Film Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Also known as: Black Mask (working title)
Release Date: May 21st, 1994 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery
Music by: various
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Joseph Pilato, Steve Buscemi, Kathy Griffin, Alexis Arquette, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Lawrence Bender

Jersey Films, A Band Apart, Miramax, 154 Minutes, 178 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“What now? Let me tell you what now. I’ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ niggers, who’ll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy? I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.” – Marsellus

Where the success of Reservoir Dogs opened the doors of Hollywood to Quentin Tarantino, it was Pulp Fiction, only his second film, that took him mainstream and made him one of the hottest, young directors of the ’90s. With that, he was able to make movies the way that he wanted with minimal interference from the studio system and he’s still considered an absolute maestro today.

From 1994 till about ten or so years ago, this was a picture I watched at least once per year. Hell, in the ’90s, I probably watched this, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown almost monthly. I had them on VHS until the tapes either snapped or got warped to shit.

However, it’s now been several years since I’ve watched this. At least five, as that’s about how long it’s been since I first started Talking Pulp under its original name, Cinespiria. Seeing this again, though, was like coming home after a really, really long absence.

Everything about this film still feels right and man, it’s aged tremendously well and makes me yearn for a time where 99 percent of the films coming out weren’t dog shit.

Pulp Fiction is also a movie that birthed its own subgenre of of crime film. Many imitators emerged and dialogue in film changed around the mid-’90s due to this picture and Reservoir Dogs’ influence. For a film to really have that sort of impact on the entire American film industry is astounding but this did and dialogue is one of those things that really drives Tarantino’s work and many directors that followed and were inspired by it, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

The film is sort of an anthology but not fully. It has multiple stories going on but there is so much overlap with common characters that I can’t see it as a true anthology. It’s also told out of sequence, which isn’t a bad thing but I do remember the older generation being confused by the story when the movie came out. But ultimately, I like that there are these multiple plot threads, all of them very good, and none of them really being the main story.

Tarantino also pulled the very best performances out of his cast. This is incredibly well acted, so much so, that it revitalized John Travolta’s crumbling career and established Samuel Jackson as a long-term mainstay in Hollywood. Hell, that guy has been in so many damn pictures since Pulp Fiction, I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reviewing them all and I review movies, sometimes multiple, daily.

The real breakout star for me in this movie was Uma Thurman, as she was able to show how skilled of an actress she is and thus, cemented herself as one of the top leading ladies of the ’90s and beyond.

The film also did great things for Ving Rhames’ career. He had some notable roles before this but it really opened a lot of doors for him too. Had he not done this film, he might not have gotten to be a big part of the Mission: Impossible film franchise alongside Tom Cruise and later, Simon Pegg.

Pulp Fiction is just a great film and one of the best of the ’90s, hands down. For Tarantino’s work, this along with the Kill Bill films are my favorites. It’s hard to choose between them but then again, the man’s worst work is still lightyears ahead of most directors’ best. He doesn’t have a bad movie, even if some of them don’t resonate for me on the same level as Pulp Fiction.

Anyway, you’ve probably already seen this movie and love it, so I’m not stating much of what you don’t already know. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not sure what sort of rock you live under and if you have seen it and don’t love it, you need to see a veterinarian because you’re not human.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Quentin Tarantino’s other crime films.

Film Review: Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1987 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Stephen Hague, John Musser
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, Craig Sheffer, Lea Thompson, Elias Koteas, John Ashton, Candace Cameron, Maddie Corman

Hughes Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Keith… you’re losing it. And when it’s lost, all you are is a loser.” – Watts

About a week ago I reviewed Pretty In Pink, which was written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch. I commented on how Hughes didn’t like the ending and wanted to correct it, so he wrote this film, which was actually released just a year later.

While researching this, I discovered that Deutch wasn’t actually the first choice for director and that Hughes pulled him in after two other potential directors left the project.

That being said, knowing what’s behind the genesis of this film makes comparing it to Pretty In Pink kind of hard. However, they’re still very different, especially tonally, as this is more of a drama and doesn’t have the more lighthearted comedy side that Hughes’ other teen pictures do.

I think with the more serious tone, though, this film just loses some of the patented Hughes magic and comes across as a bit dry. This may be why it’s not as highly regarded as the other teen movies Hughes was creatively a part of in the ’80s.

If I’m being honest, I feel like Hughes may have been a bit out of steam by this point. At least in regards to these kind of flicks, as he would still create great cinematic magic with Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the first two Home Alone films.

This is okay but it’s hard to care about these characters as they seem to lack personality and depth. Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts is the most developed character of the bunch but you still never really come to understand her as deeply as you should and her pining starts to become annoying by the end of the film.

While this may have been the ending that Hughes wanted for Pretty In Pink, it’s just not as good of a film leading up to that big romantic climax.

I did really like Elias Koteas in this, though. I wish there was more of him, as he robbed every scene he was in and apparently, ad-libbed a lot of his lines.

Anyway, this is a fairly mundane teen drama. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and it doesn’t have much to really justify its own existence when compared to better, similar movies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Pretty In Pink and other John Hughes teen movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron, Lana Clarkson, James Russo, Pamela Springsteen

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.

Film Review: Singles (1992)

Release Date: September 18th, 1992
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Music by: Paul Westerberg
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelley, Jim True, Bill Pullman, Matt Dillon, Tom Skerritt, Jeremy Piven, Eric Stoltz, Tim Burton, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Peter Horton

Warner Bros., 99 Minutes

Review:

“Look, Debbie, I’m kind of having a bad sugar crash. Do you think you could just, you know, hold it down?” – Pam

Since I revisited Reality Bites a few weeks back, I figured that I would also look at the film it is most often compared to: Singles.

Reality Bites didn’t hold up well to the test of time but Singles does, as it works much better as a time capsule to a bygone era that features the Seattle grunge movement just before it became a huge thing that overtook American culture for a little while. Also, it just feels more authentic than Reality Bites and doesn’t rely too heavily on one-dimensional archetypes and Gen-Xers’ philosophical and hypocritical ramblings.

As a motion picture, this is a much better body of work than Reality Bites but it also features a veteran director in Cameron Crowe, where the other film was the directorial debut of a very young Ben Stiller off of the script of a teenage girl. Not to knock Reality Bites, but it does seem much more juvenile than Singles and is full of mostly unlikable characters. Singles, on the other hand, has mostly likable characters, even in the form of this film’s version of its rock star wannabe.

All that being said, I still think that Reality Bites has more value on repeated viewings. Yes, Singles is better but it is also a bit drab at times and even with a large ensemble of characters, the film plays things really safe and there isn’t enough tension to make you feel much of anything. You just see the characters as nice, mostly boring, young people confused about things like love and life because they still lack experience. With Reality Bites, even if the two main characters are selfish and pretty unlikable, there is enough tension and magnetism between them that you feel something.

Where Singles excels is in the fact that it is shot better, directed better and has actors that are able to feel like real, genuine characters. And this film just feels more mature, even if it is about young people finding their way into adulthood.

This also has a cool factor because of the real world legendary musicians who appear in this before they even reached greatness. You have Chris Cornell, Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder before his band was even called Pearl Jam. You also have an acting cameo from the it director of the time, Tim Burton.

I still liked Singles. It isn’t a film I will want to go back to anytime soon but everyone was good in it and it felt more like a social semidocumentary than an actual fictional film, which Crowe was probably going for and succeeded at achieving. This felt like one of those earlier seasons of MTV’s The Real World, before producers realized that manufacturing fights created big ratings. You know, back when The Real World actually seemed real.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Reality BitesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: ‘The Fly’ Remake Film Series (1986-1989)

This weekend I had some free time, I decided to spend it re-watching the ’80s remakes of The Fly film series. While I love the originals, the remakes are much darker, a lot less cheesy (well, mostly) and pretty terrifying. Let me get into each film on its own.

The Fly (1986):

Release Date: August 15th, 1986
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Brooksfilms, SLM Production Group, 20th Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, I build bodies. I take them apart, and put them back together again.” – Seth Brundle

Let me start by saying that 1986’s The Fly is my favorite Jeff Goldblum film after his small part in Life Aquatic.. and his big roles in the Jurassic Park and Independence Day films. It is also my second favorite film directed by David Cronenberg: Videodrome being the first.

The film succeeds in every way, in that it creates a sense of dread unlike almost anything else seen at the time, other than other Cronenberg films.

Cronenberg was the master of “body horror” – frightening films that toy with the viewers mind by showing disturbing and grotesque changes happening to the human body. He succeeded with this formula in Videodrome, Scanners and The Brood but this film really ups the ante and brings his series of bodily horror films full circle.

The special effects are amazing for being done on a pretty modest budget but then again, this was the magic of practical effects in the 1980s: before studios relied too heavily on CGI, regardless if its quality.

The acting is great and the dynamic between Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum transcends the screen, which may be due to the fact that they were on the verge of getting married in real life, which they did, after this film. It is this dynamic that really makes this film and Jeff Goldblum owns the role of tragic scientist Seth Brundle.

The story, the action and the whole visual feel of this film makes it nearly perfect. It is a real treat for a special effects junkie and is one of the greatest horror films of its era, if not all-time. There is little to nothing in the modern era’s horror genre that can come close to matching this film.

Rating: 9/10

The Fly II (1989):

Release Date: February 10th, 1989
Directed by: Chris Walas
Written by: Mick Garris, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, Frank Darabont
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Eric Stoltz, Daphne Zuniga, Lee Richardson, Harley Cross, John Getz

Brooksfilms, 20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You can finish your Father’s work. You’re just as brilliant as he was, perhaps even more so.” – Anton Bartok

This film gets a pretty bad rap.

No, it isn’t as good as the film it followed but for the time and as its own thing, it is still pretty good.

Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga might not have had the chemistry of Goldblum and Davis but they had a nice relationship that was believable and they were still characters you cared about it.

Additionally, this film wasn’t just a rehash of the original. There were some new interesting elements that made this stand on its own.

To start, Stoltz was the son of Brundle, who at five-years-old, had grown to the size of someone in their early twenties. He was infected with the fly DNA of his father and was thus, raised in seclusion by the evil corporation that funded his father’s projects in the first film.

One thing leads to another, Stoltz becomes the new fly creature and chaos ensues.

The Fly gets a lot more screen time in this film and the special effects are still pretty outstanding and practical. The scene of the security guard’s face melting off as he screams is still stellar by today’s standards. The creature effects are well done and the horrific look of the final monster in the film is still stomach-churning, 25-plus years later.

The Fly II is not the great film that The Fly is and it fails when compared to it. As its own film, it is still a mark above the standard horror fare of the day, despite the 4.9 on IMdB and the 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Rating: 6.25/10