Matt Letscher

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.

The Mask of Zorro (1998, Martin Campbell)

The last time I saw Zorro (which would have also been the first time), it didn’t impress me much. I don’t remember hating it, but I do remember disliking it. This time through, however, I find myself mellowed. It’s an enjoyable adventure picture, the kind Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. The amount of Zorro swashbuckling alone is more physical action than I’ve seen in years in recent action movie.

Before I forget, I have to mention the ending. Spielberg is credited as an executive producer and it is an Amblin production, so I assume he was aware of the Temple of Doom similarities–down to the James Horner score, which goes out of its way to sound like John Williams.

The film gets by on a few principles. First and foremost, it’s amusing to watch Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. While Banderas is charming enough, it’s not really an acting job. He’s never good and he doesn’t have an honest moment until the epilogue. Hopkins on the other hand… Zorro is one of his better performances. The script doesn’t allow for his usual hamming. He does get it in a few scenes, but considering he’s wearing about nine pounds of makeup, it’s not like one is taking him seriously anyway.

Stuart Wilson is fantastic as the villain. Catherine Zeta Jones, similar to Banderas, skates by on a certain charm… but she doesn’t get that epilogue reprieve.

Campbell’s direction is good without being exemplar; he makes Zorro a rather fun two hours.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by John Eskow, Ted Elliot and Terry Russo, based on a story by Elliot, Russo and Randall Jahnson and on the character created by Johnston McCulley; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Thom Noble; music by James Horner; production designer, Cecilia Montiel; produced by Doug Claybourne and David Foster; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Alejandro Murrieta), Anthony Hopkins (Don Diego de la Vega), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Elena Montero), Stuart Wilson (Don Rafael Montero), Matt Letscher (Capt. Harrison Love), Tony Amendola (Don Luiz), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (Don Pedro), William Marquez (Fray Felipe), José Pérez (Cpl. Armando Garcia), Victor Rivers (Joaquín Murrieta) and L.Q. Jones (Three-Fingered Jack).


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