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Pulp Fiction

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Pulp Fiction

Starring: John Travolta, Bruce Willis
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Rated: R
RunTime: 154 Minutes
Release Date: October 1994
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense, Independent

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

"Pulp Fiction" is one of the most pleasurable movies I have seen in a great while, and it will stand as the breakthrough movie of the 90's. It is a love it or hate it deal - either you admire the artistry of Quentin Tarantino's dark flourishes or you detest the sickening violence and brutality inherent throughout. Not only is the title "Pulp Fiction" a household name but so is Quentin Tarantino, a video store clerk who never went to film school and became an overnight success directing 1992's gory "Reservoir Dogs." All the attention is not for naught; "Pulp Fiction" is a great film that breaks new ground, is politically incorrect and unconventional. Tarantino has not so much reinvented film as much as he has rejuvenated it - he has brought back the sheer joy we all share of watching a good movie. The last time this phenomenon occurred was with the Steven Spielberg masterpiece, "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

"Pulp Fiction" won the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994 and won the Best Original Screenplay award at the Oscars. Since the film's release, "Pulp" has stirred great controversy over its obscenities, short bursts of bloody violence, racist overtones, sexual abuse and rape, and misogyny. All of these charges are largely silly because there is more violence and misogyny in the cartoonish "True Lies" and "Forrest Gump" than in "Pulp" (all released the same year). What upsets people is that "Pulp" is more open and subtly honest with these issues, and because the characters only seem cold and heartless. This is largely a falsity as you will observe. There is truth in the film but it is mostly an exaggeration, and shouldn't be taken seriously.

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson play the main characters, Vincent Vega and Jules, two black-suited hoods who work for the big, black, bald boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Vincent and Jules are on a mission to retrieve a mysterious stolen briefcase belonging to Marsellus. Some college roommates are in possession of the briefcase, and Jules torments and kills two of them with his gun, but not before ranting and raving a biblical quote from "Ezekiel 25:17."

Later, Vincent meets Marsellus's wife, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman). He is supposed to entertain her while the boss is away on business. They go to a 50's diner restaurant called "Jack Rabbit Slim's" where they do the Bat dance to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell." When they come back to her house, Mia has a heroin overdose where she is treated by an adrenaline needle to the heart administered by Vincent at a drug dealer's house. By the way, the grungy drug dealer is hilariously played by Eric Stoltz ("Killing Zoe").

Another story circulates around "The Gold Watch," and this concerns a hot-headed boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis). He is told to throw a fight by Marsellus (this subplot reaches as far back as "The Set-Up" and a hundred other noirish tales). Of course, Butch does not throw the fight and kills the opponent. He tries to flee with his French girlfriend (Mia De Medeiros) but he won't leave without his gold watch, which he left at his apartment. When he tries to retrieve it, he finds Vincent whom he kills without hesitation. Butch almost gets away scot-free until he confronts Marsellus on the street - they hit and shoot each other until they are caught and bound by S&M freaks in one of the most thrillingly gory moments in the history of cinema.

Then we return to the Jules and Vincent predicament involving the roommates and the mysterious suitcase - this episode is titled "The Bonnie Situation." Jules and Vincent kill all the roommates except for Marvin. They take Marvin along with them, and in the car, Jules feels that their survival from death was an act of God. Just then, Vincent accidentally blows off Marvin's head and, needless to say, it is a bloody mess. They arrive at Jimmy's house (Jimmy is played by Quentin Tarantino) where they store the bloody car in his garage until Winston the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) comes by to help the boys clean up the mess by telling how to do it. This whole sequence plays like an eerie extension of th trunk scene from "GoodFellas."

"Pulp Fiction" is great fun and a miraculous movie simply because it plays and twists with the conventions of at least three different genres - the lurid atmosphere of film noir, the standard action-oriented melodrama, and your basic gangster crime picture. The difference is that the characters end up in bizarre situations that aren't dictated by cliched plot points or mediocre chases. These characters live and die by doing stupid things! Butch's stupid deed is to get his precious gold watch back at this apartment where the killers are inevitably waiting for him. When he arrives, there seems to be no one around. Ah! But Vincent went to the bathroom and left his silencer on the kitchen counter thus making it easy for Butch to blow him away!

"Pulp Fiction" has one classic scene after another and my favorite is the extended sequence with Vincent and Mia on their date at the Jack Rabbit Slim's restaurant where a facsimile of Buddy Holly (Steve Buscemi) is their waiter. Their conversation consists of T.V. shows, Mia's supposed foot massage, five-dollar milk shakes, and "think of something to say"-type language, while they shoot frequent glances at each other. It is a delightful, entertaining and wonderful sequence to behold. The philosophical discussions between Vincent and Jules are also priceless, including the discussion on McDonald's hamburgers in America versus France, and let's not forget that Jules's favorite burger is the Big Kahuna burger.

"Pulp Fiction" has been severely criticized for containing foul language, gratuitous violence, and thoroughly repellent characters whom you couldn't care less about. Firstly, the violence is not gratuitous, it is explosive and brief (unlike some of "Reservoir Dogs" more profane passages). Secondly, these characters are not repellent (except for the nonsensical inclusion of the Gimp) because Tarantino shows that he cares about them by instilling them with humanistic touches. Marsellus seems to be a one-dimensional big gangster boss until you see the hate etched on his face when he is hideously raped by one of the hillbillys. In fact, Butch goes back to save Marsellus from these hillbilly freaks even though Marsellus initially wanted him killed. And look at the conclusion of the film (which is actually the beginning) where Jules decides to get out of the gangster business after having experienced a case of "divine intervention," and decides he'll "walk the earth like Caine in 'Kung Fu'." Finally, don't forget Vincent aiding Mia after a heroin overdose. The scene is both frightening and hilarious, like most of Tarantino's masterful epic.

Perhaps, this is Tarantino's finest hour, and he may never make another movie quite like "Pulp Fiction." Some critics have said that he may never make a real movie about real people in real situations dealing with real emotions. That may be true, but "Pulp Fiction" is as real a movie as we are likely to get for sometime. It is also one of the greatest entertainments of the 1990's.

Copyright 1994 Jerry Saravia

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