Saturday, October 13, 2012

Movie Reviews-Taken 2, King of New York

Taken 2
directed by Olivier Megaton
People should know not to mess with Liam Neeson, his friends or his family. He gets upset and kills people. The first Taken initially hid Liam Neeson's awesomeness. The villains were surprised. If you've ever seen Rob RoyGangs of New York, Next of Kin, Michael Collins or Darkman this was no surprise but apparently the mental midgets in Taken didn't see those movies. Taken depicted Bryan Mills' (Neeson) frantic search for his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) before she's sold into Third World sex-slavery to some depraved Middle Easterner. Both Taken and Taken 2  play up the sexual threat of the "dark" man to the "light" woman.
In Taken Mills eliminated roughly half of the Albanian male population, who evidently had nothing better to do than rape and pimp out American girls. Taken was convincing because the Albanian sex traffickers didn't know who they were messing with while Mills' daughter and ex-wife had no clue that the man they thought of as a loser or amiably clueless was actually a lethally protective and scarily intelligent guardian. Mills had to do a lot of sharp detective work before locating Kim's assailants and starting his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. The film was surprisingly (that word again) entertaining.

But in Taken 2, presumably everyone, including Mills' daughter, ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and the half of the Albanian male population that Mills DIDN'T kill now knows that Mills is not a man to be f***** with.  Do so and you die. And if Mills has the time you might die painfully. So there is no surprise about who's the Big Dog.
The Albanian junior varsity bad guy team is upset that Mills wasted their relatives. Led by their bearded patriarch Murad (Rade Serbedzija), they want revenge. And Mills is going to unwittingly make it easy for them by inviting his ex-wife and daughter to join him in Istanbul, once he completes some security work. But didn't the bad guys see what happened to the first team? So there's really no reason for them to try again. I guess like Wesley Snipes said, some people really are always trying to ice skate uphill.
I will have to watch the first movie again but I don't seem to remember Maggie Grace either being that curvy or showing that much flesh. Not that I'm complaining,(snicker) but it insults belief rather than suspends it to pretend that  this is a 16 year old(?) teen girl who doesn't even have her driver's license yet.

Mills' ex-wife and daughter had no clue that their worlds might intersect with rapists, killers, pimps and child molesters. But they do now. So why throughout the entire film when their ex-husband/father tells them to do something NOW, are they instead babbling that they don't understand, can't do it, screaming hysterically, breaking down crying, insisting on detailed explanations while people are SHOOTING at them and so on? It's just annoying. No, honeybunch I can't explain everything right this second because PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO KILL US!! No of course I am sorry for yelling at you. The women aren't the only people who act like their brain cells underwent apoptosis. Again, the Albanians KNOW that Mills is a bad muyerfuyer. They've buried friends and relatives who didn't know. So why would they make incredibly stupid decisions like not killing Mills immediately once they have kidnapped him and Lenore. In their place, at the very least since you know that Mills is very resourceful, incredibly dangerous, and has a downright mean streak, wouldn't you search him thoroughly, keep him under 24 hr armed guard, bind him with iron and steel instead of plastic or rope and just to be on the safe side, cripple him to forestall any escape attempts? I mean just what are they teaching in Evil Overlord Boot Camp these days? 
Through bad guy incompetence and quick thinking by Mills, Kim avoids getting kidnapped. So now, using some very special skills, Kim must help free Papa Wolf so he can wreak havoc on those airheaded Albanians and their thickheaded Turkish allies who thought it would be a good idea to step in the ring with the heavyweight champ. And Mills doesn't believe in letting people tap out. If you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound as far as Mills is concerned. You bought the ticket so you're going on the ride. If you don't like it well that's just tough! Mills doesn't stop.
Serbedzija, who has a striking resemblance to the Most Interesting Man in the World, (I kept expecting him to say "I don't always kidnap Americans, but when I do I prefer blondes. Stay thirsty my friends") does what he can with his role but it's cartoonish. It's also limited after his revenge speech at the film's opening funeral. His remaining work is primarily reacting to goons telling him that his plans aren't working. If I were him after the second or third time this happened I would have just called it a day and gone home or started shooting incompetents myself and saved Neeson the time. Neeson's gravitas is wasted here. He looks tired. The fight scenes? Ehh. The fights are disjointed and with one exception near the end don't flow well. Lastly what does a movie have to do to get an R rating? Nudity? There's none here though Grace shows some skin. Violence? This movie has tons of violence. I guess unless you show brains or guts in exquisite detail you don't get an R. Taken 2 is halfway mediocre if you didn't see the first film but a serious disappointment if you did. Lots of stupid people get shot in the head. The end.

King of New York
directed by Abel Ferrara
I love this violent 1990 cult film. It's aged well. It's among the best modern (last 25 years) crime movies. I also like this film because it is filled with people who later become stars or "I know that guy from somewhere" familiar character actors. Here they were young and hungry. They had more hair and weighed less. There was some very good acting, especially by Laurence Fishburne. I think Denzel might have watched Fishburne's work here for his own turn as leather clad bada$$ in Training Day. Such actors as Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, David Caruso, Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Janet Julian, Steve Buscemi, Roger Guenever Smith, Giancarlo Esposito, Frank Adonis, and Theresa Randle all had roles. Christopher Walken brings his trademark deadpan tics, cold stare, jazz inspired verbal rhythms, and graceful physicality to the title role.
King of New York (KoNY) is a modern film but also nods (accidentally?) to the older Warners Bro. movies which usually had an anti-crime message. Like older films though, any anti-crime message is lost in KoNY's nonstop actions, smooth style and cool rhythms. KoNY seductively depicts NYC night life and the city's warring tribes of cops and criminals. The film's soundtrack makes effective, if now somewhat cliched, use of rap and classical music as counterpoint to delineate the different worlds that crime boss and drug dealer Frank White (Walken) inhabits. That music contrast is old hat today but in 1990 it was still a relatively fresh idea. White is equally comfortable discussing artwork and architecture at wine and cheese charity fundraisers or calmly explaining to recalcitrant rivals that if a nickel bag of heroin gets sold in the park he wants inKoNY's color schemes are intoxicating. Often filmmakers don't get the right lighting for black actors. This can result in black actors either looking much darker or lighter than they actually are. Ferrara didn't have that problem. The cinematography is very warm and lush. You see all the wonderful varied tones and textures of human skin, especially the female kind. 

KoNY's most unusual aspect is its opposing teams. Apparently, race is unimportant to Frank White or his would be police captain nemesis, Roy Bishop (Argo). Both men lead cohesive multi-racial groups. The film itself references this almost mockingly by bringing attention to Tommy Flanagan (Wesley Snipes), the Black cop with the Irish name who is married to a presumably Irish-American woman and is enjoying himself at his buddy's Irish wedding. The other bad guys, the Colombian, Italian, and Chinese gang leaders, all head mono-ethnic organizations and strongly prefer to keep it that way. Mafia Boss Arty Clay (Frank Gio) makes this point in a suitably profane manner.
Legendary drug dealer, gang boss and charming dancer Frank White is released from prison. His friends, manic top enforcer Jimmy Jump (Laurence Fishburne), accountant and fixer Lance (Giancarlo Esposito), and chemist Test Tube (Steve Buscemi) herald their boss' return by eliminating rival Colombian drug dealers Emilio Zappa and King Tito. Fishburne chews the scenery throughout the film but in a very good way. 

Fishburne was originally supposed to play a different role but fortunately convinced Ferrara otherwise. Jimmy Jump is a terrifying but quite funny killer. Be glad if he's on your side. Be very worried if he's not. He has a soft spot for poor children but that's about  the only kindness that runs through his veins. Fishburne's swagger is off the charts. He's channeling James Cagney. All the ladies love Jimmy Jump. Jump is a dedicated practitioner of John Woo Guns Akimbo style. He always has at least two .45's which he never seems to need to reload. Fishburne keeps up with Walken and arguably steals the film. This is much different from his later roles as Furious Styles or Morpheus. His incongruously high pitched laugh, which is usually punctuated by a nasty baritone insult, is a quirk that makes for a memorably dangerous character.
The police, led by world weary veteran Bishop, keep an eye on Frank White. They would love to arrest him. Bishop also has to confront challenges from younger officers, particularly the hotheaded Gilley (David Caruso) and his best friend Flanagan, who suggest that extra legal methods are the only way to deal with White. Bishop doesn't mind occasionally stretching the law but he'll be damned before he lets anyone openly break it, especially other cops. Gilley's and Flanagan's resentments arise in part from financial jealousy. White has no qualms about his crimes. He's not going to stop killing or drug dealing. What he would like to do, besides having sex with his lawyer and favorite lover Jennifer (Janet Julian) is provide capital for a Harlem hospital that will be state of the art and provide much needed medical care for inner city men, women and especially children. Although White's wealthy, he needs help from other groups to do this. He patiently tries to explain this to rival mobsters.
The other drug dealers and gangsters in NYC have exactly zero interest in helping White achieve this goal. Their consensus is that White has lost his ever loving mind. They all dislike White's Rainbow Coalition of whites, blacks and hispanics. Undeterred, White starts a war to take over all drug dealing in NYC. Either you deal him in or you get a bullet in the head from Jimmy Jump and his crews, not that White himself is shy about pulling the trigger. Cop or not, you get in his way, you have problems.  White says he's not the problem, drugs are. Imprisoning or killing him won't slow drug sales. White claims to just give people what they want instead of exploiting them through extortion, child prostitution, illegal immigrant smuggling and slavery, or slumlord behavior like his rivals. But moral distinctions or pretensions aside, White is a killer. 
The movie lets you decide whether White's dangerously delusional or just a bad man trying to do one good thing. Walken infuses White with so much coolness and confidence balanced with coldness and flat evil dead eyes that it ought to be illegal. White is so cool that rather than get upset when interrupted mid-fondle with Jennifer by would be muggers, he just shows them his gun, throws them a fat wad of cash, and offers them a job. Confidence is his middle name. When White looks at people it's as if he's from a different moral universe and is trying to remember the words needed to communicate. The classic vampire movie Nosferatu is referenced here. Frank White could very easily BE a vampire. He's mostly seen at night, is rather pale and has numerous loyal minions. This is a violent verbally aggressive sexually audacious movie. It may be more style than substance but it entertains! Ferrara hit the ball out of the park. I loved it.
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