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Woody's a 'Stranger' no more

Published November 04. 2010 05:00PM

Woody Allen's films arrive in theaters each year with the predictability of the falling leaves.

There was an epiphany while viewing Woody Allen's latest, "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger." For while the leaves change color, Allen's films do not always.

Allen, who wrote 64 films, directed 46 films, acted in 40 films (but not "Stranger") and has "Midnight in Paris" in post-production, basically does stand-up comedy with pictures.

Allen's autumnal concerns include the inevitably of aging and its effect on desire, the difficulty of relationships, the profound disappointments that can accompany love, and the lengths to which some deceive and lie to get what they want or what they think they want.

Allen still hasn't returned to his beloved Manhattan milieu. "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" takes place in London. As if to prove New York City hasn't cornered the market on neurotics, the film's anxiety-ridden cast-offs could fill a week's worth of therapists' couches.

Allen begins the film by rewriting "Macbeth," Act 5, Scene 5: "Life is 'full of sound and fury' and in the end, signifies nothing."

Roy (Josh Brolin) is a once-hot novelist whose latest manuscript is making the publishing house rounds of rejection, before he commits literary larceny.

Roy's wife, Sally (Naomi Watts), works for a gallery owner (Antonio Banderas), whom she fancies. Roy becomes infatuated with a music-playing neighbor, Dia (Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire").

Sally's father, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), has left his wife and her mother, Helena (Gemma Jones of "Sense and Sensibility"), for a much younger woman, Charmaine (Lucy Punch). Helena seeks the solace of a fortune teller, hence, the film's title.

None of this ends well in the Shakespearian-influenced storyline. Allen cooks up a delicious twist that nearly turns the plot-heavy dish into a tasty stew.

Allen adds ingredients, turns up the heat and stirs the cauldron. When it rises to a boil, more schadenfreude is served than on a reality TV show.

"Stranger" is mostly worth seeing for its excellent cast. The actors seem to be relishing their roles and it rubs off on the audience.

Brolin is especially engaging to watch in the role of a man-boy. Watts is always intriguing and smart.

Old-pro Hopkins steals the show, with a mix of bravado and bathos that resonates with a certain charm. Whether or not Allen chose Hopkins' character's name, Alfie, in homage to the 1966 Michael Caine film, Hopkins portrayal is touching and sad. There's no fool like an old fool.

"Stranger" has a lackluster quality, starting with a washed-out, predominantly yellow palette, grainy cinematography by the usually great Vilmos Zsigmond ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and rudimentary camera placement and editing choices.

It's high infidelity in low-fi cinema.

Is Woody Allen merely going through the emotions? Has he run out of things to observe and say? Not quite. Still, there's little mystery about this "Tall Dark Stranger." We've met him and the other characters in this latest Woody Allen film many falls before.

Even so, minor Woody is still major compared to many films out there in this or any season.

"You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger": MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for some language; Genre: Comedy, Romance; Run time: 1 hr. 38 min.; Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Bucks County's Leon Redbone sings "When You Wish Upon A Star," by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, and sung by Cliff Edwards for Walt Disney's animated feature, "Pinocchio" (1940), during "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" opening and closing credits.

Box Office, Oct. 29: Moviegoers saw "Saw 3D," which sawed its way to $22.5 million for the Halloween weekend and $24.2 million since its midnight Oct. 28 opening, passing through "Paranormal Activity 2," dropping from No. 1 to No. 2, with $16.5 million and $65.6 million after two weeks.

3. "Red," $10.8 million, $58.9 million, three weeks; 4. "Jackass 3D," $8.4 million, $101.5 million, three weeks; 5. "Hereafter," $6.3 million, $22.1 million, three weeks; 6. "Secretariat," $5 million, $44.7 million, four weeks; 7. "The Social Network," $4.7 million, $79.7 million, five weeks; 8. "Life As We Know It," $4 million, $43.6 million, four weeks; 9. "The Town," $1.9 million, $87.6 million, seven weeks; 10. "Conviction," $1.8 million, $2.3 million, three weeks

Unreel, Nov. 5:

"127 Hours," Rated R: Danny Boyle directs James Franco as mountain climber Aron Ralston trapped under a boulder in a story based on the real-life event.

"Due Date," Rated R: Todd Phillips directs Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, Zach Galifianakis and Michelle Monaghan in a comedy about a road trip to make it to the hospital on time.

"Megamind," Rated PG: The animated feature, with character voices by Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, is about a super-villain who has a change of heart.

"Fair Game," Rated PG-13: In the movie based on a true story, Naomi Watts portrays CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose identity is allegedly leaked by White House officials after her husband, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), wrote a 2003 New York Times opinion piece claiming the George W. Bush administration manipulated Weapons of Mass Destruction threats to justify the War in Iraq.

"For Colored Girls," Rated R: Tyler Perry directs his first non-original screenplay, adapted from Ntozake Shange's play, "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf," that stars Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington and Thandie Newton about an African-American group of women in a 12-step program.

Read previous movie reviews at Email Paul Willistein at: and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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