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By Brad Laidman | July 18, 2001

The 1995 Academy Awards were a great dividing line in pop culture. Either you were a “Pulp Fiction” man or a “Forrest Gump” supporter. I have to admit that I still haven’t ventured into Gump-land. I have this strict policy about avoiding movies about Southerners and Retards and Gump strongly violated both planks of my standards. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that even a Tom Hanks led movie about a hick idiot savant could dim my enthusiasm for the movie going experience of the ’90s. “Pulp Fiction” is the first masterwork of the post-modern pop culture generation. If you’re part of it you loved this movie. If you’d let the world pass you by you spent the entire movie scratching your head like a past due Bob Dole. If you’re with it, “Pulp Fiction” gets better with every viewing, and like good rock n’ roll, needs to be played loud!
Sam Jackson is a lot like the little actor that could. Spike Lee gave him some fleshy small roles, culminating in his killer crack addicted Gator that overwhelmed what was supposed to be an inter-racial comedy in “Jungle Fever.” Outside of Lee’s work he seemed to be willing to show up on just about any movie set that was willing to have him. I’m still trying to figure out what his 30 second appearances in “True Romance” and “Johnny Suede” were supposed to prove other than perhaps that he was around that day. Tarantino wrote the part of philosophical hit man Jules specifically with the volcanic Jackson in mind and his overconfidence almost lost him the role to Ving Rhames, who manages to get sodomized here by a hillbilly and still come out looking pretty damn cool. As far as I’m concerned Jackson’s intensely soul man preaching Jules should have won him some kind of lifetime achievement award, as it turned out he somehow lost best supporting actor to Martin Landau’s otherwise worthy Bela portrayal in Ed Wood. Who else could have gotten away with that Jeri curl Afro in 1994 much less make an unforgettable impression as the archetype of thoughtful menace.
Of course, “Pulp Fiction” wound up paying for about five John Travolta jet-liners after Tarantino’s need to play the Welcome Back Kotter board game with the real Vinnie Barbarino brought the dancing Elvis man out of an imposed hibernation of mediocrity. Travolta’s Vincent Vega is of course a jabber mouthed heroin addicted hit man. He is much more concerned with how bad he looks and the conversation he has in the meantime, than he is with performing a successful takedown. In one of the movie’s more hilarious mysteries every time Travolta goes to the bathroom something goes awry including his out of sequence death at the hands of Pop Tart toasting boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis).
Tarantino and Avery’s script is so perfectly written that I wouldn’t trade all of “Armageddon” for Willis’ offhand comment to a Latino cabbie, who asks him if his name translates into anything pretty. “I’m an American honey, our names don’t mean s**t.” The dialog is so effective, like thrusting daggers and loud crackling gun shots that the menace twins Harvey Keitel and Christopher Walken show up only briefly but stay with you forever indelibly. If Jules’ Ezekiel 25:17 isn’t really in the bible, if should be after hearing Jackson recite it three times.
After seeing “Reservoir Dogs” in a tiny art theater I was rooting for this movie to be great from day one. The script starts with three seedy detective type stories that could have come from the pages of some underrated slick ten cent paperback from the ’30s and ’40s and drops an atom bomb of weird randomness into each one of them. The Reservoir Dog Beatle suits are here, but due to odd and hilarious circumstances wind up covered in blood and replaced adroitly in Travolta’s case by a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slug T-shirt, imploding succinctly any notion of long term bad a*s threatening cool. In the end those who learn and grow survive, those who don’t wind up plastered all over the kitchen with their copy of “Modesty Blaise.” Everyone else is encouraged to rent “Forrest Gump” until they’re forever sick of it’s neo-hippy post Big Chill soundtrack.

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