At The Movies

Touching Home

Written & Directed by Logan and Noah Miller
The Miller twins, Logan and Noah, grew up around Marin County – the setting for their semi-autobiographic film “Touching Home.” Last week, they held consecutive premieres in Marin and Sacramento, accompanied by co-star Ed Harris, with a red-carpet event at the Crest Theatre on Friday evening. The Sacramento connection comes in the form of local Executive Producer Brian Vail.

In “Touching Home,” the Millers play Lane and Clint, twin brothers who have struggled throughout their life with both their ambitions and their alcoholic father. Harris plays the father, to great effect. He’s a man who lives for years in the back of his pickup truck. He’s not only addicted to alcohol, but also to gambling, and has become more of a burden or liability than an inspiration or help to his sons.

Lane and Clint share an ambition to play professional baseball, and have had some limited success in the form of college scholarships and minor league experiences. But circumstances find them back in their home town, encountering again their long-time friends and their deadbeat dad.

In many of our lives, personal achievement, self-worth, and the evaluation of others are based on big, externally obvious indicators such as career success, wealth acquisition, and perceived status. In reality, the hidden struggles and troubled relationships, perhaps visible only to a close few, are often far more significant and profound. Here we see two brothers for whom simply maintaining a semi-functional relationship with their father is every bit the accomplishment that any other, more obvious success might ever be.

It’s a simple movie, with no special effects or major flourishes, but it’s not a story that requires either. Much like recent movies such as “The Blind Side” and “Extraordinary Measures,” the themes are more meaningful given knowledge of the truth behind the basic storyline. It’s a neat companion to the father-son themes of the other locally produced indie film in current release, “La Mission.”

City Island

Written & Directed by Raymond De Felitta
“City Island” was one of my biggest pleasant surprises of the year. I went in knowing very little other than a brief synopsis about a New York family struggling with secretive and dysfunctional relationships. The story revolves around Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), his wife Joyce (Juliana Margulies), and their children Vivian and Vince Jr.  

Vince Sr. is a correctional officer (not a prison guard!) who pretends to attend a regular poker game rather than tell his wife that he’s taking an acting class. Given that level of failed communication, it’s hardly surprising that he can’t tell her that he’s found a previously unmentioned son from a previously unmentioned relationship. Everyone has issues they would rather keep from the others, as does their weight-gifted neighbor.  

The newly discovered son, Tony (Steven Strait), enters into this already unstable and unsustainable dynamic and destabilizes it even further. The outcomes of this are far more comedically successful than the description suggested. I had expected something rather forced and derivative and, while an unlikely number of coincidences occur, the result is both natural and at times hilarious largely as a result of the appealing cast. Relative newcomer Ezra Miller is especially funny as Vince Jr., a son with an oversized secret.

The dysfunctional family genre is commonplace, whether in dramas such as “Touching Home” and “La Mission” or overt comedies such as “City Island.” But this is a welcome and fresh take on an otherwise familiar subject matter.

Iron Man 2

Directed by Jon Favreau
Two years ago, at this time, I wrote about “Iron Man” admitting that I was clueless about the comic book storyline going into the movie. This time around my knowledge-level is no greater, and I haven’t seen the first movie since. And I enjoyed the franchise again.

The basic appeal of the lead characters remains, with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) as the weapons mogul who has developed both a heart-replacement power plant and a mechanical suit that, together, grant him near-superpowers. Gwyneth Paltrow is back as loyal assistant Pepper Potts, but Terrence Howard has been replaced by Don Cheadle in the role of Stark’s military buddy “Rhodey” Rhodes. New to the series are Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, and Mickey Rourke – a powerful lineup of supporting actors.

This time around, despite his protestations to the contrary, Stark is faced with an opponent (Rourke) who has figured out how to harness the same type of power as Stark himself. However, the story is structured in such a way that we aren’t faced with interminable fights between exactly matched combatants. That said, and despite the fact that I enjoyed this aspect of the film more than with the original, the fight sequences are not without problems, not least an anti-climactic moment reminiscent of 1984’s “The Last Starfighter” (a movie that was otherwise noteworthy for predicting the recruiting potential of wargame-based video games, while still placing higher value on having one’s girlfriend around than on galactic peace and security). But it’s still in the fun, flippant and furious win column on balance.

Note: Stay until the end of the credits.

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