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City Island
Director: Raymond De Felitta
Screenplay: Raymond De Felitta
Stars: Andy Garcia (Vince Rizzo), Julianna Margulies (Joyce Rizzo), Steven Strait (Tony Nardella), Dominik García-Lorido (Vivian Rizzo), Ezra Miller (Vince Jr.), Emily Mortimer (Molly), Alan Arkin (Michael Malakov), Jee Young Han (Casting Assistant), Sharon Angela (Tanya)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2009
Country: U.S.
City Island Blu-Ray
City Island The title of writer/director Raymond De Felitta’s City Island is taken from the name of the one-and-a-half-mile-wide island at the western end of Long Island Sound. It is officially part of the Bronx, but is very much its own insulated community, replete with names for born-there locals (“clam diggers”) and those who have moved there (“mussel suckers”). We learn this via what turns out to be largely redundant voice-over narration by the film’s main character, a middle-age correctional officer named Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) who has lived on the island his entire life, in the very home his grandfather built, in fact. The unnecessary voice-over at the beginning of the film is a misstep--it feels like something insisted on by a producer or executive somewhere down the line (“How can we be sure that anyone outside of New York will even know what City Island is?” I can imagine them saying)--in what is an otherwise enjoyably offbeat slice of amusingly dysfunctional family life.

The film revolves around the undeniable fact that family members lie to each other--a lot--which in and of itself is not a particularly compelling observation. However, De Felitta makes it funny and sometimes moving ways by presenting the dilemma as a fundamental chicken-and-egg scenario: Do we lie to our loved ones because we fear their responses, or are their responses a result of our lies? It reminded me immediately of one of Tim Allen’s early stand-up routines before he became a sitcom and movie star, in which he explained in no uncertain terms why men and women can never fully get along: Men lie because women nag so much, but women nag because men lie so much. Where did it start? Or, more importantly, who is to blame? As De Felitta sees it, the answer is no one. Everyone just needs to stop lying.

The lies in City Island runs a strange and amusing gamut, from the monumental to the just plain silly. Vince, the exasperated paterfamilias holding barely discernible sway over his frequently squabbling Italian-American clan, tends to lie by omission: He conveniently neglects to tell his frequently scowling wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) what he is up to. Thus, he tells her he goes to play poker each week when he is actually attending an acting class because he reveres Marlon Brando (whose biography he reads in the bathroom). The fact that he would lie about doing something less noble but more conventionally masculine is a telling insight into his need to maintain a blue-collar bluster, as is his willingness to let Joyce believe he may be having an affair rather than honing his desire to break into Hollywood movies (conveniently enough, a Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro picture is about to go into production in the area, for which his acting partner, played by Emily Mortimer, encourages him to audition). Vince’s much bigger lie of omission has to do with Tony Nardella (Steven Strait, last seen as a hunky caveman in 10,000 B.C.), a young man in the prison where he works who is actually his illegitimate son. Tony has no idea that Vince is his father, so when Vince decides to bring him home after his release because he has no other family, he figures the guy is just doing a nice, albeit inexplicable, deed.

Vince is not the only one hiding something, though. Joyce claims that she has quit smoking, which is hardly the case (although Vince is guilty of this particular falsehood, as well). Their college-age daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy Garcia’s real-life daughter) has failed to inform them that she has lost her college scholarship and has started working as a stripper to earn enough money to pay for it herself. Meanwhile, their teenage son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) is harboring a secret fetish for women of a particular size, which results in him spending a lot of time in his room trolling the Internet and gazing wistfully out the window at their plus-size neighbor.

While most of the narrative strands of City Island are almost absurdly contrived, De Felitta’s eclectic cast of veteran character actors and fresh-faced newcomers is more than willing to make it work. Garcia began his career playing tough young punks and in recent years has downshifting into playing various heavies (particularly in the Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies), so to see him playing a harried father figure in constant fear of his family’s rejection of his artistic aspirations has its own built-in humor, which he plays expertly. Julianna Margulies has a more dangerous role in that she could have easily turned Joyce into a one-note shrew, and while at times she is immensely shrill, she makes us see her character’s frustration and understand why she responds to Vince the way she does (one of the film’s best scenes is when Vince asks her to make something “nice” for a special Saturday evening dinner, to which her obvious response it “When don’t I make it nice?”). De Felitta clearly knows that his cast is his ace in the hole, and he stays out of their way for the most part, allowing them to bounce and play off each other. The relationship entanglements they enact are ultimately believable, even if they are a little too neatly resolved in the final reel (you get the sense that De Felitta recognizes this, which is why he so un-self-consciously stages the whole scene in the street next to a sign that says “END”). City Island certainly plays to expectations, but there is more than enough charm and good humor to make some of its more contrived elements work smoothly enough.

City Island Blu-Ray + Digital Copy

Aspect Ratio1.78:1
Audio
  • English PCM 5.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by writer/director Raymond De Felitta and actor/producer Andy Garcia
  • “Dinner With the Rizzos” featurette
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorAnchor Bay Entertainment
    SRP$34.98
    Release DateAugust 24, 2010

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Nothing bad to report about Anchor Bay’s 1080p transfer of City Island. The image is smooth, clean, and well-detailed, with good color representation and natural flesh tones. Most of the film, which the exception of the climax, takes place during the day in well-lit areas, and the image is appropriately bright and refined. Both the uncompressed PCM 5.1-channel surround soundtrack and the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack are clean and clear, with a moderately wide and overall effective soundstage that plays up the dialogue.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The supplements on the disc include an enjoyable and informative audio commentary by writer/director Raymond De Felitta and actor/producer Andy Garcia, the 16-minute featurette “Dinner With the Rizzos” in which De Felitta, Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, and Dominik Garcia-Lorido reunite over a pasta lunch to reminisce about making the film, eight deleted scenes (totally about 15 minutes), and the original theatrical trailer.

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment


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