Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Senior Sexytime

Writer-director Nancy Meyers specializes in the postmenopausal romantic comedy, in which a fiftyish woman, living in a gorgeous home, revives her flagging sexuality via an awkward liaison with an inappropriate man. In Something’s Gotta Give, Diane Keaton’s uptight authoress succumbed to the charms of Jack Nicholson’s potbellied Lothario, who learned — as all men must in Meyers’ movies — that older women are better than those young things they’ve been chasing. The signature Meyers moment is one of profound sexual embarrassment, as when houseguest Nicholson accidentally walks in on Keaton naked.

Meyer’s latest, It’s Complicated, follows the basic outline but is subtler and more successful. Meyers takes the autumn-romance template, casts it with top talent, soft-pedals the slapstick, and creates a popular audience-pleasing “sex-with-your-ex” romp. Meryl Streep is Jane, divorced for ten years, which she’s spent rebuilding her life, opening a bakery, and planning an addition to her beautiful house (see above). Her nest now empty, Jane confides to her obligatory girlfriend circle (Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth) that she hasn’t dated in years. On a New York trip for her son’s graduation, she has drunken sex with her once-loathed ex, philandering Jake (Alec Baldwin), now married to Agness (Lake Bell), a petulant, fertility-obsessed shrew who insists Jake help raise her bratty tot.

Jane and Jake start an affair, and Jake falls “back in love” with Jane, pining for the family he left behind. Jane glows, then frets, feeling naughty and excited, until she realizes that “other woman” is not a suitable role for her, especially when a real suitor, architect Adam (Steve Martin), is waiting in the wings. (The “Meyers moment” occurs when Jake sends his paunchy naked image via webcam to the wrong person.) Superb casting and a solid script make the movie a considerable improvement over Meyers’ previous efforts. Streep, freed of the requirement to impersonate a nun or Julia Child, is natural and winning. Baldwin, playing an ox-like narcissist, has an endearing vulnerability. Martin is funny and touching in the stock nice-guy role, and John Krasinski has some amusingly awkward moments as Jane’s future son-in-law, who accidentally becomes privy to the affair.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Shermlock Shomes

One can almost imagine Guy Ritchie as a lad in Hatfield, Hertfordshire England, crouched under the bedclothes reading Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and thinking, Oh, how I wish Holmes was like Batman, swinging about and smashing the evil-doers!

Ritchie may not have actually had that boyhood wish — his new action-packed Sherlock Holmes was written by others (Michael Robert Johnson and Anthony Peckham) — but he has lent his directing talents to a Holmes that casts Robert Downey Jr. as the cerebral Victorian sleuth, reimagined as a surly, bare-knuckle-brawling bounder. Setting aside the heresy against the sacred Holmes canon, casting Downey was this misbegotten movie’s first mistake. The excellent Downey did intensive research for the role and wields a passable British accent, but he’s too young and contemporary-looking to be a credible Holmes. The next error was rendering insignificant Holmes’ friend and chronicler, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), who spends most of his screen time complaining about Holmes’ violin playing, pistol shooting and experimenting on Watson’s bulldog (the movie’s most charming actor).

The film serves up a mixed stew of hoary Holmesiana, featuring the evil Dr. Moriarty and Holmes’ female nemesis, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, dreadful). The plot is some folderol about an occult society whose leader, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), survives the hangman’s noose and has a plan for (what else?) world domination. Pursuing the case, Holmes and Watson participate in a series of imaginatively staged fight sequences.

Maybe Ritchie and company should be praised for taking Holmes out of the parlour, but really, Holmes should be charming rather than rude, and if he’s going to be an action hero, he might at least be a genteel one. Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel, Snatch) has a good feel for the English underclass, and the few lively segments are those featuring its denizens (a pipe-smoking gypsy woman, a grizzled boat captain, a crowd at a pit fight improbably featuring a bare-chested Holmes). Overlong and a little unappetizing, this Holmes is unlikely to endear itself either to Holmesians or discriminating action-movie fans (if there is such a creature).

Nevertheless, Ritchie is busily at work on a sequel. Sir Arthur, please telephone your office.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Barber Shop, Chester Avenue, downtown Cleveland, featuring master stylists Tay and Mafioso. Some Cleveland Cavs players get their haircuts here.

The Lancer Destroyed By Fire

The Lancer, a landmark Cleveland restaurant and gathering place for the city's black elite, was destroyed by fire early Sunday morning, December 6. The restaurant opened in 1960.

Owner George Dixon says the cause is unknown but "suspicious." He plans to rebuild.

UPDATE: Dixon plans to relocate temporarily to another location while the Lancer is rebuilt.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Father Knows Least

Everybody’s Fine belongs to the “Old Man Road Trip” movie tradition, in which a retiree, played by an aging A-list actor, embarks on a sentimental, transformative journey. Jack Nicholson has made two, About Schmidt and The Bucket List. This season, it’s 66-year-old Robert De Niro in Everybody’s Fine, directed by Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine).

The melancholy movie is based on Giuseppe Tornatore’s
Stanno tutti bene, which starred Marcello Mastroianni as a retired Sicilian bureaucrat. Just as dinner at one of Italy’s finest restaurants can’t be replicated by eating at the Olive Garden, the bittersweet enchantment of an Italian film suffers when filtered through the conventions of a Hollywood holiday movie.

De Niro plays Frank, a widower retired after 30 years manufacturing coatings for telephone wires. While Frank prepares for a reunion with his grown children, they each call to say they can’t make it. Impulsively, Frank boards a train to pay surprise visits to his children scattered across the country. Onboard, he shows off a photo of his successful brood: David the artist, Amy the ad executive (Kate Beckinsale), Robert the renowned orchestra conductor (Sam Rockwell), and Rosie the Las Vegas dancer (Drew Barrymore).

On his first stop, New York, Frank finds David missing from his rundown tenement apartment. He heads to Chicago, where Amy, a gorgeous ad executive, is hiding the truth about her marriage and other things. In the Northwest, Frank discovers Robert isn’t an orchestra conductor but a percussionist (though why that’s a bad thing is unclear). Rosie, living in an expensive Vegas apartment, is conducting an elaborate charade as well.

Phone conversations, set against a landscape of telephone lines echoing Frank’s career, reveal that David’s in trouble, and the siblings have agreed not to tell Dad. For years, they confided in their mom, who assured Dad they were all “fine,” because they considered him a demanding taskmaster.

There’s pathos in the kids’ lying to the old man, revealed to him in a dream sequence in which they appear as the children they once were, a magical-realist device better suited to the movie’s Italian progenitor. There are poignant scenes, as when lost David “appears” at his ailing father’s bedside, but generally the movie clicks along on a predictable track, punctuated by a series of sappy pop songs. Secrets are revealed, relationships are healed, all in time to trim the tree.

Mastroianni was touching as the bewildered pensioner in thick eyeglasses telling his dead wife's gravestone that the children are “all fine.” De Niro goes through the same motions, but to far less stirring effect. Maybe because he’s played so many tough guys, or maybe because his goofy expressions cue laughter, not tears, he seems miscast in sentimental roles.

(A different version appeared in the Cleveland Scene.)