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Solid Allen and Stone entries fail to steal the Cannes limelight

Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 classic "Wall Street" and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" (photo) provide what one would expect from two veteran directors. But not a lot more. Watch Woody Allen's full interview (see video).


, special correspondent in Cannes

While this year's Cannes competition line-up singled out a few new countries (Ukraine and Chad are vying for the Palme d'Or for the first time), one nation is almost absent. Doug Liman's "Fair Game" is the only American film in competition, whereas the US had two works in the main category last year, four in 2008 and five the year before that. 

The New York Times headlined its article about the festival's opening "Cannes Runs a Bit Short on Stars This Year", alluding to a sentiment   guiltily articulated by many film buffs in attendance   that a festival conspicuously short on American offerings is somehow missing a certain je ne sais quoi.

But those craving a bit of old-style Hollywood pizzazz amid the more rarefied films on the Croisette got a double dose on Friday and Saturday with two out-of-competition entries from US heavyweights: Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger".

Neither movie is a knockout by any means. Still, the elbows thrown by journalists clamouring to make it into the press screenings, as well as the throngs of fans gathered to watch the red-carpet photo calls, testified to the powerful lure of US cinema even at a festival known for its attention to corners of the world other than America and Europe.

Given the global financial crisis, Oliver Stone's sequel to his 1987 "Wall Street" has a certain international pull and proved to be a somewhat pleasant surprise: a crisp and engaging though extremely conventional follow-up that updates themes explored in the so-so original with a fair amount of savvy.

The film pits a couple of young idealists (played winningly by Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan) against big-bank sharks   including, of course, the first film's anti-hero Gordon Gekko, incarnated with the same oily charisma and a new touch of melancholy by Michael Douglas.

The first half is smartly written and paced, as Stone sets up his chess pieces with typical verve; there's a chillingly staged suicide and a conversation between LaBeouf and Douglas on the New York subway tingles with paranoia and menace. The second half of the film loses momentum, resolving things too cleanly and leaning too much on typical tropes of American cinema: fiery confrontations, teary reconciliations, and character and plot twists that feel either predictable or arbitrary.

You end up wishing Stone had gone deeper and darker, grappling with the newly urgent themes of greed and corruption with greater nuance than his nice-guy-against-evil-capitalist-system framework allows. But nuance has never been Stone's specialty, and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is vibrant enough entertainment to make you forgive him the shortcoming for two hours.


Much of a muchness Woody Allen?

That vibrancy is only intermittently present in Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger", in which the director assembles a typically high-profile cast to play out the romantic entanglements and dashed dreams of various members of a London family.

Web extra : full interview with Woody Allen

Neither sufficiently funny to work fully as comedy, nor emotionally involving enough to succeed as a drama, the movie is one of Allen's blander efforts   especially disappointing after the riveting twists of "Match Point" and the sensuality and sparkle of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". Allen's camera is as confident as ever, and actors such as Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Gemma Jones are fun to watch in high-strung roles.

But the neuroses that drive the film's story seem imposed by Allen's own world view, rather than organically sprung from the characters on screen.

Although the movie is highly watchable (Allen is too much of a pro to turn in a truly bad film), the director's narrative tics are starting to feel especially tired; how many times can we watch an old man ditch his steadfast wife for a pretty young thing in a miniskirt and stilettos, and still find it funny or compelling?

More bothersome still is how thinly the film examines its themes. "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" is about frustrated people who long for what they can't have, and the veteran director barely scratches the surface. Allen’s most loyal fans will likely feel that frustration acutely.

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