Friday, April 9, 2010

City Island, Dragon Tattoo, After.life, The Runaways

I've had a rather busy movie week, so I've kept the reviews short and (mostly) sweet, starting with a slight comedy I liked more than most.

City Island

“City Island” was the opening night films a few weeks ago at Miami International Film Festival.
Now the new comedy, starring favorite son Andy Garcia, opens in area theaters.
“City Island” is the name of a fishing village within the Borough of The Bronx, New York. You can see it on your left from the expressway on the way to Throggs Neck Bridge. I always wondered what that little neighborhood was like. Thanks to this film, now I know.
Andy Garcia is Vince Rizzo, a prison guard (he prefers to be called “correctional officer”) with a “worst secret vice.” He wants to be an actor.
Obviously Garcia was attracted to this character, created by writer-director Raymond De Felitte, because it is an actor’s showcase. There is a double edge to this sword. Since it is such an “actorish” role, Vince Rizzo does not seem like a real guy.
The good news is this is a very funny film. De Felitte has recruited a crack supporting cast for Garcia, headed by Julianne Marguiles as his suspicious, harping wife Joyce.
Joyce wonders what really goes on at the poker games Vince seems so devoted to.
Of course Joyce suspects an affair, and it doesn’t help that Vince’s acting partner is Molly, a comely lass played by Emily Mortimer.
Vince isn’t the only Rizzo family member with secrets. Daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) has lost her scholarship and is working a stripper part-time to pay for college.
Son Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller) has a thing for fat women and watching them eat.
If the house weren’t volatile enough, Vince brings home an ex-con, Tony Nardella (Steven Strait) who has a whopper of a secret himself.
“City Island” is best appreciated by people who have endured the trials and tribulations of being an actor and having to audition. For them, the scenes with Vince’s tough acting teacher (Alan Arkin) are alone worth the price of admission.
“Alan is a dear friend of mine, and he has a passion for acting,” revealed Garcia in a recent interview. “The hardest part for me was to keep from cracking up.”
Garcia not only stars; he is the film’s producer
“”It’s tough work,” admits the Miami resident. “It took me two and a half years to get this off the ground. The thing about being a producer is you want to see it happen. You have to really believe in what you are doing.”

Intriguing “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” from Sweden

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an intriguing and complicated little mystery from Sweden that won the Swedish equivalent of an Oscar and an audience award as Best Film at Palm Springs Film Festival.
The film is based on the first book of a trilogy called “Millennium” by Stieg Larsson.
Famed Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist plays Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading magazine journalist whose fearless reporting on an industrial fat cat has earned him a jail term.
Rising star Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander, a rebellious, outspoken 24-year-old who is a genius computer researcher.
His career in ruins, Blomkvist accepts the assignment of 82-year-old industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), who challenges the reporter to solve the mystery of the disappearance and presumed murder of 16-year-old Harriet Vanger in 1966.
It won’t be giving away any state secrets to reveal the middle-aged reporter and the young punk researcher join forces to discover a deep, dark, terrible and life-threatening secret.
Be forewarned there is some really rough stuff in this thriller, but the suspense is high and the action fast-paced, even though the film is more than two hours long.


Not Much Sense in “After.Life”

I went to “After.Life” hoping to see a serious examination of the near-death experience.
I went home disappointed.
“After.Life” stars Christina Ricci as Anna, a young schoolteacher caught in limbo between life and death, Liam Neeson as the undertaker who knows of her predicament but seems unwilling to help her, and Justin Long as Paul, her boyfriend who cries crocodile tears but is otherwise ineffective.
“Seems” is the operative word here, because we never know what’s going on with creepy Eliot Deacon (Neeson), who runs a one-man funeral home in a gloomy gray Gothic mansion. Is he a sensitive soul with a special empathy for the dying and dead, or is he simply a lunatic?
This first effort by writer director Agieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo is an ineffective hodgepodge of horror film clichés and gory jolts. The mostly naked Ricci catches your attention, but the mind wanders after the first half hour or so and at 90 minutes the film seems long and pointless.



“The Runaways” a Lurid, Entertaining Cautionary Tale

On a more positive note, “The Runaways” is an entertaining look at America’s first all-girl punk band, The Runaways.
The girl-on-girl kiss between Kristin Stewart and Dakota Fanning has overshadowed what is a rather good biopic by director Floria Sigismondi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cherie Currie, based on her tell-all book, “Neon Angel.”
Cherie Currie was the lead singer of The Runaways, hand-picked by manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon), simply because of her look. Just 15-year-years-old, Cherie (Dakota Fanning) reminded Fowley of a jailbait Brigit Bardot.
Shannon is the star player and over-the-top villain who insists to the five girls that are The Runaways that sex sells, and if they want to be successful they have to flaunt it.
The creative mastermind of The Runaways was guitarist, singer and songwriter Joan Jett, played by “Twilight’s” teen star, Kristen Stewart.
Joan Jett was to Cherie Currie what Mick Jagger was to Keith Richards: the former more focused and career-minded, and the latter more libertine, thrill-seeking and out-of-control.
If anything “The Runways” is a cautionary tale about the dangers of alcohol and drugs- especially for the young and naïve.
Cherie Currie burned out and fell into the abyss of addictions. This is the story of her return to real life. It is remarkably well done by two fearless young actresses and an older actor who relishes playing the exploitive, mercenary cad, entertaining us in the process.

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