Tag Archives: academy award

My Cousin Vinny – Review

1 Jan

There have been many notable films throughout history that succeed in bringing courtroom drama and legal proceedings to the most dramatic levels possible. Some examples are To Kill a Mockingbird12 Angry Men, and A Few Good Men. Then there’s My Cousin Vinny, a movie about justice the American way practically without any drama but overloaded with laughs. With Dale Launer (who scripted movies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Ruthless People) as the screenwriter, Jonathan Lynn (director of Clue) in the director’s chair, and a superb cast, My Cousin Vinny can easily be put as one of my ten favorite comedies.

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While passing through a small town in Alabama on their way to college, Billy Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) are wrongly charged with first degree murder. Luckily for these two young friends, Billy has a lawyer in the family that is willing to represent them for nothing. Enter Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) and his fiancée Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei), two New Yorkers who stick out like a sore thumb in this Alabama town. Unfortunately for Billy, it took Vinny six attempts over six years to pass the bar exam, he only has worked on small suits, and he’s never actually been part of a trial. What Vinny lacks in experience, however, he more than makes up for it in wit and wordplay, which may actual make him the ideal lawyer to defend the two innocent defendants.

In my last review, I talked about the film Bernie and how dark comedies are my favorite kind of comedies. That still holds true, but My Cousin Vinny is the perfect example of a more lighthearted comedy that succeeds because of it’s excellent writing. The characters are well thought out and given very strong, yet over the top personalities that make them all memorable and unique. The dialogue they are given is all snappy and delivered by the actors very quickly, so if you aren’t paying attention, you may miss something hilarious. That’s comedy I can really appreciate. There are plenty of moments where the laughs are obvious, but there are other jokes you may catch after the second or third time watching it.

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My only complaint I have with this movie is that the entire story is kind of shoddily written. I understand that the whole point of My Cousin Vinny are the over the top characters, but it would have been nice to see some mystery or suspense in trying to solve who the real murderer is. For all I know, that might have never worked, but I just felt like the case was pretty thin. While the case itself isn’t too exciting, the way the courtroom proceedings actually happen is interesting. Jonathan Lynn actually studied law, which makes him the ideal directing choice to inject some reality in all of the silliness of the court scenes.

Front and center of pretty much the entirety of the movie is Joe Pesci as Vinny, who may be one of the most memorable main characters in a comedy. The way Pesci delivers his lines is so rapid fire and with such confidence, you can’t help but to love this character. With an actor like Pesci at center stage, it’s important that the right person was chosen to be his sidekick/fiancée. This career starting performance was given by Marissa Tomei, who may actually be the best part of this movie. It’s one of those performances where I truly believed I was watching Mona Lisa Vito on screen and not Tomei playing the character. In fact, it was such a great screen performance that she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Now that’s how you kickstart a career.

My Cousin Vinny has become one of the most recognized and appreciated comedies of the last 20 to 30 years. Now, I’m not saying it’s the absolute greatest but it is one that has writing and acting that go way above what has come to be expected from comedies. It takes a relatively simple idea and runs with it, determined to make the best of every goofy stereotype and hilarious scenario that could possibly be thrown at it. It’s one of my favorite comedies and should be seen by anyone who loves a good laugh.

Midnight Cowboy – Review

1 Feb

The history and stigma surrounding Midnight Cowboy should be enough to attract viewers to see it. When it was released in 1969, it was prompt rated X for it’s strong emphasis on sexual content and other themes that play throughout the movie. More importantly, it is the only X rated film to win an Academy Award, and for Best Picture no less. I recently reviewed another film from director John Schlesinger, Marathon Man. I only found Marathon Man slightly enjoyable, and hoped for more from Midnight Cowboy.

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Joe Buck (Jon Voight) is a naive Texan who travels to New York City with dreams of becoming a wealthy hustler. In other words, a well to do male prostitute. When he gets there, he soon realizes that NYC is a totally different world from the one he’s used to, and he quickly loses all of his money. Now down on his luck, he meets “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a small time thief with a couple of cents to his name trying to survive the harsh conditions of the city while fighting polio. Together, these two form an unlikely bond and do their best to make some money to get to Florida, but as the winter draws closer, Rizzo’s condition worsens.

I was surprised with how much was actually in this movie. There’s so much subtext and thematic material to latch on to, and once you do, you’re more than ready to give it back. This is an intensely emotional film that may possibly leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. This isn’t something you want to watch when you’re in a great mood, because once it’s over, that good mood will have left about an hour and a half ago.

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The film does a great job at pacing itself. We start with Joe Buck in Texas, a place filled with bright sunshine and happy music. Once he gets to New York, we’re in a whole other world with him, but it’s still looking bright and hopeful. Then things start going wrong and winter begins approaching. At this point everything seems to get dirty, gray, and ugly along with the entire story. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, in fact, it’s remarkable. Much like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a DreamMidnight Cowboy uses a strange sense of realism to really immerse the viewer into the entire situation. There are stylistic elements that work very nicely too. Schlesinger relied heavily on the juxtaposition of flash backs to tell Joe’s story, but also juxtaposition everyday items to mean something else. There’s an interesting sex scene that plays out with an unusual use of a television and its various programs.

As for the performances, they belong on anyone’s Top 10 best. It’s impossible to choose between Voight and Hoffman. Both show tremendous talent with method acting (which Hoffman is known for) in this film, and seem to be fully into the minds of their respective characters. Hoffman even put pebbles in his shoe to help with the limp, and despite being almost hit by a car, he continues a scene still fully in character, resulting in one of the most famous lines in film history (I’M WALKIN’ HERE!)

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Midnight Cowboy explores so many different elements in its story. Human sexuality, both hetero- and homosexual. Loneliness and friendship play a key role in the story, and can arguably be the most important. It also exposes a strange period of time. The era of peace, love, and happiness was coming to an end, all the while America was in a bad state with the Vietnam War. Midnight Cowboy doesn’t overtly come out and say it, but it definitely shows a historic subtext that offers little hope for the future.

I could write an entire paper just on this movie. I can’t think of the last time I saw a movie that made me think so much about so many ideas. Midnight Cowboy may look a bit aged in both style and presentation, but the performances and themes are timeless. This film deserves its spot as one of the  best, important, and most controversial films ever made. Check it out and you may even accidentally learn something.