Reviews

City Island

Lesley Smith

City Island celebrates the inherent goodness of individuals who are not conventionally successful or sophisticated, but who know how to look after each other.


City Island

Director: Raymond de Felitta
Cast: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steve Strait, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Emily Mortimer, Ezra Miller, Alan Arkin
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Anchor Bay Films
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-03-19 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

The Rizzos are a happy family, but they don't know it. Joyce (Julianna Margulies) thinks Vince (Andy Garcia) is having an affair. He works as a prison guard, longs to be known as a "corrections officer," and dreams of emulating Marlon Brando. Their daughter Vivian (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) has lost her college scholarship and works as a stripper, while Vinnie Jr. (Ezra Miller) lusts fruitlessly after ample girls who think his offers of food, lots of food, are fat-girl jokes.

At the center of City Island, the Rizzos turn Tolstoy's dictum on its head, showing how happy families can be as different from one another as those who are unhappy. To this end, Garcia (who also produced) subdues his usual energy almost to the point of atrophy. The pallid corridors of his workplace reflect the gloom of its inhabitants, and his lingering gazes at a new prisoner, Tony Nardella (Steve Strait) suggest gloomily repressed lusts rather than family comedy. Sentence by sentence, shot by shot, though, a delectable visual conceit hints that angst and trauma are not quite what the film has in mind.

Rather, it returns again and again to the ways the Rizzos keep missing their happiness. During one sequence, the camera catches each member reflectively smoking alone, even as they all earnestly assure the others they’ve kicked the habit for good. The series of hastily stubbed out cigarettes is metaphorical: the smokers all want something that others' expectations and their own fears conspire to deny them. When Vinnie invites Nardella home for the last 30 days of his parole, just as Vivian continues her face-saving fiction of a college career by coming home for spring break, the characters plunge into a baroque gavotte of tenderness, revelation, and farce.

The success of this mixture depends on the exceptionally strong cast. Margulies plays a more acid character than her usual roles allow, ready to snap from catlike contentment to feisty combativeness whenever her husband appears. Joyce cuts coupons from a stack of newspapers with the suppressed energy of a woman who would prefer to be wielding her scissors on much meatier targets. Strait captures both the expansiveness of a young man freed to breath sea air and the bemusement of a stranger plunged into the intimate maelstrom of a family's squabbles. And Emily Mortimer, as Molly, Vinnie's acting class partner, shimmers with a smart-talking sophistication that never quite hides her fragility.

Still, Miller stands out, even following a familiar arc. Initially a familiar enough teenager determined to provoke his family out of their sniping triviality, Vinnie Jr. discovers the wonder of women who appreciate his appreciation of their Brobdingnagian charms. When Vinnie Jr. searches the internet for sites devoted to the glorification of Botero-esque womanhood and laconically pays with his mother's purloined credit card, the scene captures that transition from family baby to adventuring youth more eloquently than any dialogue could. The mother-son relationship is complicated, of course, a common point the film makes compellingly. Not only does Miller physically resemble Margulies; he also plays Vinnie as Margulies has played so many of her signature roles, calm and contemplative, lips slightly parted.

All family members benefit from Raymond de Felitta's tight framing and mobile camerawork, accentuating his script's verbal energy. As this Italian American family raises colossal glasses of dark red wine, they're squeezed around an old-fashioned dining set that has definitely seen much better days. When Vinnie Jr. asks his sister if her breasts are growing larger, his comment appears to ricochet around the table. On the heels of Joyce's instant indignation, first Tony, and then Vinnie, cast surreptitious glances her way. The family gathering collapses into an array of half-cleared plates and disordered chairs.

At other times the film's editing descends into bathos. Without the anchors of Molly's rueful wisdom and Tony's open-mouthed bemusement, the torrent of revelation at the denouement would have devolved into third-rate opera. And the final scene is just plain mushy, bringing together family of blood and family of choice in a feel-good agape that denies the previous prickly realism. But such missteps are rare enough that the strongest memories of the film are its repeated scenes of tenderness. When Molly leans on the jetty of the down-at-heel City Island yacht club, confessing to Vinnie that everything he knows of her is a sham, the gentleness with which he draws her into his arms acknowledges both the complexities of love, and the eternal absence of easy answers.

At its best, City Island celebrates the inherent goodness of individuals who are not conventionally successful or sophisticated, but who know how to look after each other. There's nothing naïve about them. They know that daily life takes work, that the pain of loss never heals completely. And they know that families are sometimes as divided by love and duty as they are united.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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