MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

DVD Geek: City Island

Do not touch the ‘Eject’ button during the first 20 minutes of City Island, a wonderful film about a dysfunctional family that has been released by Anchor Bay Films.  You may be sorely tempted to cut the movie short at the beginning, because to set things up it regurgitates seemingly tiresome stereotypes—the husband and wife, played by Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies, fighting; the son in his bedroom surfing porn; the daughter leading a secret life—but there is then a terrific and quite unexpected plot turn, and it is not saying too much that a convicted felon, played by Steven Strait, enters the household and, almost in Teorama fashion, solves everyone’s problems.  The 2009 film is set in a little Utopian nook in The Bronx and, running 104 minutes, it feeds off of its New York energy, but as resistant as you may be to any part of it at first, once that plot hook sinks in, you’re caught for the duration and happily so, every step of the way.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The color transfer looks fresh and sharp.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound brings a workable dimensionality to the music and environmental sounds, but is not a significant factor in the entertainment.  There are optional English and Spanish subtitles, 16 minutes of good but sensibly removed deleted scenes, and a 16-minute retrospective discussion about the film with Garcia, Margulies, Strait, co-star Dominik García-Lorido and director Raymond De Felitta, who sit around a dining table, eating and talking about their experiences with the film.  It is a terrific format, because they really let their guards down, at least a bit, and it would be nice to see more such supplements accompanying other films.  De Felitta and Garcia also supply a commentary track, talking in a relaxed manner about the long process it took to bring the project to fruition, about the location, quite a bit about working with the other cast members (Garcia’s daughter plays his daughter), and about making movies these days.  During one major family dinner scene, De Felitta deliberately shook the camera a bit, and also, “We shot without any real regard for the eye lines.  Supposedly, you know, you’re always supposed to be very careful with your left to right and right to left, but I don’t necessarily believe that that’s all that important any more.  I think the visual literacy rate is pretty high in people watching movies.  But in addition to that, it kind of gives things a slightly unsettling way.”

The one advantage to Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray is that the quality of the presentation enhances your subliminal involvement with the film, so that you enjoy it more.  Yes, the picture and the 5.1 Dolby sound are a little sharper and a little more solid, but there is nothing in the film itself that makes the improvements exceptionally advantageous.  The special features are repeated, and there is a second platter containing a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon