24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

How deep is Woody Allen's fan base?

September 27, 2010 |  7:00 am

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By the simple standard of limited releases, Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" performed well this weekend.

But by the standard of Woody Allen releases, the matter is ... less clear.

After grossing about $50,000 on Wednesday and Thursday, the Sony Pictures Classics film, a marital comedy packed with stars such as Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Freida Pinto, tallied $164,000 over the weekend. That’s an average of about $27,300 per screen — a number most small films would be ecstatic about, and rightly so. (By comparison, Lionsgate's "Buried," which also opened in limited release, averaged only about one-third of that total.)

But Allen has always had a hard-core coastal fan base that comes out to see his films on opening weekend. So high per-screen averages are not exactly surprising. And when you look at it a little closer, "Stranger" shows a less favorable result. Many Allen films in the past decade have generated as much as $40,000 or $50,000 per screen on opening weekend (in lay terms, that's a few hundred people at each showing).

This one, on the other hand, had a lower average --- in fact, the lowest per-screen average of Allen’s last seven movies that have opened in limited release. (You have to go back to 1995’s "Mighty Aphrodite" to find a lower one.)

It's too soon to say what this weekend's numbers will mean for the final commercial verdict on the director's 41st feature. Allen's films tend to hang in there, holding theaters months into their release. And the 74-year-old filmmaker has of course had a commercial resurgence with some of his recent efforts. Two of them -- "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Match Point" -- have even topped $20 million, the first time in more than two decades he's hit that milestone.

But there have been signs that he's reverting to a fallow period that preceded "Match Point." In early 2008, just seven months before "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," the heist picture "Cassandra's Dream" bombed, failing to even take in $1 million. And despite the presence of star Larry David, last year's "Whatever Works" topped out at only about $5 million domestically.

The reviewers haven't loved "Stranger" and its black comedy take on modern relationships -- the film failed to hit the 50% fresh mark on Rotten Tomatoes, while The Times' Betsy Sharkey was not alone in noting the feeling of an "empty-calorie letdown." It's hard to deny that that Allen is breaking little new ground with some of his recent work. Mostly he's offering something reliable, comedic comfort food for the misanthropy set. The question is how many people keep scarfing it down, and for how long.

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A scene from "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

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Cannes Critical Consensus: 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger'

May 15, 2010 | 10:02 pm

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Been there, done that.

That seems to be the early critical reaction to the latest Woody Allen movie, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," which premiered Saturday at the Cannes Film Festival.

The French festival has always been fond of showcasing films from auteur directors, but the reviewers of Allen's latest effort seem to have had their fill of the idiosyncratic New York filmmaker.  Sony Pictures Classics will release "Dark Stranger" on Sept. 23, and if it's to do much business, the notices better improve.

Here's a sampling from Cannes:

Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune: "I wish I liked the new Woody Allen film better, especially in light of his previous Cannes-launched picture 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' (his most satisfying in years). This one's a doodle.. a picture less seriocomic or bittersweet than simply uncertain of its comic and dramatic effects."

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "The film is notable, if that’s the word, for being the first movie Allen has made in London that is every bit as bad as his most awful New York comedies, like 'Anything Else' and 'Melinda and Melinda.' There should, by now, be an award for worst actor forced to impersonate Woody Allen in a Woody Allen film. I would probably give the award to Kenneth Branagh in 'Celebrity' (with Scarlett Johansson as a close runner-up in Scoop). But if Josh Brolin, in 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,' doesn’t quite enter the make-it-stop stratosphere of whiny fumbly stuttering embarrassment, he’s still got to be the least likely actor ever to play a faux-Woody neurotic intellectual."

Justin Chang, Variety: "By now it's clear Woody Allen doesn't much believe in God, destiny or the notion that life has any larger meaning, a message he tubthumps to increasingly feeble and unpersuasive effect in 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.' Fitfully amusing and nearly saved by its distinguished cast, this London-set ensembler is another of Allen's patented ironic ruminations on marital angst, vocational discontent and the overall pointlessness of human existence, so why not sit back and laugh at the futility of it all?"

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Woody Allen, moviedom's Joe DiMaggio

March 3, 2010 | 10:56 am

Wood Woody Allen has released at least one movie each year since 1982 -- a remarkable achievement, the filmic equivalent of Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak combined. (We'll count Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" as a 2007 picture -- it hit all the festivals that year and was to come out then before the Weinstein Co. pushed the release a few weeks back into 2008).

This year, Allen, closing in on 75, will continue his Iron Man performance. His "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" will be released in the fall, having now been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, as the company announced this morning.

Of course, working that diligently or quickly isn't always synonymous with quality (just ask Clint Eastwood). Not all of the Allen movies have been masterpieces; in fact, sometimes, he seems to alternate between good movies and questionable ones. The messy "Scoop" followed "Match Point"; "Whatever Works" came after "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." (Which should augur good things for "Stranger," the London-shot film starring Naomi Watts, Freida Pinto and Josh Brolin).

But in an era when directors dither, financiers futz and pre-production can last longer than entire geologic eras, it's encouraging to see filmmakers still crank them out.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Woody Allen. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times


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