Posted by: ckckred | July 11, 2012

New York Stories: Three Shorts, Two Good, One not so much

Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen combine their talents for this film

It’s hard to say how I felt about New York Stories.  The reason being is that it’s an anthology film made up of three different shorts with different actors and crews.  The three director behind the shorts are Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen.  All three are considered some of the best ever, and their shorts represent each of them in a way, and also New York.

Let’s start off with the first short, “Life Lessons,” the strongest of the three.  The segment, directed by Martin Scorsese, revolves around Lionel Dobie (Nick Nolte), a painter who works in a large loft.  Dobie’s in love with Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), a twenty two year old painter who lives in the upper part of his loft and has no feelings for him whatsoever.

Throughout the short, Dobie tries to express his love and dedication for her.  He tries harassing Paulette’s old ex-boyfriend, a stand-up comedian played by Steve Buscemi.  When Paulette meets a man at a dinner party, Dobie comes up to her and tells her that he’s no good.

Like many Scorsese characters, Dobie is an emotionally uncertain person.  We see him angry, and we know that he really loves Paulette.  But Paulette is shown as manipulative.  She doesn’t care about Dobie, and she endlessly tortures him.

The performances, especially by Nolte, shine in this short.  Scorsese’s direction is incredible (he’s one of my all-time favorites).  But the best part about the segment is the soundtrack.  While he paints, Dobie listens to some rock music, and Scorsese uses these songs that reflect what’s going on in the film.  In one scene when Paulette is leaving Dobie, he’s listening to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which is about a homeless woman the narrator is sneering at.

I’m skipping to the third segment, “Oedipus Wrecks,” a humorous short directed by Woody Allen.  Allen also stars in the short as Sheldon, a fifty year old banker who has an incredible irritating mother (Mae Questel), who constantly embarrasses him.  Sheldon’s fiance Lisa (Mia Farrow) wants to meet Sheldon’s mother, but Sheldon doesn’t her to.

Later when Sheldon and Lisa take her to a magic show, the magician calls her up to the stage and makes her disappear in the box.  But she doesn’t come back, baffling everyone, including the magician.

Immediately afterward, Sheldon’s life gets much better without his mother annoying him, until she mysterious appears in the sky over the Chrysler Building and tells embarrassing stories about him to everyone in New York.

Like much of Allen’s work, “Oedipus Wrecks” is very, very funny.  Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fans will be happy to see Larry David in a brief role as the theater manager.  Overall, it’s a charming and delightful segment.

The second, entitled “Life Without Zoe,” however, is by far the worst of the three.  It makes me sad saying this as it comes from my favorite director of all time, Francis Ford Coppola.  Coppola hasn’t made a great film since Apocalypse Now, mostly because he’s been doing different types of films.  Coppola’s best works all are studies of troubled characters, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather.  But “Life Without Zoe” feels completely odd under the director, and is easily his worst work (well, with the exception of Jack).

“Life Without Zoe” is about Zoe (Heather McComb), a spoiled little rich girl with parents always away from home.  The story, written by Francis’ daughter Sofia (who you may recalled was in The Godfather Part III), doesn’t really have go any further than that.  There’s a subplot involving a diamond earing that belongs to an Arabian princess, but that’s about it.

There are plenty of awful things about the short.  It isn’t funny (Sofia Coppola later went on to make the much better Lost in Translation), and feels too tired and dull.  The child actors, especially Heather McComb, are all very bad.  That’s the movie’s greatest weakness.  The children are supposed to act like adults in the segment, but it doesn’t feel believable at all (the recent Moonrise Kingdom did it much better).

Ultimately, “Life Without Zoe” feels like a bad children’s movie.  There are some bright moments (Coppola gives us some nice  shots), but the short doesn’t even match a millionth of Coppola’s best works.

I can’t recommend watching the entire New York Stories.  I can certainly say that “Life Lessons” and “Oedipus Wrecks” are worth the watch.  But “Life Without Zoe” brings the whole movie down.  Anthology movies don’t work as a whole, and New York Stories just further proves it.



  1. I got this on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago and have been trying to find the right time to sit down and watch all of it straight through. Nice review!

    • Or should I say “reviews”?

      • If you do have the chance, watch only the Martin Scorsese and Allen shorts. Both of those ones I enjoyed. Unfortunately, Coppola’s segment is the worst of the trio and feels like a bad children’s movie. I still recommend the movie as a whole though.

  2. I agree that the Scorsese short was the best and that Coppola’s contribution was the weakest (awful in my opinion).

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