Amazon has ordered a six-episode limited series based on Neil Gaiman’s 2005 fantasy novel Anansi Boys (buy a copy at THIS LINK). Casting is already underway, with the show set to start filming in Scotland later this year. Anansi Boys will center on
Charlie Nancy, a young man who is used to being embarrassed by his estranged father. But when his father dies, Charlie discovers that his father was Anansi: trickster god of stories. And he learns that he has a brother. Now his brother, Spider, is entering Charlie’s life, determined to make it more interesting, but also making it a lot more dangerous.
Gaiman will serve as showrunner alongside Douglas Mackinnon, who directed all six episodes of the Gaiman series Good Omens‘ first season. Gaiman will also be writing the Anansi Boys scripts with Lenny Henry, Arvind Ethan David, Kara Smith, and Racheal Ofori. Gaiman, Henry, and Mackinnon are executive producing the show with Hilary Bevan Jones, Richard Fee, and Hanelle M. Culpepper.
The first episode will be directed by Culpepper, whose credits include Star Trek: Picard. Jermain Julien (Grantchester) and Azhur Saleem (Doctor Who) are also on board to direct episodes.
Anansi Boys is being produced by Amazon Studios, the Blank Corp., Endor Productions, RED Production, and Paul Frift.
Gaiman released the following statement:
Anansi Boys began around 1996, from a conversation I had with Lenny Henry about writing a story that was diverse and part of the culture that we both loved. Anansi Boys as a TV series has been a long time coming — I first started working with Endor and Red on making it over a decade ago. We needed Amazon Prime to come on board and embrace our vision, we needed a lead director with the craft and vision of Hanelle Culpepper, we needed the creative and technical wizardry of Douglas Mackinnon (who worked out how we could push the bounds of the possible to shoot a story set all over the world in a huge studio outside Edinburgh), and we needed the rest of the amazing talents that nobody knows about yet. We are trying to make a new kind of show with Anansi Boys, and to break ground with it to make something that celebrates and rejoices in diversity both in front of and behind the camera. I’m so thrilled it’s happening and that people will be meeting Mr. Nancy, Charlie and Spider, the Bird Woman and the rest of them."
If the name Mr. Nancy sounds familiar to you, it’s because the character was also featured in Gaiman’s American Gods and was played by Orlando Jones in the Starz series adaptation. Amazon made sure to specify that Anansi Boys is not connected to the American Gods show, this is a separate adaptation of Gaiman source material.
PLOT: A mother is traveling from Germany to the United States in hopes of getting her rare medical condition treated. Things go south when the plane is hijacked by a terrorist cell, forcing her to let the "illness" take over in order to save her son.
LOWDOWN: I’ll keep my spoilers to a minimum, but If you want to go into this completely blind, stop now, as I’ll need to discuss some plot points that aren’t in the trailer. Cool? Good, let’s do this. Nadja (Peri Baumeister) needs to get to America and see a specialist for what her son Elias (Carl Anton Koch) calls a bone marrow transplant. Since she can’t deal with sunlight, she has him check the bags and get everything they need in order. Once aboard, The camera pans to a handful of passengers scattered throughout the plane that aren’t here for the airline’s top-notch service. There’s a heist planned, and no one is safe. Once the hijackers commandeer the plane, we get to the meat of the story and the unforeseen problem they didn’t plan for. There’s the leader Berg (Dominic Purcell), the wildcard and overly sadistic Eightball (Alexander Schee), and the sympathetic and professional Karl (Roland Møller). There are a few more, but these are the folks that drive the story and end up being the cause of "death" for Nadja and the sh*tshow that comes after.
Passenger 57 meets 30 Days of Night is how I expected this to play out but was a bit surprised when things turned out to be far more of a cat and mouse thriller. Blood Red Sky (WATCH IT HERE) is a solid mix of high concept schlock with a surprising amount of heart. Director Peter Thorwarth gives us a slower burn tale (at least at first), and unlike what the trailers suggest, this is less a vampire saving the day and more of a story of a mother trying everything she can to keep face and protect her son. Watchmen’s Rorschach once said, "None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you… you’re locked in here with me!" and I was really hoping for that type of uppercut of tone here, but, alas, this went with a more emotional core. I wanted nothing more than to see Nadja get some sweet, sweet revenge, ripping out throats and owning the day. But Blood Red Sky is far more nuanced in its approach and presents things in more of a thriller fashion than an all-out bloodbath.
That’s not to say that things get soft or that the concept is toned down, but Nadja knows her fate if she indeed loses control, which means kissing her life goodbye. Perfectly cast as the mother, Peri Baumeister, must do what she can at all costs. She gives an emotional depth that I didn’t see coming, and even when in full-on monster mode, she was able to covey the heartbreak of becoming something that would mean the end of her humanity. Baumeister is the star here and would get an award if horror flicks weren’t ostracized in most award shows. The medicine to control the vampire gene isn’t a safe substitute and is slowly killing her. Like Renton getting off smack in Trainspotting, Nadja looks like death every time she injects. Her transformation is ongoing, with the vampires (yes, we get more than one) in Blood Red Sky being more of the Blade 2 monster-type. Nadja’s primary foe is Alexander Scheer’s Eightball. The one barbarous terrorist who steals the show, and the one you want to suffer the most. Clearly having the time of his life, Scheer gives the German equivalent of Gary Oldman’s performance in The Professional and plays nasty so damn well that you can’t but love to hate him.
How well Blood Red Sky works for you depends on your expectations and what you get out of it. Far more of an angsty parental drama than a full-fledged action-horror hybrid, I found myself slightly disappointed for the first half but coming around by the time the credits rolled. Not to say that a dramatic shift isn’t welcomed, but the action never quite hits the high-octane level I was hoping for. So in terms of character development and heart, Blood Red Sky aims for the sky, and mostly delivers, but the action and gore just don’t cut it and makes things feel deflated more than it should. This is also a low-budget affair, and while the vampires look fantastic, we get some of the roughest CGI I’ve seen in a long while. The plane, airport, and the sprinkled-in explosions look like they are from the last-gen gaming systems and ended up getting a few unintentional chuckles out of me. Noting that’ll tank your experience but kind of f*cking jarring, if I’m honest. Though there are a few goofy scenes, especially with Elias as the kid who can do anything, Blood Red Sky tugged at my heartstrings and made for a thrilling time with monsters and men stuck together at 35,000 feet.
BOTTOM LINE: Blood Red Sky works at delivering an emotional journey set against the backdrop of terrorism, a plane heist, and a vampire’s curse. Heartfelt and covered in blood, this hooks you in with the character development and sells you on even the most ridiculous plot beats. That being said, some character choices are foolishly bad, the ending is sort of silly, and the abysmal CGI is distracting when you should be at peak emotional involvement. But the good outweighs the bad, and Blood Red Sky ends up being a solid time that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home. A good glass of red wine or maybe an excellent Haitian rum would complement the experience, so pop on your Netflix and check this one out.
Blood Red Sky Releases on Netflix on July 23d, 2021.
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PLOT: A family is vacationing at a high-end island resort when they get invited to an exclusive and secluded beach by the manager. Once they realize that not only can they not leave, but everyone is rapidly aging, time is of the essence because, within twenty-four hours, everyone will die of old age.
LOWDOWN: M. Night Shyamalan has had one helluva rollercoaster of a career that may not have had the trajectory he would have liked, but one can’t deny the man has made himself a household name. I was there opening day for The Sixth Sense and ended my journey with him after The Happening. Some of those I loved, others I despised, but I went into Old with fresh eyes and an open mind, hoping for the best. How you feel about his writing and directing will significantly influence what you think about Old, because for better or worse, this is M. Night at his most M. Night-ish. To keep in-line the movie and because I’m probably closer to a functioning alcoholic than not, get yourself a decent bourbon, whip up an old-fashioned and let’s explore the nature of time with M Nights newest outing.
Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have gotten quite lucky on finding a luxurious resort on a small island to vacation on, with Prisca even mentioning, "Can you believe I found this place on the internet?" Her marriage to her husband, Guy, is all but over. This vacation isn’t for rest and relaxation but as one last good memory for their young kids Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and Trent (Nolan River), to who they plan on breaking the bad news once back home. The manager (Gustaf Hammarsten) invites the family to a free outing on his secluded beach and lets them know that he only tells the families he "likes" the most. I guess he appreciates their laid-back vibe? This man may just be the most suspicious ginger since Maliki from Children Of The Corn, but of course, all four of them take him up on his offer and even get dropped off by M. Night himself as the shuttle bus driver. Only the exclusive part was a bit of a lie since there are other guests in the van and at the beach when they arrive.
After a body washes ashore, the sh*t hits the fan as the idyllic paradise they were promised turns out to be a trap. The only problem is that they can’t actually leave. An invisible forcefield of sorts surrounds the beach, and trying to pass through it creates an intense pressure comparable to the bends and causes a blackout to anyone who tries to breach it. Once everyone realizes they can’t leave and are aging at an alarming rate, panic sets in, and things escalate to the level of mixing cocaine with Redbull. The pacing gets turned up to eleven (why not just make ten faster, you ask?). We experience all of the pain, suffering, and philosophical moments of these characters growing a lifetime in a day for the next hour and forty-nine minutes.
Story-wise, it’s a simple and compelling premise. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastles by Pierre-Oscar Levy, Old asks what it is like to experience all of life within twenty-four hours? Like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode, Old never commits the cardinal sin of overstaying its welcome with its concept. The cast dives headfirst into the madness and does their damndest to deliver both campy and heartfelt performances of situations that range from deeply emotional to batsh*t crazy. Rufus Sewell nails the stoic and dick-ish surgeon, while Ken Leung brings his trademark sarcasm and bluntness. I can see many viewers complaining that there isn’t enough done to flesh out these characters. Still, I found myself connected enough just through the sheer intensity of life experiences, raw emotion, and the all-in approach they brought to the material.
Directing-wise, M. Night Shyamalan has always had a cinematic eye, and Old maybe his best technical film to date. His shot compositions, the camera’s panning to dictate the passage of time, and use of the luscious location do a lot to sell you on the premise that wanders into some wonky territory. The man knows how to tell a visual story, and seeing him grow as a director gives Old some much-needed respect. My main issue with M. Night has always been his clunky and awkward dialogue. After re-watching some of his older films, I found that this was present even from the beginning, but it took legends like Gibson, Jackson, Willis (when he actually gave a sh*t), and Collette to sell it. Not that Bernal, Sewell, Wolf, and others aren’t great, but they’re not on the same level, and Old suffers because of the weird rhythmic and stilted line-readings. We get some of the most bumbling and forced dialogue I’ve heard in a long while and maybe the worst in his filmography. M. Night needs someone to polish his scripts up because the forced exposition takes away from the dramatic moments because of the need to over-explain and treat everything as fact.
Some weird and wacky story-beats aside, there are a couple of soulful moments that harkened back to the scene in The Sixth Sense with Cole telling Toni Collette’s Lyn about her mother. When things slow down for a bit, Old gets into the brevity of life, what’s most important, and how no matter what, we all pass on in the end. There is an undercurrent of body horror with medical issues growing at the rate of years in hours and makes for one of M. Nights’ creepier movies. There’s a cave scene that may be his most unnerving, and man, he could do wonders with a straightforward brutal horror film (as long as there isn’t a twist). But most of the goodwill is brought down by silly dialogue that just over-explains everything. You leave knowing every single thing without the hint of any mystery left. Vagueness would have been a lifesaver here, and though having no answers, as the graphic novel offers no explanations, would have also been a mistake, finding a healthy middle ground may have helped save this from itself.
GORE: We get some stabbings and a bit of blood here and there, but this sticks closely to its PG-13 rating.
BOTTOM LINE: In the end, Old is a decent flick that has its moments. This tends to highlight some of M. Night Shyamalan’s more divisive tropes, and I can see it causing a lot of Twitter-arguing between film fans. I walked in with zero expectations and knowing how M. Night directs and tells his stories; I found it to be an okay time with a few great moments. Is it amazing? No, but it’s not terrible either. If you can ignore some laughable moments and some rough dialogue, then it may be worth a VOD rental or a theater watch. It’s not absurd like The Happening, but it also doesn’t hit Unbreakable’s high watermark or even the surprisingly restrained Split. Old is a flick that sits comfortably in the "decent" camp of M. Night Shyamalan’s film catalog.
Old Releases In Theaters On July 23d, 2021