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New York, I Love You marks the second in a series of city themed love story compilations, sometimes called the Cities of Love series. The first entrée in the series, 2007’s Paris, je T'aime, featured directorial work from the likes of Gus Van Sant, the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Tom Tykwer, Wes Craven, and Alexander Payne. This release features a slightly less impressive directorial cast, but the actor collection is certainly A-List, including  Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Orlando Bloom, Chris Cooper, Andy Garcia, Christina Ricci, Irrfan Khan, Robin Wright Penn, Julie Christie, Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Anton Yelchin, James Cann, John Hurt and Eli Wallach. The whole project is very sweet, but the structure is so fractured it’s hard to care too much beyond this cuteness. The production mostly avoids feeling like a series of sketches, but always feels like a series of unfinished parts.

New York, I Love You
The sum is not equal to the parts, but the parts are occasionally beautifully photographed, impressively acted, and genuinely touching. Yet even when things work, all but three of the entries feel like incomplete ideas. I appreciate the producers recognizing that none of the stories could work as a feature film, but most of them need a second act or genuine closure. Character set ups are usually surprisingly effective and motivations well rounded, but normally their tales just end. Jiang Wen’s segment (which features dueling pickpockets), Mira Nair segment (which features star-crossed would be lovers lamenting their social differences), Shunji Iwai’s segment (which features a shut-in composer meeting his director’s go-between), and Fatih Akin’s segment (a genuinely affecting piece about a painter unable to capture the essence of a woman he doesn’t know) all could’ve easily benefited from time increases. Natalie Portman’s segment doesn’t work either, but I’m not as positive time constraints are to blame, she may have just underdeveloped her story. Even more likely – I didn’t get it.

New York, I Love You
A more troubling problem that plagues the film structurally is the choice of blending pieces of Yvan Attal’s directed tales into the fabric and random intervals. I find this troubling mostly because I find Attal’s entries (the ones that feature Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn) the most abrasive, over-simplified, and awkwardly dispassionate, not to mention entirely out of place. The transitional pieces and bookends, directed by Randy Balsmeyer, are even more sporadic and sketchy, clearly not gluing the project as securely as intended. Occasionally bits of the other stories leak out into the super-narrative, such as Brett Ratner’s segment, which otherwise features one of the more finalized, well-wrapped endings. Without these parts, perhaps without any attempt at weaving any kind of super-narrative, and with more time given to the ‘right’ stories, the whole project would work better. Hopefully the production keeps this in mind while working out the next entry.

New York, I Love You
The three best bits start with Allen Hughes’ (one half of the Hughes Brothers, the guys behind Menace II Society and From Hell) expressionistic look at the thoughts of two people meeting after what was meant to be a one night stand. This piece uses its brevity by not really bothering with a story, instead Hughes, his actors, his editor, and his cinematographer capture abstract emotions on film. The next best bit is directed by Shekhar Kapur (director of Elizabeth), and written by the late Anthony Minghella. This piece takes the haunting best of both Kapur and Minghella, both filmmakers known for spending a bit too much time on beautiful images and repetitive emotions, and distills their strengths into an affecting, though somewhat nonsensical visual poem. The last of the best bits is a charming little stand alone by Joshua Marston in which an elderly couple bickers their way across town on the way to the pier for their anniversary. This piece ends with a funny little punch-line moment that pierces the otherwise sweet nature of the climax.

New York, I Love You

Video


Being directed by a bunch of directors New York, I Love You has a bunch of different looks, and this 1080p transfer plays well to each strength. Segment one features high contrast blacks mixed harshly with bright oranges, with medium grain and details. Segment two is softly lit, with harsh whites, lavender and yellow hues, and modestly sharp details. Segment three is mostly natural, shot with a slightly shallower focus, and slightly over-cooled colours. Segment four is closer to segment one, with super harsh contrast, extremely deep blacks, more grain and extra orange overtones. This segment flows throughout the film, and differs slightly in grain and sharpness depending on location. Segment five is shot by Brett Ratner, so it looks a little like an action movie, with lots of grain, close-up detail, and poppy colour elements. Allen Hughes’ segment six is the grittiest piece (not surprisingly), grainy, and a mix of colour styles, from cool to warm. Segment seven is likely the most romantic looking of the segments, and is shot using wildly varying elements of light and dark. Segment eight is warmer in a redder fashion than the other segments, and features more frequency of colour overall, though the details are slightly muddied comparatively. Segment nine is the most naturalistic overall, focusing a lot on source lighting, which makes it the grainiest and least consistent, though the deep focus street scenes are most impressive. Segment ten finishes the styles out with another softer outdoor look, featuring lots of whites, and even toned colours.

Audio


New York, I Love You features a more consistent tone aurally speaking, though each director plays to their own strengths within the confines of the audio box. For the most part this is very much a dialogue based filmed, even if the sounds of the city somewhat define the sound as well. The city based sound effects (traffic, pedestrians, the elevated trains, birds, bar and restaurant patrons) are usually very softly presented in the stereo and surround channels, but these never step over the centered dialogue, which, excepting the musical interludes is the loudest aural element. Segment six is more stylistically aggressive, and cuts between memories and reality in a subjective manner, which creates more abstract sound, and louder, more experimental music. Besides this, and the more operatically endowed segment seven, the musical make-up is pretty consistent, in both style and volume.

New York, I Love You

Extras


The special features begin with two bonus segments that didn’t make the cut. ‘These Vagabond Shoes’ (11:40, SD), which is written and directed by actress Scarlett Johansson, and stars Kevin Bacon, follows the sepia toned adventure of a rather generic sad man through the city. It’s visually a very strong piece, but follows the stereotypical listlessness of so many short features, and really would stand out among the rest of the film’s pieces, which have enough trouble sticking together anyway. ‘Apocrypha’ (13:30, SD), written and directed  by Andrey Zvyagintsev, would’ve fit much better into the final mix, but perhaps would’ve created overlap by concerning itself with video camera footage. This short, which features a kid videotaping a couples public breakup without them noticing, feels like the set-up of a voyeuristic murder mystery. I kept waiting for the killer to wander in frame. These are followed by five director interviews (16:30, 720HD) featuring Brett Ratner, Yvan Attal, Josh Marston, Mira Nair and Shunji Iwai. These are brief, but personable and relatively informative. Iwai’s entry is actually animated, and includes the storyboards, which tell pretty much the entire story in fast forward. Things end with a trailer, and trailers for other Vivendi releases.

New York, I Love You

Overall


New York, I Love You is a good title for fitting the film in the I Love You series (next up is Shanghai, I Love You), but if we’re talking stand along productions I have a better title: Stars Doing Accents in Brief Romantic Interludes. Sure, it doesn’t have that poetic ring to it, but it’s the most accurate title this side of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Fans of Paris, je T'aime, the first in the series, will probably find something to love here, and fans of the actors and directors should be satiated, but overall the film is kind of a mess harboring three genuinely good shorts. The patchwork style leads to an interesting mixed media look, and the Blu-ray transfer is certainly up to task, even if the modest audio isn’t quite up to task.

*Reviewer Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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