1. O Captain! My Captain! Come June 7 there will be two Ethan Hawke films in theaters. There will also be two films that are the third in a trilogy in theaters. In each case, the film that you should see is Before Midnight. It’s definitely less misanthropic and nihilistic than The Purge (though, M&N may be your thing) and it certainly has more earnest effort behind it than “Hangover III” (Chris Corbellini’s typically superb review appears later in this entry).
It’s been quite a near-quarter century for Hawke, 42, a native of Austin, Texas. After standing on his desk at Welton Academy in the final scene of Dead Poets Society (and, hey, I don’t get it: Didn’t Neil kill himself because he didn’t want to become a doctor and then what happens 15 years later? He’s an oncologist on “House!”) Hawke went on to star in Reality Bites, the wannabe-zeitgeistiest film of the early ’90s (it wasn’t…Slacker was), then he married Marsellus Wallace’s wife (ballsy!) before finally becoming the lead singer of Sugar Ray. I know!
I never figured Hawke for longevity, but credit him for being far more than a pretty face. Repeated viewings of “Training Day” (my favorite film of his) never let you down. He’s vulnerable and tough simultaneously. Anyway, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says Before Midnight has Oscar potential, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 97 (while giving Hangover III a 21), and Senor Corbellini will weigh in on it next week (bill me for expenses later, Chris! Geez!). Last thing: I’d like to see a film starring Matt Damon –who began his career as a snotty prep school wanker in “School Ties” — and Hawke. They’d play brothers. Not Siamese twin brothers (Damon’s already conquered that role), but brothers.
2. Bummer of 42
Two firsts for New York Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera last night: 1) the first time in his 19-year career that he threw both the first pitch (okay, it was ceremonial) and last pitch in a game. And, 2) the first time that he failed to record a single out during a save appearance. Ever. And last night was his 700th save appearance (626 saves, 74 blown saves). Mo allowed a double, single and single in blowing his first save of the season and allowing two runs in the bottom of the ninth to the New York Mess in a 2-1 loss.
3. Calabasians are Fluent in Affluent
The Kardashians. The Osbournes. Bieber, and Keyshawn. Have you noticed how often Calabasas, a suburb to the northwest of Los Angeles, has been in the news the past couple of years due to its celebrity residents? I asked earlier today if Calabasas, which sits directly north of Malibu but on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains and has just 23,000 residents, has become the new Beverly Hills. The overwhelming answer is yes, while follower @brettfera informed me that Hidden Hills, a fully incorporated and fully-gated community of 1,800, is Calabasas’ own Bel Air. I doubt seriously that Calabasas will ever have a tight indie music scene, but as a haven to raise a family in which crime, traffic and minorities (unless they’re retired jocks or currently landscaping your property) are non-existent, Calabasas has become SoCal’s hot spot. Question: Is Justin Bieber a Calabashole?
4. Cullen Finnerty
A tragic story, yes, the death of a 30-year old married father of two who happened to lead Division II Grand Valley State to three national championships in four seasons. It is also what we at The Daily used to refer to as a “Barry Special” in homage to everyone’s favorite story-searcher, editor Barry Werner. If The Daily still existed Barry would have already had Dan Wolken or myself up in the nether reaches of Michigan searching for witnesses. What gives this story legs is the report that Finnerty, who was found less than a mile from where he was seen with no apparent traces of foul play, reportedly phoned a family member when he was out fishing alone on Sunday night and told them that he was “nervous about something.”
Of course, the natural response to that news would be, “Nervous about what?” At this point, we don’t know whether he was asked that and/or whether he replied. Still, it is eerie. And cryptic. Did he have a mental episode? And if so, how did that lead to Finnerty’s death?
Finnerty lead GVSU to a 51-4 record in his career and made active NFL rosters for both the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, though he never took a snap in an NFL game.
5. SI on Video: Now It’s a Daily Thing
Long overdue, but Sports Illustrated is getting into the daily television show game. Okay, so it’s
screaming streaming video, but the difference is that it will be appointment-style. Every weekday at 1 p.m. Maggie Gray will host a half-hour show that will include commentary and analysis from SI’s stable of writers and contributors (and I have to ask: How did I not read about this first in Richard Deitsch’s “Media Circus” column?) Some thoughts, and suggestions (you knew these were coming):
1. There is no direct correlation between writing talent and on-air presence. Exhibit A: Alex Wolff versus Seth Davis years ago. Both were college hoops writers, and one was the dean of such at SI. But it’s Seth who has the CBS gig today.
2. “Pigskin and Pork Shoulder with Andy Staples”: This needs to happen.
3. How safe is Gray in that chair? We’ll see. Does SI care deeply about how many hits it gets and if it does, will they start searching for the next Miss Florida to host if the numbers fall shy of their estimates?
4. When SI first hooked up with CNN for an in-house video platform back in the mid-1990s, I suggested that our masthead could produce a far more entertaining and insightful show than The Sports Reporters. Put Jack McCallum, Steve Rushin, Leigh Montville and Rick Reilly together on a set and it would be gold. Sub in to the rotations writers such as William Nack, Franz Lidz, Austin Murphy, Tom Verducci, Tim Crothers and Jeff Pearlman. Thinkers, all, and friends who over a few beers have produced some of the more hilarious conversations to which I’ve had the privilege to be privy.
At the time I was told that such a show needed two cameras and that wasn’t in the budget. Well, guess what? A) It should be and B) Outside of Reilly, all of those people are still available to SI. This should definitely happen. SI needs to make a commitment to such a program and fully exploit its talent. Add names such as Lee Jenkins, Jon Wertheim, Pete Thamel, Staples, and even an acerbic editor (if only I could think of one…MARK BECHTEL) to the rotation. If SI really wants to take on ESPN, it needs to take advantage of its greatest resource: its unbeatable posse of scribes.
Yes, this was cool. Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo throw out the first pitches last night at Fenway Park.
DON: “Peggy, could you step in here for a moment?”
PEGGY: “What’s up?”
TED: “Peggy, would you be more inclined to buy a metaphor or a blatantly transparent stick of symbolism?”
PEGGY: “Why, they both sound great to me.”
DON (contemptible grimace): “Because we need to set up this episode so that our viewers will understand that all of the characters are making do with cheaper imitations of the real thing. I’ve got Meghan when I should’ve stuck with Betty; you’ve got Abe when you should have remained with Charlie from “The West Wing”; and Joan is cavorting with Bob “Bunson” until either he joins Up With People or until Roger demonstrates that he can be an adult for two consecutive days.”
PEGGY: “Father Abraham had seven sons. Seven sons had Father Abraham. And they didn’t laugh. And they didn’t cry. All they did was stick their boyfriends with bayonets! With your right!”
DON: “So you agree with Mr. Chaough?”
PEGGY: “You mean the dude from ‘The Hangover’ movies?”
TED: “No, you dipsy protege, me! The man you’re in love with! You need to agree with one of us.”
PEGGY: “Por que?”
DON: “No, Fleischman’s. And stop speaking Spanish. You’ve been hanging out on the Upper West Side too long.”
TED: “But her face says that she agrees with me.”
DON: “That’s because you don’t know her that well.”
We are devoting the rest of today’s section to Chris Corbellini’s review of “Hangover III” because it’s good and because we have a life to live, you know?
by Chris Corbellini (a vaunted member of the MH wolfpack)
“Chow is madness. You can’t reason with madness. You can only hope to trap it in the trunk of a car and shoot it.”
Funny how villains sometimes get sensible lines. Funny how they are rarely uttered in funny movies. How can they be? The quote above fits in a voiceover of a mob picture. Instead, it’s uttered with whiskey-voiced seriousness by a shades-wearing killer in a summer comedy – the third of the popular “Hangover” series. The Wolfpack is back and the circumstances are as dire as ever. Only this time they are sober as the audience, and the end result is dark and a little flat.
Does the passage of time and big-paycheck sequels make men older, wiser, and duller? Our three middle-class man-boys – handsome wiseass Phil (Bradley Cooper), milquetoast, earnest Stu (Ed Helms) and big-hearted weirdo Alan (Zach Galifianakis) – must save their friend Doug (Justin Bartha, once again on the periphery) from bodily harm. Here we go. Only this time the events that take place are not their doing at all – they begin the movie by doing the responsible thing, driving troubled Alan to a drug treatment center – so it’s really up to the three leads to pull the laughs out when they can, and not the situation at large.
The set-up’s the thing though. In the original everyone was just so happy or stunned to see Phil, Stew and Alan after all that happened, and it’s a blast to see the trio cobble together fragments of events of the previous night. Events that are only fully revealed in the still montage during the credits. The wedding chapel owner, for example, invited them in like drinking buddies, a little awestruck. Stripper/call girl Heather Graham had herself a blast, got hitched to Stew, and couldn’t contain how giddy she was to see them again (she’s still smiling in this one). Even Mike Tyson warmed up to the group. That’s a memorable R-rated comedy. In the sequel, though there are many plot beats exactly like the original, everyone was so angry about what happened. A disapproving future father-in-law, drug gunmen on the streets of Bangkok, and vengeful monks all took their cracks at them. Nobody warmed up to these foreigners. So there lies the humor: what exactly did the Wolfpack do this time? Cue those stills.
With all the binge-drinking, roofie-taking, tiger-finding and monkey-snatching out of the equation in the third movie, there was no stranger-who-isn’t-a-stranger to bounce questions off of, and no concerned bride-to-be on the other end of a phone. The story spine is basically a heist – to deliver millions of dollars in gold and the man who stole them, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, a human spigot of sweat and facial twitches), to a Las Vegas baddie played with that whisky voice by John Goodman. The Wolfpack attempts to do so by re-reading Alan’s email correspondence with Chow (I would love to see the subject lines for those), and then they react to the oncoming weirdness one incredulous facial expression at a time. Again, all of them are entirely too sober for this.
This go-around Jeong and Galifianakis do the heavy weight work, with Cooper getting to do some physical stuff here and there and Helms stepping back after being the centerpiece of “Hangover 2.” There are also moments when the trio are separated, a new development, with Stu breaking into a Mexican mansion with Chow, and an impressive sequence when Alan and Phil slip into a party in a Caesar’s Palace penthouse during act three.
Everything in and outside of Caesar’s has top-quality production value. Though the script takes the team to Tijuana and spots in the desert, the director Todd Phillips clearly was most invested in making Vegas a character. That makes sense, as Phillips was once a driver in the Las Vegas edition of HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions,” so he knows the city and its high and low points. He staged a time-tested acting moment in a buddy movie – the “Let go! I’ll catch you!” scenario – and it plays out well, with Cooper and Galifianakis seemingly high atop a casino and in danger. From there the pair enter the hedonism of the hotel room, and it’s a superbly edited and shot mishmash of light and nearly-naked women to distract the viewer before the big face-off. In a few heartbeats Chow is floating over Vegas by parachute, and the camera crew captured a brilliant overhead shot of the famous fountains at the Bellagio. The spray is practically hitting his feet, and it’s a welcome angle of a city skyline just waiting to be shot at night.
By comparison, the Tijuana scenes felt rote. The demise of the chickens by gunfire looked herky-jerky, and perhaps only existed as an excuse for Helms to scream like a pre-teen girl, and the viewer to be reminded it’s full-tilt looney-tunes time now. When the group finally reconnects with Chow, the creatives use standard wipe editing to disorient us – we finally see him with Alan after a bus motors past that kept them out of sight. They cut away to Stu and Phil while people in shadow stroll past – a technique used most notably and far more convincingly in “Jaws” when the Kitner boy is killed by the shark and beach-goers stepping past Chief Brody break up the action and the angles that we see. “Hangover 3” also has an homage to the opening shot of “Goodfellas,” when the three principals are seated in the front of a car and they hear thumps by someone banging away trapped in the trunk.
Remember this is an ongoing story of a school teacher, a dentist and an unemployed trust-fund kid. How did it get to this point, with kidnapping and murder on the menu, three movies later? It could be the creatives absorbed the knocks on the second movie — that it was a faded copy of the first and unoriginal — and started fresh. Or they wanted to spite the lot of us. The hilarious end credits scene involving silicon implants felt like a tease – as if the filmmakers are saying “see this is the movie we COULD have made if you all just kept your mouths shut.” If that’s the case what a shame, because the audience definitely wanted to laugh along with this cast. Besides the box office, it’s greatest strength as a trilogy is all that good will it has built up for these characters. Hung over characters lying flat on cold tile, that is.