Movies that are slightly off.
King of New York
Not everyone who runs a city is elected.
A former drug lord returns from prison determined to wipe out all his competition and distribute the profits of his operations to New York's poor and lower classes in this stylish and ultra violent modern twist on Robin Hood.
"I thought people like me were the legal system."
One of the seminal films of the 1990's...almost perfect as a stylistic exercise yet concurrently filled with such political commitment that it's simply overwhelming. Everything Ferrara hates is in this movie, including it's form which he criticizes in the commentary. "This is so uptight I can't even breathe. I'm glad I made this film because I would never make a film like this again. This is fascistic filmmaking." He's partially right, the film is incredibly tight, so tight that nearly every shot, every cut, every object has a specific purpose and function. It's some of the most "perfect" mis-en-scene I've ever witnessed, even down to the sheen on the wineglasses near…
Abel Ferrara's best looking film. It's a film of dualities.
The photography captures the contrasts of the decadence of elite Manhattanite dwellings to the filth of the streets. Ferrara's direction teases out the similarities between the two vastly different settings. Then he paints both worlds with a thick coat of sleaze and corruption.
Scenes are filled with well dressed men who suddenly explode into violence, their blood a fresh color on the grim tapestry of the city. The cops who are willing to bend and break the law. The crooks who clean up the streets by force. By the time it ends the moral lines have blurred.
Walken looks skeletal, ghostly. His face is gaunt and plastered with subtle expression.…
You could imagine during production that Abel Ferrara must have felt that his stylized neon saturated gangster film, complete with his biggest budget thus far, may prove to be his most mainstream and accessible feature, harking back as it did to the similar celluloid criminal mayhem that James Cagney would feature in in earlier days.
But upon its release in 1990, critics and audiences alike didn't see it that way at all. They gave it a resounding thumbs down, whilst some even booed the cast at screenings and demanded the profit went to drug rehab programmes in the titular city. Such reactions only further served the notoriety of Ferrara as an enfant terrible of American indie cinema scene. And so…
Dark and gritty and sleazy in that way Abel Ferrara has perfected up to this point, KING OF NEW YORK features Christopher Walken at the peak of his acting powers, calling the shots and taking out his rivals. Ferrara flips the tables though, as a lot of Walken's violence seems strangely justified, like a robin hood gangster with a heart of gold. That doesn't prevent cop David Caruso (in a possibly Boston accent) from hating his ever-loving guts though. Despite a great performance from Laurence Fishburne, including some great toe-to-toe scenes with Wesley Snipes, I feel like his performance was the one thing holding the movie back. In most of the early and middle portions of the movie, he lays…
This is the point in the venn diagram where Taxi Driver and Goodfellas overlap. And it ain't pretty.
Cannot recall the last time I was as shocked at a moment of cinema than the scene in which Laurence Fishburne's character, having been shot several times, lies on the floor convulsing and laughing hysterically for about three minutes.
Ferrara gets a budget and makes a meandering B-grade gangster flick with A-grade style. An irresponsible portrait of irresponsibility. Or so it seems: is this really just a coked-up cliché rolling in a pile of cash, indulging in its genre with sneering crassness, or is it exploiting these tropes in an effort to say something meaningful? It's tough to say, and the real pleasure of this film lies in its coarse complexity and the way it withholds easy identification with any of its characters. The final act does veer away from the decadence and corruption to go out on a more operatic note, but Ferrara would be thoroughly shown up by De Palma with Carlito's Way just a few years later. Still, it's just "off" enough to make for a compelling watch.
There are some great sunglasses in just the first five minutes
Watched with Ferrara commentary, he's hilarious about Steve Buscemi sticking out, honest about the film's realism and never short on nuggets of mumbled wisdom.
Also his talent in composing shots is so overlooked these days, as the great man say 'that's a big time shot!'
Dark and gloomy, bloody and just plain violent. However, Christopher Walken, oddly entertaining and likable.
Ferrara bathes scenes in pure red, white and blue. This is America. Dealt on the streets with blood, at the feet of the city rather than on the 400th floor. Slimy street corners, smoky backrooms. The line between cops and criminals a distant memory, everyone just trying to come out on top, no matter how much blood has to be shed. The cops lament their salaries, their danger, the fact they’re second-class citizens in a world that should look up to them. Frank White, a modern day Robin Hood willing to gun down a hundred men if it means a local hospital stays open. Walking a fine line between emotionless killer and stoic humanitarian. Wanting his finger in every pie:…
-Christopher Walken was great. Subdued, but deadly.
-Fishbourne was a bit too silly at times.
-Cops aren’t exactly the good guys.
-No one to really root for as they are both equally guilty.
-Ideological clash between the protected rich and the poor.
-Doing the right thing has consequences.
-Shootout after shootout, where the experience becomes numb.
-Odd justification of Walken’s actions comes a little too late.
Years spent behind bars alone only to be set free and find that nothing has changed. Walken kills it. Ferrara's detached style creates an absence in us - we wish to know more about this man, but we are only privy to glimpses of the "real" king.
robin hood: prince of gangsters
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This list is the Letterboxd version of The Oxford History of World Cinema.
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