"New York Stories" (1989) Movie, DVD Review

12/04/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie, DVD Review

"New York Stories"

Directed by Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese, written by Allen, Ford Coppola, Sophia Coppola, and Richard Price, 124 Minutes. 

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"New York Stories" is, as the title suggests, an anthology of three films taking place in New York City, each by master directors Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Each are related only in their setting, though obviously the three directors' intimate relationship with the city gives them a strong connection as well.

Though the three films tell an individual story, one thing is made very clear by the anthology as a whole--Francis Ford Coppola was at a very rough time in his career. Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, probably the two filmmakers that can most easily be called equals in Coppola's generation, bring their all to the proceedings, and their two wonderful entries leave Coppola's nepotism-fueled disaster in the dust, hurting the overall quality of "New York Stories" in the process. But let's forget that for a second and explore the films individually.

Martin Scorsese's entry, titled "Life Lessons," is a small character-driven drama about a painter (played with intense verve by Nick Nolte) who is struggling to finish his work for an exhibit while also dealing with the detachment he's feeling from his lover and muse Paullette (Patricia Arquette). The film absolutely lives and breathes the '80s, both with its two lead actors (definite late-'80s staples), and with how Scorsese views the city. This was his final film before changing pace with his '90s gangster films, and it's very typical of stuff like "After Hours" or "The King of Comedy," where Scorsese treats the city as its very own character.

Also like Scorsese's other '80s work, it's focused predominately on character. Where his more recent work is undoubtedly brilliant, there's an element of personality lost with the lack of focus on psychology and characterization he used so effectively in his first couple decades. The exploration of an artist and how he relates to his inspirations are something entirely new for Scorsese, though, and he conveys them with ease. The camerawork is generally very minimal, with his now-familiar stylizations hardly anywhere to be seen.

Francis Ford Coppola follows "Life Lessons" with his inept and borderline insulting modern fairy tale "Life Without Zoe," co-written by his daughter Sofia (who, thankfully, has gone on to much better work). The film follows a 12-year-old heiress named Zoe, whose parents are often traveling for work, so she lives in their expensive hotel room and hangs out with the butler and her other wealthy friends. I've never seen such a blatant glorification of excess in my life, and to think--it's coming from the same man who made "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now."

Plot aside (and that really is about all there is to the plot, I kid you not), even the direction and acting is startlingly bad (though I guess the latter isn't too startling since the cast is made up alost exclusively of 10 to 12-year-old children). The film attempts to have this gorgeous and dreamy atmosphere, but it results in an aesthetic more artificial than beautiful. And the dialogue, which would come off as formalized if coming from better actors, just sounds forced and generally silly here. The film is a massive disappointment, clearly just Coppola's cringe-worthy indulgence of his daughter's undeveloped attempts at filmmaking, and it completely destroys the mood set by Scorsese's wonderful opener.

Thankfully, Woody Allen comes to save the day and rounds out the anthology with "Oedipus Wrecks," an original and charming little fantasy-comedy about a lawyer (played wonderfully by Allen) who is constantly troubled by his overbearing mother. When she mysteriously disappears one day, he gets a new lease on life--until she somehow appears in the sky and starts telling the entire city about him and his insecurities, completely ruining his relationship with his fiancee.

The material works perfectly for a short film, and Allen takes it just as far as necessary. Mae Questel is excellent as Allen's mother and his regular '80s leading lady Mia Farrow gives a wonderful supporting performance as his fiancee. It's a simple but utterly effective little comedy and it ends the anthology on a great note.

S, what does this little-seen anthology mean in the long run for its creators? Scorsese ended his string of dark, character-based films with one of his best works. Allen ended the decade with this and his masterpiece "Crimes & Misdemeanors," and also has gone on to continued acclaim. But Coppola began an era of irrelevence, occasionally returning to decent territory but never quite earning back the respect he gained with his masterful '70s work and generally well-regarded early '80s work.

As for the feature as a whole, Scorsese and Allen's entries easily earn a spot among their best. The film definitely works despite Coppola's unbearably substandard entry, but I doubt anyone would hold it against you if you decided to fast-forward through it.

Grade: "Life Lessons" (A), "Life Without Zoe" (D-), "Oedipus Wrecks" (B+)

Overall: C

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes