THE SECRET OF KELLS (Dirs. Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey, 2009)
It was a bit of a surprise that this was nominated by the Academy for Best Animated Feature Film of last year, because in the current computerized cartoon climate it looks distinctly out of place with its old school hand drawn design.
THE SECRET OF KELLS concerns a curious kid (voiced by Evan McGuire) in the 9th century living in the Monastery of Kells. His stern uncle, Abbott Callach (Brenden Gleason) fearing Viking attack, forbids him to leave the protective walls enclosing them and venture into the mystic forest.
Of course, that's where he's gonna go - especially now inspired by the elderly Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) who requires the boy's help to finish his mighty magical book. Our intrepid lad journeys into the glowing lush forest to gather berries for ink and meets a playful yet spooky fairy - Aisling (voice of Christen Moony). She guides and aids the boy also adding some cryptic warnings. Moony breathes considerable life into the piece, that is until she starts to sing (thankfully there's just one song).
The pace is tight as it winds through its earnest storytelling, but unfortunately the flat look of its animation, and the fact that its chosen style makes it look like The Powerpuff Girls gone green, detract greatly from the earnest sincerity and its otherwise stable sense of wonder.
Its admirable nobility is what got it Oscar nominated, but its lack of tension and grip to its tale, elements that the winner UP had in spades, left it deservedly on the sidelines. At least since it has no thematic intensity, it's one you don't have to fear about taking the kids to, unless you fear that they'll fall asleep.
Don't consider this a complete pan though. THE SECRET OF KELLS does contain a lot of pretty imagery and the story is fairly solid, I just wish it had more oomph.
Speaking of needing more oomph:
CITY ISLAND (Dir. Raymond De Felitta, 2010)
Nearly every member of the Rizzo family, a working class Bronx family, has a secret.
Father and correctional officer (he hates being called a prison guard) Andy Garcia is taking acting classes which he doesn't tell his wife (Julianna Margulies) about, causing her to believe he's having an affair. Their daughter (Dominik Garcia-Lorido) is working as a stripper at a sleazy club because she got kicked out of her first year of college.
Their wise-cracking son (Ezra Miller) has a fetish for overweight women and is eyeing their next door neighbor (Carrie Baker Reynolds) who just happens to have a website catering to people who, uh, have fetishes for overweight women. Also add to the mix Steven Strait, Andy Garcia's long-lost-just-out-of-prison son, who, of course, Garcia hasn't told anybody about - not even Strait knows he's Garcia's son.
Garcia brings him into their home and then we fret as his wife and daughter are attracted to him - something that could have been avoided if he just told them the situation. This movie is something that could be avoided in one swift family meeting. As it goes each scene is a joke on the scene before it and not a very well timed or funny joke.
The addition of Alan Arkin as a crusty acting teacher (at least he's not a quipping grandparent who dies in the last third) just confirms the contrived and quirky nature of this tired material.
At one point, Garcia gets an audition for a Martin Scorsese film (don't worry - Scorsese wisely doesn't appear). Only his acting partner Emily Mortimer, who yes, he didn't tell his family about, knows this and encourages him. These scenes are sort of sweet as Garcia has a believability about him and Mortimer makes the most of an underwritten (and unnecessary) role.
If the sitcom sensibility and overreaching comic tone could have been dropped and the characters were given room to be people and not sketch premise devices, CITY ISLAND could've really been something other than just a watchable throwaway.