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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

(2010) ** 1/2 R
98 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Freida Pinto, Antonio Banderas.

/content/films/3945/2.jpgIn a year that saw two prestige pictures paint credulous portraits of psychics, Woody Allen deserves our gratitude for delivering a healthily skeptical (if not outright sarcastic) perspective on a character who promises to make contact with the great beyond. Bless 'im, Woody even calls the character a "swami," which no one dares call Matt Damon in Hereafter or Javier Bardem in Biutiful. The swami in Allen's ensemble dramedy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger forms part of an agenda of debunking a variety of human-natural delusions (including, though only implicitly, religious faith).

Allen acknowledges Hollywood's part in forming our illusions by selecting "When You Wish upon a Star" for his opening song (for the record, Pinocchio came out when Woody was four years old). Next, in what's become a consistent element of Allen's latter-day style, a narrator (Zak Orth) kicks off the London-set story with an allusion to a play famously predicated on fortune-telling disaster: "Shakespeare said life was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Enter anxious old-age pensioner Helena Shepridge (Gemma Jones), recently dumped by her husband of forty years, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins). While Alfie willfully denies his advanced age with a sports car, vigorous exercise, tanning, tooth whitening and young prostitutes, Helena retreats to psychic called Cristal Delgiorno (Pauline Collins).

Helena and Alfie's daughter Sally (Naomi Watts)—an employee at an art gallery—does her best to humor her parents, though it's difficult given the psychic and Alfie's new fiancée Charmaine Foxx (Lucy Punch), a golddigger whose past as a prostitute Alfie wisely omits from polite conversation. Sally's husband Roy Channing (Josh Brolin) has written his second novel, but fears he may be a one-hit wonder, especially after reading the brilliant debut novel of a younger colleague (Ewen Bremner). A med-school graduate who never pursued his license, Roy attempts to make ends meet as a chauffeur, but he's a dismal failure; his waistline thickening and his charm diminishing by the hour, he's asking for Sally to stray. She's considering it, with her sexy boss Greg (Antonio Banderas), but unbeknownst to her, Roy also has designs on another, a "woman in red" (Frieda Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire) who lives across the way from their apartment.

Allen's die-hard fans are liable to find his themes here overly familiar, particularly the idea that the proverbial grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It's tempting, as always, to view the romantically fickle characters as splinters of Allen's personality, his obsessions (personal health) and fears (stale marriages, and writer's block). Naturally, death remains front and center; that's him lurking in the title (as Roy wrily tells Helena, "I believe you will meet the tall dark stranger we all eventually meet"). More damaging is the unfortunate truth that Allen's latest is neither funny nor moving. Though recognizable, practically none of the characters are likeable, and the writer-director's classless, uneducated (sex-trading) female archetype is beginning to wear (though Charmaine gets the film's only good gag: she's disappointed Ibsen's Ghosts "wasn't even scary"). Allen has here an interesting idea—that placebos may "work better" than medicine—to noodle over and ultimately reject; it's just a shame he doesn't entertain us more in the process.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0

Street date: 2/15/2011

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony's Blu-ray of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger meets with expectations in every way—if you're a Woody Allen fan, that is. The hi-def transfer perfectly replicates the film's theatrical look, with warm and accurate colors and an accurate rendering of the detail and texture provided by Vilmos Zsigmond's slightly soft photographic approach. As per Allen tradition, the audio is kept simple, with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 mix that's actually a significant step up compared to years of mono tracks; it's a perfectly adequate and clear presentation of the film's dialogue and music, which aren't terribly demanding of lossless audio.

Also par for the Woody course: the only bonus feature is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (1:38, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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