Remote Access

with George

Category: 1990s

Pulp Fiction (1994)

****

What? Two and a half hours just went by? No way.

Pulp Fiction is about a group of people who engage in illegal activities. You have Vincent, the drug-addicted hitman (John Travolta). His partner is Jules, an assassin who quotes the Bible (Samuel L. Jackson). Their boss is Marsellus Wallace, and he does not look like a bitch (Ving Rhames). Wallace hired a boxer to throw a match, but instead of losing, that guy kills his opponent (Bruce Willis).

These are good people. They have consciences. They’re trying to do what they believe the right thing is. When the right thing changes because the character has been enlightened, they do whatever the new right thing is. They live by a strict moral code. Are there bad guys in this movie?

When Wallace’s wife (Uma Thurman) overdoses, Vincent drives her to his dealer’s house, parks on his lawn, and stabs her in the heart with adrenalin. Jules thinks the people he kills deserve it, but when Vincent accidentally shoots their assistant in the head, he begins to rethink things. (This of course, leads to the greatest final half-hour of a film I may have ever seen.) Marsellus and the boxer put aside their bloody feud to mutilate some hypocritical racist rapists. These characters manage to be very likable. And their interactions feel very real.

Even though the film is told in episodes, it flows, thanks to a nonlinear narrative. The death of one of the characters not only puts a time on everything, but also shows us the consequences of the games these people play. I’m being vague so as not to give away any secrets, but… the reason only one character dies at that point is because another character had his reversal. And the shifting timeline helps keep that at the end. It’s genius.

This movie was crazy. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

Notes:

  • “What’s a ***** gonna do? He’s Samoan.”
  • “He gave her a foot massage.”
  • “Nobody kills anybody at my place of business except me or Zed.”
  • “What now? Lemme tell you what now.”
  • “Zed’s dead, baby.”
  • “Aww man, I shot Marvin in the face!”
  • “I’m the one that buys it. I know how good it is!”
  • “Lotsa cream, lotsa sugar.”
  • “Clean up all those pieces of skull.”
  • “A please would be nice.”
  • “So you decided to be a bum?”
  • “I didn’t hear you?” “Yeah you did.”
  • “What’s Fonzie like?”
  • “Yolanda! Point the gun at me!”
  • If you see and enjoy Pulp Fiction, you should also check out Double Indemnity and Gaslight.
  • Next time: my combined review of Win Win and The Fighter.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

***½

The Silence of the Lambs does so many things, and it does all of them well. It is an acute character study, and is full of fine performances (including one of the best all-time). It is effective as a murder mystery, with Jodie Foster pasting together each piece of the puzzle. And last, and in all honesty least, it is disgusting.

Foster plays Clarice Starling, a student who strives to be an FBI agent. She clearly has a bright future, and when Agent Crawford (Scott Glenn) asks her to go see a cannibal named Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins), she is ready. Or so she thinks. What happens next will change their lives, and perhaps give you nightmares.

At points, this film is brilliant. Hannibal is a one-of-a-kind character, and is almost perfect (is it wrong that I loved him?). He knows exactly what he wants, and he does things only in order to get what he wants. The sexism within law enforcement is handled subtly enough, something that reminded me of The Thin Blue Line, a work of fact as opposed to fiction. The Clarice character has a problem, though, and it’s due to under-writing and under-acting. She’s supposed to be in much more pain than she is. Her father died and she saw lambs being slaughtered. The movie makes sure, throughout, that you remember those facts, but only by having Hannibal tell you them.

The movie was exciting, though, and that makes up for most of its flaws. Except for part of one scene near the end (when Clarice keeps turning corners, afraid of what is around them), I never tired of it, despite a pace that isn’t all-action. But the one flaw that it can’t overcome is how nasty it is. I have never felt like throwing up during a movie… until now. I’m not exactly a germaphobe or a hemophobe, but the extended shots of a bath of a body in a pool of crusty… um… stuff… isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Also, the flesh suit grossed me out.

Note: Jim O’Heir from Parks and Rec may or may not be in the 11th minute. The voice of Betty White seems to be in the 111th minute.

Being John Malkovich (1999)

**

During certain scenes of Being John Malkovich, I didn’t know whether it was trying to be dramatic or comedic. But it doesn’t matter, since, after the first half-hour, the movie isn’t good at being either one. This mess of a movie begins with humor. To me, when a movie about a portal into John Malkovich’s mind starts of with humor, I don’t expect it to swerve onto the road of pain, sadness, and nonsense. Not only were the characters enduring the pain and sadness, but so was I.

The story follows a mopey puppeteer, Craig (John Cusack), who takes a job at a “filing company.” (One of the few genuinely funny scenes is the bit with the secretary.) There, he finds a very small door which happens to be a portal into John Malkovich’s life. Maxine (Catherine Keener), a sexy woman he works with, takes advantage of him in order to gain money from selling 15 minutes inside John Malkovich. Craig falls in love with Maxine, but (whoops!) so does his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz). She impulsively demands to have a sex change. I can’t decide which character is flimsier, Maxine or Lotte. Or maybe it’s the dark horse, Dr. Lester (Orson Bean), an old pervert who has a trick up his sleeve.

This movie is neither funny nor believable. Especially when Craig slams his wife on the ground, forces her to call Maxine so Craig can go jump into John Malkovich’s body so that he can trick her and (?!?!) whatever, and then puts her in a cage with the most likable character in the movie, Elijah the Chimp. This isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with popular opinion, and it won’t be the last, but this one truly puzzles me.

(Being John Malkovich is available now on Netflix Instant.)

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

***½

I had heard a lot about this Woody Allen fellow, but I had never seen one of his films. Until last night.

Woody stars as Larry Lipton, a neurotic, complicated man in his fifties whose marriage seems to be falling apart (although the film fumbles around with whether it is or it is not). Carol (Diane Keaton), his wife, is just as strange as her husband, and acts all the more so when she decides that her neighbor has been murdered. She sets off to find some sort of evidence with their recent divorcee friend Ted (Alan Alda).

Other than a truly out-of-the-ordinary climax, Manhattan Murder Mystery manages tension very, very well. You root for these main characters, and you really hope that the Liptons don’t get caught snooping around their neighbor’s apartment. But unfortunately, just when you feel like they’re rekindling their love of old… just when you have reason to hope that Carol doesn’t do something dramatic… the film makes the Liptons mad at each other, again. It really is a shame.

There are just enough hilarious one-liners (my favorite came when they find a dead body in a hotel room: “Oh my God, she’s dead!” “Are you sure? Try giving her the present!“) to make up for the faults, though. And the laugh-out-loud, slapsticky phone call between the “group” and Mr. House doesn’t hurt. If this were an actual murder mystery, instead of a rom-com farce, I would be slightly upset with the expositional ending. But since it’s not, I’m not.

The thing MMM does best isn’t make you laugh (although it’s very good at that), but rather explore relationships. Ted and the Liptons are about the same age, but we see how different the stages they’re in are. The Liptons caught a second wind in their love, but Ted is starting over again. At the long dinner scene (featuring Anjelica Huston), we see these two different groups of three people forming within the table. During the beginning, we have these three frantic people (Larry, Carol, and Ted) discussing this murder that they know happened with the calm Huston character, Marcia. Then, later in that same scene, after this calm Marcia explains what happened, as well as what’s going to happen next, we see Carol getting jealous, as Larry was of Ted earlier.

This was only my first Woody Allen experience, but I will be coming back for more. Watch out, Netflix.