Tag Archives: Giancarlo Esposito

Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York

Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York might simultaneously be Christopher Walken’s scariest, most intense and also withdrawn and detached performance, so idiosyncratically does he a draw his portrait of Frank White, a dangerous career criminal fresh out of the pen with high ambitions on ruling the NYC urban jungle, take no prisoners. It’s one of the moodiest, most dour crime films set in the big apple, but it finds a dark heart of bloody poetry, frighteningly funny menace and an ultimate resolution that has you undecided on whether crime really does pay. Walken’s Frank is a strange man, surprisingly introverted for a guy who commands an army and takes on rival gangsters for the control of city blocks, but it’s in the quiet, dangerous charm that he finds his effectiveness, and as crazy as he still is here, it’s a fascinating far cry from some of his more manic, well over the top turns. There’s three would-be hero cops out to get him by any means they can, cocky hotshot David Caruso (before his talents fell from grace with god awful CSI Miami), Ferrara veteran Victor Argo and a coked up Wesley Snipes. They go so far over the line trying to nail him that the only thing separating them from the crime element is a badge, which seems to amuse Frank as he eludes them at every turn. Walken’s merry band of assholes is an armada of gangbangers and drug chemists which include the likes of Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Calderon, Roger Smith and a fearsome Laurence Fishburne as his first mate, young and rambunctious before his acting style gelled into something decidedly more cucumber cool (hello Morpheus). The violence and threat thereof is palpable, as Ferrara whips up a frenzy of boiling conflict that makes the epicentre of Hell’s Kitchen feel like the eye of a very angry hurricane, while still keeping the mood to a laid back thrum, it’s stylistic and tonal bliss the whole way through. Cinematographer Bojan Bazelli shoots the city with an oblong, lived in, hazed out and very un-cinematic feel, throwing us right into the dirty digs with this troupe of miscreants and crooked cops, while composer Joe Delia makes gloomy, haunted work out of the score, especially in Frank’s darkly poetic final scene. As for Walken, the man is a dynamo and this may be his best work to date. He makes Frank a harrowing demon with humanity that catches you off guard when it breaches the surface of his opaque, unreadable persona, a suave, psychotic spectre of the NYC streets who won’t go out unless it’s with a bang, and won’t ever back down on his way there.

A crime classic.

-Nate Hill

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Danny Cannon’s Phoenix

Phoenix is a half forgotten, neat little Arizona neo-noir noir that isn’t about much altogether, but contains a hell of a lot of heated drama, character study and hard boiled charisma anyways, which in the land of the crime genre, often is an acceptable substitute for a strong plot. Plus, a cast like this could hang around the water cooler for two hours and the results would still be engaging. Ray Liotta is terrific here in a mid-career lead role as an a police detective with a nasty temper, huge gambling problem and just an all round penchant for trouble. He’s joined by his three partners in both crime and crime fighting, Daniel Baldwin, Jeremy Piven and Anthony Lapaglia. There’s no central conflict, no over arching murder subplot and no orchestrated twist or payoff, it’s simply these four sleazy cops just existing out their in the desert on their best, and it’s a lot of sunbaked, emotionally turbulent fun. Liotta vies for the attentions of a weary older woman (Anjelica Huston, excellent) while he’s pursued by her slutty wayward teen daughter (Brittany Murphy) at the same time. He’s also hounded by eccentric loan shark Chicago (Tom Noonan with a ray ally funny lisp) and trying to close countless open cases in his book. Piven and hothead Lapaglia fight over Piven’s foxy wife (Kari Wuhrur) too, and so the subplots go. The supporting cast is a petting zoo of distinctive character acting talent including Glenn Moreshower, Royce D. Applegate, Giovanni Ribisi, Xander Berkeley, Al Sapienza, Giancarlo Esposito and more. I like this constant and obnoxious energy the film has though, like there’s something in that Arizona sun that just drives peoples tempers off the map and causes wanton hostility, a great setting for any flick to belt out its story. Good fun.

-Nate Hill

The Usual Suspects: A Review by Nate Hill 

No matter how many times I watch The Usual Suspects, and believe me it’s been many, I still get the same diabolical thrill, the same rapturous excitement and the same rush of storytelling and dramatic payoff as I did the very first time I saw it. Every performance from the vast and diverse cast is a devilish creation packed with red herrings, juicy dialogue and bushels of menace, every scene piles on the mysticism of the criminal underworld beat by beat, until the characters begin to pick it apart and the whole thing unravels like a great serpent coiling forth bit by bit, scale by scale, swerving toward the shocking, disarming third act that has since become as legendary as it’s elusive and terrifying antagonist. In the crime/mystery corner of cinema, there’s no arguing that this delicious piece of hard boiled intrigue reigns supreme, and it’s easy to see why. In a seemingly random police lineup, five career criminals are harassed by an unseen hand, pushed into carrying out dangerous heists and violent manouvers by a shadowy campfire tale among the world of organized crime, a Boogeyman called Keyser Soze, if he even exists at all. Slick and sleazy ex cop Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) heads up this dysfunctional crew of vagabonds which includes hothead McManus (Stephen Baldwin in a role originally intended for Michael Biehn, which kills me to this day), weirdo Fenster (Benicio Del Toro, using an indecipherable mishmash of an accent that would be the first of many), spitfire Hockney (Kevin Pollak) and Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) the runt of the litter. The lot of them are intimidated into performing risky enterprises by lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite) until the climate of their actions reaches a boiling point and answers emerge from the darkness. This is all told in retrospect by Spacey, to a rabid customs agent (Chazz Palminteri) who has designs on ensnaring Soze. Spacey scored Oscar gold for his heavy work here, spinning a tale whose layers interweave and pull the wool over our eyes time and time again before offering any glimpses of truth. Byrne is a fiercely guarded storm as Keaton, a man with secrets so deep even he doesn’t know who he is anymore, letting the anger set and smoulder in those glacial eyes of his. The supporting cast adds to the class and confusion terrifically, with fine work pouring in from Dan Hedeya, Suzy Amis, Giancarlo Esposito and a wicked cameo from Peter Greene, who provides a moment of inspired improv. The score of the film rarely relies on dips and swells until all is said and done, keeping a tight lid on the orchestra and feeding us nervous little riffs of anxious portent that keeps tension on a tightrope and anticipation on call. A mystery this tantalizing is irrisistable the first time around, but the trick is to make your story rewatchable, and I’ve seen this thing over a dozen times. Every viewing provides some new angle to the story I didn’t see before, or I notice a subtle interaction in the very naturalistic and funny dialogue which escaped me in the past. My favourite thing to do is watch films with someone who hasn’t seen them before, observe their reactions and opinions on every little story beat and cinematic flourish, it’s almost more fun for me than the actual film itself. The Usual Suspects is a showcase piece for that activity, because you get to see this very complex revelation unfold through new eyes as you watch them experience the revelations. Whether your first viewing or your fiftieth, it never loses its power, and the spell it casts just doesn’t dim. Masterpiece.

The Jungle Book: A Review by Nate Hill

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Prepare your eyes for maximum bogglement, work out your abs so you don’t bust a gut laughing, and most importantly, dust off that childlike sense of wonder before going to see Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, boldly and lovingly retold by Jon Favreau in what is the most flat out exciting, adventurous film of the year thus far. The director pulls  off a balancing act between palpable tension, character interactions that come straight from the heart and land squarely in ours, and some of the most believable, jaw dropping CGI I have ever seen on screen. The animals look so impressive and lifelike that after seeing them I shelved away some of my inherent reservations about computer generated effects as a dominant force in a piece, and simply gave in. The atmosphere is lush, intoxicating and deeply detailed, with a naturalistic feel and tone. Young Neel Sethi is tasked with being the only fully human component, and is perfect. His interactions seem real and rehearsed, immersing the viewer further into the visuals. Mowgli is a young man cub, found on the edge of the jungle by the panther Bagheera (stately, compassionate Ben Kingsley) and given to a wolf pack to be raised by alpha Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). Not all in the animal kingdom are receiving of this man cub, especially a terrifying Bengal tiger called Shere Khan, given the rumbling tones of Idris Elba, inspiring fear in animals and audience alike. He has a rocky relationship with man, and wants Mowgli dead. Bagheera takes him far into the jungle, where they are separated and Mowgli’s adventure truly begins. He wanders into the path of Kaa (a slithery Scarlett Johansson) a monstrous, seductive python, and is taken under the wing of Baloo, an adult Winnie the poo voiced by Bill Murray. Murray is one of the film’s great delights, and as soon as he shows up we forget about all the menace and threat which preceded his arrival, and are swept up into his affable, lounging lifestyle and brightly colored neck of the woods. Murray clearly ad libbed a lot of Baloo’s dialogue, and anything he didn’t he still gives that unmistakable, winking ‘Murray’ twinge that I so love. Mowgli’s adventure continues, as he stays one step ahead of Shere Khan and is visited by the king of the monkeys, a twenty foot tall, lumbering orangutan named Louie, voiced with demented, pithy glee by Christopher Walken. As soon as he showed up the laughs erupted from within me, and reached a manic peak as he belts out the ‘Oobie Doo’ song in priceless Walken fashion, his monkey mannerisms uncannily starting to resemble Walken’s own distinct visage. Many of the animals serve as differing parental figures to Mowgli, representing elemental factions of raising one’s young. Bagheera is cautious, doubting and skeptical. Baloo is the fun loving, lenient one. Even Shere Khan has a curdled paternal feel to him, like the brutal stepfather who is damaging to his offspring. Raksha is the unconditional mother, and that devotion comes out wonderfully in Nyong’o’s souful performance. The vocal performances are aided by the stunning effects; the CGI of facial features allow the actors work to truly extend into the realm of what’s visible, with real emotions displayed by the creatures, and not a single rendering that’s anything short of lifelike. The film evokes true wonder and primal excitement, escapism that takes itself seriously yet knows when and how to play, a dazzling technical marvel, a timeless story well told, all in one cinematic package that is not to be missed. Oh, and stick around for the credits, instead of Walken out of the theatre and missing a final musical treat.