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Alfie (2004)
Special Collector's Edition (Widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For Sexual Content, Some Language and Drug Use)

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Starring: Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Jane Krawkowski, Sienna Miller and Susan Sarandon

Screenplay by: Elaine Pope & Charles Shyer
Based on the film and play by: Bill Naughton

Directed by: Charles Shyer

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer/Producer Charles Shyer and Editor Padraic McKinley, Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Charles Shyer and Co-Writer/Producer Elaine Pope, Round Table of Alfie, The World of Alfie, The Women of Alfie, Deconstruction of a Scene, Gedde Watanabe Dance Footage with Optional Commentary, Let The Music In, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, Script Gallery, Production Gallery, Storyboard Gallery, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (16 Scenes)

Released: March 15th, 2005

 

 

Remakes are still going strong in Hollywood, as more and more seem to be churned out every year. Horror movies are one thing, but some classic films people would never expect to get revisited somehow are. Obviously, the brand new "Alfie" can be put in the latter category. Despite a hip soundtrack from Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and Eurythmics' Dave Stewart and featuring rising star Jude Law, "Alfie" seemed like it was destined for some success. But here's the shocker: it was a flop. The film was pushed back a few weeks in North America, reviews were middling and the movie fizzled out rather quickly. The blame of the movie failing was placed a little on conservatives (anything goes in Hollywood), and some even questioned if Jude Law could even open a movie.

Politics and box office aside, let's see what this "Alfie" is all about: based on the classic movie, which in turn was based on a play, the story has now been given a contemporary spin. The main character is still a Brit (as played by Jude Law), but the setting is now the illustrious New York City. In case you're not familiar with the plot at all from any source material, here goes: Alfie Elkin is a womanizing, carefree limo driver who believes life is all about having sex with many gorgeous women. The man would seem to have it all with his single-mom "quasi-girlfriend" (Marisa Tomei), but that's not enough: Alfie romances his best friend's true love (Nia Long) and gets involved with an older woman who's a cosmetics CEO (Susan Sarandon), among a few other ladies. But soon, Alfie's ways catch up to him. As the bachelor faces one comeuppance after another, he soon has to realize what he's been doing and change... but is he too late?

Maybe it's not too surprising that the movie was directed and co-written by Charles Shyer, who if anything is the king of remakes (they are a majority of his body of work after all). Shyer, who along with his ex-wife Nancy Meyers, was behind the more family-oriented remakes of "The Father Of The Bride" and "The Parent Trap" (both of which were smash hits). It's admirable for Shyer to take on more darker material (and in the case of his wife, took on much different and insightful subject matters with 2003's "Something's Gotta Give"), but overall parts of "Alfie" are better than the whole. The movie at times is humorous (mainly through Law's speeches as he speaks directly to the audience), but I wouldn't exactly call it a comedy. Shyer has developed more of a visual style with a variety of camera shots and the various smash cuts of New York City nightlife, but style rarely wins over substance.

The thing is, Alfie is the only fully realized character in the story. Perhaps that's fair given that the movie is about him, but there should have been more of the supporting characters. Too often, the audience has to fill-in the blanks with one of Alfie's ladies or a line or two mainly establishes the rest of the people in Alfie's life. Alfie's best friend Marlon and the ladies are pretty one-dimensional: everybody has their singular personality, and that's it really. We've seen all these character types before, and while there's nothing wrong with these film archetypes, getting to know them more personally or seeing them developed more to some degree often makes them more inviting and appealing to the audience. Perhaps Shyer should have axed a lady or two for Alfie, or at least extended some of the conversations he has with them?

Shyer wrote the script along with Elaine Pope, and the two give the story structure an episodic feel. A lot happens within the film's first half-hour, and then the movie sorta trails off during its second act before everything comes full circle in the last third of the movie. Some sequences go on for too long, don't serve much of a point or become a bit tedious (Alfie likes the ladies &emdash; we get it). There are also some contrived bits, particularly the old man Alfie meets in a bathroom and then his purpose toward the end of the movie. The film is largely plotless, but that's sort of the point &emdash; one could make the argument that Alfie is a character study. But those looking for some modern insight onto the modern male mind may be disappointed: even though what the movie says is quite valid, the Alfie of 2004 and what he does and what he must come to terms with is rather similar to the Alfie of 1966.

If this "Alfie" remake is more of a success than it should be, it's all due to the charismatic and very talented Jude Law. Law plays the character perfectly: we all know Alfie is reckless with everybody else's emotions, and even though he's pretty much a jerk, Law makes him very engaging and even slightly lovable even though we should really be loathing him to an extreme point. But there's more than a smile and quick wit to Law here. As the film takes more serious turns, Law definitely gets into the moments and proves yet again how adept he is at nailing dramatic moments. Even though the film ends on a pretty anti-climatic note, Law's final monologue &emdash; as well as plenty of scenes in the final half-hour &emdash; lets the actor move a little slower within the narrative, and lets him dig down into a more raw nature. This isn't Law's absolute best performance, but it truly lets the actor show off all his strong traits.

The supporting cast is quite good too, and they play off of Law well. Omar Epps is like Law in that he's a natural and brings a certain charisma, and it's a shame his character isn't used more in the movie. Nia Long makes for a solid smoky vixen with an important choice, Susan Sarandon plays it lean and straight as the older woman who takes Alfie for a ride of his own and Marisa Tomei is quite likable as a wounded single mother who's had enough of Alfie's ways. Sienna Miller (AKA the next Mrs. Jude Law) is pretty good too, but she unfortunately isn't given much screen time. The show Keen Eddie showcased her acting chops much better. And on a side note, the soundtrack from Jagger and Stewart is excellent, as well as the musical score they composed with John Powell. Sure Jagger and Stewart won the Golden Globe for their song "Old Habits Die Hard," but it's a shame they weren't even given an Oscar nomination.

There is a lot to like about the new "Alfie," particularly Law's performance and the other actors alongside him. But even with a heavy splash of modernity, Bill Naughton's creation hasn't changed too drastically. "Alfie" is far from being one of the worst remakes in recent years, but as with many remakes, here comes the million dollar question: just what was the point of remaking it in the first place?

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (a full screen version is available separately), "Alfie" looks pretty good but the video quality probably takes a hit due to the amount of supplements included on this single-disc release. For one thing, the print isn't too fresh &emdash; there are plenty of dirt pieces and blemishes, which can be a bit distracting. Worst of all is just how soft and grainy the transfer is at times, which is really a shame given the visual spectacle the film often shows off. Detail is decent, fleshtones could have been better and color saturation is nothing spectacular. And while there is no edge enhancement, there is noise and plenty of edge halos. What should have really been a sharp print is torn down by quite a few flaws, which is really too bad.

 

"Alfie" is given the Dolby Digital 5.1 treatment, and the movie sounds perfectly fine for what it is. The surrounds aren't too plentiful, but there are some that make good use of the rears &emdash; particularly the sounds of the New York City streets and the club scenes. Dialogue is very clean and easy to hear, but the track mainly shines through the use of the film's music. The Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart songs sound powerful and command a strong presence through the speakers, and the movie's score sounds pretty good too. Subwoofer use isn't too bad either, even if there isn't too much of it. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included, as well as an English Dolby Surround track plus English closed captions, English subtitles and Spanish subtitles.

 

Sporting Paramount's "Special Collector's Edition" subtitle, "Alfie" proves to be one of the studio's most packed DVD releases. First off, there are two commentary tracks, both featuring director/co-writer/producer Charles Shyer. In the first, Shyer is joined with editor Padraic McKinley. The track leans on the more technical, as the two mainly discuss style choices, the pacing of the story and the film's visual look. There are some decent background stories to be had as well, but this commentary is best suited for the more film scholarly DVD fan. It's a bit dry, but if any of you have any interest in film production, there's a good amount to take away from the comments the two make as far as creating tone for a movie, editing and that kind of thing. However, be warned of some repetitive comments.

The second commentary, with co-writer and producer Elaine Pope, is naturally more story-oriented. The two make comparisons between their version and the original, talk about the characters and do heaps of praising. Unfortunately, a lot of the comments the two make are pretty obvious... but there are some fun stories to be heard about the production, which could make the track worth going through if you're interested. There are some gaps too, and Shyer repeats himself a little at times from the first track (that's to be expected a little &emdash; come on, it can be hard to have something entirely new to say for his second go-around in talking about the movie). This commentary is definitely more for the casual listener. Too bad Shyer couldn't be joined by Law or any of the other actors.

Round Table of Alfie is pretty self-explanatory: a sixteen minute round table discussion of the movie feature Shyer, McKinley, director of photography Ashley Rowe and production designer Sophie Becher. Much stronger than the commentaries, Shyer himself and his crew touches on their thoughts of making a remake and various technical techniques. It's probably not for casual movie viewers, and at times watching the discussion is distracting as stills come up as well as all sorts of footage to highlight what the crew is talking about. But for you film production lovers, definitely sit through it.

The World of Alfie lasts ten and a half minutes and discusses the origins of "reinventing" the Alfie story. Shyer and Pope talk about how redoing the movie came out, casting Jude Law (who also speaks), the development of the story and characters and what bits they made their own, and what they took from the original movie. Very well done. The Women of Alfie, lasting a little over twelve minutes, properly focuses on updating the women for the movie, especially in comparison to how the women were in the original film (get ready for plenty of clips from the original movie here too). Pope, Shyer and Law speak about the female roles, as well as the actresses who play them &emdash; the comments everyone makes give further insight into what Shyer and Pope were exactly trying to establish with this remake. There are some small revelations here, particularly in how Tomei wanted more to work with so Shyer and Pope re-wrote the character for her. This featurette is also very well done.

Deconstruction Of A Scene is a bit short (lasting almost five minutes), but focuses on the work of editor Padraic McKinley. Complete with some behind-the-scenes footage, McKinley guides viewers in editing a small sequence (Alfie riding through New York) and just how challenging it can be when all the elements don't come together. But with some clever editing and creative thinking with the crew, magic can be done. Very interesting stuff, so don't miss it.

Now here's a fun feature: Gedde Watanabe Dance Footage. The "Sixteen Candles" actor has a small role in the movie, and this footage shows him rocking to the movie's signature song "Old Habits Die Hard." The optional commentary with Shyer just briefly explains he plays music on the set in-between takes, and they decided to film Watanabe "rocking out." Bless that actor.

Speaking of music, Let The Music In is a twelve-and-a-half minute look at the work of Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart did for the movie. Shyer makes some comments about the songs, but we see Jagger and Stewart hard at work to make their music fit the movie and recording at Abbey Road Studios, and we also hear from some of the musicians they play with. Jagger and Stewart talk about their friendship and working relationship a bit too. There is also some insight shared on the songwriting process, and how much a musical tone can affect a movie. There's also some bits of performances, which is lovely. Next to the Deconstruction Of A Scene bit, this is the best feature on the DVD.

Eight Deleted Scenes are on the disc, with optional commentary from Shyer and McKinley. The scenes are in non-anamorphic widescreen, and total to about eleven minutes. Some of the stuff here is interesting and probably could have fit in the movie, but the scenes would have definitely made it a bit more bloated. The commentary the two offer is rather good, as Shyer explains the set-ups, the scenes in general and why they weren't needed and then getting some additional comments from his editor.

Rounding the disc out are some Galleries: a script gallery where you can read certain scenes from the script, a production gallery with small shots of the sets and a storyboard gallery where storyboards map out the actions from the script portions you can read. And of course, there is the Theatrical Trailer (in Dolby Digital 5.1 and non-anamorphic widescreen) and some Previews.

 

If you liked the new "Alfie" in theaters, then chances are good you'll want the DVD: fine picture quality, a good 5.1 track and a large array of nice extras. If you missed it though (either because you're a conservative, you are some kind of "Alfie" purist or you have your own reasons), a rental should do. You may not want to add it to your collection after viewing it, but I don't think anyone can deny Jude Law's charm or great skills as a thespian.