Tuesday, After Christmas – Radu Muntean (2011)

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For most films, the centerpiece scene comes somewhere near the end of the film, or at least past the midpoint. The Lufthansa heist and subsequent murder spree in Goodfellas, for instance, or finally meeting Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. But in the Romanian drama Tuesday, After Christmas, we get it right off the bat.

The opening scene finds Paul (Mimi Branescu) and Raluca (Maria Popistasu) in bed together in a comfortable, if somewhat small, apartment somewhere in Bucharest. They are naked and content, not worried about bills or work or the shape of their bodies. They are happy travelers as far as we can tell, teasing each other the size of their toes and whether or not Santa will be visiting this year — as lovers do in this state. It’s only slowly, and very skillfully, that we find out that Paul isn’t actually married to Raluca, he’s married to Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), mother of his daughter, Mara (Sașa Paul-Sze).

Taken as a simple synopsis, this, of course, sounds like the set up to every one of those melodramatic “why don’t you leave your wife for me?” films. And while it does end up in that station, the path followed is a slightly different, less guilt ridden one than normal.

Things begin to go wrong (or right, as you will) for Paul one afternoon as he is taking Mara to the dental clinic. He receives a call from Adriana that her schedule has changed, allowing her to join them at the clinic. Mara’s dentist, of course, is Raluca, who is more than surprised at the unexpected appearance of her lover’s wife.

They play it cool, but Raluca’s body language betrays her physical distress. Or, it would if the transformation from the warm, playful girl we’ve already met wasn’t into, well, as cold and focused as a dentist should actually be.

Adriana leaves unaware, but not for long. Oprisor and Branescu play the eventual break up scene spot on, leaving the impression for the viewer of not only being a fly on the wall, but of being a fly on the wall that is scared to the point of shaking at the emotional tornado shattering the fabric of what was once a happy little domestic life.

Director Radu Muntean has said this is not a film about guilt, but a voyeuristic take on the choices people are forced to make when they come to a crossroad in their life. But the crossroad Paul comes to is not a natural feature of the landscape of his life that just happens to be there. Whether you consider the crossroad the beginning of the affair or telling his wife about it — or both — it’s a crossroad that Paul seems to have designed into the map of his life. It’s true that there appears to be little chemistry left in his marriage beyond the fact that he and Adriana share a daughter in Mara, but it all does come off a bit selfish of Paul in the end, maybe because of that solitary fact. That he isn’t trying to hurt anyone doesn’t excuse the fact that he does, and deeply at that.

Tuesday, After Christmas is one of those films that lives a better life in your head in the aftermath of seeing it than it does seeing it for the first time, but only aesthetically so. Outside of the three mentioned scenes, there is little flow or excitement, and the film works almost as an exercise in disengagement with the audience, almost as if Paul is saying, “I’ve endured this for 15 years, give it a try.” But a film needs to work as an active experience, a sum of its parts, and that it doesn’t is a fatal flaw in the end.

The Hangover II – Todd Phillips (2011)

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In a way, it’s hard to believe guys like this actually exist. I don’t mean that in a just world guys like this wouldn’t exist, because I personally have no stake in it either way, but in the way that it’s hard to believe that super models actually exist in the flesh. I mean, they must, if only in secret, because places like Vegas exist and the root of these films comes from a true (supposedly) crazy bachelor party weekend, but I’ve never met any of them. Thanks to the magic of movies, I don’t have to.

The movie gods have brought the boys to Thailand this time, and set them lose on the streets of Bangkok to drink themselves into amnesia, losing Stu’s (Ed Helms) sixteen-year-old soon-to-be brother in law, Teddy (Mason Lee), along the way.  In order to find him and save the wedding the boys must once again retrace their steps and endure the wacky hijinks and have profound discoveries of self to find the keys that they cannot remember.

The major complaint with The Hangover II seems to be that it’s basically the same exact film as the first one. But I honestly don’t see that as being a valid complaint because it’s laid right out for you in the trailer. You have been warned. You should know from the glut of sequels to wacky comedies anyway. The whole feel of the movie — just like every other comedy sequel — is, “whoops, we did it again, only worse.” That’s the promise made, and that’s exactly what the movie delivers. Whether that’s your cup of tea or not isn’t up to the filmmakers.

Everything, in fact, from the first movie is back again — the good, the bad and the ugly, but this time the ugly is a little uglier, and more bald. But this time, instead of a tiger there’s a drug dealing monkey who holds the key to finding Teddy.

But the bottom line is this: it was true of the first film, and true of this one. The slideshow of pictures at the end were the only really, truly worthwhile moments.

There are laughs throughout the film, though, I won’t deny that, but they are mostly empty, easy laughs. The kind of laughs that are so easy that in Talking Funny (HBO’s comedy documentary featuring Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais talking about their stand up careers) the comedians spend 10 minutes talking about how they refuse to keep this kind of material in their act despite it killing night in night out. There is no real skill in creation involved, just skill in execution. Who could say that this wasn’t executed flawlessly?

That’s what this film boils down to, though: crowd pleasing, easy jokes. Pay your $13, click off you brain, and laugh at the monkey. If you didn’t expect that, it’s kind of your own fault.