Unbelievable interactions prove the undoing of ‘Everybody’s Fine’

21 12 2009

Director: Kirk Jones

Starring: Robert DeNiro, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale & Sam Rockwell

Released: Dec. 4, 2009

Incorrectly and unfairly advertised as a Christmas movie, Kirk Jones’ 2009 dramedy Everybody’s Fine leaves viewers with a feeling very much the opposite.

Set in August, Robert DeNiro plays Frank, a retired father of four who is struggling with the loss of his wife. His wife was the one who always kept in touch with the kids and he is unsure of how to interact with them now that she is gone, leaving him more alone than he thought possible.

He tries to reach out to them in the only way he knows how – by inviting them to a backyard barbecue, as that is what he remembers most about their family when the children were little – but his eager enthusiasm is thwarted as life gets in the way and none of the children can make it home.

In one of the few moments that evokes empathy for Frank, he listens to the messages of his kids bailing on the weekend as he looks at the photos of them when they were younger.

And just like that the sympathy dries up as Frank makes the decision that he is going to visit the kids. And not just any visit. He is leaving immediately and without warning so as to surprise them.

On his journey to his first son, David’s, house in New York, the thread tying the movie together is introduced. It turns out that Frank spent his life working in a plant that manufactures the coating that surrounds telephone wires. As he travels across the country, he gazes out the windows of the trains and buses he uses to traverse the country at these wires and we hear the snippets of conversation his children are having with each other. And they’re all discussing David.

When Frank arrives at David’s apartment he isn’t home. So Frank waits. And waits. And waits. Until he finally decides it’s not a good idea to wait on the steps of a sketchy brownstone in the artist district of New York and gets a motel room for the night before heading to the midwest to visit his daughter.

On his trip, we hear his daughter, Rosie (Drew Barrymore), asking her sister Amy (Kate Beckinsale) if she’s heard from David. Amy says no, and as they hang up we arrive outside Amy’s home in Chicago. The unexpected visit throws Amy for a loop and she sends Frank outside with her son.

DeNiro shines as he interacts with Lucian Maisel’s Jack. Maisel nails his role as a teenager who is skeptical that his grandfather can do relate to him, and DeNiro, who’s always excellent as a grandfatherly figure, tries his best to seem cool. Their banter about golfing is lighthearted and a welcome break in the tension of Frank not knowing what’s going on in his kid’s lives.

Amy and her family prove too busy for a lengthy visit with Frank, but that doesn’t stop him from witnessing Jack’s blow up at his father or from Frank to unexpectedly meet Amy’s coworker as she waits with him for his train at the airport.

If movie cliches’ aren’t your forte, as they obviously aren’t Frank’s, it’s clear that Amy and her husband are no longer living together, which angers Jack, and Amy has started seeing her coworker.

While it’s understandable that Amy wouldn’t want her dad to know that she’s having marital problems, his visit would have been a great time to tell him, but instead she shunts him onto a train to sibling number three, Robert, a “conductor” for a traveling symphony.

Robert isn’t a conductor, though, as Frank soon realizes when he sees him playing percussion in the symphony. Either Frank misunderstood his wife’s relaying of the message, or he chose to believe what he wanted, but he’s shocked and disappointed, nonetheless.

The terrific Sam Rockwell, coming off of amazing turns in Frost/Nixon and Moon, plays Robert in such a hapless and despondent way that it makes it believable that he wouldn’t want to correct his father’s glorified vision of his profession. Still, he’s busy as well and immediately turns around to put his dad on a bus to Las Vegas, where he’ll visit with Rosie.

All the while we’re hearing snippets of conversation about the elusive David, who appears to have gotten himself arrested for drug possession in Mexico, until Drew Barrymore picks up her father – a little worse for wear as he got into a fight at the train station – in a limo.

She discusses how the show she was a dancer in ended the week before Frank’s visit but she wants him to come see her next one as they drive down the strip towards the Luxor and Mandalay Bay to her condo next to the Stratosphere (anyone with a general knowledge of Vegas would recognize the fact that these locations are on opposite ends of the strip). They’re supposed to go to dinner in the Stratosphere, but those plans are derailed as Rosie’s neighbor brings her baby down with a plea for an emergency babysitter.

As movie cliches’ go, we’re up to two glaring monstrosities as it’s obvious from the loving gaze Rosie shoots her father as he plays with the baby that Frank is actually holding his grandchild for the first time.

Things start falling into place in Frank’s mind and he decides he has to leave for home the next day to sort things out in his mind. En route, he has a heart attack which induces a strange dream sequence in which he confronts all of his children, as children, about why they lied to him, which is where the movie completely derails.

While the dream sequence clears any questions one might have had about the identity of Rosie’s baby and the fact that she’s a waitress on the strip instead of a dancer, or the state of Amy’s marriage up, it breaks up the flow of the movie and tells the audience everything they already know.

The heart attack brings all of his children to his bedside, though, so in a way, they’re all together, just as he wanted. Until he forces them to tell him that David is dead, which is where the train, which has already derailed, is hit by another train to create a whole mess of craziness.

It’s understandable that one might not want their father to find out that they’re having marital problems, or are a percussionist instead of a conductor, or are questioning your sexual orientation, but it’s quite another to not tell your father that one of his children is dead. That’s not the type of information you keep from a parent, ever.

But this movie has a happy ending, as Frank forgives his children for not telling him one of his offspring is dead in Mexico and they all get together for a happy-go-lucky family friendly Christmas.

Final verdict: The completely unbelievable plot line is only slightly forgiven with a masterful turn by Sam Rockwell and Lucian Maisel’s interactions with the grandfatherly DeNiro, but that doesn’t stop this movie from being REALLY CRAPPY.


Tried and True Christmas Classics

16 12 2009

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

This one, at least the cartoon version from 1966, is a must-see for any age during the holiday season. The animation is first-class as the crudely drawn Grinch juxtaposes the smooth lines of the Whos of Whoville. Dr. Seuss’ story is a classic in and of itself, but paired with the lovable Cindy Lou Who and great songs like “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” this should be a staple of any family’s Christmas Eve traditions.

As an added bonus you can close your eyes when Thurl Ravenscroft sings “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and pretend Tony the Tiger is singing to you as Ravenscroft voiced the cereal mascot for over 50 years.

Home Alone 1 & 2

I choose to believe that the third and fourth installments of this series, which don’t star McAuley Culkin as Kevin McCallister, were never made.

That being said, the first two are an excellent addition to any holiday movie library. Some may say that lightening never strikes the same place twice, but they haven’t met the McCallister’s — an incredibly dysfunctional family that makes it highly believable that they forgot their youngest son at home while they went to France one year, and then managed to not realize he got on a plane to New York instead of the family tip to Miami a few years later. Each has its own gems of Kevin’s antics as he tries to thwart two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) in their attempts to ruin Christmas, but the real magic comes from him realizing just how much he misses his family while befriending adults who seemed as though they were outcasts from society – the “South Bend Shovel Slayer” in Chicago and the Bird Lady in New York.

White Christmas

A wonderful story of love with a Christmas theme, White Christmas delivers great music and relatable characters. Who isn’t rooting for Betty to realize that Bob only has eyes for her, and for Judy to accept Phil’s love. The wartime back story and idea of giving back to General Tom Waverly, the boys’ former commanding officer in WWII, whose inn is in danger of going bankrupt, is commendable as we remember that the United States is actively involved in two wars and some soldiers won’t be home for Christmas. The songs and dancing are what really makes this movie special, though, as each set is reminiscent of days gone by when musicals like this were the norm in entertainment. Plus, it gave us Bing Crosby’s amazing rendition of “White Christmas.”

A Christmas Story

Soap poisoning, an evil Santa who throws children down slides, a Red Ryder BB Gun, a kid in a full-body pink bunny suit and a kid sticking his tongue to a flag pole. This 1983 classic is so good that TNT devotes 24-hours to playing it on Christmas. The script, based off of Jean Shephard’s semi-fictional works, is cynical and straightforward – which are two aspects that make for a different kind of Christmas movie. It’s a wonderful glimpse back in time to how families celebrated the season in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but with a dysfunctional twist that introduces scandalous leg lamps and comedic one liners such as “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.” Christmas isn’t really Christmas until you see Ralphie beat the crap out of Scot Farkus, get Robb in trouble for “teaching” him the f-word, and Schwartz getting his tongue stuck to a flagpole.

Love Actually

The newest film on this list, but one of the best. Love Actually is an example of an elaborately interwoven cast of characters with their own trials, tribulations and stories done excellently. The stories of love and loss tear at your heartstrings as we watch characters lose wives, gain spouses, deal with family issues and adultery, the pain of first loves and the budding of romances. These characters become like family in the short hour and a half that we are wit them. We hate Harry for cheating on Karen. We love Mark for finally finding a way to tell Juliet he loves her, even as she’s married to his best friend. We pray that Joanna notices Sam. And Billy Mack is like our dirty uncle who only comes round at the holidays. The examination of the different types of love and their push and pull with each other is done admirably well. And any time you have an octopus screaming “We’re Here!” as he fights his way over Hugh Grant’s lap to get to a school play in which he’ll be next to the manger at Jesus’ birth deserves to be on this list.

Palomino mixes excellent views of city, with Mediterranean flair

10 12 2009

We’re going to try something a little different today at The Good, The Bad and the Really Crappy – a restaurant review.

While this blog is devoted to reviewing books and movies on a timely basis – I promise there are quite a few in the pipeline (Rhett Butler’s People and The Angel’s Game, as well as a fun breakdown of holiday movies perfect for any occasion) – a restaurant review is necessary because I couldn’t find any online when I was trying to discover anything about a particular restaurant in downtown Cincinnati.

Palomino Restaurant Rotisseria and Bar

505 Vine Street

Cincinnati, OH 45202

Hours: M-Th 11 am – 11 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am – 12 am, Sun 3 pm – 11 pm

CINCINNATI – An excellent view of Fountain Square, some delicious food and a contemporary ambiance all recommend Palomino Restaurant Rotisseria and Bar to the savvy diner in downtown Cincinnati. But small portions, high prices, loud music and a confusing atmosphere may keep just as many people away.

Palomino, located on the upper level of 505 Vine Street in the same building (but separate from) Macy’s, is upbeat, trendy and elegant. The menu, featuring a European inspired re-imagining of American classics, is broad enough – from the hardwood fired pizza and the fresh seafood, to the pasta, steaks, chicken and pork – for anyone to find something they’d like.

The waiter, was very attentive and even moved our table so my friend and I could both see the windows, recommended the spit-roasted pork loin with mustard apple au jus over the baked four cheese penne, which he said was good, but no where near the pork. Served on a bed of Parmesan mashed potatoes, the succulent pork melts away from the bone. The hint of mustard in the au jus, which serves to further marinate the meat, provides just enough flavor to the dish and complements the potatoes excellently.

My friend sampled the Pan seared chicken piccata which was also served with potatoes and fresh green beans. The piccata had a light lemony taste that didn’t over power the rest of the dish, while the meat was very moist.

The atmosphere is casual elegant, and while most people were wearing slacks and a nice top, there were a few that didn’t seem out of place in jeans and hoodies, and still others that took their style to the opposite end of the spectrum and came in semi-formal wear. The dining area is decorated with splashes of deep, rich colors while an entire wall is devoted to windows looking out over Fountain Square, which, at this time of year, contained the city’s Christmas tree and a bevy of ice skaters.

The bar is a different story as it was as crowded as expected on a Friday evening. With hardly any room to maneuver and even less to catch a bartender’s attention, the bar is not the place to dine unless you arrive well before 7 p.m. Wine and beer seems to be decently priced as a glass of white was around $6, but mixed drinks, even simple ones like a vodka cranberry cost closer to $11. This doesn’t make sense as their menu espouses Long Island Iced Teas and Candied Apple Drops for $8. Drink prices aside, it’s impossible to hear in the bar area as the bass from the new age music being played pounds and everyone in the room continuously raises their voices to be heard over each other. If loudness and appetizers are your thing, though, the bar is for you as it has a community feeling to it with long, shared tables and seated enclaves tucked in corners.

Reservations are recommended, though the hostess will take names and cell phone numbers so you can wander downtown as you wait – with Macy’s less than 500 feet away, this option is very useful. The hostess, however, forgot about us as we browsed the department store and we had to repeatedly remind her that we were still waiting when we returned to get drinks and check on the wait time 45 minutes later.

The most confusing and frustrating part of Palomino is not the lack of service by a hostess, but rather the fact that an all-day happy hour with $4 drinks and $6.50 appetizers is advertised if you sit in the lounge, which would be very helpful in keeping the bill within a fairly decent budget. This lounge, however, is either non-existent or is a very small corner of the restaurant that had four or five tables for two as it was we couldn’t find these cheaper drinks and appetizers, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.

All in all, our bill was about $57 for two people. While this is not outrageous, it was disappointing as a lower-priced menu was advertised.

Aside from the hostess’ lack of attention, the overpowering noise in the bar and mid-level prices, Palomino is a great experience. The food tastes wonderful and the waitstaff is friendly and attentive. Now if only we could find that lounge….

Final rating:  Good, but it could have been better

(We might need to expand our rating system from Good, bad and really crappy)