Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Totaled Recall: THE HANGOVER (2009) and WHO IS HARRY NILLSSON? (2010)

Full of triumph, tribulation, amusing comic turns, and a manageable portion of tiresome dick humor, THE HANGOVER is a fine way to end mid-life crisis month, i.e. November. It's all about memory and manliness and lack thereof, and if it took me awhile to see it, well, I confess I used to have problems with Bradley Cooper - the beady eyes, the cocky glassiness, the way he didn't deserve Jennifer Garner in ALIAS - but all is forgiven here. Now I love the nasal nonchalance with which he greets the next morning's calamities with a shrug and a swagger. Annoying Ed Helms (THE OFFICE), meanwhile, wakes up and starts instantly to fret about a missing tooth and that there's a tiger in the bathroom so he can't even get in there and check his gums. Cooper just chortles and rolls with it, like most people would. Dude, to me it was just like every morning/afternoon waking up on tour with my band! I was always trying to find my pants, like Zach Galifianakis does, but we'd never slip anyone Rohypinol unless they specifically requested.... which they did. My crew loved Rohypinol, we didn't waste them on girls, we didn't need to. We were men, y'all, men who loved to pop Mexican Quaaludes as they used to be known. Even if they made our parties turn into snoring Jonestowns, I'm sure we must have had fun before we crashed. Didn't we? No one had phone cameras in those days so we'll never know. But also, our crew had no Ed Helms whiner character, just various degrees of Galiafinakis, and all was bearded and chill with the worrlzzzz.

Erroneously called 'rufflin' or something in the film, by a dentist who should know better, Rohipynol is sooo much more than a date rape drug. Don't let the frat boys give it a bad name. May any man whose ever spiked a girl's drink with one drop dead instantly, by Crom!

Oh yeah, THE HANGOVER. Well written, well directed, well photographed, it solves nearly all the problems I usually have with dumb Nevada-set comedies, and in fact is better at depicting that special drug fueled blur than Terry Gilliam's much more pedigreed FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. Frankly, despite Helms' histrionics (he's worse than Alan Arkin in THE IN-LAWS) there's a real sense you'd want to hang out with these guys, whereas Depp and Del Toro in LOATHING seemed way too pretentious and violent to want to actually have more than a quick shot with before excusing yourself, going to the bathroom, and running for the hills. To bond with the HANGOVER posse one need take only a sixth shot of Jaeger, whereas Hunter would need to wave a gun in your face and scare you off, so you wouldn't see how alone and twisted he was inside.

Yeah, when it comes to drug-fueled mayhem, Zach, Brad and their dorky friend are like a good band - the alpha, Bradley Cooper on lead guitar and vocals, getting them in trouble with daring reckless drive. On bass, the rooted crazy calm of Zach G, and the clatter of nervous Helms on drums. Hunter's band would never even learn two chords before they smashed their guitars... that wouldn't fool me. I saw the Replacements in '84! Matsbra!

But, for all that, THE HANGOVER ain't perfect. First of all, these guys are pussies, because when you wake up with a super hangover like that, the thing is to just keep drinking. Nothing cures a hangover like more alcohol. There's no earthly need to sober up, dear friends, til the wedding's over. The wedding photogs can always redden up your pale, sickly countenance in Photoshop. Not that they did for me, that's show biz.

But, I totally felt that anxiety Ed Helms feels due to their  staying in a designer hotel suite, where you're surrounded by luxury items that cost ridiculous amounts, so you're dying for a drink and there's booze all around, but if you take it they charge you like $45 for an airplane bottle, or $25 for a small tin of nuts. Dude, when I go to a hotel I don't want to feel like I'm sleeping in the lobby of an expensive department store, afraid to roll over in bed lest I occur some exorbitant charge by knocking over a pillow. I mean, are they charging me for every splurb of ginger-lemon-scented hand soap? The whole thing never fails to throw me off, so even if I get a comp bottle of designer mineral water I become afraid to open it, afraid to even go down the hall for ice cubes, lest the top flight party girls see and judge me, snickering over how plebeian I am for expecting an ice machine in such a posh spot - everyone knows room service brings it... and charges.

On the other hand, when you're with 'the guys' there's often a kind of vertical displacement of responsibility, as opposed to going to one of these places with your girlfriend and being expected to show her a great time even as it's plunging you into debt and she's rolling her eyes, blaming you for the rain, and making wearying demands for 'spontaneity.' Groups of guys are more fun because there's no need to constantly prove why you're a good boyfriend, to make sure she's having a good time like some overstressed cruise director, and the HANGOVER is brilliant at showing how four guys riffing and going off in random directions at the same time in the same place, concurrent yet counter-intuitive, can bewilder the world around them into a kind of on the spot detournement societal melt down, thus enabling said guys to get away with everything short of arson. My band and I, for example, could take over and completely change the vibe of, say, a sleepy all-night diner, or an understaffed bar. Special shout out to the girls of Old City Hall in Oswego, 1992. Favorite blurry memory of that tour: Five in the morning, skinny dipping in a freezing Lake Ontario while the snow drifted down! Alcohol rules!

Aside from the not drinking more to cure the hangover aspect, my only other issue with the film was the shameful portrayal of women, which I will only excuse because of the sacredness of the "what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas" male bond. Still, why does Heather Graham always get stuck playing gorgeous, sexually available doormats? And even if that girl waiting at the altar wasn't Megan Fox, she was mighty Megan Foxy, with a dash of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Awesome, but one-dimensional. And wait, is that Cheri Oteri as the mom? Run!

But again, this is Vegas, the city of bromance and legalized prostitution...SPOILER: the final photos of the lost night smack of all the things the aforementioned stone cold bitch is right to condemn... Those implants have families damn it. They were once beautiful breasts and now just embarrassing, shocking reminders of a world gone wrong. Still it is cool to see the enemies of the day-after suddenly as the friends of the night before, preserved in the fleeting amber of digital phone memory cards. Healing, you might say.

The HANG director also made OLD SCHOOL, which I haven't seen, but I remember seeing photos of Will Ferrell at the keg, and remembering that I once partied with him, or his Syracuse equivalent, Mike "Ellis" DeAngelo. Ellis! Boys need to be boys, and what goes on under the roofie stays under the roofie, unless it doesn't, in which case, everybody's goin' to jail this moan-NIN! Some of us never left. Some of us have been here the whole time, shoveling our buckets of coins into cold, dark slots while the sheriff stands watch and we hear Tom Jones sing work songs. There is no jackpot so sweet as the one we don't remember, Lord. Just look at Harry Nilsson! What, who is Harry Nilsson? Glad ya acksed. Pull up a chair... grab a cup. Oh. No more cups? There might be one in the sink you can rinse off.


In the pantheon of rock/pop there's always those artists whose albums you see everywhere and never buy, though there's always one or two people who are into them and try to tell you how great they are and you're just not having it... Procol Harum? Molly Hatchet? Todd Rundgren? Foghat? Whaat? I used to always put Nilsson in with them, some relic of a bygone age...That won't happen again now that I saw WHO IS HARRY NILSSON (AND WHY IS EVERYBODY TALKIN' 'BOUT HIM)? a documentary with a title that instantly places him as the singer of that song in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969, rated X).  Off to a good startbra.

Seeing the documentary helped unearth a lot of 'lost' childhood memories, such as being five and excited for the premiere of Nilsson's psychedelic 1971 TV cartoon, "The Point." Even then, at five or whatever, the cartoon made me annoyed with its YELLOW SUBMARINE psychedelic puns and Seuss-brand nonconformism. But I shouldn't blame Nilsson for being so proud of his ABC prime time slot-winning. Do we devalue Vince Guaraldi because that bridge in 'Linus and Lucy' is so overused in commercials? Nilsson was a partier, to the extreme! That is what we must struggle through the cold Las Vegas afternoon to 'remember'.

Throughout the documentary various musicians talk about losing huge stretches of time partying with Nilsson. Wives all across Laurel Canyon came to dread his husband-napping phone calls.  He'd pick up their men and they'd vanish into the 'Rufflin' haze... surfacing later drunk and belligerent, just to pick up their guitar and accidentally break a table before driving off again, with a merry laugh and tire screech.
Meanwhile Nilsson's record producers loved his incredible voice and gifts so much they seemed to just let him go too loose, recording every drunken sing-song blather that came into his head. They were all broken up still by his leaving them. (Apparently John Lennon was a negative influence). And leave them he would.

His younger Irish wife speaks as well as she can of our Harry in the documentary, and she still looks a pretty hot, and his gorgeous children remember a loving but mostly absentee dad. Though I wished there could be a Polaroid trail of his wild lost weekends, ala THE HANGOVER, it was enough of a change of heart for me that I ran to my emusic account and downloaded NILSSON SCHMILSSON and NILSSON SINGS NEWMAN. A long time Randy Newman fan (pre-TOY STORY only, playa), it's been my pleasure to hear Nilsson sing "We got to tell the people 'bout Utah / 'cuz nobody seems / to know," while walking to work down Brooklyn's scenic Vanderbilt Ave. every morn...nin'. 

But man, this country needs to remember more than Utah... we need to remember that remembering is for chumps and blackouts mean you must have had a blast, and hangover cures don't come better than a 50-50 mix of gin and grapefruit juice... chased with an overnight jail sentence, rehab, 90 AA meetings in 90 days, and... toast... it takes you an hour to eat one piece of toast you're so shaky and nauseous from alcohol withdrawal or poisoning, whichever comes first and sometimes both at once, to be so full of whiskey you can't stand up or talk, but still twitching from alcohol withdrawal.

But in the end, is having all that candle at both ends-style fun even worth it if you don't remember a damn thing? As someone who used to spend his week dreaming of Friday when I could grab a bottle like a reverse parachute and just plunge into the void, I can tell you flatly, "nobody seems / to know." Memory is not to be trusted, and the moment itself doesn't exist outside your own slicing of past and future like a dwindling cube of sopium in a room full of grubby jonesers. You're better off seeking Jesus, but churches smell like the elderly, and you can't smoke in the pews. Your best bet is this: download Nilsson's "Jump into the Fire" and listen to it walking down the street pretending to be a coked-up Henry Hill. That should answer all your questions, you black-out reincarnater. You jumped into the Lake Ontario fire a million times and don't remember... Hopefully someone, even now, is up in the ether, savoring and recording your every lost howl.

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