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Grindhouse (2007) -vs- Pulp Fiction (1994)

Grindhouse (2007) -vs- Pulp Fiction (1994)

Jonathan ZabelThe Smackdown

Quentin Tarantino is a man dangerously close to something, and you’ll get different answers as to what that something is depending on who you ask.  Acceptable answers would include: (1) dangerously close to falling in love with his own myth, (2) dangerously close to never being able to eclipse the shadow already cast by his cinematic legacy, or (3) dangerously close to genius.

The Challenger

“Grindhouse” is a double-feature that pays loving homage to trash cinema, the types of flicks you could easily imagine catching in a seedy theater during the 70’s.  Complete with fake trailers for imaginary films (like the unspeakably cheesy “Werewolf Women of the SS”), you’re paying the price of admission more for an experience than any sort of coherent narrative… and that’s fine by me.  Robert Rodriguez’s half of the offering is “Planet Terror,” a gross-out zombie flick with as much in the way of brains as the shambling corpses it depicts.  Tarantino’s offering, “Death Proof,” is a low-rent road movie that’s arguably a whole lot more interesting in the plot department.

The Defending Champion

Some critics weren’t quite sure what to make of “Pulp Fiction” when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, but 13 years later pop culture has made the call and declared it a classic.  You could write pages on how this film took the conventional wisdom about what constitutes a “hit” and threw it out the window (something I’ve had to do as a USC film student), but all most people are going to notice is how much fun watching is, since it remains true to the pulp fiction tradition in that no day is uneventful and no character is ordinary.

The Scorecard

Both films have a relentless energy that’s almost impossible to resist and give the impression that you’re in the hands of someone in love with every frame.  Still, you really need look no further than Tarantino’s cameos to know that this virtue can be taken to excess.  In “Pulp Fiction,” his brief appearance is a pleasant surprise, a sly nod towards self-reflexivity and another clever “screw you” to established Hollywood formula.  When he shows up in “Grindhouse,” it feels pointless and indulgent both times.

The Decision

Don’t get me wrong, “Grindhouse” is wicked fun and I had a blast watching it.  I’d only put the thought out there that perhaps Tarantino has been allowed to stay in the candy store a bit too long, and that sooner or later audiences are going to tire of the cinematic equivalent of empty calories he’s offering.  “Pulp Fiction” hangs on to the title because it broke the rules back when it still meant something.

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