CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Blu-Ray Review: ‘New York, I Love You’ Celebrates Cinema, Forgets City
CHICAGO – For film lovers unable to attend international film festivals, “Paris, je t’aime” provided an irresistible glimpse at world cinema. Eighteen celebrated filmmakers were each recruited to make a short subject set in the City of Love, thus allowing audiences to view the same town from different cultural perspectives. Some shorts worked better than others, but the resounding majority of them were utterly captivating.
It’s great to see this cinematic experiment continue with “New York, I Love You,” despite the fact that it isn’t anywhere near as artistically stimulating or dramatically satisfying as its predecessor. There’s only ten filmmakers this time, excluding Randy Balsmeyer, who handles the transitions. While “Paris” included Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron and the Coen brothers, “New York” offers directors like Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth”), Allen Hughes (“The Book of Eli”) and Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”), whose very name inspires derisive laughter amongst film purists.
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.0/5.0
Though the overall film earns points for avoiding stereotypical NYC locations (there are no visits to the Empire State Building), or obvious directorial choices like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen (who already contributed to the underwhelming “New York Stories”), this compilation often fails to make much of an impression. Most of the stories simply aren’t memorable, and many of the relationships are so one-note or inexplicable that they might as well be scrapped subplots from “Love Actually.” There are some filmmakers who seem unsure of how to convey coherent themes and tones within a tight running time, from the overly slick style of Jiang Wen (“Devils on the Doorstep”) to the forced whimsy of Shunji Iwai (“All About Lily Chou-Chou”). Faith Akin (“The Edge of Heaven”) attempts to break hearts with a tale of artistic obsession that merely leaves the viewer cold and slightly unsettled.
Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia and Hayden Christensen star in the first of eleven short films featured in New York, I Love You.
Photo credit: Palm Pictures Home Entertainment
The best shorts are often the simplest. Hughes captures the rush of erotic tension between two lovers (Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo) startled by the intensity of their chance encounter. Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace”) has great fun directing two screen legends (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman) in the tale of an elderly couple bickering through their 63rd anniversary. The two segments from Yvan Attal (“My Wife is an Actress”) are among the film’s most absorbing because they draw their power from the actors’ performances rather than flashy camera angles. The first plays like a dark send-up of “Before Sunrise,” centering on Ethan Hawke’s desperate flirtations with an uninterested Maggie Q. Mira Nair is the only filmmaker who actually attempts to highlight an interesting part of the city, focusing on the Diamond District and the two orthodox communities that reside there. Natalie Portman performs double duty, acting in Nair’s film, and directing her own short, which has lyrical visuals to compensate for its dramatic obviousness.
New York, I Love You was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 2nd, 2010.
Photo credit: Palm Pictures Home Entertainment
The most perplexing short comes from Kapur, taking the directorial reigns from the late Anthony Minghella. Its aggressive abstractness is especially jarring since it’s placed just one segment after Ratner’s snarky teen sex comedy, which is admittedly better than one would expect (thanks to a game cast). None of these segments really gel together, resulting in a picture that is thoroughly uneven, and not always in a charming way. Once concept author Emmanuel Benbihy gets around to making further compilation films, hopefully his fellow producers will push for the same exhilarating craft, audacity and striking artistic vision that caused me “tomber amoureux” with “Paris, je t’aime.”
“New York, I Love You” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio), and includes two segments deleted from the theatrical cut. “These Vagabond Shoes” is the curious directorial debut of Scarlett Johansson, which may be the purest love letter to New York City featured on this disc. It’s about a man (Kevin Bacon) who takes a lonely trip to Coney Island just so he can sit by the water and enjoy a hot dog. It’s a lovely little vignette, beautifully lensed in sepia tones, and featuring Bacon at his most masterfully subtle. The other segment is an equally tender mood piece, “Apocrypha,” directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (“The Banishment”). It centers on a boy (Nicholas Purcell) who inadvertently captures the break-up of a couple (Carla Gugino and Goran Visnjic) on his camcorder. Both of these shorts are refreshingly devoid of the convoluted plotting that marred so much of the film. The disc also includes brief interviews with five of the filmmakers: Ratner, Attal, Marston, Nair and Iwai (whose delightful animated interview is far superior to his actual short).