Tag Archives: joe pesci

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.

GoodFellas – Review

11 Oct

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen. This review is a doozy since I will be looking at one of the most acclaimed, praised, and altogether adored American films of all time. This, of course, is Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster epic GoodFellas. I don’t really know if I have any new opinions to add to table that haven’t already been said, so this review might just be a reiteration of many other critics and fans. What can I do, though? This film truly is a classic and I really had to review it eventually. Many people say that this is the best mob movie ever made, but I have to go with The Godfather: Part II. Even so, GoodFellas is an incredible movie and the landmark film of Scorsese’s illustrious career.

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For as long as Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) could remember, he wanted to be a gangster. He gets his wish at a fairly young age when local mobster Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) takes an interest in him and starts him off with a couple of jobs. As the years progress, Hill becomes a more respected member of the family along with his two best friend Jimmy Conway (Robert Di Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). The three have become accomplished professional criminals and enjoy living the luxurious life of a gangster. As time goes on, however, the three friends soon find out that this idea of mob life was just fantasy, especially when their friends begin dying at a much more rapid rate, drugs begin taking their money, and their family lives begin to crumble around them.

I felt like I said the word “epic” too much in my previous review for The Martian, and this is another one of those times where that word is going to be thrown all over the place. GoodFellas is an epic crime story that, to me, almost seems impossible to pull off. I think it would’ve been if it were in any other hands other than Martin Scorsese. The biggest feat that Scorsese accomplished with this movie was cramming thirty years into two and a half hours. All of the important times of these people’s lives are shown, but I never felt like I missed out on anything else because of the intelligent uses of montage to skim over more unimportant parts, but still give the audience the full story.

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Of course none of this epic storytelling would have worked if there wasn’t an excellent cast backing everything up. At the forefront, GoodFellas has Ray Liotta, Robert Di Niro, and Joe Pecsi. Ray Liotta gives the best performance of his career as Henry Hill. It’s interesting watching Liotta here because it shows a range that I haven’t really seen in his acting anywhere else. Di Niro works great as always, but Pesci really steals the show as the sadistic Tommy DeVito. Pesci took home the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as well. Other than the three leading roles, I have to also give a lot of credit to Lorraine Bracco, who plays Henry Hill’s wife. The arc her character goes through is great, and she remains consistently on point with her character as the years stretch on in the film.

GoodFellas, believe it or not, is actually based off of a true crime book called Wiseguy written by Nicolas Pileggi in 1986. Scorsese got into contact with Pileggi, and both of them excitedly began working on the screenplay. What I’m getting at is the brilliance with which they handle the writing. Scenes were written with action and dialogue, but they knew that they had to let the actors act as naturally as the possibly could. The actors that were assembled were so talented and the writing was so real, that a lot of improvisation and natural reacting took place, which makes everything really seem to jump from the screen. This isn’t a glamorized version of mob life, and that’s exactly what the intention was. The writing combined with the acting makes it seem real, gritty, and altogether miserable in the end.

GoodFellas may not be my favorite mob movie ever, but it’s certainly up there with my favorites. Looking back on this movie, there really is nothing to complain about. Everything is so spot on from the cinematography, to the writing, and the acting. Still, the most impressive thing is how much material is squeezed into this movie, all while keeping the pacing fast and exciting. GoodFellas isn’t just the high point in Martin Scorsese’s career, it also marks a high point for American film as a whole.

Casino – Review

30 Jan

Martin Scorsese is the king of crime films. There have been others who made excellent contributions to the genre like Michael Mann, Brian DePalma, and Francis Ford Coppola, but Scorsese is the master. With films like Goodfellas and Mean Streets, it’s quite clear he knows how to craft this kind of film. Unfortunately for Casino, it is normally compared to and overshadowed by Goodfellas. I’m not going to compare the two, but speak about Casino on its own.

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Sam Rothstein (Robert de Niro) is a sports handicapper for the mafia who is chosen by the bosses to run the Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. Everything appears to be going smoothly with both business and his personal like, especially after meeting a hustler named Ginger (Sharon Stone), but then his friend from back home comes to town. This friend is Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), an enforcer with a hot temper and dangerously violent outbursts. Nicky is soon banned from all of the casinos and goes into business for himself. What follows are the next decade of these three characters’ lives and how they go from the height of power and respect to sinking below where they ever were.

Casino is one of the most interesting films that I have ever seen, being in love with the whole Las Vegas scene. It’s great watching Ocean’s 11, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Smokin’ Aces, but I never felt I got as much of an inside look as I did with Casino. There are times where I really felt like I was getting behind the scenes access, especially when they take the viewer to the back room in one awesome continuous take. Another excellent scene is when the camera jumps back and forth between the different casino floor workers and showing who was watching who. It makes me fully begin to comprehend all the work that goes into providing tourists with their dangerous vices.

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I’d like to dedicate an entire paragraph solely to Sharon Stone, but I’ll try to be fair to the other actors. De Niro and Pesci were great, especially Pesci’s fast talking smart ass persona that everyone loves so much. He does some pretty terrible things to people in this movie, but strangely enough we are laughing right along with him through most of the ordeals. Maybe not during the “head in the vise” bit, but most times I found myself laughing. Sharon Stone, though. This is the performance of her career. Forget Basic Instinct. Her portrayal of a coked up  hustler sleaze bag is absolutely incredible. She had to convince Scorsese she was right for the role, and thank goodness she did because her acting is impeccable. There was one point in the movie where I thought to myself, “This is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.” I stand by that. I hated the character as a person, but loved Stone’s acting.

Scorsese was greatly inspired by classic film noir, like the under rated crime gem Force of Evil. Despite the bright colors of Vegas, this film is indeed a noir film, just a different sort of one. Casino is what you would call a “soleil noir”, which means it’s a bright noir as opposed to the high contrast shadowing of traditional noirs. All the pieces are in place for the genre. There’s a tragically flawed “hero”, a femme fatale, crime and mystery, and an interesting use of classic narration techniques. That’s one of the coolest parts of this film, the way Scorsese has the narration affected by what’s happening in the film. In one particular part, Pesci is narrating and in the actual scene he gets punched. When he gets punched, the narration abruptly cuts off. It’s awesome.

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I feel like you shouldn’t compare Goodfellas to Casino, but it’s pretty hard not to. Both movies deal with the same sort of criminals getting into shady dealings that normally end in violence, but it’s pretty fair to say Goodfellas is Scorsese’s masterpiece. That being said, Casino is a fantastic crime epic that goes a lot further, both in content and execution, then a lot of other crime films. It’s deep story about friendship, betrayal, and the dangers of power, themes Scorsese has explored fully before. The movie may not break new ground thematically, but it is a great gangster  flick that is well worth three hours of your time.