"New York Stories" is the (mostly) wonderful 1989 collaboration between Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. "New York Stories" offers three short films - "Life Lessons" by Scorsese, "Life Without Zoe" by Ford Coppola and "Oedipus Wrecks" by Allen. The movie feels like a great feast from the masters, but if it was, I think I would have sent the second course back.
Ford Coppola's contribution is certainly the slightest and least enjoyable, going on for a good half-hour and never particularly going anywhere. It involves Zoe (Heather McComb), a rich girl who lives in a hotel and goes to a private school, which "the richest boy in the world" also attends. Neither of her parents are there that much, and her best friend remains the butler of the hotel. There's something about a diamond heist, but the film (co-written by his daughter Sophia) never finds a point and there's nothing too involving about the acting.
Scorsese's picture is clearly the strongest effort of the three. It stars Nick Nolte (in one of his very finest performances) as talented painter Lionel Dobie. As the story opens, the assistant that he's obsessed with (Rosanna Arquette) returns, after having an affair with another man. The emotional struggle between the two fuels Lionel's art, but he can't admit how much he needs her. Nolte and Arquette are electric together, and Scorsese's constantly-moving camera and music choices make this segement extremely engaging.
Allen's contribution, which ends the trio of shorts, is really one of his funniest works. The director plays Sheldon Mills (Allen), a New York attorney whose professional and personal life is working out well - except for his relationship with his mother, which continues to be nothing more than terrible. Every time he goes to his therapist, the conversations never stray from how his mother's actions have effected his life. There's a brilliant moment early in the film, where Allen's mother and her friend approach Allen at work during a busy day. They approach from down the hall, clutching their broadway playbills, and proceed to ruin an important business meeting. Everything about the scene so good it should be studied, from the timing to the music to the cinematography.
Sheldon and his mother go out to see a magic show (watch for a cameo from "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David) and, after she becomes part of the act, she vanishes. Things start to go better in Sheldon's life, until Sheldon's mother re-appears in a very different form, involving the whole city in her son's problems.
Even though Ford Coppola's film is a low point, "New York Stories" is still otherwise a pleasure, with very successful efforts from Allen and Scorsese.
VIDEO: In a terribly disapointing move, Touchstone pictures presents "New York Stories" in 1.33:1 full-frame, instead of a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. With director Francis Ford Coppola being involved, it's surprising that his American Zoetrope studios, responsible for the DVD work on a few of the director's films, was not somehow involved with this one, even though his piece is only one of the three. As for the picture quality, it's okay, but nothing to be excited about. Sharpness and detail are fairly good, although fine detail is inconsistently visible.
The print used was in fairly good condition. Most stretches of the three short films appeared clean and clear, although the occasional scratch and mark could briefly show up here and there. Edge enhancement and compression artifacts were not spotted. Colors were accurate and well-rendered across all three pictures. The picture quality is certainly watchable, but it's very unpleasant that more effort couldn't have been done here.
SOUND: All three films are presented in mono sound, and are basic, dialogue-driven efforts. Sound quality is fine, with clear dialogue.
Final Thoughts: The second story doesn't work at all, but Allen and Scorsese contribute great work. Unfortunately, Touchstone's DVD is far less than "New York Stories" deserves.
The Film ***