Movies We Watch Again ... and Again - City Island

Why do we watch a movie more than once? Maybe we were so stunned by the film that, by watching it again, we can study it more deeply and gain more understanding of its riches, (for me, Birdman is a recent example). Then, we might decide to see that same film yet again, because now our eyes can visit every part of the screen, pick up every background nuance, squeeze out every drop of meaning.

Other films we see may not stun us or challenge us, but seep into our emotions and go so deep that we well-up or even weep, either with sorrow, or with a deep joy, and these films we re-watch not for the studying but…. Well, it’s like visiting a dear friend for the comfort you know you will receive, and you want to feel that again.

Before I begin the third movie in this series, I want to include these comments on last week’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

From John Hill: I used to say McCabe and Mrs. Miller was the High Noon of the new generation of filmmakers. Plot is basically the same, ending the same – except and especially, the anti-hero dies.  And Mrs. Miller hardly wore white, like Grace Kelly did.

From J Kahn: I always loved McCabe. I’ve seen it several times myself. Wonderfully moody, inevitably tragic, unlike any other Western I know.

City Island - 2009

I’m pulled back into this film every few years because it’s damn funny, but, interestingly, it’s not a farce. A Fish Called Wanda is one of my top picks for comedy, and so is the classic Bringing Up Baby, but those present themselves as farce – broadly satirical comedy and improbable plot. City Island, however, asks us to believe that this Rizzo family exists in the City Island area of New York, so the story needs to offer us situations that feel as if they could possibly happen in the real world, AND also offer us characters that are well-drawn and deep enough so that we care about them.

The writer-director, Raymond De Felitta, is a very smart and funny man. He creates a family whose members love each other and also are often at odds. There is usually some yelling at the table. And … there are secrets. Each one: Father (Andy Garcia), Mother (Julianna Margulies), a college-age daughter, and a teenage son all have something that they don’t want the others to know. Andy Garcia, for instance, who is a blue collar prison guard, dreams of being an actor, like his hero, Brando, but he’s not comfortable sharing this dream, and so when he takes his acting class, one evening a week, he says to his family that he’s at a poker game.

The acting teacher is played by Alan Arkin, who, staying in the bounds of reality, makes this character very smart and funny, and Arkin even gets a chance to rave against ‘method acting.’ Sublime. Later watch Andy Garcia playing his blue-collar character at an audition for a film. Priceless. Even though this is a comedy, these are some of the very best roles for Garcia and Arkin and Margulies.

So now we have Andy Garcia, father, prison guard and secret acting student, come up against ANOTHER secret, and it rocks him. He has not told his wife that in his youth he sired a son. He could not tolerate the son’s mother (a psycho bitch!) so he gave her what money he had – and she took off and gave him no access to his son. Garcia, at work one day, notices a new prisoner, in his early twenties, who carries his ex-wife’s last name. The young man is big and tough and also … nice. Garcia looks up this prisoner’s background, and it IS his son.

Garcia has a building project going on at his house, which he is trying to do himself. He feels both shaken and also deeply warmed by finally seeing his other son. He tells no one, not even the young man, about his fathering of this person, but he finagles a way to bring the young prisoner home, to help him with the project.

If the acting class is considered important as a secret, this SON business is a megaton bomb. Oh the tangled web: Andy’s wife suspects that he is NOT playing poker but is having an affair. Andy’s daughter is keeping the secret that she has been kicked out of college. So in order to earn some money so she can enter another school, she is secretly working as a dancer in a strip club. I don’t need to tell you any more of the secrets, just that they abound, and that the writer/director weaves this all together so that it is both heartfelt and wildly funny.

My wife and I return to this film every few years because it is such a hearty and complete meal -- even when you know the plot and know when the laughs are coming. Maybe it’s like walking into a house that you lived in and enjoyed years ago, and you want to step inside again and find the memories and emotions waiting for you in every room. That’s one reason we watch certain movies again ... and again.

Copyright Gerald DiPego 2015-2017