“The Long Kiss Goodnight” (1996) dir. Renny Harlin / scr. Shane Black

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One of the most sadly underrated films of the 1990s was the intense action film “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”

The premise is a damn intriguing one. A single-mom school teacher in her mid-30s with amnesia suddenly remembers her past life as a deadly assassin. Her past comes back to haunt her when former enemies seek her demise and come after her and her young daughter. A detective / ex-con assists her in determining her prior identity and to help protect her. Though once she remembers her old skills, she doesn’t need much help.

Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson play the schoolteacher and detective, respectively, and do a great job. According to Wikipedia, in 2012, Jackson said this was his favorite role of all-time. It’s a damn good and hard-edged action thriller, far grittier and violent than its premise would indicate. And while it got respectful (but not great) notices from critics and did OK at the box office, it was considered a flop, given its high budget.

The film was initially fairly notorious, because the original script, by “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout” scribe Shane Black, sold for $4 million (the highest amount ever paid for a spec script). New LIne Cinema (the studio that bought the script) was so enamored with Black’s words that … of course … had the script rewritten … and rewritten … and rewritten.

Fortunately, enough of Black’s original vision was in the final product to make it a very, very good film. Far better than the conventional Hollywood action film. However, the original script is far darker … and better, in my opinion. You can read it here:

http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Long-Kiss-Goodnight,-The.html

“Pulp Fiction” (1994) dir. /scr. Quentin Tarantino

In honor of this year’s Cannes Film Festival (taking place as we speak), here’s one of the best-known and most beloved of all the Palme D’Or winners, 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” There’s not much more I can say about the “Star Wars” of the 1990s that hasn’t already been said. I had seen Quentin Tarantino’s first film “Reservoir Dogs” on its opening weekend at an upscale Arlington, VA art theater in the fall of 1992, after reading about it nearly a year before in the magazine “Film Threat.”  After seeing “Dogs,” I obnoxiously demanded that everyone I knew at the time see this film, carrying a VHS copy of the film to practically every gathering I went to for the next year and a half.  A year later, I saw the Tarantino-scripted “True Romance” twice on its opening weekend in 1993 and became an even more annoying (and mouth-breathing) Tarantino disciple.  Needless to say, by the fall of 1994, especially after it won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and had so many major critics vehemently raving about it (or condemning it), I could barely contain my excitement when “Pulp Fiction” finally made its US debut.  This time, I saw it at a Tuscaloosa, AL mall multiplex, which was a real sign that the underground planets had aligned and Tarantino’s blend of violence and comedy had become VERY chic by this point.

Mark Seal recently composed a very lengthy, but immensely entertaining article about the making of “Pulp Fiction” for Vanity Fair’s March 2013 Hollywood issue, which you can read at the link below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/03/making-of-pulp-fiction-oral-history

Nearly 20 years later, “Pulp Fiction” still packs a wallop.

“Jungle Fever” (1991) dir. Spike Lee

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Many people would argue that Samuel L. Jackson’s turn in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” was his breakout role. I would argue it came 3 years earlier in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” playing Wesley Snipe’s crackhead brother Gator. Jackson’s performance was BEYOND f–king intense and earned an unprecedented Best Supporting Actor nod at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. “Jungle Fever” is flawed (Spike Lee’s subsequent films “Malcolm X, “Get on the Bus,” “Summer of Sam,” “Bamboozled,” and “The 25th Hour” are arguably much better), but it has a lot of terrific virtues. This scene never fails to put a chill up my spine.

“The Bells of St. Mary” – The Drifters

Another great, soulful, holiday classic … this time from the Drifters.  This version of “The Bells of St. Mary” is sublime and was used to chilling effect in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” when Joe Pesci’s character pays Samuel L. Jackson’s character a visit one morning.