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YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Lucy Punch, Naomi Watts, Anna Friel, Ewen Bremner, Carla Bruni, Pauline Collins, Christian McKay, Neil Jackson, Jim Piddock (Written and directed by Woody Allen; Sony Classics) Now Playing

“The Wood man’s in a virulent mood, and it suits him. This inspired piece of misanthropy is a London-set dissection of two unhappily married couples: Alfie (Hopkins) has taken up with call girl Charmaine (the spectacular Lucy Punch); his wife, Helena (Jones), is drowning her sorrows in psychic malarkey; their daughter, Sally (Watts), is smitten with her boss (Antonio Banderas); and her schlub husband, Roy (Brolin), is tempted by a new, alluring neighbor (Freida Pinto). It’s a typical Allen gaggle, yet there’s a focus and precision to the paces he puts the group through. With the expert aid of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, the writer-director gives the film a superficially romantic sheen that is perverted in scene after scene...Beneath every luscious image is a nerve waiting to be jangled. Allen even reprises the transcendent final shot of Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’—and his own ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’--so that he can further twist the knife on his characters’ delusions... Why does the film feel so essential? Perhaps because of that tall, dark stranger—whom Roy identifies in a tossed-off aside—lurking just outside the frame. It isn’t the first time death has figured in an Allen movie, but the way he grapples with it here (leaving each character at a moment of irresolution comparable to staring down the man with the scythe) is much more potent and direct. This love letter to the Reaper and his unknowable timetable is a bracing addition to an erratic, yet indispensable oeuvre.” –KEITH UHLICH, Time Out New York

“The metaphysical pessimism that constitutes Mr. Allen’s annual greeting-card message to the human race—just in case we needed remiding that our existence is meaningless—is served up in ‘Tall Dark Stranger’ with a wry shrug and an amusing flurry of coincidences, reversals and semi-surprises. There are hints of farce, droplets of melodrama, a few dangling loose ends and an overall mood of sloppy, tolerant cynicism...Mr. Allen has both mastered his craft and grown indifferent to it. Does he take any pleasure in making these movies? Does he expect the audience to take any? It’s hard to say, since he seems to make films, and we seem to watch them (at least those of us who still do), more through force of habit than because of any great inspiration or conviction...the whole message of ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ is that believing in some kind of nonsense is a natural way of coping with the howling void that surrounds us...For the most part, everyone struggles through, with at best mixed success. The audience included.” –A.O. SCOTT, The New York Times

“‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,’ set in London, echoes the good and the not-so-good from ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ to ‘The Curse of the Jade Scorpion’ and ‘Cassandra’s Dream.’ It’s a middling entry in the canon--a serious comedy about the superior benefits of living a life based on delusion...The characters pair off and break up and come together and it’s all a bit too carefully calibrated. But Allen has too much affection for his characters to be a scold or a messagemonger. He is, above all, bemused by their ability, in their pursuit of happiness, to twist their lives into a Gordian knot of complication...‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,’ like so much of Allen’s work over the past several decades, has a marking-time quality. But there’s a difference between marking time and wasting time. There are enough pleasantries and good jests in this new film to make a meal. And, unless I, too, have joined the ranks of the deluded, I don’t believe its mite of seriousness is misplaced.”  PETER RAINER, The Christian Science Monitor

“Among the bleaker and more laughless of Woody Allen endeavors, ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ begins with a narrator paraphrasing ‘Macbeth’: ‘Shakespeare said life is full of sound and fury, and in the end signified nothing.’... unlike ‘Match Point,’ the first of his films to be set in the U.K.--and a heady reworking of dark themes borrowed from Dostoevsky--his latest has an empty, soulless feel...Couples in unhappy throes, chance occurrences and thwarted opportunity, flirtation, disappointment, ironic comeuppance--the crisscrossing paths of Allen's bloodless tale take their course. Sound. Fury. Shrug.” –STEVEN REA, The Philadelphia Inquirer

" ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ is good and very pleasurable provided you know what you're getting into, which is a comic roundelay of amorous ambitions and delusions—punctuated by wistful old ballads like ‘If I Had You’—that lead mostly but not entirely to disaster.The cast of characters is small, and largely screwy...Within the confines of this familiar structure—who can count the man-and-woman hours that Woody Allen characters have spent on planning or reporting their dalliances—the filmmaker treats the pervasive folly with bemused affection, as if to say it's a cosmic joke on a domestic scale. There isn't any, according to the line from Macbeth that opens and closes the film: ‘A tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’...Nevertheless, it's terribly touching, as well as entertaining, to watch everyone's struggles, and instructive to discover that the screwiest people on screen are the only ones who find true happiness.”  --JOE MORGENSTERN, The Wall Street Journal

“It is difficult to exaggerate the dreary impact of the shrill, unsexy jabbering that has torpedoed so much of Allen’s work over the past couple of decades...Although his new stab at comedy is apt to spread more cheer than the recent ‘Whatever Works’ or ‘Cassandra’s Dream,’ it’s definitely not a laugh-out-loud flick. Nor does it have anything novel, provocative or mischievous to add to our muddled grasp of the war between the sexes or to the hoary riddle of universal suffering and loss...we are reminded that Shakespeare once wrote that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Thus, the scene is set for the depiction of a series of failed relationships between mercenary, dishonest, conniving, borderline-criminal London dwellers...The question is, why should we care about any of these pedestrian, self-absorbed leaches? It’s quite clear that Woody Allen is not crazy about any of them...So what’s it all about, Woody? Next time out, won't you please give us a movie that's full of sound and fury but still manages to signify something?”  --GUY FLATLEY, Moviecrazed

“A mirthless, joyless comedy with nary a hint of romance,  mystery or justification for its existence, it joins ‘Hollywood Ending,’ ‘Anything Else,’ ‘Whatever Works,’ ‘Cassandra’s Dream’ and other recent clunky, tone-deaf Allen films... Thank heaven Alfie hooks up with a tall, thin hooker, played with ’80s era Woody Allen zest by Lucy Punch. Common,  cheap, and shrill, Charmaine is funny in every scene and Punch makes the most of her every moment on camera. Her presence tips us that maybe Woody intended this to be a comedy. Otherwise, we have no clue...The writing is old—cobwebbed cliches about tea and palm readers and infidelities and Boccherini...It’s not easy to call this the worst Woody movie in years, because whatever the charms of ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona,’ he’s given us a lot of candidates for that prize.”  --ROGER MOORE, Orlando Sentinel

“In the past, Allen made movies that echo Chekhov and Bergman, and this is a pass at Balzac: the world is ruled by egocentricity and meanness, and much of what we do approaches grubby comedy.The picture moves swiftly and surely, with people arguing, seducing, complaining, separating, reuniting...Allen hasn’t gathered together so many disgruntled people in years. Much of the writing is good, and the acting is superb, but the constant wrangling wore me out at times...In this movie, as in ‘Match Point’ and ‘Cassandra’s Dream,’ a certain London sourness and irritability takes over. Crabby as ‘Tall Dark Stranger” is, however, it’s admirably staged and edited, with several sequences that are breathtaking, especially a prolonged shot in which Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, and Gemma Jones tear at one another, passing in and out of a living room, their voices interwoven like the phrases of an agitated piece of music. The shot has the sustained intensity and the compositional intricacy of Robert Altman’s best work.” –DAVID DENBY, The New Yorker

“Since the glory days of ‘Manhattan” Allen has always been drawn to the younger woman/older man plot device, but his audience is becoming rather fatigued by it...Allen has assembled a cast of incredible ability, but the result is hampered by his script. It feels like a cuts job from previous films, wrapped round some good gags and gorgeous women: a Peeping Tom rom-com for intellectuals.” –KATE MUIR, The London Sunday Times

“...a slightly sour look at all sorts of predictable behavior. Like several of his older, stronger films, ‘Stranger’ examines a loosely connected series of couples as they court and spark (this time, not in Manhattan to Gershwin, but in London to opera)... And once Allen has set this all up—well, he simply turns everyone loose and watches without comment. It’s an approach rooted in Allen’s own philosophy, a dour resignation we saw at least as far back as ‘Husbands and Wives’: the meaning of life is, there is no meaning. Sometimes, unfortunately, that what’s-the-point approach manifests itself in some lazy filmmaking. The story is held together by an intrusive, explain-it-all narrator. One crucial dialogue scene is handled by inelegant pans back and forth between the two characters. But, as always, Allen gets some great people to work with him, and gives them some wonderful moments to play...for all his existentialism and high-brow references, Allen is still the ’50s comic at heart, and he saves most of his attention for Lucy Punch, here playing the ‘escort’ that Hopkins falls for, and Allen’s favorite comic stereotype, the sexy dumb blonde. Punch’s Charmaine, however, is a bracing reversal to Allen’s usual sweetly loving bimbos—crude and disloyal, and with a profile that resembles a hungry bird, she’s like a harpie come to feed on Hopkin’s rich old flesh. And as soon as we see her in her first fur coat, we know she is going to pick his old bones clean...Allen works regularly—too regularly, perhaps—and the results are typically hit or miss. But while modest, ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ is still one of his better recent works.” --STEPHEN WHITTY, The Star Ledger

“Where once Allen's players would have drawn blood, sometimes quite literally given the filmmaker's affection for killing off inconvenient characters (‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ among them), here they pull their punches. The dialogue drifts into the petulance of bickering children rather than the biting brilliance that marks the best of his work. In using a lighter touch, he's made it harder to root for—or against—anyone in particular with the exception of Jones, a veteran British character actor probably best known in the U.S. as Bridget Jones' flighty mum who blows into each of her scenes like a blithe spirit. Brolin, always better with a sharp edge, suffers, and Hopkins nearly fades away...This kinder, gentler Allen is still clever, still amusing, and the film itself is a confection tempting enough to consider a taste. Yet there is that empty-calorie letdown after it's over. Maybe it's time to book another trip to Spain.” –BETSY SHARKEY, The Los Angeles Times

“ ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ is one of those Woody Allen movies that bolsters the conviction that sometimes he doesn’t spend enough time on his scripts. More a diagram for a movie than a work that feels fully realized or inhabited by real people, this London-set comic melodrama is populated by a sorry lot of unhappy folks who switch partners and fail by chasing misguided illusions. Thanks to the attractive cast and some clever scenes, it’s a notch above ‘Scoop’ and ‘Whatever Works’ among the Woodman’s recent output, but very far indeed from ‘Match Point’ and ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona.’ ” –TODD McCARTHY, Deep Focus/indieWIRE

“Woody Allen beats his audience to the shrug in the toss-away romantic square dance ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.’  The resilient old filmmaker cites Shakespeare's ‘Macbeth’ at the beginning of his fable of lucky, handsome people who nevertheless wish their luck were even better. Allen refers to 'a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'’ That's a pretty high-toned way to limit his liability for the lackluster quality of this very slight entry in the canon—another London tale, and a dully shot, poorly used London at that. I'm not sure who the idiot is here, but I'm going to go with...all of the gentle fools assembled.” –LISA SCHWARZBAUM, Entertainment Weekly

“‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’ was written and directed by Woody Allen, who was responsible for some of the finest American films of the late 20th century but whose recent work has often fallen short of that standard. Fortunately, his latest film is easily as satisfying as ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ (2008) and far superior to last year's dismal ‘Whatever Works.’ As usual for an Allen film, the performances are first rate...Allen has been criticized for leaving some of the plot lines up in the air and several characters in the lurch. But he seems to be making a point: Neat Hollywood endings are as phony and dangerous as Cristal's ramblings.”  --CALVIN WILSON, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“A strong cast is the main asset of Woody Allen's latest  romantic farce, ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,’ which mechanically recycles his oh-so-familiar themes in a London setting to somewhat wheezy if moderately funny effect... There are few surprises in a film that finds Woody the director (he does not act here) on the autopilot he has increasingly resorted to as he continues to crank out an average of a film a year, as he has over four decades. As a writer, though, the average of the one-liners that deliver is higher than in many of his recent pictures.” –LOU LUMENICK, The New York Post

“Woody Allen has been directing films for 41 of his just-shy-of-75 years, and if his best work is behind him, there’s something heartening in the recent run of form he’s enjoyed, with such films as ‘Match Point,’ ‘Scoop,’ ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ and ‘Whatever Works’ marking a mellow late-life renaissance...There are no real fireworks in ‘Stranger,’ exactly (indeed, its craft is surprisingly lax), but it offers the small delight of watching a master step back from more ardent work to put together a diverting miniature.  And in the scheme of things, that’s actually more of an accomplishment than it might sound.  Minor Mozart, after all, is still pretty darned good.”  --SHAWN LEVY, Portland Oregonian


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