All posts by mojojohnstone

The Hateful Eight – Review: A Change in the Air for Tarantino?

You can almost feel a change in the air when a Tarantino film is on the horizon.

With the landmark director taking a few years between each of his projects. the release of a film seems to set audiences’ senses buzzing. From his first release of (arguably) the greatest independent movie ever made Reservoir Dogs to his genre mash-up ‘Southern’ Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino knows how to intrigue his followers. Now following up the success that was Django, the director has gone back to the Old West for a story of guns, horses, bloodshed with added mystery.

The Hateful Eight follows the adventures of several characters whose stories intertwine when all become stranded by a storm. Locked inside the small confides of Minnie’s Haberdashery are a bounty hunter with a prisoner (Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh), a lone bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson),  a hangman (Tim Roth), an old Confederate (Bruce Dern), and a quiet Cowboy visiting relatives (Michael Madsen). With bounty to claim and tensions high, it becomes clear that someone is not there by accident and not who they claim to be.

The Western epic is the eighth film by the famed director. With every film that Tarantino releases it seems inevitable that a media storm of controversy will surround it; whether it is in regards to the violence and language used with in the film or this time disputes over the films distribution. The film also had the leaking of the screenplay to overcome which almost hindered filmmaking.

Like Tarantino’s full body of work , The Hateful Eight is filled with violence, bloody gore, harsh language, and the usual exploration of racial tension and gender inequality. If these are things that offend you then do not go to see a Tarantino film.

The film follows a simple concept and narrative. A group of strangers become trapped together and they (plus the audience) must figure out what their intentions are. This is Tarantino characters with an Agatha Christie mystery twist. The simplicity of the films concept is overshadowed by the director’s larger than life characters that deliver his usual razor sharp dialogue. From the groups ‘chance’ encounter suspicions are raised, the plot twists till the film’s final act.

It is safe to say that for long periods of time the narrative does not progress. That space, however, is filled with great dialogue and Tarantino’s usually charismatic, if morally ambiguous characters. This lack of solid progression does stunt the film and means it lacks the structure and momentum build of his previous works.

For his eighth cinematic outing Tarantino decided to film his Western on Ultra Panavision 70mm. Only the eleventh film to be fully filmed in this format. For the wide outdoor shots of the great outback the medium creates a beautiful and unbelievable view of the American landscape. The reminiscent aesthetic of old cowboy films of the past is really striking. Considering that so much of the film is set in the small inside of Minnie’s Haberdashery, however, it seems redundant for the entire film, though ambitious.

Usually Tarantino films are filled with both stand out songs and score but this film is different. Impressive scores accompany the beautiful cinematography in selected sequences but this film lacks the usual stand out songs audiences have become accustomed too. This puts the film more in the genre of Western perhaps but marks a change from his body of work.

For this film Tarantino has recast some of his best collaborators and added a few newbies, veterans Tim Roth, Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, and Walton Goggins are joined by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum.

As with all his previous Tarantino collaborations Samuel L. Jackson dominates the screen as Bounty Hunter Major Marquis Warren. His distrust of the Haberdashery’s inhabitants drives the plot forward and Jackson had arguably the most standout scenes. Jennifer Jason Leigh delivers a cold and shrewd performance as bounty prisoner Daisy Domergue. Despite the cold and violent treatment she receives, she remains a defiant and forceful screen presence. The film also showcases a small but understated performance from Channing Tatum.

The Hateful Eight is an enjoyable film. With the standard great characters, dialogue, visuals and twists of a Tarantino film but slightly lacking the thrust of his best work. Similar to Django Unchained, (which I bloody love), the overall drawback to this film is its running time. At just under three hours. it is long and the slow burn style of the narrative means parts feel unnecessary.

The slow pace and stunted narrative means The Hateful Eight is on the lower end of the directors work, yet still a worthy film that still denoted a change in the air for the audience.


Love and Friendship – Review

It is nearly impossible to have not seen a Jane Austen adaptation, whether this is in a traditional format such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility or a reworking of her novels such as Clueless. Her works of love and security set against 19th Century English society are renowned for feisty female centres, women’s dependency on men. and marriage as an institution.

In Whit Stillman’s latest Austen adaptation Love and Friendship, we get a story and a central female character unlike any the author produced before. Kate Beckinsale here plays a devious and scheming woman out of place with her patriarchal surroundings.

The recently widowed Lady Susan (Beckinsale) must rely on estranged family members after her husband’s death. Disliked for her reputed scheming and adulterous behaviour, her sister-in-law takes her in begrudgingly. Susan instantly begins to pursue the young and wealthy Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) as an advantageous marriage. The unexpected arrival of her teenage daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) causes disruption and potential rivalry for Reginald’s affections. Can Lady Susan marry off Frederica to the silly Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) and keep Reginald to herself?

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Based on an early unpublished work by Jane Austen called Lady Susan but renamed after another unpublished work by the author, Love and Friendship explores many of the same themes as Austen’s other works but instead puts a scheming character centre. Marriage as advantageous is still very much present but instead of women bowing to the pressures as a necessity. Lady Susan relishes the chance to seduce a rich young man.

While still retaining the features, settings and themes of an Austen adaptation. Stillman has produced something fresh and interesting with this film. Most standout here is perhaps the films witty dialogue and interactions. The conversations between characters are hilarious whether it is Lady Susan and her scheming American friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny) describing her husband as “Too old to be agreeable, and too young to die.” Or the prolonged ramblings of the silly Sir James Martin who is convinced there are Twelve commandments instead of Ten.

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The work, while still having so many elements of the period setting, breaks so many conventions of its time. Lady Susan pursues a much younger man who falls for her charms despite the reversed age gap. Whereas so many much of Austen’s work concentrates on intelligent yet kind female characters, Lady Susan is selfish and spiteful. She also takes little interest in her daughter’s happiness and concedes to have her married off to the highest bidder.

In this adaptation Kate Beckinsale takes the lead as Lady Susan and proves fully that the actress has rarely been used to the full extent of her talent. Beckinsale gives a witty, seductive, and standout performance as its main character; able to portray a manipulative and devious character with charisma and charm. Audiences will love watching her wrap characters around her fingers while still maintaining an outside appearance of innocence and virtue. There is great support is offered from Sevigny, Samuel, Bennett and a small appearance from Stephen Fry.

A witty, scandalous and enjoyable adaptation of an early Jane Austen work, featuring a fearless performance from Beckinsale as Lady Susan.

Love and Friendship is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now! 

Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants – Review

Everyone must have had a time, most likely during their primary education, when you learned how amazing ants are. Able to lift fifty times their own body weight, working as a collective team and all obeying a ruling Queen Ant, they are pretty cool.

The insects are no stranger to the big screen with films such as Disney’s  A Bug’s Life and DreamWorks’ Antz capturing audience’s imagination about our miniature friends. Now a French/Belgian collaboration takes the story of worker ants to the big screen in Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants.

Minuscule follows a young ladybug as she comes into the world. While being chased by bullying flies, she sadly loses one of her wings. Taking refuge in an abandoned human picnic , she befriends kindly working ants who attempt to carry a tin of sugar back to their colony. On the journey they are pursued by larger red ants who want the sugar all for themselves. Can our ladybug reach the colony safety? Can she also overcome her disability and help her new friends fight off the invading ants?

The film is set in the same universe as the French Minuscule TV series. Each episode gives a bird’s eye view look at different insects and the feature film expands on the adventures of some of these characters. Like the TV series the film is part CGI part live-action mixing the two forms together. The film is also told without speech or dialogue of any kind.

The narrative of the film goes deep into the insect’s world and sees them try to survive in the wilderness. The ladybug must survive in a world of strangers and the Ants must find food for their colony. This is a cute and appealing story yet is more for younger audiences that adults. The story, despite its fun nature, is small  and feels somewhat lost on the big screen. In taking the series from the small screen Minuscule has not grown enough as a cinematic effort except  in running time. The film still feels as if it belongs on TV instead of the cinema outing it so wishes to be.

The largest obstacle the film has had to overcome is its lack of dialogue. Instead of words, music and sound have been used for communications between characters and to tell the story. It is a hard task but one that is not unachievable (Shaun the Sheep Movie and Timmy Time anyone?)

Minuscule has overcome this obstacle and made an easily understandable and sweet film. Noises work in place of dialogue to convey the emotions and thoughts of the insects. Each character or groups of character (the Black and Red Ants the Flies), have their own theme music. The musical score, which continuously follows the film, conveys the tone and mood of the film.

The films animation is only half the story. All characters are CGI creations with a live action backdrop of woodland areas and forests. The animation, compared to the works of Pixar other CGI studios, is very basic and more similar to the works of Illumination and a TV style than works of the big screen. This is not to say it is unappealing or not cute. The film is sweet and its animation is fun for its target audience.

A cute but small family adventure. More suited to younger children and feeling better placed with a TV series than on the big screen, the film essentially fun but this ain’t no A Bug’s Life.