Yep, the cinematic round up returns...

That was the week in which...
Secret Cinema commenced ticket sales for its presentation of The Empire Strikes Back. And numerous dates are sold-out already, with fans happy to cough up 78 Galactic Credits (hey, their words, not mine) to see the film again in an immersive setting.

Tickets are also being snapped up for a showing of Back To The Future that’s accompanied by a live orchestral performance its of score, with tickets also far north of what you’d usually pay for what ultimately amounts to a cinema ticket. Film nostalgia, it seems, is way better than it used to be.

Whether it’s film or music, there’s always been a cynical view that a reformed band or a cleverly remarketed film is lapped up by fans purely for nostalgic reasons: as if such events offer little more than a cultural comfort blanket for those who want to relive their youth.

Admittedly, that’s probably part of a myriad of emotions that fans feel while re-engaging with an old favourite (how else can I explain losing 40 minutes on two consecutive days to the undeniably crappy Police Academy 2?), but for the most part it’s because classic material possesses the strength to provide almost endless repeat entertainment. Everyone has their own favourites, of course - I can easily lose an hour if Gremlins, Shaun of the Dead, Star Wars, A Fish Called Wanda, Groundhog Day or Bad Santa is televised.

Perhaps part of our suspicion is due to past brushes with exploitatively promoted comebacks: the original print of the classic film that several decades on looks like shite and is almost inaudible; the band in which only the non-singing, non-songwriting keyboard player is the only returning member from its classic line-up; football’s “masters” series in which the stars of your youth chug around a five-a-side with all the lung capacity of an asthmatic in a forest fire.

It’s not as if cash spent on nostalgia-derived events is money that could help to fund new projects. Some of that audience will still be seeking that next life-affirming experience, but for many, life’s post-30 challenges means that such a yearning is relegated down the list of priorities to the extent that you want a guaranteed return if you’re going to invest in a rare evening of me time.

It’s a little like the guilty pleasures debate: essentially, if it’s a pleasure why should it be guilty? The shitter comes in the ticket prices, for nostalgia is a package that always commands a hefty price that many either can’t justify or afford. Ultimately, though, the core product is what provides the wonder. And whether you’re in an epic reconstruction of Hoth surrounded by talking Yodas or sitting on the sofa with some Polish lager, that will never change.

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The big film: The Divergent Series: Insurgent
This quickly assembled sequel comes less than a year after last April’s blockbuster Divergent, the first franchise to make a genuine challenge for Katniss and co.’s status as lords of the Young Adult genre. Despite an awkward title (although Divergent: Insurgent sounds no better), can this live up to the high hopes of its fandom?

Set shortly after the first film, Shailene Woodley returns as Tris, the ‘Divergent’ now on the run for her life alongside true love Four (Theo James). Chasing them is Jainine (Kate Winslet), the oppressive leader of the films’ dystopian society determined to capture Tris in order to use her power to open a device which contains a message from the founders of the factions in which they live.

So, Winslet’s bureaucrat from hell is on the tail of Woodley’s plucky heroine, and that’s it really. No, really. Most of the film is spent watching our young star run from baddies, discussing what would happen if she was caught, while Winslet talks about what will happen if she finds Woodley. The two hour film largely acts as a set up for the final ten minutes, finding its conclusion via a wave of nonsensical exposition and action scenes that, while pretty to look at, don’t feel that urgent.

Such listless storytelling is a crime considering the cast involved. Two more Oscar darlings join Winslet aboard the franchise train - Octavia Spencer in a surprisingly brief appearance as a faction leader, and Naomi Watts as Four’s long-lost mother - and everyone makes a good account for themselves. Woodley gives it her all in the lead, Winslet is deliciously cold as the baddie, and Miles Teller is entertaining as the untrustworthy Peter (especially for someone who confessed to feeling “dead inside” making the first film).

However, all the effects and stars are merely distractions from the fact that Insurgent takes a baffling route to a flat and unsatisfying conclusion. While it will no doubt make enough to forge ahead with the two-part finale, people looking for a gripping YA franchise may wish to stick with The Hunger Games.

Words: James Luxford

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Also out: The Gunman
In which Sean Penn appears to have noticed Liam Neeson doing Liam Neeson stuff and thought, “I can do Liam Neeson stuff too.”

It’s never a promising sign to see a film in which a star name is credited as both lead actor and producer. A little like Gerard Butler’s Machine Gun Preacher, The Gunman attempts to blend politics and the profound with explosive action scenes. A lot like Gerard Butler’s Machine Gun Preacher, The Gunman’s disparate elements don’t connect to create a satisfying whole.

Sean Penn leads as Terrier, a sniper whose work in an already fractured Congo leads to wider social unrest. On a personal level, its consequences are reprised years later when it becomes apparent that his former employers want him dead.

Vanity soon surfaces as Penn repeatedly shows off his beefcake physique (Sean: you look pretty damn good, but being ripped doesn’t equate to fulfilling drama); duffs up a whole bunch of tough guys half his age; and, in two of the film’s three highlights, escapes certain death an in admittedly thrillingly unlikely manner. All of which while sporadically some kind of debilitating brain injury, and trying to rekindle a romance that he doesn’t seem to be particularly bothered about.

What’s more, a fine supporting cast is wasted. Idris Elba’s role is barely heftier than a cameo; Ray Winstone delivers the kind of performance that pads rather than improves his filmography; Mark Rylance does his best with the material on offer; and somehow Javier Bardem is almost cartoonishly awful. That said, the fate of one of these characters is one of cinema’s most accidentally amusing moments in a long time.

As a result, The Gunman doesn’t really succeed in any of its goals. The action offers briefly visceral thrills, even if it contains all of the cerebral substance of a double-bill of Peppa Pig.

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Also out: A Second Chance
Between them, A Second Chance director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen have been responsible for many of the most underrated indie films over the course of the last fifteen years. Their best work - In A Better World, After The Wedding, Open Hearts - is big on provoking moral dilemmas and the possibility of redemption in often contrasting circumstances.

Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau takes centre-stage as content middle-class police officer Andreas whose life revolves around his Gone Girl-ish wife, their young son and his alcoholic sidekick Simon. Andreas’s comfortable family life contrasts with what he discovers when dispatched to a domestic dispute: two addicts are raising a baby in squalid conditions. Soon enough, circumstances dictate that their lives are to interweave.

Almost unwatchably grim at times, A Second Chance’s central narrative point is ambitious enough to stretch even Bier and Jensen’s substantial talents. As ever, the question of right and wrong is contorted and confused, but the duo provoke just enough thinking points to balance the plot’s soap opera excesses. It’s a simultaneous contradiction of clever contrasts and absurd plotting.

Despite the acclaim greeted to its TV shows, Nordic miserablism is still curiously underrated when delivered in cinema-sized chunks. Rather too contrived, A Second Chance is far from one the genre’s finest moments but still packs a hefty emotional punch.

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Shorts
Briefly amusing but ultimately misguided idea of the week: activists apparently plan to drop 10,000 copies of The Interview in North Korea via balloon.

Oldies favourite The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel remained at the top of last weekend’s UK box office with another million quid added to its eight-figure box office gross. Run All Night - Liam Neeson doing Liam Neeson stuff - followed at #2 with Suite Française following at #4. Our pal Paddington is still popular, with the furry Peruvian gangster sitting on enough money to make Gordon Gekko look like he’s scrabbling in the gutter for spare change.

Finally, Senna director Asif Kabadia’s Amy Winehouse documentary will be released on July 2nd. Here’s the poster...

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