Archive for the ‘Reviews '09’ Category

New York, I Love You: Plenty of self-love to go around

Friday, November 27th, 2009

New York, I Love You

(3 in half of 4)

Starring Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, Robin Wright Penn, John Hurt, Chris Cooper and Bradley Cooper. Various directors. 110 minutes. At the Cumberland. 14A

Only a city as narcissistic as New York, punch-drunk in love with its own image, could hope to pull off the conceit of New York, I Love You, a series of short films in search of a feature theme.

The fact that the idea only partially succeeds is proof of the difficulty of giving an urban environment top romantic billing in a film that’s really about spontaneous human interactions.

Part of a planned franchise known as “Cities of Love,” which began with the much more satisfying Paris, je t’aime, the film rises and falls by its premise of giving a dozen or so international directors and a brace of actors a chance to make short-and-snappy comments on life in the Big Apple.

The “up” ones hold our interest and pique our curiosity. Mira Nair directs Natalie Portman as an orthodox Jew torn by religious convention and by her own romantic leanings when a business deal with a diamond merchant (Irrfan Khan) shows unexpected sparkle.

Yvan Attal’s segment is split into two fast-moving segments: Ethan Hawke’s comically horny hustler tries to pick up Maggie Q’s streetwise siren, while Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn make their own negotiations regarding appearances and intentions.

The “down” segments include Allen Hughes’ sad mini-essay on romantic regret, as a disconsolate Drea De Matteo struggles to fathom her one-nighter with a younger partner (Bradley Cooper).

Sadder and definitely stranger is the episode helmed by Shekhar Kapur, who took over for the late Anthony Minghella (to whom the movie is dedicated). Julie Christie is an opera singer who arrives at a chic Manhattan hotel with the evident intent to kill herself. A limping bellboy, played by a very game Shia LaBeouf, somehow connects with a character played by John Hurt to turn this suicide plan into a surreal memory trip.

While many of the segments amuse, and rarely wear out their welcome (the average running time is eight minutes apiece), it rapidly becomes apparent that each of them has some kind of twist, like an O Henry short story.

The result becomes less romantic and more Pavlovian, as we watch the set-up and then wait for its inevitable overturning. The gimmick reaches its groan-worthy limit in Brett Ratner’s episode about a prom night beau (Anton Yelchin) who finds that his wheelchair-bound date (Olivia Thirlby) is full of surprises.

New York, I Love You originally screened at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, where it included a short directed by Scarlett Johansson that has since been excised, reportedly because it didn’t suit the flow of the film.

The whole enchilada was billed at TIFF as a work in progress, and that designation still suits the finished effort, which is at once as maddening and as enthralling as New York City itself.

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Plenty to see in ‘New York, I Love You’

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Like the weather in much of Canada, if you find yourself not liking the indie anthology New York, I Love You, wait a few minutes. It’ll change.

A patchwork quilt sewn by the motliest crew of filmmakers, this American spinoff of the art-house anthology Paris Je T’aime (by the same producers), ranges in mood from ponderous, to cute, to enigmatic to enjoyably shticky to utterly confusing depending on which of the 11 short films on the Big Apple theme you’re watching.

Unlike, say, New York Stories — with its handful of tales from oh-so-New-Yorkers such as Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen — New York, I Love You is a paean to the city from people you often don’t necessarily associate with it.

Case in point: Chinese director Jiang Wen, whose tale of a young pickpocket (Hayden Christensen) and an older one (Andy Garcia), who spar at sleight-of-hand over the attentions of the old pro’s mistress (Rachel Bilson), could have been a Scorsese throwaway.

Or Mira Nair, who offers up a characteristically multiculturally themed story about a young Hassidic woman (Natalie Portman) who has ritually shaved her head in preparation for marriage, and her playful sympatico with a Jain jewelry dealer (Slumdog Millionaire’s Irrfan Khan).

To her credit, Portman’s own feel-good (if unmemorable) directorial effort, about a father-and-daughter in Central Park, is the only one to feature a black character. In New York.

Even Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) plays against type. There is not an explosion to be found in his quirky, hormone-drenched story of a nebbish high school kid (Anton Yelchin) facing the prom dateless, who is set up on a blind date with the handicapped daughter (Olivia Thirlby) of a curmudgeonly Italian shopkeeper (James Caan). There’s very little to be said about this episode without coming dangerously close to revealing the surprise end.

Caan’s character is one of a couple of repeat characters. But the true threadline character is Zoe (Emilie Ohana), an artist keeping a New York video diary, whose lens captures bits and pieces of each of the 11 stories. The result varies. But like a deli menu, there’s something for nearly every taste in New York, I Love You.

My favourite is an is-it-real playlet directed by Shekhar Kapur and set in a stately Plaza-like hotel, where an aging opera star (Julie Christie) contemplates suicide, while being catered to by a doting and solicitous crippled young bellman (Shia LaBeouf). Memories pile on memories, phantoms of lives past appear, all in a few minutes of sad drama.

At times, the barrage of mini-plays comes off like short-attention-span theatre. There is an almost co-op egalitarianism to the timing of the material, with some segments leaving the viewer wanting more and others wearing out their welcome somewhat in a short time.

But with the names and talents involved (others not previously mentioned here include Ethan Hawke, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Cloris Leachman, Chris Cooper and Eli Wallach), you know that nobody was going to get short shrift in the editing room.

If nothing else, the sheer volume of stories in New York, I Love You gives you plenty to talk about after.

(This film is rated 14-A)

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Review: New York, I Love You

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Following producer Emmanuel Benbihy’s concept behind the other city plus love film Paris, je t’aime (Paris, I Love You) in 2006, New York, I Love You is a collection of vignettes by notable filmmakers and actors based around the subject of falling in love in the city that never sleeps. It also touches on love for the city itself in some of the segments.

While most of the stories work and are interesting, some feel out of place and go nowhere. Brett Ratner’s tale of a teenage romp-with-a-twist starring James Caan and Anton Yelchin is cute and quirky. Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo hooking up after a drunken night at a bar in Allen Hughes’s cool feature is fun, and Ethan Hawke gives a great performance as an egotistical writer hitting on the wrong woman (Maggie Q) while sharing a smoke outside a restaurant. But Shekhar Kapur’s contribution about an aging singer (Julie Christie) reflecting in a hotel suite with a bellboy (Shia LaBeouf) is dry and drags on longer than it should. And Natalie Portman’s mixed-religion fantasy has its moments but leaves the audience wanting more.

Other intriguing moments include a thief (Hayden Christensen) being outsmarted by an older man (Andy Garcia) yet still getting the girl (Rachel Bilson), a young musician (Orlando Bloom) who needs a muse (Christina Ricci) to help him focus on finishing the score he’s working on, and a cute older couple (Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach) celebrating their anniversary.

What I found most interesting about New York, I Love You is who’s absent from the film, notably Woody Allen. Allen has made a career out of inspired love stories set in NYC (Annie Hall and Manhattan for example) and I’m sure fitting in a narrative by him would have rounded out the collection nicely. Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese would have been great additions too.

If you’re a fan of New York and romance is your genre, you’ll probably enjoy New York, I Love You a lot. One thing’s for sure — it will make you want to pay the town a visit.

*** out of 5 stars

Rated R
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Hayden Christensen, Robin Wright Penn
Directed by: Yvan Attal, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner, Mira Nair

brian.mckechnie@citynews.rogers.com


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Takers… who’s with me?

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

I’m sorry, but sign me up for this one. Takers will be released in February, and I dunno why, but this trailer has me sold for seeing it in theaters. Who knew Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen were two different people? Who knew the husband from Obsessed was British? Who knew Chris Brown could jump through a square-foot-sized window? (Besides the LAPD) Who knew T.I.‘s first name was “Tip?” This movie looks like a thick slice of popcorn action, and pulpy fun. I have a feeling that after the cold onslaught of the Sundance Film Festival in late January, Takers will be exactly what the doctor orders.



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Hidden Gem: Factory Girl

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Amazingly Factory Girl was savaged by the critics when it received a limited release in 2007 but what do they know. If you are a fan of the sixties then this movie is definitely worth a watch and still, in my humble opinion remaims Miller’s best on screen performance.

Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) is a spoilt little rich girl who is running from the past that haunts her. In a bid to further her art career she heads for New York City.

Here she meets Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce), who craves fame and attention, and with the beautiful Edie on his arm he gets what he wants.

As the drug culture explodes Edie embraces it until she finds herself caught between two men Warhol and a musician (Hayden Christensen).

Abandoned by the musician and shunned by Warhol Edie’s life and drug habit spirals out of control.

Director George Hickenlooper has produced a beautifully moving film of the life of Edie Sedgwick who’ fifteen minutes of fame were cut tragically short after she overdosed at the age of twenty eight.

The film flicks between the colour of Hickenlooper’s movie intertwined with the black and white scenes shot by Guy Pearce’s Andy Warhol. This makes the film appear more like a documentary of the socialite’s life.

But the film’s real plus point is its powerful cast who all produce career defining performances.

Spoilt rich girl who is famed obsessed sounds right up Sienna Miller’s street and many may ask the question is she actually acting?
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However Miller plays Edie as a wide eyed, hopeful young woman who is deeply troubled by her past, with suggestions she was sexually abused by her father.

And the transformation from naïve hopeful to New York’s biggest diva and then an out of control, drug dependent individual surely cements Miller as more than just a support actress.

Guy Pearce is also superb as Andy Warhol as the chillingly self absorbed icon who viewed humans as mere commodities who could be enjoyed for their aesthetic purposes, used for what they had to offer before being disregarded and replaced.

Warhol was a man who wanted to appear one dimensional and Pearce captures his lake of emotion in two key scenes: when Edie’s father calls him a ‘fag’ and towards the end of the film when Edie screams at him in public for letting her down.

Hayden Christensen has the most interesting role. He is labelled in the credits as just ‘the musician’ but he is playing the role of Bob Dylan.

However the fact that the film implies that Dylan played a hand in Edie’s downfall angered the singer and due to legal pressures all references to him were moved from the film. So sadly this key relationship to Edie in the film is now not much more than a nameless cameo.

Christensen’s character provides sanctuary and safety for Edie from Warhol’s aggressive puppetering. Christensen gives a great performance as he slowly moves away from his Star Wars tag.

In all Factory Girl is a tragic story of a young girl who placed her trust in a man who used and betrayed her, playing a huge part in her downfall.

But the real strength of this movie is the superb casting with Sienna Miller and Hayden Christensen in particular producing career boosting performances.

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