Tag Archives: Hayden Christensen

Anthologies — New York, I Love You

By Nathanael Griffis

I suppose you could call it a sequel, which perhaps could excuse or explain some of the problems, but New York, I Love You is in a lot of ways an entirely different film from Paris, Je T’aime. Sure, they’re both comprised of love stories all taking place in a single city. The major difference though is that Paris, Je T’aime is good.

I may have been a little harsh in that sentence, but I had such an amazing time watching Paris, Je T’aime that there was no chance New York, I Love You could have lived up to it. Still, that’s no excuse to be bad a movie. It has its moments, but they’re sporadic at best. It ends strong, which was a pleasant surprise considering the awful opening. Any film that relies on Hayden Christensen, though, is immediately in danger of… well… sucking, is the only appropriate term I can think of.

Before I break down the various segments, let’s get the complaining out of the way.  The film has a different, almost montage structure, which could have been interesting, an added challenge, but instead feels contrived. There are little transition segments throughout the film that jump out and merely seem to take up space and give you cliché pictures of New York. The opener is the worst. Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha get into a cab and argue about the best way to get somewhere while avoiding traffic. Eventually, the cabbie joins in and we have an annoying picture of what the world thinks of New Yorkers. This is not the case; they are not all argumentative people who are selfish, brusque, and yet charming for being such. Some are, but not everyone. To be honest, a lot of this movie feels like the idea of what people think New York is instead of an actual fresh look at the City.

The transition segments, which are normally barely over a minute, also cause confusion more than anything else. It’s harder to tell when one story ends and another begins. They detract from the power of the previous segments by creating new implications as we see past characters interacting in new and different ways. This could have been used to add complexity, but no, it’s used to show us Hayden Christensen playing basketball to impress a girl.

They also don’t take full advantage of New York as a setting. There is no clear sense, like in Paris, Je T’aime, that each of these segments is in a different place. Every now and then there is a shot of a street sign, but that’s not enough. Natalie Portman and Joshua Marston’s segments are the only exception as they give us excellent, complex looks at Coney Island and Central Park. Still, where’s Chelsea, East Harlem, Washington Heights, Grant City, Van Nest, Roxbury, SoHo, Hollis, Gravesend?–and that list hasn’t even scratched the surface. Heck, they could have done Long Island, which keeps insisting on being included in NYC until they start feeling elite again.

Please kick his ass, Andy Garcia, please.

My point is that for the most part, with a few exceptions, this film failed to grasp the point. They didn’t utilize their setting and give us love stories that matter within said setting. In fact a lot of times the love stories are weak and cliché. The dialogue is not as good. It can’t manage to create rounded-out characters. This wouldn’t be a problem if the directors wanted to make segments with less talking, but most segments, even the good ones, rely heavily on dialogue. It was like a Quentin Tarantino movie written by Skip Woods (he wrote X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The first few segments are weak and taint the rest of the film. The first segment with Hayden Christensen as a pickpocket who gets shown up by Andy Garcia is especially clunky. Brett Ratner’s prom segment could have been good if he hadn’t been more concerned with a surprise ending and forcing a voice over, and also if he hadn’t directed. There’s also a definite preoccupation with sex, which I believe people may think makes it edgier or more realistic, but just reduces the most complex of emotions into a single physical action. One or two segments about sex, sure, that could be an interesting chance to explore some dynamics; four or five and you’re lacking depth and originality.

There are good moments, though. Ethan Hawke is great anytime he’s on screen, and he single-handedly makes his segment worthwhile. Skekhar Kapur’s segment, which was written by Anthony Minghella and stars Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, and John Hurt, saved the entire movie. It pushed the film back up to the level of quality it needed to be at. The segment Natalie Portman directed of a father walking her daughter through a park is a sweet look at love within a family. The final segment with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachmen as a bickering old couple makes it all worth it, though. They are two amazing actors proving they are still on their game. It’s heartbreaking, hilarious, and ultimately sweet despite the slight clichés it evokes. The Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci one wasn’t bad, but his whiny persona got annoying by the end.

Best scene in the whole film.

There are also two interesting bonus segments on the DVD that weren’t including in the film. One was directed by Scarlett Johanssen and stars Kevin Bacon as a film noir-esque character who travels to Coney Island for a hot dog. It’s technically very good and a pretty cool little short film, and that is all. The second film by Andrei Zvyagintsev is good as well. The story is simple: A young man films two people breaking up and builds and emotional connection to them without ever meeting them. At first it surprised me that these weren’t included, because they’re better than most of the others in the film, but after thinking about it, they just didn’t fit the aesthetic. They would have fit in Paris, Je T’aime, because it was more free-form. New York, I Love You has a stronger montage feel. Everything has to connect and flow together, which may be the restriction which tears the entire thing apart.

If Paris, Je T’aime is the reason to watch anthology films, New York, I Love You is the reason to avoid them. There is just too much you have to bear watching to get to the three good seven-minute segments. The amazing city of New York is better than this. It deserves so much more. It is a diverse, rich, and complex place that is like no other, and when you reduce it to bars, proms, and one-night-stands, it’s a little insulting. There is so much more this film could have done with its setting and theme, and it should have been easy with New York as inspiration, but apparently not.

Adaptations: Remakes: Cape Fear vs. Star Wars

By Nathanael Griffis

In what is simply horrifying news, and a disturbing continuation of a frightening trend in Hollywood, Tony Scott recently announced a remake of The Wild Bunch. Meanwhile, his more talented brother Ridley announced in past weeks a return to the Blade Runner universe for a pseudo-remake. One seen as an awful idea, the other an exciting idea. Why is it that two respected classics, neither of which need a remake, can be greeted with differing opinions? I agree with the opinions, mind you, but the reason for incessant remakes bothers me. One reason is that Sam Peckinpah should be avoided for remakes. (I’m looking at you, Rod Lurie.) Films like Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch are complex, disturbing, and hard to understand with Peckinpah behind the camera.  Remakes are nothing new, of course, and remaking movies is essentially what an adaptation is in the long run, but because a movie, unlike a live play, can exist in it’s original form for a longer time, it often seems unnecessary to remake it. And still we’re getting a new Footloose. Last year we were subjected to The A-Team. Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs have returned, but then again we’re also getting The Muppets coming up. With such a mixed bag it’s hard to filter through it all, so I will attempt to by giving you a good example and then the prime unholy grail of all examples. (Warning: I may geek out a little.)

Cape Fear (1962 & 1991)

Cape Fear is a unique remake, but I think the perfect example of a successful one. The 1962 version starring Gregory Peck as a lawyer driven to the brink by Robert Mitchum’s psychotic rapist is a frightening film that was heavily censored in the 60’s. What survived on screen is still pretty surprising. Max Cady (Mitchum) was imprisoned for rape and when released moves into the same town as Sam Bowden (Peck), the lawyer who poorly defended him years before. Cady then proceeds to manipulate, stalk, torture, and eventually attempt to rape and kill Sam Bowden and his family. Cady, as a man fueled by hate and some primal psychotic desire to sexually overpower women, including the 14-year-old daughter of Sam Bowden, is scary, really scary. It’s a terrifying performance by Mitchum, which is stunningly counterbalanced by Gregory Peck’s fascinating turn as Sam Bowden, who turns to breaking the law to protect his family. It is an interesting deviation from Atticus Finch in many ways.

When Martin Scorsese directed the remake in 1991 it seemed almost unnecessary considering the status of the first one, but the finished product proves that theory wrong. Scorsese, as he did often in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s, turned to Robert De Niro to play Max Cady. He brought in Nick Nolte for Sam Bowden, and Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis play his wife and daughter. There are wonderful supporting performances by Robert Mitchum as the town sheriff and Gregory Peck, in his last big screen role, as Cady’s oily religious fanatic defense lawyer. The first thing Scorsese’s remake is able to do is kick the censors out the door. The original Cape Fear, while challenging, clearly feels hampered by its 60’s mentality. Issues are never fully discussed. It’s frustrating in a lot of ways to see Robert Mitchum beat and rape a women, and then listen as the characters dance around the subject, because it’s not appropriate to talk about. In an interview with the director of the original, J. Lee Thompson mentioned his frustration and noted that several scenes of dialogue were cut because of the nature of the discussion. The censors were frequently asking for the film to be rewritten, going over the film scene by scene to control the artistic expression.

Scorsese has no such problem, and he’s able to flesh the characters out a lot more. Sam Bowden is given more depth; he’s not a perfect or pristine symbol of honor like Gregory Peck, which fits with Scorsese themes. Everyone in this film is guilty of something; crime and violence inhabit our world, and it’s how we respond to it that matters. Max Cady is let off of his leash, and De Niro delivers what is, in my opinion, his most frightening performance. He’s manipulative, unforgiving, and driven by some demonic sense of hatred to hurt anything the Bowdens get near. The final scene, which I won’t spoil, is as terrifying a death as any in cinema. The reason this remake works is because Scorsese is not simply trying to cash in. He’s taking these characters and this well-respected film and building upon it, reinterpreting it for a new generation, and improving the technical aspects of the filmmaking. The film simply looks better, the art direction is better, and it feels more realistic and less set-piece-driven. Visually, it’s a cleaner and more clearly shot film with better camera work.

A lot of times the main argument for remaking a film is that the original was good in concept but poor in execution (e.g., Tron). I want to point out that this is not the case. A good remake is more about how you tell the story, who’s involved, and the theme you’re trying to convey. You must have a reason to remake a film, and the good concept- bad execution is a good reason, but not the only one. Don’t get up in arms simply because Fright Night was remade (turns out it was good) or that Aronofsky wants to do Robocop (it could be good). Cross your fingers and calm down, it’s not the end of the world–unless George Lucas is involved, in which case it just might be.

Star Wars (1977, 1997, 2008)

Leaving aside his prequels and his astounding ability to ruin childhoods, George Lucas created the greatest sci-fi franchise ever and then proceeded to stomp all over it. Initially a “special edition” that is remastered and cleaned up sounds like a great idea, and watching the documentaries of the process to clean up the negative of the original trilogy fascinated me as child. I saw all three special editions in theaters, being as I was too young to see the original films in theaters, and truthfully enjoyed them. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve become more and more bothered by the changes Lucas keeps making. He’s not merely adding a deleted scene, extending a song montage, giving us a more lively Mos Eisley, or simply a better picture quality–the story is shifting and changing.  A New Hope has plot holes, physics problems, and technical issues, but with the 2008 DVD release, none of those issues are fixed, they’re simply compounded with new problems.

Let’s try and let our nerd problems go and forgive Lucas for the 1997 remakes, because for the most part it is simply a remake that technically needed to happen. The original negative was degrading and it had to be remastered. It looks better and some of the improvements, like adding more character to Mos Eisley and Cloud City bring out the worlds more. The sarlacc’s beak and tentacles do look better than just the pit of sand with spikes in the original. The extended Max Rebo Band sequence is fine, sometimes annoying, but it doesn’t detract from the character or story. Yes, Greedo shoots first, but let’s calm down–if there weren’t T-shirts and websites dedicated to complaining about this fact, we might not have noticed.

What is truly appaling is the 2008 DVD release version that tries to connect the original trilogy to the prequels. Hayden Christensen’s visage has replaced Sebastian Shaw, which just creates an inconsistency, because why doesn’t Ewan McGregor then replace Alec Guinness? It’s as if Lucas was afraid to do this (perhaps the thought of Alec Guinness’ ghost haunting him with those judgemental hazel eyes makes him think twice), leaving us wondering, why is Obi-Wan old, but not Anakin? Gungans make an appearance in the final celebration, though thankfully no Jar-Jar. Voice actors are changed to fit with the prequels–Boba Fett is now voiced Temuera Morrison, the voice of Jango Fett in the prequels, which seems like nothing short of an insult to Jason Wingreen from the original and again an added inconsistency, because shouldn’t the son sound different from the father? New scenes of Ewan McGregor talking with Uncle Owen just seem out of place, and the lighting and scenery don’t coalesce with the later shots of Tatooine. Overall, though, what is most disturbing is that the digital remastering is severely botched. At one point Luke’s lightsaber has been color-corrected to be green. Vader’s lightsaber has lost its deep red hue and turned to a rosy pink, and there is a strong blue wash over the film, similar to the wash that is found commonly in modern sci-fi.

It’s infuriating, but what is happening is that an author has not been made to stop. As a writer, if I don’t put my work out there, I will never finish it. I am never content with what I write, and I always feel like there is something worth changing, so I constantly change things, but what we have here is an artist who’s in the midst of revision and gives us his drafts every couple of years and claims each draft as the true masterpiece instead of just leaving them alone. I suspect Lucas will in a few years (I’m afraid of the Blu-ray) correct some of these problems, but he’s created so many more with his changes that there’s little room for trust in his ability any more. He’s not fixing inconsistencies, like why Obi-Wan disappears from his cloak but Qui-Gon doesn’t; he’s simply tweaking and adding inconsistencies that loosely tie all six films together.

Remakes need to be just that, remade entirely. You have to start anew. Treat it as an old concept with a new spin and go from there. We can’t have one bearded madman destroy everything we know and love about science fiction in film. The good thing is that even though they may try to remake classics like Akira, we can always go back and watch the original.

Next, I’ll finish up my long and drawn out series on adaptations with some of the oddballs, like adapting a song, a theme park ride, or a painting.