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The Man from Earth (reviewed by Ben)

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Cousin Vinny (Reviewed by Dad)

My Cousin Vinny’s “R” rating kept us from sharing this favorite with the boys until now, even though – having just recently gotten around to a family screening – the only thing that might make the film objectionable is ripe language (no sex, no violence).
Actually, that’s not quite true since the storyline is kicked off with a murder. Specifically, the clerk at a local quickie-mart in rural Alabama is bumped off during a robbery, and blame falls on a pair of New York college kids (played by Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) who had just stopped by the shop during a cross-country drive in their mint-green GM convertible.
After being arrested and accidentally confessing to a crime (albeit, not the homicide they are accused of), Macchio decides to call home for rescue and is alerted that his cousin Vinny – a newly minted attorney – is on the way.
If the two accused boys were fish out of water, they have nothing on Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) and his leather-clad fiancé Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei in an Oscar winning performance) who roll into town completely unready for the local culture or courts.
This becomes apparent when the judge presiding over the case (played by the incomparable Fred Gwynne, sans monster makeup) repeatedly scolds Attorney Gambini for his informal attire, inability to comprehend (much less follow) procedure, and frequent curse-laden outbursts – some of which land Pesci in the same jail as his clients for contempt of court.
But after a slow start, Vinny finally gets the chance to shine as he demolishes one witness after another with a mix of goomba and chutzpah anyone who has ever traveled through Brooklyn will find immediately recognizable.  The prosecution eventually decides to fall back on evidence supplied by an FBI expert in automobile-related forensics, much to their dismay when Vinny’s fiancé is forced to take the stand.
As much as I continue to enjoy this picture (now through my children’s eyes), in retrospect it does seem as though the script was written backwards from a few (admittedly show-stopping) courtroom scenes. That said, every scene in which Pesci and Tomei interact is pure magic, more than making up for the implausibility of the key conceit in this high-concept comedy (would a law school graduate, even a totally green one, really have never heard of “discovery?”).
The fantastic nature of such a scenario may explain why I found that aforementioned R-rated language so jarring.  For the multiple F-bombs dropped by the leads placed them squarely in the vulgarity-laden tough-guy genre that have become Pesci’s trademark in films like Goodfellas and Casino, not in the semi-fantasy world of this much gentler storyline.  
So, I don’t know.  Ben – what do you think?
Ben Replies: Regardless of plot holes and ridiculous moments, Vinny is undeniably hilarious. Everything about this film has you laughing at every turn. The film is perfectly cast, especially the leather-clad duo of Vinny and Mona and the script is perfectly riotous. How can even the stiffest fellow not bust a gut when Pesci’s character brings the cooking time of grits to question on the stand? As a courtroom drama, however, this flick is only alright. A scene involving the identification of tire tracks was incredibly clever (and probably scored Tomei’s her Oscar).  But if the goal was to make A Few Good Men with an incredible underdog winning his first case, that case was kind of open and shut and, without the comedy, could be criticized for being boring.  So all in all, I agree with your thoughts on the film.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sweeney Todd (reviewed by Ben)

There were more liquid ounces of fake blood used in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd (subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) than lines spoken (or sung). Despite that, even gore lovers will think the cannibal/barber movie over the top, the film itself was somewhat underwhelming. Movie musicals are always a risky thing, and in the case of this film adaptation of Sondheim’s play, the risk did not pay off.

This is the somewhat confusing story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), who was once an innocent barber who was arrested and robbed of his family by the malicious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman).  He later returns to London to seek justice under the name of Sweeney Todd, a much less innocent and much less forgiving barber, ready to kill Turpin with a handy barber’s razor.

He befriends the longtime Fleet street resident Ms. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and discovers his daughter to be the ward of his enemy, Judge Turpin. His innocent work disguised as a haircuttery leads him to less innocent murder.  And because he works just as hard on business as justice, he merges with Ms. Lovett’s pie shop where she uses the human meat of his barbershop’s customers in her very popular meat pies.

It’s a happy life, and yet he is plagued with the desire to find and kill the judge who still has his daughter. This leads to desperate measures which leads to the downfall of all the residents of Fleet Street.

All in all, a decent setup and the oddly heartwarming music is among Sondheim’s finest. The film does have it’s moments and we can even relate to several characters, especially since the acting is not half bad, especially Depp’s.

However the story was over-complicated and the excessive blood was distracting from the already complex plotline, not to mention the work of the talented songwriter of better-scripted musicals like West Side Story, Into The Woods and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. The film Sweeney Todd sometimes seemed like a lame excuse to have a wild bloodbath, rather than treat Sondheim’s work with care.

Apart from the star-studded cast, I’d give credit to the film’s casting director for reuniting the cast of Harry Potter (Rickman, Timothy Spade, Helena Bonham Carter) and Tom Hooper’s just as over-the-top Les Miserables (Sacha Baron Cohen and Bohnam Carter). It was also fun to see the vocally talented Johnny Depp and the very talented child star Ed Sanders (as the barber/pie shop's kitchen-hand, Toby).  For a film that is not very well put together, the acting of many (especially Depp) is superb.

I would say that this bloodbath musical is alright, but mostly because of the acting and singing performances and the wonderful score. The extremely gory scenes as well as the extremely complex story bring down mine (and many other people’s) opinion of the Tim Burton film.

Dad replies: Count me as one of those people Ben just mentioned as not having a great opinion of Tim Burton’s take on Sondheim’s murderous stage musical.  I agree that there were lots of interesting things going on in the film, and the director did key into the irony of having such a violent story play out against songs with whimsical tunes with bloody lyrics.  But the in-your-face images of slashed throats spouting gore, not to mention hands and feet spewing out of a meat grinder (and onto people’s plates) numbed me to artistic subtly.  As Ben mentioned, the cast was a treat (metaphorically speaking, of course) and the original material certainly worked on stage.  So blame for this mishap has to be placed at the feet of Burton who decided to go over the top, rather than find the middle ground the material required.