Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New York, New York Blu-ray Review

Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese teams with Academy Award winners Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro in this splashy, flashy musical spectacle celebrating the glorious days of the Big Band Era in the Big Apple!  Jimmy is a joint-jump in saxophonist on his way to stardom.  Francine is a wannabe starlet who dreams of singing in the spotlight.  When they meet, sparks fly and when he plays and she sings, they set New York on fire! It’s the beginning of a stormy relationship, as the two struggle to balance their passions for music and each other under the pressures of big-time show biz. 

Film (3 out of 5 stars)

New York, New York is Martin Scorsese’ s tribute and criticism of the old 30s and 40s big budget musicals (including the ones that Liza’s father Vincente Minnelli made) that he loved growing up.  While he loved the idea of a somewhat artificial “Hollywood” look to the films, he always wondered what happened to the characters when they weren’t doing some big production number.  Some films had touched on that before like A Star Is Born, but Scorsese felt that the idea hadn’t really been explored fully before.  This idea of merging the artifice of old Hollywood musicals with the new style of in your face conflict that had been championed by John Cassavetes who was one of Scorsese’s influences.  While it was a bold concept to attempt, the end result made many people (including myself) think that while it was a daring move, the two just don’t mesh and I think the movie would have worked a lot better if he had just picked one version.

In fact, my feelings for this movie are fairly close to how I felt when I watched Raging Bull (another Scorsese/DeNiro collaboration) since both movies have an entirely unsympathetic main character who ruins  his own life and the lives of others around him by acting in a selfish, egotistical, and abusive way.  Between the two movies, they could sell them as a box set on The Jerry Springer Show with the title of “Men Who Behave Badly, and the Women Who Love Them.”  Why this artistic team that has so much talent between them, continued to explore the same flawed character types is beyond me.  Both of the characters that DeNiro played are so detestable that I don’t even want to watch the movie again which is a shame since there’s some very good elements in it.  The combination of an schizophrenic film that doesn’t know what it wants to be, combined with a fantastic but hate inspiring performance by DeNiro really left me antagonistic towards it.

Robert DeNiro plays saxophonist Jimmy Doyle, who at the start of the film is a horny con artist that spends his time trying out pick up lines on women during the celebration of the Allies victory over Japan.  He seems somewhat charming and desperate at first until he meets Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) where he won’t take no for an answer.  Nowadays, his behavior would be labeled as a stalker and he would be arrested but unfortunately that wasn’t the case in 1945.  Even when he finally wears her down enough to be his girlfriend and later wife, his constant insecurity and ego drive him to abuse Francine mostly because he’s jealous of her.  In every situation he needs to be the main man, whether it’s with Francine, or band players, music producers, or pretty much anyone else.  Jimmy is the scum of the earth who feels like he is owed everything when he contributes little.

Francine on the other hand, starts off strong but the longer she’s around Jimmy, the more co-dependent she is.  He’s like radiation and he’s killing her slowly the longer she’s around him.  Francine has the talent to go far but unlike Jimmy she keeps putting him and later their baby before her career which Jimmy refuses to do.  He’d rather let her move back to New York City alone and pregnant so he can still lead a semi-professional band and sleep with Francine’s replacement.  Of course, once Francine leaves, the entire band falls apart without her and Jimmy is forced to sell the band.  When he returns to New York, there’s a brief period of happiness for them but it doesn’t last and his jealousy gets the better of him culminating in a horrific argument between them as he’s driving a car and beating his pregnant wife.  Eventually, the two of them will have to discover if they are happier together or apart and what impact that will have on their professions.

Video (3 out of 5 stars)

The film’s 1080p (1.66:1) transfer has some good and some bad points.  While color is presented well here with all of it’s natural intensity and variety, the image itself is often soft with varying degrees of print damage.   There’s a ton of color in this movie especially all of the neon throughout the movie (there’s even one scenes that is completely made up of neon) and Laszlo Kovacs did a great job capturing it.  Black levels are mostly good but the flesh tones verge on being a little too reddish.  Some scenes look very sharp while others look like they’ve been shot through some Vaseline but that may be due to the film stock that was used.  There’s also a lot of grain present so purists don’t need to worry about DNR being overused on this one.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

New York, New York’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is decent but it’s not as good as I hoped it would be.  Despite being in 5.1, the satellite and rear speakers get little action with only some light ambiance given to them.  This is a front speaker heavy mix and while the dialogue is clear for the most part, I really wish they had expanded this more than they did.  The music is allowed to spread across more than the front speakers but it only last during the musical numbers.  I should acknowledge that the musical parts do sound good but I kept hoping for more.  Liza Minnelli’s performance (especially at the end of the movie) is well represented and she really belts those songs by Kander and Ebb out.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars)

There’s some decent extras on this disc but I especially liked the two-part documentary series that gave an in depth look at the genesis of the film and the making of it.
  • Audio Commentary – Film Critic Carrie Rickey and director Martin Scorsese share a commentary track which allows you two points of view and two different ways that the film is explored.  Rickey sounds like she is reading a thesis on the movie while Scorsese reminisces about the movie, the cast, the reasons he did it, and often goes off into a tangent that has nothing to do with the movie which is amusing.  His mind is almost as fast as he talks and he’s an entertaining speaker full of insight, humor, and humility.  I’d recommend this track to anyone interested in film.
  • Scene Specific Commentary - Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs talks about his process and what steps he had to take to keep Scorsese happy and to get the shot.  He doesn’t cover a lot of shots, but just enough to make you appreciate his talents.
  • Introduction by Martin Scorsese – For those of you that just want a quick overview of the director’s thoughts about the movie.  If you want more than this, then you should watch the two-part documentary series that has all of this footage included in it and more.
  • Alternate Takes/Deleted Scenes – There’s really nothing to see here other than some more back and forth between Jimmy and Francine.
  • The New York, New York Stories: Parts 1  & 2 – This is the real meat and potatoes of the disc.  This is an all access pass into the making of the movie that combined lasts over an hour.  The cast and crew (with the notable exception of Robert DeNiro) talk about making the movie and share their recollections of the production.  Those included are producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, Liza Minnelli, and of course Martin Scorsese.  This is a very candid look back as Irwin Winkler admits that mixing the two genres didn’t work and hurt the film at the box office and even Scorsese readily acknowledges that he doesn’t know if it worked or not.  This is highly recommended for fans and non-fans of the movie alike.
  • Liza on New York, New York – Minnelli talks about the movie and how she was intrigued and intimidated by DeNiro as well as her feelings about the songs and how proud she is to be in the movie.  I think she is the film’s biggest cheerleader and the movie gave her some of her biggest hits, especially New York, New York, which became huge after Frank Sinatra recorded it.
  • Teaser Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

While I get what Scorsese was going for with his effort to mix a 70 aesthetic with a 40s musical, but it flat out doesn’t work. Or at least it doesn’t in this movie.  The balance between the two is too far apart and it doesn’t help that the last third of the movie is a out an out musical.  It’s like he had his cake but wanted to eat it too.  If he had just picked one genre and stuck with it, the movie would have turned out better and been more successful.  It’s obvious from the musical sequences that he has an eye and a talent for staging the musical numbers and we all know he can do serious drama, so I’m not sure why he attempted to merge them.  Perhaps it was a calculated risk, as he inferred in the extras, since this was a chance to do something audacious and big while he was still young enough to not suffer the consequences.  While the film as a whole didn’t work, the performances are very good and the musical numbers are the highlight of the movie.

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