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Face-Off: Reservoir Dogs vs. Pulp Fiction

11.15.2012by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face Off, we capitalized on the breaking news of the looming Star Wars Episode VII in a match between Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi. The devoted lovers of the Original Trilogy flocked in droves to make sure Return of the Jedi won by a landslide.

What inspired this particular Face Off was a news story that broke that consisted of famed director Quentin Tarantino acknowledging that he would not be a good fit for any Star Wars related project. The masses seem to agree. That said, Tarantino came onto the scene years ago with a style all his own. His early career sparked an independent film movement and it all started with Reservoir Dogs. After following that up with penning the script for the well loved True Romance he tackled what many consider his masterpiece in Pulp Fiction. Both these films captured Tarantino's particular brand of filmmaking in all its beauty. But which do you lot fancy more?
Story
This film is well known for pulling elements from a couple films, among them being Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and Ringo Lam's City of Fire. A classic twist on the classic heist movie in which the actual heist is barely even a backdrop, and rather covers the preparation and the aftermath of the clusterf*ck of a heist. The surviving crew shows up at the designated meeting point and debate the existence of the obvious snitch within the crew. We get several scenarios and different stages of how these characters were dealing with each other, but Tarantino's dialogue and way of building suspense makes it so that if the whole film took place in a warehouse I would not have minded in the least.
The film that stands as the king of the nonlinear storyline film. In Pulp Fiction we follow gangsters, fighters, a mobsters wife, and thieves in love. We follow these memorable opinionated characters on what can easily be said are the most bizarre days of each of their lives. It was lovely to see the lives of all these characters intersect throughout each of the stories. Every chapter was so brilliant that it would be hard to choose a favorite of the bunch, but if pushed, I would have to go with the "Bonnie Situation" for the appearance of Mr. Wolfe and the infamous diner speech. Strike back with your favorite chapter.
Cast/Characters
Tim Roth. Harvey Keitel. Steve Buscemi. Michael Madsen. Chris Penn. Lawrence Tierney. Eddie Bunker. And Tarantino himself.

We get a feel for all the characters and their distinctive personalities right from the oh so memorable opening scene. Mr. White's blind devotion to Tim Roth's Mr. Orange was touching, Buscemi's unraveling paranoia made for one of his best performances to date, Mr. Blonde played the laid back psychopath to a T. And Chris Penn as nice guy Eddie was a favorite. These actors had such great chemistry together and they really sold the stress of the situation better than anyone could.
Samuel L. Jackson. John Travolta. Bruce Willis. Uma Thurman. Ving Rhames. Harvey Keitel. Eric Stoltz. Tim Roth. Amanda Plummer. Rosanna Arquette. Christopher Walken. And Tarantino himself.

Hell of a lineup here. Pulp Fiction was famous for bringing John Travolta in particular back from the career abyss he had landed himself in, and it was well deserved. The standout here was obviously Samuel Jackson with his layered performance. Bruce Willis had his shining moment in blowing up on his wife for forgetting an heirloom and bringing himself down almost immediately. What can I say? The levels every single cast member took their performance in an effort not to disappoint...well...they didn't.
Dialogue
From the first scene we knew we were in for a treat when it came to dialogue in Reservoir Dogs. I mean these are guys I would sit and have a brew with. I mean we cover Madonna, and the pain in the ass side of tipping, where else do you get that? While Pulp Fiction is known for conversations you could have in every day life, I feel RD had a more realistic feel to it, with the way the characters dissected what went wrong with the heist, to Nice Guy Eddie telling an amusing story (a favorite scene of mine), to the final standoff (Chris Penn's shining moment). If Pulp Fiction dialogue was realistic, Reservoir Dogs struck me as ultra-realistic.
So many memorable moments dialogue wise in this film it's hard to pinpoint moments to discuss. Our intro to Jules and Vincent was brilliant, loved the date between Vincent and Mia (wish all date conversations were that interesting), Christopher Walken came in and stole the show with his one scene, and of course the entirety of the Diner scene is legendary. Everybody focuses on Jules' first go-round with his biblical speech, but his repeat and the end with the quest for redemption monologue that followed carried so much more weight. Riveting shit.
Violence
Obviously the standout is the infamous ear scene, all it took was Michael Madsen sitting on top of that poor schmuck and move his arm up and down in a cutting motion to disgust audiences to the core. From there we had many shootouts, including an innocent woman driver popping Mr. Orange and getting a bullet in the chest for her troubles. Yeesh. When Wes Craven walks out of a screening due to being unsettled by the heightened realism of it all, I guess you did something right in this particular department. NOTE: I know you've seen a lot of ties in this Face Off, but Dogs needs another point in this category just for the audacity of the ear scene. That's filmmaking with balls.
Bullets, swords, rapes, more bullets, brains, human meets car, fist fights. This bad boy had it all. Standout moments were Bruce Willis taking out Vincent, how crazy would it be standing there for a few seconds knowing you were f*cked before getting blasted? Another Bruce moment in which he channels the Bride to save the man who was trying to kill him. Poor Zed. Numerous critics were again turned off by the excessive and often disturbing violent scenes here, one critic by the name of Donna Britt in particular was less than enthusiastic about a certain "rousing scene in which a gunshot sprays somebody's brains around a car interior". Can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen?
Overall
When I think of Reservoir Dogs, like many I assume, I see Michael Madsen dancing to "Stuck in the Middle With You" getting ready to slice up law enforcement. This movie will always be the film that introduced us to the crazy film sensibilities of Tarantino, his music, his dialogue, his choice in actors, his way of telling a story. The plot was incredibly restricted, its the genius of all involved that turned this into an entertaining ride any damn way. Roger Ebert stated that he liked the film, but wanted more...I feel the same way. But not because of any fault of the film, because of how involved I was with these characters and their situation. Tarantino isn't exactly the king of suspense, but damn if this movie didn't make him a serious contender.
Pulp Fiction is the film known for breaking all the conventions of the way a film is normally presented. In my screenwriting classes, whenever an argument against that damn three act structure is made, it's Pulp Fiction that is always brought up. Tarantino took classic crime stories and turned them on their heads in a way only he knows how. We fell in love with these criminals and such that had conversations we'd have in our own worlds (or would like to), though nonlinear...the movie had structure and everything but the contents of that briefcase got tied up in a pretty little bow by the end. More great characters, more great dialogue, more great music, more holy shit violence. It was Tarantino amped up, and in my opinion at his best.
Pulp Fiction
There it is folks, Reservoir Dogs earned Tarantino a dedicated fanbase, but he seemed to go all out for Pulp Fiction. The film showed vision, he pulled off a classic in a way that no filmmaker had before, and had an ensemble cast who had a blast with it to back him up. However, I know there are those of you out there that feel Pulp Fiction is a bit overrated and prefer Quentin's first outing. Is this where you stand? Let us know.

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which Quentin Tarantino film is your favourite?
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