Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (comedy, romance)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones and Freida Pinto

Sony Pictures | 2010 | 98 min | Rated R | Released Feb 15, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

English, French: DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0

English, English SDH, French

Single 25GB Blu-ray Disc

The Film 4/5

When you watch a Woody Allen film, you can expect several things: There will almost certainly be a narrator, the story will be dialogue-driven, the cast will be fantastic and there will be a few insights about human nature. He'll probably make you laugh too. There’s an honesty about his writing that’s often lacking in similar films.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is about an old married couple, a younger married couple and a few single people who are woven into the mix. They all live in London, England. The older couple is Helena (Jones) and Alfie (Hopkins) and they are separated. Helena reacts by trying to commit suicide and Alfie by proposing to Charmaine; a woman half his age.

Their daughter, Sally (Watts), has a relationship with both parents and is married to Roy (Brolin). Sally and Roy have become bored with each other and are starting to notice other people. Sally has a crush on her boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas), while Roy has his eye on an attractive neighbor, Dia (Pinto).

Helena regularly visits a psychic who assures her that her life is about to get better. She will find a new love and be happy. Sally plays along to keep her mother happy and hopeful.

We learn that Alfie’s wife-to-be is called Charmaine and he lies about how they met. She was actually a call girl. Her motivation seems to be to take Alfie for all the money he has. Roy meets Dia for lunch and continues to pursue her even when he learns that she’s engaged. Sally doesn’t notice Roy’s behavior because she’s too busy spending time with Greg.

Roy’s other motivation in life is finding a publisher for his latest book. His first was a success, but he’s having trouble selling his fourth. When tragedy strikes some of his friends, Roy’s true nature becomes clear.

The four principal characters are all flawed. They lie routinely to protect their fragile relationships and we rarely see a true exchange between them. When we do, the outcome is usually damaging to their relationships.

Each character has hopes and dreams and is willing to make big changes in order to fulfill them. All four suffer setbacks when their lies and unethical behavior catches up with them. These are not bad people; they are just tired with their boring existence. It’s human nature to reach for something better, but it’s not always easy to do so without hurting people you are supposed to love.

Allen is a master at exposing the weaknesses in people. He realizes that we all have them to some degree. His actors all do the material justice and I would expect nothing less from such a talented group.

The stories and subplots held my attention throughout. I found myself wanting to see what happened to these well-defined characters. There are a few twists and turns and Allen doesn’t tell us what happens to every character. He doesn’t need to. This is a fascinating snapshot of people’s lives and it’s entertaining as it is.

As our narrator tells us at the end, “sometimes the illusions work better than the medicine.”

How many people are doing exactly that in their lives? It’s often easier to fool yourself rather than face up to the truth.

Video Quality 4/5
The Blu-ray presentation of the film isn’t something you would choose to show off your home theater, but it looks decent enough. Detail is moderate, but the images are clean and natural-looking. I have seen similar settings in London and felt completely at home.

Audio Quality 3.5/5
It’s rare for a film to feature a DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 mix, but it works. Sort of. Allen’s films tend to focus on dialogue and this track presents it clearly. Where it misses the mark is in scenes featuring background noise. The rear speakers won’t enhance the sound of heavy rain or traffic in the way that you would expect. That doesn’t detract from the experience too much because of the nature of the film.

Special Features 0/5
Aside from a trailer and a few promos, there’s nothing included apart from the film itself.

Would I recommend the film? If, like me, you enjoy Woody Allen’s films, this is well worth seeing. Its structure is similar to other Allen films or something like Mike Nichols’ Closer (which is superior). Casual viewers might be disappointed as the film deals with the subtleties of human nature. It’s interesting rather than thrilling.

Overall score 4/5 for Allen fans, 3/5 for those unfamiliar with his work.

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