Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How Time Flies: 20 Years of Pulp Fiction

I was 8 years old in 1994, when Pulp Fiction was released. Understandably, my mother did not rush me to the theater to see it. But the Tarantino effect was inescapable. I remember Pulp Fiction being referenced everywhere from that point on. Undoubtedly, Tarantino's sophomore feature continues to inspire film just as much as it was inspired by many films before it.

My VHS copy. Check out the price.
Today marks 20 years since the film was released in theaters. At this point, the movie was already a big deal, having stunned the festival circuit by winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Since we are celebrating Pulp's longevity and the years since its release, what better aspect of the movie to discuss than time? (Note: This is NOT spoiler-free. I shouldn't even have to say that, but I like to be considerate just in case someone from another planet happened to be reading this.)

Time is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting discussions within the world of Pulp Fiction. There are many aspects about time that are worth noting. First of all, with a running time of 164 minutes, Pulp Fiction takes up quite a bit of time to watch - just 16 minutes short of 3 hours, to be exact. This is where I must pay respect to the late Sally Menke who edited all of Tarantino's films except Django Unchained. I have seen this movie countless times, but I never feel like it drags. Between Tarantino's signature dialogue and Menke's brilliant cuts, Pulp Fiction stands the test of time.

The next aspect of time to discuss is one of the most influential things about Pulp, which also heavily involves Menke; the non-linear storytelling. The films opens with Ringo and Honey Bunny in the diner contemplating robbery. After the opening title sequence, Vincent and Jules are in a car discussing fast food in Europe. This is followed by Marsellus Wallace's instructions to Butch on "losing" a fixed boxing match. By the time we get to Vincent accidentally shooting Marvin in the face, we know Vincent has already been killed, and we realize that the film's beginning is actually the middle of the story, which is matched by the film's ending. It's not like Pulp was the first film to ever play with chronological order of events; this has been done in Citizen Kane, Rashomon, 8 1/2, and quite a few other groundbreaking films. It hasn't stopped happening either; since Pulp, we've seen nontraditional storytelling in Run Lola Run, Memento, Mulholland Drive, and even 500 Days of Summer. But there's something about the way it's done in Pulp Fiction that still makes it powerful today.

There are also several references to time throughout the movie. Vincent and Jules have to leave Jimmie's house before his wife Bonnie comes home since...well...she wouldn't appreciate coming home to see the corpse of a man whose head was blown off in her driveway. Harvey Keitel saves the day as Winston Wolf, who was 30 minutes away, says he'd be there in 10, but actually arrives in 9 minutes and 37 seconds. There is specificity in the mention of time. Christopher Walken as Captain Koons explains to a young Butch how important his birthright is. He details Butch's lineage and the amount of time/history his birthright entails. This obviously includes hiding his birthright up his rectum for years. What is the birthright? A watch, of course.

If you aren't sick of me talking about time in Pulp Fiction yet, hang on for one last point. We see Jules use a cell phone, and Butch's clothing is fairly modern, but much of Pulp is lost in time as far as setting goes. Just like all decades of film that influenced Tarantino, all of those decades are reflected on screen, essentially leaving it "era-less," which may add to its timelessness. Drug dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) watches The Three Stooges while eating Fruit Brute, a cereal that has been discontinued since 1983. Esmeralda Villalobos drives a cab from the 1940s-50s, which adds to the noir of the scene as she drives Butch home. Restaurant Jack Rabbit Slim's is like a time capsule in itself; a collection of vintage pop culture where the dance of choice is The Twist. Characters use terms like "daddy-o," refer to shows like Happy Days and Kung Fu movies from the 1970s.

Pulp Fiction was born in the mind of a complete fanboy, so it should be no surprise that the ultimate hodgepodge of time, genre, and culture are created within this world. It is the love child of Film Noir, classic movies, screwball comedy, Kung Fu, Blaxploitation, grindhouse, Horror, Gangster, and French New Wave. It is a little bit of every decade of film since its inception. It is time in terms of culture, chopped and screwed.

...'Til next time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

New York Film Festival 2014

Now in its 52nd year, the New York Film Festival has become the premier event for cinephiles in New York City.  The programming in this non-competitive film festival ranges from documentaries to retrospectives, convergence screenings, various talks and special events, and of course, the main slate.  In recent years, the NYFF main slate has been a useful device to foreshadow awards season nominees. The U.S. premiere of 12 YEARS A SLAVE was held during last year's fest, as well as high-profile screenings of other eventual Oscar nominees.

But enough about prior years. While I was only able to attend six screenings this year, they included some of the most anticipated films of 2014-15, and I am still trying to process some of them. Here they are:

David Fincher and the cast of Gone Girl
1. GONE GIRL (David Fincher, 2014)
I think the last thing you need to read is another opinion of Gone Girl, so I will keep it short. As soon as this film was over, I knew it would be a crowd pleaser. The film smartly brings the audience (particularly those who have not read the book) deeper and deeper into the story of Nick and Amy Dunne's marriage, only to betray trust by revealing a major plot twist. I particularly loved Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne) and Carrie Coon (Margo Dunne) in this movie. I thought some scenes were beautifully executed, but I felt major moments that could have drawn empathy were lacking, which in turn made me emotionally detach myself during the second half.

2. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2014)
This follow-up to THE ACT OF KILLING (which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary last year) is just as profound. Oppenheimer continues his exposé of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, where an estimated 500,000 people were accused of participating in the Communist party, and consequently, slaughtered.  The best way to describe the current situation in Indonesia is used in the film: imagine (as terrible as it may be) that WWII had ended differently, and Nazis were still in power in Germany. Families of those murdered in concentration camps are not only living side by side with Nazi officials; they must take orders from them. That's what life is like for many people in Indonesia. If you see nothing else this year, I urge you to see this film.

3. INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
I was beyond excited to see one of the most anticipated films of this year by one of the most respected American filmmakers in cinema today.  Now that I've seen it, I'm 100% certain that I need to see it again. There are a few things I can say for sure: Inherent Vice has a stellar soundtrack, I laughed audibly many times, and the cast is as fantastic as we all imagined they would be. This is PTA's THE BIG LEBOWSKI; a missing person case being solved by a stoner who comes across ridiculous characters along the way. What I can't make sense of is the plot, but after a while, I stopped trying to and just enjoyed the ride.

4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Rob Reiner, 1984)
I attended the 30th anniversary screening of This is Spinal Tap for two major reasons: I never saw it on the big screen, and it is in my favorite film historian's (TCM host Robert Osborne) top 5 list, so I love to revisit it whenever I get a chance. Like with any cult classic, watching it in a theater with other fans is one of the most enjoyable things you can do. Everyone anticipates certain scenes and/or lines. Also, Christopher Guest was there for a Q&A and he was incredibly hilarious.

Olivier Assayas, Juliette Binoche, and NYFF Director Kent Jones
5. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
This is a beautiful exploration of age and time, particularly through the eyes of an actress, which is compelling since we all know the film industry notoriously mistreats (read: discards) older women. The stage is a bit more forgiving, which is what Juliette Binoche's character deals with in this movie. Binoche is as fantastic as she has ever been, and the backdrop of Sils Maria, Switzerland is stunning. While Maria enders (Binoche) struggles with a new role she takes on, there are also underlying tensions with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), many of which seem to be commenting on real-life situations surrounding the actors themselves.

Foxcatcher's Bennett Miller, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, and producer Jon Kilik
6. FOXCATCHER (Bennett Miller, 2014)
This will very likely lead to an Academy Award for Steve Carrell. Based on the true story of Olympic wrestlers Dave Shultz (played by Mark Ruffalo) and his brother Mark (Channing Tatum), Carrell plays John du Pont, the infamous multi-millionaire who sponsors the Shultzes in hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal. It has all the awards season turn-ons: comedic actor in a dramatic role, physical transformation of said actor, chilling story that is based on actual events, and casting of a veteran/legend (in this case, Vanessa Redgrave). I did not love the score, but the film is well performed. Be warned: you will be depressed after watching this.

Overall, there wasn't one film I disliked, and the great people at The Film Society of Lincoln Center always do a fantastic job putting everything together. A major regret was not being able to go to BIRDMAN or any of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz retrospective screenings due to schedule conflicts. I would have loved to see ALL ABOUT EVE on the big screen, but I'd say I still had a sweet time at this year's NYFF.