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|Index||17 reviews in total|
Like the few other viewers of "Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground"
who bothered to comment on this wonderful HBO "indie" film, I came upon it
by chance (well, channel-surfing to tell the truth) and immediately became
enthralled. A series of shorts held together by the NYC subway setting
(obviously), by a wonderful framing device that brings the work to a highly
satisfying and affirmative conclusion, and by a shared sense of found life,
the effect of the whole is even greater than the individual parts although
some of those were unforgettable.
Each of the stories were, like life, completely unpredictable and most were left open-ended: Was the stock-tipster (Jerry Stiller) a con-man or an unacknowledged financial genius? Was the beggar (Dennis Leary) a bitter Vietnam Vet or the cynical system-beater he was accused of being by the Lady in the Red Shoes (Christine Lahti)? Would the pregnant woman (Anne Heche) jump into the oncoming subway and would the calloused New Yorker with the headphones (Gregory Hines)notice, care, try to stop her? I could never guess any of the resolutions or stop wondering about their significance.
The structure of "Subway Stories" is somewhat analogous to the loosely connected short stories in Joyce's collection, "Dubliners." Each segment is a little slice of life that builds not to a rousing climax, but to an understated epiphany in which either we, a character, or both share a moment of truthful revelation. Although not all the stories are equally developed or intriguing, the whole production is characterized by first rate ensemble acting and direction. There's some great music too.
HBO invited the citizens of New York to send in their stories and
experiences of travelling on the subway system 1000's did. From
these, this film was produced, using the real experiences of day to day
travel to inspire this anthology of short stories. Starting with a man
who learns the hard way the importance of following the crowd, the film
continues with the Vietnam veteran who gets a backlash from the
passengers, a woman trapped in a turnstile, a man conducting an affair
on a train and a man who starts getting stock tips from an old man
riding the morning train each day.
Not getting HBO in the UK, we are pretty reliant on what is imported by other channels; many of the biggest shows make it of course but it is less common for the many cable movies made by the station to reach the UK. So it was with surprise that I found somebody had bought this collection of stories and stuck in the late night schedules to be mostly overlooked and ignored. Loving short films as a type of movie experience I wanted to give this a try and I wanted it to be good and, on the whole, it was pretty enjoyable and interesting. Some of the stories are very basic or reveal their all as easily as a paid dancer and these tend to be the lesser films even if they do still have some merit.
However the films that stood out in my mind are those that capture the randomness of life in a big city, where things happen quickly that can't be repeated or ever relived, where you don't know all the answers and it is more than just a funny story that happened. A couple of the shorts here hit this on the money and are interesting and yet leave you not knowing everything so that it does linger with questions and so on. It is these couple of shorts (Miracle Manhattan, 5:24, Love on the A Train, The Red Shoes in particular) that make the film worth seeing even if the other ones are fairly ordinary and only really watchable without being special (Fern's Heart of Darkness and Sax Cantor Riff to name two).
The cast is impressive even if they are not all used that well and the quality of performances does rather depend on the material. Not to rate everybody but; KRS-One was a surprise but did the job; N'Bushe Wright was good; Denis Leary was impressive and convincing; Zahn was unusually understated as indeed was Stiller; I don't understand why Mekhi Phifer bothered to show up considering all he got out of it; Taylor and Rapaport make an average film better; Rockwell is an interesting find with nothing to do; Perez isn't annoying (is there higher praise than that?); Heche is shot in the distance and hard to make out and has her short stolen by a good turn from the late Gregory Hines. The rest are OK in support but really the film is more about the stories than the cast and weak stories aren't greatly improved even when they do have a good cast here.
Overall this is an interesting collection and I'm glad I saw it. There are no really bad entries but one or two are fairly ordinary and I wouldn't rate them if they had been short films in their own right; however the majority are actually well done, interesting stories that snapshot memories and half stories to be interesting and leave the audience curious but, like the train, forced to move along and take what we can from them. Not a brilliant collection by any means but the good outweighs the average and it is worth seeing if you get the chance.
I liked all the stories. Fern's Heart of Darkness was a nice little turn on a rich white woman when she was faced with being...well, I won't ruin it. Each story was a wonderful look at life and its tragedies, celebrations, and hopes. The one that got to me the most was Taryl Hicks singing to her dying mother. That not only sent a tear to my eye, but sent chills down my spine with the power and emotion displayed in her voice. There are rarely any singers that I would call even special in their talents, but this absolutely is the one I remember. Every time I see her portion in the vignettes it still sends chills down my spine and a tear to my eye.
Funny, poignant, attractively economical. Maybe the stories (and the subway scenes) are a touch sanitized but the whole thing works wondrously. It sometimes reminds you of "Smoke" - very high praise. Loved the NYC tourist's game of recognizing the stations and character types.
I love short story films, especially when, of one particular theme,
they are connected to satisfy a feature length running time.
Like taking any subway/underground/metro train, with Subway Stories, if you don't like one particular story, wait a few minutes and a better one will come along.
Of course everyone will have their particular favourites, but for me
Fern's Heart of Darkness, Sax Cantor Riff, Manhattan Miracle, Love on the A Train, and Underground were simply original and wonderful.
I'm English and lived in London for four years so these types of stories are not exclusive to New York.
Where there are people, there are possibilities.
HBO started this out as a contest for people to submit stories of their real-life experiences on the New York City subway and then chose ten stories to put to this film. Some excellent actors and directors were chosen to perform in this film, which is a series of vignettes. As a result of all these talented people being involved, the film is very easy to take and sometimes entertaining. There are some moments of wit as well as a few moments of drama which are memorable. Also, "Subway Stories" creates a believable experience even in the midst of stories that sound improbable at times. None of the stories are all that bad. The trouble is that no part if this film is all that exciting or compelling. Maybe the problem is that there are so many stories that the viewer doesn't have the time to become involved in the characters and their problems. Also, many of the characters show little common sense and as a result, their dilemmas are exasperating. I suppose this is worth watching if one is intrigued by the idea. It's certainly painless to sit through. It's just that given the fascinating premise and the impressive array of talent gathered, it should have been much better.
I had the good fortune of catching Subway Stories, by accident, trying to get away from the Astronauts Wife. What a wonderful grouping of shorts. I have to say, I couldn't leave the room. Some were better than others, but they all kept my interest. Don't let this Subway pass you by.
an emotional roller-coaster which leaves you staring at the credits in la la land long after you should have gotten up and fetched that other beer.....i find it strange that the most compelling story i have witnessed on film is not readily available on DVD..in NTSC format at least and also that adrenaline pumping ...Tyral Hicks scene.. which brings these riveting stories to their anti climax..or climax if you may..is hidden away in fine print in the cast listing by billing......is there anyone who can help me source the DVD in NTSC format. another anomaly regarding this film is that it seems to be only shown at 2 or 3 AM .. but hey i guess that how it attained it cult classic status...
I do regret a little that I bought it without seeing it first. Some
people might really like the style of those short stories, others might
not. People who tend to like reading short stories would definitely
enjoy most of them.
If you are an (amateur) filmmaker yourself or have worked on low budget productions, I guess you would really appreciate it. Some of those stories are constructed very clever, it is amazing how they turned everyday situations into something special in so little time.
If you have happened to see the September 11 short stories you might know why I expected a little "more".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A mixture of hit and miss tales, comedic, tragic and sometimes more of
a fantasy than "Harry Potter", this outrageous stew of New York goulash
is worth seeing for a few segments, a few memorable character bits and
most of all, memory of a time where technology didn't ruin your morning
commute. Set in 1996 (based upon stories submitted in 1995), this
features advertisements of Broadway shows which were playing that year
("Big" prominently featured; "Phantom" nowhere in sight), and a
collection of characters whom only New Yorkers and a few select others
We can all relate to Bill Irwin's plight of ending up on an empty car (reeking of a bag featuring an undisclosed stench) or the con-games of a small percentage of pan-handlers. There's also a sexually aggressive woman who won't talk but basically gets a cheap thrill every morning for months from a well-dressed (and newly married) businessman that wreaks of being totally gratuitous. More touching is the beat-up young man who finds compassion from an older woman (the unforgettable Mercedes Ruehl) who refers to him as an angel in a scene that only hints of a sexual encounter but other than their kissing never goes there.
A disrespected nightrider (the outlandish Rosie Perez) gets vengeance on a drunken masher in the middle of the night, while some rowdy passengers realize that a young woman singing on the telephone isn't your standard New York whack-a-doodle. A morning rider (Gregory Hines) looks concerned over at an obviously pregnant woman he believes is about to jump onto the tracks as a train approaches. A young couple have two different conversations at once and she storms off, convinced he doesn't give two crap-loads about her political feelings, or even her feelings at all, and the follow-up with her brief conversation with a passenger in another car on the same subway. Extremely interesting is a segment between a young stock broker and an older man (the always scene-stealing Jerry Stiller) which, in the wake of 9/11 and the 2008 market crash seems a bit prophetic and is certainly more than just a bit Capra-esque.
Whether or not you relate to any of these experiences (such as a paranoid white woman taking a late night train for the first time whose fear results in her being locked up overnight in a closed off exit) or of the various scary looking "creatures" whom New Yorkers know that deep inside are totally harmless, is based upon chance, but there are enough subway stories in the naked city to keep this theme going on at infinitude. While each segment has a different director, unlike other similarly multi-storied films, it never feels like its going from one place to another, but suffers from lack of believability in certain circumstances while others will win you over totally.
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