Reviews Short Narrative

Bitch, Popcorn & Blood (2015) – 1 star

Director: Fabio Soares

Writers: Fabio Soares & Mike Zonnenberg

Cast: Lise Gardo, Jane Badler, Jochen Hägele, Cristina Blackwater

Running time: 16mins

To appropriate one of my all-time favourite conversations from a film, mainstream filmmakers are largely filthy animals, and as a result I don’t especially enjoy associating with their work. However, personality goes a long way. If a filmmaker is able to imbue their work with a distinctive brand of charisma and charm, then I can maybe overlook their filthy nature. But “we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig.”

Quentin Tarantino is that pig. In spite of his filthy habits, there are two words which sum up why I keep coming back to consume the films of Tarantino: charm offensive. The way he crafts his dialogue is almost unparalleled – skilfully balancing a potent concoction of idle yet engrossing chatter with protracted silences, piercing gazes and unexpected changes in tempo.

The way Tarantino paces his dialogue is often mistaken for hyper-verbosity – his detractors often remark that he seems determined to prove he is the smartest man in the room by having his characters speak a whole lot, while they actually say very little. If this were aimless it might be true, but Tarantino dialogue is used to achieve a pointed end – however lengthily it might seem to meander. Eventually, either lulls viewers into a false sense of security before a sudden and shocking explosion of violence, or to ratchet up the tension over the course of an encounter before delivering a key payoff. In the case of the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, it manages to do both.

The ‘offensive’ edge of Tarantino’s work would be rendered rather dull and formulaic, but for the charm and wit which it is delivered though. Copycats usually fail to recreate the feeling of a Tarantino film for this reason, no matter how desperately they try. Guy Ritchie’s adolescent-minded 2015 flop The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a chief example of this (though its stagnant and unimaginative script is not helped by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, who exude all the personality of the Berlin Wall), as is Bad Times at the El Royale (a rushed attempt to get the jump on Tarantino’s next project, this shoddy rip-off is the Antz to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s A Bug’s Life). Ultimately, you can’t just have criminals reference popular culture in lowered voices while 60s music plays, and expect to be Tarantino.

Sadly, this is exactly what Fabio Soares and his writing partner Mike Zonnenberg have delivered with Bitch, Popcorn & Blood – an excruciating short-film which cobbles together all of Tarantino’s worst excesses, with all the charm, wit and thrills sucked out. So inept is the film that at times it is hard to make out whether this was made by fans of Tarantino, or people looking to deliver an Airplane!-style pastiche of his most backward and unwelcome tropes.

Illustrating this point, in this all-French production, everyone seems to be doing a bad job of being ‘American’, but the character credited as The Femme Fatale (Jane Badler) often lapses into remedial French as if seemingly desperate to impress lead character Lily (Lise Gardo) – whose mind she exists in. At one point the self-styled “Queen Bitch” – who supposedly symbolises all of Lily’s most untamed and street-wise aspects of Lily’s subconscious – goes to take a huff of her e-cigarette (because smoking indoors would be too risqué?) only to put the wrong end to her mouth. It doesn’t exactly lend to the idea the character is one we should take seriously, suggesting it might be a legitimate mistake – but then why would the filmmakers leave it in? At the same time, it seems so rushed through and underemphasised, it couldn’t be a joke – so in the end it is stuck in an ineffective no-man’s-land where humour goes to die.

If it seems like I am focusing too heavily on a throw-away ‘gag’, that’s because there is so little else to talk about. The film’s 16-minute run-time will seem utterly inexplicable to many viewers; what did the film actually do, where did that quarter-of-an-hour go, and can we have it back? Even the cast seem utterly bored with the production – murmuring through their lines carelessly, and without feeling. It’s not hard to see why either, it’s impossible to get excited about dialogue which largely revolves around the choice of salted or sweet popcorn – and how little difference that makes in the end.

Jochen Hägele is the one exception to this; taking his time to pace his delivery, he growls through his lines to exude a suitably menacing demeanour that the film otherwise utterly lacks. Sadly, Soares and Zonnenberg utterly undermine any sense of intrigue which crept in with Hägele by serving him a motive weaker than watered wine. Having just given Hägele the opportunity to foreground himself as a simmering villain, the writers force him to rush through a laughably light-weight reason for pursuing Lily – in a previous job, she served his boss Chianti with ice-cubes. Now, his boss has sent him to seek REVENGE for that indiscretion.

Nobody bats an eyelid at this bizarre over-reaction – again suggesting that this is humourless incompetence, rather than a fluffed attempt at satire. We’re simply expected to take it at face value that these criminals are so wealthy that they value the kind of wine Hannibal Lecter drinks (see, I’ve seen films too) more than human life – or a potential jail sentence. That brings me to one final, unforgivable front which Bitch, Popcorn & Blood fails on; it’s cinema literacy.

For a film seemingly set in the concessions stand of a hip multiplex, there is scarcely any attempt at intertextuality here. The fact many Tarantino films feature dialogue centred on films or popular culture is not because it’s just cool, but because a human being’s relationship to storytelling can provide an important point of reference for the audience; a framework of understanding through which we can relate to otherwise strange or cruel characters.

This can also provide an additional layer to the film’s violent payoff. Characters who display contempt or a corrupting influence on film in Tarantino films often meet with the worst fates – as seen with Inglourious or Once Upon a Time… – they have attacked the concept of storytelling, which has been set up as a central tenet of humanity itself – so they are dealt with extreme prejudice. This is a technique that even Odyssey of the Disturbed – our worst film of the 2020 review season – managed to get right, but it is absent here.

Besides papering the walls of the bar in film posters, and discussing popcorn extensively, the idea that this takes place in a picture-house is not fleshed out sufficiently. Throw in all the casual misogyny, hyper-stylised violence and titillating dance routines you like, without that capitalising on ‘film’ as a short-hand signifier for character traits or broader themes leaves this a puerile, toothless and tedious mess.

The submitted file of the film begins with a thumbnail quoting the illustrious OIFF film festival in Italy… No, me neither. At any rate, the organisation contends, “Tarantino would be proud if he ever had the chance to watch it.” Credibility of the source aside, it takes some real gall to slap that as the opening card on your film – but if you do, you had damn well better be able to deliver on it. Instead of the suspense, snappy dialogue you would expect form that billing though, Bitch, Popcorn & Blood delivers a Boring, Pretentious Botch.

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