Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Pulp Fiction.”
The Movie: “Pulp Fiction”
Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92 percent
Froemming: After the mindblowing madness last week with the adventures of two men named Hobbs and Shaw, I figured I wanted to continue this insanity roller coaster. And what better roller coaster of the unhinged than the combined talents of one of my favorite directors, Quentin Tarantino, and the JOE-DOWN’s favorite punching bag, John (REDACTED) Travolta!
I picked “Pulp Fiction,” a movie with a hard R rating so bad when it came out that my dad told me I could not see it. Well, when you are 13 years old, “no” simply meant “go to your friend’s house to watch it,” and that is exactly what I did.
And I (REDACTED) loved it. I even bought the soundtrack, which introduced me to Dick Dale, Dusty Springfield and a lot of other cool music that was simply not on my radar at the time.
Brown, as I head over to bring out the gimp, what are your first thoughts?
Brown: You sneaking off to watch “Pulp Fiction” at such an age explains a lot about you, Froemming.
Honestly, this movie reminds me of junior or senior year of high school and how mad I made my girlfriend at the time.
First, I’d call her Hunny Bunny. She was not happy to find out such a nickname came from this movie.
Second, the same girlfriend was at my house watching “Pulp Fiction” and made me shut it off when Christopher Walken talked about shoving Butch’s watch up his ass in Vietnam.
Sidebar: She also made me stop watching “The Godfather” when Sonny gets gunned down. I don’t think the relationship was long for this world at that point.
So what I’m saying is, sorry not sorry, Angie.
Anyhow, this is a fun movie that I took almost no notes for. So let’s get on with the review so I can go get some blueberry pancakes.
Froemming: I hope I don’t have to go through what Butch did so you can have those pancakes.
We start of with a prologue to the movie, which is also the epilogue at the end, a movie trick that would be copied ad nauseum throughout the 1990s by indie filmmakers trying to imitate that Tarantino magic.
Brown: Quick question: Is this your favorite Tarentino-directed picture?
Froemming: I go back-and-forth between this and “Reservoir Dogs.”
Brown: I think this ranks third, maybe fourth for me. “Django Unchained” is up there for me. “Inglourious Basterds” is my favorite movie of Tarantino’s. And my favorite thing he directed? An episode of “Itchy and Scratchy.”
Froemming: Tarantino really hasn’t made a bad movie in my eyes. “Hateful Eight” got kinda sloggy for me, and it is basically “Reservoir Dogs” in the old west.
Also, in the 1990s, you know you made it when “The Simpsons” paid homage to you. Hell, they did pretty much a whole episode in a “Pulp Fiction” style that gave the world this:
Now, we meet Ringo and Yolanda, two racist British people who have pretty bad ideas on robbing places, such as robbing a restaurant full of witnesses over a liquor store with one guy. And Ringo calls the waitress “garcon,” which she rightly corrects this limey son-of-a-bitch on. So, like a couple of morons, they decide to rob this place, and we cut to the opening credits with “Misirlou” by Dick Dale which, honestly, is the perfect song for this movie and I have zero idea why. Tarantino seems to make movies around soundtracks and it (REDACTED) works for some reason.
Brown: It’s too bad that the Black Eyed Peas had to ruin “Misirlou” by using the guitar riff and making me think a better song was about to play. Much in the same way I have to question whether it’s Warren Zevon or Kid Rock on the radio when the “Werewolves of London” riff comes on.
Froemming: It is too bad the Black Eyed Peas had to ruin just about everything in this world by being such a crappy band. Also, both the Zevon song and Kid Rock song are awful, so I change the station anyway.
Now, because I do not want to bury the lede here, we meet Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, who I ended finding out when I bought the “Reservoir Dogs” DVD in the early 2000s is brother of Vic Vega, Mr. Blond, who cuts off the cop’s ear to the soothing soundtrack of Steeler’s Wheel “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
And now to the bombshell: This is the nicest, most down-to-earth character we have seen Travolta play in all our years reviewing movies of his. Yes, a hitman with a heroin addiction and a weird ass wig is more likeable than the boy in the plastic bubble.
Brown: And it’s a distant first. Like, what would even be second in that discussion? The time where he physically and emotionally abuses a woman because of a mechanical bull? Or when he kills a man’s family, turning him into an anti-hero? Or, what about when he’s a hard-boiled cop with an unloving marriage that then becomes a domestic terrorist that sets up a bomb in the LA Convention Center?
But no, the heroin junkie that buys from Eric Stoltz of all people that shot a man in the face and talks back to Harvey Keitel… that’s our most heroic John Travolta.
Jules and Vincent have their iconic talks about McDonald’s in Europe and whether massaging a woman’s feet is considered sensual (I agree with Vincent, they are) while on the way to retrieve a briefcase of crime boss Marsellus Wallace.
Froemming: OK, I have always loved this scene in the car, but watching this with three-plus years of Travolta baggage from this blog made me more keen to questioning this character.
WHY THE (REDACTED) WOULD YOU EAT MCDONALD’S WHILE LIVING IN AMSTERDAM?
Brown: … He was high? They’re talking about hash bars so, yeah…
Froemming: Yeah, no wonder he is a fat guy with a heroin problem. He is smashing Royale With Cheeses while riding the White Horse.
So we get our two hitmen up to Brett or Brad’s apartment, depending on what Jules decides on calling him in any given scene. They are there for a briefcase. What is in it? Wallace’s Soul? One of those glowing things from “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park?” Crackers like Kramer from “Seinfeld” would have?
Brown: I figure it’s either donuts and milkshakes like Patrick from “Spongebob Squarepants” or it’s pairs of Uma Thurman’s shoes that Quentin Tarantino stole from set because dude enjoys himself some feet.
Froemming: OK. Let’s acknowledge this was the Patient Zero of Tarantino films that would clue us onto his weird ass foot fetish.
Brown: Agree. But we don’t kink shame here on the JOE-DOWN.
Froemming: Speak for yourself. Feet are a filthy appendage. I don’t mess with filthy appendages.
So Jules must have skipped breakfast, because he eats poor Brett’s Big Kahuna burger and his Sprite before he goes into his Ezekiel 25:17 speech before he shoots a mother (REDACTED).
Brown: As much as I love this scene, it disturbed me this time.
I didn’t realize until this watching that Jules pretty much finishes off Brett’s Sprite. It’s more guzzle than sip.
Look, I know he’s about to put bullets into the man’s torso but he shared a drink with you and you just gulped it down like some uncivilized rube. You’re better than that, Jules.
Also, Jules and Vincent show up at this apartment around, what, 7:30 a.m. I think they said 7:22 a.m. to be exact. What burger place is actually serving burgers at that time? McDonald’s and Burger King are on their breakfast menus and places that don’t do breakfast are open at 10 a.m. I saw no egg in that burger.
Froemming: I have no idea when a fictional burger place called Big Kahuna Burger opens its doors. Also, we see the place in “Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood,” which was kinda cool.
Well, Jules and Vincent plug Brett with more bullets than I thought was necessary to kill a man, but I am not a hitman, so I don’t know for sure.
Then we transition to the buildup to Vincent and Mia’s date. Which starts at a bar with these two dressed as what can only be described as “dorks” who “look like they are on their way to a volleyball game.” We also meet Butch, which is the first time since “Die Hard” Bruce Willis actually looks fit and healthy in. He is getting paid to take a dive in his boxing match, because Marsellus tells him he is old and whatnot. We then get a little foreshadowing when Butch and Vincent stare each other down in the bar because reasons?
Brown: Hey, if I’m Vincent Vega and I see the man who starred in “Hudson Hawk” in front of me, I’d be staring daggers through him, too.
In due time, we’re reviewing “Hudson Hawk.”
Froemming: If I am Butch Coolidge, I’d be enraged seeing the star of “Wild Hogs” in front of me.
So, before his date with his boss’ wife, Vincent stops by Eric Stoltz’s place to get heroin. Which, typing that out, makes Vincent seem like a flakey, if not reckless, employee of Marsellus Wallace’s.
Lance (Stoltz) goes off on some casual racism when discussing his product vs the product in Amsterdam. Sorry, Lance, you may have some very fine heroin, but you are not competing with the heroin capital of the world at this point in the 1990s. Nobody likes a liar and a braggart, Lance.
Brown: You are questioning the morality of a man that’s A. in a Tarantino movie and B. in a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein. Lance is far from the worst person associated with this movie.
However, I’d love to see a crossover of this movie to “Back to the Future” in a world where Stoltz is Marty McFly and he finds out his future self deals heroin to John Travolta while dressed like The Dude.
Froemming: Well, now I want to see a “Pulp Fiction”/”Big Lebowski” crossover.
So Vincent shoots up and drives over to his boss’ house to take the wife out to dinner. Again, not the worst behavior we have seen from a Travolta character.
Vincent enters the home, only to be confused by the intercom Mia is using, which I am not sure if it is because Vincent is high or Travolta was genuinely confused. Maybe it is two things. Mia, we see, has a pretty serious coke addiction as she is snorting the stuff like she is Scarface awaiting an ambush in his home at the end of that movie.
Brown: When I heard “Son of a Preacher Man,” I figured Jan Levinson from “The Office” was in the house breastfeeding her child.
Seriously, why does every character in a Tarantino movie listen to what amounts to KVSC college radio in St. Cloud? This was 1994. Why wasn’t anyone listening to Ace of Base? That (REDACTED) was everywhere.
Froemming: We all can’t be listening to Kiss like you, Brown.
Brown: Vincent Vega with KISS makeup on would be an improvement.
Froemming: Well, let’s head off to Jackrabbit Slim’s, the only theme restaurant in history that doesn’t seem to suck.
We get some banter in this place, we learn Mia was in a pilot that she got to tell a joke in. We learn Vincent will never learn about inflation with the $5 shake. I also learned, after 25 years of watching this movie, that Steve Buscemi is their waiter and dressed like Buddy Holly. How I missed that, I have no idea.
Brown: He’s a master of disguise, man. You remember when he infiltrated that high school?
One thing I never got in this movie was when Vincent and Mia, Mia reacts to his complaining by telling him to not be a … then moves her fingers into a rectangle? C’mon, Uma, a square isn’t hard.
Froemming: You’d think she would have made a perfect square, what with all the cocaine surging through her blood at this moment.
Brown: Also, I know you’re on a date with your boss’ wife and sex is assuredly not happening without you being tortured and killed if you gave into temptation, but man, Vincent, stop scowling. It’s like Travolta smelled a stale fart on set and couldn’t let it go.
Whatever. They eat. They make small talk. They talk about why a man named Tony Rocky Horror got thrown off a balcony onto a greenhouse. And then, they dance.
Have I tried these dance moves in public before? Yes. Yes I have. Travolta is better at it than I am.
Brown: Just because I haven’t heard this song in a long time…
Mia and Vincent have the chemistry you would expect from a coke head and a man loaded on steak and heroin. And while Vincent is giving himself a talk, Mia finds the baggie of heroin in Vincent’s coat and gives it a good snort, thinking it’s her brand of nose candy.
Nope. It’s overdose time and Eric Stoltz’s night is about to be ruined thanks to John Travolta. That feels like something written in a National Enquirer story in the early ‘90s.
Froemming: “(INSERT BROWN OR I’S NAME)’s night is about to be ruined thanks to John Travolta” is basically the JOE-DOWN in a nutshell.
Brown: The man still has SO many movies. I think John Travolta’s filmography will be what causes us to end the JOE-DOWN one of these weeks.
Froemming: The JOE-DOWN is like the Grimace. Nothing can kill the Grimace.
So Lance finds out Vincent is on what was called a “cellular phone” in those days, and he is speeding his way to his house.
Now, earlier we had Vincent complaining about his car being keyed. Just a few hours later, he smashes that very same car into Lance’s yard and hits, what, a garden or a fence? Does he really care about this car? Also, how are the neighbors not calling the cops about this. Also, there are NO cops in this version of LA, as we will see later when Wallace is firing randomly into a crowd of strangers after being hit by Butch’s car.
Brown: Around this time, all of LA’s cops were trailing OJ’s Bronco.
But yeah, Vincent drives the car into… it’s not a garage, but one of those overhead roofs that act like a garage. A car port? I dunno, LA is weird.
So now this movie turns into amateur emergency room hour as Vincent and Lance figure out how to work an adrenaline needle to revive Mia. It’s… gnarly. I remember watching this part as a teen and being confused. Like, cool, I’m seeing Uma Thurman’s bra. But there’s a needle sticking out of her chest and that’s not sexy.
As an adult, the whole thing is (REDACTED) up. I just want to see her get home and clean the dried-up blood/heroin drool residue off her face.
Mia and Vincent take a vow of silence on their date night and as Mia walks away, Vincent blows her a kiss.
It’s weird, but we’ve seen Travolta show affection in weirder ways.
Do you think face wipes are sensual like foot massages?
Froemming: I know they are pretty damn creepy.
Now we get the the prelude to Butch’s story, which consists of what you mentioned before with your ex-girlfriend not enjoying cinematic brilliance: Christopher Walken’s powerhouse performance of a Vietnam veteran who had an uncomfortable chunk of metal up his ass in a POW camp during the war. I personally wouldn’t touch that watch, but Butch seems more liberal than I on items that have been stuck in a person’s body cavity.
Brown: There aren’t enough disinfectant wipes, alcohol or therapy to help get that imagery out of my head. Look, if someone gives me an item that has hidden in a body cavity, just don’t tell me.
Well, that fight that Butch was supposed to throw in the fifth round? Yeah, he took the money, bet on himself and literally killed his opponent in the ring.
Froemming: That is what we call “pulling an Ivan Drago” in cinematic boxing matches.
Brown: If Floyd dies, he dies.
Anyway, Butch books it out of the venue and into a cab where the driver, Esmarelda, is clearly getting horny at the idea of a killer being in the cab with her. Again, I don’t kink shame here.
Froemming: I do. Murder boners are a filthy boner. I don’t deal with filthy boners.
It’s here where Butch is dropped off at his hotel and we’re greeted by his girlfriend Fabienne, who is just grating to me for reasons I can’t fully understand.
Froemming: It is because she is (REDACTED) annoying. No mystery there.
Brown: I think Butch thinks so as well because after a night of cunnilingis, we find out Fabienne forgot to pack Butch’s birthright: the rectum watch. So now, Butch has to drive back to his apartment which is probably being scoped out by angry hitmen whose wallets are lighter because of Butch’s refusal to take a dive.
Meanwhile, she wants to get a start on having a potbelly. And Butch is risking life and getting knockoff Pop Tarts while making a stop at the apartment. At least these knockoff Pop Tarts have frosting?
Froemming: OK, if the watch was so important, Butch should have packed it himself or brought it to his fight. He never told her how important this butt watch was to him, and clearly she is a little off because she is so damn weird, ranting about pancakes and whatnot. So, this also falls on him.
Also, frosting on Pop Tarts is disgusting. It is (REDACTED) gross. My Pop Tarts are unfrosted like the Founding Fathers’ Pop Tarts. Frosting is for communists, nazis and Green Party supporters.
As Butch is checking out his old place, he somehow missed the giant pistol with silencer sitting on the kitchen counter until after he puts his Pop Tarts in. But he hears the toilet flush and sure enough, it’s Vincent coming out of the bathroom after taking what I can only assume is a post-heroin high (REDACTED).
And, Butch goes and shoots him.
How we’ve never used this clip in every Travolta movie we’ve watched is beyond me.
Froemming: We have been waiting three-plus years for this. We have been waiting since Bud and Sissy at the bar, where they fell in love with a mechanical bull. Since Tony Manero’s two films of emotional abuse toward women while dancing the night away. Since he switched faces with Nicholas Cage. It is a three-year long payoff of wallowing in the dreck of Travolta, and it felt amazing.
Brown: That moment is a visual example on how the JOE-DOWN ends one day: bloodied and wallowing in John Travolta’s lingering crap.
Froemming: Butch isn’t in the clear yet, though. See, as he is driving and feeling free of Travolta (like we will one day), he is spotted by Marsellus Wallace at a crosswalk. And unlike Chief Wiggum, after being hit by a car, Mr. Wallace doesn’t want to trade insurance information, he wants to shoot Butch dead for costing him all that money and running him over with a car.
These two end up on a chase in downtown LA, with shots being fired and bystanders being shot, and the cops are after OJ, so there is nothing that can be done about all of this.
They end up in a pawn shop, where the owner knocks them both out with the butt-end of a shotgun.
And if Marsellus Wallace’s day was bad at this point, it is only going to get worse.
Brown: Yep. We got ball gags, a couple yokels who want to make Butch and Marsellus their Ned Beatty and a leather-clad gimp.
Sounds like one hell of a Thursday afternoon.
Froemming: I feel bad for the gimp, because he was sleeping before all this started and seems like his life is one where sleep is his only escape from the work-a-day world.
Brown: The only people I feel bad for are The Revels because their song “Comanche” has been sullied forever because of this rape scene.
I mean, Butch does save the day thanks to a sword (which is set up hilariously with Butch’s weapons escalation, from a hammer to baseball bat to chainsaw to sword). And Marsellus gives our security guard rapist Zed some street justice thanks to a shotgun and an eventual medieval-ing of Zed’s ass.
Again, sounds like one hell of a Thursday afternoon.
Froemming: Yeah, Zed sure picked the wrong guy to rape.
Brown: Do you think this is the genesis of Marsellus’ hatred of the white man that makes him become “Diamond Dog,” the leader of the Black Gorillas group that blows up an NRA meeting before writing a New York Times Best Seller in prison?
Froemming: I wouldn’t doubt it.
For getting them out of this mess, Wallace allows Butch to escape, but his LA privileges are revoked, so he can never return. After going through all this, I don’t think Butch would want to return. I sure as hell wouldn’t.
Now we swerve back to the start of the movie with Jules and Vincent at Brett’s apartment, throwing around biblical sermons before shooting a mother (REDACTED). But this time, we see there is someone hiding out with a gun. This is played by Alexis Arquette (then Robert), who runs out of a door blasting away with a gun. Only she manages to miss Jules and Vincent completely. That…that’s gotta suck. So they shoot the hell out of this mysterious stranger they did not know was there and, for reasons that remain unclear to me, take Marvin with them as they leave.
They shot everyone else. Why does the voice of Hermes from “Futurama” get to live and go with them? Aren’t they just going to kill him anyway?
Brown: I figure Vincent just hates bureaucrats, no matter how likable they are. Also, why do you have your gun out in a car ride? And if you’re holding the gun, why is your finger on the trigger without the safety on? That’s just gun safety 101, dude.
Well, Vincent missed that day of gun safety training because the gun goes off and Marvin’s brains and viscera are now all over the back of the car. That would be an issue if LA police weren’t busy chasing OJ and AC down the freeway.
They don’t know that, though, so Jules takes the bloody car to his friend Jimmie’s. And apparently Jimmie’s home is known for its gourmet coffee and casual use of the N-word by a dorky white dude.
I’ll never quite get Tarantino’s use of that particular racial slur.
Froemming: Tarantino using the N-word here bothered me when the movie came out and still bothers me. Time has not dulled that for me.
Well, Jules and Vincent have to act quick. Because Jimmy doesn’t want to end up divorced because his wife came home to find John Travolta in her home. Nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life. So they call Marsellus, who gets The Wolf on the horn to help out his henchmen who were driving around LA with a blood spattered rear window. Good thing the cops were after OJ at this moment, otherwise they would be in trouble.
Brown: The only way this sequence would be better is if they called this wolf.
Those sort of crime characters that are cool, calm and collected in such bizarre circumstances is always a favorite of mine. I’m a sucker for mob movies and “the cleaner” characters are part of the reason why.
Also, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a cool anybody drive an Acura, and that person is Winston Wolfe.
With the dead body and bloody car disposed of, Jules and Vincent get breakfast and that brings us back to our diner from the start.
Jules is going on about divine intervention and how he’s going to become a wandering kung-fu man or some (REDACTED). Vincent gets up to use the bathroom, which is tragic knowing that what I assume is IBS is pretty much his downfall in life. I’m sure less drugs and red meat would have saved your life, Mr. Vega.
Froemming: And this is when Ringo and Yolanda decide to hold up the place, even though Yolanda’s rant here is for some reason different than at the beginning of the movie.
So everyone it giving their wallets to these British folks, except Jules has his gun out, because it has been a long day and he is in a mood. Sure, he gives Ringo and Yolanda his wallet, which says “Bad Mother (REDACTED)” on it, but the suitcase with the lightbulb in it?
Not today, Ringo.
Jules pulls his gun and to calm Yolanda down, asks her about Fonzie from “Happy Days,” because Tarantino loves his pop culture. Then, Jules goes on about his divine intervention stuff and his kung-fu nonsense to this low-level crook. He will give Ringo his money, and that is when Vincent’s bathroom break has ended and he will shoot the two robbers on principle.
I see nothing wrong with that. I can’t believe I am on Travolta’s side in this situation.
Brown: I mean, I’m not going to support murder. Maybe a good pistol whipping?
Yeah, Jules get all philosophical like Vincent’s UC-Santa Barbara shirt rubbed off some liberal west-coast mumbo-jumbo on him.
The two hang on to the briefcase and decide now is a good time to leave the restaurant.
And the movie just kind of ends. But there was one more story left to tell, Tarantino!
And on that note, let’s go to recommendations so we can have ourselves a tasty burger.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Oh yeah, this movie is great. It is a classic. Check it out, if you somehow haven’t yet.
Brown: Hell yes. It’s a ‘90s staple. Don’t be my high-school girlfriend. Go see this movie.