Wednesday, August 14, 2013

66. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Code-name: Lisa Vito  
"magic grits"

Director: Jonathan Lynn
Type: comedy, courtroom drama

Vincent "my cousin Vinny" Gambini: Joe Pesci
Bill Gambini- Ralph Macchio
Mona Lisa Vito- Marisa Tomei
Stan Rothenstein- Mitchell Whitfield
Judge Chamberlain Haller- Fred Gwynne (RIP- 1993)
DA Jim Trotter III- Lane Smith
George Wilbur- James Rebhorn

Notable Award:
OSCAR- Best Supporting Actress- Marisa Tomei

Speaking of Awards...

Marisa Tomei was up against Miranda Richardson ("Damage"), Vanessa Redgrave ("Howards End"), Judy Davis ("Husbands and Wives") and Joan Plowright ("Enchanted April").
Which goes to show her win was helped by the fact these films haven't stood the test of time (as in, I hadn't heard of any of them).

Interestingly, this was the same year Robert Downey Jr. was nominated for "Chaplin." She appeared with him as Sennett Studios actress/director Mabel Normand. 
Two years later, she was cast as his love interest in "Only You"... not the best of his rom-coms in the 90's, mainly cuz her character annoyed the hell out of me for not seeing what was in front of her... until the final 5 minutes of the movie.

Speaking of Actresses... and Actors

As a fan of "The Karate Kid," I wanted to see this for Ralph Macchio originally. Luckily, I was only remotely disappointed by the fact he didn't have a huge role in this.
Clearly, Joe Pesci stole the show... and Marisa Tomei sometimes stole the show away from Pesci. I left the movie with the impression she had a strong Brooklyn accent. It is just THAT good, and I love imitating it whenever I watch or quote the movie.

Pick any number of scenes. Whether she's trying to talk Vinny out of hunting or talking about her biological clock or even her tumultuous courtroom testimony, she knocks my socks off every time.
Somehow, she strikes a perfect balance between strength, sexiness and eloquence. The sexiest moment being when she explains to Vinny how she did her best to fix their leaking motel room faucet.
I just can't think of anyone who could do it better.

Some might also remember the "Seinfeld" story arc where George fawns over Marisa Tomei, watches a couple of her movies, only to meet her and lose his chance with her because he tells her he's "sorta engaged."

But don't count out Joe Pesci entirely. On this list, I'd already mentioned him a few times and for good reason. For starters, while nobody can play bad like him, it's nice seeing him play a good guy.
This movie R-rating is 99% his doing. Let's face it, the movie wouldn't have that extra oomph without the cussing. I'd say I don't get to say that often, but with certain films, it's the truth and as I get older, I agree more and more that it's necessary.

Also want to take a moment to acknowledge Fred Gwynne who played the judge in this case. I read it was his final role and found out he died of pancreatic cancer.
He's not the biggest name on the list of celebrity victims, but all the same, I hate how that disease still has no cure.

Speaking of storylines and quotable quotes

While on the topic of Fred Gwynne, probably my favorite scene with him (other than where he kicks Vinny out of the courtroom for lack of proper attire) is where he questions a statement he makes:

Vinny: It is possible that the two yoots...
Judge: What was that word?... did you just say "yoots"... what's a yoot?
Vinny: Oh, excuse me, your honor, two YOUTHS

Eh, Alabama meets Brooklyn, a miscommunication was sure to happen at some point :-P

Most of the time, when you have overwhelming evidence, it's a case of a "frame-up." In this case, it happens to be so coincidental that:
a) two men robbed a general store
b) the two men had a mint green car
c) the men the police catch happen to be the innocent ones, yet the whole town so easily formed a case against them

Bill and Stan were merely passing through on their way to college. They suspect they were pulled over by the cops because they shoplifted a can of a tuna.
I still cringe when they include a supposed "confession" among their evidence and repeat it in court.

Geesh... quoting somebody in writing never takes tone of voice into account...
when Bill said "I shot the clerk", they didn't include the question mark at the end of his sentence...

We don't see much of the two guys and usually Vinny is the one doing all the talking in court. There's a good balance between the two, though. Bill is the optimistic one, mainly because Vinny is his cousin and the Gambini clan has a strong sense of family. Meanwhile Stan is the neurotic one who wants to jump ship at the first sign of trouble.
Like after two defunct court appearances where Vinny was thrown out for not dressing the part, Stan wants to use a public defender.

But throughout the movie, Vinny manages to talk his way out of things because he really is sharp in his debating. Once he's on his game, nothing gets by him.
I love his first great court appearance where he debunks evidence as coincidental and circumstantial. It certainly impresses Stan enough to change his mind (not to mention the fact the defender has a terrible stutter).

The quote at the beginning of this entry comes from one of those such testimonies.
He's talking to this one guy who sees the "getaway car" while making his morning grits. Vinny notes that the passage of time is off between when he sees the car and when he's busy making those grits.
It certainly paid to listen at a local diner where the cook explained grits take 20 minutes to cook.

Come to think of it, a lot of these courtroom movies elapse the way they do because lawyers know how to LISTEN to everything.

Speaking of Expert Witnesses

Ultimately, the case-cracker is NOT Vinny in the shower (watch the scene where he and Lisa look over the pictures she got developed), but Mona Lisa Vito herself.
George Wilbur is brought in to testify that the tire tracks left by the getaway car matches that of the tires of the defendants' Buick Skylark.

Going back to this realm of coincidences, Lisa just happens to know her way around cars and not just because she happens to come from a family of mechanics.
She passes her "qualification" as an expert witness with flying colors. As we know from her scenes with Vinny, she won't hesitate to call you on your BS.

Seriously, guys, the way she rattled off all that car talk without stuttering or blinking and with conviction, Marisa Tomei more than deserved the award for this role.
Again, just wow.

And her consolation prize for helping with the case: she and Vinny are finally going to get married, something she said she wouldn't be up for until he won his first case.
But it's hard to be sure if that's gonna happen based on their final conversation in their car riding into the sunset :-P

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