Monday, July 30, 2012

#444. Updates, Pulp Fiction, Other Movies

Some reminders about activities playing out around my blogs:

Epistles from the New Fade hit one hundred last week, and has thusly concluded, my fifth blogged poetry cycle...The "Star Trek '12" project over at Sigild V is likewise finished as of last Friday.  The whole point of that was to explore the Star Trek timeline via significant historic moments and characters, from the twelfth year of the centuries spanning 212 to 3112, which was a gimmick to catch this year, and also meant that I was cut off from visiting any of the TV shows or movies directly.  These were all short thought pieces, but together they combine for the essential Star Trek tapestry of hope for the future, even when things seem hopeless...At Fan Companion, I've started doing episode capsules again, in case anyone was wondering why there hadn't been activity there in weeks (I finally noticed a rash of comments sprinkled through these efforts, so I know there's been some interest).  It was mostly because I was focused on the above projects.  So now there'll be more work done here.  I'm still working on the first season of Deep Space Nine (the highlight from this recent batch is "The Nagus"), but my schedule will soon move along to the fourth and second seasons of Enterprise.  If there's a season of a series you specifically want looked at, sound off in the comments.

Anyway, now on to our regularly scheduled extracurricular activities here at Scouring Monk, meaning talk about movies!

The lead film was in the title of this post, Quentin Tarantino's best-loved effort, Pulp Fiction.  Released in 1994 and famously featuring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction rewrote all the rules, being loud and violent and completely remorseless, not to mention endlessly memorable.  Part of what helped it reach this status was its unorthodox to the series of vignettes that make up the overall experience.

Every vignette features Travolta in some fashion, and his appearances are the key to figuring out the twisty timeline.  While he and Jackson are the last characters we see, it's important to note that chronologically that would be impossible, because Bruce Willis guns him down somewhat unceremoniously somewhere in the middle.  While Travolts ties everything together emotionally, thematically that role belongs to the perennially underrated Ving Rhames, the only actor besides Tom Cruise to make an appearance in each of the Mission: Impossible flicks.  Rhames is the crime boss who sets everything in motion.  It's his briefcase that Travolta and Jackson retrieve at the start of their adventures, and his wife that Thurman portrays, and the guy who makes things ridiculously complicated for Willis.

I'll still bet almost no one associates Pulp Fiction with Ving Rhames.

Anyway, Jackson is the one who steals the show, even though he only appears in segments with Travolta (and one glimpse of Willis and yes, the great Harvey Keitel).  He's got the best role, and it's the sole and the whole meaning of the movie.  Willis actually plays Jackson's arc out for him, but still, that's why we end with Jackson and Travolta and not with Willis.

Jackson is a bad man trying to make good.  He's got the soul of a philosopher and the patience of a saint.  He also has a really good shot.  Slowly, he's realized that people are what he does best.  He's good at talking them down, even if for most of the time he's proceeded to shoot them dead.  He has recently realized that he does not want to be the punchline of Thurman's joke.

Travolta doesn't learn any of these things.  In fact, he falls all the way down the Jack Rabbit Slim's hole, thanks in large part to Thurman, who reminds him of all the things he likes about his job, even while Jackson has tried to talk him out of it.  It's said that everyone in this movie talks about everything except what matters.  They don't need to because they've been living it for so long, and it's left them grimy, like the watch that has seen the inside of too many butts.

It's not so much that these are bad people as that they've been prone to make a lot of bad mistakes.  Willis makes the best decision of the movie by choosing to save Rhames's life when he could just as easily walked away.  As thanks, all Rhames does is exile Willis.  That's the self-imposed fate Jackson elsewhere envisions for himself.

For all that, Pulp Fiction is a deeply conventional film that now looks like it was shot twenty years ago (which it was).  It's a classic 1970s dark-side-of-everything experience, a European art film, made notable by Tarantino's eccentric touch and some of the most memorable characters and scenes ever committed to film.  Put in their correct order, the vignettes end on a far less bombastic note, Willis and his girl squealing away on a chopper.  As awesome as Willis looks with a samurai sword, his whole episode is the least memorable element of the film.  No one talks about it except maybe for the gimp, an utterly throwaway visual quirk, another play at subversion for a story that concludes with the cheery thought that there's a happy ending out there and all you have to do is walk away to get it.  For a macho movie, that's the complete opposite of what you might have expected.

I've never quite gotten around to admiring Pulp Fiction in the same way some film fans do.  I will admit that it's infinitely memorable for any number of reasons, but it's the work of a director who's still trying to figure out his style, and everyone says it's his best movie.  He dances around his story rather than embraces it, as he does in Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, or Inglourious Basterds.  If you think of Tarantino as a hipster, it's because of Reservoir Dogs, because of Pulp Fiction, not because his every conversation is about his great love for pop culture.

I watched it last night along with Big Trouble, one of the great ensemble comedies of the past decade or so (based on a book by Dave Barry and starring all the coolest actors possible, including Tim Allen before he lost his mojo as a movie star, a very young Zooey Deschanel, and Dennis Farina, among many, many others), which is basically the Florida version of Pulp Fiction; and Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces, which throws a dozen psychopaths at the screen (including Chris Pine) and lets Ryan Reynolds try to make sense of it, basically The Godfather on steroids.  It was a good night of films.

Wild Wild West keeps playing on TV, giving me an endless number of opportunities to try and figure out why it was Will Smith's first real misfire.  I mean, I'd give up on it, too, if all I knew of it was that Kevin Kline is the immediate predecessor to Robert Downey, Jr.'s unfortunate drag show in the latest Sherlock Holmes.  I mean, yes, Wild Wild West throws Smith into yet another, well, wild scenario, but it's the first time he's the lead character, which I think was part of the problem, because the movie itself puts Kline on equal footing with Smith, but he's obviously second banana.  It was his last lead comedic role, and I have no doubt more than a few viewers were resentful for what it said about the state of his career.  Yet for all that, it's an entertaining movie, worth at least multiple looks on TV, if not a shot at outright redemption.  Smith eventually figured out that he could star in his own movies without having to pretend otherwise, and his career was better for it.  Also, Kenneth Branagh is a riot as Arliss Loveless.  I never saw the point of overlooking that.  He might have had a more interesting acting career if this role hadn't been lost.

6 comments:

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Pulp Fiction is soooo long though that it's hard for me to watch it all. Reservoir Dogs is OK, which is it for Tarantino for me. Just do not like his movies.

Big Trouble is OK but it's like a wanna-be Get Shorty, which along with Pulp Fiction was part of John Travolta's rise from the dead in the mid-90s. Big Trouble also I think had some problems because it was slated to be released around 9/11, after which terrorism wasn't really funny because that shit had got real.

I didn't like Wild Wild West for part of the same reason I didn't like Jonah Hex or the last Sherlock Holmes movie, all that steampunk stuff where they try to replicate modern technology. I mean the giant spider was just freaking ridiculous. But then really the whole plot was pretty ridiculous.

Kevin Kline always was an underrated actor though. "Dave" was hilarious albeit a bit corny. He had a good cameo in "Orange County" too.

Tony Laplume said...

If I needed one movie to sell Tarantino on you, it'd be Jackie Brown.

Big Trouble was, indeed, immediately buried and forgotten, which I think future audiences will find more and more perplexing. It's all about an ensemble, which as I said is absolutely incredible. The movie may seem like wannabe something, but it's pure Dave Barry. I am starting to think that not everyone unabashedly adores Dave Barry the way I do...

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Isn't Jackie Brown a 3-hour movie adaptation of a book that was less than 200 pages?

Tony Laplume said...

Yes, but Robert Forster is awesome. And it's still your only chance to see Chris Tucker in a Quentin Tarantino film. This is odd, because Quentin Tarantino is the white Chris Tucker. Also, has anyone ever seen them in the same room?

Spacerguy said...

You have to admit Marvin gets a really rough deal when the gun accidently goes off in the car.

Tony Laplume said...

No doubt. And Jules somehow ends up on brains duty?

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