March 7, 2011
We watched the 2009 movie, “City Island,” starring Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies with an Alan Akin-esque supporting role for Alan Arkin.
This is an edgy and often humorous story, written and directed by Raymond DeFelitta, about a dysfunctional family living on an island in The Bronx. Vince Rizzo (Garcia) is a corrections officer who doesn’t like to be called a “prison guard” and who really wants to be an actor. He steals off to Manhattan to attend an acting class led by the grizzled but insightful Michael Malakov (Arkin). Vince assumes that his wife, Joyce (Margulies) would ridicule his ambition, so he explains his weekly absences by saying he is playing poker. She thinks he’s having an affair.
The Rizzos have a son and a daughter together. Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) secretly has a feeding fetish, and Vivian – played by Garcia’s daughter, Dominik (sic) – is a college student who secretly has lost her scholarship and is stripping to earn tuition money.
Vivian reluctantly comes home on a break at about the same time that Vince realizes that a new prison inmate is his son, Tony (Steven Strait), the product of a liaison Vince had while he was still in his late teens. In keeping with the family practice, Vince has not told Joyce about this.
Not one to complicate matters by thinking them through, Vince tells Tony only that Tony’s dissolute mother was a “friend,” and he arranges to have Tony released in his custody. He takes Tony home, giving Joyce only the explanation he had given Tony, and the result is even more dissent in the Rizzo household.
Meanwhile, Vince has developed a close, but not romantic, relationship with Molly (Emily Mortimer), a fellow student in Malakov’s class. Molly – who has secrets of her own – pushes Vince to have more confidence in his prospects as an actor. He inadvertently jars her into reconsidering some of the lies she has been living.
The quirky characters, odd-ball story, and strong performances by all the actors make this movie unpredictable and compelling. The environment adds to the interest. The film was shot on location at City Island which looks as if it’s a piece of New England that wandered away and couldn’t find its way back. The characteristics of the place – at least as Vince describes them in the movie – provide a credible context for his self-image and his behavior.
It’s almost always a treat to find Alan Arkin in a movie. He is in his element in this one, playing a crusty drama teacher who is up to here with actors who want to emulate Marlon Brando. Malakov is especially impatient with students who inexplicably pause instead of speaking their dialogue – a Brando trade mark. Presumably, Malakov wouldn’t have had much time for William Shatner. Vince, as it happens, is a Brando devotee.
This movie makes a point about the consequences of deceit among people whose relationship implies intimacy. It may be an obvious point, but the empirical evidence is that it can’t be made too often.
June 10, 2009
We watched “Dear Frankie,” a 2004 movie shot in Scotland, directed by Shona Auerbach. The story concerns Lizzie Morrison, played by Emily Mortimer, a single mother who has spent years avoiding her husband, Davy, who physically abused her and their son, Frankie (Jack McElhone). As the film opens, mother and son — accompanied by Lizzie’s mother, Nell (Mary Riggans), have moved again to a seaport town in Scotland.
To shield Frankie from the hard facts of his past, Lizzie has maintained the fiction that the boy’s father is a merchant seaman who travels the world aboard HMS Accra. She regularly writes letters to Frankie over his father’s name — often including exotic postage stamps — and Frankie writes back in letters that Lizzie retrieves when they are returned to the post office.
Frankie is deaf and rarely speaks — though he can — but he is exceptionally bright and excels at reading lips. One of his schoolmates discovers in a newspaper shipping news item that the Accra, which Frankie thinks is headed for the Cape of Good Hope, is actually to dock in that Scottish town in a few days. This information spurs Lizzie to search for a man who can pose as Davy for a few days. Through one of her few friends in town, she hires a man whom she requires to have “no past, no present, no future,” and he appears — with no name as well — in the form of Gerard Butler. He presents a grim figure, but it appears from the beginning of his relationship with the Morrison family that their bizarre situation piques first his curiosity and then his interest.
As Lizzie and the nameless imposter carry on the charade with Frankie, Nell discovers that Davy or someone on his behalf has been searching for Lizzie and is close at hand.
This story, which was written by Andrea Gibb, could easily have disintegrated into absurdity, but no such thing happens. Offbeat as they are, the issues in this film are family issues, and they are presented in terms of the private pain and fear and disappointment that are not strange to many people. These characters and their situation have about them the smell of reality, and Auerbach firmly grounds them with every aspect of her direction, but particularly with her use of real time — pauses, stillness, silence that some directors might be afraid to employ. There is, perhaps famously by now, a scene in which Lizzie and the imposter stare at each other for what seems like minutes, though it seems that long only because it is longer than many directors would dare to abandon motion and sound. In lesser movies, their mutual stare might have led to a cheap and easy consequence, but not here.
One caveat. As annoying as subtitles can be, we left them on, because some of the actors’ pronunciation makes the dialogue difficult to follow.