#235 & #236 Pulp Fiction & Kill Bill Vol. 1

(1994/2003, Quentin Tarantino)

“You and I have unfinished business”


So, back in the Reservoir Dogs review, I mentioned that I’m not a fan of Quentin Tarantino. I generally give Reservoir Dogs the benefit of the doubt, feeling that it’s a more complete movie than his other works, but I’m less inclined to do so with his other movies. And so, with that, it’s time to explain exactly why I feel that Tarantino is massively overrated with a double review of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Pulp Fiction’s plot has a lot going on. It centres around a crime syndicate led by a man named Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). In a series of interconnected stories, Wallace sends his men, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), to put out a hit on some guys who wronged him, Vega then looks after Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman), and a boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis) has to decide whether to win his latest fight or take Wallace’s offer to throw the fight for vast sums of cash.

Kill Bill’s story is much more clear-cut. In a two-part movie, a woman known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), promises revenge on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that she used to be a part of, after they killed her husband and unborn child and left her for dead. In Vol. 1, The Bride’s primary targets are Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and the leader of the Japanese underworld, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu).

So, here’s how to sum up Quentin Tarantino and his movies. Tarantino is a man who watches a lot of b-movies and shock cinema, and has developed an obsession with these movies over the course of his life. When given the opportunity to make movies himself, this obsession takes over, and he works incredibly hard to emulate the style of these movies.

And, as such, his movies have a tendency to be very stylish. The influences are clear and the sheer level of effort that goes into bringing these influences together into a single package is obvious. Tarantino does everything he possibly can to emulate the cinematography, editing, acting, pacing and general aesthetics of the films he loves.

The problem with this is that so much effort goes onto emulating his influences that Tarantino has developed a tendency to forget basically everything else that makes a movie interesting. He will sacrifice plot, interesting characterisation and even basic common sense in order to put together his elaborate clip show movies. And it’s for this reason I feel he is massively overrated.

Let’s start with Pulp Fiction. The problems with Pulp Fiction lie in the simple fact that there isn’t a real centre for the movie. It’s told in a non-linear manner, and features an ensemble cast. While every character seems to have a connection to Marcellus Wallace, we find out so little about him and his actual on-screen appearances are so minimal that it’s hard to anchor the movie on him. We don’t know what makes Wallace such a formidable man, to the point where the entire criminal underworld seems to fear him. It’s an important detail and it’s left out for the sake of being cool.

This results in a movie that opens with Jackson and Travolta threatening a bunch of guys in a room, some painfully awkward scenes where Travolta and Thurman try and out-cheese each other, an entirely separate story with Bruce Willis as a boxer before returning to Jackson and Travolta’s dealings with a man known only as “The Wolf” (Harvey Kietel). And then it just kind of ends in the middle of things.

This leaves everything feeling like it has little consequence or meaning. I’m not expecting a great thoughtful musing on the meaning of life here, I’m just expecting a movie that holds together and doesn’t ultimately leave me feeling kind of hollow when it ends. Sure, it had some cool set-pieces here and there, and both Jackson and Kietel were awesome to watch (and are the sole reason anyone should watch this movie), but overall it was just kind of…there.

The problems lie in the scenes with Travolta and Thurman, which were almost embarrassing to watch at times (and I actively cringed when Thurman calls Travolta a “square” by literally drawing a square on the screen with her fingers), and Tarantino once again inserting himself into the movie and attempting to deliver gangster dialogue despite being incredibly geeky and squinty. Protip, Tarantino: You are not Harvey Kietel. Stop trying to be.

Worse still is Kill Bill, which wears its influences so heavily that Tarantino even hands an entire section of the movie over to an anime director he loves. Whereas Pulp Fiction could at least pass for original in some circumstances, Kill Bill does no such thing. It’s a film that feels like Tarantino tying you to a chair and forcing you to watch a compilation of his favourite movie scenes hastily spliced together, while he nudges you in the ribs and says “isn’t this awesome?” over and over.

Again, it’s a movie with a great deal of style, and Tarantino did an excellent job of imitating his influences, including the samurai revenge movies that so heavily inspired much of Vol. 1’s running time. The problem is, there is literally no substance under all of this.

The plot is non-existent, and sometimes the hyper-violence gets a little old quite fast. I wasn’t offended by it, I merely felt bored after watching the 400th guy get his limbs removed. The Bride barely had much character, and sometimes I just felt like yelling at the screen, usually something like “yeah, I get it, you like Japan, Tarantino!” In fact, the only saving grace is that Tarantino never cast himself in a role this time.

Some modern directors do an excellent job of taking their myriad influences and piecing them together in a cohesive narrative, such as Robert Rodriguez or Edgar Wright, but Tarantino is nowhere near as good as them, yet seems to receive much more praise. In fact, I’m outright offended that four Tarantino movies are on the Movies You Must See list, but Wright gets nothing (despite being awesome).

So there you go. Tarantino is overrated, and I view neither Pulp Fiction nor Kill Bill as particularly great movies. This may be an unpopular view, but damn it, I’m sticking to it.

Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Kietel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken & Bruce Willis
Written by Roger Avary & Quentin Tarantino
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Cinematography by Andrzej Sekula
Edited by Sally Menke

Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu & Michael Parks
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Music by The RZA
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Edited by Sally Menke

Favourite Scene (Pulp Fiction): “And you will know my name is THE LORD” – Samuel L Jackson carries this scene entirely by himself.
Scene That Bugged Me (Pulp Fiction): Anytime John Travolta and Uma Thurman attempted to speak to each other.

Favourite Scene (Kill Bill): NOPE
Scene That Bugged Me (Kill Bill): I really can’t pick just one.

Watch it if: You’re fine with style over substance constantly
Avoid it if: You like movies to be more than just the director’s little clip show

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Posted on November 19, 2013, in 1990s, 2000s, Action, Crime and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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