Friday, 6 July 2012

Blu-ray Review: 'King of New York'

And now... the-good-men and WOmen at Arrow Video bring... King-of-New-York - Abel Ferrara’s urban re-work-ing of the Robin Hood legend... to Blu-RAY.

Yeah, uh, I won’t write like Christopher Walken ever again. Ahem.

The Film

Frank White (Walken), a powerful crime lord, is released from prison intent on helping New York for once in his life. White sets his sights on renovating a hospital for one of the city’s most run down areas, but he’ll only have the funds to do so when all his criminal competition has been violently disposed of. As the body count rises, a squad of corrupt cops seek to put White back behind bars for good, setting the stage for a bloody showdown between both sides of the law.

Sitting right at the film’s centre like a gangly spider is Walken himself. Frank White could well be his best role to date, such is the level of icy menace Walken imbues him with. He’s ably supported by Lawrence (Larry) Fishburne as White’s hyperactive right hand man, Jimmy Jump, who acts as a manic foil to Walken’s cool mystique.

There are no “good guys” in King of New York, which makes Team Police all the more interesting. Victor Argo, David Caruso and Wesley Snipes are devoted to bringing White down whatever the cost, regardless of their blue-collar nature. Whether or not they’re morally reprehensible is up for you to decide, and questions over just who the real “bad guys” are soon arise.   

New York itself is also something of a character. The film was apparently inspired by The Terminator, and these roots can be seen in the moody, night time cinematography that brings out those rawer qualities you’d expect from an Abel Ferrara (of Driller Killer fame) movie. Combine that with an eerie score, and you’ve got a totally atmospheric production.  

King is a far more action-packed affair than most of its ilk. While Scarface and friends often run up to three hours in length, Ferrara’s film clocks in at a much tighter 103 minutes, so the violence comes thick and fast across several expertly handled action sequences (Fishburne going nuts while dual-wielding pistols is an absolute highlight, as is a car chase over the Queensboro Bridge).

I’m not exactly sure where King of New York stands in the pantheon of crime films, but given its energetic combination of terrific performances and gratuitous ultra-violence, all set against the sleaziest of backdrops, it’s got to be one of the most outright entertaining entries.  

The Disc

One of these days, I should review a genuine DNR disaster (hey, I hear Predator’s going pretty cheap these days). Sadly, Arrow’s latest release features a visible, well handled grain structure and plenty of detail, meaning I can’t complain too much. While medium shots convey a pleasant enough level of fine detail, most close-ups are absolutely striking. Add in a real sense of depth, and Walken’s remorseless visage has never looked so unnerving.

Colours also impress. Skin tones never look glaringly unnatural, while blood splatters the walls with rich enthusiasm. One scene, set in a dingy nightclub and lit entirely in blue, would be a prime contender for colour bleeding, but the picture remains stable throughout.

It’s funny... the pasty blacks of Demons came under heavy fire, but Arrow appear to have done a complete 180 here. Deep, dark, inky etc. with nary a compression artefact to be found, King is mightily impressive in this department. I wouldn’t completely rule out black crush, but I also wouldn’t bother looking for any.

Nor should you go searching for edge enhancement, because there’s virtually none of that either. This is a clean, natural-looking transfer that easily bests any previous releases.

Audio wise, the film’s Stereo track is perfect. Strong, clear and precise – it’s a faithful rendition of how King was always meant to be heard. One or two lines of dialogue are barely comprehendible, but that’s no fault of the disc (and can be easily rectified via the quick application of subtitles).

The 5.1 DTS-HD track is... another story, however. I read a few horror stories concerning earlier DVD versions featuring terrible audio, and it seems as though that infamous mix has made a return. It’s a mess – the exact opposite of the stereo track, and it’s almost as though there’s one of those industrial-sized hand dryers you find in public toilets blowing throughout the whole thing. Worryingly, this is the disc’s default track, so remember to switch it over before starting the film.

But barring the 5.1 misfire, I’d go out on a limb and state that King is by far Arrow’s best presentation to date. A pat on the back to all involved, and for the love of all that is cute and fluffy, PLEASE don’t mess up Zombie Flesh Eaters.
Onto the extra features, and they’re virtually all about Ferrara. There’s a brand new interview with the man himself that runs for almost thirty minutes. This one is particularly revealing. He takes a gruff and sincere look back at a period of filmmaking that clearly doesn’t exist anymore. And amidst all the factoids and anecdotes, you can even devise a fatal drinking game around how often Ferrara says “you know”.

A Short Film about the Long Career of Abel Ferrara is a lengthy documentary in which his past collaborators discuss their work with the independent director, while Abel Ferrara: Not Guilty is a feature length doco that presents Abel at his most... Ferrariest.  

Ferrara also pops up on one of the two featured audio commentaries. His chat track is surly to the extreme (telling us outright that he’s been paid five thousand dollars to record it), but certainly an entertaining listen (he gets very excited during Steve Buscemi’s brief appearances). Meanwhile, the second commentary is a chatty and enjoyable affair with several key crew members.

An interview with producer Augusto Caminito is the only other totally Abel-free extra. This is a relaxed account of King’s development that reveals its Italian connections, and the often memorable experiences had while working with Ferrara and Walken.

Then there’re the obligatory trailers, a neat little booklet, and some excellent new artwork by Tom “The Dude Designs” Hodge that looks especially great on this very purple SteelBook edition.

Again, if we ignore the 5.1 track, this has got to be Arrow’s best work. Hardcore fans will be ecstatic when they pop King of New York in, and once done with the film, there’s a meaty selection of extras to plough through.

It helps that the film is great, too.

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