It's scary to think the Blu-ray future of Woody Allen's oeuvre may be tied to the sales of his new product, considering his target demo is far more likely to drag their feet before changing formats, and because some of his newer works are a bit less intriguing than his past fare. It also doesn't help that aside from 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' he isn't garnering much critical acclaim since he's seemingly stopped appearing in front of the camera (so much so that's he's even become like Maris in 'Frasier' in an episode of 'How I Met Your Mother!'). The sales of 'Whatever Works' had to be dismal, so I'm kind of shocked that we're even seeing the newest film from the comic master on Blu-ray.
So, as we wait for 'Annie Hall' or 'Crimes and Misdemeanors,' 'Manhattan' or 'Anything Else' (just kidding, no one wants 'Anything Else,' not even Jason Biggs) for what may seem like eternity, we'll only have the random import and the newer films from the infinitely talented Allen, and, sadly, his newer works are very much hit or miss.
'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' is not the best Woody Allen film. Heck, it's probably one of his lesser works, and not just in recent memory, as it seems to follow a twisted narrative that we've seen time and time again, offering little originality in how the story is told, despite the fact that it has plenty to say. An all-star cast can't fix the issues with this film, no matter how powerful their performances may be, as this newest insightful romp tries to be everything to everyone while juggling far too many balls at once.
This is a tale of many lovers, none of whom seem satisfied. The heads of the Shebritch family (Gemma Jones as Helena, Anthony Hopkins as Alfie) have split, with Alfie looking to to live life up while he can, and act like a man half his age. Their daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts) and her husband Roy (Josh Brolin) have their problems, with Helena seemingly causing the majority of them, from financial woes to marital spats caused by her interference. Sally's boss (Antonio Banderas) has the success she's been dreaming of, and her job is inching closer and closer to that of a secretary rather than an assistant or equal, while Roy's writing career has hit a low, after a very promising start, though his neighbor across the way (Freida Pinto) seems to inspire him in ways beyond his writing. With Helena's dependency on a psychic (Pauline Collins as Cristal) making her afraid to act without first consulting her, and Alfie's surprise engagement to a call girl (Lucy Punch as Charmaine), the winds of change will blow, and there doesn't seem to be a house capable of standing once the storm is resolved.
For every part that works, 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' has another that doesn't, and with so many components in the mix, the film can sometimes become a bit too coincidental and complicated for its own good. It's a shame, since there are some amazing performances, highlighted by Jones' dedication to stealing every scene she inhabits. Also commanding and eye-catching is Punch, which shocked me, especially after witnessing her horrid overacting in 'Dinner for Shmucks' just days earlier, as she truly does play the part to a tee. Hopkins is always solid, and with his first appearance in the film, had me wondering if he'd truly given an effort, a question that resided as his continued nuanced performance peeled back its layers. If there is anyone capable of going from point A to point Z in a film, highlighting every stop along the way, it's Hopkins, and his arc is made believable solely due to his conviction.
'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' seems to be the antithesis of 'Valentine's Day,' where there are no meet cutes, no real showering of love, and a truly pessimistic view on love and faith that is unlikely to give a happy ending to anyone unfortunate enough to be involved. It's just too much, really, to see every character question themselves and their life partners all at the same point in the film, and all make changes along the same time, and that's exactly what happens, as if relationships were ever in flux like the colors of leaves on a tree. Everyone and their partners have ups and downs, but since there doesn't seem to be anyone above looking at a replacement before removing themselves from their existing attachments, there lacks a real sense of humanity and compassion, and that can create a very difficult viewing experience. There also isn't much of a love affair for the city, as London doesn't quite hold up to the magic that is the Woody Allen view of New York, despite this being his fourth film in this setting.
This film is full of great insights, such as the co-dependence felt by those not ready to face life on their own (Helena's reliance on Cristal to tell her what to do next, including how much to pay her), the deceit doled out by those who only stand to benefit (Cristal's feeding off information Helena dumps at her lap is quite amusing), the lengths men will go to in the face of failure (as is witnessed by Roy's acts when his novel fails to be picked up, as Cristal predicts), or the price one must pay when success was only a fleeting mirage (as Sally finds her aspirations to be much more difficult to achieve than she once envisioned). For every believable arc, there is another that just reeks of convenience (the Dia and Roy tale), and that is caused by the writing itself. While 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' is full of fun role reversals and the constant pursuit of the grass that is greener on the other side, the ideas act like a fatal mirage far too often for my tastes. Allen is a legendary triple threat film legend, but his newest work falls to predictability and laziness too often for its own good, and that can create an unpleasant viewing experience for those going into the film with high expectations based on the powerhouse cast.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' arrives on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Classics on a Region A marked BD25 disc. There are no annoying pre-menu trailers, and the menu itself is your standard full motion fare, with removable menu sounds that default to on.
'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' is given a 1080p 1.78:1 framed AVC MPEG-4 encode that is actually quite good and lifelike, though it has a few hang ups.
Depth isn't always consistent, but there are numerous scenes that have superb clarity and a great 3D-esque effect in the background to make up for the moments that have little to no depth. Grain levels are light, never fluctuate, and also don't deter detail levels, which are fairly even, rarely fluctuating. Edges are clean, and stray hairs constantly leap. Sadly, they may be leaping from the skin tones, trying to distance themselves from the burn, as there is some serious orange going on here. White skies are a tiny bit blown out, but there aren't many scenes that showcase this, and there are far more instances of immense foreground liveliness due to some superbly crafted shots that are very engrossing. There's a tiny bit of black crush, and the occasional moment where a shot is just dim compared to previous and later shots, just odd ducks with no real reason to not be as good looking save for source issues. I was fairly impressed by the way the constant red clothing was shown off, as it looks stunning when it's on the mark, but there were a few moments when these bright reds got a tad too fuzzy.
Overall, this is a solid transfer that does the film proud.
If you're a fan of Allen's films, you should know the drill by now. 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' is given a three (center and front left and right) speaker DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix that is a bit weird, but not too bad.
Every scene has appropriate dynamics, and there isn't a single line of dialogue that sounds out of place, cheaply ADR'ed, or even buried beneath other elements (though a few scenes have random atmosphere giving dialogue a run for its money). There is a bit of static in the backgrounds quite regularly, a slight hum that seems to be intentional, but can be very noticeable at times, especially in the scenes when it is almost as loud as the score, and in a few spots, it sounds like a high pitched squeal. Footsteps and ambience are constantly on display, making the film feel quite lively, despite never being able to see feet in most scenes, or the birds doing the chirping, and so on.
I don't see anyone going into this film who isn't at least somewhat familiar with Woody Allen (unless they're a diehard Anthony Hopkins fan), so this mix shouldn't surprise anyone.
Not much here. Just a Preview(HD, 2 min) for 'Barney's Version,' and a Theatrical Trailer for 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' (HD, 1 min).
'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' isn't great writing, and even the superb acting found within fails to hold the film up as its runtime feels twice as long as it actually is. It's full of quirky insights and interesting characters, but far too many conveniently dark twists that never work out like they're supposed to. After a while, it's hard to feel good about life itself, let alone the film, and the title's dual meaning (either the stereotypical Don Juan or the Grim Reaper himself) is alluded to, but never quite fully realized, sadly. This Blu-ray release has strong video, and vintage Woody Allen audio, and, of course, no extras of note. Fans will have to pick this one up, but those unfamiliar with Allen should pursue some of his other works, as this is not the best introduction to the neurotic New Yorker.