Tagged Cocaine

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.

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 6: “Cyclone”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 6: “Cyclone”
Directed by Nicole Kassell
Written by Carl Capotorto & Erin Cressida Wilson

* For a review of the previous episode, “He In Racist Fire” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The King and I” – click here
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With everything all but falling down around Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), the first season of HBO’s Vinyl moves further towards the finale.
This episode starts with “Tequila” by The Champs playing on a radio outside the home of Mr. Finestra, as he sits inside railing cocaine in a craze. This guy is seriously developing more of a habit each day. He’s hanging out with old pal Ernst (Carrington Vilmont). He isn’t much of a good influence, pretty much egging Richie on about Devon (Olivia Wilde) and what she might be up to. At the same time, in come his kids while he’s high as fuck. What a father. What a dude.


Richie: “I should freeze my accounts
Ernst: “You should fuck!”
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Meanwhile, Devon’s off on her own at the Chelsea Hotel. Seems there’s a bit of plaster casting going on, in which she’s involved. And then she gets even more involved when the shoot gets troublesome, offering to take off some clothes and jump in, head first. If Richie can have fun, why can’t she? Nobody should be judging her any more than him. All around a very provocative scene. All the same, nothing makes her feel full. Like Richie, constantly chasing a bigger, better, high.
Off the rails spins Mr. Finestra. He rampages through American Century Records like the titular cyclone, shouting orders, talking to himself.
Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) welcomes Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse), and she seems ready to do business. Everybody’s happy to see her, from Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) to Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne). Then there’s the bossman who is a bit too over-the-top for everyone, clearly higher than Jesus. He leaves a little later, and it makes things easier for all involved. He heads off to cheat on his wife, but that doesn’t work.
Zak asks a little about Hannibal, to which Richie replies: “Because he tried to shove his dick inside my wife. Any other questions?” It’s just all out madness around the office. Richie’s falling apart, completely, right in front of everyone’s eyes.


Elsewhere, Julie Silver (Max Casella) requires Richie and his presence, concerning The Nasty Bits. “You kissed this broad not me,” says Julie. The problem is there are too many hippies at the auditions for a new guitar player. Richie trips out in front of everyone. We literally watch his tragic descent in front of the room. Then there is Ernst, reporting on Devon and her whereabouts. It’s all too much for Richie to handle right now, on top of the mountain of cocaine in his head. He takes off on the auditions leaving Jamie (Juno Temple) with Julie, the band, and no coke of her own.
Andrea takes Zak with her to go see David Bowie (Noah Bean), who jams onstage: “Is that Andy fucking Zito?” he calls down between jams. The guy playing Bowie looks SO MUCH like him, particularly in that era. Great sequence including him. Love the inclusion of all these musicians played by actors. Also gives Andrea lots of credibility, introducing her as a character quickly and efficient. But then Zak goes too heavy at Bowie and drives him away. Hilarious.
Outside a club, Richie ends up assaulting Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) by tossing him to the ground, then getting tossed into the road himself. His paranoia is building, especially after he finds out Ernst knows about what happened to Rogers – because Richie told him. The pair hotwire and steal a car, heading out for a little nighttime drive. Where to? Probably to track down his wife.


Devon is enjoying herself, blowing off steam. They talk about Ernst, Richie, all kinds of things. But Devon would rather not talk of her husband, his “bender” and such. Or is it more than that? She’s more drowned by the monotonous life at home, stuck with a husband, children. It isn’t exactly what she wanted, yet that life was forced upon her. This whole thing brings up the idea of artistry, what it means to be one, when you are one, who says, and so on. Love this whole sequence. Because then there’s the side of Devon which knows she’s bringing chaos to her kids, the family, and it pains her. Not all her fault, though. “Im so lonely,” she says: “Its pathetic. Im not myself anymore.” And that’s what it’s about: losing herself in the life of her husband, giving him everything with nothing left for herself.


Devon: “Day after day in that house I hear this creaking, back and forth, its the sound of me hanging myself from the rafters.”
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While his wife is pondering the big questions, Richie’s sleeping off a bender in the car. And forgetting important things. Simultaneously, in a guitar shop Kip (James Jagger) might’ve come across someone worth having in the band. Not only for his guitar player skills, but his scheming initiative. They both take off with guitars from the shop, and eventually Kip turns it into an offer.
Devon heads home, and almost instantly the sad quiet of that life returns, smothering her. Before she hears the kids, the one thing anchoring her there at all.
At the Bat Mitzvah, things are pretty much over. Zak isn’t overly happy to see Richie, after a six hour party. Such an awkward scene, as Richie makes a fool of himself, higher than the sky itself. He tries to apologize for everything over the past few months. Is it enough? Not so sure. “You ruined my life, and my familys life,” Zak yells at his boss. And Richie gets the toss, naturally. High and yelling at a Bat Mitzvah. Not a pinnacle of good living.


Worst of all, though, Richie knows he’s responsible for his problems, all those issues plaguing his life. He recognizes it all too well. Likely why he huffs down the drugs at such an incredibly dangerous rate, why he’s pretty much intent on self-destructing.
At home he finds Devon. He talks a good game – “Im gonna fix this” – but will anything truly change? He says the right things, makes the right moves, only she knows there’s more behind it all. Then he goes way too far and pushes her past the point of no return. She quickly grabs a few things, as well as the children. She finally decides to get out of there, recognizing the cyclone that is Richie, fueled by rage, ego, and cocaine.
Great montage of scenes as Trey Songz sings Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” and Zak mulling over his life, plus Richie discovers Devon and the kids gone.
Then we discover Ernst is dead – a hole in the back of his head. Has been all along. Could’ve guessed it, yet I still love this episode. A great bit of writing. What follows is an eventual car crash, as Richie hallucinates his long dead friend and gets totaled by another car in the road. A massacre to end such a wild, frantic episode. Then out steps Buddy Holly (Philip Radiotes) for a quick jam. And then Richie sits in his car, totally fine, staring at the Cyclone rollercoaster in front of him. Psyched out, man. Did he kill Ernst in a crash, is that how he died? Pretty sure. Love the intricacies. It becomes more and more clear with each passing episode that Richie turns everything to shit once it comes into his life, one way or another.


This was a whopper of an episode. Fun writing, excellent direction, and dedicated to the memory of David Bowie. Looking forward to “The King and I” next. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans!

Hap and Leonard – Season 1, Episode 4: “Trudy”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 1, Episode 4: “Trudy”
Directed by Nick Gomez
Teleplay by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Dive” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “War” – click here
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After the end of last episode, Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) find themselves taken hostage by Howard (Bill Sage) and his gang. Of course, Trudy Fawst (Christina Hendricks) and lets it all happen.
We watch Trudy take it all in. Heavy. She thinks about years ago, life before. The bird in a cage comes from Trudy here, as she tries to let one out into the wild: “Its time to be a bird.” Instead this turns into us seeing a bit of a sadistic side to her come out. When the bird won’t fly away, Trudy opts to drown it instead. Yikes. The look in her eyes says so much.
Out in the living room, Hap and Leonard on their knees get an explanation about Howard needing to “appropriate” their share of the money because there wasn’t enough left after the moldy portion. A potent word from Trudy – “sacrifice” – referring to Leonard and Hap giving up their share for Howard, Trudy and the crew. When Hap knows all about sacrifice.
The greasy crew, including Chub (Jeff Pope) and Paco (Neil Sandilands), hold Hap and Leonard at gunpoint. Hap digs a hole for them to bury the money, considering the police presence nearby. Best is when Leonard stands tall against the barrage of weaponry pointed towards him, and refuses to fill the hole in with the money; shows how he does not let anyone walk over him.


Later, Hap and Leonard end up getting Chub to talk. He gives up the plan for them to buy cocaine. That’s their plan for “sustainable income” in order to do a “Robin Hood” scheme; “to beat the system,” preaches Howard. Lots of great dialogue here in this sequence, as Hap and Leonard both give the gang a talking to, as well as take the piss at the same time. They up duct taped on the porch, bitching at each other in their unique way. Again, as I’ve said plenty already, Purefoy and Williams do such a perfect job with the characters, they really give Joe R. Lansdale’s writing justice in the sense that they make these two friends seem so believable, so natural together. You wouldn’t know but they’d actually been friends for most of their lives. Further gives authenticity to the writing, as their relationship makes everything else flow so organically.
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Leonard: “Nice girlfriend you got there. Got more faces than a diamond.”
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We get a deep look in Trudy during this episode; as if you didn’t know already with the title. But there are a frequent glimpses behind the mask, both frightening and also human. In the series’ current timeline, Trudy wrestles with her actions, and flashes back to the last time she really worked Hap over. I mean, she isn’t a monster. She’s a human, she is a lover. But there’s a certain amount of con artist in her, too. And ruthlessness. Yet she does question Howard: “Is this who we are?”
Chub also reveals his softer nature. While Paco’s a stone cold bad ass, Chub regrets how things went down. Further fueling the fire, Leonard tells him they don’t respect him, and says he’s just a “walking talking porkchop” in their eyes, which makes me laugh but makes me pity Chub at the same time. He refuses to acknowledge the group doesn’t particularly cherish him.
I dig the flashbacks in the series to this point. They’re never overly long, though, this episode dives a bit deeper than any yet. Still, they’re filmed in a slightly different grain, they have a dreamy feel. In this episode particularly, Trudy narrates us through some of the flashback, giving us some expository stuff but in a nice snippet-like way. They really do come off as pieces of memories.


Hap and Trudy have it out a bit, as the former sits with Leonard asleep on his shoulder, both duct taped to one another still. Trudy is going for broke on this latest scheme, following Howard – “Even if it means this?” asks Hap. So who knows what’s next for the unshakeable duo.
In the morning, Leonard decides they should just get up and go, glider on their back and everything. So they do. While Chub sleeps, they manage to get up and start heading towards the wood. They argue and bitch and get a good ways before Paco’s there, right behind them. Good effort, fellas. More duct tape for them both.
Then everyone’s packed in the van. Trudy and Howard decided on their own to only give a “deposit” for their cocaine deal, which drives Paco wild. And who are they meeting exactly? Why it’s Angel (Pollyanna McIntosh), and the maniacal Soldier (Jimmi Simpson). Certainly not going to be any trouble, right?
Things start getting brutal once Soldier calls Leonard a “nigger“, over and over, and Chub does not like that. He gets mouthy, not making anybody happy. And then Paco blows his brains out. Soldier and Angel take control of things, and Howard is devastated. It was all a fuck over. Paco did them in dirty. I knew something had to happen either way. Problem is they never brought all that money, so y’know, now they’ve got to go get that so Soldier and Angel don’t splatter everyone’s brains around the room.


Soldier: “Shhhhh. I do like to hear myself as Im speaking.”


On the way in the van, Soldier gets crude, wondering who Trudy is with currently. He figures it’s whoever has the “biggest ankle spanker“, which he determines is Leonard. Of course it comes out he’s gay and more of Leonard being a straight up bad ass. All sorts of focus on Trudy, taking her down a few notches. Then there’s more of Soldier getting naughty, talking about Angel, their sexual relationship. Finally, Trudy defends herself a bit and says she won’t give Soldier “the satisfaction of being scared“, which makes things incredibly tense. Even worse when the cops are parked on the road where they’re all headed. “I love cops,” says Soldier with an odd look in his eyes.
Soldier does a good song and dance until Paco pulls his crossbow and pops a cop. This starts a massacre, as they finish off the other one, and Angel shoots a few more “essential” rounds into the already dead one. This horrifies everyone in the van, naturally. Hap and Leonard are along for a very dangerous ride.


Extremely excited for the next chapter, the penultimate “War” again directed by Jim Mickle. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans. It’s getting dark and dirty now.