Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (Rhoades)

"Tall Dark Stranger" - A Tale Told by an Idiot
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

There was an arcade on the boardwalk of Jacksonville Beach with a fortune telling machine, a booth inhabited by a gray-haired gypsy woman who looked like a Madam Tussaud wax exhibit until you put a coin in the slot. Then she would mechanically come to life, spreading a hand of cards, eying you maliciously, and offering a witch's cackle. And then a card with your fortune printed on it would drop into the metal tray.

The messages were often smugly pessimistic.

That's what Woody Allen's films remind me of, an annual fortuneteller's card dropped on us by the director, filled with his metaphysical musings about the meaninglessness of life. As if we need to be reminded.

"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" not only fits the bill, the title even bears a message delivered by the movie's wizened fortuneteller (played by Pauline Collins). This latest misanthropic outing can be found at the Tropic Cinema.

Don't take these observations as negative. I'm a longtime Woody Allen fan. I used to go watch him play his clarinet at Michael's Pub, a block from my apartment in New York City. He's like the Fool in a jester's hat who entertains the emperor's court, the only person in all the kingdom allowed to utter the truth under the guise of humor.

Allen gives us a clue, starting off "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" with a quote from Shakespeare about "sound and fury, signifying nothing." His usual nihilism. "A tale told by an idiot," the quote continues. Nudge, nudge – don't you get it?

For his 41st film, the director returns to London (scene of "Match Point," "Scoop," and "Cassandra's Dream"), the project fueled by Spanish financing (as was "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"). And he features an international array of stars, including Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, and Josh Brolin, among others.

That is to say, this Woody Allen movie was not made in New York – the love affair with that city so brilliantly celebrated in "Manhattan," "Annie Hall," "Manhattan Melodrama," "Bullets Over Broadway," and "Broadway Danny Rose" now clearly over.

The famously neurotic director will tell you its because making films is so much cheaper in Europe these days. But it sounds kinda like that old breaking-up excuse, "It's not you, it's me."

Here, Allen provides us with a triptych of romantic disasters. Roy (Josh Brolin) is a faltering novelist who's married to Sally (Naomi Watts). He and his shrewish wife live an upwardly mobile bohemian existence, the nirvana that Allen would have his characters strive for. Sally's mother Helena (Genna Jones) helps support the couple. Helena's ex-husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) is the poster boy for midlife crisis, having gone back to the gym and bought himself a trophy wife (Lucy Punch) with an array of furs, jewels, and a lavish apartment. Never mind that she's a former call girl with little class. His former wife Helena tries to meet someone new, but can't compete with deceased loved ones. The curse of old-age dating. Meanwhile Roy is ogling Dia (Freida Pinto), the dishy neighbor across the way who undresses for his amusement.

And the aforementioned tall dark stranger is none other than Sally's boss (Antonio Banderas in a typecasting coup for the Woodman).

We get the joke: What's it all about, Alfie? Where's Michael Caine ("Hannah and Her Sisters," "Alfie") when Woody needs him to help deliver this message about the meaninglessness of life?

At 75, Woody has quit acting in his films (since he's "too old to get the girl"). And they've quit being funny. Even in that's Fool's way of delivering an unpopular message. Maybe if this brilliant director would surprise us with a different message, he'd discover the secret to Clint Eastwood's longevity. You can't play Dirty Harry forever. Nor can you be the neurotic shlub for half a century without it starting to sound like a Borsch Belt routine you've heard before.

Sure, I enjoyed "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." But truth is, I was looking forward to meeting someone who was so much more than a fortuneteller's cliché.
[from Solares Hill]

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