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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

New York, I Love You [Blu-ray]

 

(Produced by Emmanuel Benbihy, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Emmanuel Benbihy & Marina Grasic

Blu-ray: Vivendi Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:43:18.108

Disc Size: 24,837,801,819 bytes

Feature Size: 21,435,144,192 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.00 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 2nd, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 2160 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2160 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English, none

 

Extras:

• 2 Short films by Scarlett Johansson & Andrey Zvyagintsev (11:43 + 13:31)

• Interviews with 5 Directors (about 15 min.)

• Theatrical Trailer

 

 

The Film:7
It's been some thirty years since Woody Allen's beautiful love poem to the city he loved. Producer Emmanuel Benbihy's movie begins in something like the same way with fleeting images of New York. But Benbihy's relatively uninspired, uninspiring images speed by without lingering or, for that matter, nostalgia or emotional power. His opening montage (in color rather than Gordon Willis's powerful black and white, which tells us a lot about how these two think of their city) ends not with a blazing cheer of fireworks to the music of one of the giants of American music, but with a simultaneous entry into a taxi by opposing wills and intentions. It's a clever idea, because it suggests something about the ten short stories to come: dialogues, often dueling, always from different points of view but with parallel objectives.

It was Benbihy's notion (the present movie being another of a projected series of cinematic cityscapes that began with Paris, je t'aime) to engage the talents of a number of younger writer/directors who come up with their own short story, cast it, and direct it. He insisted that each contribution take no more than two days to shoot and be no longer than eight minutes of finished film. Benbihy would sort out how to put them together later. So much for storyboarding. The title suggests the theme in common: love, as engaged or fantasized, in New York City. There is little room here for sap, but always for dreaming. Given the brevity of each segment, there is often a reliance on sly irony - the best of these might be the opener with Andy Garcia, Hayden Christiansen (yes, he can actually act, given half a chance) and Rachel Bilson (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Claudia Cardinale here.) We are thankful this sort of plot twist doesn't play out in every scene, but it lurks. Expectations by the characters in each story are generally dashed, but in their place comes something unexpected if they can muster the courage to brave adventure. This, we suppose, is what Manhattan has to offer: the proper catalyst.

The names of the directors and some of the actors may not be immediately recognizable (though just as many are). So, instead of a rundown on the various plots, I will simply list the names along with a notable credit - except to say that while each story seems complete as initially presented, some are not, and go on to a second or third chapter as the movie progresses. That said, New York, I Love You should not in any way be confused with Crash or Magnolia. Ready? Let's start with the producer and the directors:

Emmanuel
Benbihy (Paris, je t'aime)
Fatih Akin (Auf der anderen Seite)
Yvan Attal (Ma Femme est une actrice)
Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli)
Shunji Iwai (Suwaroteiru)
Jiang Wen (Devils on the Doorstep)
Joshua Marston (Maria, Full of Grace)
Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding)
Brett Ratner (Red Dragon)
Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth)
Natalie Portman (Eve)

The number of actors is considerable: at least two, front and center, per segment. Acknowledging that a partial list will hardly do everyone justice, I offer these, without credits, in evidence:

Bradley Cooper, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Maggie Q, Ethan Hawke, Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan, Orlando Bloom, Drea de Matteo, Shu Qi, Burt Young, James Caan, Olivia Thirlby, Anton Yelchin, Robin Wright Penn, Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman.

Such a cast of actors and directors, to say nothing of cinematographers and composers (art, sound and makeup direction was held more or less in common), of course, guarantees nothing. We've seen failures before. Even Robert Altman, who enjoys working with huge casts of A-List actors, had his Pret-a-Porter. And the idea of several stories in a single movie rarely works well for the good of all. But what New York, I Love You has going for it, among other things, is sheer numbers and variety: stories that little more of us than to take them in. Connections, where made, are incidental, not crucial (as in Crash and Magnolia).

 

 

Visual styles vary, but somehow they do not clash. (More relevant may be an audience accustomed to the ever-changing fragments of today's music videos.) I still can't quite figure out how the music, written by 13 different composers, feels like movements of a pop music suite by the same person. What's more, the music is of uniformly high quality – always engaging, pulling us in while never putting anything over. There is little drama here, but there is sweetness.

Roger Ebert wrote: "By its nature, New York, I Love You can't add up. It remains the sum of its parts. If one isn't working for you, wait a few minutes, here comes another one."

Excerpt Roger Ebert - the Chicago Sun-Times located HERE

 

And I agree. Some segments work better than others and the movie as a whole doesn't really have much of an arc you can sink your teeth into. In this way New York, I Love You has more in common with much of Baroque music, a kind of Back Partita, if you will – a cinematic suite of dance movements of varying moods, all in more or less the same key.

 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

As expected, the look of New York, I Love You varies from story to story, perhaps not as much we might have anticipated, but be prepared for some changes. There are scenes flooded with color such as the one with Andy Garcia and Hayden Christesen, and others almost monochromatic, as when Julie Christie looks at herself in a mirror. Others have very light on the subjects, as when Chris Cooper meets Maggie Q on a dimly lit street corner, and one that has all the vibrancy of a fairy tale autumn in Central Park. All the while, transfer issues are kept at bay, with little if any digital noise reduction or source print defects. I thought I detected some edge enhancement or halos, but that may have been part of the natural street lighting. In any case it was not distracting. The image is vibrant and lovely to look at, with rich blacks that give up just enough shadow detail.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/8
The audio mix struck me as clear and dynamic, but disorganized. The music, especially in the moments of transition from one scene to another, captures a certain exuberance and opens up the stage accordingly. Few instrumental ensembles are as honestly and expansively recorded. Dialogue is clear, but now and then sounds nothing like it would in the space we witness. This is especially true of outdoor sequences such as the exchange between Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q. The synch is right, but not the timbre. Ambient sounds of the city are also a hit and miss affair, with little concern about capturing the live sounds of the street or other locations and place them in the surround mix convincingly. Yet when Anton Yelchin and his date, Olivia Thirlby, enter the corridor to the prom, we plainly hear the band music in proper proportion and space as they approach and gradually enter the room.

 

Operations: 8
Nothing amiss here. Chapters start roughly at the beginning of each story. What more do you want?

 

 

Extras: 3
Conspicuous by its absence is a commentary (in this case, one by the producers would have hit the spot) or a making-of piece. I can see how the latter would have been problematic because of the number of directors involved, but a commentary by those responsible for thinking this up and putting the pieces all together is sorely missed. In its place, however, are five short "interviews" with about half the directors involved. Just as they approached their particular story from a slightly different angle, Brett Ratner, Yvan Attal, Josh Marston, Mira Nair and Shunji Iwai each speak openly (Shunji is cleverly subtitled) about how they came on board, the constraints demanded by the producer, how they cast their movie or dealt with their actors. Though brief, these are delicate short stories in themselves.

Also included are two short films, also produced by Benbhy & Marina Grasic, both shown in non-progressive anamorphic SD – the one ("The Vagabond Shoes" featuring Kevin Bacon) written and directed by Scarlett Johansson, the other ("Apocrypha" with Nicholas Purcell and Carla Gugina) by Andrey Zvyagintsev - that could have made it into the movie, but didn't. We are offered no explanation for their being here, but are worth our time nonetheless.
 

 

Bottom line: 8
New York, I Love You is not a great film by any standard, but I found much to enjoy. (I'm still puzzling over its "R" rating.) The film may have found its best expression in the high definition home theatrical experience, where we can place the movie on pause while we do whatever with impunity. Extra features are slim but what is included is choice. Nice to have the two short films by Scarlett Johansson and Andrey Zvyagintsev. Too bad they aren't in HD.

Leonard Norwitz
January 29th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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