King of New York (1990)

kingnewykAbel Ferrara’s King of New York is a highly-stylized exploitation mob movie, about New York drug lord Frank White (Christopher Walken) released from prison and intent on regaining his criminal empire. Shot mostly (possibly entirely) on location it has a gritty, docudrama ‘look’ which is undermined by just being so stylized and overly… maybe manipulative is the wrong word, but its a brazen shock-for-shocks-sake film, so much so that with every establishing shot of a new scene you expect to see a sudden moment of violence from anywhere. Its almost exhausting at times and this ultimately works against it- it doesn’t feel ‘real’, the characters almost being gratuitous caricatures, whether they are mobsters or cops. Supreme over all of this is Christopher Walken as Frank White, a typically riveting performance when the actor was in his prime, dominating every scene and clearly a league apart from the rest of his cast. It is a good cast, mind, with players destined for big things afterwards: David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito, but its telling that each (with the exception of Fishburne) are largely under-used by a screenplay that skirts the surface and offers little substance or depth. White is almost permanently accompanied by two women who are both bodyguards and possibly lovers but I don’t think we even get to know their names, never mind get an inkling of what they are thinking or their background/history with White. Often it has the feeling that there’s a prequel movie that the director assumes we’ve already seen. Its pulp fiction, entirely exploitation, feeling no need for any depth.

It really has the feeling of a 1980s VHS rental; you know, the down-to-basics, often violent thrillers that thrived in the home video market when people could rent out the kind of unedited films that couldn’t be shown on network television. In that respect its a pleasant kind of throwback movie, but it lacks any kind of sophistication of message or execution: indeed its so intent on shocks and taking any excuse for a graphic shootout that it becomes rather convoluted and confused, which is really quite ironic. We don’t really understand White, or get under his skin, suggestions of his Robin Hood-style ethics (his drive to finance a neighbourhood hospital) unexplained, which is a pity considering Walken’s ability and screen presence. Perhaps Ferrara wanted to maintain some element of mystery to White’s background and intentions, but I think much of this issue is the films drive to shock. White will suddenly pull out his gun and shoot an adversary simply for the surprise and thrill of the sudden violence, when really the film should perhaps pause for some kind of dialogue that deepens the drama or suggests White’s motivation. 

So King of New York is clearly a film of its time, and rather suffers from its pulpish, shocker roots: a stylish b-movie (it certainly looks pretty good). Its dated by its electronic score that again is very of its era but I suppose this is, for its fans, all part of the films charm, and I can understand why the film has something of a high reputation among those who saw it back when it first came out. Watching it in 2021 though its really something of another story.

The Boys are back in town with Season Two

boysBack in August last year I was really surprised by The Boys, a wildly irreverent take on the Superhero genre that was dropped onto Amazon Prime, especially since I’d never heard of the Garth Ennis creation that it was based on. It proved to be one of Amazon’s biggest successes and a clear indication that Amazon had to be compared to the likes of Netflix regards worthy genre series.

I wrote back then that the joy of The Boys was its anti-Marvel/DC stance: “These guys lie and kill with wild abandon, and with no supervillains to keep them in check or validate their existence they run amok abusing their powers/position and manipulate public opinion through corporate videos and events. We can recognise the manipulation of social media and celebrity culture and it all looks pretty realistic”. 

That is partly addressed with season two, in that the central storyline is how the superheroes Corporate paymaster, Vought, orchestrates an outside threat of what are either super-terrorists or super-villains, in order to justify their position above both the law and public/government scrutiny. The position of good and evil seems immaterial to Vought, whose CEO Stan Edgar (Giancarlo Esposito, who one suspects plays these parts on autopilot) confesses a position that its really all about the bottom line, and profit: right and wrong has nothing to do with it. It suggests a commentary on the power of corporations, multi-nationals and the boys from Silicon Valley in our real world.

Indeed, its true that The Boys operates as a metaphor for modern issues in just the same way original Star Trek did at its best. Conspiracy theorists will have a ball with how events are manipulated through social media and its quite timely in how it raises race issues (how sad it is that race issues always seem so timely?), with its white-supremacist/secret Nazi ‘heroine’ Stormfront (Aya Cash), how she cynically manipulates the press and media to serve her ends. I also got a kick out of the ‘movies-within-the-show’ VCU and its comparisons to the MCU (turning the behind the scenes of the MCU into a soap opera, which is a delicious idea- imagine Thor bitching that Captain America gets all the best lines in Endgame). Its all very arch and witty and dark, and yes, just as wildly violent and gory as last year. The Boys is a great show that while this latest edition largely offers more of the same, it could well be argued its even better. Roll on Season three!

Having completed its weekly airing schedule, all episodes of The Boys Season Two are now available for bingeing on Amazon Prime.