Screwball Relations


Family’s Secrets Float to the Surface in’City Island’

The indie sleeper “City Island,” by writer-director Raymond De Felitta (“Cafe Society”) is a fairly standard screwball comedy that nevertheless — thanks to its colorful cast of characters — ranks as a crowd-pleaser full of broad, over-the-top laughs.

In the lower-middle class Italian-American Rizzo family, all of the members are hiding something from the others. Vince (Cuban-born Andy Garcia), the patriarch, works as a corrections officer. One day, he looks down at paperwork to realize that a new inmate, car thief Tony (Steven Strait), is the son he never met. On an impulse, he decides to take personal responsibility for Tony, taking him home to City Island, a somewhat isolated fishing village in the Bronx.

At night, Vince also sneaks off to take acting lessons, which he hides because he’s afraid people will laugh at him. His wife Joyce (Julianna Margulies, who looks great in a fabulous performance), a legal secretary, is understandably suspicious when his story continually doesn’t add up. She wonders if he’s having an affair, a suspicion fueled by Vince’s growing closeness to his acting partner, Molly (British actress Emily Mortimer), who has her own family secret.

Driven by jealousy, Joyce acts on her attraction to Tony and makes out with him, coming close to doing more. Ostensibly home for spring break, Vince and Joyce’s daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Andy’s real-life offspring) has lost her scholarship and dropped out of college without telling her parents. Instead, she’s been working as a stripper to get back into school and pay for it herself. Finally, the teenage son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) has a hidden fetish for fat girls that plays out in his interactions with a classmate and his neighbor across the street, who runs a Web site for lovers of plus-size women.

The script and character development in “City Island” — which won the Audience Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival — are largely boilerplate, but they get the job done. Viewers can grow to love the characters despite — or perhaps, in part, because of — their faults. Mostly, that empathy exists due to the convincing efforts of a talented and likable ensemble cast led by Garcia and Margulies.

City Island (English; 103 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., April 9 4 out of 5 stars

‘The Secret of Kells’: Old-Fashioned Animation

Irish director Tomm Moore’s independent animated feature “The Secret of Kells” received a surprise Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film in a field dominated by Hollywood heavyweights like Pixar/Disney, DreamWorks, Fox and Focus/Universal. The Oscar nod was the result of a successful guerrilla awards season campaign inspired after receiving numerous festival honors, including the Audience Award for Best Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Best Irish Film at the Dublin Film Festival.

In a modern age of computer-generated images, “The Secret of Kells” is a relic of the past, utilizing old-fashioned two-dimensional animation drawn by the hands of teams of animators from Ireland, Belgium and France. The impressive result is a stunningly rich and dense visual tapestry, punctuated by a story told with a hectic pacing that provides a sense of urgent tension.

During the ninth century, the survival of the Abbey of Kells in Ireland is threatened by rampaging Vikings. Abbot Cellach (the voice of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson) has commissioned a large wall to serve as a defense against the Norse invaders, obsessed with completing the fortress at the expense of everything else.

As a refugee fleeing the Vikings, Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) is a new arrival to the Abbey. He is focused on completing a beautiful illustrated manuscript that becomes the Book of Kells, considered one of the greatest treasures in the history of Irish civilization. Aidan enlists the assistance of the Abbott’s nephew Brendan (Evan McGuire) as his apprentice, leading the boy to venture into the off-limits forest in search of berries for ink. After the Abbott finds out, he forbids Brendan from working on the book, considering it to be a distraction from the impending life-threatening danger. But Brendan is not so easily deterred.

The Secret of Kells (English; 75 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., April 2 3.5 out of 5 stars

Haunting ‘Eclipse’

At the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, Irish thespian Ciarán Hinds won the award for Best Actor for his quietly potent turn in Irish writer-director Conor McPherson’s “The Eclipse.” Hinds convincingly portrays Michael Farr, a woodworking instructor who’s lost in life following the loss of his wife. Other solid performances come from American actor Aidan Quinn — more overtly dramatic as Nicholas Holden — and Danish actress Iben Hjejle as Lena Morelle.

Nicholas and Lena are authors — and past lovers — visiting a writing festival in Michael’s coastal hometown of Cobh in County Cork. Having harbored writing ambitions in college, Michael volunteers as a driver for the festival. Best-selling author Nicholas looks down at Michael, snobbishly considering him to be a failed wannabe. But Lena, the featured speaker at the festival, develops an attraction to Michael, setting up a tense love triangle. But Michael is literally still haunted by the ghost of his wife.

Though McPherson’s background is as an award-winning playwright and stage director, his third feature film has an impressively gloomy visual look and ambiance, with many scenes in shadows or storms. The sudden appearances of ghosts are appropriately startling, bolstered by Fionnuala Ní Chiosáin’s spooky music.

The Eclipse (English; 88 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema Opens Fri., April 9 3.5 out of 5 stars

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.