The Infallible Tarantinometer
The other night, on the recommendation of my husband, I went to see a film. ‘You’ll love it,’ he said, ‘it’s by Tarantino.’ Now the words ‘love’ and ‘Tarantino’ are two words I rarely use in conjunction, but Mr Murphy and I have been married for a while and, as we all know, the longer you are with a person, the less you know them.
We took our seats. The film was The Man with the Iron Fists.
ME: I’m pretty sure this isn’t by Tarantino.
HIM: Well because you had to get changed twice, we missed the credits. We’ll have to wait until the end to be sure.
I don’t like waiting to the end to be sure, so while we watched I brought into play my infallible Tarantinometer. This is a scoring system which I use to rate all action flicks according to how similar they are to one of Quentin’s films. The Tarantinometer can also distinguish between real Tarantino films and an imitation (which is what I believed I was being served up that night).
This is what the Tarantinometer had to say about The Man with the Iron Fists.
Criteria #1: Schlocky Production Values
Streamlined. Smooth. Elegant. All words you would never use about a genuine Tarantino. What the Tarantinometer looks for is cardboard sets, cheap costumes and dialogue that sounds like the actors dubbed it afterwards via a bad phone connection. Everything in a real Tarantino film should have such a strong ‘charity shop’ look you can practically smell the mould.
MWTIF result: it was a little clean and shiny, but a fight scene outside a Chinese temple which had obviously been borrowed from Epcot in Disney persuaded the Tarantinometer to check the box.
Criteria #2: Iconic star in a small part
Tarantino almost always uses at least one megastar in a supporting actor role: Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction, Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained, Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown. This gives the star some important indie cred, while giving the audience reassurance that if ‘X’ is in the film, it can’t be a piece of shit.
MWTIF result: Russell Crowe looking like Orson Welles in a very tight corset.
Criteria #3: Tarantino regulars
Like all great directors, Quentin has a stable of preferred talent and for that reason the presence of Uma Thurman, Michael Madsen or Samuel L Jackson in a film always moves the needle on the Tarantinometer’s dial. (the presence of all three would probably cause it to self combust). The rule is that any genuine Tarantino product will contain at least one or possibly two actors who are repeat offenders.
MWTIF result: Lucy Liu as a high class Madam and Pam Grier as the eponymous ‘man’s’ mother. While neither of them are Uma Thurman, Michael Madsen or Samuel L Jackson, both have popped their Tarantino cherry in previous films.
Criteria #4: Weird Hair
This can be facial hair or head hair – the Tarantinometer isn’t fussy about on which part of the body the hair grows, so long as it is used as a short cut to characterisation and to create that all-important scuzzy vibe. A badly groomed merkin would probably satisfy the Tarantinometer (especially if Uma Thurman was wearing it), but prime examples are Robert De Niro’s handlebar ‘tache in Jackie Brown and Samuel L Jackson sporting a ‘fro like an oiled poodle in Pulp Fiction.
MWTIF result: Weird hair was everywhere – sprouting from eyebrows, heads, chins and probably toes if you could see them.
Criteria #5: Sudden and awkward insertion of backstory
Because his films are composed mainly of fight sequences and long speeches, Quentin often finds himself in a position where he has to suddenly explain a character’s motivation, usually right before the character dies. His favoured device for this is the back story. The Tarantinometer is therefore alert for such sequences, especially if these jerk the viewer out of the action like a hangman’s noose around a condemned man’s neck.
MWTIF score: an abrupt excursion into the ‘man’s’ early youth in order to explain the not-very-likely presence of a black…erm…blacksmith in a small Chinese village satisfied the Tarantinometer.
Criteria #6: Gushing Claret and Body Parts
It just wouldn’t be Quentin without the sound of amputated limbs thudding to the ground. The Tarantinometer expects heads to roll literally, not metaphorically, and for victims to come apart at the slightest touch, as if they were composed of wet papier mache. To truly satisfy the Tarantinometer, this should be accompanied by high projectile blood gouts as though Jackson Pollock were creating a masterpiece in pig gore.
MWTIF score: beheadings, disembowelment, blood spurting like it’s happy hour at a vampire bar. The Taratinometer’s needle was quivering in the red for most of the movie.
Now I’m beginning to worry. Six for six. Could it be Mr Murphy is right and I am *shudder* WRONG??
But then we came to this, the most important feature the Tarantinometer looks for when making it’s evaluation:
Criteria #7: Unbearably long speeches/action sequences/scenes of any description actually
Less is more. Words which have failed to impress themselves on the directorial sensibilities of Quentin. What was an amusing tendency to toy with the viewer’s limits in Reservoir Dogs has gradually become an inability to know when to stop. The Tarantinometer is primed to respond to any scene or sequence which persists beyond human endurance to the point of teeth grinding irritation. The fight sequences in Kill Bill, the car stunts in Death Proof and just about everything in Inglourious Basterds (including the title) were way too long. If any part of a film leaves you feeling like you’ve just had a conversation with a pub bore who insists on repeating every sentence as if you were hard of hearing or slow on the uptake, then the Taratinometer’s needle will register a vital Quenpoint.
MWTIF score: No endless speeches about milk/burgers/hiding watches up your ass. Crisply choreographed fights and deftly handled exposition. The Tarantinometer refuses to award the point!
I watched the rest of the film in silent smugness. The Man With the Iron Fists was NOT a Tarantino. I was RIGHT.
ME:…so it wasn’t a Tarantino after all. I could tell because it was way too snappy and enjoyable and anyway I just checked on IMDB and it says ‘Presented by Tarantino’ which is probably what confused you, but isn’t the same thing as ‘directed by Tarantino’. So I was right.’
HIM: Oh. OK. Well anyway I said you’d enjoy it. Sounds like it was missing the only thing about Tarantino movies you don’t like.
Which proved something all wives know. Even when your husband is wrong he will still find a way to be right.