How does one follow up a film widely considered one of the greatest ever made? If you're Peter Jackson, you create a remake that was wholly unnecessary and flat stupid. If you're George Lucas, you never get to make a movie outside of your iconic series ever again. And if you're Frank Darabont, you wait a few years and go back to the same well that brought you such acclaim, then you try something else, and if that doesn't work you go back to that same well yet again.
After 'Pulp Fiction,' however, Quentin Tarantino was screwed. Anything short of genre-defining, pop-culture loaded cinematic perfection would be considered a let down, anything too far removed from his previous work would disappoint his newfound fan base, while anything too close to 'Fiction' and he'd be labeled a one trick pony. That's the lose-lose situation 'Jackie Brown' was placed in, and amazingly, it won, somewhat.
Female Flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) just got busted carrying a big load of cash into the country, cash that was meant for the short tempered illicit arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Robbie is the last person anyone wants to cross, as he has a habit of ending his business relationships in a less than survivable manner. ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) is pressing Jackie to help bust Robbie or go to jail, while veteran bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) is after Jackie for another reason. In order to survive her complicated predicament, Jackie must double-cross anyone in her path, and not slip up once, or she'll lose her freedom, or her life.
I'll admit it, upon first seeing the film, I just "didn't get it." It wasn't a matter of loving 'Pulp Fiction' and loathing "Jackie Brown,' as I didn't grow to appreciate the former for years. Rather, the slow, brutally methodical pace, so full of twists and turns that turn into full loops required my full attention, and it's safe to say that in my younger years, that was something I didn't often give a movie. Something about shiny objects just kept me from focusing. The film grew on me, and I've come to appreciate it much more with age.
Tarantino again rolls out with an all star cast, though his chosen actors are far from A-listers. Grier's career was resurrected by her portrayal of the titular role, while Forster found great fan acclaim. Keaton was a bit past his glory days (though he gives a strong performance as a character he played in another Elmore Leonard adaptation:'Out of Sight.'), while Bridget Fonda's star never shone as brightly before or after this performance. Ok, you caught me, her star never existed, but you get the point. Jackson may be the owner of the greatest career in this film, his second with Tarantino, while Chris Tucker finally got the fate a few moviegoers (myself included) had wished for him in 'The Fifth Element.' Rounding out the cast, Robert De Niro provided a solid, though forgettable supporting performance that reminds me of my uncle for some god unknown reason, perhaps his goofy demeanor under a scruffy appearance.
Based on the book "Rum Punch" by Elmore Leonard, 'Jackie Brown' begins a Tarantino theme that he has not broken since crafting this tale, as each of his films after 'Pulp Fiction' are virtual homages to a genre as a whole, much like a theme week on a game show. The intended target of this homage is clearly the Blaxploitation genre, which was popular in the '70's (often headlined by Grier), and quickly faded to obscurity, leaving only fingerprints on popular culture.
Other than his work on 'Death Proof' (as of this review, this Tarantino fan hasn't had the chance to go to theaters for 'Inglorious Bastards'...yet), Tarantino brings possibly his most linear tale in terms of continuity with 'Brown.' Only one sequence of the film is out of order, as the film doubles back to show a sequence from multiple perspectives, a trick that really works quite well in fleshing out the intricacies of the scam.
As fun, thorough, and ingenious as 'Jackie Brown' is, it has a few downfalls, including an excessive amount of character introduction in the first act that slows the film to an absolute crawl. While the attention to the characters pays off dearly in the end, making viewers care for the outcomes of each individual, it creates a snail pace unlike any other Tarantino film, and that is exactly what 'Jackie Brown' is: unlike any other Tarantino film. In a good way.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Jackie Brown' was announced for Blu-ray by Walt Disney Home Studios/Miramax, alongside 'Pulp Fiction,' but both titles got pulled from the release schedule. SPI out of Poland released this disc, on a region all/region free BD50.
'Jackie Brown' is the last mainstream Tarantino wave that has yet to crash on these fine high def shores, and as such, the fact that this AVC MPEG-4 encode is constantly underwhelming and full of technical deficiencies is a disappointment. There are some very positive qualities about this release, which is why its shortcomings didn't chop it down to a lower score.
This Polish import features a fantastic level of detail, especially in the many tightly framed extreme close up shots. The wear and tear on the faces of Jackson, Grier, and Forster are quite telling and obvious across their mugs. Stubble can be seen from a mile away. Detail is so strong that it is easy to spot the excessive make up on Fonda, covering her pores (which pop out in some parts of her face), while the light peach fuzz goatee she rocks is so damn sexy, an example of the kind of added detail that can be less than fortunate.
There do not appear to be any signs of tinkering, as edges are clean and halo free, and grain remains intact (in a healthy, not so overbearing level). Occasionally upper lips look a bit blurred when viewed up close, but with a slight pullback from the camera, they show amazing clarity. There are no signs of aliasing, either.
On to the gripes. The first thing anyone will notice when plopping this disc in is the amount of dirt on the transfer. As the film progresses, it gets cleaner, but occasionally hiccups with loads of debris. As is the case with the 'Grindhouse' films that Tarantino and constant collaborator Robert Rodriguez made, it's a bit tough to tell if this is an aesthetic choice for the film, as it is an homage to a bygone era, but the fact that the dirt isn't consistent leaves room for complaint.
Blacks are also inconsistent, with an average, acceptable (though about as far from spectacular as one can get) strength in well lit shots, while any sequence that takes place at night have a black level that looks like hell it is so weak. Shadow delineation doesn't help matters, as it's hard make out even the difference between arms and torsos in many sequences.
There are a couple softer shots that look blurry compared to the rest of the film. Colors can be awkward, with the blue in Grier's flight attendant jacket glowing constantly, while skin tones are a beast of their own. There is a multitude of varying skin tones in the leads (Forster, Grier, Jackson), so judging them against each other is difficult, but tones often seem overblown. Fonda's character is always a bit orange, but that can be explained by the fact that she's a beach bunny constantly in a bikini. Banding is apparent in solid background shots here and there, and late in the film there are some blue streaking flashes that pop up for brief moments, that never popped up in the two hours before their occurrence, leading me to believe they weren't exactly aesthetic.
There are two audio choices for 'Jackie Brown,' and neither are good options, with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track in the native English language coupled with an equivalent Polish dub.
Dialogue is comprehendible, though it occasionally sounds muffled and isn't always prioritized, with a few sequences being a bit of a tug-o-war for attention between soundtrack and spoken word. The soundtrack leaks seamlessly through the sound stage, filling the room with the mostly vintage soundtrack. The music, though, doesn't sound that great, as it features a mix of music that is bass heavy, but doesn't come with any real bass thump, as the LFE is off chasing butterflies through most of the film.
The mix is very front heavy, though there is the occasional bit of directionality and movement, and a few sequences that fill the room with activity. The mall sequences are a bit off, with the first trip to the area sporting a less than active crowd murmur, while the later scene is absolutely teeming with activity. It's safe to say that this "biggest indoor mall" is likely the busies in a ten mile radius, not the country or world, considering how hollow they sound. Atmosphere as a whole is half cooked, rarely reminding us we're in the middle of the scene.
Background noise can blend a bit at times, becoming an indistinguishable mess. The sequence watching the girls with guns VHS sounds awful, with the shots not registering any bass or high range. This could perhaps be intentional due to the VHS factor, but it does sound peculiar, much like the rest of this release.
This Blu-ray contains three subtitle options, but all are in Polish, to accompany the English track. At first, translating the package confused me, until I realized that they are white, yellow, and big white letters, rather than languages.
There are no supplements of any kind on this Polish import.
The golden question, as with any import, is whether or not it's worth your money to import this Polish Blu-ray of 'Jackie Brown.' With a supplement package nowhere to be found, and a middle of the road, disappointing presentation, the question is even tougher. Diehard Tarantino fans will pick this up on principle, possibly to round out their Tarantino on Blu-ray collections, though lesser fans will probably pass. It's impossible to recommend an import that will be obliterated by the eventual domestic release on all fronts, and as such, this one isn't worth the hard earned cash, as fans will be forced to buy it again anyways.
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