“Pulp Fiction”: The Valley of Darkness

“Did you have a deprived childhood?”
“You NEED to see it!”

The above refrains should sound familiar to anyone who has ever had the audacity to tell someone that they haven’t seen what is apparently a jaw-dropping piece of cinematic greatness. I have a few problems with this practice. First, I don’t appreciate someone telling me what it takes to fulfill my life. I know what you’re going to say: “Ryan, they don’t actually think you’ve been deprived.” And I know that. But it still ticks me off. No matter how innocent, innocuous or in-jest it may be, telling someone that their life isn’t complete for not seeing a movie (or any reason for that matter) is just not cool. Also, if I decide that I actually want to see that movie, my expectations have been built up so much that the odds of me actually liking it decrease significantly.

Which segues us nicely into this week’s film, Pulp Fiction. I arrived on the Quentin Tarantino scene relatively late. I didn’t see my first Tarantino theatrical production until Inglorious Bastards and that was several years after it was released. I liked it, but didn’t love it. It was a fun movie but by the end of it, I’d seen enough blood for a good while. Then two years ago, Tarantino finally got me. And he got me good. With the help of Jamie Foxx, Christoph Walz, Leo DiCaprio and a disturbing yet wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, Tarantino grabbed me hook, line and sinker with Django Unchained. It was funny, thought provoking and, most importantly in my mind, original. When I would talk to people about Django, a lot of them would bring up Pulp Fiction and when I told them I hadn’t seen it, it was like I had kicked their dog. So this week, I blocked out two and a half hours and took the plunge. Check it out:

95. Pulp Fiction

Released: 1994
Big names: 
John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, Amanda Plummer, Steve Buscemi and Quentin Tarantino
One sentence summary: Still not really sure.
Scene that sticks out: John Travolta accidentally blowing a kid’s head off in Samuel L. Jackson’s car and acting like he had bumped into a guy in the supermarket. BONUS: All scenes with Jackson, specifically the ones where he quotes Isaiah.
Thoughts: I just didn’t get it. That’s really the long and short of my Pulp Fiction experience. Sure, there were some fun scenes. John Travolta getting his boogy on with Uma Thurman; John Travolta and his drug dealer trying to save an OD-ing Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis looking surprisingly attractive and just about every scene with Samuel L. Jackson. But that certainly didn’t fill two and a half hours. And the rest of the film didn’t feel like it was advancing any real plot line. You had Travolta and Jackson serving as muscle for the gangster Marcellus Wallace, Travolta entertaining Wallace’s wife Mia and Willis going on the run from Wallace after winning a boxing match he was supposed to lose. And yeah, they intertwined and connected eventually, but it all felt very…huh? After two and a half hours, I felt like I had spent a lot of time watching a lot of images and…I wasn’t really sure beyond that. My boyfriend explained to me that was the point, that it was supposed to be raw and unfinished. So maybe I’m just not a mature enough film consumer to appreciate it, but for me, it didn’t do the job.
Ranking (out of 10): 4-10 – Whether I fell prey to too-high expectations or I’m not a smart enough movie watcher, I was very underwhelmed.

What Actually Happened?

My biggest problem with this movie was that I felt that some things happened but I wasn’t really sure why or how or how it connected in a significant way. And that confusion persisted for two and a half hours. So I decided to go back and see what actually did happen (don’t worry, no spoilers). I’m not sure what this actually says or if it proves anything but you should still check it out. This was going to be a very sad attempt to recreate a much more impressive graphic from Fathom Information Design about the Rocky film series that is super cool and you should totally check out. But after 10 minutes, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. What’s below is what I came up with.

What Actually Happened-PS

NEXT WEEK: Grab some fava beans and a nice chianti because we’re watching The Silence of the Lambs.

Short, sweet and straight down the line

So I have an apology to make. I told you all that this week you would to get to find out what I thought about Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction. I was planning on watching it on Wednesday night but due to a conspiracy of the gods (AKA other work I had to do), it got pushed to Friday night. And then due to a continuation of that same conspiracy of the gods (AKA more work) my film watching experience was pushed to 11:00 PM on Friday night. So in this new time slot and with my proclivity for falling asleep as the night progresses, my critique of Tarantino’s 2.5 hour film would not have been up to the standards that I want to bring to you, my loyal readers.

So I started looking for a new film with a new criterium: short. After a bit of hunting, I found that The Maltese Falcon comes in at a cool 100 minutes. Unfortunately, Netflix does not stream The Maltese Falcon. But, fear not. To make up for its inability to provide me with TMF, it suggested that I might like either Double Indemnity or The African Queen. Well, it just so happens that both films are on our list and they run a crisp 107 and 105 minutes, respectively. After consulting my partner-in-crime and boyfriend, Fares Akremi, we selected Double Indemnity (which he then proceeded to sleep through in its entirety).

38. Double Indemnity

Released: 1944
Big names: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson
One sentence summary: An insurance salesman gets more than he bargained for when he falls in love with a woman and helps her kill her husband and collect on his insurance.
Scene that sticks out: Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson staring at me from behind the wheel of the car while MacMurray’s Walter Neff kills her husband. Ice cold.
Thoughts: Why does it seem to take older movies so long to get to the good stuff? The first half of this movie is meh at best. MacMurray’s Neff tells us (through an on-screen narration which I liked) from the start that he killed Mr. Dietrichson, but the movie still spends close to an hour showing us how he does it. And it’s not exciting. He meets Phyllis, falls in love right away (don’t get me started on the love story. Is this a pre-Frozen Disney movie?), and quickly agrees to covertly sell her husband accident insurance, kill him, collect the money and run away with her. That could’ve been 15 minutes. Instead it’s an agonizing hour of lead up until the deed is actually done. And then it gets good. Edward G. Robinson is phenomenal as a claims adjuster who sniffs out phony claims with the help of his “Little Man” inside (its his gut – get your mind out of the gutter). His fast-paced, quick witted dialogue is brilliant and he’s at his best when he tears apart his boss’ attempt to rule Mr. Dietrichson’s death a suicide. From that point on, the movie picks up and we learn things that we haven’t known since the opening scene. The twists are shocking (but not altogether unsurprising), and the last 40 minutes provide all the action and intrigue you were looking for out of the whole movie.

Ranking (out of 10): 6-10 – If I was watching this movie on my own, I wouldn’t have made it all the way though. But I’m quite glad I did.

It’s How You Use It

The time crunch I had backed myself into this week made me curious about how long each of the AFI 100 Years…100 Movies were. Turns out that brevity is not a sin when it comes to great motion pictures. In fact, 14 films on the list have running times of less than 100 minutes and two more, King Kong and the aforementioned The Maltese Falcon, are 100 minutes on the dot. Take a look.

Out of the 100 "best" films of all time, nearly 1/6 have run times of less than 100 minutes.

Out of the 100 “best” films of all time, nearly 1/6 have run times of less than 100 minutes.

NEXT WEEK: We give Pulp Fiction another try.