Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review: City Island

Very pleasantly surprised by "City Island," and equally baffled at how crazy quirky it is.

City Island is apparently a little-known location in the Bronx, about a mile long and a mile wide, which used to be a fishing village. It's quite quaint, with homes along the beach providing glorious views of Manhattan and housing families that have been there for generations. I gotta check this place out.

On this island resides The Rizzos, a family that definitely has some major issues. Headed by Vince (Andy Garcia), he's a 40-something prison guard who wants to be an actor. He sneaks cigarettes while reading Marlon Brando's biography by sticking his head out the window in the ceiling of the bathroom. He's too afraid -- embarrassed, thinks he's no good -- to tell his wife, Joyce (Juliana Margulies), so he tells her he has a poker game every time he sneaks off into the city to take acting classes. "Rather than tell your wife you're taking an acting class, you tell her you're out gambling instead? And that's better?" one character asks him.

Not to mention, while Vince is working a prison shift, he recognizes his long-lost son, Tony (Steven Strait), who is incarcerated. He hasn't told his family (or Tony) about this either. The prison releases a mystified Tony into Vince's custody, and he brings him home with him ... to City Island ... and his unsuspecting family.

These are just a few lies, or witholdings of truth, in a movie that is precariously full of them. Every member of this family has something off, a quirk, a fetish, a secret ... and everyone is too afraid to tell anyone else in their family about them, which, of course, creates larger problems ... and subsequent outrageous screaming matches in thick New Yawk accents.

Throughout the movie, and nicely offsetting the boorishness, is Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's lilting soundtrack. I've noticed his work in a few movies now ("Finding Neverland," "Hachi," "Get Low") and he's rapidly becoming one of my favorite film score composers ... The soundtracks are hard to describe, they're all very melodic but have this unique ability to sound lighthearted and somewhat haunting at the same time. And that's certainly an interesting combination for this movie.

The movie meanders at points -- I have absolutely no idea what the storyline regarding Vince's obnoxious youngest son Vinnie Jr. (Ezra Miller) and his feeding fetish for the fat woman who lives next door (Yes, I just said that) has to do with anything, I guess it's his kink -- but where it works is the story involving Vince and some special supporting cast members.

I love Vince's story. There's something very cool about sneaking off and taking the skycar into Manhattan to study acting in a darkened studio theater. Alan Arkin is perfect and hilarious as his acting teacher, who's no better off than his students and the millions of other hopeful actors in New York, and you can't help but laugh at his angst ... especially when he goes off on his irritation with all the extra, and unnecessary, "pauses" actors take ... paraphrasing:

Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia and Alan Arkin (Phil Caruso/Anchor Bay)
"All of a sudden, Brando comes along and everyone says, 'Oh my God he's a genius, did you see him thinking?!' Anyone here see 'The Fugitive Kind?' Somebody asked Brando what his name is. He's gotta think about it. Why?! Why does he have to think about that, it takes him a half hour to get back to the guy! It's not acting ... it's not thinking ... it's just ... well, it's just bullshit!"

Oh my God that floored me, and I'm still cracking up now writing it. I had to watch that rant about three times.

In this class, Vince also meets Molly (Emily Mortimer), who I absolutely love in this. As acting partners, the two form a friendship and meet in the city over pie in late-night cafes, or drinks, as confidants, and she gently prompts him to reveal his secret about Tony. It should come as no surprise that she holds an emotional secret of her own.

It's at one of these meetings that she spots a casting call for a movie that fits Vince perfectly and encourages him to go on his first audition. And, for me, this is the greatest sequence in the movie.

The anxious and apprehensive Vince shows up to the audition -- which is calling for a tough, blue-collar character -- wearing a black suit and tie, and the look on his face revealing his rising panic as he discovers a line of actors (including his acting teacher!) all dressed in blue-collar attire stretching around the city block, is outstanding. "What are you coming from a funeral?" one guy asks him.

Vince also discovers the part is for a DeNiro/Scorsese movie. He just so happens to be among a handful picked out of the mile-long line to read in front of the camera for Scorsese's casting director, and this whole scene simply has everything ... hilarity (when he starts off doing an overblown -- and what looks to be painful -- Brando impression), awkwardness and eventually some serious drama and emotion. Garcia is incredibly strong in this movie, evidenced with no uncertainty by his performance here.

Emily Mortimer and Andy Garcia (Phil Caruso/Anchor Bay)
This sequence carries over into a scene at a sweet, swanky bar with a sheepish Vince -- who gets a phone call for a callback and is unable to grasp the magnitude of what that means -- and Molly, whose genuine happiness over Vince's incredibly good fortune really makes you (or at least me) genuinely love her. You can see almost everything about what kind of person this mysterious woman is written on her face throughout this scene.

But as expected, with an exasperated Tony front and center and utterly stupefied by the level of dysfunction he is witnessing, all the lying and hiding catches up to the Rizzo clan, sparked by his immersion into their family.

And fittingly, just as what we've witnessed up to this point, everything comes to a riotous and bizarre and funny and emotional climax that's quite entertaining and thoroughly satisfying to watch.

1 comment:

Monica E. Smith said...

wow. just saw the preview for this movie last night--first time. i thought it was a possibility, but you've made me really want to see it :) cool.