Thursday, 1 April 2010

BRADFORD FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW SPECIAL: New York I Love You



I went back on my Facebook the other day to check when I first got word of New York I Love You and ensuing excitement began - it was January 17 2008! Over two years ago! Yes this is how long I've been waiting for this film. Having a starry cast doesn't automatically mean a huge launch (unlike the recently dire Valentine's Day) - it has an unconventional style and did a circuit around the festivals before getting a limited release in the US. Only now it's beginning to get some festival screen time in the UK (Glasgow and now Bradford), so it's a tricky little bugger to get hold of! Not unlike its predecessor actually, where I had to hop on an even longer train to Sheffield to find it. This film is a response (sequel, follow on, re-interpretation, call it what you will) to that film - Paris Je T'aime; an anthology of love stories set in and around Paris. This one follows the same format but with the focus on New York City, and by its best intentions falls short of the former (which I regard as untouchable anyway).

In a slightly different review I'm going to post my thoughts on each segment. NY is slightly different to Paris as there are less stories, they are longer, and characters often return or intertwine with characters from other shorts, usually in a transitional phase. I liked this - it gave the feeling of New York being smaller than it really is, and the moments were very natural as well, with repeated interactions involving jumping in the same yellow cab or asking someone for a cigarette light. They didn't always work, but you can't argue with the classy execution. So onto the stories (I've given each one my own personal basic name to make it easier):

Thief
Dir Jiang Wen (In The Heat Of The Sun, Devils on the Doorstep)
Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia, Rachel Bilson
This was a bit of an odd one to begin with - whilst I'm sure it was aiming for the comic touch with two men covertly thieving from one another and both being attracted to the same girl, it felt a bit surreal and detached from reality. I don't really mind this - if we're comparing it to Paris that certainly had its fair share of oddities! - but this one felt very artificial - it almost had a noir feel to it, the way the characters slipped around one another, speaking in duplicitous tongues and Rachel Bilson and her numerous personas. Not sure what it was trying to say about New York!

Jeweller
Dir Mira Nair (Vanity Fair, Amelia)
Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan
I really liked Natalie in this, even though the story was probably one of the weakest of the lot. It was really nice to see her tapping into her Jewish roots and speaking Yiddish! I also loved that her character was made to shave her head! - ha, I bet she put her foot down and said "I'm not doing that for real again!" But the story itself was unmemorable - the idea to portray a Hasidic Jew in New York City was interesting, but wasn't explored in a satisfying way. 

Composer
Dir Shunji Iwai (Love Letter, Swallowtail)
Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci
A new director discovery! I loved this one, even though it's Orlando Bloom and he tends to drag things down. But he wasn't too bad here, and the reveal with Christina Ricci (because it's not obvious on the phone who Camille is) was great: her face slowly appearing behind the book was so cute! I thought the relationship between the two was presented in a really engaging way, which is hard for a short, and you're kept interested and charmed all the way through. I'm definitely going to be looking up Iwai's back catalogue - because if the rest of his work is in a similar vein it's right up my street!

Hooker
Dir Yvan Attal (My Wife is an Actress, Happily Ever After)
Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q
I love myself a bit of Ethan Hawke and I thought he was brilliant here. His attempts at smooth talking a woman using literary cliches in such a crass way was both hilarious and likeable, and - again - I loved the reveal at the end and the look on his face! He pops up a couple of times in the film (as does Maggie G) and he's fun yet heavy on the pathetic at the same time. Good short.

Prom Date
Dir Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 1,2,3; X-Men: The Last Stand)
Olivia Thirlby, James Caan, Anton Yelchin, Blake Lively
My favourite one! Just found the whole short very cheeky, very fun, and kitsch. In fact I wasn't sure I liked the kitsch too much to begin with, as the voiceover really pulls you out from the flow of the film and rams home the fact this is directed and envisioned by 11 different people. I think a lot of people expected this short to be the one with all the action and perhaps some blown up cars, but it was very different for Ratner. What turns out to be a little awkward, a little black comedy (the dancing scene!) then becomes something very different altogether! Anton Yelchin did distract me a lot as I kept trying to think what else I'd seen him in and then realised he just looks a lot like Jamie Bell. Didn't distract me as much as Olivia Thirlby though, who is just lovvvvvely. Oh and nice to see Blake Lively as well, even though it's no more than a cameo appearance.

One Night Stand
Dir Allen Hughes (From Hell, The Book of Eli as part of the Hughes Brothers)
Bradley Cooper, Drea de Matteo
The sexy segment! This was a nice little short which was played out using the character's anxious inner monologues going over whether they should meet up with their one night stand or not amid flashbacks of their night together. There was a lovely ANGSTY moment where the man goes to leave in a cab, stops, tries again, hesitates, and then the girl appears behind him expelling his fears she isn't going to show up (see picture). I do love my angst!

Violets
Dir Shekhar Kapur (Masoom, Elizabeth & Elizabeth: The Golden Age)
Shia Le Beouf, Julie Christie, John Hurt
The WTF one! Compared to the feel of the rest of the film, this one was top heavy art house and made absolutely no sense at all. It was written by Anthony Minghella so - sadly - difficult to get a true interpretation, but it is beautifully shot by Kapur and strangely evocative in its mystery. It's a case of working out what is real, what is memory, and what is fantasy. It does break up the flow of the film a little bit - think Elijah Wood and the Vampires in Paris - but the performances are strong and it needs a couple of viewings to get an understanding.

Little Girl
Dir Natalie Portman (er, SHE'S NATALIE!)
Jacinda Barrett, Carlos Acosta, Taylor Geare
I enjoyed this a lot more than her acting segment. There were some really cute moments (such as when the little girl lost her bracelet in the fountain) and a few playful touches over whether the man is her dad or her 'manny'. It was a pleasant enough story and gives Natalie a chance to exercise her skills before she takes on a bigger production but it lacks a bit of punch. Apparently her other short "Eve" (Olivia Thirlby!) is brilliant, and I really hope we get to see that one day.

Painter
Dir Fatih Akin (The Edge of Heaven, Head-On)
Ugur Yucel, Shu Qi, Burt Young
This was one of my favourite segments too - there was something quite beautiful about a lonely and suppressed Chinese girl finding joy through an old painter who does recognise her beauty and wants to draw her. It's not made clear, but I perceived that he was in love with her as well, and to be thought of in that way and to realise she had an impact on someone else really brings her to life. Even after his death he has set her free. (the nail bit was horrid though!)

Roleplay
Dir Yvan Attal (My Wife is an Actress, Happily Ever After)
Chris Cooper, Robin Wright Penn
This was another clever little tale. In fact quite a lot of the stories were reliant to a key reveal towards the end - I guess it's just the dynamic of the short film. I thought the actors were terrific here - thoroughly convincing for the most part as two strangers flirting with one another, and I thought the reveal at the end was going to be one of the other characters we had met in a previous short, so it was very clever when it turned out they were married. And their personalities completely changed then to a loved up couple who had just enjoyed interacting in a special, intimate way. Attal is also the only director to get two shorts in NY, and based on the quality of both you can't argue.

Elderly Couple
Dir Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace, various shorts and TV)
Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachman
A nice sentimental story to finish on which is very reminiscent of the final film from Paris about the tourist. It's impossible not to adore the couple as they bicker and totter about the city to get to their 'special spot' for their anniversary. Yes I was in tears when they held hands! Nice bit of humour with the skateboards, too. Lovely way to finish.

Transition
Dir Randy Balsmeyer
Justin Bartha, Eva Amurri, Emilie Ohana
I liked the scenes with Ohana as the video artist who pops up during various shorts and captures moments from the characters lives on her camcorder - the most memorable one being when she gets up to go to the toilet in the cafe, and as Ethan Hawke gets up to go he writes "goodbye" in his notebook, puts it up in front of the camera, and then leaves. The other tiny scene involving Bartha and Amurri wasn't hugely necessary, and I'm not completely sure why it was included. It wasted about a minute. Bartha appears in another short at the beginning, and it would have been nice if the two of them had popped up occasionally elsewhere as a neighbour or a friend of another character, just to establish them in our minds so we can care more when he whisks her off to Rome.

This film didn't have the starry quality of directors as Paris did, but it's nice that other lesser well known talents got a chance to show their worth. Disappointed Scarlett Johansson had her effort cut from the film as I was really looking forward to seeing it. Apparently it will appear in the DVD bonus features, but it got such scathing comments from critics! From what I can gather it was just Kevin Bacon taking a stroll through the city reacting to events around him. Doesn't sound particularly thrilling, but if that's the part of New York she wanted to convey then what's wrong with that? In fact the naturalistic approach may have worked. What I found dissatisfying about New York I Love You was the surprising lack of New York culture. A lot of the stories could have anywhere at any time among any people and it didn't feel as authentic as Paris Je T'aime which had stories set in landmark areas such as Pere Lachaise and the Eifel Tower. Here, there didn't seem to be anything to distinguish a story set in Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan; nothing about the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty; no stories set in Central Park, or at Grand Central Station, or Times Square. Nothing even referencing 9/11 which I was very surprised about. Perhaps it would have made it all too gauche, but in the vein of Paris and the actual film title - loving your city - the whole collation seemed rather remote.

Still, New York I Love You isn't a bad film and is certainly a lot better than I had been expecting. It's enjoyable to watch, and as with all anthology films, if you don't like a segment then you just wait for it to finish and start afresh with the next one. It can't match the success of Paris Je T'aime however and if you haven't seen it already you absolutely must go and buy it right away. You won't regret it! Shanghai I Love You is next in the pipeline - let's see where the vision goes next!



1 comment:

  1. I'd really love to see New York I love you. I have Paris Je'taime on DVD and it's just beautiful. It takes me back to Paris every time I watch it.

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