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The Alienist (2018) s02e01 – Ex Ore Infantium

Dakota Fanning gets the “and” credit in “The Alienist: Season Two: Angel of Darkness: Ex Ore Infantium.” She doesn’t die (at least not in this episode, and since it’s based on a novel I could just spoil myself), but the “and” credit is quizzical because it’s very clear this time around she’s the star.

The first season of “The Alienist” came after years of trying to turn the 1994 Caleb Carr novel into a movie. Serious screenwriter Hossein Amini had a bunch of the credited episodes and John Sayles even did a few. The first series showed just how important casting, direction, and production are to adaptations because big name Oscar-nominated screenwriters aren’t enough to make things good.

Second season of “Alienist” is just TV, albeit with a decent-sized effects budget. Lots of great CGI establishing shots of late 1890s New York City. Sadly it seems they spent all their money on the effects—or maybe getting Fanning back—because the supporting cast is exceptionally wanting, with everyone except maybe Matt Letscher (guesting as William Randolph Hearst) doing an impression of Bugs Bunny doing an Edward G. Robinson impression. Ted Levine is back on hand to play the Lucky Charms Leprechaun bureaucratic villain; a now ex-police chief who interferes with Fanning and company.

The episode opens with top-billed Daniel Brühl recapping some of the previous series, but mostly just the cast. They apparently couldn’t get Brian Geraghty back for even a single episode Teddy Roosevelt cameo so instead there’s a “let’s talk to him on the phone” reference, which is some 1970s level sequel returning cast desperation.

Brühl’s story this episode has him upset about Hebe Beardsall being executed for killing her baby even though we—the audience—know shitty doctor Michael McElhatton has something to do with it. McElhatton is shitty both as a character and in terms of the performance. Fanning figures in because Spanish ambassador’s wife Bruna Cusí’s baby gets kidnapped too.

I’m assuming the novel source is all about putting babies in grave danger—there’s some intense gross when they start finding the bodies–even though that novel source is from 1997, this season feels very much like “Call the Midwife” but with TV movie horror movie thrills. Episode director David Caffrey is slightly more impressive than writer Stuart Carolan, but only because Carolan’s exposition heavy writing is quite bad.

Bad writing is just what Brühl needs to woodenly–but moistly, Brühl’s like a moist wood, ickiness intended—perform his role.

“Alienist” season two isn’t off to a great start, which isn’t much of a surprise. When Luke Evans commands more presence than the enigmatic “lead”… I mean, maybe it’ll give Fanning some experience she can use in a good project later on.

Dead on the Money (1991, Mark Cullingham)

I’m reading the only online review of Dead on the Money (well, only other once I post this one, I suppose)–it was a Turner Original Picture, airing on TNT and it’s not on DVD, so I suppose it’s somewhat rare–and the reviewer complains the “atmosphere of humor makes it difficult to take the film all that seriously.” Unfortunately, the reviewer seems to have missed the point of Dead on the Money. I’m sure there’s a word for it, but I don’t know it, but what Dead on the Money does is spoof the type of movie called Dead on the Money. The source novella (Rachel Ingalls’ The End of Tragedy) seems–from my Googling–to have a similar philosophy, but Dead on the Money has a better title and the all important cast.

Amanda Pays was, at the time, one of those actresses who popped up on lots of TV shows–she was on “The Flash” and she was on “Max Headroom.” I can’t remember how she was on “The Flash,” but in Dead on the Money, she’s more charming than good. It’s not a particular problem, because she’s in on the joke. The film probably got some publicity because it also stars–as her romantic interest–her real-life husband, Corbin Bernsen. Bernsen is in on the joke too, but he’s not Cary Grant and he sort of needed to be… However, John Glover is perfect in the film, playing a goofy, mama’s boy with a gambling addiction. But it’s not a serious gambling addiction of course (there’s nothing serious in the film)–Glover’s character just sort of assumes that role. Kevin McCarthy plays Glover’s father and it’s McCarthy in his second career prime. He’s only in the film for about five minutes but he’s hilarious in every second of them.

The reason I saw Dead on the Money in the first place is Eleanor Parker. In her last role to date, she plays Glover’s mother. It’s probably the least showy main role in the film and Parker does a great job with it. There are a couple scenes with she and McCarthy alone and, free of the plot constraints, she just opens up, appreciating the goofiness. Parker also gets to laugh at the film’s absurdity at the end, along with Pays, in a nice scene (though it’s not one of Pays’ better moments in the film).

Dead on the Money is an oddly rewarding experience. It’s a somewhat small reward–I’m not sure the romantic thriller genre really needed to be sardonically analyzed in a romantic thriller–but it’s still worth it. For the scenes with Parker and McCarthy alone… and Glover really is a lot of fun.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Cullingham; screenplay by Gavin Lambert, based on a novel by Rachel Ingalls; director of photography, Timothy Eaton; edited by Anita Brandt-Burgoyne; music by Michael Minard; production designer, Jan Pascale; produced by John Dolf and Victor Simpkins; aired by Turner Network Television.

Starring Corbin Bernsen (Carter Matthews), Amanda Pays (Jennifer Ashford), Eleanor Parker (Catharine Blake), Kevin McCarthy (Waverly Blake) and John Glover (Russell Blake).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 4: Guest Star.
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