Tag Archives: Tim Roth

Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

There’s a lot of great moments in Pulp Fiction. There’s not a lot of great filmmaking–the taxi ride conversation between Bruce Willis and Angela Jones is about as close as director Tarantino gets to it–but there are definitely a lot of great moments. There’s the chemistry between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. There’s the Christopher Walken monologue, which is hilarious.

It’s also beyond problematic in terms of Tarantino’s force-feeding of racism to the audience; at a certain point, very, very early on, the viewer either has to accept Tarantino’s conceit racist language doesn’t make one a racist or just stop watching the film. Because the real racists are actually literal monsters, something the criminals of Pulp Fiction usually aren’t (at least on screen). Oh, and Tarantino’s wife in the film is black. So his slur-laden monologue–terribly delivered, of course, as Tarantino’s a horrific actor–means he really isn’t racist. It’s just supposed to be funny. You know, agree with him about it.

There’s probably lots written about Tarantino and racism. Lots excusing him, I’m sure. But Pulp Fiction doesn’t want to talk about racism or much else. It’s another stool Tarantino steps on to deliver the film. It’s not about the real world or real people, it’s about Tarantino’s version of “pulp fiction,” which involves magic and so on. Anyway, I’m off topic. A look at the film’s place in mainstreaming “post-racial” racist humor deserves a serious discussion, which I’m going to do here.

Wow, after that lede, how do I get back on track with saying a lot of nice things about the film and Tarantino’s writing….

He gets phenomenal performances from Travolta and Willis. Travolta somewhat more than Willis, even though Willis gets better material to himself. Travolta’s good solo, but nothing compared to when he’s with Jackson and Jackson gets the only real character role in the film. Everyone else plays a caricature or worse, but Jackson gets to stop and look around at the world and figure out how to live in it. He’s amazing, whether he’s delivering Tarantino’s comical expository dialogue, the tough guy threatening, the soul searching; Jackson does it all.

There’s some solid support from Maria de Medeiros as Willis’s girlfriend. The film’s in three sections–Travolta goes on a date with crime boss Ving Rhames’s wife, Uma Thurman in the first, Willis rips off Rhames and is on the run in the second, then the third part is just an amusement chapter for Jackson and Travolta. de Medeiros is barely in the film, doesn’t get to leave a crappy motel room set, yet she still makes more of the character than Thurman makes of hers.

You can say Thurman’s got a well-written role, but you’re wrong. Sorry. Tarantino doesn’t want to ruminate on masculinity, but he gets in the ballpark (Willis as the classic Hollywood hero). The female characters, Thurman in particular, get thin material. You need to think about it. Pulp Fiction is, like I said, rather problematic. It doesn’t help Thurman her wig has to do most of the acting with the way Tarantino directs her. His direction of her talking heads scenes with Travolta is his worst work as a director in the entire film. Like I said, problematic. It’s a good, very problematic motion picture.

Would it be better if cinematographer Andrzej Sekula weren’t really boring? Maybe. Sekula lights the picture to emphasize the performances, which is fine, only it’s not all close-ups or medium shots where it’d be appropriate. The solid, but not startling, editing from Sally Menke helps things a little though. There’s an energy to the film and when it goes slack, Fiction gets a little too long in the tooth. Since it’s three separate chapters, it’s particularly annoying when it goes slack right off with Thurman and Travolta’s date. Willis and Rhames’s story immediately saves the picture. Jackson and Travolta basically coast through on the last one.

Oh, and Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer aren’t good enough. Some of it’s the writing, some of it’s the directing, but quite a bit of it is their performances. It’s a strange misstep too, since Tarantino’s attention to narrative tone is one of the best things about the film.

Pulp Fiction is a solid, often troubling film. Tarantino doesn’t bite off more than he can chew, however–it’s assured, but not ambitious in anything but its length and bravado–because he doesn’t chew off much of anything with it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Tarantino, based on a story by Tarantino and Roger Avary; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring John Travolta (Vincent Vega), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield), Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Bruce Willis (Butch Coolidge), Harvey Keitel (The Wolf), Tim Roth (Pumpkin), Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny), Maria de Medeiros (Fabienne), Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace), Eric Stoltz (Lance), Rosanna Arquette (Jody) and Christopher Walken (Captain Koons).


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Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino)

The least violent part of Reservoir Dogs is the bloodiest. One of the characters is in a pool of blood, slipping on it as he delivers his dialogue. Director Tarantino finds a moment of Shakespearian tragedy and builds a film to it. He uses stylish ultra-violence, Dogs is visceral with the blood, but the action itself implies a far more frugal production. He uses seventies music, but not the trendy stuff. His somewhat fractured narrative, which owes something to classic film noir, wants to be an updated version of seventies crime. And he succeeds with it. Tarantino would never be able to get away with Dogs having actual tragedy if he weren’t able to sell everything else he packages with that tragedy.

Dogs acknowledges the idea of being outlandish exploitation but the film’s so tightly constructed, Tarantino never lets anything get wild. The film’s most “uncontrolled” sequence, as Michael Madsen does a freestyle torture dance to “Stuck in the Middle with You,” turns out to be Tarantino’s most controlled sequence in the film’s primary location, where everything is controlled. But with Madsen’s dance, Tarantino takes the time to acknowledge the various realities of the situation. He breaks the movie magic, not because he wants to offer commentary or deconstruct genre, but because the film needs reality. The tragedy doesn’t work with reality. Without the reality, Dogs wouldn’t be difficult. It’d be amusing, sure, but it wouldn’t require the viewer to mentally engage with the film.

And Tarantino starts with those demands on the viewer right off. The first scene of the film demands the viewer make some value judgements on the cast. Harvey Keitel has to be likable, same goes for Tim Roth, even Lawrence Tierney a little. Certain actors just get to be actors, certain actors have to do a bit of a feint, but the scene has a whole bunch to do. It’s the hook. And it’s not in Tarantino’s monologues, it’s how the characters talk to one another, how they react to one another. The rhythm isn’t in one actor’s voice, but in how the banter works.

Many of the actors do get great scenes, some even get great monologues–Harvey Keitel, for instance, just gets tons of great stuff to do in the film. Right from the start, he gets the hardest work opposite Tim Roth and then Steve Buscemi. When Keitel and Madsen finally get around to facing off, there’s so much built up energy, anything seems possible. Of course, anything is not possible, because Tarantino is trying to get things somewhere specific.

Most of the film’s runtime takes place in a warehouse. Most of the film’s present action, once the flashback structure establishes, takes place in various locations. Tarantino takes forever to open up the film. It takes Dogs forever to get to a daytime scene without violence. Tarantino puts off letting the viewer identify with any of the characters. Because Dogs, for the viewer and for the characters, is about sympathy with the devil, taking responsibility for that sympathy and even requesting for that sympathy. It’s really, really good.

Andrzej Sekula’s photography is fine. Sally Menke’s editing is phenomenal. The sets are the real star. David Wasco’s production design. Tarantino shoots on cheap but Dogs never looks it. Wasco and Tarantino make it look like there’s no other way to see this film, no other angles. Tarantino holds his shots, making the hanging clothes or the wash basins extremely important–they burn into the viewer’s mind. Especially in the first act. The film implies a larger world outside itself, in no small part thanks to the set design and decoration; Tarantino asks a lot of the viewer.

And he does reward it. He promises it right off with the actors. Keitel, Buscemi, Chris Penn. They’re doing dynamic, sensational work. Even though the introduction of these characters and their development throughout the film might make them less sympathetic characters, the performances are magnificent. Especially Keitel and Buscemi. And Michael Madsen’s really good. Everyone’s really good. Except Tarantino. He’s really bad at acting. He gives himself a bad part, which is kind of good. Kind of. He’s still bad.

Tim Roth’s great.

Nice support from Randy Brooks and Kirk Baltz. Stephen Wright’s unseen DJ is almost an essential compenent.

Reservoir Dogs is never startling. Tarantino isn’t trying to exploit his viewer, he’s trying to tell a story. It’s not a big story. It’s not a grand story. It’s something of a tragic anecdote. Something tragic that happened to these guys when they were doing a job.

It’s an outstanding film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Sally Menke; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Harvey Keitel (Mr. White), Tim Roth (Mr. Orange), Michael Madsen (Mr. Blonde), Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink), Chris Penn (Nice Guy Eddie), Lawrence Tierney (Joe Cabot), Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue), Quentin Tarantino (Mr. Brown), Randy Brooks (Holdaway), Kirk Baltz (Marvin) and Steven Wright (K-Billy DJ).


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Mr. Right (2015, Paco Cabezas)

Mr. Right has shockingly poor direction. Daniel Aranyó makes the shots look good, though the CG-assisted bullet time thing is bad, and Tom Wilson’s editing is perfectly competent, but director Cabezas is really bad. He shoots the film with a Panavision aspect ratio and does not know what to do with that frame so it looks like, frankly, someone has cut the top and bottom off.

I suppose he does okay with the long shots. Or at least better with them than anything else. When Sam Rockwell, who plays the title character (he’s a hitman, it’s supposed to be an ironic moniker), dances around and beats guys up and then kills them? One can imagine how Mr. Right might work with a better director and a significant rewrite. Cabezas wastes the New Orleans location shooting; no one is supposed to be able to waste New Orleans location shooting.

The film also wastes Tim Roth, though maybe not. Maybe Roth has just gotten past the point of caring, which might explain his phoned in performance. At least Rockwell can be indifferent to the bad material and still enthusiastic. He does have to carry his love interest, Anna Kendrick, through a lot of the stupidity. Kendrick should be the film’s protagonist, but she’s not. Instead, she’s just the girl. It’s weird since the movie opens with her and she gets most of the first act.

Rockwell doesn’t even get a name until almost halfway into the picture, so it really ought to be Kendrick’s show. She’s affably annoying but she does try. Trying counts in a film like Mr. Right because actors trying is all there to a film when the direction is so hapless.

Good supporting turns from James Ransone and Anson Mount should help the film a lot more than they do. RZA is likable and almost good but not exactly. Max Landis’s script is all about broad humor and Cabezas can’t direct it. It’s astounding Rockwell is able to power his way through the material, even more impressive he’s able to bring his costars along with him. It’s unfortunate he has to carry Kendrick; she ought to have enough to do to get through on her own, but no. Landis and Cabezas give her less and less as the film goes on.

Also good support from Katie Nehra, who has a thankless part as Kendrick’s friend.

Michael Eklund is not good. It would help if he was good. He’s second fiddle to Ransone’s comedy villain.

Mr. Right has its charms–Rockwell and Kendrick, who don’t exactly have chemistry but they do appear to be having fun. While it should be much better, it could be a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paco Cabezas; written by Max Landis; director of photography, Daniel Aranyó; edited by Tom Wilson; music by Aaron Zigman; production designer, Mara LePere-Schloop; produced by Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Rick Jacobs and Lawrence Mattis; released by Focus World.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Dancer), Anna Kendrick (Martha McKay), Tim Roth (Hopper), James Ransone (Von Cartigan), Anson Mount (Richard Cartigan), Michael Eklund (Johnny Moon), Katie Nehra (Sophie), Jaiden Kaine (Bruce) and RZA (Steve).


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Captives (1994, Angela Pope)

Nearly seventy percent of Captives is a fantastic romantic drama. Julia Ormond is a newly divorced dentist who starts working part-time at a minimum security prison, where she begins a liaison with inmate Tim Roth. Frank Deasy's script concentrates primarily on Ormond and her experiences–with occasions scenes for Roth amongst the inmates, but that first seventy minutes of the film is from Ormond's perspective.

Director Pope carefully, meticulously presents Ormond's story, from her experiences with her ex-husband, her friends, her family, herself. The romance with Roth is an otherworldly occurrence, much different from the noise and movement of Ormond's regular life. Most of their initial scenes–he's on a release program so he can attend college (the film establishes him as an okay guy real fast)–are in static environments. It's actually after that seventy minute mark, when Ormond disappears for a week of the present action and Roth becomes the protagonist, where Pope finally brings Roth into Ormond's motion-filled world.

It's a terrible scene too; they're arguing on a busy roadway. The acting's great, but the scene's bad, because after the seventy minute mark, when Captives all of a sudden becomes a thriller and no longer a quiet mediation on class and marriage and other such things, the movie falls apart.

Ormond's work here is indescribably fantastic. Roth's great and everything, but Ormond's performance is singular.

Pope's direction is solid; good supporting turns from Keith Allen and Colin Salmon.

Excellent photography from Remi Adefarasin.

Captives misfires, Ormond and Roth do not.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Angela Pope; written by Frank Deasy; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Dave King; music by Colin Towns; production designer, Stuart Walker; produced by David M. Thompson; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Julia Ormond (Rachel Clifford), Tim Roth (Philip Chaney), Keith Allen (Lenny), Siobhan Redmond (Sue), Peter Capaldi (Simon), Richard Hawley (Sexton), Annette Badland (Maggie), Mark Strong (Kenny) and Colin Salmon (Towler).


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