Daniel Brühl

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.

Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)

Tarantino will probably never make a film as good as the good parts of Inglorious Basterds again. Possibly because the good parts of the film–even with the Sam Jackson narration–seem so unlike Tarantino, it’s impossible to imagine him making them. It’s like, all of a sudden, an adult magically appeared and took his place. Unfortunately, the real Tarantino returns for the last twenty or so minutes, when Basterds collapses.

But I’m going to try to talk about the good things. The Tarantino conversation scene is nearly twenty years old. It’s never been used as well as it is in Basterds. The film opens with one, an unbelievably affecting scene (with a lot, in the end, owed the Searchers). It’s like Tarantino finally learned his “chapters” work better as real time vignettes, instead of jumbles of location shooting and stunt casting.

Besides his excellent writing–since it’s mostly non-English, Tarantino doesn’t bother going for cool sounding dialogue–Basterds succeeds because of Mélanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. The rest of the cast doesn’t really matter (they’re all great, except Eli Roth, who went to the Quentin Tarantino school of lousy acting). The great film inside Basterds is about Laurent. The silly one Tarantino delivers is, unfortunately, not.

He does some really stupid stuff at the end, the kind of nonsense one would do if he didn’t want to make a real movie, but a joke.

It’s a shame Tarantino keeps growing as a director, but never as a filmmaker.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by the Weinstein Company and Universal Pictures.

Starring Brad Pitt (Lt. Aldo Raine), Christoph Waltz (Col. Hans Landa), Eli Roth (Sgt. Donny Donowitz), Michael Fassbender (Lt. Archie Hicox), Diane Kruger (Bridget von Hammersmark), Daniel Brühl (Fredrick Zoller), Mélanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus), Denis Menochet (Perrier LaPadite), Sylvester Groth (Joseph Goebbels), Mike Myers (Gen. Ed Fenech) and Rod Taylor (Winston Churchill).


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