New York, I Love You

23 11 2009

Director: Various

Starring: Miscellaneous

Released: Oct. 16, 2009

New York, I Love You begins with a lot of promise – Justin Bartha and Bradley Cooper, two New Yorkers who don’t know each other, accidentally get into the same cab. If this sounds like the set up to a joke, it kind of is, though unintentionally.

Two of the stars of one of 2009’s comedy behemoths – The Hangover – decide to share the cab, but can’t agree which way the cabbie should take to get where they both need to go. Their banter of ‘who knows best’ is interrupted when the cabbie chimes in with his own suggestion. Which promptly unites the two New Yorkers against him until he kicks them out of his cab.

And just like that, the audience is jarred from their ideas that this movie will be filled with this same sort of playful look at what makes the Big Apple tick in terms of love and relationships – if they had any to begin with (let’s face it, playful and NYC aren’t entirely synonymous in a post 9/11 world).

While collaborative movies are always admirable for their effort, they normally run into one common problem: as the movie gets lengthier and more vignette’s are added, each director’s vision is stunted.

New York, I Love You is a collaboration effort in homage to the 2006 film Paris Je T’Aime It follows the same format of short stories from different directors that add tot he common unity of the movie. Because of this you get a lot of big name actors packed into an hour and 43 minutes of film – aside from Bartha and Cooper, there’s Ethan Hawke, Robin Wright, Hayden Christiansen, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Anton Yelchin, Julie Christie, Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach , among others.

The second vignette is just as promising as the first. Hayden Christiansen, Rachel Bilson and Andy Garcia explore the different roles each person falls into in their life in a minimalistic way. Is Christiansen’s Ben a thief or a lost soul? Is Bilson’s wide-eyed Molly an innocent college student or aware of more than she lets on? And is Garcia’s Garry truly a debonair business man or a thief who’s primary sleight of hand skills allowed him to move up the corporate ladder? The sleight of hand is truly the star of this scene, though, as the viewer tries to figure out just who is ending up with who’s wallet, phone, watch, ring, and other personal belongings.

From there, however the movie wanders far away from the comical, with the exception of Anton Yelchin’s delightful high school prom romp with the “disabled” daughter of his pharmacist (Olivia Thirlby and James Caan, respectively), and delves into the much more complex emotions wrapped up in the hook-ups, make-ups and break-ups that surround the love lives of twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings in New York.

That’s not to say high school doesn’t have it’s own drama in the love department, but you’d be hard pressed to find a high schooler spewing the vulgar lines which Ethan Hawke spouts off to Maggie Q before she turns the tables in a delectable twist.

Love, lust and loss are all very apparent in the film, and while some of the vignettes seem to be toss-offs, others, like the Shekhar Kapur’s masterpiece of 8-minutes makes you wish he had more time.

In Kapur’s short, Shia LaBeouf plays a hobbling, Russian bellhop with more enthusiasm and humbleness than we’ve seen from him since he starred in Holes. He’s opposite Julie Christie, an aging opera singer who has just checked into a small hotel she always stays at in New York. The silence of this piece is astounding as it is juxtaposed with busy scenes where we get inside character’s heads and the streets of New York. Instead, life moves at a different pace in this hotel. The color, a stark white which contrasts with the predominant night scenes is an excellent touch. Life slows down, but the pace of the movie does not crawl. Instead, the viewer is exposed to one of the most real interactions in the entire movie, until the inevitable twist, which leaves many still scratching their heads after the movie ends.

Honorable mentions must go to Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn for the provocativeness of their scenes. In a city full of deception and mere white lies, it’s easy to get caught up in Penn’s dirty talk and even easier to understand how Cooper responds. Their shared secret, however, lends and intimacy to the scene which is only realized once it’s over.

Orlando Bloom’s turn as a struggling composer is also beautifully done as his relationship is revealed through phone conversations with Christina Ricci. Their interaction is so chaste that you can’t help but root for them by the end of their short time together.

And Bradley Cooper, in his second turn in the film, provides a glimpse into the psyche of the young adult living and loving in the city as he agonizes over the decision to meet a woman for drinks after what was supposed to be a one-night stand. Drea De Matteo provides the same treatment for the situation from a woman’s point of view in elegant fashion.

The crowd favorite, however, comes at the very end as Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach take on the roles of two stubborn and curmudgeon-y individuals who are still very much in love.

While each story has it’s strong points, and some have their inequities when compared to the greats, this movie does little to add points to New York. While filming took place all over the city, there is little that maintains that these situations are not happening to people in any city in the United States.

The movie also lacks a comfortable flow. While some stories slow the pace down, it more often than not seems as though time is flying by for these characters and they aren’t connected by anything more than a zip code, no matter how many times other characters appear in the periphery of vignettes that aren’t there own. Which, in itself, is one of the major reasons the movie doesn’t work as a whole.

With the exception of Cooper, Bartha and Hawke, who each take two adequate and unrelated turns front of the camera, it would have been better had each vignette stuck to it’s own characters. While it is understandable that people in New York could be passing each other every day or frequenting the same bars and restaurants as one other person, the walk-on roles of secondary characters who appear in their own leading vignettes is distracting. You start watching for who will pop up in the background instead of the leading ladies and men and it takes away from the overall theme of the movie.

As short, non-interrelated stories New York, I Love You works well on a story standpoint even as it fails to live up to the lofty goal of showcasing New York. But when the directors try to intermingle their characters the entire vision falls apart.

Verdict: A mixture of good and bad. More mediocre than anything with a few bright and brilliant spots. Overall: B-

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This Is It

11 11 2009

Editor’s Note: This review has a bit more personality in it. With the way Michael Jackson seemed to touch the lives of everyone around him, including those he had never met, in ways large or small, it was impossible not to discuss the documentary of his last work without some sort of emotion.

Director: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Michael Jackson

Released: Oct. 28, 2009

I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan when he was alive. I appreciated his music and enjoyed his music videos. But I only understood the far reaching effects that his music, style and artistry had on others to an extent.

It took his untimely passing and the  entertainers who paid him tribute earlier this summer for me to realize what a musical genius he truly was.

When I first heard that Kenny Ortega (Dirty Dancing, High School Musical) was planning to edit and release This Is It as a further tribute to Jackson with the blessing of his estate I was skeptical. How good could the footage be? Surely, this was just another way for the Jackson’s to make money – I was definitely not going to be one of those people standing in line for tickets, nor would I be attending any midnight showings.

Then, the movie came out and people who had already seen it were calling radio stations telling everyone that it was excellent. Newspapers and magazines started to give it decent reviews. I started to rethink my scoffing at the idea, and then I read Owen Gleiberman’s review in Entertainment Weekly(read it here) and my opinion completely changed. The movie became a must-see event for me, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to in the original two-week release time-frame, so I was grateful when they announced it would be around through Thanksgiving.

My worries were unfounded though, as I was able to see the movie last night.

The first few scenes of the movie are of his dancers. They’re all speaking directly to the camera and they all express how excited, happy and grateful they are that they’ve been chosen for the concert (I hesitate to call it a tour. Even though it has 50 dates, they’re all in the same venue). Yet, they’re all crying. I’m still questioning whether these were filmed before or after Jackson’s death. However, the scene provides personalities to the dancers. Instead of just nameless people behind Jackson, we get to know a bit about them and their background, something Jackson and This Is It does with most of the surrounding members of the concert’s entourage.

Then, the man takes the stage. It’s obvious from the start of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” that this is a rehearsal and Jackson will treat it as such. He drops lyrics to focus on choreography, he drops choreography to point out something he wants done differently, and he makes it very clear that it is his show and he wants things done his way.

There are glimpses of Jackson as a rugged taskmaster who wants things absolutely perfect for his fans so he doesn’t hesitate to say when something needs to change or when something feels amazingly right. While it breaks the flow of the concert-vibe that is set up with songs running into each other, it provides a glimpse into who Jackson truly is – a musical genius. It’s amazing that he remembers each and every one of his songs down to the pitch, the tone, the timing and the riffs.

All the major showstoppers are there – Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, The Way You Make Me Feel – there’s even a Jackson 5 medley (which, was strangely reminiscent of *NSYNC’s Jackson 5 medley from their 1999 “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” tour).

However, most of the songs show Jackson in rehearsal mode. He doesn’t go all-out until Billie Jean, which makes that hit a highlight of an otherwise sparse performance. Jackson jokes at the end of  his rehearsal of the song “I Just can’t Stop Loving You” that he’s not supposed to sing like he is in rehearsal to save his throat, but the combined swell of music and enthusiasm of his dancers cheering him on from the floor of the arena bring out the performer that we all know and love.

Among other highlights are:

Thriller, which has a completed video vignette which was to be played behind Jackson and his dancers during the concert. It’s the only song where his dancers are dressed in their costumes for the performance, which adds to the mystique of the song and hints at the masterpiece the song would have been had it been a real performance.

And

Smooth Criminal, another vignette performance which had been shot prior to Jackson’s passing. It was an update feel of the original video and Jackson fell into step with his dancers on stage with precision. If the vocals weren’t quite there on this one, Jackson’s footwork more than made up for it.

It’s apparent throughout the film that Jackson was a perfectionist, and – as we know since the results of his autopsy – in apparent good health. He seems a bit skeletal at times, but that could be due to the strange jacket choices he made when choosing his wardrobe for the day. The major factor of this health, though, is when Jackson dances, followed by singing. His voice remains strong through the duration of notes, and he can catch his breath after dance breaks to belt out falsetto notes – something that not a lot of musicians can do.

It’s also apparent just how much Jackson’s music and style affected all the music that came after him. The choreography rehearsals were reminiscent of a old Backstreet Boys or NSYNC concert, his solo dances seemed as though Justin Timberlake had stepped on stage and his beats could have come straight from Jay-Z’s new album.

This Is It’s only problem is the one that it couldn’t avoid. The fact that it’s star fell too soon. One can only imagine what the show would have looked like with full costumes or if Jackson sang full and straight through the songs. It can give you chills to imagine as you watch some of the performances, and that’s when you realize…Jackson truly was the King of Pop. And he was taken from this world far too soon.