Archives for July 2021

A new film from M Night Shyamalan, the horror, the horror

Old, 2021.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cin­e­ma, Be afraid, be very afraid… Are these the 7 most ter­ri­fy­ing words in mod­ern cin­e­ma; a new film from M Night Shya­malan?

Shya­malan burst on to the scene with his third fea­ture, The Sixth Sense, which he wrote and direct­ed in 1999 at the ten­der age of 29. I remem­ber watch­ing that film and think­ing, what on earth is all the fuss about? But then it deliv­ers its end­ing, and I thought, in fair­ness, that was gen­uine­ly surprising.

The Sixth Sense, 1999.

So I sat down to watch his next film, Unbreak­able, from 2000, in a mood of qui­et excite­ment. And, like the pre­vi­ous film, it ambles along in a per­fect­ly inof­fen­sive man­ner for four fifths of its dura­tion, before deliv­er­ing what was sim­i­lar­ly intend­ed to be a killer blow. But blow alas is the appro­pri­ate term. Instead of explain all that had gone on before, all the end­ing did was to under­mine and cheap­en it.

Next up was Signs, a sub-Spiel­ber­gian tale of awe and won­der which was so con­ven­tion­al, con­ser­v­a­tive, ham-fist­ed and ill-con­ceived it was hard to know what to think. Worse, that cute cameo he’s always reward­ed him­self with was here allowed to morph into a ful­ly-fledged speak­ing part. And not a small one at that. What on earth were we to make of him? 

The Vil­lage, 2004.

But that was swift­ly cleared up by the two films that came next. The Vil­lage, from 2004, is not so much an homage to The Cru­cible as it is a vio­lent assault on it. On to its basic back­drop Shya­malan inserts a series of pedes­tri­an twists that are as drea­ri­ly pre­dictable as they are improb­a­ble. And for the first time, we get a clear pic­ture as to quite how poor a screen­writer he is. 

But it’s with his next film, Lady in the Water, from 2006, that any ambi­gu­i­ty as to the man’s gifts was cleared up once and for all. This was so bad­ly writ­ten that it went on an almost unique jour­ney from mes­mer­i­cal­ly bad, to so-bad-it’s‑good, and on beyond to so irre­deemably bad that it became lit­er­al­ly unwatchable. 

I last­ed for the first 25 min­utes or so, until it was revealed that the per­son who was, wait for it, going to save human­i­ty, was in fact…  a writer! And that that writer was played by none oth­er than… Our very own writer direc­tor him­self. Once I’d recov­ered from a pro­tract­ed fit of gig­gling, I’m afraid I got up and left. 

Lady in the Water, 2006.

But there is one invalu­able ser­vice that that film serves. For any writer out there con­vinced that what they’re work­ing on is beneath worth­less, all they need do is watch Lady in the Water, and they’ll imme­di­ate­ly feel bet­ter about them­selves. It’s the per­fect tonic.

So I’ve not seen his lat­est mag­num opus, Old. But I can’t wait. By all accounts, it’s anoth­er gem from the pen of every writer’s very best friend. I’m sav­ing it up for a spe­cial occasion. 

In the mean­time, here’s the trail­er for Old.

And here’s the trail­er for Lady in the Water.

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The Alienist’, Hurray for Hollywood! (it’s a living)

The Alienist.

Despite being set in New York at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry and being filmed in Budapest, The Alienist boasts a pletho­ra of Irish tal­ent. Amongst the cast we find David Wilmot, Michael McEl­hat­ton, Peter Coo­nan, Gavin O’Connor, Sean McGin­ley, Mau­rice Byrne and Paul Reid. The prin­ci­ple direc­tors of pho­tog­ra­phy are Cathal Wat­ters and PJ Dil­lon, Der­mot Diskin edits and Philip Mur­phy is on set décor. 

Much of that is thanks to the arrival of Stu­art Car­olan and David Caf­frey. Car­olan was brought in as show run­ner in 2020 for sea­son 2, and asked Caf­frey to direct many of those sea­son 2 episodes for him. 

Get­ting work in Ire­land on film and tele­vi­sion is, to put it mild­ly, a pre­car­i­ous pur­suit. One pro­duc­er once summed it up mem­o­rably to me when he said, striv­ing to get a project off the ground in Ire­land was like “try­ing to fuck smoke”. 

Love/Hate. Here’s look­ing at you kids.

And you learn very ear­ly on that what sem­blance of sta­bil­i­ty there exists is to be found in tele­vi­sion. And, very quick­ly, what you real­ly hope for are the reg­u­lar pay­ments that a series can pro­vide you with. 

You don’t just get paid for a num­ber of episodes. Thanks to the vigour of the mus­cu­lar unions, you also have to get paid out for any pos­si­ble repeat screen­ings, often in mul­ti­ple ter­ri­to­ries and on dif­fer­ent platforms.

All of which means that what you secret­ly dream of more than any­thing else is get­ting that call up for a Hol­ly­wood series. So it’s hard­ly sur­pris­ing that Car­olan should have leapt at the chance to join the Alienist as show run­ner, albeit for sea­son 2. 

After all, with around $5 mil­lion per episode, he had con­sid­er­ably more mon­ey for each indi­vid­ual episode than he did for an entire sea­son of Love/Hate, an episode of which was said to have cost around €600,000. 

Heav­en’s Gate, Lord above.

Just to put all this in per­spec­tive. Every sin­gle one of the cast and crew would have greet­ed those five sea­sons of Love/Hate, with  €600,000 an episode(!), as all of their Christ­mases com­ing at once. 

The fact that, once it got over its teething prob­lems in sea­son 1, Love/Hate then evolved into one of the most excit­ing and dra­mat­i­cal­ly taut series ever broad­cast on Irish tele­vi­sion was very much but an added bonus.

So the prospect of join­ing a bona fide $5m an episode, prime time Hol­ly­wood dra­ma series — $5m an episode! — would, lit­er­al­ly, have been a dream come true for cast and crew alike. And it’s gen­uine­ly thrilling to see so many seri­ous­ly gift­ed actors and film mak­ers involved in such an opu­lent affair. The end prod­uct is very much nei­ther here nor there.

And, in fair­ness, sea­son 2 of the Alienist is no worse than sea­son 1 was. The open­ing episode of that first sea­son looked like a very ear­ly draft of the first assign­ment of a 1st year film stu­dent after spend­ing his very first week­end watch­ing noth­ing but Michael Cimi­no films. Well, specif­i­cal­ly, a Cimi­no film — see my ear­li­er review of Heaven’s Gate here.

It’s all so busy. There’s stuff every­where, And you keep wait­ing for it to take that final step from just plain bad to so-bad-it’s‑good. But, for what­ev­er alchem­i­cal rea­son, it some­how fails to ever make that tri­umphant tran­si­tion from pants to kitsch and camp.

Nev­er mind. It’s fan­tas­tic to see so many tal­ent­ed indi­vid­u­als so gain­ful­ly employed, and I very much hope that sea­son 3 gets giv­en the green light. After which, I’d love to then see them all get their teeth into some­thing with a lit­tle bit more bite.

You can see the trail­er for sea­son 2 of The Alienist here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!