Friday, October 17, 2014

5. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Code-name: The Wolf

Writer/Director: Quentin Tarantino
Type: Dramedy, R-rated

Vincent- John Travolta

Jules- Samuel L. Jackson
Mia Wallace- Uma Thurman
Pumpkin/Ringo- Tim Roth
Honey Bunny/Yolanda- Amanda Plummer
Butch- Bruce Willis
Marcellus- Ving Rhames
Captain Koons- Christopher Walken
Fabienne- Maria de Medeiros 
The Wolf- Harvey Keitel
Jimmie- Quentin Tarantino

Notable Awards and Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Original Screenplay- Quentin Tarantino
nomination-OSCAR- Best Picture
nomination-OSCAR- Best Lead Actor- John Travolta
nomination-OSCAR- Best Supporting Actor- Samuel L. Jackson
nomination-OSCAR- Best Supporting Actress- Uma Thurman
nomination-OSCAR- Best Director- Quentin Tarantino
nomination-OSCAR- Best Film Editing
Golden Globe- Best Screenplay- Quentin Tarantino
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Picture- Drama
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Director- Quentin Tarantino
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Actor- Drama- John Travolta
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actor- Samuel L. Jackson
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Supporting Actress- Uma Thurman

Once upon a time, this was one of those movies I flat-out refused to see for YEARS... all because of a single scene. In Health class (I believe it was 10th grade, my first year at that high school), we were discussing drugs and all that. We saw the one scene where Uma Thurman gets the shot of adrenaline to restart her heart.
...I hate needles. The scene freaked me out and my boycott began...
Then "Inglorious Basterds" came along. (Obviously I loved it or it wouldn't be my previous film on this countdown). I started to "widen my gaze" in 2011, watching all kinds of movies I wouldn't ordinarily look into... I had a lot of favorites from that year (Shawshank, SuckerPunch, and several others that made this list) and this was easily one of them.
My parents sat down and watched it with me and made sure I knew that the film would be out of sequence and a little hard to follow.
Knowing only that, and taking into account that the "adrenaline" scene would be a short one, I was pretty much set for success.

And what a success this wound up being.
The Film Itself


Once or twice while watching the film this time around (probably my 3rd time), I was thinking how it feels more like a TV show more than a movie. Each chapter is like a different episode of a series since none of these occurrences feel as if they have anything in common. At least not to the eye of someone who prefers plot-driven films.

This movie is very character-driven, full of colorful personalities. My cast list includes the important names...
plus Christopher Walken, who is simply mentioned because he has one of those characteristic Christopher Walken-type moments. He appears in a flashback where he gives young Butch a watch that belonged to his father.
The movie overall is very trippy, but the details of this watch and how it came back from a POW camp... that's trippy to the nth degree. Only Tarantino could put something like that together.

It's a shame that this movie only earned one award for all its nominations, but the fact Tarantino was honored for his screenplay is a huge victory. It means that this up and coming, new and exciting writer/director made a good impression on a lot of important people.
This is one kick-ass script. The first scene ran a little slow for me until it kicked into action mode. Then as soon as Vincent started going on about what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in France... I was sold. Most of these characters are gangsters and outlaw-types, so there is action involved, but to delay said action in favor of intelligent conversation, character development and social commentary... that's ballsy and the fact they pull it off effortlessly makes it a worthwhile risk.
I praised "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" for this same reason--as well as several other movies I saw in 2011--but "Pulp Fiction" does one better. The storytelling is tighter, keeps us on our toes so the audience has no choice but to pay attention. Not to hate on the voiceover narration in KKBB (easily one of my favorite parts of it), but "Pulp Fiction" manages this utmost degree of cleverness without that such device.

Easily the trippiest aspect of this film is the fact it's shown out of order. We begin with the scene just before the stand-off finale between Jules, Yolanda and Ringo, where the British couple discuss the notion of robbery.
Interestingly, the first two scenes build up to an active climax and we immediately move onto the next chapter before finding out how things resolve. Real WTF moments that might make newbies scream at their TVs. But rest assured, everything does become clear after a while. We catch up with Yolanda and Ringo in the intense final sequence. Just before that, we see where Jules and Vincent go after regaining possession of Marcellus's suitcase.

If not to dispel the confusion, we stick through the rest of the film because these are some interesting characters. This is Samuel L. Jackson at, probably, his best. The first time a lot of people saw him as the notorious bad-ass everyone knows him to be now. He just has this amazing presence one can't help but respect. He gives us some of the biggest laughs in the movie. Just wait for a single pause or an unexpected raise in volume in his voice-- you know whatever comes out of his mouth is likely to be side-splitting hilarious.
John Travolta's best "chapter" is where he takes Marcellus's wife, Mia, out to show her a good time. He keeps up the commentary-laced dialogue he has with Jules, which is hard not to do, considering where the two of them have dinner. It's a retro 50's diner where the employees are all dressed as famous movie stars and singers from that era.
We get to see him dance for the first time since "Grease" and he gripes about Mia ordering a $5 shake and end ups [literally] swallowing his words.

The Gross-Out Factor

As great as that chapter is, the great chemistry between John Travolta and Uma Thurman (wig or not, I love that look for her), how it ends makes me cringe. And likely will every time I watch the movie, unless of course I get over my thing/phobia about needles and drugs.

Prior to Mia's overdose scene, we see Vincent buy some bad-ass drugs. Stuff that is so strong and powerful that you can only take it by needle. We see him take this needle, there's blood gathering in the syringe... :shudder: I gotta stop before I start seeing spots.
My only other criticism about the overdose scene... c'mon, in real life there is no way Vincent would have had enough time to save her. She'd be dead before getting her into the drug dealer's house.

There's a lot of violence, something to be expected from a Tarantino movie. Something that's a polarizing factor, but in that regard, "Inglorious Basterds" was a million times worse. The two anti-heroes we follow, Vincent and Jules, kill some people. The bloodiest scene happens in the back of their car. Two seconds after I stopped screaming, I was laughing my ass off for five minutes afterwards. Freaking hilarious!
Especially since, if you notice, Vincent's gun was held sideways. Before you can say "That's a kill shot!", we have an unplanned dead body in the backseat.

"The Bonnie Situation" is the name of this chapter. Tarantino has a cameo as Jimmie, a friend of theirs who [involuntary] lends them a place to discard their evidence. He only agrees to this if they clean things up before his wife Bonnie comes home.
So they enlist a figure known as The Wolf. We only see him in this chapter, but he is cool. He contains the situation, keeps it calm and tells everyone what they need to do. The gist is that he doesn't get his hands dirty. Simply tells the guys to clean up the back seat of the car.

...and for whatever reason, Jules gets stuck doing that and stages a protest as soon as he realizes it :P
Probably the weirdest, strangest part of the movie: "The Gold Watch" chapter.
Bruce Willis [amazing in this, by the way, and I'm not just talking about the shape his body is in] plays Butch, a prize fighter paid to throw a fight. Instead, he winds up accidentally killing the guy and needs to plan a clean getaway. His girlfriend, Fabienne [the scene-stealing Portuguese beauty Maria de Medeiros] forgot to pack the watch so he needs to go back to his apartment to get it. On the way back, he and Marcellus unexpectedly bump into each other and somehow pick the worst possible [in]convenience store to do fisticuffs.

Everything else in this movie, to me, is a cakewalk compared to the overdose-shot-of-adrenaline scene... but I imagine this sequence is what turned a lot of people off about this movie. For whatever reason, we turned this on [maybe a couple weeks after I first saw this] at my grandma's place and she and my sister accidentally ended up witnessing the infamous "basement" scene.
If there's one thing to know about Tarantino. you know nothing good can come out of a basement scene. At least that's my belief after seeing "Inglorious Basterds." There are subtle hints of S&M and a not-so-subtle rape scene initiated by Zed and the other dude who runs the store.
Thankfully, it's short-lived, Bruce Willis comes out being a hero and the sickos will get what's coming to them.

Final Comments

While I personally find "Inglorious Basterds" the more engaging film, "Pulp Fiction" wins out because it succeeds as a well-constructed whole. Granted, it's not a linear whole, but still very well done. To that effect, it might not have worked as well or gained this much attention if it had been shown in chronological order.

It's one of those quotable films I love, but certain quotes stuck with me that others might not immediately got. Aside from the "Royale with Cheese" and "$5 shake" dialogue, one quote I came away remembering:

Fabienne saying "any time of day is good for pie"

... don't know why, it just stuck with me. That and her talking about how she'd like to have a sexy pot-belly. It must be the accent.

Most people remember Jules's made-up version of Ezekiel 25:17.
My favorite quote of "The Bonnie Situation".
Jules to Vincent- "We just witnessed a miracle and I want you to acknowledge it!"

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