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Cannes Review: “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.”

Cannes Review: “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Woody Allen has preempted criticism of his latest breezy exercise in romantic neurosis by opening and closing his film by evoking Shakespeare’s famous line: “It is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” While that claim may be facetious — Allen returns here to familiar territory that is potentially meaty, concerning fate, sex, love, death and consequences — “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is a light, forgettable entertainment, signifying more of the same old stuff from the 74-year-old auteur.

Set in London, the story revolves around four interconnected characters: Helena (Gemma Jones), a matriarch who takes her advice from a fortune teller; her husband Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), who has left Helena to recapture his youth; their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts), who wants a baby and her own career; and Sally’s husband Roy (Josh Brolin), a struggling novelist.

The film opens on Helena’s first visit to her neighborhood clairvoyant: for glimpses into the future, confidence-building in the wake of her husband’s abandonment, and a glass of “drinky” (that is, scotch). Helena’s faith in her friend, the aptly named Cristal, forms one of the comic through-lines of the film.

While never as magical or mysterious as Allen’s previous flirtations with the occult, as in Mia Farrow’s visits to Chinatown in “Alice” or Scarlett Johansson’s encounter with a magician in “Scoop,” the soothsaying nevertheless provides for some moderately successful humor, and shows off the acting talents of Jones, a British veteran most known for playing the mother in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” The actress plays Helena without condescension. Her undying commitment to her fortune-telling transforms the character from being a joke to the movie’s best asset — as well as the script’s most prevalent theme: “Illusions,” notes a third-person narrator, “work better than medicine.”

05142010_YouWillMeetATallDarkStranger4.jpgThe other characters are familiar Allen archetypes. Brolin’s writer falls for a beautiful British-Indian woman (Freida Pinto) some ten years his junior who he first spies playing the guitar — in a red slip, no less — through an apartment window in a neighboring building.

Meanwhile, Alfie becomes smitten by the hard body of a young prostitute (Lucy Punch, delivering some campy humor) and marries her. These sorts of borderline chauvinist plotlines have gotten tired in Allen films by now. At least Antonio Banderas shows up as the sexual object of Watts’s Sally; though unlike the men in Allen’s latest, she never gets to bed him.

In one plot strand, Allen recycles some themes from “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (not to mention “Morvern Callar”) with Brolin’s character committing an act of crass immorality, though in a further twist, he may actually get caught. It’s mildly clever, and the movie suffers less from the stifling nature of some of Allen’s late-career offerings, but “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” never amounts to anything more than a slight diversion loaded with well-worn Allen tropes.

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” will be released by Sony Pictures Classics later this fall.

[Photos: “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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