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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday, April 17, 2014 - Edition No 893 

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YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER

SYNOPSIS:
Follows a pair of married couples, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and husband Roy (Josh Brolin), as their passions, ambitions, and anxieties lead them into trouble and out of their minds. After Alfie leaves Helena to pursue his lost youth and a free-spirited call girl named Charmaine (Lucy Punch), Helena abandons rationality and surrenders her life to the loopy advice of a charlatan fortune teller, Cristal (Pauline Collins). Unhappy in her marriage, Sally develops a crush on her handsome art gallery owner boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas), while Roy, a novelist nervously awaiting the response to his latest manuscript, becomes moonstruck over Dia (Freida Pinto), a mystery woman who catches his gaze through a nearby window.

Review by Louise Keller:
Desire plays musical chairs in this lightweight, amusing comedy of errors, in which chance, fate and misaligned planets play havoc with hearts. Like a ball of wool whose strands unravel, Allen toys with the lives of his interconnected central characters. A deserted wife with low self-esteem, her fitness-obsessed ex-husband, his gold digging hooker, the selfless daughter who supports her philandering writer husband and the charlatan clairvoyant who unknowingly orchestrates the action by telling her client what she wants to hear are the main players. Their wishes hang in the balance.

Written after Whatever Works (2009), which played like a stream of consciousness in Allen's beloved New York before his 2011 piece de resistance Midnight in Paris, marrying the present with the mystique of a gone-by era, the allure of Tall Dark Stranger is the ever evolving emotional state of its characters' emotions as external factors impact on them. Despite its appeal and with much of the film's appeal coming from its top cast, we are kept at arm's length, largely due to the voice-over narration that constantly reminds us that it is Allen who is orchestrating his characters, rather than allowing them to convince us of their own accord.

Allen's sardonic cynicism is visible from the very start of the film: following a wishful rendition of the magical 'When You Wish Upon A Star' from Pinocchio, Shakespeare's Macbeth is quoted, reminding us that life, although full of sound and fury, in the end signifies nothing. It's all about the journey - right?

The characters are a diverse and colourful lot. Illusions work better than medicines for Helena (Gemma Jones), whose well-meaning card-reading friend Cristal (Pauline Collins) provides a lifeline. Anthony Hopkins gives a nicely understated performance as Helena's ex, whose new lease of life includes Viagra and brassy blonde bombshell 'actress' Charmaine (Lucy Punch) for whom life is a never-ending garland of silk underwear, fur coats and diamond earrings. Punch is a knockout; excuse the pun. The only acting Charmaine has done is faking an orgasm, moans Sally (Naomi Watts), who is attracted to her charming art gallery boss (Antonio Banderas) just a little too much. Sally's husband Roy (Josh Brolin) is looking for inspiration for his next book and is smitten by Dia, the gorgeous girl in red (Freida Pinto), who he spies through his window in various stages of undress. Punch is the scene stealer while Watts is the anchor, always likeable and credible in a tangible way.

There's a sense of irony as the characters mostly get what their hearts desire, but never quite in the way they hope. It's the adage of being careful what you wish for. It's funny in a cumulative way, and as life's jigsaw puzzle settles into view, it is clear the picture is one that Picasso might have drawn. It may not be Allen's best work, but this flutter and change of hearts is easy to watch and enjoy as wishes and dreams play their tug of war.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Like a second hand clothes shop, YWMATDS is comfortable rather than exciting, predictable rather than refreshing, even though it boasts a great cast who believe in their master, Woody Allen. Allen's interest in the consequences of moral or ethical missteps have powered much of his work, and his juggling of romantic betrayal with twists of fate is what makes his work engrossing - even when it is below par, as it is here.

It requires a bit of Allen worship and some dedication to persevere with the characters in this film, and with some of the plainly manipulative devices that Allen uses to leverage the story towards some sort of meaningful resolution. But perhaps he doesn't intend the resolution to be meaningful, since he twice quotes Shakespeare's words about life being a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing (through the narrator [Zak Orth] who is at least part Allen. I also detect a hint of Allen in Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and his name is surely no coincidence, since in the cinema Alfie will always be the last word in the phrase 'What's it all about ...?'

As well cast as it is, and as well performed, there is a lingering falsehood to the characters as defined by their actions; it's not for lack of acting skills but somewhat shallow characterisations that carry name tags with character descriptions: eg, Roy the struggling and desperate, selfish writer, or Charmaine (Lucy Punch, a knockout) the greedy, venal shallow hooker, and so on. None have any depth or layers, yet this cast is perfectly capable of delivering it. Allen is too busy making 'more' when he should be content to make more with less.

Rescued from banality by a combination of those actors and veteran Vilmos Zsigmond's effortless cinematography, together with Jim Clay's seamless production design, the film scrapes home but like the ending, it's rather muted. (Note Clay's wonderful work on the new - 2012 - Great Expectations from Mike Newell.)



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (M)
(US, 2012)

CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Pauline Collins, Gemma Jones, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas, Lucy Punch, Jim Piddock, Celia Imrie, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Anna Friel

NARRATION: Zak Orth

PRODUCER: Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures, Stephen Tenenbaum

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

SCRIPT: Woody Allen

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vilmos Zsigmond

EDITOR: Alisa Lepselter

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jim Clay

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 17, 2013







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