(On Cable TV, September 2018) Approaching Frederico Fellini’s 8½ comes with a heavy set of expectations: How can you watch something widely lauded as one of the best movies ever made without feeling at least a bit apprehensive? Do I have to turn in my film critic’s card if I don’t like it? Won’t the cool kids at the European arthouse table make fun of me? After all, I’m already not such a big fan of surrealist black-and-white auteur-driven European cinema. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried, because I ended up enjoying 8½ a lot more than I expected. Not to the level of an all-time favourite, but well enough to considering it reasonably entertaining. It helps that the film has a lot of hooks to be interesting. It was remade as a big-screen musical in 2010 as the disappointing Nine, giving me an idea of the (disconnected) plot ahead of time. It features a movie director having trouble with his latest science-fiction epic, hitting at least two of my soft spots in one premise. It does have the advantage of a gallery of attractive actresses fawning over the protagonist. (Leading to a hilarious dream sequence in which the protagonist imagines visiting all of his past relationships living under one roof.) It features Marcello Mastroianni, who embodies the coolest of what 1960s Italy had to offer. It partially takes place at a health retreat, the kind of dream resort that wealthy Europeans like to portray on-screen. 8½ does end up being remarkably funny at times, in-between Fellini looking so deep inward that the film ends up feeling like a Klein bottle. Much of the film’s deeper effect is lost on me due to incomplete knowledge: I partially resent how much of 8½ (including its very title) is incomprehensible if you’re not thoroughly up to speed on Fellini and the state of circa-1963 Italian cinema. Wikipedia does help, but movies should not require a reading list prior to viewing. Still, it works well enough even during surface viewing. Though it does feel too long and isn’t as tightly sewn as I would have preferred, 8½ is a remarkable piece of cinema that works on several levels and does offer a playful look at some resonant issues. I won’t put it near the top of my personal pantheon, but I liked it a lot more than I expected. In my mind, my 8½/Nine mashup has gorgeous colour cinematography, an out-of-control Sci-Fi spectacular, snappy musical numbers and Mastroianni dreaming that he’s Daniel Day-Lewis cavorting with Penélope Cruz and Claudia Cardinale.