Thursday, September 02, 2010

New York Stories

In the late 1940s, the anthology film was a medium that allowed directors to make a short about a theme or anything that directors would like to talk about. The medium became popular in the 1960s among the European film scene as it would influence many. By the 1980s, the anthology film was merely non-existent in the age of the blockbuster until three prominent American directors decided to revive the medium by basing their films in the Big Apple called New York Stories.

New York Stories are three short films about the city of New York from three different directors. The first short is Life Lessons that is directed by Martin Scorsese with a screenplay written by Richard Price about a troubled relationship between an abstract painter and his assistant. The second short is Life Without Zoe from director Francis Ford Coppola with a script co-written with his daughter Sofia about a rich girl dealing with the neglect of her divorced parents. The third and final short Oedipus Wrecks is by Woody Allen about a man who is dealing with his overbearing mother. The result is a fascinating anthology film with two great segments and one that doesn’t work.

Life Lessons

Lionel Dobie (Nick Nolte) is a difficult abstract painter trying to finish another painting for an upcoming exhibit. Yet, he is having a hard time trying to complete the painting as he decides to pick up his assistant/apprentice/lover Paulette (Rosanna Arquette). Upon her arrival, Paulette announces she’s leaving New York and Lionel to strike out on her own while revealing to having a fling with performance artist Gregory Stark (Steve Buscemi). Paulette also announces that she decides to move back home to her parents after feeling that she’s failed to evolve as a painter.

During a party with Lionel’s agent Phillip Fowler (Patrick O’Neal), Lionel notices Paulette hanging around with a young painter named Reuben Toro (Jesse Borrego). Lionel doesn’t want her to be humiliated by Reuben where she ends up sleeping with Reuben. Lionel buys a dress for Paulette as an apology as he goes with her to see Gregory’s performance art show. At the after show party, Paulette doesn’t want to meet Gregory where Lionel tries to make her talk to him leaving her humiliated. Things get worse the next night at a bar where Lionel fights with Gregory as Paulette realizes she is only there as a muse who doesn’t get anything in return. For Lionel, it’s another reminder about the sacrifices he makes as an artist.

Life Without Zoe

Zoe (Heather McComb) is a rich girl whose father (Giancarlo Giannini) is a flute soloist and mother (Talia Shire) is a photographer. Zoe’s parents are divorced as Zoe lives in a hotel with her butler/guardian Hector (Don Novello). With her parents often away, she takes money for cabs and such as she goes to school where a new boy named Abu (Selim Tlili) has arrived. Zoe and her friends want to interview him for the school paper as he reveals his own life that is very lonely. Zoe becomes friends with him where they went shopping. Later that night as she went home, Zoe is caught in the middle of a robbery as she manages to save some of the belongings of her dad which includes a beautiful jeweled-earring along with a note that the jeweled-earring belonged to a princess (Carole Bouquet). With an invitation given to Zoe’s father that was earlier torn to pieces, Zoe and Hector grabbed the pieces to realize that it’s part of something bigger. Even as Zoe talks to Abu who reveals that the princess is her aunt.

Zoe invites Abu to a party so she can talk to him about the jeweled-earring only to have her mother arrive with an announcement. While Zoe still wants to talk to Abu, her father finally comes home where he tells her the story about a concert he played where attending was the princess. She was moved by his performance that she gave him the earring as she revealed to her father that she saved the earring. Later at a party with Abu and friends, Abu finally introduces Zoe to his aunt who gives Zoe something in return.

Oedipus Wrecks

Sheldon (Woody Allen) is a lawyer trying to deal with his overbearing, overly-critical mother (Mae Questel). When he introduces his girlfriend Lisa (Mia Farrow) to his mother, Sheldon becomes embarrassed over stories and such. Though she thinks Lisa is nice, she tells Sheldon that she isn’t right for him. Things get worse when his mother and aunt drop by at his law firm only to be topped by Lisa inviting the mother to dinner at an outdoors restaurant with her kids. When they all go to a magic show, the mother becomes part of a magic trick where she disappears and is supposed to come back. Instead, she’s gone as Sheldon asks everyone including the theater owner (Larry David) where has she gone.

At first, Sheldon becomes worried until he realized that she’s gone and he becomes happy about it. Everything goes great for him until he sees his mother in the sky talking about Sheldon to the entire city. Immediately, the phenomenon is all over the news as embarrassing stories about Sheldon are revealed to everyone as he feels humiliated. While the city seems to accept the idea of Sheldon’s mother talking to them from above as it helped crime rates go down. Sheldon however, feels overwhelmed as his relationship with Lisa suffers while his shrink (Martin Chatinover) suggests he goes to a psychic. The psychic Treva (Julie Kavner) helps him try to get his mother back on Earth where things don’t go to plan.

The concept of New York Stories is very simple, three different stories about different characters in the city of New York. With it, there’s three revered directors who has have a history with shooting in the Big Apple. Two of them are natives while another is an outsider. Yet, to have these three names make three different stories about New York City. It seems like a great idea. Well, two of them brought their A games while another lost it somewhere back in California.

In Life Lessons, the film is a loosely-based adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Gambler but set in the world of the NYC arts scene. It’s about a brilliant artist who is revered for his art but as a person, he’s a mess. Already having failed marriages, he desperately tries to cling to the one woman he has left in his assistant. Yet, she has become frustrated, tired, and upset over her lack of talents as a painter as well as playing the muse for this guy. Though he expresses his love for her, she is annoyed by him. The story is definitely a study of two people in the art scene as the story’s title is about life lessons. Yet, the person that is taking lessons isn’t Paulette but it’s really Lionel who is starting to become aware of his own flaws as a person. Though he can be caring, he’s also selfish as he uses her anger to fuel his art.

Scorsese’s direction is definitely stylish in its presentation. With the use of zooms and wandering camera movements. The use of close-ups and circle fades are all done from Scorsese’s idea of what Lionel is feeling. Along with Nestor Almendros’ gorgeous cinematography and Thelma Schoonmaker’s stylish editing filled with jump-cuts. It is truly a Scorsese short in terms of storytelling and in visual style while using a soundtrack that is a mix of opera and rock music from acts like Bob Dylan &; the Band, Cream, and Procol Harum’s A White Shade of Pale to express Lionel’s love for Paulette.

In Life Without Zoe, it’s a film about a girl wanting her parents to reconcile while living in a lavish yet lonely lifestyle. While the themes of loneliness as well as living in the world of hotels and travel would become prominent themes in the work of co-writer Sofia Coppola. The film is definitely the weakest segment of the film because there’s not much depth to nor is there any idea of what the story should be. While Francis Ford Coppola approached it as a light-hearted comedy for children, it comes off as quite tedious to watch. Even some of the dialogue that Zoe says comes off as unrealistic at times along with the ending.

Coppola’s direction didn’t carry a lot of weight despite the beauty of the way the film looked courtesy of Vittorio Storaro’s lush cinematography. Yet, his idea of a posh, fashionable New York City just didn’t seem to be interesting. Though the children’s party scene looked fun along with a lot of the costume design that was courtesy of Sofia Coppola, who also did the title design. It was a film that was style over substance with characters that the audience don’t seem to care about despite a few moments in the stories that include the brilliance of playing the flute. While one of the technical highlights was the score of Carmine Coppola, the rest of the soundtrack didn’t fit as it included loads of pre-alternative music and party stuff by Kid Creole.

For Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks, the film is about a man’s wish to be rid of his mother. Well, he gets it and seems to be content with it until he realizes his mother is watching from above. For Sheldon, he’s a man who seems to be ashamed of his mother because she’s overly-critical and wanting him to maintain his Jewish background. When she disappears, he believes he will be great until she re-appears in front of the entire city. The story is definitely one of Allen’s funniest while his direction is definitely off the wall with a great visual effect of his mother appearing above the city.

The fact that he has the entire city stop what they’re doing so they can talk to Sheldon’s mother is truly an amazing concept. Shot by Sven Nykvist, the film has a great look to the city while the music is a nice mixture of ragtime and jazz. It’s a short that is truly quintessential Allen.

The casting is quite phenomenal for the shorts that work while it would feature some early appearance for some now revered actors. In Life Lessons, there’s appearances from Steve Buscemi, Illeana Douglas, and Brigitte Bako in small roles along with cameos from Debbie Harry, Peter Gabriel, and Martin Scorsese himself. Two notable small roles include Jesse Borrego as a young painter and Patrick O’ Neal as an agent. Yet, the film definitely belongs to Nick Nolte as a haggard-looking yet selfish painter and Rosanna Arquette as his frustrated yet insecure muse/assistant.

In Life Without Zoe, there’s not much to standout in the short though it includes a very early appearance from Adrien Brody as a student and Chris Elliot as a robber. Other appearances like Carmine Coppola as a street musician is great but Carole Bouquet as the princess doesn’t leave much of an impression. Talia Shire and Giancarlo Giannini are OK though Giannini gets more to do in an underwritten role. Don Novello is funny as the butler Hector yet the film is more geared towards the young actors. While Selim Tlili is OK as Abu, Heather McComb does have her moments as the title character despite the fact that she has to perform some amateurish voice-over work.

In Oedipus Wrecks, the small ensemble is great with some funny appearances from former mayor Ed Koch, Larry David as a theater owner, and Mike Starr as a hardhat worker while the short also includes an early appearance from Kirsten Dunst as a daughter of Lisa. Mia Farrow and Julie Kavner are both great in their roles as the women who would help Sheldon through his ordeal while Woody Allen himself is funny in his usual role as an overwhelmed lawyer. Yet, the star of the short is Mae Questel as Sheldon’s mother whose rapid criticisms and talks about Sheldon is what keeps the short to be a flat-out fun fest.

New York Stories is an excellent anthology film despite one awful short from Francis Ford Coppola. Fans of Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen will no doubt see their respective shorts as some of the best work of their careers. Even as they both present something with lots of style and worlds that is unique. Coppola though, creates something that is among some of misses while fans of his daughter Sofia might be interested of where some of her ideas came from but through her own films which is better than what she co-wrote in Life Without Zoe. In the end, New York Stories is an anthology film that fans of Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen will enjoy despite they mess that have to endure from Francis Ford Coppola.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up, Tiger Lily? - Take the Money & Run Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love & Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows & Fog - Husbands & Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Don't Drink the Water - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Times Crook - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra's Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society) - (Wonder Wheel)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen: Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

Francis Ford Coppola Films: Dementia 13 - (You're a Big Boy Now) - (Finian's Rainbow) - (The Rain People) - The Godfather - The Conversation - The Godfather Pt. II - Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux - One from the Heart - The Outsiders - Rumble Fish - The Cotton Club - (Peggy Sue Got Married) - (Captain EO) - (Garden of Stone) - (Tucker: A Man and his Dreams) - The Godfather Pt. III - Bram Stoker’s Dracula - Tetro

© thevoid99 2010


Amalia said...

Any idea what is the name of the opera that plays in "Life Lessons"? Thanks!

thevoid99 said...

I don't know. I'm not an opera buff. I'm at the film's IMDB page but they're not really accurate. Plus, the only thing I can think of at the page that has any opera ties is Puccini.

That's all I think I can give you. Thanks for commenting.