Friday, October 16, 2009

Movie Review: New York, I Love You

New York, I Love You ***
Directed by:
Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Scarlett Johansson, Joshua Marston, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner, Andrei Zvyagintsev, Fatih Akin, Randall Balsmeyer, Shekhar Kapur, Mira Nair.
Written By: Emmanuel Benbihy, Hall Powell, Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Alexandra Cassavetes, Hu Hong, Shunji Iwai, Olivier Lécot, Joshua Marston, Suketu Mehta, Yao Meng, Anthony Minghella, Jeff Nathanson, Natalie Portman, Stephen Winter, Andrei Zvyagintsev.
Starring: Carlos Acosta (Dante), Eva Amurri (Sarah), Kevin Bacon (Tom), Justin Bartha (New Yorker), Rachel Bilson (Molly), Orlando Bloom (David), James Caan (Mr. Riccoli), Richard Chang (Mr. Su), Hayden Christensen (Johnny), Julie Christie (Isabelle), Bradley Cooper (Gus), Chris Cooper (Alex), Cesar De León (Dominican), Drea de Matteo (Lydia), Andy Garcia (Professor), Taylor Geare (Teya), Carla Gugino (Woman on the bench), Ethan Hawke (Smoking Man), Juri Henley-Cohn (Ali), John Hurt (Waiter), Andy Karl (Evan), Irfan Khan (Mansuhkhbai), Shia LaBeouf (Jacob), Cloris Leachman (Mitzie), Blake Lively (Girlfriend), Emilie Ohana (Zoe), Natalie Portman (Rifka), Christina Ricci (Camille), Robert d Scott (Du-Rag), Qi Shu (Chinese woman), Maggie Q, (Smoking Woman), Gurdeep Singh (Badal), Olivia Thirlby (Wheelchair Girl), Goran Visnjic (Man on the bench), Eli Wallach (Abe), Saul Williams (Rap artist), Robin Wright Penn (Anna), Anton Yelchin (Guy at Prom), Burt Young (Landlord), Ugur Yücel (Painter).

The so called “omnibus” movies have always seemed better on paper then they end up being in practice. The idea of getting together a group of great directors and stars and making a series of short films about some loosely connected subject matter always seems like a can’t miss proposition. But the reality is that most of these movies are rather forgettable.

In 2007, Paris Je T’Aime proved to one of the rare exceptions to the rule. Set in Paris, the film was a series of shorts by directors such as the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne and Wes Craven among others. Bolstered by their success, the producers behind the film decided to do the same thing for New York. The results, while not quite as strong as Paris Je T’Aime (no doubt because the directors involved are not quite as good), overall, it is an enjoyable movie.

As it almost mandatory in reviews of these movies, it becomes necessary to tell the reader which films work and which ones do not. The single best segment in the movie belongs to Yvan Attal, in which Ethan Hawke tries hard to seduce Maggie Q. on the sidewalk. The film is a quirky, funny little gem that has more laughs than many feature length films. I also quite admired Scarlet Johansson’s segment, shot in gorgeous black and white, about a lonely man (Kevin Bacon) who takes the subway out to Staten Island. The segments by Brent Ratner, with Anton Yelchin taking a wheelchair bound Olivia Thirlby to the prom, Wen Jiang with Hayden Christenson as a pickpocket trying to pick up Rachel Bilson away from Andy Garcia, Joshua Marton with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as a bickering old couple, Shunji Iwai about Orlando Bloom as a film composer becoming inspired by the voice of Christina Ricci on the phone and Randall Ballsmeyer with Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn as two people who meet on the street are all enjoyable, but not groundbreaking.

I was less impress by the segments by Allen Hughes with Drea De Matteo and Bradley Cooper mindlessly talking in voiceover about a potential meeting, Faith Akin, about a painter who gets inspired by a beautiful girl in a Chinese grocery store, and Mira Nair, but mainly because in her segment she has the great Irfan Khan and Natalie Portman, and doesn’t give them anything interesting to say to each other or do.

Like Johansson, Portman also contributes a segment as director, but unlike Johansson she shows no real aptitude towards filmmaking, making a pretentious, muddled mess of a film about a young father with his child. But it’s nothing compared by Andrei Zvyagintsev’s segment, which is even more pretentious, and takes place almost entirely through the lens of a camcorder of a teenager spying on a crying couple that he cannot hear. But sadly, Shekhar Kapur’s segment, which he took over from the late Anthony Minghella’s, is by far the worst, with Julie Christie as an aged singing star staying at a hotel where a limping Shia LaBeouf is the porter, and a possible Jesus figure. It just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Overall, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It doesn’t really mean anything, and doesn’t reach a level of true greatness, but overall, it is fun way to spend a couple of hours. The good thing about these movies is that when you don’t like one segment, it doesn’t last more than 10 minutes.

Note: This review was written based on a screening at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. The theatrical version has eliminated two of the segments – those directed by Scarlett Johansson and Andrei Zvyagintsev. I notice that they eliminated the two segments with the least amount of dialogue in them. As you can see from my review, I really disliked the Zvygintsev segment, so I think the movie will actually be improved without that one, but it’s a real shame that Johansson is eliminated because it was one of my favorites – with gorgeous black and white cinematography, a real command of cinema language, and a touching, wordless performance by Kevin Bacon. Apparently, these will show up on the DVD version.

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