Well, they did say this one was going to be different.
After The Hangover II essentially duplicated the structure of the first movie —three guys piecing together a night of debauchery and mayhem none of them can entirely remember — director Todd Phillips promised that the third would go in a new direction. And, in a bold if unbelievable move in the era of never-ending sequels, he pledged that this Hangover would be the last.
A kind of encouraging predictive logic indicated that a third movie might embrace the franchise's better instincts: While its predecessors suffered from a sensibility mired in casual sexism and homophobia, the first also had an inventive conceit, a handful of talented comedians in memorable supporting roles and a Zach Galifianakis performance bubbling with unpredictable weirdness. With Phillips given the freedom to conclude this story of debauchery and blackouts on his own terms, you might hope for a mixed bag swinging toward decency.
Instead, there's Hangover III, an excessively violent action comedy that handily manages the tough task of feeling at once tired and aggressively heartless. You can almost see its underdeveloped soul shriveling away as the movie kills off any sense of fun the franchise used to have: Where The Hangover found its representative image in Galifianakis and that misplaced baby decked out in matching sunglasses, this movie offers ... a decapitated giraffe head.
Out is the formula, with no hangover and few comedic set pieces; in is much more nonsense involving Wolfpack nemesis Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), a surprisingly high body count that's mostly mammalian, and a dark tonal shift that begins when the movie turns on the mostly benign oddball Alan (Galifinakis).
Alan's antics have occasionally walked the line between harmlessly mad-hatter and unintentionally destructive — his earnest desire that the guys have a good time together is what got them dosed with roofies in one movie and a muscle relaxants/ADHD meds cocktail in the other. But now his actions have consequences, and what The Hangover once asked its audience to read as eccentricity is now viewed as signs of a serious mental problem.
Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Doug (Justin Bartha) stage an intervention in a scene that both tries to sell Alan's behavior as clinically unstable and still trading on it for jokes; it's a mixed-message perspective that's all the cheaper because up 'til now, the character's behavior has played a lot more like a loose mix of written and ad-libbed quirks carried by Galifianakis' talent than like any diagnosable disorder.
Aaaaaanyway: On their way to a treatment center, the guys are run off the road and held at gunpoint by group of thugs. An overdose of exposition reveals a menacing John Goodman as Marshall, a mobster connected to a minor event in the first movie and now out for revenge on Chow, who's recently escaped from a Thai prison. Marshall takes Doug hostage, making him the MacGuffin once again — something the movie refuses to wink at. Only instead of being merely missing, he'll be dead in a few days unless the others find and deliver Chow.
This threat of violence sets up the movie's sensibility, fueled mostly by funny one-liners from Galifianakis tempered by the straight-up murders of chickens, dogs and even people. A franchise that began with successful gags involving guys getting tazed or punched in the face by Mike Tyson now offers up various unstylized, unfunny and objectively horrible things as the Wolfpack's remnants track Chow to Tijuana and thence to Vegas. Stu and Phil — blandly written wastes of Helms and Cooper's talents, who've never had much to do — are further reduced to reacting naturalistically to the grim things happening around them. They're just a couple of guys having a really bad couple of days.
It's the malevolent Chow of Hangover II whose presence and worldview dominate this movie; he's identified as a cancer more than once, but his particular brand of evil is unspecific. He's a broad caricature even less defined than Alan: psychopathic, sex-obsessed, drug-obsessed, death-obsessed, colorblind, dyslexic and fond of karaoke — he's whatever the plot needs him to be, really, and whatever kind of insane Ken Jeong's mad-libs make him. The lack of a true characterization wasn't a problem when he occupied a minor spot in the first film, but elevated to driving story force, he becomes an unmotivated creator of chaos, and one too exposed for much of his nonsense to be funny.
There's something or other at the end about Alan's eventual growing up, a process helped along by his meeting a foil in a pawn-shop owner played by Melissa McCarthy. But the winning moments between them are too few, and in the end there's little joy to be gained from any of what happens in this third dull ache of a Hangover; in dumping his formula, Phillips throws out just about everything else that made the first movie even a little likable.
There's even a suggestion here that the group's cycle of lost nights and poor choices will repeat, with Chow in their lives forever. If that happens, let's hope they don't remember it — and we don't have to see it.
Media empire News Corp., parent of Fox and The Wall Street Journal, will be cleaved into two businesses starting June 28: a publishing arm and one for entertainment.
The plan was first announced a year ago. As we reported at the time:
"News Corp. is responding to pressure from some investors who aren't interested in its relatively slow-growing publishing ventures, which include The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, newspapers in Australia and a collection of British tabloids that have been caught up in the U.K."
The publishing part of the business will retain the News Corp. brand, and the entertainment half will be known as 21st Century Fox, the company's Board of Directors said.
"Today's announcement is a significant step in creating two independent companies with the world's leading portfolios of publishing and media and entertainment assets," Rupert Murdoch, who will serve as chairman and CEO of the proposed 21st Century Fox and executive chairman of the new News Corp., said in a statement.
"We continue to believe that the separation will unlock the true value of both companies and their distinct assets, enabling investors to benefit from the separate strategic opportunities resulting from more focused management of each division," Murdoch said.
Shareholders are expected to formally approve the split on June 11.
Reuters reports that the company named current directors Lachlan Murdoch and James Murdoch to the board of the new News Corp.
We got a lot of thoughtful comments and replies from readers this week when we asked whether they really listen to full albums from start to finish. Much of the discussion focused on the ways we listen and what constitutes actually engaging with an entire album in a full-on listening, as opposed to merely having it on.
Most people said they listen to full albums, but many aren't giving them their undivided attention. "Most of the time, myself or my friends listen to full albums while multitasking, like driving or working or cleaning, etc.," Zak Kmak writes. "If not doing anything else is the standard, then I've never listened to whole albums," writes Sean Murphy.
Others took issue with the idea of multitasking. "If you're listening to a whole album while you work at the computer, that shouldn't fully count," Drew Hunter writes. "We're talking sitting there doing next to nothing else (maybe a very light, mindless activity), your whole attention on the music."
Randy Alberts adds that he feels "sad for (and angered by?) those who don't have time to actually get what a musician or band's art is saying. To wit, that's like only having time to look at the center of an artist's new painting while ignoring the corners."
For many, the solution is vinyl. "After 13 years of a disconnected turntable, I have rediscovered vinyl," Karl Lee writes. "I found myself having to reprogram my brain to be able to listen to analog signal again... The ritual of putting on a record. And I make the time to sit through an entire album. Read the lyrics. Listen. It's the best 40 minutes of my day."
The one thing nearly everyone agreed on is a love of full albums, regardless of how they're able to or choose to experience them.
Here at Team All Songs Considered, we're all madly in love with a fully immersive, fully focused listening experience for entire records. To celebrate as much, we're going to have a listening party. In the coming weeks, we'll pick and play an entire record, live online, and you can join us. No talking, no work or housecleaning or driving. Just you and the music.
While we're looking for a good date for the party, tell us what record you'd love to hear us play. Frampton Comes Alive, anyone?
In the last few years, a scene of no scenes has emerged from the U.K. music underground. Musicians like James Blake, The xx, Actress, the LuckyMe collective and Micachu and the Shapes are all in their 20s. All make electronic pop and dance music with large amounts of emotion and otherworldliness mixed in. The British duo Mount Kimbie, made up of producers and multi-instrumentalists Kai Campos and Dom Maker, may not have the name recognition of some of their peers, but the group's innovations are on par: Campos and Maker helped invent a style critics called "post-dubstep," and mixed live electric guitars with techno and instrumental hip-hop. Their music hasn't broken through to a wider audience, probably because there's no lead singer or strong public image associated with it. They just make ideal stuff for listening to on headphones in a coffee shop while the world swirls around.
Their last album, Crooks & Lovers, grooved like R&B but was structured like interior-sounding electronic music — instead of climaxing with a big beat, songs built and then peaked with odd bits of tunefulness and texture. Micachu (Mica Levi) is a fan, and describes their sound via email: "They make intimate electronic music which is rare I think — ruff & ready and unnormalised. It's an unmistakable sound. It sounds like they've been on holiday. It's lovely."
The new Mount Kimbie album, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, has plenty of that trademark loveliness to it. But as if saying, "And now for my next trick," there is also a harsh and severe quality. Kimbie is doing something new.
There was no concrete goal when Campos and Maker took a break from touring and promoting Crooks and Lovers last year to start recording this album. Except to be original, Campos tells me, on Skype from Switzerland, before playing a show with the electronic musician/Hyperdub Records owner Kode9.
"We wanted to do something that was a step in a different direction and interesting to us," he says. "In terms of having a plan, it's not something we've ever done, really. If you're just doing stuff that you believe in, I think naturally it's going to fit together somehow."
But, then, for many months of recording, nothing did fit. Music was made, but it wasn't any good. Or at least the Kimbie guys weren't feeling it. Campos and Maker play a lot of the same instruments, so that process looked like them picking up guitars, samplers, synthesizers, drum sticks and jamming for a while in their former studio in South Bermondsey ("They charged us extortionate rates.") — then admitting that it wasn't working.
"At times it was a question of, 'Have we got another record in us?'," says Campos. It even got a little existential.
"I think you as a person and your art are one and the same thing. I know it's not the same for other people necessarily, in terms of having a distance between their art and presenting a character, or telling a story that is not their own. But I feel like I'm still trying to figure myself out. And music's what I'm best at. So to think you're not any good at it. ... It was pretty bleak."
The exact thing that pulled Kimbie out of musical depression was "Break Well," an instrumental track on the album that sounds smoked-out and vaguely angelic. The first part of the song consists of arpeggios that spiral upwards. The second part breaks into a drum pattern. Campos says he created the specific sound of the arpeggios by applying analog processing to a digital signal.
"I sampled one single note," he says. "I don't know which instrument it was from. And then on the little OP-1 synth, it's got this fantastic sequencer arpeggio thing, so I ran the arpeggio from that. And you can put in notes, and build five or six different versions of it. Then I recorded all the sequences to this little four-track tape recorder machine, all on different channels. But, because it's a manual record button, and it's tape, they're all slightly out of time from each other. And I was fading between them, and running it all through a reverb pedal. It was quite an enjoyable process. It sounds like tape. It sounds like f—-ing old tape. That was one where we sat down afterwards and thought, 'OK, I'm saying something different and it's a challenge for us to make it, and for people to see where it's coming from, considering what we've done before.' But we also thought it was just good, as well. A lot of keyboard parts [on the album] got a certain amount of grit to them going through that tape player."
After that came a series of recording breakthroughs, all of which diverged from what they'd done on Crooks & Lovers. It was Campos' idea to start singing on songs, which he does on "Blood and Form," "Home Recording," and several others on Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, but he had to force himself.
"It's just not a tool I'd thought about using before, but the songs were coming with a space for a vocal melody," he says.
After singing on stage at Dimensions Festival in Croatia, he suddenly realized he liked what he was doing. He still didn't feel qualified to do it, but nobody else would be right for the job.
"It was a moment of realization about being a little older, and thinking, if it feels a bit uncomfortable and scary, it's probably a good thing. And there's no reason not to, apart from fear. And if I'm not going to face up to it when I'm 27, when am I going to do it?"
And then there is the vocalist King Krule (Archie Marshall), who makes his mark on the new album with permanence and ownership — a 19-year-old half-rapper, half-singer with a baritone voice and hard South East London accent. As for working with Marshall, that was also about taking a chance and facing a challenge.
"He's the most exciting person making music that we know," says Campos.
Marshall takes a star turn on song two, "You Took Your Time," snarling the memorable rhymes "pile of bones" and "silent drones," and then as the track gets louder, shouting about some unnamed awfulness.
Campos says he got the raw delivery out of Marshall by trying an experiment in the studio. "Archie was singing, kind of improvising," he says, "and we found that if we were in the same room and I was playing drums, his vocal got so much more aggressive. So we did that, and then we took the drums away. And you're left with this vocal."
The first part of "You Took Your Time" was recorded at Kimbie's studio on electronics with digital drums. The parts where Marshall is going hard on vocals happen in the second part of the song, which was recorded at Andy Ramsay's studio (Ramsay is the drummer in the alternative band Stereolab).
"Archie is an exceptional talent and a pleasure to record," Ramsay says. "I think he made an enormous contribution to the Kimbie tracks he worked on. And I'm glad they brought him — he came back a few weeks later to finish up his own album."
In Ramsay's space, Campos and Maker stepped back and let Ramsay do all the engineering, which allowed the duo to free associate. Creativity flourished. Ramsay's studio has a Harmonium organ on hand. These are common in beat-up condition, but Ramsay's was pristine, and made a warm and richly textured sound that excited Campos and Maker to no end — they briefly considered recording an all-Harmonium version of the album. "You Took Your Time" ended up being part electronic bedroom studio music, part wheezing organ, drum set, yelling man. The goal was to make it all come together.
With the inspiration flowing, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth came together fast, with songs written and rewritten during the mixing process. That final burst of creativity took place at Trinity Buoy Wharf, a multipurpose arts community on the docks by the Thames River, where old shipping containers have been retrofitted as studios. It was crawling with like-minded musicians.
"Micachu's down there," Campos says. "She was next door. She's like one of my favorite artists of all time. Kwes is down there."
Mount Kimbie hired Dilip Harris, who rents a studio at Trinity Buoy Wharf, to mix the album. "His influence on the record is very clear," Campos said. "I didn't think we would have anyone else mix the record, and then within 10 minutes of Dilip mixing I realized how dumb I was being. He opened my eyes to the whole thing. We ended up recording the vocal for 'Blood and Form' there, which is why the vocal sounds so good. It's in a ridiculously nice microphone, in a fantastic studio."
Harris sent me an email: "I think the most important element of our work together was for Kai and Dom to be able to reflect analytically on their work-in-progress in an environment where change and consolidation was possible. It was evident from their material and their processes that they had journeyed to get to that point. And I'm sure that journey will continue as they take the album on the road."
Campos said he's happy with the way Cold Spring Fault Less Youth came out, and in the future he thinks there will be more Mount Kimbie/King Krule music. But right now he's just happy the album is finished, and that he likes it, and he has something he to verify his image of himself as an artist.
"There are worse struggles, but it's definitely a struggle at times," he says. "More than anything else, I think you learn about yourself as a person by the end of it. Now that the album's done, it's a relief."
Declaring that along 80 percent of his state's shore "you won't notice any difference" if you visit this summer, Gov. Chris Christie used a Friday appearance on NBC-TV's Today show to say New Jersey is ready for its first summer since Superstorm Sandy devastated the coast.
His timing, of course, was not by chance. This is Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer season.
The Republican governor also said he'll be glad to welcome Democratic President Obama back to New Jersey next week, so that the president can see for himself how the recovery effort's been going. As for whether he might come in for criticism from his fellow Republicans — as Christie did after hugging Obama when the president came to the state soon after Sandy roared through — the governor said that "I never worry about that stuff."
"What people in my state want more than anything else is for me to do my job," added the potential 2016 presidential contender.
Finally, on the issue of his health and how he's doing since he underwent weight-loss surgery in February, Christie said, "I feel good ... things are going well." Today host Matt Lauer observed that the governor is "a little bit smaller than you were the last time we stood together."