“PUSH” (2009) Review

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“PUSH” (2009) Review

When I first saw the 2009 science-fiction thriller, “PUSH”, I had assumed that it was based upon some novel, comic book series or graphic novel. Several years passed before I discovered that the movie’s plot was actually the brainchild of the screenwriter, David Bourla. 

Directed by Paul McGuigan, the movie is about a group of people with psychic abilities, who band together to stop a government agency from using a dangerous drug to enhance the abilities of others like them. The story began with a boy named Nick Gant and his father Jonah, two “Movers” (or telekinetics), who are on the run from Division, the government agency established in 1945 to hunt down and experiment on psychics. Before one of the Division’s operatives, Agent Henry Carver, can catch up with them, Jonah tells Nick that he had received a vision from a “Watcher” (seer) about a young girl that Nick must help in the future in order to take down Division. Jonah helps his son finally escape as Carver arrives and kills him.

Ten years later, Nick is hiding in Hong Kong, as an expatriate. A young girl named Cassie Holmes arrives at his apartment, claiming to be a Watcher. She needs his help in finding a mysterious case that she believes will bring down the Division and lead to the release of her mother (another and more powerful Watcher) from prison. The case that Cassie seeks contains a power boosting drug developed by the Division. Agent Carver has used this drug on several test subjects who have ended up dead. The only subject to survive the drug is a Pusher (telepathic manipulator) named Kira, who was an old love of Nick’s. Kira manages to steal a sample of the drug and place in a case that she had hidden upon her arrival in Hong Kong. Not only are Cassie and Nick looking for the case, but so are members of the Pop family, who have formed a psychic Triad and of course . . . the Division.

I could go into more detail about the movie’s plot, but right now, that is all I am willing to disclose. Overall, I liked the plot. It struck me as a very interesting twist on the whole topic of those with psychic abilities at war with each other. And the movie even featured a surprising twist in the end. I also enjoyed how the movie handled the visual effects. Mark Meddings did an excellent job in supervising those effects that featured the characters’ abilities. And these visual effects were enhanced by Peter Sova’s colorful cinematography. Sova’s photography also enchanced the movie’s views of Hong Kong and other parts of China.

But there were moments when I found the plot a bit convoluted and confusing, despite Dakota Fanning’s voice over. Judging from what I had revealed in the previous episode, one would find my comment confusing. But honestly, there were moments when it seemed that the movie was so caught up in revealing new characters and new psychic abilities that I almost lost track of the plot. If I must be brutally honest, Paul McGuigan’s uneven direction did not help. I had no problems with McGuigan’s handling of some of the action sequences – especially the prologue sequence featuring Nick and his father, Kira’s escape from two Division agents, and Nick’s encounters with Carver and the latter’s henchman, Victor Budarin. But his non-action sequences – especially in the movie’s second half – tend to drag. Sometimes, the cast manages to rise above his lethargic direction and sometimes, they cannot.

I had no problems with the cast. Chris Evans made a first-rate leading man. He also did a great job in developing his character from the embittered and self-involved young man hiding from authorities, to a more strong-will character willing to toe the line for others. Evans had two leading ladies – Dakota Fanning and Camilla Belle. I have already expressed my dissatisfaction with Belle. Fanning, on the other hand, gave a very spirited and skillful performance as the strong-willed and sardonic Cassie, who seemed more than determined to bring down the Division and help her mother. More importantly, both she and Evans had a very strong screen presence . . . which did not bode well for Belle. There are times when I find myself wondering if Djimon Hounsou is underrated as an actor. His performance as villain, Agent Henry Carver, is one of the best aspects of this movie. Hounsou can do ambiguity like nobody’s business and more importantly, his Carver is not some mustache twirling villain or one-note block of ice. The movie also featured excellent performances from a supporting cast that featured Joel Gretsch, Ming-Na Wen, Nate Mooney, Corey Stoll, Scott Michael Campbell, Maggie Sif, Kwan Fung Chi and Jacky Heung. I have to give special kudos to Cliff Curtis’ charming and colorful portrayal of a former Division agent named Hook Waters and Xiao Lu Li as the sly and malevolent Pop Girl, a Watcher for the Pop Triad.

Overall, I have mixed feelings for “PUSH”. It featured a pretty interesting premise, thanks to David Bourla’s screenplay. The movie also featured some first-class visual effects supervised by Mark Meddings. Unfortunately, Paul McGuigan’s direction struck me as slightly uneven. If it were not for the screenplay, the visual effects and excellent performances from the likes of Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning and Djimon Hounsou; this movie would have sank to the ground . . . at least for me.

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“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

“THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) Review

Director M. Night Shyamalan decided to explore the world of fantasy-adventure by filming an adaptation of an animated television series called ”AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER”. This movie is a fantasy-adventure tale set in a fictional, Asian-influenced world with Chinese martial arts and elemental manipulation. ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” tells the story of a young monk and the only surviving airbender (one with the psi ability to manipulate air) named Aang, who is believed by others to be the future Avatar – one who can manipulate all four elements of air, water, fire and earth. With his two new friends from the Southern Water Tribe, Aang seeks to learn to manipulate three other elements – water, earth and fire. In this movie, he journeys with his friends Katara (a waterbender) and her brother Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe, where he can learn how to master the waterbending skill from a master. Tracking Aang, Katara and Sokka is Prince Zuko, the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation; who has been exiled by his evil father, Fire Lord Ozai and sent to capture the future Avatar. With the Avatar’s capture, Zuko’s honor and right to the throne will be restored.

I would have never bothered to see this movie. But an office colleague of mine had really enjoyed the movie and recommended that I go see it. Needless to say, I do not regret following her advice. Mind you, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER”was not perfect. The movie’s first five to ten minutes failed to kickstart my interest. It bored me so much that I found myself on the verge of falling asleep. Most of the cast members gave performances that ranged from mediocrity to sheer boredom. And a good deal of the movie’s dialogue seemed extremely cheesy to me – the kind of dialogue one would find in the ”STAR WARS” and the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” franchises.

However, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” definitely had its virtues. I was impressed by the performances of the two leads, Noah Ringer and Dev Patel, who portrayed Aang and Zuko respectively. These two literally kept this movie together. It also helped that both had genuine martial arts experience. I was also impressed by Shaun Toub, who portrayed Zuko’s wise uncle, Iroh; Aasif Mandvi, who played the Fire Nation’s cold-blooded military commander, Zhao; and Cliff Curtis, who portrayed the ruthless leader of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai. Andrew Lesnie’s photography, Philip Messina’s production designs and the art directions supervised by Richard L. Johnson were very impressive, if not mind blowing. However, I did find Judianna Makovsky’s costume designs to be very beautiful and memorable.

From what I understand, ”THE LAST AIRBENDER” is not exactly a hit. It has failed to fully earn back the money spent on its production. Well . . . what can I say? Regardless of whether it was a hit or not, I found it an entertaining movie to watch and look forward to viewing it again on DVD.

“LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” (2007) Review

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“LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” (2007) Review

When I had first heard about a third sequel to the 1988 action blockbuster,”DIE HARD”, I thought that Bruce Willis must be very desperate to revive his career. Aside from the 2005 hit, ”SIN CITY”, he has not appeared in very successful movie in nearly a decade. The last movie in the ”DIE HARD” franchise had been released in 1995. Twelve years seemed like a hell of a time to release a new sequel. And to be honest, successful action flicks about cops have rarely been successful since the dawn of the 21st century. Needless to say, I did not harbor any hopes of this being a first-rate or successful film.

Then other facts and rumors about this new movie began to reach my ears. First came the title – ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”. It seemed very cheesy to me. In fact, it still does. I also heard a rumor that the John McClane character had left the New York Police Department to work for Homeland Security. Thankfully that turned out to be nothing more than a false rumor, for I had envisioned scenes filled with constant flag waving and patriotic rhetoric. Then I learned of the tidbit that McClane’s character would be battling foreign-born computer terrorists. This sounded oddly familiar. In fact, it brought back memories of the 1995 Sandra Bullock film, ”THE NET”. Well that rumor proved to be half-true. The two main terrorists – portrayed by Timothy Olyphant (“DEADWOOD”) and Maggie Q (“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3”) – turned out to be American-born. In the end, ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” not only proved to be worthy of its three predecessors, I thought it was just as good as the first film.

Despite its cheesy title, ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” had the good luck to possess an intriguing and damn good story. A former Federal employee named Thomas Gabriel (Olyphant) decides to attack the U.S. infrastructure during the July 4 holiday, through the use of high-tech computer programming. Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, he had warned his employers that any high-tech terrorist could bring about the country’s downfall through similar attacks. When they failed to listen and ruin his reputation and career, he decides to get his revenge with the help of his assistant and lady love, Mai Lihn (Maggie Q). Gabriel tricked several hackers, including one named Matt Ferrell (Justin Long) to create several programs to achieve goals. Then he proceeds to infect the hackers’ computer systems with a virus before killing them off one by one. When Ferrell hacks into the FBI, the latter sends the NYPD to arrest the remaining hacker still alive – Ferrell. Lieutenant Detective (Willis) is assigned to deliver the young hacker to Washington D.C. What started as a simple, delivery assignment turns into a full-scale hunt and destroy mission to take down Gabriel for both McClane and Ferrell.

Moviegoers and film critics tend to focus upon the action sequences for movies like those in the ”DIE HARD” franchise. But for me, exciting action sequences alone does not make a movie. Certainly not sequences like the one that featured McClane and a military jet. I really could have done without that little moment. For me to truly enjoy a movie like ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”, I also need a first-class story and good performances. Fortunately, the movie possessed all three – a first-rate script penned by Mark Bomback, exciting action sequences and an excellent cast led by the superb and always entertaining Bruce Willis. I want to point out that he was especially assisted by Olyphant, who portrayed a very intelligent and sinister villain; and Justin Long, who as Ferrell, managed to create great screen chemistry with Willis.

And believe it or not, director Len Weisman (“UNDERWORLD” and “UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION”) managed to bring it all of these elements together to create an exciting thriller that left me on the edge of my seat . . . instead of boring me out of my mind. To my utter surprise, Weisman actually managed to keep the ”DIE HARD” franchise fresh. And if he and Bruce Willis ever decide to consider it, I would not mind seeing a fifth movie.