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Pulp Fiction

There are a few ways that men prove they are men. We light fires. We memorize sports statistics. And we quote Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino is movie nerd and you can tell that he knows how to make a great film. He might lift things from obscure movies, but he has his own style and voice and he makes movies that you can watch over and over again.

The movie is non linear. There are three main stories that are somewhat self-contained, but certain events and characters are common in all the segments. The film starts with Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) staging a robbery in a restaurant, before it jumps into the first story about Vincent Vega (John Travolta). Vincent and his partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are two hit men working for Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Vincent and Jules make casual conversation before they kill off Brett, some fool who owes Marcellus Wallace money. Later Vincent has to take Marcellus Wallace’s wife out to dinner and keep her company. Vincent and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) go to Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a ‘50s style diner and enter a dance contest and they win. They have chemistry, but there’s no way that Vincent can act on it. While Vincent is talking to himself in the bathroom, Mia finds his heroin, assumes that it’s coke, and overdoses. Vincent manages to save her life and his own in the process.

The next segment is about Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), an aging boxer who agrees to throw a fight for Marcellus Wallace. He then bets on himself to win and beats the other boxer to death. Now he’s a rich man but has to get out of town before Marcellus Wallace finds him. His girlfriend forgets to pack his gold watch, and the sentimental value is through the roof, so he has to go back to get it. He gets his watch and nearly gets away, but he runs into Marcellus Wallace and they have one of those savage street fights where you end up trapped in a pawnshop by two sadistic rapists and their pet gimp. While Marcellus is getting some unwanted attention, Butch manages to escape, but comes back to save Marcellus from getting more raped.

The last part is about Jules, and the film jumps back to Vincent and Jules shooting Brett. After the kill him, a guy that was hidden in the bathroom jumps out and unloads his gun at Vincent and Jules but doesn’t hit anything. Random fact of the day: the guy that was hiding in the bathroom is Alexis Arquette, better known as the tranny Arquette. Jules is convinced that it was a miracle he didn’t get shot. And then Vincent shoots Marvin in the face and they have do deal with that. They have to get off the road and get cleaned up. And then they get breakfast.

They get breakfast at the same restaurant that you see in the beginning, and sure enough Honey Bunny and Pumpkin are robbing the place and the movie comes full circle.

This movie requires repeated viewings. It is just so dense, and the stories are so interwoven and integrated that you will always note something new. Not only will you notice previously neglected details, but also you will be able to absorb the dialog. The dialog flows like poetry. Christopher Walken’s cameo is his best monolog on film. Harvey Keitel stands out as the Wolf and has some great lines.

The soundtrack is amazing. Tarantino has a gift for choosing the perfect song to suit the scene. He doesn’t resort to using cheesy pop hits by popular artists, and that’s why the soundtrack still holds up today.

This is a great movie. It’s a cult classic and it inspired a bunch of copycat movies. Tarantino makes movies for movie nerds. He steals stuff from other movies and doesn’t hide it or deny it. And even though he takes stuff, he still personalizes it and makes it his own. He has his own style from copying from multiple genres and it works. He makes great movies, and if Pulp Fiction is a respectable favorite movie to have.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Gattaca

Andrew Niccol (the Truman Show) directs this picture about a future where science has progressed to the point when you can choose the best of your genetic material to make a genetically enhanced child. If you are genetically modified you are a “valid” and life is good. If you are conceived the old-fashioned way (i.e. drunken humping), you are an “in-valid”. With me so far?

Ethan Hawke plays Vincent Freeman, an in-valid who not only has to deal with an unfair lot in life, but has a lifelong sibling rivalry with his superior valid brother, Anton. Vincent dreams of being an astronaut, but he has a bad heart. Frequent genetic testing means that he can never be chosen to go to the stars. The only way to accomplish his dream is to borrow someone’s valid DNA.

Vincent finds a valid named Jerome Morrow who looks just like Jude Law and is willing to share his amazing DNA. Jerome was a kickass athlete who was supposed to be the best, but he was only second best, so he gave up on life and stepped in front of a car. Instead of dying he ended up in a wheelchair. Vincent uses Jerome’s hair, blood, urine, even his skin cells to get a job at Gattaca, a space agency with an upcoming mission to Saturn’s moon Titan.

It would be interesting enough to have the whole moviebe about an in-valid trying to sneak into a good life that he’s never supposed to experience, but Hollywood demands bloodshed, so of course there is a murder at Gattaca. Detectives find Vincent’s eyelash, and he becomes a prime suspect. He must keep pretending to Jerome, but the increasing police presence is putting a strain on his chances of going to space. Another thing that Hollywood demands is an unnecessary love story. Uma Thurman shows up to play the love interest Irene. She thinks that he is a perfect specimen, they get close, she finds out the truth about his lame DNA and gets mad, then they make up, yada yada yada, you’ve seen it three hundred and seventy-six times.

So how does Hollywood choose to end a science fiction movie about genetically modifying humans, space travel, murder, romance and paralyzed Jude Law? With a swim race of course. Fucking Hollywood.

It’s a pretty decent movie overall. There’s an interesting premise that is hidden under all the extra bullshit. It came out in 1997, but the treatment of in-valids by the valids is pretty relevant in this post 9/11 world. There are lots of cool ideas, and this movie will make you think about those cool ideas.

Critically Rated at 12/17

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Kill Bill Volume 2

The Bride is back and she only has three more names on her list. We finally get to meet Bill and see his face for the first time. And not to spoil anything, but she kills Bill. Volume 1 was all action, but now we get to the story. We learn more about the Bride and we get more back-story and character development.  We finally find out the Bride’s real name and suddenly all those cryptic references to Trix and being affectionately called Kiddo makes sense.

The first Kill Bill was an action flick. Volume 2 is mostly exposition and story. There is a very savage fight between the Bride and Elle Driver, they beat the crap out of each other and destroy Budd’s trailer in the process. Daryl Hannah’s reaction to losing her eye is classic. She freaks out, loses all control, and starts flailing and trashing about. It is very realistic and very unsettling.

The most memorable and disturbing scene is when the Bride is caught by Budd and buried alive. If you watch the widescreen version, prior to being nailed into the coffin, the screen is cropped and full frame. Not only does it foreshadow what is to come, but it makes you feel trapped and claustrophobic. When the Bride is put in the coffin, the screen goes dark and the sounds get heightened. You hear each nail being pounded into place, you hear the coffin dragging along the ground and being tossed into the shallow grave, and as the shovelfuls of dirt fall on top of the casket and the Bride’s breathing becomes shallower and quicker, you feel like you are right there with her, being buried alive. It was a relief when she delves into her flashback and you can escape the confines of the pine box.

Her flashback to training with Pai Mei is a fun sequence. It is a good training montage. It provides a little humor and action with learning more about where the Bride is coming from. There is a lot more Tarantino dialog in this movie compared to the previous installment. The Bride has a great conversation with one of Bill’s father figures, Esteban, in Mexico. Budd has a nice moment with his brother. Everything Bill says is important and awesome and terrifying. His first conversation with the Bride right before the wedding massacre shows how loving and dangerous he is. His final great monolog is about Superman and Clark Kent, and even though it is brief, it sums up the themes of the Kill Bill saga.

In the first volume, the Bride kills dozens and dozens of people. She does it skillfully and violently, and with a lot of style. In this volume, she only kills Bill, and she does it quickly and simply, without any real fanfare or build up. Budd almost killed her, but failed. Elle Driver kills Budd with a black mamba. The Bride gets the better of Elle, and leaves her blinded and trapped with the black mamba, but she doesn’t kill her. It is almost the exact opposite of the first movie, but they fit together, they are both sides of the same coin. Volume 1 was a great action movie, but Volume 2 is a complete film and makes the first one even better.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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Kill Bill Volume 1

Quentin Tarantino’s 4th film is his first action film, and it is pure exhilaration from beginning to end. Most two-part movies are all story in the first half, and all action in the second half. Kill Bill is the opposite, the second part has all the story and exposition, and the first volume is non-stop action.

Uma Thurman is a viable action star. She is unconventional but tough. She fights ruthlessly, but also with honor. All we know is that she lost her baby and is on a quest for revenge. We don’t even know her character’s name. In this volume, the character that has the most back-story is Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii. One of the best and most surprising parts of the movie was her japanimated backstory.

Volume 1 has an amazing soundtrack. RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan produces, and both him and Tarantino have a great appreciation for Kung Fu movies, and so their soundtrack works well with the movie. Tarantino has a great ear for music, and it often seems as if the scenes are tailored to fit the soundtrack.

There are some great scenes in this flick, even though it is a bit lighter on the dialog that Tarantino is known for. The Bride vs. the Crazy 88 is one of the best fight sequences in all cinema.  It is a truly epic fight, as she faces off against dozens of ruthless Yakuza, slaughtering all who oppose her.

This was Tarantino’s first movie since Jackie Brown, and his passion for Kung Fu movies is apparent. He is a great director, he absorbs things and recreates them as his own. He combines and warps different genres together to complete one cohesive film. This is a great movie, but only half of the Kill Bill experience. You haven’t even met Bill at this point.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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