Moriarty Knows What ALFIE Is All About!!
Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I know I haven’t done my REMAKE THIS! column in a while. It’s mainly because there was no way to keep up with the avalanche of remakes at every studio these days. It used to be a big deal when someone remade a classic. Remember the furor around Gus Van Sant’s attempt to update PSYCHO? At this point, though, no one even seems to notice. Great films are remade just as frequently as crappy ones, if not more so. As a writer, I hear it time and again at pretty much every studio: “Look through our library of titles and see if there’s anything you’d want to remake.” Nothing seems to be off-limits. Take, for example, the case of ALFIE. Bill Naughton’s play and the film that resulted from it were an inspiration for a full generation of swinging bachelors, and it made Michael Caine a star in the ‘60’s. Little wonder. It’s the kind of film that lives or dies based almost wholly on the charisma of the lead, and Michael Caine brought the full force of his Cockney charm to bear in the original.
Part of my skepticism towards the remake came from the announcement of Charles Shyer as the director. Shyer’s not a bad filmmaker, but he’s never seemed like a particularly passionate one to me. He’s had a long and successful career as a writer who crafted a certain type of polished, professional mainstream comedy, and as a director, he’s had hits with films like FATHER OF THE BRIDE and BABY BOOM. Films, in short, that just weren’t my cup of tea. For many years, he was partnered with his wife Nancy Myers, and since their personal and professional split, he’s been working on his own. In a way, it’s looked like he was working to define himself in a different way, as with his last film, THE AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE. Hardly what you’d expect from the author of SMOKEY & THE BANDIT (which, for the record, I love). For ALFIE, he adapted Naughton’s play and screenplay with Elaine Pope (a former SEINFELD writer and producer) as his co-writer. It would be hard to pinpoint exactly why ALFIE feels so different from his previous work, but there’s no denying that it does. There’s a pulse here, a new sense of vitality, and the result is a sleek, smart slice of adult entertainment that has some real soul amidst the slick.
Part of the credit obviously rests of the perfectly squared shoulders of Jude Law. He’s a fascinating performer, a bit of a chameleon so far in his career. He’s never been afraid to make himself ugly or to vanish into a role. There’s an admirable lack of ego to the work he’s done for directors like Steven Spielberg, Anthony Minghella, Andrew Niccol, and Sam Mendes. Now, with ALFIE, he seems to embrace his winning genetic lottery ticket, playing the character with his charm turned all the way up to eleven. Alfie’s a seducer, able to bend every woman in his life to his will with a well-timed smile or the right compliment at the right moment. He gets the fat old lady down the hall (Renee Taylor) to clean his apartment with a little flattery and by making her feel beautiful if only for a few fleeting seconds. He juggles the women in his life, making sure no one ever gets too close to him, and that’s just the way he likes it.
There are, of course, certain women that he favors, like Dorie (Jane Krakowski), the married woman whose husband never touches her anymore, or the nurturing Julie (Marisa Tomei), a single mother who gives him a comfortable life he can slip on and off like a jacket. The closest he wants to get to something real is living vicariously through his best friend Marlon (Omar Epps) and his girlfriend Lonette (Nia Long). Alfie glides across the surface of his own life, and at the start of the film, it all seems to be working for him. Shyer cast the film well, and everyone plays their roles just right. Most audiences will recognize Krakowski from her work on ALLY MCBEAL, but they may not be prepared for how Shyer shoots her. She’s luminous, like we’re seeing her through Alfie’s eyes, and there’s one shot in particular where she is just about too damn sexy to tolerate. Same thing with Tomei. There’s an inviting warmth to the way she’s filmed, appealing in a very specific way. Then there are the scenes between Epps and Long. She’s never been more sexually intoxicating than she is here, and it’s like Alfie catches a contact high from the energy between the two of them.
What makes this more than just a cookie-cutter confection is the way Alfie’s life unravels after the idealized bachelorhood of that opening reel. The famous theme song from the original asked the question, “What’s it all about?” and the point of the film seems to be that he has no goddamn idea what the answer is.
Alfie is, to put it bluntly, a shit. Law makes him likeable, but there’s no getting around the fact. As we watch, his elaborate juggling act falls apart, and Alfie has to deal with the results, slowly figuring out just how much he doesn’t know about his life and how to get through it without hurting the people around him. Even as certain doors in his life close, others open, new opportunities arise, and Alfie really struggles to make them count. Nikki, a crazy beautiful party girl who enters his life by accident just before the holidays, turns out to be one of the most important lisasons of his life. At first, she seems to be a female reflection of him, all he could ever want, and he even entertains the idea that she’s “the one.” When reality sets in, though, Alfie has to deal with looking in the mirror and seeing something he no longer likes. Sienna Miller, who plays Nikki, is more than just a pretty face, giving this crumpled beauty a really lovely dignity even as she falls apart. I never watched KEEN EDDIE, so I missed her there, but I look forward to seeing her in Matthew Vaughn’s LAYER CAKE next spring.
On the prowl again, Alfie ends up in the sights of Liz (Susan Sarandon), a wealthy businesswoman who turns out to be more like Alfie than he’s prepared to handle. I find it sort of amazing that she’s just as potent an object of lust today as she was in ATLANTIC CITY almost twenty years ago. Sarandon is the eternal-MILF, and she’s got great chemistry with Law. As the film progresses, what really works is the way Shyer heaps all of these lessons on Alfie without ever seeming preachy about it. There’s just a natural way that it all plays out, and Law is a marvel of nuance in the role. He’s onscreen for pretty much every moment, and he spends a lot of time talking directly to the camera, but he never seems artificial or over-considered. Even the ultimate resolution of the piece refuses to wrap things up in an easy moralistic bow. This isn’t a film about Alfie solving all of his problems, and it’s not a film about redeeming him and rounding off his rough edges. Instead, it’s just a journey towards some degree of self-recognition.
There’s a Dostoevsky quote I’ve always been fond of that strikes me as particularly apt when thinking about this film and its message:
”What is Hell? I maintain that it is not being able to love; and for that, one does not need Eternity. A day will do, or even a moment.”
When the big-studio romantic comedy is so often used to sell generic happily-ever-after horseshit to us, it feels brave to see someone make one as relentlessly realistic and even pessimistic as this. Oddly, it’s this cad, this bastard, that may finally make Jude Law a full-fledged movie star here in the U.S. He manages to make you care about this guy even at his lowest moments, and there’s something genuinely affecting about watching him struggle for his soul. Shyer wraps the film in all the slick you’d expect from a fall release by a major studio, including new songs by Mick Jagger and David Bowie, but it’s not a meal of empty calories. Instead, this is a case where a remake has resulted in something that stacks up honorably against the original. It will never replace it, but it definitely respects it even as it expands upon it.
This week, I’ve got an extra-large DVD column and a column where I’ll review a group of micro-budget marvels you might see in a theater near you either right now or in the near future. I interviewed Jude Law, so there’s that transcription to prepare, including stuff about SKY CAPTAIN, ALFIE, and LEMONY SNICKET. I’ve also got that MOTORCYCLE DIARIES review finally, as well my take on I HEART HUCKABEE’S, a review of DIG!, a peek at the IMAX presentation of THE POLAR EXPRESS, and a report from the 10th Anniversary Event for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Tons of stuff, so I’d better get to it.
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Sept. 20, 2004, 9:23 a.m. CST
A great review, as always. Keep up the good work.
Sept. 20, 2004, 10 a.m. CST
by Drunken Rage
I've never seen the original "Alfie," but hope to; will definitely see this one. Sounds like "Sweet William" and "Why Would I Lie" fell from the same tree.
Sept. 20, 2004, 11:23 a.m. CST
I realise that this is in large part, and unashamedly, a geek site, and that is cool, no complaints here. But it seems that Harry's choices of film to review, or to omit reviewing, are increasingly strange. I'm writing from Europe and am a little behind US release dates. I only saw Collateral last night and thought it generally a great movie, the second excellent thriller this summer after Bourne 2, and it was just great to see Michael Mann back doing what he does best. I think that both Collateral and Bourne Supremacy point to the future in terms of how films will be made - they both had a fresh, new look and feel, and its great to see big-budget films that are clearly influenced by developments in Indie cinema, gives you hope for the future. Such trends in shooting and editing are far more important than the usual "revolutionary" bullshit Lucas CGI we have to suffer. But neither film was reviewed on this site - why not? Or more precisely, why were they not reviewed when such obvious garbage as Exorcist: The Beginning, AvP and Catwoman were reviewed? And why were they not reviewed when films in genres that are far less relevant to this site, such as the Dreamers, Jersey Girl and Passion of the Christ were reviewed? It makes no sense to me. Anybody?
Sept. 20, 2004, 11:31 a.m. CST
Keanu Reeves made more from the Matrix movies. GET OUT THERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!!!
Sept. 20, 2004, 11:58 a.m. CST
Good actor yes... genetic lottery winner yes ... but America has declined Jude Law as our movie star and won't let the studios tell us otherwise. We don't on the whole seem to like our men that pretty. For now he will have to join Paul Rudd, Matthew McConaghey (for the most part) and Ed Burns. BTW, I watched "Sky Captain" this weekend and it was uncanny, I actually believed he and Paltrow were looking at an enormous green screen the whole movie. "Alfie" would be better off playing in the first half of next year, perhaps as an anti-Valentine's Day Card.
Sept. 20, 2004, 2:06 p.m. CST
But there being much noooooooooooooooooooooooooodity of womans in "Alfie", yes?
Sept. 20, 2004, 2:16 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
She made KEEN EDDIE a weekly thing for me.
Sept. 20, 2004, 2:21 p.m. CST
by Kurutteru Yatsu
Both films were reviewed on this site, by Harry himself no less. Just check the archives; Collateral was only about three weeks ago, Bourne Supremacy a month or so. (Btw, for what it's worth I found the only supremacy was the amount of unncessarily shaky camera work.) And hey, you may behind on films, but if you're in Europe that puts you way ahead on the Premiership games. (What's happened, ManYoo, what has happened? <sigh>)
Sept. 20, 2004, 3:21 p.m. CST
I mean how often do we think "X is going to be a star with this role" only to see the movie flop in theaters? Movie stars seem to be a thing of the past, a creation that the ADD youth of today's movie going market can't be bothered with learning, and the older generations can't be bothered with remembering. Don't get me wrong, we have stars (celebrities), but they seem to be famous for being famous, not for actual work. Have Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake or Jennifer Lopez done anything interseting enough to garner the attention they get? Even back when they DID produce material, they weren't special. I mean Leonardo Dicaprio actually seems like he deserved his hype compared to these people?! I'm actually now interested in seeing Alfie, but I've come to think of "star-making role" as an hyperbole. I'm indifferent about remakes, but I would like to see Law and Caine team up for that Sleuth remake.
Sept. 20, 2004, 3:33 p.m. CST
by joe brady
As a Super Paddy, do you partake of Super Powers?
Sept. 20, 2004, 5:10 p.m. CST
by Jervis Tetch
The Stepford Wives, The Manchurian Candidate, Alfie, The Longest Yard, To Catch a Thief. Pretty lazy. (And Stepford and Manchurian bombed or underperformed.) I'm guessing of that group that only "The Longest Yard" will be a hit,and I still don't buy Sandler as an NFL QB. Meanwhile, Paramount's rare "non-remake" (Sky Captain), didn't do well at all. What exactly does it take to get Sherry Lansing fired, anyway?
Sept. 20, 2004, 5:37 p.m. CST
Finally, Jude is given something up his alley, something he can slip into like a glove, and never want to get himself out of. I always pictured him as a good Bond, but maybe this is more of his ticket. The original was a fun romp and this sounds too be just the same. We're getting tons of hot chicks. Tons of nudity. One of the most beautiful women on screen Mrs. Marissa Tomei, we're getting the somewhat-good, though needs to set her film career higher Mrs. Nia Long, and the always protesting, always by her fellow protesting husband's side Susan Sarandon all in one movie for Jude to fuck the shit out of. I can't wait for this film. Mainly, because Moriarty made it sound good and the reviews for this are good too. This is the remake Hollywood needs to make, not the generic dumbness they are spewing: "DUKES OF HAZZARD: THE MOVIE", "HAWAII FIVE-O", "BEWITCHED." I mean come on leave those shows as shows don't remake them as some drivel, poorly-made pieces of shit with stars that'll either screw up the source material, or quite possibly, and this is stretching it...make it golden like butter on popcorn. But this, "BATMAN BEGINS", "STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH", "FANTASTIC FOUR", "KING KONG", "ALEXANDER", and "LADDER 49", "ELEKTRA", and a few more are all on my top picks for this year's movie-going season.
Sept. 20, 2004, 5:54 p.m. CST
Homage does not equal rip off. At least they tried something that's not being done to death at the moment (the story, not the CGI). We don't get Sky Captain down here in NZ til December 26th, and this weekend at the box office we had the choice of Garfield, YuGiOh Movie, White Chicks, Princess Diaries 2, The Terminal, Thunderbirds and Home On The Range. Oh and Shark Tale. Plenty in there for us action fans eh? What I wouldn't give to be able to see Sky Captain now.
Sept. 20, 2004, 7:53 p.m. CST
Michael Caine has charm, a certain debonair quality, he got girls into bed through sheer character charisma and humor. Jude Law gets them in bed solely on his looks. These are two completely different films. This film shouldn't even be called ALFIE.
Sept. 20, 2004, 11:24 p.m. CST
by BEARison Ford
that is all.
Sept. 21, 2004, 1:46 p.m. CST
Thank you, Moriarty. Gosh, I know I'm going to be rocked by "Alfie" and it's all because of Jude. I mean, he is a chameleon. He doesn't lock himself into a role, and I ask anyone to name me two roles that are even similar. He's a risk-taker, a wonderful, gifted actor that we are lucky enough to see every so often in a film. I've been a fan of his for so long now, I'm sad actually that so many others have discovered him. It makes me wonder where they all were before? Jude has always been as he is now, and it's a bummer that it takes a major release (or two or three), for him to be appreciated as he should've always been. Did you all watch "Sky Captain" yet? He's a dream!!
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