New York Stories is comprised of three short films, each running for 30-45 minutes. The three films are directed by three different directors – Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Francis Coppola. New York Stories fails in a variety of ways. Firstly, after sitting through the entire anthology you realise how irrelevant the inclusion of New York is. Each film is of course set in the city but it doesn’t seem to have much prominence or importance. It could just have easily been called Seattle Stories. Secondly, two of the three films are possibly the poorest work that these two directors have ever produced. Allen’s film loses all charm in its final half and is considerably poorer than even his weakest feature films. Coppola’s segment is an atrocity. It is stupid, boring, wooden and desperately lifeless. Scorsese opens New York Stories and this remains the only enjoyable and credible part of this collaboration. New York Stories is simply an experiment gone wrong. Three creative men tried something and it just didn’t work. New York Stories demonstrates just how tricky it is to collaborate artistically. Allen has made a career out of writing, directing, acting and producing because he is so desperate to maintain control. Imagine only having a percentage of this control whilst also being limited to a time limit of 40 minutes. You have to admire New York Stories for what it tried to do but also face up to what it failed to do.
Life Lessons is Scorsese’s section of the anthology. It tells the story of a painter, desperate to keep his girlfriend in his life despite her having obviously lost all her romantic feelings towards him. His creativity is blocked during this stressful time and the artist’s turmoil is displayed in what he paints. The artist, played brilliantly by Nick Nolte, exploits his girlfriend for sexual purposes whilst she uses his connection and artistry to drive her own art career. The cycle eventually begins again when the painter meets a new, attractive woman who is both an aspiring artist and an admirer of his work and career. The film is fun and complex despite only lasting for 45 minutes. From the very beginning this is blatantly Scorsese’s film, due to the presence of his iconic visual authorship. Life Without Zoe is thankfully the shortest of the three segments. Coppola has attempted to make some sort of twisted robbery thriller that takes place around a disgustingly precocious and pampered little girl who lives in a hotel. There is nothing redeemable about this. It is a flat out failure. The less said about Coppola’s hideous contributions to New York Stories, the better. Allen’s film is split down the middle. The first 15 minutes are endearing and witty as a middle aged man, who wishes his controlling mother would vanish from his life, suddenly gets his wish granted when an illusionist’s stage stunt goes wrong. When the mother makes her odd return to the story the film plummets like a lead balloon. The final ten minutes are very out of character for Allen; losing all subtlety and direction. New York Stories consists of three films that hardly flow as separate segments, let alone as a collective piece. Choosing to start New York Stories with Scorsese film, the best of the three, only leads to guaranteed disappointment in the film’s obvious deterioration. Three words to describe this anthology: messy, lazy and limp.
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