Better Call Saul – Season 3, Episode 2: “Witness”

AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 3, Episode 2: “Witness”
Directed by Vince Gilligan
Written by Thomas Schnauz

* For a recap & review of the Season 3 premiere, “Mabel” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Sunk Costs” – click here
Pic 1Chuck (Michael McKean) is locking up for the night, having a cup of tea before bed. Diligently making sure the doors are locked, peeking through the windows. He has someone watching out at night, sitting in the dark at all hours. He’s waiting for something to happen. Anything.
Pic 1AA couple guys are waiting with a tracker. From a distance Mike (Jonathan Banks) watches them with his own tracker. He’s getting closer to figuring out who has a beat on him, his comings and goings. Could this all be a test? Is someone recruiting him to test out his skills? Or just somebody keeping tabs on a crafty guy like himself? Hmm. Whatever it is, Mike’s determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
And then he follows a guy, in the night, into morning… all the way to, you guessed it: LOS POLLOS HERMANOS! God damn.
Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) is meeting with a woman named Francesca Liddy (Tina Parker) applying for a job in the office. She meets with Kim (Rhea Seehorn), too. They check out her resume, her experience, so on. They need somebody organised, to keep the place afloat. Kim isn’t sold, but Jimmy wants to hire her. Something like this is going to play directly into the plot, at some point in Season 3. When, exactly? Francesca will play a big role, in some way, shape, or form. Maybe she’ll wind up seeing Jimmy do something shitty, or she’ll flip on him for some reason, or who knows.
Mike calls Jimmy at the office: he wants him to go into Los Pollos Hermanos, to keep an eye on things, the guy with the bag whom Mike previously followed. Ah, the beginning of how Mike and Jimmy come into contact with Mr. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Jimmy has breakfast starting out his spy duties. Soon the man with the bag arrives and our hapless lawyer tries to keep him in his sight.
FINALLY, our first look at Gus in a couple years! He sweeps up around where Jimmy sits, and the man with the bag, too (does he sweep something up from the guy? Is that their sneaky system?). Mike gets no information that helps from Jimmy, walking away empty handed. For the time being.


Mike keeps on Los Pollos Hermanos, determined that he’ll find out what’s been going on. It’s a tiring job, one he no doubt was prepared for all those years as a cop. Soon, a black SUV pulls into the restaurant rather suddenly, backing into the rear out of sight. Then it’s gone again in a rush. Who’s driving? Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), our old pal from Breaking Bad. Another lead to follow.
At the McGill/Wexler offices, Ernesto (Brandon K. Hampton) can’t go in, so he phones Kim. She goes out to meet him and he’s so obviously stressed, with the information he knows from hearing Chuck’s clandestine tape. He wants to tell Jimmy about it, but doesn’t want to get in trouble because of helping his friend. So, he opts for Kim, whose view of Jimmy has once again shifted.
Gimme a dollar,” she tells him – the same he did with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman when they had him in the desert, hood over his head. They’ve now got attorney-client privilege. He spills the beans, involving his emotions over Chuck, wanting to cut him some slack mentally. Only the tape exists now. Note: when Kim’s talking to him, and he’s peeling tape off the newly painted wall, at first (before he gets frustrated) he uses the technique his big brother Chuck taught him last episode; he can never escape him, even when Chuck is screwing him over, eternally.


Still following that tracker, Mike is out in the middle of nowhere. He’s lead to a gas cap in the road, a cellphone waiting on top. And surely when it rings, on the other end are instructions for where to go.
In other news, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) is sneaking around in the neighbourhood near Chuck’s place trying to remain unseen. They have a little secret meet. Howard’s getting impatient with all the nonsense, all the money spent on private investigators, et cetera. All in the name of trying to snag Jimmy for his crime. He wants to get on with “alternate strategies” and finish with Chuck’s paranoia.
No sooner do they finish their conversation does the younger brother show up, pissed off and ready to beat down the door. Which he does. He flies into a rage and calls out Chuck over his betrayal. He breaks open the desk to find the tape, then cracks it into pieces. Could likely mean only more trouble for Jimmy, as there are witnesses to his frustrated outburst.


Man, oh, man! What’s next for the Brothers McGill? Nothing good.
Coming up is “Sunk Costs” and I’m so intrigued to see more of Gus + Mike, as well as what Jimmy must deal with in the fallout of his actions here in this episode.

Advertisements

Breaking Bad – Season 2, Episode 13: “ABQ”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 13: “ABQ”
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Vince Gilligan

* For a review of the previous episode, “Phoenix” – click here
* For a review of the Season 3 premier, “No Más” – click here
IMG_3793
Again, the black-and-white, the eyeball, the pink teddy bear in the pool missing one eye. The ominous openings will give us their meaning here in the Season 2 finale. The familiar images work towards colour, now we see helicopters in the air, police everywhere. Smoke and fire in the distance.
What’s gone on around the White residence?
IMG_3794
Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) wakes to find Jane (Krysten Ritter) dead in bed next to him. Frantically he pumps her chest to try and revive her. But no such luck. Heartbreaking to watch this scene. Now, he’s got to figure out what to do next. You know who he calls: Walter White (Bryan Cranston). As one young girl dies, he cradles his newborn daughter. Jesse frantically tells Walt what’s gone on, as if the latter didn’t already know. So they set about cleaning things up. Walt says he knows who to call.
At Jesse’s place, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) arrives on request of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). He’s a fixer. Inside, he starts getting things organized. All the drugs and the paraphernalia get tossed in a bag. Mike is clearly an ex-cop, he knows all the rights things to do. Or a career criminal. We’ll figure that out as things go on. Either way, he irons Pinkman’s house out. He also tells Jesse only to say a couple brief things. He sets the story straight.
Living a supposedly normal life, Walt, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Junior (RJ Mitte) – I mean, Flynn – sit and eat breakfast together. Like a happy family. However, the obvious strain of letting someone’s daughter die is wearing on him. The SaveWalterWhite.com funds are rolling in now. It doesn’t do much to assuage Walter’s feelings of emptying manhood, unable to be given credit for his money, the funds he raised illegally to support his own cancer treatment. Instead the cash and his fate are seemingly attributed to the kindness of strangers. Does not sit well with Walt, amongst all the other things that don’t sit right in his gut.
IMG_3796


Worst of all, Donald Margolis (John de Lancie) shows up to find Jane dead. This is so unbelievably devastating. He doesn’t even have to go inside. He knows what’s happened. And this is an event that will have further reaching consequences than anybody could ever imagine.
At the DEA office, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) puts out a collection jar for his brother-in-law. Meanwhile, he’s on the case of Combo being murdered. This leads into the Heisenberg meth, though – “blue sky,” Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) calls it. Of course Hank doesn’t buy Jimmy being pinched as being Heisenberg. He thinks the man himself is actually upping his distribution. The blue stuff’s been moving outside of New Mexico, everywhere around it specifically. So now Hank thinks there’s a bigger operation happening behind the scenes. And boy is he right, just nobody else knows it yet.
Mike has tracked down Jesse after Walt’s been looking for him. He finds the poor young dude in a drug house in a rough neighbourhood. So Walt has Mike bring him down there, he wants to go inside and find his partner. He is responsible for it all, not helping Jane as she choked on her vomit. Now this is part of his delusional redemption, in his eyes anyway. Going in Walt finds all kinds of characters skulking in the shadowy, run down corners of the building. He tracks Jesse down and eventually manages to pull him out of that hideous place. After Jesse weeps in his arms a moment. It’s more tragic for the fact of Walt having stood by and watched Jane die, especially since Jesse weeps: “I killed her.”
In this scene, Aaron Paul broke my heart to pieces. I genuinely cried a bit. Some detractors have said he isn’t as good as people say. To me, that’s bullshit. In this and his latest series, The Path, Paul proves his chops for dramatic roles. He’s got raw, emotional talent.
Sadder still is when father Donald has to pick out the clothes for his dead daughter, which is impressively juxtaposed with a follow-up cut to Walter, changing his newborn daughter’s diaper. This is a wonderful moment of editing and writing together, which shows off Vince Gilligan and his abilities. Subtle, brief moment that means so much.


I love that Hank still has the little statuette on his desk that he was given while on the Juarez task force. It was something he almost mocked when first seeing it there. But most importantly at the DEA arrive a few businessmen who raise funds for community programs, et cetera. One of whom is Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Ironic, funny moment when Hank mentions the scourge of meth, which Fring says is “terrible” while shaking his head. Most intense is when Gus notices the donation jar for Walter White. Now he knows the relation between Hank and Walt, as well as Walt’s cancerous affliction. This could mean a number of awful things. Let’s watch this unfold dramatically, shall we?
At the same time, Walt is dropping Jesse off at a very beautiful, New Age-looking spa where the younger of the two will receive rehab treatments. Poor Jesse, even physically he looks depressed and drained of any proper emotion. “I deserve this,” he repeats to Walt; the same thing Walt said in the desert. Yet really, Walt did deserve that, or more. Jesse deserves none of this. He deserves someone better than Walt.
Back at his place Walt finds the camera crew from a local news station there to do a story on his philanthropic son raising money for his treatment. Joy and splendour! Mr. White is non too pleased, though he placates his wife and son by going along. You can just see his pride and ego being battered by the second, merely from the look on his face. Worst of all his son is praising him as being an amazing person, a “good man” and everything. Deep down, Walt knows the difference. All too well.


Walt Jr (re: his father): “And he always does the right thing
IMG_3811
As Walt prepares now to go under the knife for surgery, something happens he didn’t expect. The drugs he’s given loosen him up. Too much. After Skyler asks about his cellphone, he druggily replies: “Which one?” And in that moment, she realizes his lies never end. What a potent moment of writing again, Mr. Gilligan. Love how these little plot pieces come apart and come together and fit into puzzle pieces. Testament to the quality of this series.
When Walt comes out, he’s doing well. Except for his relationship with his wife. That may be fractured completely. She and the baby are going to Hank and Marie’s for the weekend, after which she expects Walt to move. They’re separating. To Walt and his oblivious surprise. She tells him about the loopy, drugged confession, and now things are about to get very messy. Turns out Skyler also talked with Gretchen, and she found out there’s been no money coming from them at all. Uh oh, Walter. Things are falling apart QUITE fast. Skyler also figured out Walt never went to see his mother. So where did he go? Man. It all unravelled in one hard tug.
IMG_3812
Donald Margolis isn’t doing so well. He’s back at work, but life is not the same that his daughter is gone. He prefers to get back into the routine again. However, that might be a little too early. His job as an air traffic controller is stressful. Finally the black-and-white flashes at the beginning of several episodes this season begin making sense. The grief and horror of losing his daughter has melted into the exterior world, affecting all kinds of horror on two planes that crash into one another mid-air.
Sitting alone at home in his backyard, Walter wears a shirt the same colour as the pink teddy bear from those flash forwards. In the sky, the planes crash and explode, debris falling to the ground all around Walt’s neighbourhood. This is the symbolic destruction of Walt and his actions. They have far reaching consequences, which spread out and infect everything and everyone around him. This is the metaphorical chaos he exerts over the lives of others.
IMG_3814IMG_3816IMG_3817
An amazing, terrifying finale that has a ton of development. I loved Season 2, perhaps one of my favourites in a series that’s marked by high quality. Continue on with me soon as I dive deep into Season 3 for another watch.

Breaking Bad – Season 2, Episode 12: “Phoenix”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 12: “Phoenix”
Directed by Colin Bucksey
Written by John Shiban

* For a review of the previous episode, “Mandala” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “ABQ” – click here
IMG_3767
With Skyler (Anna Gunn) in labour, Walt (Bryan Cranston) found himself saddled with making a big deal with the new prospective distributor, the low key Mr. Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Only problem was Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Jane (Krysten Ritter) shot up heroin, so Walt was left holding the bag for getting everything together.
Now, he’s missed the birth of his daughter. Too busy dropping of 38 pounds of meth at a drop spot. But then off he rushes to be with his wife and newborn daughter. Luckily, Skyler is fine, so is the baby. So she isn’t worried. Of course Walt is a little surprised, and unhappy, that Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) got to be there while he did not. The only thing is that while Skyler isn’t mad at Walt, there’s just the fact Walt is pissed at Jesse for having facilitated his missing the birth via the irresponsibility of shooting up heroin.
However, can we really blame Jesse?
While it’s a bonehead thing, to get on heroin, I don’t think it’s a fair thing for Walt to hold that against him. Not as if he knew there was a big deal going down. Walt went out and did all that himself, never once consulting Jesse afterwards. No way he could’ve imagined they’d need to make a massive drop like that for Fring. Still, there’s no stopping Walt. Even if he’s got a massive satchel of cash, a healthy baby girl and a wife that for once is not raging with him (for good reason), he can never pass up an opportunity to lecture Jesse.
IMG_3769


And then there’s Jane whose own problems are big enough. She and her father Donald (John de Lancie) attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings together. While she’s high on heroin, he calls up to go to one. She lies and then prepares to leave. Before freaking Jesse out about a break-in. This sends him into a spin, not knowing Walt collected their meth. So now he believes they’ve lost every last bit of their product.
When Jane and her father hit their meeting, he can clearly tell there’s something off about her. She looks sickly, fumbling her 18 Month chip nervously. It’s so obvious, and Donald isn’t stupid either. I have to mention – John de Lancie is a fantastic actor and I’m thrilled he was given this part, I fondly know him from his brief yet thoroughly memorable part as Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation, so to see him here is a lot of fun in a beefier, highly emotional role that only gets more important in the coming episodes.
At home, Walt gets a call from Jesse about the missing meth. He only hangs up on his partner. Later, a remarkable moment during dinner – Hank brings over some Los Pollos Hermanos, and Walt is struck by the whole dirty irony of it all. But further we see the emptying manhood Walt perceives in himself, as Skyler wants to jet back to work so they have money when he gets his surgery, even Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) is thinking of getting a job to pitch in. The look on Walt Sr’s face says it all.
So later, he takes the only person in his life that won’t say a word about his business in to see all the money he’s made: little baby Holly. This is such a perfect writing moment. I absolutely adore this, even if it’s sort of twisted. Yet Walt beams when he tells Holly: “Thats right. Daddy did that. Daddy did that for you.”

IMG_3774
Jesse goes to Walt in his classroom, confronting him after figuring out he took the meth. Either way, Walt is pissed, but I can’t help there’s also disappointment in there. He sometimes treats his partner like he’s still a student in his class, often like a son whom he’s way too hard on. Now it gets worse: Walt refuses to give Jesse his money, assuming he’ll shoot it up his arm with his new found predilections. Except Jesse says he’s not into heroin, he didn’t like it. But Mr. White is not so keen. He wants a drug test. Well, this is beginning to drive a huge wedge between the two partners. One that’s going to have far reaching repercussions.
Now that emptying manhood over which Walt is obsessing starts to empty quicker. In his wonderful goodness, Walt Jr set up what essentially now would be a GoFundMe page: SaveWalterWhite.com, all in order to help solicit donations to help with Walt’s cancer treatments. That’s a beautiful thing for his son to do. The pride of the father is bursting through. At the same time, I kind of understand. Though I despise Walt on a certain level for his behaviour, he’s putting himself on the line cooking and selling meth while not getting any credit. As if credit is deserved. But it’s just the fact he’s risking his life, his freedom, and getting no reward whatsoever. So he goes to Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the man who always has the plan. And he doesn’t disappoint – they’ll have Walt’s money shovelled into Junior’s website via “zombies” that are essentially fake donors giving real cash from all over the world.
And as it turns out, Jesse ain’t done with the skag. He and Jane are shooting up once more. She figures out how much money her new boyfriend is worth, then it’s clear she’s very interested in this new situation. Meanwhile, at the next NA meeting, Donald finds his little girl nowhere to be found. He discovers that Jesse is a bad influence in her life, he goes on inside to find needles on the bedside table and so on. Jane’s father wants her back in rehab, so she spins a great big story about her and Jesse discussing rehab every single night, yadda yadda yadda. The loving dad in Donald breaks down and agrees to let her go for rehab in the morning. Perhaps a bad move to skimp on the tough love here. In reality, Jane is only concerned with the $480K Jesse is owed. Again, Jesse is being manipulated. Just by someone new this time.


Then comes the blackmail. Jane calls Walt, with Jesse nervous in the background, and starts demanding the cash. Or else. “Do right by Jesse tonight – or I will burn you to the ground,” Jane tells him. We can see Jesse isn’t happy about this, or at least he isn’t comfortable. They’re still partners. Despite being angry at one another, Jesse doesn’t want to cause all this trouble. But Jane is planting herself firmly in his life, however she sees fit. To get whatever she can.
When Walt needs to go on a diaper run he takes the cash with him for Jesse. He takes the cash over there. Then things turn dark, as Jane basically wants to start spending that cash immediately. They talk of travel, of going places and doing all types of things. But first, before getting clean, they’ve got to get themselves nice and fucking high.
At a nearby bar, Walt ends up sitting next to none other than Donald Margolis. They have a chat about children, so on. Vaguely, Walt talks about Jesse, as Donald relates his own troubles with his daughter’s troubles. Love this because we’re seeing another side of things, as we’re already privy to the other. Just another example of wonderful writing.


One of the most devastating moments in Breaking Bad comes after Walt goes back to Jesse’s place. Inside, he finds him and Jane in bed together, strung out on heroin. Then Jane begins to overdose. And standing there over them Walt simply watches on while she chokes on her own vomit. This is one of the second (or third) moments in the series where I truly felt Walt has lost his humanity. Despite not wanting to get on the cops’ radar or have Jesse end up in custody, Walt has let a human being die terribly and did nothing in the way of helping. Stone cold heart. He feels the guilt and horror of his decision, but it’s contained. In a vacuum. Walt will go on, and it isn’t until the very last season he ever reveals any of this to anybody.
IMG_3788IMG_3789IMG_3790IMG_3791
The next episode, “ABQ”, is the Season 2 finale.
It has much to give us.

Breaking Bad – Season 2, Episode 11: “Mandala”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 2, Episode 11: “Mandala”
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by George Mastras

* For a review of the previous episode, “Over” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Phoenix” – click here
IMG_3737
Combo (Rodney Rush) is out on the streets getting mad dogged by a couple dudes in a car nearby. They look sketchy as hell, not looking to buy any meth. Doesn’t look good. When they stay on him he decides to call up Skinny Pete (Charles Baker). A little kid rides his bike around Combo constantly.
Then he hears the guys in the car honk followed by a click behind him. The boy shoots him down in the street. Hardcore. That is vicious.
IMG_3739IMG_3741
Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Skyler White (Anna Gunn) are at the doctor hearing what a surgeon has to say. Appears surgery is now on the table for Walt due to the reduction in size in his tumour. The married couple are reluctant to go ahead at first, at least Skyler is in her position. The surgeon sells a good game about going for it to prevent any further spreading. Cost is always on the table: from $170-200K. Yowzahs, that is one big price tag. Not to mention death is possible. Walt doesn’t feel like talking, he opts to go for the surgery without consulting Skyler immediately. A couple weeks and the whole thing is a go. Of course working around Skyler’s pregnancy.
Jesse (Aaron Paul) has news for Walter about Combo. Although, Mr. White isn’t exactly a peach about that. Nearly soulless. At the same time, Skinny Pete and Jesse are talking everything over, the former not happy about them encroaching on other territories without the muscle to back it. The meth enterprise of Pinkman-White is falling apart, bit by bit. ‘Cause Pete is out, too. Not to mention Jesse’s street cred is gone after Spooge’s woman confessed to the murder.
Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is doing his thing to help his newest clients. Walt brings the distribution issue in the fallout from Combo’s violent death to their lawyer. And the shady Saul’s got just the sort of guy that might be good for them to meet. Naturally, they don’t want to deal with anybody like Tuco, or even a Krazy-8. This time around Saul has somebody rock solid in mind. Very “low profile“, secretive type.
In the meantime, Jesse is crumbling to pieces. He needs Jane (Krysten Ritter) to leave him alone for a while. So he can smoke away the pain of Combo getting brutally gunned down. He feels all the guilt, heavily. She prefers to stay, maybe she can help.
IMG_3742

IMG_3746
Here’s our first introduction to Los Pollas Hermanos. Manager Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) runs things, as the day goes by hectic. People are eating, drinking their sodas. Walt waits, looking around for the guy they’re supposed to be meeting. As usual, Jesse arrives late. High as fuck. Eventually he leaves, unimpressed with the entire deal. But Walt waits. And waits. And continues to wait. Nobody ever comes.
This makes him late for an ultrasound with Skyler (Anna Gunn). Good one, Walt. Anyway, Skyler has to rush off back to the office because there’s a birthday party for Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins). Creepiest is when they throw the little shindig with a cake, he request that Skyler sing him a Marilyn Monroe-esque Happy Birthday. It’s just awkwardly sexual and especially because of the fact she’s currently pregnant.
When Jesse gets home he finds the place in disarray how he left it, as well as a sleeping Jane in bed. His bad influence perpetuates itself and now has threatened her sobriety. He’s only becoming more of what he hates, dragging other people into his web. First Combo, now Jane. It only gets worse from here.
IMG_3747IMG_3749IMG_3750IMG_3751IMG_3752
So it seems as if Saul’s connection doesn’t want to do business with Walt. Finito. Done. There is only the “one shot” according to Goodman. However, Walt is not satisfied with this result. He goes back to Los Pollos Hermanos intent on figuring out some way forward. Soon, he figures out that it’s manager Gustavo Fring behind the secretive business dealing. The two men sit down for a chat together. Things slowly come out after Walt pushes a bit. Fring is keen on being careful. Though he makes clear: “I dont think were alike at all, Mr. White. You are not a cautious man at all. Your partner was late, and he was high.” So already, Gus has Jesse figured out. He also has Walt figured out, as well. Because let’s face it – Walt does suffer from poor judgement, no matter how book smart he happens to be. But Walt manages to plead Jesse’s case, saying he can essentially control him. Gus happens to disagree. A deal may go ahead all the same.
In other business, Skyler is bringing some accounting problems to Ted about the account she’d previously mentioned in an earlier episode. She’s turning up under reported revenue, also a bit of fudging numbers and such. Tsk, tsk, Ted. Not good, buddy. Also this foreshadows a bit of trouble down the road with Skyler working with Beneke.


Jesse is consistently falling apart. Combo’s funeral went by without him there, even Badger (Matt Jones) came in from out of state. Jesse and Jane have become one of those junkie couples that just get high together and burn out. Worse, Jane’s gotten back to old habits: heroin. They’ve really become junkies with this move. She shoots him up and it’s as if heaven comes down to touch Jesse. He spins out in bed after a good hit, then falls in a deep stupor. “Ill meet you there,” Jane tells him.
Well things start to get tense this time around. Worst time for Jesse to be in a heroin induced trance. Walt hears his cellphone vibrating in the ceiling of his classroom, obviously making his students wonder what’s going on. Afterwards, he checks it only to realize the deal is set with Gus. A guy named Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui) tells him he has to get the required 38 pounds of meth, in one hour, to the appropriate location. If he doesn’t make it apparently that’s it. Never again.
And at the very same time, Skyler goes into labour at the office. Man, the utterly awful fate of Breaking Bad showers down on Walt at the craziest times. Now with Jesse on heroin and the Gus deal going down, Walt is faced with missing the birth of his daughter. That is one whopper of a fucking disappointment. All because of meth.
IMG_3763IMG_3764IMG_3765IMG_3766
Let’s see what happens in the penultimate Season 2 episode “Phoenix” up next with a recap and review soon.

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.
Pic2
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.
Pic1
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.
Pic3
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.
Pic4
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.

Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.