Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Feb 2, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    New York, I Love You (Blu-ray)


    Studio: Vivendi Entertainment

    Rated: R

    Film Length: 103 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

    HD Encoding: 1080p

    HD Codec: AVC

    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1

    Subtitles: English SDH

    MSRP: $27.99

    Disc Format: 1 25GB

    Package: Keepcase

    Theatrical Release Date: Oct. 16, 2009

    Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 2, 2010





    New York, I Love You is the second in the “cities of love” series of anthology films, and it was significantly less successful with both critics and audiences than the first entry, Paris, je t’aime. Unlike most films, where the director gets the blame when things go wrong, in this instance it’s producer Emmanuel Benbihy who’s at fault. He’s the one who, having assembled an intriguing collection of filmmakers to make a series of cinematic short stories, proceeded to assemble them in a clumsy and artless manner that damaged them all.




    The Feature:


    There are some terrific short films buried in New York, I Love You, and I’m going to explain how to separate them from the witless packaging in which they’re wrapped. Consider this discussion an “anti-spoiler”.


    Paris, je t’aime was a straightforward anthology. Each segment was set in a different district of Paris and was introduced by a title card announcing the district, the writer and the director. Whatever the length of the segment, it was a world unto itself, one microcosm in a city of millions, and the overall effect, regardless of which segments one preferred, was to convey a sense of the infinite variety of human experience concentrated in a small patch of geography.


    Apparently Benbihy decided that wasn’t the right approach for New York. First, he abandoned the notion of requiring filmmakers to choose a region, which results in large parts of the city being ignored (the “New York” that the film loves apparently doesn’t include The Bronx and Staten Island). But the real sin is that Benbihy tried to make the film look less like an anthology and more like an integrated story, which it clearly cannot be. To this end, he had lesser talents write “transitions” connecting the works of the various filmmakers, taking characters from different stories and having them cross each others’ paths in forced and artificial encounters that shatter the integrity of the individual tales.


    Let’s take an example. Allen Hughes (one half of the Hughes Brothers) directs a simple but moving vignette starring Drea de Matteo and Bradley Cooper as new lovers on their way to meet each other, each remembering the previous night they spent together. It’s a simple story, filled with nuance and promise and possibilities – and then it’s over, and the lovers vanish. It’s a perfect short film.


    Brett Ratner (yes, that Brett Ratner) directs a somewhat longer story starring Anton Yelchin as a high school senior taking the niece (Olivia Thirlby) of his neighbor and pharmacist (James Caan) to the prom on a blind date. It’s farcical and ridiculous and has several improbable twists, but Ratner actually brings it off. At the conclusion, you feel like you’ve been told a tall tale by someone who’s conned you out of a few drinks.


    These two short films would be fine entries in an anthology of New York stories, but apparently that wasn’t enough for producer Benbihy. He decided that the two should be “connected” somehow, and so later we get Drea de Matteo’s character popping up in James Caan’s drugstore, where they proceed to have a conversation for which the film provides no dramatic preparation or context. (Most of it’s in the trailer, which is online, if you’re curious.) It’s pointless shtick, and that’s how the film leaves those two characters, thoroughly wrecking everything that Hughes and Ratner worked so hard to achieve in the two very different stories they told earlier.


    Once you realize that the “transitions” in New York, I Love You are filler, you can push them aside and get to the real film. Mira Nair directs a lovely vignette set in the 47th Street diamond district in which a Jain dealer played by Irrfan Khan and a Hasidic broker played by Natalie Portman (Jains and Hasidic Jews being the two ethnic groups that dominate the diamond trade) negotiate a deal and exchange personal and even intimate insights about life. Portman returns as the writer-director of a simple tale that begins with a young man (Carlos Acosta) and a girl (Taylor Geare) walking in Central Park; as in the segment that Alfonso Cuarón directed for Paris, je t’aime, much of the story’s charm comes from the gradual revelation of their relationship.


    Fatih Akin directs a deceptively simple story of a sad-eyed painter (Ugur Yücel) who lives in Chinatown and, like Jean-Michel Basquiat in his early career, paints pictures using condiments from restaurants. One day, he asks a young woman (Shu Qi) who works in local shop to sit for a portrait, but she declines. It’s a decision she will later regret. Akin brings to this story the same deceptively calm surface, with oceans of feeling surging beneath, that is evident throughout his feature work.


    Yvan Attal directs a pair of short films, both of which were inspired by his Parisian frustrations at New York City’s restrictions on smoking. In each one, two smokers outside a restaurant strike up a conversation. One pair is played by Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q; the other by Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn. Attal can’t resist broad jokes; so each conversation ends with a punchline, but the trip there is worth it. If only producer Benbihy hadn’t insisted on creating a “transition” in which Cooper’s character and Maggie Q's encounter each other at the dry cleaner, for no apparent reason and to no artistic effect.


    Additional segments directed by Shekhar Kapur (of the Elizabeth films), Jiang Wen, Shunji Iwai and Joshua Marston (who wrote and directed Maria Full of Grace) are less successful, but maybe I would have liked them better in a true anthology format. Whatever you do, skip past anything involving “Zoe the video artist”. She’s part of the transitional filler, and any segment in which she appears brings the film to a dead halt.






    A film shot by multiple directors and cinematographers can be hard to evaluate, because the look changes throughout. However, New York, I Love You was shot on high definition video, and the format seems to have imposed some consistency among the various sections, no doubt enhanced by digital manipulation. (If a producer is willing to fiddle with the characters and the narrative, do you really expect him to stop there?) The presentation on this Blu-ray has strong colors, good details and solid black levels. The intended look was clearly not naturalistic, because colors are generally highly saturated (except in Shekhar Kapur’s section, where everything has been deliberately washed out). I suspect this approach represents someone’s idea of giving New York a fantasy “sheen”, but it’s been done much better before. Although I did not see the film theatrically, I have no reason to believe this isn’t an accurate presentation, and in that sense the Blu-ray can’t be faulted.






    The DTS lossless track is serviceable and solid. It conveys the dialogue clearly, as well as occasional ambient noise and the score by a diverse collection of composers.




    Special Features:


    Bonus Segments. Two segments omitted from the finished film are included as extras. Both are in standard definition, enhanced for 16:9.


    These Vagabond Shoes (11:43): Written and directed by Scarlett Johannson, this segment stars Kevin Bacon as a man who takes a trip to Coney Island. Aside from the fact that the film already contains a Coney Island sequence (did Benbihy forget to tell his directors who was shooting where?), this segment has the feeling of a film school project, and not a very good one.


    Apocrypha (13:31): Written and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return), this is the real gem of the special features. In it, a young man playing with a video camera inadvertently films a couple (Carla Gugino and Goran Visnjic) apparently breaking up – or perhaps it’s something else. With its sense of lives glimpsed from a distance and stories seen only in fragments, Apocrypha is a wonderful urban tale, told with relatively few words but with great feeling.


    Director Interviews (SD; various ARs) (16:26). Five of the directors give brief interviews about their experiences: Brett Ratner, Yvan Attal, Josh Marston, Mira Nair and Shunji Iwai. The last is the most notable, because, rather than give a traditional interview, he provides a mini-animation that incorporates his storyboards as well as new artwork. It’s a whole additional short film about the perils of directing in a language you don’t speak well, and it’s delightful.

    Trailers. The film’s trailer is included as a separate extra. At startup the disc plays the trailer for Big Fan, which can be skipped with the chapter forward button.





    In Conclusion:


    At the end of the credits to New York, I Love You, we’re told that Shanghai is the next city to be anthologized. We can only hope that producer Benbihy will have learned from the lukewarm reception given this entry in the series and that, next time around, he’ll get out of his filmmakers’ way and let them make the movie.





    Equipment used for this review:


    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)

    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)

    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough

    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier

    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears

    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center

    SVS SB12-Plus sub

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