The Duchess (2008), Free-Spirited with a Delicate Touch?

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Directed by Saul Dibb, The Duchess is the second movie to which he has made a name for, including Bullet Boy. The Duchess is a change to his previous work, with a different tone and era. The performance and mise-en-scene are well formed, as well as the time and pace of the film. Dibb’s work with documentary helps to aid the film with a more realistic aesthetic, the film offers attentive, intimate moments that allows the audience for a more emotional journey to the 18th century.

The film is a period drama similar to that of Young Victoria and The Other Boleyn Girl. Set to be a chronicle of the life of 18th century lady Georgiana and her life after marrying the Duke of Devonshire. She soon becomes the sweetheart of London society, reliving her luxurious political and personal life with the glamour of 18th century society contrasting with the gloom and heartache of being The Duchess. The films mise-en-scene is based around the extravagant clothes, gambling, the parties and very tall hair. The films style takes on the true story of the Duchess of Devonshire, trying to remain as historically accurate to the writing and public image that she had formed. This allows for a more realistic interpretation on the Duchess’s life.

The film works in symbioses with the mise-en-scene and The Duchess’s emotional life with being a public figure. Keira Knightley’s performances as the duchess is gaudy, as a modern woman born in a time were women are not independent or have a free voice. She presents the constraints of being a trapped in an unloving marriage. Ralph Fiennes as the Duke adds the peculiar element to the relationship between the two. This helps to create the dramatic basis of the film, forming a captivating chemistry with the beautifully styled costumes and settings.

Additionally the performances of Lady Bess Foster by Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper as Charles Grey, the two actors work as catalysts to the narrative allowing it to unravel, changing the dynamic of the film. In addition  the mise-en-scene-  setting’s used work to create a more historically accurate film. The sets used such as the Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, in the film it is Georgiana and the Duke’s home but in reality it is also the actual estate of the Dukes of Devonshire, where tourists can visit and experience the life they lead in that estate. I have done so and found it truly luxurious, showing costumes and rooms used in the film. Using the sets that the real Duke and Duchess visited and lived in helps the film have not only more historical accuracy but also it makes the film more enjoyable and realistic to the audience. This helps to make the film more enjoyable but also heightened the emotions of the characters, as they are set in their true environment playing a role of true pain and torment.

The cinematography by Gyula Pados known for Predators, works to magnify the raw emotions, such as the sexual encounters and rape scenes. The use of close-ups and pans make the audience watch the scenes pain to the point where the audience feels the need to look away, yet we are not allowed to, we are made to witness the pain and emotion that The Duchess goes through, subjected to a loveless marriage. In addition Gyula Pados uses framing to emotionally distance the characters, the distance between the characters during the film works to reflect the loneliness and confinement The Duchess feels.

Examples of this is in dining sequences where by the characters are purposely placed seats away from each other on a long table, using a long shot to further exaggerate this loneliness felt. The cinematography truly captures the emotions and extravagancy of the time. The music accompaniment was composed by Rachel Portman who is known for a romanticised melodies in films such as Choclat, the music fits symbiotically with the emotions and struggles the characters go through, the classical melody is sorrowful but also harmonious, fitting with Georgiana’s life.

The narrative follows the story of Georgiana; it follows not only her perspective but also moments of the Duke. The story slowly shows the mental decline and pressure of conformity put towards women of the time. It is a heart-breaking performance by Keira Knightly. The films genre is a period film and romance based on a true story, making for a gripping watch. However at times the film can be frustrating, as it is slow paced near the end, the film at times is bland with a lack of vulnerability and risk. The beautiful art direction by Karen Wakefield, set decoration by Rebecca Alleway and costume design Michael O’Connor known for his costume work on Harry Potter and The Chamber of secrets. The collaboration of all these departments as well as the performance allows for a visually stunning and entrancing narrative. The film does have a circular narrative as Georgiana’s children represent her freedom in the start of the film.

The film is overall an entrancing watch capturing the emotions of her story and the visual decadence of the time. However the film is not always accurate to the true story, embellishments made and actors put their own take to their roles. Though this is upsetting it does not hugely effect the overall process of the storytelling. To make up for the lack of accuracy on these two hhistoricalfigures is the efforts made in other micro aspects, such as mise-en-scene, that use the same costumes as the duchess would have worn, such as the feathers. These are real actualities that the Duchess did in her life that Knightly represents. In addition the cinematography has been thoroughly thought out  to consider the relationships of the actors, and characters they were portraying. Making the overall cinematic approach to the characters emotions more acute to audience creating a more pleasurable watch.

The level of detail considered in making this film as accurate as possible, as well as emotional, is what makes this film worth watching for me, and hopefully you will find more of an emotional experience, reliving The Duchess’s life.

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Snatch (2000) Review; A Film with The Mob, A Heist and Bare-Knuckle Boxing

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Snatch. Guy Richie’s ‘spin off’ of his more recognised film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) they both have similar themes and motifs. In addition visual style and actors featured are also similar. However Snatch is a more developed and stylised film in comparison, Richie as a director demonstrates a knowledge of camera tricks as well as screenwriting. Though Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has similarities in terms of genre etc, there are clear differences, they can not be compared. Richie has also made films such as Rock n Rolla (2008) and Sherlock Holmes (2009). These films show that Snatch helped Richie to develop on skills he used in his earlier films but also his development in characters and narrative. Richie can be seen in Snatch, he cameo’s as a man reading a newspaper in the back of the bar when we first meet the character Doug The Head. Many directors are known to do this to add humour and recognition for their work, such as Hitchcock who is most known for his Cameos.

Richie explores different themes and motifs throughout Snatch, always changing what the film means to the audience so that we are always involved and captivated by the actors performance but also the narrative. The main themes that I picked up on was violence from the mob/gangster element but also a disjointed, incoherent feeling. This is because all the characters having interlinking plots and motives which clash causing humour but also confusion for the audience. However this aided the film in my opinion, as it made it more humorous and believable. In life we all have are own motives and needs which clash with the people we meet causing new outcomes. Although they have different motives the characters still end up requiring the same object which causes the friction and interaction that helps to propel the narrative forward.

Snatch explores the different cultures that are involved with the criminal world, it was Yardies, Jews, Gypsies and Americans to the mix. The use of all these different groups of people creates a humorous clash of unstable character types. Jason Statham plays Turkish a Boxing promotor who gets pulled into the world of match fixing by associate Brick Top (Alan Ford). The narrative unfolds when the boxer they use gets badly beaten by Mickey O’Neil, ‘Pikey’ (Brad Pitt). This is an example of the situations where the narrative over laps as Turkish then uses Pitt. This intertwining narrative keeps us involved and curious as to how the film will play out. Richie made Brad Pitt’s character, O’Neil’s voice garbled and confusing, to counter the negative press he revived in previous films that the voices couldn’t be understood. This also aids Snatch, as it makes it less violent and more of a comedy. 

The main narrative that the characters follow are based around intertwining stories about a mob plot, bare-knuckle boxing and a diamond heist. In more detail each group of people, boxing promoters, aggressive bookmakers, Russian gangsters, amateur robbers and assumed Jewish jewellers who all fight to find a priceless 38 carat stolen diamond. The opening of the film shows a close up of the back of a mans head which is then panned upwards disappearing to show two men, we later know as Turkish and Tommy (Stephen Graham). While this pan is taking place to set the scene, a voice-over begins, the first person perspective of Turkish. This is used to further develop the scene, situation and who they are. This narrative technique is used to help the audience, it is as if Turkish is speaking straight to us, explaining his situation. Turkish has a distinctly British accent further developing the location of the film, in addition Turkish explains why his name is strange and why he’s in a squeeze. Tim Maurice-Jones (Lock, Stock and Barrel, Kick Ass 2, The Women in Black) uses a mixture of close ups and medium shots, the close ups are used to show who Turkish is speaking about, helping us identify which character is which as no one has spoken yet except for the first person narration. The scene then uses a slow fade out of Turkish, ending the scene abruptly.

Five minutes into the film the credits beginning introducing Richie’s amazing cast of actors. This is done by using a transition of shots that link with a fluid movement. This is done to introduce the audience with the wide range of characters and cultures they will meet throughout this film. I believe this was done in the opening credits, early in the film to help the audience associate with them later in the film, so they know who each character’s culture is. In the 102 minutes of the film there are 26 deaths, nearly every single one of these deaths takes place out of the cameras frame. Though the film  is seen as violent because of the crime element and boxing scenes, the main sense of death and murder is kept off screen possibly to keep the films comedic values.

Tim Maurice Jones uses a wide range of camera tricks and shots to keep the action flowing in every scene, to keep the audience entertained. Jones is known for his filming in many action films, which is shown by his skill when filming the first boxing scene where Pitt takes out Turkish’s boxer. Jones uses a paned shot that twists round the boxer allowing for the feel of the boxers unconsciousness, as if we are the birds tweeting in his ears. In addition to this Jones has the crowds hands and bodies present in the frame allowing the audience to further take in what has happened. The overall fight took less than a minute with Pitt ending it in a few seconds. The camera continues to pan out revealing more and more the crowd as the boxers get enveloped and slowly disappear.

Overall Snatch is a more of a comedy than it is a Crime film. Its use of actors such as Pitt and Statham though as commonly used in action films, play characters that are more humours. Furthermore the narrative structure and events that take place are mainly accidence that cause the characters to meet, which causes the narrative to further develop. The random structure of events that the characters take place in leaves the audience with more of a funny outcome then a violent ending. This does however work in the films favour, the intertwining narrative structure makes the film more enjoyable, as well as captivating. Though people compare Snatch as a worse Lock, Stock and Barrel. I believe that Snatch has its own identity and style. Richie did however keep to his comfort zone but did occasionally reach out when he played with the films similarities and the actors conventions. The narrative structure and actors makes this film well worth the watch.

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The Breakfast Club (1985) Review; Adolescent or Iconic Film?

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“…and these children that you spit on, as they try to change their world’s are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…”- David Bowie. This quote appears in the beginning, its purpose is to put the audience in the right mood focusing on children and the future. The Breakfast Club was directed by John Hughes, most known for his 80’s style films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Home Alone (1990). Though The Breakfast Club is his less esteemed film, it still has a fan base as well as a cult-like following. This could be because of the themes and pop culture which were so popular in the 80’s, as well as the relatable plot line. The film is an 80’s teen angst classic, the film hit a nerve with the younger generation as it focuses on maturity and sexuality, the film follows these ideologies. It is an urban ‘coming of age’ film about identity and relationships.

The film is based around a time when the American Dream shattered and identity and adolescence took its place, MTV pop generation is what the Breakfast club is based upon, pop culture. The film was named The Breakfast Club as it is the American nickname for detention, making detention a ‘cool’ club for delinquents and adolescent pupils, raising them up on a higher platform, allowing them to be praised by fellow students, being apart of the ‘club’. The film is based around five teenage students, a group of unruly teens that are ordered to be at school, Saturday for detention, to write an essay on themselves. The group are rebellious at first, however they eventually open up to each other. The films narrative follows teen archetypes, each character has a role to play in the plot, they each help it to unravel which makes the audience learn something about maturity and what it’s like to be a teenager. This is so that at the end of the film we can feel as though we have gone on a emotional journey with the characters.

The five teen archetypes that Hughes uses are the ‘Brain’ Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) who plays a socially awkward ‘nerd’ who just wants to be accepted for who he is that is, clever. Then there is Andrew the ‘Athlete’ (Emilio Estevez) who struggles to live up to his parent’s expectations, which clash with who he wants to be. Allison is the most mysterious and together character, though she is supposed to be the ‘Basket Case’ of the group, though  she feels invisible, acting out or lying is how she gets attention or detention. Claire (Molly Ringwald) is seen as the ‘Princess’ of the group. She is pulled between her father and mother, who buy her affection which makes her have the need to be popular and loved by all. The leader of the group is Bender, his character works to provoke and keep the narrative flowing. Bender (Judd Nelson), is the ‘Criminal’ of the group, the most rebellious and impulsive character. He lives to antagonise, his character’s narrative ploy is to bring the characters to their true selves, and not the facade they put up for others. When the characters facades break away we see the true bare emotions of these troubled teens, which allows the audience to connect with them and feel more involved with the film narrative.

The opening of the film is introduced by a first person narration by Brian. He explains the setting of the film. The narration works to put the audience in the same position as the characters, as if we are with them, experiencing detention. Brian states the place Shermer High School, Illinois, Saturday March 24th 1984 at 6:54 am. The dialogue continues with Brian explaining that they have given up a Saturday to go to detention. The montage of shots with the dialogue helps to set the theme of the film, for example the canteen, hall ways, bathrooms, notebooks, computer rooms, locker rooms, guidance counsellor office, prom queen and lockers.

The images shown each reflect the words being spoken, the ‘Brain’ has a computer lab; ‘Athlete’- locker room; ‘Basket case’- guidance counsellor; ‘Princess’ has prom queen photos and the ‘Criminal’ with Benders locker. The use of this imagery allows us the audience to visualise the atmosphere and environment, to better understand the films narrative and characters motivation. The use of mise-en-scene and cinematography working hand in hand helps to amplify this, we see all the places that are shown in the film, allowing for a type of sneak peak. In addition to the cinematography (Thomas Del Ruth), the film’s overall mise-en-scene and performance brings the film together. Most of the acting was done using improvisation, scenes where the group are talking with each other were all done in free form, the actors had a real sense of their characters and relationship with one and another. This combination made for a believable situations and stories allowing you to become truly immersed with the characters. 

The task of writing an essay turns into a quest for identity and friendship, revealing who they really are and the pressures they feel about growing up. The end result, is a paper that challenges society, that prejudges them as troublesome stereotypes. The film overall is completed by an amazing score and theme song. That works as a coda for the film. Simple Minds’ Don’t You (Forget About Me) was written specifically for the film. Judd Nelson then raises his fist in defiance walking into the sunset. This became an iconic scene as it empowered the audience to be ourselves. Overall the performance of the actors worked with the film to create an empowering, emotional journey for the audience. The mise-en-scene and cinematography helped to create a believable atmosphere that immersed the audience into the characters journey of self discovery.

(The end quote which leaved the audience with a untethered feeling) “what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal… Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club’

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Basic Instinct (1992) Review; Guilty Pleasure or Thrilling Cinema?

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The opening scene of Basic Instinct captures the main themes of the film, sexuality and violence. Only three minutes into the film we are shown two naked bodies and a brutal stabbing. This bold opening captured my attention and seduced me into watching more. The opening could be seen as a sample of what to expect from director Verhoeven who is known for action films such as (Total Recall:1990, RoboCop:1987) throughout the film. Captivating the audience early on with such a daring opening is sure to get a response, whether good or bad, we are glued, and ready for Verhoeven to unfold the mysteries that is Basic Instinct.

We are then introduced to our lead male character Nick, (Michael Douglas) a San Francisco detective. A scenic landscape shot by Jan De Bont (cinematographer) know for (Die Hard 1988, Lethal Weapon:1992), allows us to immediately identify Nick as the main character, this is followed by Douglas investigating the very murder we have witnessed, with the light of day dawning on the vicious killing. This scene hints to the plot and what to expect from the film, foretelling Nick’s obsessive pursuit for the killer. Our journey towards meeting Catherine, the murdered man’s ‘girlfriend’ is a challenge as it in inadvertently introducing us to another vital character to the plot, such as Roxy (Leilani Sarelle). Catherine is indifferent by the news of the murder or by the police’s presence, Catherine is used to entice Nick and further develop the plot. This provides us with a small taste of whats is to come from Sharon Stone who plays Catherine.

When Nick is collecting Catherine for an interrogation we see not only the true overt sexuality of Catherine but also the voyeuristic themes that are presented throughout the film, demonstrated through Nick’s leering at Catherine while she changes. This personal moment between the characters sets the intense chemistry that the two have together motivating the film’s narrative. The two characters are one and the same which is why they are drawn together. The infamous interview scene is widely controversial due to the explicit content added by Verhoeven but also the script written by Eszterhas. Catherine appears willing and with ‘nothing to hide’. The cat and mouse essence of this scene is only elaborated by the artful cinematography by De Bont. The shot reverse shot used as well as the pans and zooms add too the anticipation and tension of this scene, which is only magnified by the use of nudity.

The overall dynamic of the film focuses on Catherine’s motive or guilt of murder and Nick’s unravelling psyche and increasing sexual appetite.  This film also explores a new kind of thriller that explores the mind, strongly based on the characters state of mind, through the use of Dr. Beth Garner Nick’s psychiatrist and the psychological profiles used on the murder and Catherine. Nick’s mental downfall is created because of Catherine’s influence, which is shown by Nick’s bad vices coming into play slowly through the film, becoming reintegrated into Nick’s life, such as drinking when he gets emotionally involved with Catherine, then smoking when he gets romantically involved, the deeper the romance the harder the fall, into cocaine. This is done to amplify the seduction and intensity of Verhoeven’s characters. Verhoeven explores complex themes as well as sticking to a simple chase narrative with a romance. The style of the film has many similarities with works of Hitchcock, examples of this is the San Francisco setting, similar to Vertigo, the blonde female lead and the male cop with obsessive personality as well as voyeuristic habits and intense car chases. This may have been done to capture similar themes that Hitchcock was able implore in his work. Such as the mystery and thrilling narrative as well as the suspense caused by the prolonged scenes and cinematography. This certainly works in the film’s favour and helps to compensate in the slightly anticlimactic ending and prolonged scenes which lose the audience’s attention, for example moments with Dr Garner and with police detectives.

The actors’ performances also help where the plot falters. Michael Douglas’s performance throughout this film is engaging and intense. He appears emotionally distressed as well as intent in finding a fix for his unhealthy vices. However the depth of his character is amplified in the scene where he gives in and meets Catherine at a disco club. This scene is full of sexual imagery and movements intensifying Nick’s need to possess Catherine. This is envisioned by Verhoeven by having Douglas and Stone take part in an intense dance where they clearly both give in. Stone’s performance is both cold and passionate, keeping us engaged and curious as to how this will play out to the solving of the murder but also for Nick. Another character that is vital to the narrative of the film is Dr. Garner played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, who is a threat to Nick’s job but also to Catherine’s relationship with Nick. She is the catalyst to the film, she makes the plot flow and keeps the mystery going allowing for a watchable, thrilling, experience.

However the film can appear to try too hard to keep the thrill going. The film employs many sex  scenes, violent deaths, extreme car chases, impressive scenery and locations. I feel this is something that the film could have had less off and focussed more on the holes in the plot which can be confusing and frustrating for the audience. For example who is the murder? who is the stalker? and what are Catherine’s real intentions? These questions are partly answered by the deaths’ which occur but most importantly the closure of Nick and Catherine’s relationship to ‘fuck like mink’ which satisfies Catherine enough for now… Overall the theme has strong narrative themes of sexuality, nudity, violence, voyeurism, illegal substances, concluding to a physiological thriller, that focuses on human behaviour. However the number of intense scenes of the film struggle to balance with the calmer, narrative telling scenes. Nevertheless it is 124 minutes of pure basic human instinct which makes it so mysterious and captivating.