Tagged Christopher Walken

Frank White, Republican Nightmare: Abel Ferrara’s King of New York

King of New York. 1990. Directed by Abel Ferrara. Screenplay by Nicholas St. John.
Starring Christopher Walken, Larry Fishburne, David Caruso, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Janet Julian, Joey Chin, Giancarlo Esposito, & Paul Calderon. Seven Arts/Lions Gate Home Entertainment.
Rated R. 106 minutes.
Drama/Crime

★★★★★
POSTER Abel Ferrara is an all-around exciting, unique filmmaker. He usually goes for subject matter and thematic material most other directors wouldn’t dare touch. Often, he likes to concern himself with the law, both sides of it; sometimes each as corrupt as the other. Mostly, Ferrara explores boundaries. He crosses them, runs to them and sees how close he can get, or how far past he can go without setting the whole film afire. From Ms. 45 to Bad Lieutenant to more fantastical stuff such as The Addiction, his films are incendiary. They’re bound to light people up, causing discussion, argument, all kinds of various angry sentiment from those who find his movies garbage, and equally from those who love his work. Either way, he is a controversial, raw talent whose films never fail to entertain me and manage to probe some of the darker spots beneath our social veneer.
King of New York is almost an answer to the call that came six years later when Hilary Clinton referred to young black folk as super predators. Of course, Ferrara was ahead of the game. But the character of Frank White is like the Conservative-Republican nightmare: a white man out there running the streets, acting like a complete sociopath, murdering, and feeling absolutely nothing for the disaster he causes from one moment to the next. Whereas all those rich white Conservatives are worrying about the supposed young black guys out terrorizing New York City, the real king and the real monster is just like them. And that’s ultimately the message, the nihilistic message, is that while the young black guys are often out there actually taking care of their friends, their neighbourhood, the kids too unfortunate not to get to play a few arcade games, Frank is out just amassing money for the sake of it. He had other options. Instead, Mr. White’s chosen to be a drain on society, and remains a white plague in snappy business suits.
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An interesting moment is when Frank talks business, re: cocaine, with an associate while standing next to a child in a hospital bed. While a doctor walks past, Frank hushes his tone. But he couldn’t care any less about a developing brain hearing him do a drug deal. It doesn’t even occur to him, his criminal mind, that doing anything drug related, even talk business, is inappropriate for when children are present. Here he is a big shot-type looking flashy in his nice suits, going to fancy parties in nice hotels and so on, yet the way he acts is just like a low life drug peddler selling product out of his house while his kids run around in diapers.
The nihilism of this film is not simply embodied in Frank. It’s also embodied in the police. Specifically, Caruso’s character, Gilley, is adamant he can’t keep on living in a world where White gets to kill and kill and kill with no ultimate legal recourse ever coming down. That’s not admitting Frank has the power. That’s more so them admitting they’ve failed, that their power is not big enough to stop someone like him. So the whole remainder of the film after they’ve made their decisions really becomes extremely dark because there’s no moral line anymore. Gangster movies centered on the gangsters instead of the law usually try to at least draw some kind of sentiment out to help you relate to the characters, no matter how bad they are – Tony Soprano, Henry Hill, among many, many more. However, King of New York shows us there’s an absence of lines in Ferrara’s New York. Nothing at all. Frank often wears a grey suit, and so you can see him sitting in that grey area. That’s where he lives. While the cops are new to this sort of thing, he’s a permanent resident of the grey zone where laws, morals, emotions, none of that matters. Only money, power, fear. And above all else? Bullets. How much you can make the next man bleed, how much money you can take from somebody else, by any means necessary.
The epitome of Frank White: in one scene a masked man gets the jump on Frank in a stairwell, but Frank tosses the woman he’s with (a black woman just so we’ve noted that about equal opportunity Mr. White) at him, letting her take some bullets while he gets a couple rounds off himself. This scene is the very essence of his character.
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On top of that Ferrara nihilism I’m always trying to figure out what he and writer Nicholas St. John are attempting to say with this film. There’s something – a bunch of somethings – in there about government, socialism, morality, every bit mashed into an excellent and disturbingly delicious crime tale. But the way Frank comes out of jail headlong into recruiting young (black) men into his fold, turning potential muggers on a subway train into his new business associates. Despite some of the cops and their willingness to cross lines in order to finally get Frank, they definitely represent a more proletariat-like group. Gilley even discusses how they make fairly little in relation to how much they risk their lives for the city, versus Frank’s living the high life. And at the same time, Frank does own the means of production in terms of the drug game. Although he still hangs out anywhere, no matter the class. He goes from high society mixers to sitting in a rundown crackhouse with a bunch of people dancing, high as fuck. So while Frank does sort of represent that capitalist enterprise he’s also apart from it, particularly after his indeterminate amount of time in jail. Likely a good stretch. Basically, it’s that class of people Frank is trying to break into with their ballroom parties, their black-and-white events, who represent the top of the food chain. Because though Frank runs the city in a sense, he is a gangster. Pure and simple. His dream is to fund a hospital, but he just can’t manage to outrun himself, or the life he’s chosen to lead. And perhaps that’s the ultimate message, not that there’s this hierarchy of corruption. Rather, Ferrara and St. John give us Frank as an example of those who rise from rags to riches in an underhanded way, the capitalist in his many forms, that eventually burn out rather than fade away. Just like the big capitalist money makers when they go for broke then bankrupt an economy, Frank never admits to anyone else, especially not himself, that he is a monster. Yet he is monstrous.
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In a film that’s desperately bleak and has its flaws, Christopher Walken is iconic. Even The Notorious B.I.G had to talk about Frank White. That’s because there are all kinds of gangsters in cinema history, from old school Sicilian mobsters, to the Irish mafia, to Armenians, and every other ethnicity/culture possible. As well as the fact there’s a ton of more contemporary gangster stuff, including the now cult-famous Scarface with a whopping central performance out of Pacino. In the midst of great performances and others run of the mill, Walken makes Frank into an otherworldly type gangster. His style is slick, weird. Walke himself is strange, in the best sort of way, and he gives that to Frank. While also allowing him to be fierce. Frank is terrifying at times when you can honestly feel that coldness in his heart breath foggy into the world.
Then there’s the fact he’s a white guy, yet he fits in so connected, so genuine with all his black crew and friends. Meanwhile, he also fits in with the upper class types. He navigates worlds like a specter hovering above everything and everyone. That’s my best instance of providing an example for how the idea of capitalism (& all that other bullshit I mentioned) plays into this movie. Frank is the personification of capitalism, of money and capital, which is the ultimate universal, so that’s how he navigates all the different nooks and crannies of the streets in New York and its upper echelons with the fancy ballroom dancing and the martinis and the Senators. In the end, he finds nothing but death. Whereas Frank started the film getting out of jail and riding in a limo, he experiences the end – his end – in back of a taxi, far from the glamorous life he’d pictured.
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This is a flawed movie at times, mostly in terms of its pacing. That being said, Abel Ferrara’s King of New York is a 5-star masterpiece. Amazing films don’t have to be perfect to be the greatest. There is no perfect film ever made in the history of cinema, despite there also being a lot of (in my opinion) 5-star works. This has thematic content worth digging into below all the sleaze and the violence and the nihilistic tone. There’s a palpable atmosphere which Ferrara achieves, slick and darkly vibrant. Also, a realism that bleeds through despite the hyperviolent sequences. The talented cast allows for smaller characters to be more than they are on paper, including an excitable role out of Laurence Fishburne, whose charisma is beyond clear here. And finally, Walken achieves one of the best performances out of his catalogue, definitely in the top five.
This is one gangster flick I’ll never, ever forget.

The Sentinel is a Ride into Haunted House Hell

The Sentinel. 1977. Directed & Written by Michael Winner; based on the novel by Jeffrey Konvitz.
Starring Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, José Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, and Beverly D’Angelo.
Universal Pictures/Jeffrey Konvitz Productions.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Horror

★★★★★
sentinelWhen I really started to become a horror hound years ago, The Sentinel is a haunted house horror movie I’d heard about yet could never get the chance to see. Years later, finally, I was able to and it blew me away. Personally, it’s my favourite haunted house-style film. There’s an intimacy to its depiction of haunting that really gets to me and lingers; sort of how I feel about Robert Wise’s The Haunting, another haunted house movie I feel is built on an intimate feel of perspective. Even more than that, Michael Winner’s movie is such a creepy, slow burn style horror, as well as the fact it draws on religious elements to achieve its supernatural thrill.
Haunted house movies are incredibly common. It’s hard to set a movie aside from the pack and say “This is the best.” So many are actually good, too. In my mind. You’ve got the aforementioned Wise film, The Legend of Hell HouseThe Shining (even if it’s not as good as King’s book), The Changeling, and the list goes on. What makes The Sentinel special for me is its pacing, the interesting and slow building screenplay Winner adapted from the Jeffrey Konvitz novel is tight. Then there’s all the imagery.
Trust me, this is a hellish ride.

Model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) and boyfriend Michael Lerman (Chris Sarandon) are on the verge of marriage. However, Alison would rather be independent and have a place of her own instead of moving in with Michael. Just in case. So she rents an apartment in a seemingly ancient New York brownstone, where the landlady gives her a nice price and all the eccentric neighbours come out for a visit. Though, after a little time in her new home, Alison starts to feel strangely. First, her own motor skills start to cease functioning correctly causing bedlam all over the place from home to work on photo shoots. Then she begins to witness eerie happenings throughout the apartment, the apparition of dead people from her past, and it only begins to get worse.
Eventually after some investigation Michael starts figuring out what’s been going on at the apartment building. By the time Alison clues in it may or may not be too late for her to do anything about it.
The brownstone may have its new Sentinel yet.
114977_0Immediately the score from Gil Mellé is noticeable. Such a lush sounding composition from the start, as we’re introduced to Alison (Raines). Then suddenly Mellé spins everything down in this strangely appropriate dark twist. You’re almost jarred out of place by the music, explicitly made aware there’ll be spookiness to follow. A required element for any proper haunted house horror is a chilling score. I mean, okay, it’s not required, but I think they benefit greatly from having a refined sound behind it.
The score works so well at other times because it isn’t just a bunch of single pieces linked together. Mellé incorporates his compositions into the sound design – shrill strings whittle away at your nerves in certain moments of suspense, other scenes have an ambient swell surrounding them and an electronic feel, then he also brings out the church bells and other ominous sounds to mix their presence with everything else into magic. This is one horror score I could easily sit and listen to, completely out of context; not many of those out there aside from John Carpenter’s scores and maybe a handful of others. The music here becomes its own entity, and without it the tension and suspense of many scenes wouldn’t be as effective.
dadWhen Alison first comes across the ghost, or zombified ghost, of her father it’s full-on terror. Some impressively executed practical effects here, as she hacks at his face with a knife, slicing him and cutting off a chunk of his nose; it’s vicious stuff! You don’t expect it to happen, really. Nice surprise. These macabre aspects continue throughout, though, that’s probably the most outwardly violent thing to happen.
Except for later, once things get worse and worse for Alison, her mental state deteriorating almost exponentially day to day. At one point we get a glimpse of the two strange lesbian women apparently feasting off the dead corpse of a man, bloody leaking out, some on their faces and mouths. So, I suppose the cannibalism would be even more violent. Still, I think probably the best moment is the previous one between Alison and her dead father. Just such a visual jolt I’d not been expecting; always the best kind. And the way her father sort of shambles out of the shadows at her, his face revealing in the bit of light, it’s a subtly effective horror technique instead of going for a ridiculously nervous jump scare.
Overall, Winner does such a nice job crafting the screenplay with intense visuals, from the look of how its shot to the actual horrific elements. I love the beautiful, vibrant colour in this movie; particularly I find the scenes in the church stick out, with the heavy burgundies, the wood tones of the pews, and so on. Cinematographer and director of photography Dick Kratina does the film justice by capturing it so well. Not is there just nice looking visuals on a surface level, some of those spooky bits throughout are all due to the way Kratina manages to frame the scenes – his use of shadow at various points, from Alison’s first walk around the apartment at night to when Michael (Sarandon) explores the entire building alone, is very good and casts everything in an unsettling light.
TheSentinelOnce the final ten minutes begin, especially after Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) calls out to the other ghosts, The Sentinel evolves into pure terror. There are deformities, burn victims, rotting dead corpses, the lesbians cannibalizing Michael’s body, and more. It’s an intensely visceral sequence, which again pits Alison against her dead father; his makeup is scary, he creeps the hell out of me whenever I see him. Just the whole finale, it works on you and it does my head in every single time I watch this movie. Winner paces this scene so perfectly, too. He could have had a very frantic set of shots, typical modern styled horror we see too often nowadays. Rather, instead of going for the adrenaline he makes your pulse pound, he makes the suspense ramp up in your gut and the tension tickle your veins, and by the time we hit the finish Winner has the audience in the palm of his hand. Again, Mellé’s ominous sounding score comes out in an amazing wave that builds up to a crash, really putting the cherry on top. Couldn’t ask for a better finale. It’s weird, it has a bit of blood and unnerving shocks, there’s pure emotional terror at work, and the plot’s conclusion kept me wanting more in the right sort of sense.

Prod DB © Universal / DR LA SENTINELLE DES MAUDITS (THE SENTINEL) de Michael Winner 1977 USA avec John Carradine inquiétant, sinistre, fantastique, pretre, curé, crucifix, aveugle, vieillard d'après le roman de Jeffrey Konvitz

5 stars for Michael Winner and The Sentinel. This one has all the greatness of the best haunted house horror, as well as the fact it’s got plenty of unique charm. We get a heavy dose of classic horror, plus Winner brings innovation to his adaptation of the source material and gives us an odd, quirky piece of terrifying cinema. There are lots of practical effects to gorge on – something of which I’m a massive fan – and then the spooky moments will genuinely make you uncomfortable and scare you proper. You’ve got to see this soon because it’s an underrated and lesser known gem from 1977, before some of the best known haunted house pictures.

Batman Returns with Burton’s Gothic Style

Batman Returns. 1992. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Daniel Waters from a story by Waters & Sam Hamm.
Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Steve Witting, and Jan Hooks.
Warner Bros./PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure

★★★★★
102114_BatmanReturns_PosterA huge fan of Batman now for about twenty five years, I only recently reviewed Tim Burton’s 1989 film; a favourite of mine. While there’s definitely even more of a cartoon-ish vibe with Batman Returns I almost can’t decide which one is my favourite. So many want to say Batman is better, however, this one combines even more of what I loved about the first one: the darkness and the campy nature of the comic books and graphic novels. With this film there’s not only a deepening of the visuals in terms of those aspects, Burton’s sequel to his own film also goes a little deeper into character than the first.
The character of the Joker is fundamentally supposed to be a bit of a mystery, so even the fact we saw Jack Nicholson as Napier before his transformation was more than you might anticipate. With Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot in this film, there’s a lot of chances for Burton to dive into their characters alongside more and more Bruce Wayne. More than this, I find the look and feel of the movie makes things so much creepier than the first. There are plenty who would say creepy is not something Batman ought to be as a film, yet I say different. There’s lots of adventure, plenty of thrill and superhero fun, but Batman and many of the characters – especially those included here – are most certainly at least a bit scary. They aren’t as outright megalomaniac-like, except for the Joker and even he has an inordinate amount of darkness in him as a character. Batman Returns brings the cartoon comic nature of Batman and the villains to the world of film, and at the very same time excels by including so much of the darkness and violence you’ll likely not see in another comic book ever again (except for maybe the violence I anticipate will have found its way into Deadpool; hopefully at least).
Either way, I don’t feel this sequel gets enough credit, nor does Burton in general for making such wonderful adaptations of Batman. This is possibly my favourite of them all, though, I still can’t make a definitive decision whether or not I’m more a fan of this or the previous movie. Too much great stuff in them both, yet I’m always leaning towards this one for whatever reason. We’ll see if maybe I get to the bottom of it.
Batman_Returns_-_BatarangTo start, I love the look of the movie, from costumes to the makeup and special effects, to the scenes themselves. The cinematography in this film is courtesy of Stefan Czapsky, whose work includes Vampire’s Kiss, Director of Photography on Errol Morris’ incredibly documentary The Thin Blue Line, as well as D.P on the odd and wonderful Edward ScissorhandsA Brief History of TimeEd Wood (another Burton film I dig a ton), Matilda, and more. Czapsky also worked as gaffer and assistant camera on a bunch of awesome movies like Larry Cohen’s God Told Me ToQHe Knows You’re Alone, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and At Close Range among others.
He really does some good work here as D.P. Lots of interesting shots he captures, which really express the Tim Burton style. I imagine after working on Edward Scissorhands a couple years before with Burton they had a feel for one another, their style and methods, so much of that I feel comes out in this film. Throughout the movie, mostly due to the fact the setting happens around/on Christmas, Burton and Czapsky conjure up this incredibly dark carnival sort of atmosphere, and the tone stays pitch dark from start to finish.
Honestly, my pick for top shot of the film is right at the beginning where we get to watch little baby Oswald wash down the river in his basket, down into the sewers where he’ll remain for 33 years; it’s a great sequence following behind the basket, watching it float on through the water. So creepy and immediately makes us aware how grim this film aims to be from the outset.
Moreover, I think Burton and Czapsky draw out so much animal imagery throughout the movie. From penguins to cats to bats, there are a bunch of different moments where the animals show up in interesting ways. Great stuff, even if it may seem heavy handed. I thought Burton did good work in those terms, too.
5-things-you-might-not-know-about-tim-burton-batman-returns-20th-anniversaryThere’s something in this movie I love even more than the first: score. Fact is, even though I do love the sequence in the museum from Batman set to the Prince song “Partyman”, there’s a little too much of it all the same. Here, in Batman Returns, I think Danny Elfman has more of a chance to branch out, as opposed to the first. Studio involvement made the first a mix, with Prince and Elfman ending up both thrown around in the movie. This time around, though there were apparently troubles in the relationship between Burton & Elfman, I think the score is absolutely fantastic! Each character has their own theme, an aesthetic all to their own, and much of that comes from Elfman’s pieces. Like the bits with the cats and Selina, as they lick and bite her (et cetera), there’s neat idiosyncrasies happening in the score with violin strings scraping and screeching, and more. Elfman has a style all of his own, which really compliments much of Burton and his own aesthetic.
batman-returns-selinas-resurrectiondda12d1eebf83736f78a5b8e0a216f15One particular favourite scene of mine is when Selina (Pfeiffer) returns home after being thrown from the window by Shreck (Walken), and somehow surviving. There’s a creepiness and black humour to the whole sequence, alternating back and forth. The way Selina stumbles home, bleeding a little, her entire skin tone has changed to an almost milky white, it’s super weird in all the right ways.
This is another aspect I love even above the 1989 film. In this story, there’s even more violence and a further edge. While Nicholson’s Joker had some highly disturbing aspects to his character (think: Alicia the living & disfigured art installation), I can’t help but think of so many moments in this sequel pushing those boundaries.
Such as the nose biting scene. Of course there’s a darkly comedic feel to that scene, as well as what follows. But the actual visuals are nasty as hell. Penguin (DeVito) has enough black crap trickling out of his mouth as it is, then when he bites the poor unsuspecting Josh (Steve Witting) it is so vibrant, the gushing red from the nose all over the victim’s face, running down Penguin’s chin; such vivid violence while also it stays, at the same time, almost like a cartoon. It’s that fine line Burton manages to tread in so many of his films I find interesting when it comes to his take on Batman.
Burton-Batman-still-4I know most people will say I’m reaching way too far on this aspect, but here goes..
Batman Returns brings out an incredible aspect of the story between Batman and the Penguin (at least in his current form out of this screenplay). These are each two orphaned children, though, for very different reasons. It shows the difference some times between a hero and villain, that edge where one person falls over while the other person somehow manages to cling on tight. Penguin is the type who fell completely over, letting the darkness take him fully; Batman, while in the dark and very much gripped by it, has managed to hold onto the edge and not let go, refusing to even. While so many people focus on the parallel between Batman and Joker, a recurring plot and thematic device constantly used over and over in the films as well as the literature, I think this screenplay and the way Burton brings things to life really show a strong duality between Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot.
There’s a ton of further duality happening between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Most powerfully is the big costume party, or masquerade; you’ll obviously notice they’re the only ones not masked. Clearly you can tell these are two people more comfortable in their superhero personas, in their own costumes, than in their own skin – out in the open at a masquerade? More like their real face and their actual skin is their costume. Selina is truly Catwoman, deep down, as is Bruce actually Batman underneath it all. While I find the parallels between Bruce and Oswald most interesting, and furthest explored, it’s worth noting this excellent parallel between Bruce and Selina, as well. These are the little nuances of the script which take this above simply being a Batman vs. two villains film, as some see it. An appropriate sequel to the first, there’s even more character explored here than before with Nicholson’s knockout performance as the Joker. Not to mention the fact both DeVito and Pfeiffer are perfect in their roles. No one else could have done these roles justice like the two of these actors. Each are creepy and unnerving in their own right, offering plenty of fun and madness to counteract the more calm, calculated performance out of Michael Keaton.
br3There’s more of the weird, loner-style Bruce Wayne here out of Keaton. Even more than the 1989 film. Not to say either performance is better, simply I like how more of Bruce comes out in this screenplay. He’s a little more lonely, a little darker in a sense. Further than that, Bruce has also lost Vicki Vale since the first film and he’s got a broken heart. Already a man with a broken heart, Keaton brings out the vulnerability of Wayne. I’ve got to reiterate, for those who also love the Nolan trilogy like myself, Bale is awesome as Batman for me, I enjoyed him; however, Keaton and the screenplay for the two Burton films really emphasize the sadness of Bruce Wayne, the loneliness inside him, even more than anything in the Nolan films. Wayne is a weird guy, there has always been this quality to him even from the original comics. This is something Keaton brings out plenty, especially with a second chance here in Batman Returns.
Overall, while I gave Batman the same 5-star rating, I’ve got to admit over the years Batman Returns has evolved as my favourite of the lot. Still a huge fan of Nolan’s works as well, there’s simply something inescapably interesting and dark about Tim Burton and his two Batman films which draws me back, over and over. As much as I can watch the Nolan films, even back to back, time and time again, there are moments in Burton’s films which are engrained on my soul. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones I originally grew up with, but I think there’s more to it. Again I say it’s the cross of the perfect elements for Batman: the darkness and the grim side of him/the villains in Gotham, plus there’s the campy and fun nature of the comics and some of the original 1960s series preserved, which amounts to a potent combination.
Batman Returns is a vibrant and Gothic story of Batman/Bruce Wayne, including several villainous entities out of Gotham City, and Tim Burton brings it to life in the most wonderful way imaginable. Check this out if you’ve not seen it, especially if you love Burton and I think the same can be said if you do love the Batman comics in particular. This is great stuff and once more I say truly underrated.