain (in relation to ticket sales in that country), JULIA’S EYES is an adult thriller that is relentlessly entertaining, often extremely suspenseful, and frequently very scary; it also boasts excellent acting, direction and a cracking script, all of which it relies on – rather than shock effects or gore – to deliver the thrills. Belén Rueda (THE ORPHANAGE) is really terrific as Julia and her twin sister Sara, who commits suicide in the opening scene of the film, prompting Julia to investigate the cause. Besides their age and physicality, the twins shared something else: a degenerative eye disease, and the fact is, Julia is slowly going blind, while Sara had already reached that point. This is the sort of thriller – like WAIT UNTIL DARK, BLINDNESS and REAR WINDOW – that uses the protagonist’s disability as the very source of its tension, and there are some extremely complex and fascinating stylistic devices to put us in the same predicament as Julia. This is the kind of thriller anyone can enjoy without fear of suddenly being disgusted by an awful image or ripped-off by a cheesy explanation. Highly recommended.