Tag Archives: court

Find Me Guilty – Review

9 Jun

Between the years of 1986 and 1988, the largest mafia indictment and trial occurred with 20 defendants, who were all members of the Lucchese crime family, in the hot seat. One of these defendants was a low level gangster named Frankie DiNorscio, who was already facing 30 years and decided the best thing he could do is defend himself during this enormous trial. Needless to say, it was a circus and this brings us to Find Me Guilty, one of the great Sidney Lumet’s last films. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anyone talk about this movie… like ever. I find this weird since it is a very entertaining court room film, but also features, far and away, Vin Diesel’s best performance.

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After almost being killed by his cousin and then arrested during a huge drug bust, Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) is looking down the barrel of 30 long years in prison. As if his luck hasn’t been bad enough recently, DiNorscio is then included in a massive indictment, led by district attorney Sean Kierney (Linus Roache), of over 20 members of the Lucchese crime family, including the boss, Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco). Much to the chagrin of the lead defense attorney Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage), Jackie decides it would be in his best interest to defend himself in the case. As days turn to months, Jackie stands up for himself throughout the trial and causes all sorts of havoc in the courtroom, but he also is forced to use this trial as a reflection on how he’s lived his life up until this point, affected the people he’s surrounded by, and what the family really thinks of him.

I love me a good courtroom drama, and it’s disappointing that there aren’t really a lot of them being made as of recent. I may be just missing them, but I can’t think of one that really stands out in recent years. While I love the drama of a trial, movies like My Cousin Vinny and even A Few Good Men have shown that there can still be plenty of humor in a story like this. This is something that makes Find Me Guilty really stand out for me. Not only was I intrigued by the human drama and criminal element, DiNorscio’s antics and people’s responses made for some really funny scenes. Make no mistake, though. The third of this movie hit me where it hurts. The combination of Jackie sticking up for himself in court and also coming to terms with his place in the crime family and his own family makes for some really deep scenes. I can’t say it reaches the intensity of Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men, but it certainly is affective.

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The main reason I decided to give this movie a watch is the chance to see Vin Diesel in a dramatic role. Diesel is best known for his action roles in the Fast and the Furious series and XXX. He’s recently stepped into the super hero territory as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, but repeating the line “I am Groot” doesn’t really constitute as an acting showcase. Find Me Guilty has given me a new level of respect for Mr. Diesel. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Diesel actually completely embodies the role of Jackie DiNorscio to the point where I believe I’m no longer watching an actor, but footage from the actual trials. Of course I realize it’s a movie, but I really buy every line and action Diesel does, and saying I’m impressed is a bit of an understatement. We also have Peter Dinklage in a supporting role as a defense attorney that befriends DiNorscio. Dinklage also does a great job here, but that’s not really a surprise. This really is Vin Diesel’s show.

I want to get back to the point I made before about how part of this movie is about Jackie looking back at the things he’s done and said, and how the trial is the catalyst for all this soul searching he does. This is not the first time Lumet has done this with a court room scenario. Just look at 12 Angry Men. While it is a movie about a group of jurors deciding the fate of a young man, it’s also a movie about racism and bigotry and how they affect judicial proceedings. Find Me Guilty is also deeper than the intriguing scenes in the court room. It’s a movie about coming to terms with who you are and finding ways to better yourself before it’s too late. Movies with depth are certainly a plus, and Find Me Guilty succeeds very well at exploring its deeper thematic material.

I really can’t understand why no one ever seems to talk about this movie. It may not be Lumet’s crowning achievement, but it really is a damn good movie. Vin Diesel absolutely kills it as what may be one of the most sympathetic gangsters to grace the silver screen, and it makes me wish that he would take more jobs like this. It also helps that the dialogue is based off of actual courtroom testimony of the most absurd case the mafia has ever faced, while also exploring some deeper thematic elements. I liked Find Me Guilty quite a bit and can easily recommend it.

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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.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose – Review

9 May

Believe in it or not, the concept of being possessed and needing some sort of holy man drive whatever all fiction has taken hold of your being is a pretty bizarre and terrifying. When The Exorcist was released in 1973, people were blown through the theatre walls and it was called one of, if not, the scariest films ever made. Now, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we will see an exorcism movie at least once a year. They have become a dime a dozen. In 2005, when The Exorcism of Emily Rose was released, this wasn’t yet the case, making this movie an original and surprisingly dramatic piece of film making about innocence, morality, and personal beliefs.

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Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with criminal negligence in the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter), a nineteen year old girl believed to have been possessed and put under the care of Father Moore. Defending him is a rising star lawyer, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney), who is an agnostic who is only taking the job to get her name on the law firm and establish herself as an accomplished defense lawyer. Through a series of flashbacks and witness recounts, the story of Emily Rose is slowly put together, and Bruner’s beliefs are tested when what she thought was real melts away with this supernatural possibilities taking over her life.

The first thing that really sticks out about The Exorcism of Emily Rose is the depth that this story is willing to go.  The focal point of the story could have easily been the exorcism itself, and filled with really crazy exorcism scenes  which would have helped in selling tickets and surging the audience’s adrenaline. Instead, Scott Derrikson chose to take a more dramatic approach which really forces the audiences to think about their own beliefs and open their minds up to greater possibilities than what they really think is true. The same thing can sort of be said about The Last Exorcism, but that movie got to be so overblown by the end, I wasn’t really doing any introspection.

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Still though, the scenes that did show Emily Rose and her possession were top notch horror. Jennifer Carpenter gives an absolutely outstanding performance both vocally and physically. A lot of the vocals are created in post production with audio layering, but when she contorts her body in all the crazy positions that we see, it’s just her. Even something as simple as a hand gesture is stiffened and gives off this really creepy vibe that is necessary in movies like this. These scenes are also very important in ensuring that the more drama oriented court room scenes have some points of reference and really balance out the movie.

The scenes in the courtroom are also really good, but do suffer from some heavy handed dialogue and some acting that is just a little off from some of the more minor characters. Even some of the main characters like Bruner and Father Moore have some over the top dialogue that wouldn’t have worked if the actors saying them weren’t as serious and into their roles like Linney and Wilkinson. Hearing them sometimes would pull me out of the movie and make me think, “no one would actually say that.” What is cool about these scenes is that they don’t fall into pits of cliches and the proceedings can be pretty unpredictable. The ending is so unpredictable that I still don’t really buy it, and it would have been better for the writers to stick a bit closer to the actual history.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose wasn’t so much an entertaining movie as it was an intellectually engaging one. That seems sort of odd to say about a movie that is about an exorcism, but again, this was before the time that one was pretty much release every year. It’s more than just a courtroom drama and an exorcism movie. It’s a clever combination of the two that will force the viewer to look inside themselves and see what they actually believe. Any movie that can shake someone up so much has to be good, and that’s what this movie is. The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a genuinely good movie.

The Devil’s Advocate – Review

11 Sep

Films that put religious or mythology in modern times has a real draw to me since I don’t think it is really easy to connect them. The Devil’s Advocate doesn’t just do that, but it also exposes a rather hated view of the judicial system and the laws that make up our nation, but also connections between religion and mental illness. This was a great multi-layered supernatural drama that never took itself too seriously, but still manages to be intelligent.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a defense attorney he appears to have the perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), a 64-0 case record and now the chance to work for one of the leading law firms in New York. Upon arrival, Lomax gets close to the boss, John Milton (Al Pacino) who quickly take him under his wing. Despite the pleas for their old life from his wife, Kevin decides to stay and begin his rise to the top. Soon a strange evil seems to blanket over Kevin and Mary Ann, and it appears that John Milton isn’t just a defense lawyer, but the Prince of Darkness himself.

The writing was the first thing that struck me about this film. The introduction is a real slap in the face when it comes to real world problems, disgusting human beings, and the moral dilemma that defense attorneys must face. Only a certain type of person can be a defense attorney as this movie clearly states in an almost condemning way. Are they all terrible people? No, but they have to understand that they might defending a horrible human being.

The pacing of the film is great. It’s a slow movie that adds layers upon layers of new characters and story lines to wrap your head around, it isn’t difficult to find yourself lost and totally engrossed in the story. Pacino’s character isn’t revealed right away, but instead we have to wait. This is a great way of building up the character, and let me tell you he is fantastic. This looks to be the most fun Pacino has had since Scarface, and his best performance he’s had since.

The entire film is filled with random supernatural occurrences that remind me very much of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, especially the scenes involving Mary Ann. The scene that really lingers with the viewer, however, is the outstanding climax. Of course I won’t reveal what happens, but I will say that Al Pacino kills it. I feel like I’m talking about him a lot in this review, but it’s warranted since this is practically his show. He really runs the entire movie.

What almost soured the entire film was the very end. It seemed that I was going to have to spend an immense amount of my night brooding over how gut wrenchingly awful it was. Now, it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, but it was still pretty unsatisfying. There are ways to analyze it that make it seem more “plausible” or at the very least appropriate, but something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s really unfortunate considering everything that happens before it, and we are rewarded with a strictly forced and mediocre ending.

The Devil’s Advocate is smart, accusatory, chilling, and at times darkly comedic. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a strong conclusion to support the rest of the movie. It got me thinking about how strange it is that a bad ending can really detract from a movie or piece of literature. They are so important to the rest of the story, and endings are usually a big thing to be remembered. Still, 98% of this movie is excellent and should really be checked out, especially for Pacino’s performance.