Pulp Fiction (1994) — Quotable, watchable, enviable

“Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”

Justin’s rating: But will I be a man soon?

Justin’s review: Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus, used to bug the jeebers out of me. It annoyed me to a degree that I’ve only felt elsewhere when I had to babysit shrieking mouths attached to hyperactive toddlers. What made it worse was that the whole world seemed to adore this film, and you know there’s nothing more infuriating than hating something that everyone else just loves to death. After a while, you become convinced you’re the only sane person left, and you might as well trigger the apocalypse to get it over with.

But now, it’s okay. I was worried at the time that Q.T. was initiating a massive brainwashing campaign and was going to roll out irritating movie after irritating movie following this, nonstop. But since the guy is so anal and picky as to what self-indulgent projects he will work on, we’re blessed with a reprieve of about twelve years between each of his flicks. I can handle that. And I can handle Pulp Fiction, which is easily the highlight of his library.

Not to say that it doesn’t still bother me in some ways. I don’t know what film school he went to, but Q.T. has absolutely no concept of pacing and plot. He’s ever-so-much more concerned with style and mood and happily spanking himself over a cleverly placed camera angle that it becomes impossible to have any semblance to a normal movie.

Here’s a quick break-down of Pulp Fiction: 50% meaningless dialogue that does not serve to advance the plot, but gives Q.T. a venue to rant about various pop culture topics; 45% pauses where nothing happens but the camera just keeps on filming, possibly because the crew fell asleep; and 5% actual story, action and plot. It tests the patience, and delivers just enough to keep you from drop-kicking this film into a neighbor’s window.

Pulp Fiction is a chronologically fractured narrative that goes back and forth between stories. I particularly enjoyed this non-traditional approach to watching a story, and when the storylines intersect, it’s a bit of a rush. We have a pair of hit men having a bad day, a crime boss who’s having an even worse one, a boxer on the run for his life, a girl on the verge of dying from an overdose, a man who specializes in cleaning up gruesome messes, two restaurant robbers, and Zed. The movie bounces back and forth between them, not pushing any one storyline as the alpha male, but just letting us tag along for the ride.

While Pulp Fiction was responsible for the unfortunate resurgence of John Travolta’s career (and thus allowed the travesty known as Battlefield Earth to take place), I don’t really care for him here. He’s got the smirking thing down, but what else? Greasy hair? No, I’d rather sit at the feet of Samuel L. Jackson instead, batting my eyes and fawning over his infectious wit. Jackson, who is as intense in his faux-Biblical quoting as he is sarcastic in his comebacks, makes my day here. He’s a hit man with a heart of heart tissue, and the man knows how to carry his bad self.

If it weren’t for the combined threat of both Travolta and Jackson as the hit men, I just know that everyone would remember Pulp Fiction for Bruce Willis instead. He’s that close from carrying the film away from all others. As Butch, a boxer who has a wristwatch which is intimately connected to Christopher Walken, Willis is the most likable presence here. For one thing, he shuts up on occasion, which is rare in a Q.T. flick. Plus, he gets to wield a samurai sword, and you can’t not be cool doing that in a film.

Pulp Fiction is a good movie, definitely odd and definitely unique in flavor. But if Q.T. wasn’t so pretentious and fascinated with how incredibly awesome he thinks he is, then he might have learned how to properly wield an editing machine. You know what an editing machine is, Quentin? It’s this device that would take a long, long movie that doesn’t have enough justifiable material to honestly be this long, and cut it down to something more manageable. Pulp Fiction clocks in at two hours and forty-five minutes. Two hours and 45 minutes! What the heck? Okay, that’s fine for an epic war film like Braveheart, but not for a talky crime drama.

At the beginning of this film — as one example — the hit men go to an apartment to talk to some guys. It takes them, seriously, around twenty minutes just to get to the point where they enter the apartment. Was this twenty minutes filled with plot or action or anything important? No, it was talk, and pause, and talk, and pause. ARGH!

One of the most important lessons for any author or filmmaker to learn — early on — is that you must make painful cuts to your source material in order to make it tight and polished. Another thing everyone learns is that every. single. thing. you write and do absolutely must further the story in some way. If you don’t, you might well have a work of genius on your hands, but it just won’t be as good as it can be. It’ll be diluted with your own unrestrained ego.

I won’t even go into how lame it is that Q.T. casts himself in his movies, seeing as how his main acting skill is “Smug Overkill.” Let’s just let the past be the past, and say that even for a movie with flaws that still irritate me like a flea infestation to this day, I can like Pulp Fiction in spite of all that. Check, please!

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