Dear friend,

what’s it all about? This week was a bit different from the previous ones. I made a point of watching fewer films, and I managed to stick to that intention for a whole evening. Furthermore, I have almost exhausted the horror section of Paramount+, and before ending the subscription I wanted to check a few more films in the other genres. But I stumbled onto something scarier than ghouls and ghosts: self-reflection. Stronger than usual, anyway. That’s what films usually help keep at bay. Instead, I got: “What’s it all about? What have I got, really? Some money in my pocket. (…) And I am single. Unattached. Free as a bird. I depend on nobody. And nobody depends on me. My life’s my own. But I don’t have peace of mind. And if you don’t have that, you got nothing. So, what’s the answer. That’s what I keep asking myself. What’s it all about? You know what I mean?”. But ok, we are supposed to be talking about films, so let’s go.

  • Alfie external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. directed by Lewis Gilbert, UK, 1966: before moving on to directing two of my favourite James Bond films (and a third one that’s not good at all), Lewis Gilbert brought to the big screen a 1963 play, with the collaboration of its original playwright, Bill Naughton. The central character, Alfie (Michael Caine) is a womanizer (horrible term), who feels no remorse in treating young ladies as rubbish as soon as he has gained their attention and trust. Well, this film is almost two hours of unbearable behaviour by a horrible person, and not even Caine can make it easier to watch. Until something even more horrible makes him take stock and assess his ways (through the monologue above). But, honestly, should we feel sorry for him now? Maybe what happens in the story had immense shock value in the sixties; watched today, it feels like a play that wants to make a social point, and it takes a very long time to get there. The title track by Burt Bacharach (and Hal David), sung by Cher, playing over the end credits is now a classic, but I wondered how this film would be made today… ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Alfie external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. directed by Charles Shyer, US, 2004: …which of course led me straight into checking how this film was made forty years later. And the answer is: exactly the way you would expect. Maybe because Shyer (who previously had remade Father of the Bride and The Parent Trap) wrote it in collaboration with comedy writer Elaine Pope, the new Alfie (Jude Law, in the first of his two Caine replacements) is much more modern: an Englishman in New York, he is actually charming (whereas Caine’s was mostly just aggressive and selfish), and he makes it clear that even he doesn’t believe his own excuses and pretexts; plus, the women in the story (Marisa Tomei as the new Gemma Jones, Sienna Miller in the role of Jane Asher, plus Susan Sarandon for Shelley Winters) are much less passive and equipped with a healthy dose of self-respect. The plot is essentially the same (with some remixed elements: society has/had evolved a lot since 1966), but this film feels much more like a romantic (or anti-romantic) comedy. I sound heretic, but I confess I enjoyed it much more than the original one, though knowing the story allowed my brain to go on my own tangent of self-assessment and contemplate the void. So much so that I was afraid I would find in the other room some sort of Ghost of Christmas yet to come, which is what happens to Alfie-Law when he meets an older guy, a role that would make much more sense if Sir Caine was cameoing in it. On the negative side: some surprises are not surprising at all, and the film decides to get rid of its own ghosts by doing away with the original song over the Paramount logo and replacing it with Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart’s Old Habit Die Hard, which as far as Jagger songs go is quite enjoyable, but still is no Bacharach (the song returns at the end of the closing credits, in a rendition by Joss Stone). Also taken from the original film, the fact that there are no opening credits, and the black and white pictures of cast and crew during the closing ones. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Don’t Look Now external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. directed by Nicholas Roeg, UK/Italy, 1973: the death of Donald Sutherland prompted me to honour him by re-watching In Venice… a shocking-red December, as the Italian title for this film goes. I was a bit nervous about revisiting it, because it’s one of those movies, like The Omen and The Wicker Man, for which my appreciation has immensely grown since the first time I saw it. I can confirm now that it is a masterpiece, unique in its way of quietly stating that time doesn’t exist really, and everything is happening at once (an idea that I find even more fascinating than time travel). I am curious to explore the other films screenwriters Chris Bryant and Alan Scott have authored, and I am always amazed to re-discover this is, like Rebecca and The Birds, an adaptation from Daphne du Maurier. Nice to see a young (great Italian character actor) Renato Scarpa, though he clearly doesn’t have a clue about the words he’s saying, and makes it almost impossible to understand his lines. Secondary Italian characters are also quite funny, but I don’t know what effect that untranslated dialogue brings to an English viewer. Sutherland and Julie Christie must be the most natural couple in the whole history of cinema, and not only in that scene. Did I say it’s a masterpiece? ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. written and directed by Daniels, US, 2022: the feeling of everything happening at once in Don’t Look Now subliminally gave me the idea to rewatch the unexpected winner of 2023’s Best Picture Academy Awards. Plus I think I just wanted something funny and filled with unpredictable moments, and enough time has passed since my first viewing to make those moments unpredictable again. Stones silently communicating while looking at the horizon with their googly eyes still manage to be weirdly moving. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Watchers external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. written and directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan, US, 2024: I was intrigued by the trailer of this film, showing four people stuck in a box in a forest, like animals in a zoo or performers on a stage, for the viewing pleasure of unidentified creatures. This is the debut movie by M. Night Shyamalan’s daughter, who previously directed a few episodes of his TV series, Servant. Like that show, which took a very simple idea and managed somehow to stretch it across four uneven seasons, The Watchers struggles to make any sense of its premise: most characters (and there are not many) lack any depth, the dialogue is either forgettable or just pure exposition (there are not many options for show don’t tell when you can’t or you don’t want to actually show anything), and I’m not sure the denouement makes a lot of sense. Ishana Night Shyamalan’s talent may be there (Shyamalans gonna Shyamalan), but I don’t feel like she was ready yet to shoulder writing and directing duties for a full-length picture. ⭐️⭐️

  • A Dark Song external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. written and directed by Liam Gavin, Ireland/UK, 2016: a woman with a broken heart (Catherine Walker, recently seen losing her head in Napoleon) hires an abusive occultist (Steve ‘Sightseers’ Oram) to perform a ritual that will help her feel better. In search of inspiration for something strong to watch, I turned to Scott Derrickson’s Top 100 Horror list on Letterboxd external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. ; I had not heard about A Dark Song before, so it was a perfect candidate for a Sunday night viewing - and I desperately needed a first-watch candidate for Film-of-the-week. More of a character study than a real horror for most of its running time, until it gets really intense and a bit Tarsem-y (whatever happened to Tarsem Singh?). And whatever happened to Liam Gavin? This debut film would raise expectations for a great career, but he never directed anything else aside from two episodes of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor. Give him another chance, please. ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Finally - this should have gone in the notes for last week but I forgot it:

  • I finished watching Nathan for You, in an attempt to understand a bit better The Curse’s co-creator and co-lead Nathan Fielder. It’s (theoretically) a ‘reality’ docu-series about Fielder coming up with crazy ideas to help small businesses stay relevant, with an underlying theme of him doing all of it out of loneliness and the need for connection with people. A good balance between cringe humour (which sometimes is too much for my taste), and the absurdism of trying to solve a problem by creating ten bigger ones (like, setting up a whole ‘film award’ to support an L.A. souvenir shop). It’s really difficult to believe he didn’t get slapped at least twice per episode, so I was constantly wondering how much of what’s on-screen was ‘real’ (natural reactions from people) and how much was scripted acting. Especially considering how much it has in common with his latest creation. ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

In summary:

  • 6 films, 3 of which are horrors and 3 comedies
  • some interesting geographic mix:
    • of the three American films, one has a British lead, one has Asian leads and is partially in Mandarin language, one has an American lead but is set and shot in Ireland, while the rest of the cast is Irish or British, and is adapted from a book by an Irish writer;
    • one film is British;
    • one has an Irish author, an Irish lead actress, was shot in Ireland but its story is set in Wales, and it has an English lead actor
    • one has a British director, screenwriters, and lead actress and is adapted from a short story by a British writer, has a Canadian lead actor and is mostly set and shot in Italy
  • 3 adaptations, a remake, 2 original stories

Film-of-the-week is A Dark Song.