City Island is a beach-side neighborhood in the Bronx that’s so idyllic looking it’s hard to believe non-millionaires can afford to live there. Andy Garcia stars as hereditary homeowner Vince Rizzo, a prison guard — excuse me, “corrections officer” — who is also secretly an aspiring actor. When an inmate (Steven Strait) turns out to be his heretofore unknown son, he takes the handsome ex-con home without a word of explanation to anyone. This is a dangerous move, as his family is already seething with Italian-American emotion. Wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies) is lonely and convinced that Vince’s alleged poker games — cover for the acting classes he takes from a curmudgeonly Alan Arkin — are cover for an affair. The Rizzos’ beautiful college student daughter (Garcia’s real life daughter, Dominik García-Lorido) is secretly stripping for cash. Meanwhile, their gawky teen son (Ezra Miller, the funniest person in the movie) is nursing a fetish involving the giving of culinary pleasure to obese women. The final turns of the screw are Vince’s friendship with a very pretty fellow acting student (Emily Mortimer) and an audition for, naturally, the latest Martin Scorsese crime epic. Yes, “City Island” is terribly contrived, but the film is full of funny dialogue, good acting, and genuine feeling that nicely papers over the problems. Writer-director — and sometime classic film blogger — Raymond De Felitta is no visual stylist and may be too eager too please, but he knows how to entertain.
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So, we have just two major releases this week and while one is hard-edged remake of a franchise-spawning eighties horror hit and the other is a purported family film, to me all signs this weekend in terms of major new releases (and one tiny release) scream: “Be afraid, be very afraid.” For the most part, the critics aren’t disagreeing.
For starters, we have “A Nightmare on Elm Street” which brings us Jackie Earle Haley in the role made famous by Robert Englund — the child-murderer of everyone’s dreams with the specially augmented fingers, Freddy Kruger. Now, as someone who is such a wuss that he was unable to get past the first twenty minutes or so of the original on VHS — that Wes Craven guy really knows how to scare people — I’m not really one to judge. However, the critics are thoroughly unimpressed with the new version directed by another music video alum, Samuel Bayer, granting it a dismal 11% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.
Still, even if the original version is regarded as something of a classic today by critics, this movie has “critic proof” written all over it. Indeed, jolly Carl DiOrio, assures us that it’s “tracking” very well and will top the box office with “as much as” $30 million for Warner Brothers. He also gets a bit less jolly in his video this week and actually complains about the use of the word “reboot” to describe films like “Nightmare.” Well, considering that you’re starting over an existing franchise as if the original had never happened, I’m not sure what you’re supposed to call it. It’s not only a remake.
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Composed like a mini festival of short films on the subject of love, “New York, I Love You,” the second installment in the city-based anthology series, starts off strong before coming to a screeching halt. A majority of the best segments not only occupy the first half of the film, but they also have the most star power, including one by Jiang Wen starring Hayden Christensen and Andy Garcia as two men vying for the attention of a beautiful girl (Rachel Bilson); Yvan Attal’s playful two-parter (featuring Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn) about flirting with strangers; and perhaps most surprisingly, Brett Ratner’s charming tale of a young kid (Anton Yelchin) whose last-minute prom date (Olivia Thirlby) turns out to be more than meets the eye. Mira Nair’s segment about a Jain gem merchant (Ifran Khan) and Chassidic dealer (Natalie Portman) haggling over the price of a diamond (and bonding over religion) is also cute, but it probably would have made for a better full-length feature.
Portman also directs a segment that is easily one of the weaker entries in the anthology, while Shekhar Kapur’s story about a retired opera singer (Julie Christie) just doesn’t fit tonally with the rest of the film. The same can be said about Scarlett Johansson’s contribution, which was deleted from the theatrical cut and appears only as a special feature on the DVD. It’s probably a good thing it was removed, because with the exception of a hilarious final segment starring Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as an old married couple making their way to Coney Island for their anniversary, the second half of the film is a bore. It’s also a little strange to see Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee sitting on the sidelines, because no one knows New York better than these guys. Maybe the producers will be smart enough to recruit them during their next visit to the Big Apple.
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