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Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) has lived in the City Island area of the Bronx his entire life. Currently he works as a prison guard, and lives with his wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) and son Vinnie (Ezra Miller). This dysfunctional family is completed when Vince and Joyce’s daughter pretends to visit home for spring break (she’s actually working at a strip club instead of attending school). In a moment of questionable inspiration Vince decides to take responsibility for a prisoner named Tony Nardella (Steven Strait), who he secretly knows is his illegitimate son. Vince brings Tony home and hires him to help build a small boat house. Tony quickly learns that everyone in the Rizzo household keeps secrets, especially Vince, who’s been taking acting classes for some time. Meanwhile, Vinnie discovers he’s sexually aroused by literally feeding plus-sized women, which leads him to join a special feeding web page run by the over weight neighbor.

City Island
City Island is a sweet film, and an occasionally funny little slice of life, but it never rises above the level of basic entertainment. The storyline is odd in that it features unique voices, but builds a little too much on other films. The general idea of a magical misfit solving a dysfunctional family unit’s harshest psychological problems has been used for a variety of films, from the mainstream ( Mary Poppins, Down and Out in Beverly Hills) to the fringe ( Visitor Q).Writer/director Raymond de Felita also snags a few stylistic elements from other ensemble stories like Magnolia and Short Cuts, but despite all the general averageness, and idea snagging he crafts a tight, well shot, well cut film. The editing and camera movement often create an unconscious sense of momentum, and watching the film through a second time with the commentary track I noticed some delightfully skewed camera angles that were lost in the simple whole of de Felita’s apt style. The direction is so subtle it’s easy to overlook how well made the whole thing is, technically speaking.

The cast is the standout element, and everyone impresses beyond my very basic expectations. Garcia is the clear and centric star, and deserves the good press he garnered upon release, but I’m just as impressed by Julianna Margulies’ naturalness, Emily Mortimer’s consistent warmth, and Ezra Miller’s comedic prowess (his character could’ve been extremely obnoxious). Steven Strait (who was pretty damn flat in Sky High and 10,000 B.C.) earns the most praise, however, presenting a well-rounded, likeable character while rarely raising his performance beyond a murmur. The performances, along with de Felita’s simple visual style, and effective cutting seems to save the film from its script. The script isn’t bad, but doesn’t do enough to stand out, and loses quite a bit of momentum around the end. The climax is an orgy of lame misunderstandings, rapidly unraveling truths, easy answers, and unearned emotional string pulling. De Felita has a good sense of levity, and mostly teases his own melodrama for laughs, but this develops into a double-edged sword. We spend so much time laughing at the abusive behavior, that the tragedy of the situation, and the catharsis offered by the final scene sort of wash over us like another elongated joke, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the intended effect. The younger son’s side story is lost as well, despite reasonably successful early attempts to keep the character relevant to the greater plot.

City Island

Video


This Anchor Bay Blu-ray release features a solid, but relatively average 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. The colour quality is reasonably cool overall, with blue production design, props and costumes highlighted by blown-out white lights. The central internal house elements are warmer, and feature sharp yellow highlights that separate the actors from their backgrounds. Most of the film is shot using wider angle lenses, so background details are often nearly as sharp as their foreground counterparts, including some very busy wall paper. Contrast levels are pretty soft, so close-up details aren’t particularly impressive, but the travelogue shots of coastal New York can be rather breathtaking. Besides being a generally average looking all around, this transfer’s only real shortcoming is some reasonably thick edge-enhancement, which increases exponentially depending on the wideness of the shot. It’s also plenty clear that everything was shot on film, as the transfer includes plenty of fine grain, a little bit of travelling dirt on establishing daylight shots, and a few flecks of print damage.

City Island

Audio


Anchor Bay continues opting for a brandless, uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix, coupled with a compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 track for viewers unable to get the full 5.1 channel experience out of a PCM track. City Island is a low-impact film aurally, and is mostly centered (literally in this instance) around the vocal performances and on-set collected sound effects (some of which are likely added in post). It’s not an immersive experience, but the sound is perfectly clear and fits the film’s tone. The rear channels feature almost no noise to speak of, even when the stereo channels feature moving traffic and sailing foghorns. That said, there’s still very little directional movement, and the stereo channels are mostly devoted to Jan A.P. Kaczmarek bouncy score, along with other music. The LFE gets a bit of a boost from Garcia’s voice, but not much from the music, which is mixed pretty low on the track.

City Island

Extras


Extras begin with a commentary track featuring director Raymond de Felitta, and producer/star Andy Garcia. The two contributors work well together, and are informative and entertaining without losing too much momentum (though blank space becomes more common as the film progressive). The first bit of particularly interesting of information is the reveal that Garcia himself acted as second unit director, and shot all the footage for the early ‘city life’ montage. From here we learn everything we need to know about the locations, cast, crew, and basic production in a rather efficient, joyful manner. The tone is consistently friendly, and de Felitta is sure to make the technical aspects accessible without dumbing them down too much.

‘Dinner with the Rizzos’ (16:10, SD) is a pleasant little round table meal with del Felitta, Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait and Dominik Garcia-Lorido. The director and his cast discuss their memories of making of the film, the film’s themes, and feedback they’ve gotten on the film since release. The extras are completed with a reel of deleted/extended scenes (15:30, SD), none of which really would’ve added much to the final film if added, a trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay/Starz releases.

City Island

Overall


The critical acclaim thrust at City Island is slightly baffling, but there’s no mistaking the strong performances, good natured comedy, and good pacing. Fans of Andy Garcia should definitely take notice, and I’m personally hoping this role gets Steven Strait more notice in the future (anything to keep him away from another 10,000 B.C.). This Blu-ray release doesn’t look perfect, but features very few real problems with its transfer, and a perfectly passable PCM 5.1 sound mix. The extras are brief, but include an informative and entertaining commentary track from director Raymond de Felitta, and Garcia.


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