New Empress Magazine The film magazine that breaks convention Fri, 03 Oct 2014 12:49:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In Review: Still the Enemy Within Fri, 03 Oct 2014 12:49:40 +0000


Still the Enemy Within is a collection of personal accounts from those miners involved in the mother of industrial disputes in 1984; their experience of the undeniably mission-like efforts of Margaret Thatcher to dismantle an entire industry and the lives of those dependent on the livelihood of mining. The film is a living antithesis and antidote to the constant media bombardment telling people that they do not deserve any rights at work and, despite some rough edges, is an invigorating call to arms.

The film is a no thrills, strangely personable and infuriating documentation of what went on: it is as flourish free as a slice of parkin and a well-brewed cup of tea, especially the charmingly unsophisticated reenactments, but you soon forget the rough edges. These rough edges become nothing more than the tiniest evidence of the budget of the film as you are confronted with the recollections of police brutality and intimidation tactics, the shortsightedness and petty nature of someone who had been elected to run a country and the absolute loss-making business that is public service privatisation.

The director Owen Gower was very young while all this dastardly skulduggery was happening but his devotion to the subject, evident from the painstaking knitting together of the timeline of the year long strike, interspersed with TV footage from that time, is testament to the devastation and lasting ire instilled by the demolition of the industry, the lies from media and government and the reliance of the UK on external sources of coal to this very day. Still the Enemy Within thus exposes the ultimate lie, the lie of necessary cuts, still being peddled today; any political party interested in building the UK economy and supporting its citizens would never have sponsored such a foolhardy and extreme decimation of UK industry.

Together with other recently released films documenting the struggles of the miners and their supporters; such as Pride and Tony Benn: Last Will and Testament, Still the Enemy Within is a hopeful, timely reminder that high ideals and a belief in human and working rights are not, should never be, unfashionable concepts in a so-called civilised society. This story needed to be told, for those who struggled at the time and for those who struggle today.

STILL THE ENEMY WITHIN is in UK cinemas from 3 October

Maryann has awarded Still the Enemy Within five Torches of Truth

5 torches

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In Review: Restless on DVD Thu, 02 Oct 2014 11:36:04 +0000

In a world of two-part films making the big screen, it’s odd that ‘Restless’ didn’t quite make the cut and was only shown on TV. With an incredible cast, including Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Michelle Dockery, Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling, this is a spy story with charm, as a young woman in the 1970s learns that her mother was a spy in World War Two and has been in hiding ever since.

As courageous and brave as her mother, this woman then goes about learning all she can about what really happened, discovering that her mother was enlisted after the death of her brother and then trained to join the British Secret Service. After a little persuasion, the woman then agrees to help her mother put an end to it all by tracking down the only man who can help her before she is killed.

As the story switches between 1970s England and travels around Europe and the US through wartime, viewers are taken on a thrilling journey that is as tense as it is mysterious. Who can be trusted? What is really at stake? The pace of the story really doesn’t allow too much time to dwell on these questions, as the next drama is never too far away. The result is a compelling mystery that never lulls or loses its way.

It’s great to see Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery out of her 1920s refinery and in flares, being bold and daring, and speaking her mind. Similarly, the ensemble cast are all magnificent to watch no matter how large or small their part may be. That said, it is Hayley Atwell and Charlotte Rampling who really lead the production, and rightly so. As the younger and older versions of the central character, the pair together work wonders at slowly unravelling such a complex character, so carefully created and developed by writer William Boyd.


Amanda has awarded Restless on DVD four Torches of Truth

4 torches


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In Review: Gone Girl Tue, 30 Sep 2014 11:30:18 +0000


It is easy to imagine Gone Girl being something of a pot-boiler without David Fincher; there are so many of the director’s inherent characteristics that enrich and empower the content, wringing metaphors from the text and performances. Without his prowess, or in the hands of a lesser visionary, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel could have been somewhat lacking.

The plot unravels neatly: Nick (Ben Affleck) comes home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, a police investigation begins, friends and acquaintances are questioned and the media erupts accordingly, but traits of the thriller genre are now so synonymous with the narrative structure they are beginning to feel trite and clichéd.

Ever since Hitchcock slapped us with Psycho’s colossal double twists and cine-mimics copied his traits, which have been regurgitated ad infinitum, viewers have become ever more desensitised and expectant of receiving that big surprise. Gone Girl boasts so many other intriguing factors; social media commentaries, romance and drama which all unite for a vast, thumping substance and subtext which adds weight to the genre’s tired formula.

Flashbacks are interspersed, accompanied by Amy’s voiceover. This, combined with Fincher’s imagery, conveys wonder and unease through haunted greys, dark blood against snowy whites and dank, yellow street lamps lighting up sugar clouds. Shots of irrefutable precision provide a pensive backdrop. It is in these bleak and beautiful contrasts where Gone Girl finds its power.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are shy of compelling in the leads but have an everyday quality suitably out of context and diverging from the ascetic visual style. Supporting characters are scattered throughout. Nick’s twin sister (Carrie Coon) who openly dislikes Amy and Amy’s parents, a mysterious best friend and a wealthy ex-boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris) conveniently tinted with stalker tendencies. It’s a typical but welcome “murder” mystery clan, the set-up so emblematic it feels like Jessica Fletcher could pop by any minute.

Trent Reznor’s minimalist fuzzy electrical soundtrack compliments the icy imagery along with dextrous editing that make Gone Girl a visual and visceral triumph. Obligatory twists speck a screenplay that wanders off into the ridiculous for a far-fetched but visually astounding finale but this late in the day outlandishness brings a welcome irony and only slightly blunts what is otherwise a razor-sharp suburban nightmare.

Daniel has awarded Gone Girl four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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In Review: The Equalizer Fri, 26 Sep 2014 14:13:37 +0000


Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 80s Edward Woodward series is, on the surface, a glossy, revenge thriller with gritty, urban staples but the overall effect is Expendables-like: randomly interjected clichés siphon the drama with banal action silage.

Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a hardware store clerk with a furtive past, now living a humble existence helping those dear to him. McCall’s morals get the better of him when Chloe Moretz’s powerless prostitute Teri enters his life. Enraged and empathetic, McCall wipes out the gang responsible for hurting Teri but attracts attention from double-crossing cops and a syndicate head who sends out a psychotic, Russian assassin (Marton Csokas) to take him out.

Despite the Stallone and co similarities, which are understandable considering the writers were Richard Wenk (The Expendables), Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim (the original Equalizer series), Fuqua’s Equalizer is reminiscent of the 70s and 80s urban cop thrillers of Walter Hill and William Lustig. But where those were synonymous with their time and setting, The Equalizer is a slick, monochrome hybrid, incorporating elements more associated with bland 80s mainstream action as well as Rolling Thunder (1977) and Death Wish (1974).

The Equalizer is fun at times but definitely suffers from an identity crisis. Fuqua’s serious tone combined with a dawdling first half, underdeveloped characters and an emaciated narrative definitely makes it wane before its runtime of over two hours is up. McCall’s Sherlock-like ability to detach himself from perilous situations and swiftly assess threat elements prior to attack is emphasised in slow-motion segments before fight sequences but inner conflicts and complexities are not emphasised enough or expressed in relation to the story.

It’s enjoyable but lacking in the high-octane audacity of Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen (2013), which boasted explosive yet realistic action, and the potent character drama of Training Day (2001).

Well directed punch-ups provide blasts of fun but its over-stylised visuals and outlandishness clash hard with the gritty content. Fuqua’s remake is slick but soulless with a decent, but hardly challenging, performance from Washington and a wavering Moretz in an underused but pivotal role. Its stylish action is passable kafuffle and entertaining enough but sadly generic considering the talent on board.

Daniel has awarded The Equalizer two Torches of Truth


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East Finchley Phoenix Cinema commemorates WWI centenary and work of Richard Attenborough Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:37:04 +0000

Oh What a Lovely War

East Finchley’s Phoenix Cinema quite rightly chose to mark the centenary of WWI, the passing of Richard Attenborough and the open house weekend to showcase its beautiful 1910 building (at its opening the cinema was known as The Picturedrome) and a screening of the 1969 tour de force, Oh! What a Lovely War, a film which celebrated its 45th anniversary of release last April.

Director and actor Richard Attenborough, funnily enough most likely remembered by younger audiences as the man who tried to bring dinosaurs back to life in 1993’s Jurassic Park, was responsible for directing the film of the stage play known for being starkly but wryly honest about the origins of WW1 and its effect on our nation’s psyche.

The film contained many of that time’s biggest stars; Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, John Mills (plus other members of the acting dynasties of Mills and Redgrave) and much of the action was set on the seafront of Brighton; the gateway to the extravaganza of World War I, where carousels turn into forests scattered with the Belgian soldierly dead, where tiny seaside trains don’t just lead you along the promenade but to your almost certain death on the Somme as you and your family, who are being left behind while you go off to fight, sing ‘Goodbye-ee, goodbye-ee, Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee..’

Oh! What a Lovely War quite rightly claims its place amongst the barrage of war films we have been subjected to over the years but with a difference; there is no focus on the fighting itself, no claims of heroism or bravado, just many reflections on the very real human story. The fear, the hopelessness and the realisation of many young men in the trench and on the battleground that there isn’t an upside to going to war. The very realisations that should prevent any war, the realisations that meant people referred to WW1 as The Great War because they did not believe that such a loss of life and heart could ever happen again on such a scale.

The film does not deny its stage foundations and, in that manner, finds a way to reach out to those who would not normally watch a war film. The film builds well on the drama of the beginnings of the war; the spat between European aristocracy, the joint assurances that it wouldn’t last very long, the refusals to accept offers of ceasing bloodshed, the overblowing of events into a war that was incredibly unlovely. Oh! What a Lovely War ridicules the entitlement of the officer class in a way that will be very familiar to those with an interest in Monty Python and Elton/Curtis’ Blackadder, which collectively took many pot shots at the institution of the army with The Meaning of Life and TV series Blackadder Goes Forth. Particularly poignant in Oh! What a Lovely War are the scenes showing Haig and his colleagues waltzing around the ballroom while boards display the latest numbers of allied deaths in each battle. Discussions of job promotions and lunches at Number 10 seemingly weighing more heavily on their minds than the heavy loss of life that their decisions were responsible for.

Not to take anything away from the dialogue, but the full impact of the film can be found in the imagery: the starkness of blending the innocence, bright lights and ice-cream colours of the seaside town with the blood and dashed hopes of the field hospital, the popular songs of the time bringing an added realism to a setting that should really be ridiculous but just highlights the futility of war to the fullest extent possible. The end scene of the film is dominated by camera panning out on the sight of innumerable rows and rows of white crosses, a sense of calm and peace washing away the hurt and uncertainty of war. Until the next time.

People would have sat under the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the East Finchley Picturedrome cinema and watched footage of people on the front line in the same situation that their own family members could have been in, 1914 being a budding time in the life of film and the cinema. Oh! What a Lovely War did recreate the scenarios in some of these short films, such as the meeting of ‘Tommy” and “Jerry” in the middle of no man’s land one Christmas, so once again manages to be entirely relevant to the events of that time, a time when we were more keenly aware of the effects of war than ever before. Showing Oh! What a Lovely War is certainly a fitting tribute to Lord Richard Attenborough: his first stint in the directorial chair produced a film that anyone could be proud of making..

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In Review: Maps to the Stars Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:02:21 +0000


After blowing our minds with body horror classics in the 80s and 90s, David Cronenberg quietly crept into more cerebral territory; focusing less on the outwardly graphic visuals and conjuring more subtle and creeping fables, equally provocative as they are compelling. Maps to the Stars follows a handful of fictitious celebrities and their servants living in LA. Depicting a myriad of damaged lives, the narrative unravels to reveal how they operate at a borderline psychotic level with broken social skills and fractured personalities. It is a mesmerising journey with supernatural levels of surrealism woven into the subtext, augmenting the film with a disorientating, dream-like quality.

Mia Wasikowska plays Agatha, a young Hollywood hopeful and PA to fading starlet Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), the daughter of a golden era movie star who died in a house fire. Havana attempts to re-ignite her career by auditioning for a role in the remake of a film once made famous by her mother. Meanwhile Agatha reunites with her estranged family and befriends a wannabe screenwriter/ limo driver played by Robert Pattinson.

Cronenberg’s masterful weaving of various strands make for a hypnotic and engrossing excursion through a haunted Hollywood of ravaged egos and burnt-out personalities. The most absorbing plot strand focuses on young actor Benjie, played by the fantastic Evan Bird, a tween in rehab while working on a derivative, low brow comedy sequel from a successful film franchise. Benjie’s relationships emphasise a dark, complex insecurity at the heart of the characters.

Observing through his trademark isolate gaze, Cronenberg’s style is laced with a biting, sardonic humour which rouses a welcome warmth. While not as dreamy or abstract as Mulholland Drive (2001), there are many similarities to the Lynch masterpiece, as well as with The Player (1992) and the films of Todd Solondz. Cronenberg unveils dream sequences while providing a commentary on Hollywood life instead of presenting a plot punctuated with the type of claret dousing money shots that made him famous.

Maps to the Stars is a burnt out celebrity gossip column observed drunk through a lava lamp and wallows in psychosis instead of sensationalising the weakness of its characters. It is subtle, restrained and only slightly unnerving with ravaged, naked temperaments while throbbing subtexts meld for a faux expose of a frazzled tinsel town that is deplorable, hilarious and blissfully surreal.

Daniel has awarded Maps to the Stars five Torches of Truth

5 torches

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In Review: 20,000 Days on Earth Fri, 19 Sep 2014 11:39:20 +0000

20,000 days

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s documentary about angst-ridden rock poet Nick Cave dismantles his foreboding but debonair persona and digs for humanity with extraordinary results. Drifting between ersatz psychotherapy sessions between Cave and a shrink journalist, the film probes the icon by dusting off old film footage and photos, examining his creative process and linking fame fears with a possible God complex.

More a beguiling work of art than a standard rock doc, the directors interject an air of the ethereal by peeling away the layers of the singer’s psyche and techniques via ambient music and imagery while deconstructing his image for an enthralling insight. Fictional segments of Cave in real life are interspersed with footage of Bad Seeds’ performances, the band at work in the studio and historians rummaging through boxes of old photographs, projected onto a big screen for scrutiny.

Colleague contributions are presented as fleeting day dreams with Cave driving through a dew-dotted Brighton. Instead of the flat, monotonous talking head sequences, these scenes affix an otherworldly air as Cave chats with Kylie, Ray Winstone and ex-Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld. Never one to shy from exactness in the flaunting of lyrical angst, Cave dictates accompanied by a melancholic avant-garde score (by himself and Warren Ellis), along with Bad Seeds’ tracks to amplify the disorientation. A scene featuring Cave and Ellis reminiscing over old times and concerts with Nina Simone while chowing down on fried eels is also very charming.

It is sultry and elegant film-making whether you’re a Cave fan or not. The music is astounding and the cinematography wonderful. The only significant flaws to be found would be the slightly overlong running time and that it repeats itself on occasion, yet it remains a bleak and wondrous study with magical seam-bleeding editing and great bravado. Cave’s willingness to throw himself open rather than adhere to the angry vamp that epitomises his work is a striking feature.

20,000 Days on Earth is a truly mesmeric experience with alluring, abstract sequences. Hopefully all documentary film-makers will continue to experiment with the pushing of filmic boundaries and breaking of genre conventions in such a refreshing and riveting manner as is on display here. As a result this is by far one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made and a sure-fire game changer.

Daniel has awarded 20,000 Days on Earth four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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In Review: Magic in the Moonlight Thu, 18 Sep 2014 12:50:24 +0000

Magic in the Moonlight

Though his work may fluctuate in quality you can’t knock Woody Allen for inconsistency (a film a year for the past 40 is pretty good going) and while Magic in the Moonlight features traits strongly associated with his later work: sun-kissed, foreign locations, sumptuous cinematography as well as another strong, multi-layered female protagonist, it remains a tad slapdash.

Wei Ling Soo, real name Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth), a successful, mirthless magician is requested by friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to visit an associate and assess the authenticity of local medium Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has enchanted their household with her flawless predictions and, seemingly, the ability to summon the spirits of dead family members. As a stern atheist, Stanley accepts the offer, but naturally there is more than meets the eye of the charming Ms Baker.

Despite it’s “autochrome” beauty captured on Cinemascope lenses, Magic in the Moonlight’s editing feels slightly hasty and botched. With such a wonderful but underdeveloped central concept one would imagine it working better as a stage play, as soiree-set, dialogue scenes dominate the story but while waxing lyrical it often fails to ring true.

Firth plays one of Allen’s most disagreeable characters in a while and, like Larry David’s Boris in Whatever Works (2009) and Allen’s David Dobel in Anything Else (2003), is highly judgemental of others. A scene featuring Firth and Stone struggling to fix a car in the rain is reminiscent of old Allen yet despite Firth being a fine actor he is unconvincing as Crawford. Meanwhile Emma Stone is excellent as another of Allen’s fantastic female protagonists and a world away from Blanchett’s Jasmine.

It is great that Allen is producing works at such a rate but one can’t help wonder if spending more time on individual projects would be ultimately more worthwhile. Magic in the Moonlight is charming due to its cinematography by Darius Khondji (Se7en) [who was inspired by French Photographer Jaques Henri] and Emma Stone’s alluring performance but it lacks decent editing and execution. The story and production are hotchpotch yet there’s a fantastic fluency in the dialogue that, while not appropriate for the medium, remains strangely eloquent. Clumsiness hinders MITM’s heart but a visual grace and breezy nature make it enjoyable all the same.

                          Daniel has awarded Magic in the Moonlight three Torches of Truth


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In Review: Vamps on DVD Wed, 17 Sep 2014 14:55:09 +0000


Amy Heckerling has good form as far as droll humour goes (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982, Look Who’s Talking, 1989, Clueless, 1995) which just might be the main draw to watching Vamps, an examination of the understandably tricky vampire dating scene/life in New York. The cast of Sigourney Weaver, Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter and Malcolm McDowell (as Vlad the Impaler) might also be somewhat of a draw. Judging by the poor first ten minutes of the film you’d have to be significantly invested in the promise of cast and director to carry on watching the rest of the film. But there is a strange sort of reward waiting for you if you do.

Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) have their strategies for surviving modern life; abstinence from drinking human blood – “undead is not unfeeling” – plenty of drinking straws for rat blood access and a sprinkling of ‘home soil’ in their adjacent shiny coffins, conveniently placed in the middle of their lounge for quick pre-dawn access. Probably not entirely convenient if you have guests over that aren’t vampires but this doesn’t appear to be a problem that occurs very often until Stacy meets a Van Helsing (Dan Stevens) at her film studies class (he stares at her décolletage, she checks out his throbbing neck veinage).You would think the biggest hurdle they might face would be a vampire hunter but no, the government and a threat of dragging all the city’s vampires out during the day for jury duty is the axe now hanging over all of their pearly white necks.

It all sounds too ridiculous for words and some of it is. But the great scenes are also imbued with the ridiculous and leave you with the impression that this could have been a better film had the right note of ridiculous always been found. The cast are quite impressive even in delivering the cheesier lines with aplomb, especially Sigourney Weaver and Justin Kirk (as Vadim).There are even some slight tear-inducing moments of reflection on the lonelier aspects of being a vampire reminiscent of Interview with the Vampire (1994) and the TV series of Angel (1999).

As with all Heckerling’s films, the humour is balanced with the more serious implications of being alive (and dead) in the modern world and is ultimately a welcome addition to the stable of lighter hearted monster films, despite its weaker spots.

No extras.

Maryann has awarded Vamps on DVD three Torches of Truth


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In Review: Transformers Age of Extinction Tue, 16 Sep 2014 14:55:29 +0000

Any major film franchise has to be pretty successful to get to a fourth outing, especially when less than profitable returns for sequels are a big problem.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is the 2014 instalment for the live-action Transformers series and it is the sequel to Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

This episode is set five years later after the Decepticon invasion of Chicago and features an entirely new cast of human characters, and is the first in the series to feature the Dinobots.

Fans of the previous outings will be pleased to see the return of popular Transformers Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Leadfoot, Brains and Megatron (who is now known as Galvatron).

Human-wise, Mark Wahlberg is the lead and uses his own brand of smart-but-dumb action hero persona to good effect in what is essentially a traditional sci-fi romp aimed at the younger market.

Like all the other films in the series, Age of Extinction is directed by Michael Bay and features Steven Spielberg in the role of executive producer. Having written every Transformers film since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Ehren Kruger once again takes the helm for script duties.

As might be expected, the action scenes and visual effects combined with the franchise’s ongoing popularity and Wahlberg’s box office appeal meant it has been a commercial success which has so far grossed over $1 billion in worldwide box office revenue.

Some fans have complained that the plot line is confused and some of the humour is misplaced. However, even the most cynical would have to agree that Transformers Age of Extinction’s exceptional CGI and stunning 3D effects look amazing in a Cineworld theatre and that not many others can rival its pure entertainment appeal.

Although aimed firmly at a young audience that will be familiar with the characters from other media, the whole Transformers franchise has become something of a guilty pleasure for parents and older sci-fi fans in general.

Watching massive machines morph and mutate whilst creating havoc onscreen is something that most people can have fun with, and the enduring nature of the run of films is testament to how well they take on the role.

Paramount Pictures’ Rob Moore has stated that there have been talks for a fifth and sixth instalment, and his colleague Senior Vice President Edward Ryan promised a fifth Transformers film will be released in 2016 so there’s more to come.

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