Thursday, April 23, 2015

AFI Top 100, #95: "Pulp Fiction" (1994)

Movie Stats:
Released 1994 (France)
American, in English (some Spanish & French, mostly translated)
Director - Quentin Tarantino
Stars - John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, and many more

Plot Summary:
The lives of several people of questionable morals intersect and intertwine into one cohesive tale. Travolta stars as Vincent Vega, a crime lord’s errand man; Jackson as Jules Winnfield, Vincent’s partner; Willis as Butch Coolidge, a boxer on the take; and Thurman as Mia Wallace, the crime lord’s wife.

Extreme, graphic violence; gore; endless blue language (including racial epithets); drug use; heavily implied sexy times; very brief male nudity (peen, blink and you’ll miss it); rape.

Bad Stuff:
I’ve always thought the whole deal with the briefcase was super cheesy.

It has a definite “young filmmaker trying out everything he thinks is cool” feel to it. I occasionally felt the urge to roll my eyes.

Good Stuff:
It has one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time.

It’s got great dialogue. Seriously, this film is ridiculously quotable. I’ve been quoting it for twenty years and I’ll probably continue to quote it for another twenty at least.

One of the things I really appreciated this go around is how people interact with each other. It feels so real. For example, I love the way that Vincent and Jules chit chat and joke around with each other before putting on their game faces and getting to work, just as any friendly co-workers would. And I completely cracked up at the way Butch teased his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) with the “mongoloid” voice and she got so mad about it. My husband has a “teenager with braces” voice he does that irritates me like that. It seemed like the screenwriters really understand people.

It’s very funny, especially if you have a dark sense of humor.

The Verdict:
I’ve seen a lot of people talking trash about this movie in recent years. It seems to have become cool to hate on. I’ve seen a lot of “it’s overrated” and “I never liked it anyway.” I don’t agree with the backlash. I liked it when it came out, I’ve liked it every time I’ve watched it over the years since then, and I liked it when I watched it this time too. At the time it was released, it was very hip and cool and different. I don’t know that it would be considered hip now, and it probably doesn’t seem different anymore because a lot of filmmakers in the ensuing years have tried to copy it. But it’s definitely still cool, in my opinion. It’s also clever and funny.

I really admire how smart Tarantino was with this film. It’s not just a great script and a great cast (practically everyone is in it). The fact that he got Travolta to sign on - at a time when his career was basically dead - AND got him to do a dance scene is brilliant. It completely revitalized Travolta’s career. It also made Jackson a legend. This time around, I definitely recognized the slight missteps of a young filmmaker. I also saw a couple of editing errors (bullet holes already in the wall & the shadow of a boom mike) during the famous near-death shooting scene. However, those things didn’t detract from my general enjoyment of it.

This is not a movie for the faint of heart. If you don’t like violence or swearing or drugs, you probably shouldn’t be watching it. But if you don’t mind those things, and you want to watch something slick, funny, and sly, you should give this one a chance. 

I give it 4.5 stars.


Patricia said...

I completely agree with you about the soundtrack. I feel like every single person who was in college when this movie came out went from the theater to the record store to by the soundtrack. My favorite song is Maria McKee's "If Love is a Red Dress." But there's good stuff all the way through, not a clinker among the bunch. I also remember how the soundtrack really influenced advertisements. Suddenly Burger King was putting out ads with hard-surf-beach music.

I also think it was totally groundbreaking. And the dialogue is amazing. And I agree that the casting was marvelous and Quentin Tarantino deserves to go down in film history for his use of John Travolta in this.

I, however, have never liked this movie. It's incredibly slow. I tried to watch it in the late 90s, wondering if I'd been in a bad mood the first time, but no. Still so incredibly slow I didn't make it through the whole thing.

And it's not for the feint of heart, I agree. I don't see Tarantino movies because they are too violent for me. Whatever he is trying to say gets lost among all the bloody chaos he creates.

But I'm glad you enjoyed it.

balyien said...

I was really surprised to discover that it's two and a half hours long. I've seen it numerous times and it's never felt that long to me. But I can see why you find it slow.

I saw this for the first time when I lived in Germany. One of us (not me) had the soundtrack on cassette tape. I'm pretty sure we played it until the tape wore out. I'd totally forgotten how it ushered in an era of surf music for commercials! Remembering that made me laugh.