Pulp Fiction (R)
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This came out in 1994. It's the second film directed by Quentin Tarantino (after Reservoir Dogs), and probably the movie with which he is most identified. I must have first seen it on VHS sometime in the 1990s, and I'm reviewing it after watching it again on DVD in 2018. It was a major critical and financial success, and has had a huge impact on independent filmmaking ever since its release. It contains a great many scenes and lines that have become iconic, so I've always remembered most of those things, even if I didn't really remember the actual stories very well. Um... and there are lots of elements in the film that make it eligible for inclusion in various of my movie review categories. Some people call it neo-noir, and some say it's definitely not neo-noir. (Personally, I lean a bit more toward "not," but I certainly see some noirish elements in it.) I could also call it an "art film," because of how many artistic cinematic techniques and things it contains... although most of that is lost on me. Plenty of other sites could tell you about all that kind of stuff. I also think it seems like an homage to B-movies, even more than to noir. (But I suppose another Tarantino movie, Death Proof, is more definitely made in B-movie style.) I could call it a "badass" movie, but while it's full of violence from various characters, I'd say the true badassness is thanks to Samuel L. Jackson. (Because true badass is not just in being violent, but in the style with which the violence is performed, whether in the actual physicality of it or, as in this case, because of a character's personality.) I could call it "serio-comedy," because it has a lot of humor (albeit dark), as well as drama. I could also call it "weird," because... it definitely has elements that come very close to being surreal. But ultimately, I went with "crime film," just because... well, it's more about crime than anything else, I guess. (Seriously, though, I was very tempted to classify it as a B-movie.) I also want to mention that for some ways into the movie, I thought it seemed like it was set in the 70s. I vaguely questioned that assumption when someone mentioned "Flock of Seagulls," so I thought it might be set in the 80s. It wasn't until a character pulled out a cellphone that I realized it was actually in the 90s.
Anyway, there are a few interwoven stories. It begins with a couple sitting in a diner, "Pumpkin" (Tim Roth) and "Honey Bunny" (Amanda Plummer). They're talking about a series of holdups they've committed, and on a whim, decide to rob the diner where they're having breakfast. This leads into the opening credits, accompanied by Dick Dale's "Misirlou."
The movie then moves on to the next story, with a pair of hitmen named Jules Winnfield (Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) having a casual conversation while driving to their current assignment. That conversation is one of the most memorable parts of the movie. Then they get to their job, where they confront a few people who have betrayed their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). I'm not clear on the details, like either they'd stolen a briefcase from him, or they'd failed to deliver it to him themselves, or something. Either way, they now needed to die. Well, all but one; one of the people in the room, Marvin (Phil LaMarr), is an inside man, who leaves with Jules and Vincent after they'd killed everyone else. But this scene is where Jules's style and his speech before killing people qualify him as a badass. Later, Jules and Vincent deliver the briefcase to Marsellus. But they must wait til he's done talking with a boxer named Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), whom he's paying to throw an upcoming fight.
The next day, Vincent buys heroin from his friend Lance (Eric Stoltz), before going to his next job. He's supposed to make sure Marsellus's wife, Mia (Uma Thurman), has a good time, while Marsellus is out of town. Mia instructs Vincent to take her to a 1950s-themed restaurant (the one part of the movie that I was actually sure was retro, before learning when the movie was set; I mean, it would be impossible to think for even a second that it was actually the 1950s). They have an interesting conversation. And at one point, Mia goes to the restroom to "powder her nose," and snorts cocaine. (I loved that pun.) And then she and Vincent dance together, which is another of the most memorable parts of the movie. (They dance to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell," though I think whenever I've pictured the scene in my mind over the years, my memory tends to replace that with "Misirlou," maybe because that's the song I most identify with this movie. Or quite possibly I've seen a trailer or something that plays that song over that scene. But while I'm on the subject of music, I should say I have had the soundtrack on CD for a long time, and I can't even remember for sure whether I got it before or after the first time I saw the movie. Anyway, the movie has a lot of great music.)
Um... man, I really don't want to spoil too much about the movie. I'm just trying to basically give an explanation of each of the stories, maybe mention a few specific details, but leave most of it out. It's so hard to know what to say and what not to, because I feel like it's wrong to leave out any of the most memorable or iconic bits... but at the same time, those are probably the things that it would be best not to spoil, if you haven't seen the movie. So I dunno... I guess I'll leave out how Vincent and Mia's night ends.
Next, there's a flashback to when Butch was a little kid. His father had died in a war, and a soldier who had known him, Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), visits the boy and tells him a story about a gold watch he gives Butch, which had been passed down through several generations in Butch's family. Then Butch wakes up in the present, just before the match he's supposed to throw. Instead he wins the fight, and plans to flee the country with his girlfriend, Fabienne, before Marsellus can send anyone to kill him. However, Fabienne had forgotten to pick up his gold watch while packing at their apartment, before going to a motel to wait for Butch. So he goes back to get it, and... something happens at his apartment that I won't spoil. However, while driving back to the motel, Butch runs into Marsellus. The two of them end up in a pawn shop, where their fight is stopped by the store's owner... and that leads to another iconic scene that I'm not going to spoil. I'll just say that the experience ends with Marsellus forgiving Butch. Then Butch steals a motorcycle (sorry, "chopper") that had belonged to a guy named Zed (who is now dead), and goes back to the motel to pick up Fabienne.
The next scene is set toward the end of the encounter where Jules and Vincent killed the guys who had Marsellus's briefcase, and then we see what happens when they and Marvin left the apartment. I also don't want to spoil what happens then, but it leads to them seeking help from a friend named Jimmie (Tarantino). While at Jimmie's house, Jules calls Marsellus, who sends a cleaner named Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) to deal with the situation. The scene also explains why Jules and Vincent were wearing different clothes in the earlier scene where they delivered the briefcase to Marsellus. Then in the movie's final scene, Jules and Vincent are at a diner having breakfast and another conversation. Vincent goes to the bathroom, and then Pumpkin and Honey Bunny make their move to rob the place, bringing the movie full circle. And... I guess I wont' say how it all ends. (Although this isn't really the ending, anyway; that happened during Butch's story.)
Anyway... I don't know what else to say except that the movie is very damn cool, but definitely not for everyone. I mean, if you have no stomach for violence, don't watch it. (Not to say you need to be a particular fan of violence, to enjoy it. I'm not, really. But I can appreciate it when done well, as long as there's a good story to go along with it, and good characters, both of which this movie definitely has. And as long as it's not horribly gory, which... I would say this movie is not, though some might disagree.) But if you either like violence or can deal with it for the sake of the story, "Pulp Fiction" is pretty much essential viewing for movie fans. (I'll leave it to people who go beyond fandom to true cinephilia to debate the movie's artistic merits and its place in the history of film.)