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Non-Review Review: Adrift

Adrift is a visceral and powerful survival thriller, based on the remarkable true story of Tami Oldham.

In the mid-eighties, Oldham became a figure of note following a disastrous journey into the Pacific with her fiancé Richard Sharp. Sailing from Tahiti to San Diego, their luxury yacht is caught in the middle of Hurricane Raymond. The ship is damaged, the pair separated. Waking up in the flooding living compartment, Oldham is forced to improvise in order to survive. It is a harrowing scenario, a story of a woman essentially wrestling against the elements in a desperate attempt to stay alive in a seemingly impossible situation.

Sail away with me…

The basic premise of Adrift is familiar. It recalls any number of powerful lost-at-sea narratives, from All is Lost to Cast Away to The Mercy. Director Baltasar Kormákur wrings as much tension as possible from the premise, perhaps drawing on his experience working on similar ocean-themed movies like The Sea or The Deep. At certain points in Adrift, the audience is liable to feel claustrophobic, to gasp for breath as the camera whirls and struggles against the oppressive force of nature.

Adrift suffers slightly from a sense of over-familiarity, and from a clumsy plot development that it chooses to play as a big twist rather than an organic narrative element. Nevertheless, Adrift is a tense story of survival in impossible circumstances.

Mast-er and commander.

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Non-Review Review: Divergent – Allegiant

In terms of dystopian young adult science-fiction/fantasy franchises, Divergent is solidly mid-tier. It is in technical and production terms superior to The Maze Runner, but markedly inferior to The Hunger Games. It lacks the sort of spectacular camp that made The Mortal Instruments stand out, for better or worse. It is a reasonable execution of a fairly reliable (although also heavily problematic) central concept, but without anything that really elevates it above its competitors.

Allegiant is the first part of a two-part finalé to the series, as has become the norm for these types of films. However, it all feels rather rote. Allegiant does not feel like the first part of a two-parter, instead feeling like its own story that could support a sequel but alternatively would be a perfectly fine place to wrap up if the studio decide to all it a day. The fact that it is the first of a two-part adaptation of a source material feels like a decision that was made because that is just how you adapt young adult franchises at this point in time.

Hate to burst your bubble...

Hate to burst your bubble…

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Non-Review Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is a wonderfully constructed teenage romance, featuring a fantastic central performance from Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old cancer patient dealing with her own mortality. She bumps into Augustus Waters at a support group meeting. Augustus is another survivor, and the two immediately hit it off. While The Fault in Our Stars is fairly predictable, and hits relentlessly on the expected emotional beats, Woodley’s performance is strong enough to elevate the film.

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s adaptation of John Green’s best-selling novel avoids wallowing too heavily in melodrama. Despite a few missteps, The Fault in Our Stars feels like a much more genuine and thoughtful exploration of loss and tragedy than films like My Sister’s Keeper or Death of a Superhero or Now is Good.

Getting into the swing of things...

Getting into the swing of things…

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Non-Review Review: Divergent

As far as adaptations of popular young adult novels go, Divergent lacks the strong charismatic lead of The Hunger Games or even the campy pleasure of The Mortal Instruments. Working with a premise that feels like it would have made for a delightfully cheesy piece of sixties socially-conscious science-fiction, Divergent proceeds to take absolutely everything far too seriously. Cliché moments play to an over-the-top soundtrack, terrible dialogue is delivered with earnest profundity, the movie failing to take any joy in anything that it does.

There’s a sense of cynicism in Divergent, with the sequels already mapped out, and the studio committed to their release. The result is a movie that never feels compelled to rush, instead spending most of its runtime spinning its wheels, covering familiar ground. It’s over-long and poorly paced, with the first two acts often feeling like a hyper-extended training montage, meaning that by the time anything starts happening the audience can’t wait for it to end. The result is a heavy-handed and over-cooked attempt at social commentary, one reeking of anti-intellectualism and simplistic pandering.

Don't worry, her training covers this...

Don’t worry, her training covers this…

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Requiem For a Genre Star: Michael Massee and Familiar Faces In Small Roles…

With Jamie Foxx in contention to play Electro in the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, I got thinking about the teaser in the middle of the credit sequence. In the small scene, a mysterious visitor confronted Curt Connors about what Peter Parker did or did not know about his father. He got a single line, and was couched in shadow. My less cynical side suggests that this was an attempt to play up the mystery of the character so his inevitable appearance in the sequel would make sense. My more pragmatic side figures that it was to leave the role open for the production team to hire a big-name actor for the character’s appearance in the next film in the series. That is, after all, why all the shots of Norman Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man were careful not to reveal any facial features. Perhaps they can be digitally reinserted into the first film when the role is cast next time around?

However, this short sequence is a bit disappointing, if only because I was able to recognise the actor appearing, only for a second, cloaked in darkness. He was Michael Massee. And I feel a little sad that this means he likely won’t be playing a significant role in the sequel.

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Non-Review Review: The Descendants

George Clooney’s work in The Descendants is being hailed as the actor’s greatest performance to date. Truth be told, I suspect that Clooney’s filmography has (generally speaking) been remarkably strong, so it’s difficult to really isolate the actor’s “best” performance. That said, I do think that The Descendants allows Clooney to play his most mature role to date, as Clooney finds the heart and the heartbreak in this darkly comic drama about a “part-time parent”who gets a major bump in responsibility following his wife’s near-fatal accident.

Hedging his bets...

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