Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty, Part One: ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. It’s been a few weeks since they last got together, but now they are back and ready to discuss, dispute, disagree, and disappoint each other.

Yasser’s choice this week is one of the most iconic film’s of the last 20 years. A brutally violent, yet humourous story of “criminals doing criminal shit” with a bit of dancing as well.

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
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Fred: It’s time for your number six – ‘Pulp Fiction

Yasser: I love this movie. Absolutely love it. I watched it and I was in my happy place

FS: I never want to go to your happy place! Why do you love it so much?

YA: A lot of people don’t like Quentin Tarantino and his movies, nor do they understand why he makes the movies he does or the way he makes them, but he’s got a very distinct style that I love. What I really love about ‘Pulp Fiction’ is the way the story is told, coupled with THE performance from Samuel L. Jackson and one of the best monologues I’ve ever seen, by Christopher Walken

FS: I have three questions already…

‘Pulp Fiction’
1994 – USA
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis

FS: We can get to the performances later. What I’m interested in first and foremost is Tarantino’s style. How would you describe it and what is it you like about it?

YA: It’s very retro. It has a ’70s feel to it with a modern twist

FS: Does that make him an original film-maker or a derivative one?

YA: I think all directors take their influences from others and the styles the like from the era of cinema they watch

FS: What I like about him is he obviously loves certain genres of cinema and most of the ones he likes were cheap exploitation pictures that were churned out with no regard for quality. What he shows is those same ideas, styles and themes can be done in a very high-quality way

YA: It isn’t the same as most of the movies on my list – glossy, high production Hollywood blockbusters with big budgets and big stars, but there are elements throughout the film that tap into certain themes that are in my list

FS: Violence for instance. That’s a big theme for you

YA: I suppose so, yes

FS: I mean I’m struggling to think of a film on your list, comedies aside, that doesn’t have a healthy dose of violence in it, though this is one of the more graphic ones

YA: I like swords, guns, fighting, fast vehicles and explosions (laughs)

YA: Tell me, Fred, what did you think of it?

FS: It’s good, isn’t it? I think it is very different from most of your list and, to be honest, that is a relief – not because your list is bad, but by your own admission you don’t rate comic movies as highly as serious ones. I’ve had 11 serious, earnest films in a row whereas ‘Pulp Fiction’ is light and funny despite its subject matter. It’s not heavy. It’s easy to watch

YA: Ah! Good! I was a bit worried you wouldn’t like it

FS: Like ‘Heat‘, it has grown on me over the years. I’ve also always been a bit of a sucker for portmanteau movies

YA: Let’s talk about that. It has a strange structure with a prologue, three acts and an epilogue. Unlike most films, it sections the acts for each scenario and the middle act happens after the final act in terms of the film’s timeline

FS: It’s a good way of shaping the film as the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I think if the storyline played linearly then the film wouldn’t be as highly regarded. One of Tarantino’s skills is there is no confusion

YA: I’m going to ask you now about what you didn’t like so we can get that out of the way

FS: I find the sheer volume of cultural references exhausting. It’s sometimes distracting as you are trying to remember who ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy‘ are or what movie poster is in the background. I’m not as big a fan of Jules (Jackson) as most people. I find the character overdone. The way he speaks to Brett and his chums is annoying. I appreciate he’s supposed to be putting it on but it irritates me

YA: That’s the best bit!

FS: Not for me. There are two other misses in my opinion, and you won’t be happy with one of them. The Christopher Walken scene is like something out of a Vince Vaughan comedy

YA: Walken is magic. His delivery, tone, pace… the way he talks is crazy beautiful

FS: I like him, but the words Tarantino puts in his mouth are like lowest common denominator comedy.

FS: The final bad thing is the incredibly irritating Amanda Plummer

YA: Yolanda (Plummer) (laughs). I don’t like her either

FS: She’s too much, but that’s it as far as bad things go

YA: Let’s take each act in turn. The prologue and epilogue introduce (and reintroduce) us to Jules and Vince (John Travolta). They’re probably the most iconic characters and seem to have a good relationship with one another and work well as a team. What did you think of them?

FS: One of the things that is going to crop up a lot in this is how Tarantino drags good performances from poor actors. Neither Jackson nor Travolta have ever pulled up any trees acting-wise in my opinion and I think both could claim their best roles were in ‘Pulp Fiction’.

YA: Okay

FS: Travolta starts as quite annoying. He’s playing the cool angle far too hard, but he settles down quickly and gives a good performance. As for Jackson, he’s very effective as a tough, sweary badass with a sense of humour. I think Travolta is better, mainly because Jackson has two big scenes, neither of which are half as clever or cool as Tarantino thought they were going to be

YA: Says you! (laughs)

FS: The final scene could have been lost and it wouldn’t have hurt the film. I like Tim Roth but it doesn’t really add anything. I like a more natural style

YA: I think when Jules talks to Ringo (Roth), he’s at his most natural

FS: He is, but he’s never as natural as the rest of the cast

YA: I think you probably liked the act with Travolta and Uma Thurman the best, not because of the dancing or the ’50s throwback cafe, but because of their verbal exchanges

FS: It’s not the best section, but it’s the part where the film really takes off. I like Uma Thurman. Again, she’s not a great actress but Tarantino pulls a good performance out of her. I do like the chemistry between her and Travolta

YA: I remember watching the famous ‘OD’ sequence for the first time when I was 13 and being all wide-eyed and scared, but liking it at the same time

FS: What do you think of Thurman?

YA: I don’t mind her. She’s normally mundane or irrelevant. She’s usually easy to ignore, but in ‘Pulp Fiction’ she’s compelling and enjoyable to watch

FS: She lacks star quality but in a film populated by ‘has-beens’ and ‘never-weres’ she is effective. She plays a bored woman and that comes across

FS: The next section is all about Marsellus (Ving Rhames) and Butch (Bruce Willis)

YA: See, what I like about this film is it’s just a bunch of criminals doing criminal shit

FS: (laughs) A fascinating insight into your mind, there

YA: Drugs, murder, hitmen, illegal gambling… I’m not so keen on the the male rape

FS: I wanted to ask you about that. Someone we both know told me she always skips or fast-forwards that bit

YA: I wouldn’t go that far. It’s certainly disturbing but I have a high threshold for things I can watch

FS: It doesn’t bother me too much. Part of the reason I struggle to connect with horror movies is I always think ‘it’s just a film‘. The same principal applies here

YA: I love Bruce Willis in this

FS: Sorry to labour a point but, again, someone I don’t rate who gives a great performance

YA: What is it you like?

FS: He’s just utterly believable. His temper tantrums, his jokes, his tender scenes. I didn’t know Willis had all this in him

YA: My favourite bit is the third act with Winston (Harvey Keitel)

FS: Agreed. Keitel is the best actor in the film and this is the best section

YA: He’s so charismatic and oozes charm, not something I’ve ever thought of him before

FS: He doesn’t normally play charmers, to be fair. That’s the beauty of it, though. He’s still threatening, but is all politeness and sheen

YA: Exactly

FS: He steals the film. My favourite part is when Travolta and Jackson are having to get washed and changed and Keitel is encouraging Tarantino’s character to take the piss out of them. Not even Quentin’s weak acting can diminish it

YA: Sometimes it is key for actors to be ‘meh’. If he’d have been better, it could have undermined Keitel

YA: Going back to Quentin Tarantino – I love this guy. He is a very clever writer

FS: It’s certainly punchy and his films never lack pace. He writes good, natural dialogue, but he sometimes tries a bit hard to be iconic. He’s an enthusiastic guy, so maybe that gets the better of him

YA: He’s also one of my favourite directors

FS: When I was 15, I didn’t really ‘get’ him.

YA: How do you mean?

FS: Firstly, a lot of the things he references are pretty obscure and they probably went over the head of my younger self. Secondly, he always seemed such a hyperactive dick fanboy that I found him a bit unbearable. However, as I’ve got older I have realised that they are two of the best things about him. The average schmo on the street isn’t going to know who Mamie van Doren or Jayne Mansfield are, so I applaud his lack of pandering to the audience. Also, he’s a film lover who got to make films, just like Spielberg or Scorsese. The difference is that the films he references aren’t to my taste

YA: No, I can see that from your list

FS: I have a go at him for the cultural references, but deep down I know that if I ever made a film I’d do exactly the same thing

YA: Can we omit that as a bad point then?

FS: No

YA: (laughs)

FS: It is a fault, just one I am aware I would be guilty of myself

FS: Like ‘Heat’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is a film I didn’t enjoy much when I first saw it. When i was younger I thought it was too long, too violent and, worst of all, too ‘cool’. Having revisited it, my opinion has changed and I think it’s a clever, funny, highly entertaining movie. The story isn’t really about anything, and it goes nowhere. It’s more a series of sketches that are loosely linked by the characters. The way the film is set out, however, means that hardly matters. Like the film, my opinion of Quentin Tarantino has improved in the last few years. Where I once saw an annoying, overrated idiot I now see an annoying, overrated movie buff who makes good films. His script is sharp, his direction is excellent and he drags career-best performances from at least four of his cast.

YA: What’s the score going to be?

FS: I was on the fence over the score, but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and give it the 9/10 it deserves for being so thoroughly enjoyable

YA: Whoa-ho-HO! Nine?

FS: Yep. I have no real faults to pick

YA: Happy, happy, happy days!

Coming next: Fred’s favourite courtroom drama ‘Anatomy of a Murder’

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One thought on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty, Part One: ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994)

    […] 6. Pulp Fiction (1994) […]

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