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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

You would have heard of the notion, 'Use a thief to catch a thief'; well, this incredible movie takes this notion to a much higher degree. Use the mind of a psychopathic killer to find another one and terminate a series of killings that are happening. The movie, 'Silence of the Lambs' was a terrifying thriller when it burst onto audiences in 1991. Rarely has a movie won 5 or more Oscars, and Silence of the Lambs is one of them. Never before has a scary / horror movie won the Best Picture Oscar, this movie won it. It picked up a total of 5 Academy Awards,
- Jonathan Demme won an Academy Award for Best Director.
- Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster both won Oscars for Best Actor and Actress respectively
- The film won additional Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture
In addition, the performance by Anthony Hopkins as the psychopath in the role of a helper playing a mental cat and mouse game with Jodie Foster was so electrifying that he got the Best Actor award for a role that was the shortest Oscar winning role with only 16 minutes of acting through the movie.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Silence of the Lambs was a tremendous financial success, earning more than $270 million worldwide on a budget of $19 million. But arguably the greatest effect it had was on establishing the reputation of Anthony Hopkins as a great actor. His performance was hailed as a spectacular one.
For all the chill and menace portrayed in the movie, the actual scenes of horror and terror were few, with scenes of actual violence few and far between. The menace was in the depiction, and in the scenes of discussion between Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster (4 interviews in all). The discussions between them are one of the highlights between them, with Anthony Hopkins being the expert mind manipulator, and Jodie Foster, the bright but inexperienced FBI rookie.
The movie is about a couple of psychopaths who are cannibals, one of them in jail, and the other outside. There are a number of young woman getting killed and then getting skinned in a gruesome way, and the FBI is desperately trying to find the killer (the more the killings, the more panic there will be in the whole region). The unknown cannibalistic killer has been styled as 'Buffalo Bill'. The only weapon that the FBI has ? It has another equally horrid killer, the former psychologist turned cannibal and serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter in custody (and what a custody ! They have to keep him in a jail with strict security arrangements so that he cannot escape).
The head of the FBI behavioral sciences unit, Crawford manipulates a young rookie, still learning, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to see Dr. Lecter so that he might be more pliant at seeing her and agree to cooperate. And so starts the game. She has been advised to not let Dr. Lecter get too close to her mind, but soon she gives up all those thoughts, lets him peer deep inside her thoughts and mind (and he seems to be amazingly perceptive). Thus we learn the origin of the name of the movie. When she was 10, her father (mother had died earlier) was killed on duty, and she was sent to live with some cold relatives on their ranch. She wakes up one day early, and can hear the sounds of young lambs screaming as they are led to their slaughter, and that sound goes deep into her. She tries to escape from there with one of the lambs, but is caught, and then exiled from the ranch. The sound of lambs screaming remains with her. In the end, when she manages to catch the killer, finally she hears silence, and hence the title.
Things escalate when a Senator's daughter in kidnapped; Dr. Lecter and Clarice talk and negotiate, although she is setup to fail, once with her boss Crawford letting her promise some terms to Dr. Lecter even though those are not to be carried through. Dr. Lecter lets out information about Buffalo Bill slowly, but eventually provides her correct information that lets her find Buffalo Bill (and what a confrontation, scary ! She is fighting an enemy who has night vision glasses in a house with lights turned off - this has to be seen for the chills to be experienced).
The one scene where Dr. Lecter escapes, and you get an idea of why the security on him was required, is incredible. He swats and kills 2 police officers, and you get an impression of the cannibalistic streak. The chill is when he calls her up later as she is being feted, and mentions that he is having a friend for dinner (the double meaning is very obvious); and then you see him eying the warden of his prison Chilton (who used to treat him badly) !!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

What a delightful movie. Could there be a person who has seen it and forgotten about it ? I just could not believe it the first time I saw it; how can you have the imagination to take a movie about 2 young guys caught up in small-town America for a crime they did not commit, get in a cousin who is a lawyer without experience along with his girlfriend, and an old grouchy judge, and come up with a movie that has you laughing away at many points. By the end of the movie, in the discussion about the right car, you are positively at the edge of the seat as the tension shoots up, and you know that something big is going to happen that will turn the case, and it does so happen. More about that later.
The movie was directed by Jonathan Lynn, and did not have a big cast at all, with the 3 most prominent people being Joe Pesci in the role of a struggling lawyer, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini; the late Fred Gwynne playing the hard and grouchy judge Chamberlain Haller, and Marisa Tomei in the award winning role of Mona Lisa Vito (she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role). So you start off with these 2 young men from yankee land who while traveling through an Alabama town indulge in some petty shop-lifting.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
In a twist of how guilty conscience can get you into deep trouble, they land into massive trouble. Picked up by the police after the clerk of the shop is shot and killed, they assume that they have been picked up for shop-lifting (they are a bit surprised that shop-lifting is a major crime, but this is Alabama, so ..). In this surprise, when told / asked that they shot the clerk, they are astonished and only managed to ask the same thing. However, the person recording their statement does not read the question and astonishment in the reply and soon they are now being booked for murder. Hardly a good feeling to be booked for murder in a far-off city, and to be told that they have actually confessed.
And this brings their cousin Vinny into the picture. Billy's mom gets their cousin Vinny to take the case (a bit surprising that, after all, if your son was arrested for murder, you would want a first rate defense lawyer, not a person who has spent 6 years getting into the bar and has no trail experience). And this brings Joe Pesci along with his fiancee Marisa Tomei.
Joe Pesci has very little experience as a trail lawyer, and manages to rub the judge the wrong way right in the beginning (and the judge is even more conscious, after all, a lawyer from Yankee land must be made to appreciate the way justice happens in Alabama). Fighting with the judge over his appearance, over the way to speak in court, and over his experience (he has to show the judge that he has trial experience while he does not, and he eventually manages to fool the judge on this point); the scenes with the judge and Joe Pesci are first-rate.
Some of his other cultural experiences are also great, you get to see the distaste when he had to eat grits every day because the motel serves only that for breakfast, about not getting enough sleep because of the thunderous noise made by trains in the night near the motel (affecting his sleep and his preparedness to the extent that he finally welcomes the contempt notice issued to him since that allows him to get a good nights sleep in the jail).
He gets better and better in the courtroom, being able to challenge witnesses, and slowly move towards proving his story that it was a different car, and not his cousins car. This leads up to the great finale where he gets his angry fiancee (angry at him for ignoring her and refusing to take help from her) through her incredible knowledge of cars in order to try and discredit the testimony of the FBI Agent. You have to watch this scene to believe it. Overall, a must-watch movie.