Wednesday, August 27, 2014

AFI Top 100: #94 "Pulp Fiction"

Samuel L. Jackson & John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994)

I gotta be honest. Posting a review online for this movie is a bit frightening for me. The popularity and love for #94 on the AFI Top 100 list, Pulp Fiction, by the public at large can't be underestimated. And I'd be lying if I didn't consider the possibility of being descended upon by Tarantino fans with .357 Magnums.

Thankfully, my opinion of this movie has really evolved over the past 12 years -- in that, with age and time, I've grown to appreciate exactly the kind of movie Tarantino aimed to make. I won't go into my previous thoughts as a self-righteous teen; that would be pointless. I just didn't get it. I didn't understand the humor, and I couldn't look past the violence. References went over my head, because Tarantino doesn't take the time to talk down to you. I didn't appreciate that then. But I certainly do now.

Pulp Fiction is a purposefully fragmented merging of four different stories: (1) Two hitmen, Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Jackson) work a job re-obtaining a briefcase for their gangster boss; (2) An aging boxer (Bruce Willis) struggles with his pride; (3) Vincent takes out his boss' wife, Mia (Uma Thurman), for a night out on the town; and (4) a couple of robbery love-birds discuss the merits of ripping off a diner.

As you can tell just by the description, the film has some pretty random - and maybe even arbitrary - story elements. But Tarantino doesn't handle anything in an arbitrary way.

Something that Quentin Tarantino does is, he takes his time. This has been the one autueristic approach that has propelled him from his early movie-geek, film-making days to his now fully developed directorial style. Tarantino writes looooong scenes. And he makes you sit and watch them. Well, maybe not "makes" you -- but you'll watch, because you'll be completely engrossed.

The movie contains the most effective MacGuffins from the '90s ("What's in the briefcase?" & "Why is he wearing that Band-Aid?"), which are debated so fervently by fans, they eventually become moot points. Does any of it really matter? The beauty is that whatever the reason [you feel] these people all crossed paths during this sequence of days only contributes to your interpretation of the movie -- and hopefully not your enjoyment of it. That should be affected only by the writing. The absolute slam-dunk brilliant writing.

Many movie-goers get very stuck on the violence and cursing in this movie; as if that's the most important thing. And don't get me wrong! There is a delightful amount of both. But what there is more of by ten-fold? Talking. Just talking. The characters sit across the table from each other, like every one of us does every day of our simple lives, and they talk. About nothing. Or rather, it seems like nothing to us, but it's certainly something to them.

The majority of the film is spent with Vincent and Jules, to some degree, and they navigate a conversation like they're Nick and Nora Charles. Rapid-fire, argumentative, but with familiar affection. Travolta is at his best here -- he swaggers awkwardly, like a man who kills people easily but still struggles to chat up a beautiful woman. His character is the only one that arcs through every story-line, and Tarantino subtly links most of the "bad" occurrences to Vincent's quick jaunts to the bathroom (of which there are many).

Another frequent topic of discussion is the movie's approach to continuity. The editing doesn't obviously chunk the film up or cause our heads to spin due to the sequencing. For most of the movie, you wouldn't even notice it. Only the final two scenes cue up from the end of previous scenes -- and this might simply be to save the moral impact until the finale.  

Stylistically, it also gives the movie a lot of energy and traction. It fills in the purposeful blanks. There's so much we don't know, as viewers. This is a slice of life, and we're not offered up any more information than is necessary. And it just works. And don't even get me started on the music!

Finally, on a personal note, there's a beauty to watching Pulp Fiction while living in Los Angeles. I hadn't seen it since long before I moved to LA - specifically the Valley - 6 years ago. And there is plenty to truly appreciate about the way the characters talk about and navigate this expansive city. When Vincent and Jules are bantering about disposing of a body in North Hollywood and you're sitting in your living room watching the movie on the corner of Magnolia and Vineland... It makes the unfamiliar seem familiar. There's a connection.

This is surprisingly Tarantino's only movie on the AFI Top 100 list. Not only do I anticipate this staying on the list and even rising, I foresee some other QT inclusions down the line.  Inglourious Basterds, perhaps?

Oh, and what do you think we served for this movie night? It seemed only appropriate.

Rating:  ★★★★ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews]

Check back next week for #93 on the list, The French Connection!

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