Review: City Island

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The Pitch: No Sex Please, We’re Italian-American.

The Review: Think back. Cast your mind as far back as you can – can you actually remember the last good Andy Garcia film you saw? If you ignore the Ocean’s movies, where he got very little of any interest to do other than some slight mugging in the third one, you might find yourself back in the Nineties, with movies like Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead or Internal Affairs. While he’s always been available to add presence to a movie, it’s often when he gets to show a slightly lighter side as well (think of The Untouchables for an example) that we truly see the best of him.

So it’s a genuine pleasure to see him in something that, while not an out and out comedy, does have enough moments to give him the chance to show a bit of range for a change. Comedy drama might also be an unfair description; probably the closest structure here is that of a classic farce, as the movie serves to layer on implausibilities before they all stack up, ready for the conclusion. As with any good farce, City Island revels in its absurdities; sometimes scenes have the exact outcome you’d expect, simply because you know where the structure needs to take things, although there is the odd surprise.

Thankfully, the quality of the cast on show means that even when the plot is predictable, the movie is never less than enjoyable. Alongside Garcia, Julianna Margulies gets to be shouty and obstinate, his real life daughter gets to be the pole dancer with a heart of sarcasm and Steven Strait attempts to show he’s got more range than the caveman he portrayed in 10,000 B.C. Emily Mortimer is slightly less successful in her role, but doesn’t detract from the overall ensemble, but you will find yourself wishing there was more of Alan Arkin as Vince’s put-upon drama teacher.

It’s the Vince acting sub-plot, as he tries out for his first audition, that allows Garcia to show off his comedy skills, with a bumbling madness that really endears him to you and leaves you wanting the right outcome when the payoff eventually kicks in. The odd thread of the narrative is left slightly unfulfilled, but maybe that’s best as too much more drama at the expense of the light comedy could have unbalanced the whole thing. What we’re left with is a light, frothy adventure in the lives of this family who find it easier to be dishonest than to work through their problems, but if you don’t expect too much from it you should thoroughly enjoy it – and that’s no lie.

Why see it at the cinema: It’s fun, light and frothy, aware of its contrivances but revelling in them, and Andy Garcia is the best he’s been in ages. So why was I the only person in the showing I saw of this, on a Saturday night? If you want a break from the normal round of summer blockbuster entertainment, you could do a lot worse.

The Score: 8/10

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Review: Wild Target

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The Pitch: Three Characters In Search Of A Plot. Possibly one involving nonthreatening British gangsters.

The Review: Ah, remakes of French movies. Who can forget Three Men and a Baby, The Birdcage, Three Fugitives, er… Just Visiting… Every culture has its own sense of humour and style, and these don’t always travel well. So it’s a good idea for such remakes to put something of their own national style onto the bones of the structure, and this reworking of the French black comedy Ciblé emouvante, all of seventeen years old now, tends slightly more towards farce, although some slightly black comedic elements remain, and the two can in theory sit well together.

And there’s no faulting the ambition of the casting director. In addition to the three headliners, support from the likes of Rupert Everett and Martin Freeman lends the whole enterprise an air of credibility – at least until you remember that Al Pacino and Christopher Walken were in Gigli, so there are no guarantees in this life. But the weight of the movie rests firmly with Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt. The former is a model of restraint, layering character details carefully onto his mannered and largely restrained performance; the latter is the sparkle that more often than not keeps things interesting, flirting and wiggling her way through, a nymphomaniac, kleptomaniac charmer who’s out of her depth, but just keeps swimming anyway. Disappointingly, Rupert Grint seems destined to be making a career of adding 10% to the gross of movies that Ron Weasley die-hards wouldn’t otherwise have seen, and gets to do little of interest.

Where the movie is less successful is in moving the plot forward. The set-up brings the three leads together, somewhat unconvincingly, but then the nature of their first meeting then requires them to sit and wait for the plot to come to them, then run away when it does, rinse and repeat. So it does become more about the characters and the smaller details, and there are some wonderful smaller moments, but also some dreadful ones (and if you don’t plant your face in your palm when one of the characters mistakenly eats pot pourri, you’re reading the wrong review).

Sadly, the real factor which keeps this from being anything better than average is the pedestrian direction (would you want “From the director of My Cousin Vinny and the remake of Sgt. Bilko” on your poster?), which has the amateur-dramatic feel of too much mid-range British comedy, and doesn’t help serve any kind of momentum. Overall, Wild Target is quietly and sporadically enjoyable (put that on the poster – I dare you), with just enough to satisfy curiosity, but it rarely flies, and sadly too often… sorry, couldn’t resist… misses the target.

Why see it at the cinema: We can only hope that supporting this will give Nighy and Blunt the chance to be in better material at a cinema near you soon. And if you’re into Ron Weasley, you do see him with his shirt off. (Not sure if that’s a recommendation or not…)

The Score: 5/10

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