Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I've never seen a Woody Allen movie I haven't liked on some level. He's one of those creators whose work always gives me some level of artistic appreciation, always hits me in a way that satisfies my need to be engaged by a work of art.

I know people whose taste I respect who don't feel that way, but I do. As I do about many filmmakers and actors and writers and painters etc. Beckett and DeKooning and Rilke, to name a trio probably a lot of people appreciate in that way. But also less obvious folks like George Clooney or Martha Gelhorn or Lee Miller.

Allen has never disappointed me the way some prolific creators do. He comes out with what seems like a new movie every year and thus far I have never been completely disappointed. Some are better than others, of course, and his varying approaches and styles to what are almost always stories about relationships—three favorites off the top of my head, for instance, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, VICKIE CHRISTINA BARCELONA, and MATCH POINT, are all from different genres, but still address the complications of shifting romantic and sexual desire.

I know plenty of people who are still angry at him for his betrayal of Mia Farrow with her adopted daughter, understandably, but it's my belief that the trauma caused for everyone involved in that series of events (he is still married to the daughter) only added to his unique perspective on relationships.

Many of his movies can be placed in either the cynical or the hopeful column concerning relationships. usually they mix those feelings and YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER mixes them exceptionally well and exceptionally originally.

As always the cast is incredible, led by Antony Hopkins, Gemma Jones (who plays his wife of many years), Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Frieda Pinto and Lucy Punch (as the woman Hopkins' character replaces his aging wife with).

There are, as often is the case in an Allen movie, many tour de force performances. As someone who has acted in films I can only marvel at how Allen brings out so many incredible performances in his actors. Yes, he casts brilliantly usually, but in almost every film of his I find actors giving performances that reach well beyond what I've seen them do before, or at least well aside or inside.

It doesn't always work. Josh Brolin, for instance, in YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER gives the kind of terrific performance that has almost become routine for him in recent years. But he seems miscast to me in the role of someone who could seduce both Naomi Watts and Frieda Pinto, the latter being perhaps the most beautiful woman in films today.

Brolin looks chunky, with a big belly, and hair that comes off almost wig-like and is playing an unappealing character, so it's difficult to swallow that these great film beauties would be so easily enamored of this lout. But he makes the character totally believable in terms of emotional and psychological truth.

Hopkins hits such a vast range of notes in his portrayal of an aging man's attempt to recapture what's slipping away, it could have been the subject of any other director/writer's movie all by itself. It's a return to the consummate artist Hopkins proved himself to be at his peak in films like REMAINS OF THE DAY and HOWARD'S END.

Gemma Jones is a discovery for me, an English actress who plays a befuddled elderly woman grasping at straws so perfectly, her character too could have been the entire subject of any lesser filmmaker's movie. Meanwhile Watts, playing her daughter, kicks butt in a role that is the heart of the film.

She has some mesmerizing scenes with Antonio Banderas, who in YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER, seems to be the actor designated as the Woody's-stuttering-speech-patterns channeler. (I've come to the conclusion that as Alfred Hitchcock always appeared in a scene in his films as silent character passing through, Woody always appears in his film through the speech patterns of one character in them, this time Banderas's art gallery owner).

But it's the relatively minor character of "Charmaine" played by Lucy Punch who almost steals the film with her complicated realization of what initially registers as a very obvious simple character (the dumb, uncultured, blond etc.).

The mix of hopefulness and cynicism that doesn't quite resolve this story left me and the friend I saw it with wanting more. That alone is a pretty good recommendation for checking it out, especially when added to the performances and the way Allen has of introducing what seem, as my friend pointed out, cliched characters and relationships only to have those cliches upended, reversed, turned on their heads, inside out, or torn apart.

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