Yesterday, Tarantino-philes rejoiced as the long-awaited release of two of the Q-man's best, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are being released on Blu-ray. When Pulp Fiction hit the screen in 1994, critics hailed it as a masterpiece. The movie not only shot Tarantino to immediate fame, but also paved the way for a period of indie films to flourish in Hollywood. The noir genre had returned, thanks to Pulp Fiction, but took on new meaning within a postmodern structure. It was like watching James Cagney walk into a Starbucks and order a latte then shoot it - the past clashing with the present. And, of course, there was also John Travolta with his bad hair.
Three years later, Tarantino released Jackie Brown, a modern-day Blaxplotation film starring the 1970s superstar, Pam Grier. Again, Tarantino hit a high note, although some will argue not nearly as high, with his combination of "film nerd" knowledge and quick-witted, pop-laden repartee.
Tarantino has been known for reoccurring themes, reoccurring characters and reoccurring actors. He finds a performer he likes and sticks with 'em. Uma Thurman and Tim Roth can both thank Tarantino for their careers and many should thank him for the best roles of their lives. On the surface, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown may not seem to have all that much in common - one's about a triple-crossing flight attendant and one's about... everything but that. However, dig in and you'll find a multitude of similarities.
Career Resurrections Before Pulp Fiction, John Travolta was quickly sinking into D-list nothingness, spending the first half of the 90s making films you've never heard of, with movie posters like this one. When he showed up in Pulp Fiction as the allusively sexy Vincent Vega, returning to his home on the dance floor to twist it out with Uma Thurman, he was instantly back on top. Travolta received an Academy Award nomination for his role in Fiction and found himself with a host of good acting opportunities such as Get Shorty and Face/Off (this is so a good movie!). But like most actors navigating their way through Hollywood, he again lost his moral compass and has spent the past decade acting in movies like Swordfish and Wild Hogs.
While Pam Grier did not have the same cache as Travolta, she was a big name amongst certain circles. In the 1970s she starred as famed characters Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba Baby. Throughout the 90s, she appeared here and there, having small parts in embarrassing movies such as the Mario Van Peebles western, Posse. Thanks to Tarantino, with the release of Jackie Brown, Pam Grier became a household name. She too scored high on the critics' list, being nominated for several prestigious awards. However, just like Travolta, the aftermath of the Jackie Brown success led her straight to box office duds such as Snow Day and The Adventures of Pluto Nash. A Booty-Shakin' Soundtrack Tarantino loves him some good tunes and has been known to write scripts with specific songs in mind. There's nothing like watching Uma Thurman rock out to Urge Overkill's cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" before OD'ing on heroin! The movie's soundtrack was almost as huge a hit as the movie, reaching number 21 on the US charts. Jackie Brown also lacked a traditional film score making more room for the sensational soul/funk revival of the likes of the Brothers Johnson, Bill Whithers, the Delfonics and the killer ending sequence courtesy of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street." Some Odd Coupling You have to admit that you were hoping John Travolta and Uma Thurman would get together at some point during Pulp Fiction (after the OD it may have been weird). For whatever reason Hollywood has conditioned us to see these two characters as potentially hooking-up, despite one being a married woman. I think the real reason to root for adultery was that you can't understand why in the hell she is with Ving Rhames? The guy is bad, murder bad, and he probably never dances the twist with her or understands her rockabilly sense of style.
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In Jackie Brown, the bizarre relationship between Samuel L. Jackson's Ordell and Bridget Fonda's Melanie is never quite explained, but one can assume they are having "relations." Ordell calls Melanie his "little surfer girl," but she has no problem surfing with all the other boys, even in Ordell's own house. On the flip side, Ordell doesn't seem all that upset when his little surfer girl gets shot point blank, just for being annoying. Samuel L. Jackson When Pulp Fiction came out Samuel L. Jackson wasn't yet Samuel L. Jackson, he was an actor who played different characters, not all of them named Samuel L. Jackson. He was in some outstanding movies prior to portraying Fiction's Jules, the bible quoting, sassy as they come, bigger than life gangster. His previous characters stayed under the radar, such as Gator Purify in Jungle Fever and Trip in Juice (Netflix it, Tupac stars!). In Pulp Fiction, Jackson found his role, and, since if it ain't broke don't fix it, he kept it going right into Jackie Brown. While Jackie Brown's Ordell is not quite as righteous as Jules, Jackson has gone on to play versions of this character for the next ten... oh forever. The Rashomon Situation a.k.a Perspective Jumping Whose story are you following, and where will we go next? In Pulp Fiction perspective jumping was the driving force behind the film. At one moment we are following Vincent Vega driving around high in his car, jump cut to Bruce Willis' Butch the boxer story, jump to The Bonnie Situation, and so on. Tarantino may hold claims to popularizing this type of multi-perspective film-making in modern cinema, but the concept isn't his own. Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa brought this type of complex viewpoint to the screen with his classic film Roshomon, which Tarantino is admittedly a fan.
But, you can't blame Tarantino for knowing a good thing when he's stolen it. In Jackie Brown he took a similar approach, giving the audience three different perspectives on what actually happens to Ordell's money in the end. In Pulp Fiction, he uses the non-linear approach throughout the entire movie, with Jackie Brown the perspective swap feels forced.
If this were a Cinema Slap, we'd put our money on Pulp Fiction for the win, but since we're just excited about the two classic movies coming to Blu-ray, we'll hope for some bonus footage, extended scenes, Tarantino rambling about something, and maybe a real clue to what's in the suit case.
What's in the suitcase?