Magic Grits

My Cousin Vinny is one of the funniest courtroom comedies I’ve ever seen. I don’t watch trial movies often, but my mom strongly recommended it. I’m glad she did, because My Cousin Vinny is both an accurate and entertaining depiction of the legal process. It brings together three of the biggest Italians working in Hollywood at the time. The hotheaded Joe Pesci is perfect for inexperienced New York lawyer Vinny Gambini. He’s profane, but hilarious in a culture clash story where his young cousin and friend end up in a rural Alabama murder case.

This is one of a few times I’ve seen Ralph Macchio in a role other than The Karate Kid. Bill and his nervous friend Stan are falsely imprisoned when a car matching their description is mistaken for theirs. Several misunderstandings made me laugh out loud. Vinny does his best to talk his way through court, but the more reserved Southern inhabitants don’t make it easy for him. Fred Gwynne shines in his final film role as the judge looking for any reason to hold Vinny in contempt. Stan wants someone more professional, but the public defender is a bit of a mess.

Between those challenges is a particularly funny running gag where several things keep Vinny and his fiancé awake. Easily the biggest standout is relative newcomer Marisa Tomei as the fiery, but intelligent Mona Lisa Vito. She steals the show and won a much deserved Oscar for her humorous dynamic with Pesci and courtwinning automotive knowledge. Vinny eventually gets the hang of being a lawyer by using what he learns about the town. Everything from grits to tire tracks. My Cousin Vinny makes court fun.

My Cousin Vinny

Vinny cross-examines Mona Lisa

We Find the Defendant…

12 Angry Men is one of the absolute greatest courtroom dramas of all time. It’s also a movie everyone should see. Whether you care about the judicial system or not. 12 Angry Men begins with the end of an unseen first-degree murder trial. The defendant is an 18 year old foreign kid who lives in a slum. He’s charged with killing his father with a switchblade. The entire 1 hour 36 minute movie takes place primarily in one room, in real-time, and with nothing but 12 angry men attempting to argue their verdict. It may sound boring, but it’s actually quite riveting and extremely effective. They don’t even have names, yet you’re still able to distinguish between every character. There’s the foreman whose primary job is to keep things organized. The first time juror with a meek attitude. The hothead who won’t change his mind no matter what. The factual bespectacled one. The man with the most in common with the defendant. The white collar reasonable guy. The baseball fan who just wants to get out of there. The initial hold out who votes “not guilty” because he has doubts. The old man who spends most of his time listening. The prejudice one with a nasty cough. The foreigner with a love for democracy. And the unfocused man in marketing. They all argue in a hot room where they go through every bit of evidence and possible scenario they can. Until they slowly but surely change their opinions. In the end, everyone goes their separate ways, never seeing each other again, but knowing they’ve made an impact on each others lives. 12 Angry Men is a case I will be more than happy to take again.

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12 angry men

Welcome to Macy’s

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) is a Christmas movie that shouldn’t exist, but there’s no problem that it does. It was released in the mid-90’s and a lot of my generation probably grew up with it. I wasn’t one of them since I wasn’t like most kids growing up. I watched the original first and didn’t watch the remake until a little later. Even though it employs many people who were big at the time. Like John Hughes, Elizabeth Perkins, or child star Mara Wilson. With this being one of her three biggest roles at the time (the other two being Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda). Plus you can’t go wrong with Dr. Hammond himself Richard Attenborough as Santa Claus. Miracle on 34th Street (1994) overall has the exact same story. There are just a few cosmetic changes. Like Kris Kringle using sign language instead of speaking Dutch with a little girl. Despite what my title may suggest, Macy’s is not used in the movie and neither is Gimbels. Macy’s because they didn’t want to be involved in the remake. Gimbels because they went out of business. The deciding factor in the court case was also changed. Let’s just say it involves American currency instead of the mail. Miracle on 34th Street (1994) is harmless enough, but I like to stick to the classics.

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Susan (right) comes to see Santa Claus (left)

Remake of: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

The Real Santa Claus🎅

Merry Christmas everyone! Miracle on 34th Street is the last Christmas movie to be nominated for Best Picture. Winning for Best Original Story, Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor Edmund Gwenn. Oddly enough, Miracle on 34th Street came out one year after It’s a Wonderful Life. Which was also nominated in the same category. In terms of which one deserves the title of greatest Christmas movie of all time, I’d say they’re about even. Miracle on 34th Street is just a lot more focused on Christmas. Using it for the entire movie. Instead of just the moral and third act. The only problem is something someone did to the movie long after its release. Miracle on 34th Street was one of the first full-length black & white films to be colorized. It was a terrible process that ruined all the classics with stiff unnatural color. You’re a mean one Mr. Turner. Luckily the process ended after the guy considered doing the same with Citizen Kane. I’m so glad my mom told my brother and I to seek out the original Miracle on 34th Street. It’s so much better…

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Susan (right) comes to see Santa Claus (left)

Miracle on 34th Street begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A kindly older gentlemen using a cane agrees to fill in to play Santa Claus after the previous actor turns up drunk. He’s so good that he’s also hired to be Macy’s mall Santa on 34th street in New York. Why is he so good? It’s because his name is Kris Kringle and he is, in fact, the real Santa Claus. Edmund Gwenn is the best actor ever to take on the role of Santa. His genuine warmth is everything Santa should be. Not everyone believes Kris though. The woman who hired him, Doris, raised her daughter Susan not to believe in fairy tales since she herself is recently divorced. This was Natalie Wood’s first starring performance and she brings a lot of maturity to the her role. While also showing Susan’s innocence when she asks Kris for a house for her mother on Christmas. Even though Kris’ beard is real, he’s able to communicate with a little Dutch girl, and he suggests other places for people to shop (just so they can get what they need). His kind behaviour still manages to get him institutionalized. Eventually leading to a court case deciding once and for all if Kris Kringle is Santa Claus. With Doris’ neighbor Fred acting as Kris’ lawyer. It’s one of the best court battle’s in film. That’s where the iconic moment where people bring in bags of letters addressed to Santa into court comes from. In the end, it’s never made explicitly clear if Kris is Santa, but I think we all know what to believe in our hearts. Making Miracle on 34th Street a Christmas movie that can never be duplicated or improved on. I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas!

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Kris joins Susan and her mother for Christmas

Bend and Snap

Legally Blonde has the punniest title I’ve ever seen. Being a play on the term “legally blind” and referring to the premise at the same time. Legal because it’s about law school. Blonde because it’s about a valley girl. Elle Woods is a sorority sister/president and fashion student who loves pink. Everything goes well for her until her boyfriend breaks up with her. Being a law student, he feels he should marry a Jackie instead of a Marilyn. Instead of let him go, Elle decides to apply to Harvard Law School and become a lawyer just to get him back. Legally Blonde is far fetched, but probably not too hard to imagine. Reese Witherspoon actually plays Elle as friendly, polite, and even smart. Not like a stereotypical valley girl. More like a realistic one. When Elle does become a lawyer, she does it in her own way. By using what she knows. Making Elle Woods an unconventional, but still fabulous lawyer. Legally Blonde has many memorable moments. Elle’s Harvard acceptance video with my favorite line, “I object!”. The bend and snap scene, Elle dressed as a Playboy bunny, and the final court case. Legally Blonde proves that even lawyers can wear pink.

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Elle Woods commands the courtroom

Followed by: Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde

And All That Jazz

Chicago is currently the last musical ever to win Best Picture. It was also the first musical to win since Oliver! in 1968. I don’t have a problem with that, I just wish it was for something more deserving. Don’t get me wrong, I really do like Chicago, but Best Picture seems like a little much. Although most of the cast did receive an acting nomination (Catherine Zeta-Jones won). I guess the Academy was still unwilling to award a fantasy Best Picture (i.e. The Lord of the Rings). If you’ve read my “about” page you know I live in the Chicago area. So I’d love anything set in places I’m familiar with. I first saw Chicago in school, then I watched it at home, and then I saw it again in another class. The thing about the movie is that it’s just a stage musical put to screen. I’m fairly certain everything that happens in the play is the same as what happens in the movie. The songs are great and it feels more unique than other musicals, because the movie is kind of part play part movie.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, Chicago is about two women who get imprisoned for murder. Velma Kelly is a showgirl who murdered three people including her husband and sister. Roxie Hart is an aspiring vaudevillian who murders her lover whom she thought would get her into show biz. They both end up with the same lawyer who eventually gives more attention to Roxie. I guess that’s the main problem with musicals turned movies. Chicago doesn’t exactly have main characters that you root for. The songs take your attention away from the mixed moral message. I love a good musical, but I wouldn’t take Chicago too seriously if I were you.

Chicago

Roxie Hart (right) and Velma Kelly (left) light up the stage

Think of the Children

Kramer vs. Kramer did something no other movie before it dared to do. For those who are unfamiliar, Kramer vs. Kramer is film about a mother who out of nowhere decides to leave her husband. At first you might think that was an empowering thing for her to do, until you realize she just abandoned her own son. In most movies or even real life, the man is the one who leaves his family. A mother leaving was practically unheard of at the time. The workaholic father now has to take care of his son all by himself. The progression of their relationship from hating each other to loving each other is flawless. One of their most memorable scenes is “the ice cream scene.” Everything is perfect until his ex wife returns (1½ years later) wanting her son back. That’s where the title Kramer vs. Kramer comes in. The movie brings up important questions about parental roles and whether or not a father is a more suitable parent. I’m sorry, but the mother is kind of despicable in my opinion. The ending will leave you with question, but that’s not such a bad thing in the long run. It’s what earned the movie 9 nominations and 5 wins including Best Picture.

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Ted (left) tells Joanna (right) he can’t have their son

The Guilty Innocent

If you only read one book in your life, read To Kill a Mockingbird. The same goes for the equally extraordinary movie. I (like most people my age) first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was a Freshmen in High School. It’s one of the those books that you’re required to read in school. After reading the book, we watched the movie. I always like watching old black & white movies with a class, because it’s nice to see “regular” teenagers watch movies that I see on a normal basis. In case you’re unfamiliar, To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age/courtroom drama about kids growing up in an unforgiving world. Scout and her brother Jem live with their father who’s a lawyer named Atticus Finch. A lot happens, but the most important thing is the court case for Tom Robinson. A scene so powerful that Atticus Finch was named the greatest movie hero of all time. Gregory Peck crafts a character who is stern, but also very compassionate. Another important plot point involves a shut-in named Boo Radley that the children befriend. I guess you could say that the central themes are not to judge a person by what you see on the surface. “It would be like killing a mockingbird.” To Kill a Mockingbird is a movie that will always be relevant no matter how old it gets. If you haven’t seen it yet, then why are you still reading this review? Go watch it right now!

To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus Finch (left) defends Tom Robinson (right)

You Can’t Handle the Truth!

A Few Good Men is one of a few courtroom dramas that I’ve rewatched. I first saw the movie in my Junior government class. I’m so glad I did, but not because I think I’d never see it. I probably would have eventually seen it as part of the Tom Cruise marathon I did. I’d also like to mention that this is 1 of 2 military themed movie’s Demi Moore did in the 90’s. Anyway, what is the plot exactly? Well, A Few Good Men is about a trial that takes place after a military hazing goes wrong. Cruise’s character Lieutenant (junior grade) Daniel Kaffee is hired as the military’s lawyer. The primary witness their up against is Colonel Nathan R. Jessup. A proud Marine colonel that only Jack Nicholson can pull off. Most people only remember the famous quote “You can’t handle the truth!” While the whole movie is building up to that line, it’s the gripping court case and well written dialogue by Aaron Sorkin that drew me in. The back in forth between these two individuals is so intense that I couldn’t help but hang on every word. Sometimes I even consider being a lawyer just so I can outwit somebody like this. Also side note, the movie is only rated R for language. So even if you find courtroom dramas boring, I’m sure Rob Reiner’s A Few Good Men will be the one exception. Can you handle the truth?

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“You can’t handle the truth!”

Pants on Fire

Honestly if not for Jim Carrey, Liar Liar would be pretty meh. For those who don’t know, Liar Liar is about a workaholic lawyer father who is unable to lie for one day. This is a problem because lawyers need to stretch the truth in order to win a case. While the premise is intriguing and original, put any other actor in the lead role and it doesn’t work. This was actually the movie that Jim Carrey needed to prove himself (after the mess that was The Cable Guy). The result is an uproariously funny comedy with all the wild overtop acting you’d expect from Jim Carrey. Trust me this is a good one.

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Fletcher Reede can’t lie