“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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“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” (2012) Review

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“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” (2012) Review

Two years ago, Warner Brothers made the decision to split the movie adaptation of Stephanie Meyers’ last “Twilight Saga” novel – “Breaking Dawn” – into two films; following its example of the two adaptations for the last “Harry Potter” novel. The first film, “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”, was released a year ago. Instead of waiting six months, the studio decided to wait a year for the second half of the tale, “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”

“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” picked up where the latter film left off – with Bella Swann’s transformation into a vampire, following the difficult birth of her and Edward Cullen’s daughter. The movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes focused on Bella becoming acquainted with her new state and abilities. She eventually learns that her best friend and wolf shapeshifter, Jacob Black has “imprinted” on hers and Edward’s new daughter, Renesmee Carlie Cullen. In other words, Jacob has found his soulmate in Bella’s daughter – whether he proves to be her protector, a lover, or an older sibling. At the moment, Jacob seemed to be serving as Renesmee’s protector and much older friend. Bella first reacted with hostility at the idea of Jacob imprinting on her daughter, but she eventually resolved herself to the situation. But a more important situation has developed with Renesmee. The Cullen/Swan offspring has begun aging rapidly. Even worse, a fellow vampire named Irina Denali spots Renesmee playing in the woods with Bella and Jacob and comes to the conclusion that the young girl might be an immortal – a vampire sired from a child. She reports her assumptions to the Volturi, who become determined to destroy Renesmee. Creating child vampires goes against their law, due to the former’s unpredictable nature. Aro, leader of the Volturi, also longs to destroy the Cullens; due to their large size and the psychic abilities that many of them possess. Bella, Edward and the Cullens are forced to seek allies from other vampire covens around the world to help them protect Renesmee from the Volturi. And Jacob recruits his fellow wolf shapeshifters from the La Push pack to assist in the Cullens’ battle.

A part of me is astounded that the film franchise for the “Twilight” Saga has finally come to an end with this film. Another part of me is relieved. To be honest, I have never been a die hard fan of the series. And of the five movies, I have managed to like at least two of them – “ECLIPSE” and surprisingly, “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. You heard it first. I actually liked “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. I did not love it. And I was not initially thrilled by Bella’s initial transformation into a vampire. But for some reason, her transformation and the birth of her daughter attained a few achievements in the franchise. One, Bella’s character transformed from a passive and love-obsessed teenager to a self-assured and mature young woman (or vampire), who proved she could ruthless when protecting her daughter. For the first time in the series, the Bella/Edward romance actually became bearable. I believe this was due to the change in Edward’s nature, as well. He stopped being a brooding and controlling boyfriend and began treating Bella as an equal partner in their relationship. And the tiresome love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob finally came to an end, due to Renesmee’s birth. Jacob came to accept Bella and Edward’s romance and began focusing his attention upon their daughter. Thankfully, Jacob’s feelings for Renesmee did not produce any “ick factor” within me. I believe this is due to Jacob’s attitude toward her as some kind of goddaughter or younger sister. Renesmee seemed to regard him as some kind of loving big brother. And even more ironically, both Taylor Lautner and child actress Mackenzie Foy managed to click on-screen.

Before one accuses me of loving this film, I assure you that I do not. Yes, I liked it. But it had problems that prevented it from becoming a favorite of mine. Being part of the “Twilight” Saga did not help. I found the scene featuring Bella arm wrestling with Emmett Cullen rather childish and a waste of time. In Stephanie Meyers’ novel, Charlie Swan learned about Jacob’s status as a wolf shape shifter and suspected that Bella and the Cullens are not quite human, but he was never informed that she had transformed into a vampire. However, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg made matters slightly worse by not even conveying Charlie’s suspicions of the recent inhuman nature of his daughter. I found that rather sloppy. Also, there were moments when I found the Cullens and Jacob’s interactions with their vampire allies resembling a “happening” from the Age of Aquarius. I had this fear that sooner or later, they would form a circle by holding hands and sing “Kumbaya”. Those moments were most nauseating. Hell, I enjoyed the Bella/Edward sex scene more than those moments.

But despite these unpleasant moments in the film, I still enjoyed “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. Dear God, I cannot believe I said that. But I liked it. Aside from the more positive portrayals of Bella and Edward’s characters and Jacob’s relationship with Renesmee, there were other aspects of the movie I liked. Michael Sheen was deliciously over-the-top as the Voltari’s leader, Aro. Billy Burke’s portrayal of Charlie Swan was entertaining as ever. Due to the improvement over Bella and Edward’s personalities, I was able to enjoy Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s performances a lot more than I did in the previous movies. Taylor Lautner was great, as always. Maggie Grace was very effective as Irina Denali, the embittered vampire who erroneously assumed that Renesmee was an under aged vampire. Both Lee Pace and Rami Malek provided a great deal of the movie’s humor as two of the vampires who become among the Cullens’ vampiric allies.

The movie’s pièce de résistance proved to be the final battle between the Cullens’ army of vampires and wolf shapeshifters and the Voltari’s army. I have to hand it to director Bill Condon. He really outdid himself in this sequence. I found it even more impressive than director David Slade’s handling of the protagonists’ battle with Victoria’s army of newborn vampires in 2010’s“ECLIPSE”. This sequence was enhanced by the plot twist that marked the end of the battle. It was a twist that struck me as well handled by both Condon and Rosenberg. In fact, I believe they did a better job of this sequence than Stephanie Meyer did in her novel.

Like I said . . . a part of me is happy that the “Twilight” film franchise has finally come to an end. I no longer have to face being coerced by my relatives in viewing any of these movies at the theater. However, another part of me is also relieved that franchise ended on a positive note. To my utter surprise, I found “BREAKING DAWN, PART II” to be rather entertaining, despite its flaws. More importantly, the movie featured an improvement on the characterizations of the two leading characters – Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. And the movie ended with a well written and well shot action sequence that provided a surprisingly effective plot twist. All I can say is . . . good job.

Favorite ALIEN INVASION Movies

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Below is a list of my favorite movies about alien invasions: 

FAVORITE ALIEN INVASION MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – In what probably is one of my favorite movies of all time, various Marvel Comics heroes band together to battle an alien invasion led by Thor’s stepbrother, Loki. The movie featured superb writing and direction by Joss Whedon.

2-Avatar

2. “Avatar” (2009) – In this twist on the alien invasion genre, James Cameron produced, wrote and directed this visually stunning tale about a paraplegic ex-marine who becomes part of a unique science program on the moon of another planet and ends up helping the inhabitants of Pandora protect their world from human invaders. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana star.

3-Independence Day

3. “Independence Day” (1996) – Dean Devlin produced and Roland Emmerich directed this blockbuster about humanity facing an alien invasion during the Fourth of July weekend. Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman starred.

4-Battle - Los Angeles

4. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez star in this surprisingly satisfying science-fiction thriller about a platoon of U.S. Marines battling invading aliens in Los Angeles.

5-War of the Worlds 2005

5. “War of the Worlds” (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this excellent adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about a New Jersey man who tries to keep his family intact during an alien invasion. Tom Cruise starred.

6-Men in Black 3

6. “Men in Black 3” (2012) – Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin starred in this entertaining third entry in the MEN IN BLACK franchise about Agent J’s effort to prevent an alien assassin from killing his partner in the past . . . and act that will allow the assassin’s species to invade Earth. Barry Sonnenfeld directed.

7-Cowboys and Aliens

7. “Cowboys and Aliens” (2011) – Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford starred in this entertaining adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel about a New Mexico community in the 1870s, staving off an alien invasion. Jon Favreau directed.

8-Star Trek - First Contact

8. “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996) – Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E travel to Earth’s past to prevent the Borg from assimilating Earth. Jonathan Frakes directed.

9-War of the Worlds 1953

9. “The War of the Worlds” (1953) – Gene Barry and Ann Robinson starred in this solid (and first) adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel about Martians invading Earth. Byron Haskin directed.

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

“ECLIPSE” (2010) Review

Three weeks ago, the third installment of the ”TWILIGHT” Saga was released in theaters. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2007 novel and directed by David Slade, ”ECLIPSE” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager, her love for vampire Edward Cullen and her friendship with the werewolf shape shifter, Jacob Black. 

”ECLIPSE” began not long after the 2009 movie, ”NEW MOON” ended. In Seattle, a young college student named Riley Biers is attacked and turned by a vampire. He soon becomes the center of a plot hatched by the red-haired vampire Victoria, to turn and create more newborn vampires to be used as an army for further attacks against Bella, Edward and the Cullens. Meanwhile, Bella and Edward continue their plans for a future wedding and Bella’s eventual transformation into a vampire back in Forks. Their plans are complicated by Bella’s friendship with Jacob and the rest of a local werewolf pack – traditional enemies of the Cullen clan. Worse, Jacob still continues to harbor love for Bella and she discovers that she finds herself physically attracted to him – despite her love for Edward. The two plotlines eventually converge when Alice Cullen has a vision of the newborn army attacking Forks led by Riley Biers. Jacob, accompanied by two fellow werewolves Quil and Embry, overhear this, which leads to an alliance between the Cullens and the Wolf pack.

Before ”ECLIPSE” had been released in movie theaters, advertisements and fans of the TWILIGHT saga began claiming that this film was the best of the three movies released so far. Considering my low opinion of the first two movies, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with them. It was certainly better than the first two films in the franchise. What made it better? Quite frankly, Victoria’s plot to kill Bella and get her revenge for her lover James’ death in ”TWILIGHT” did the trick. This particular plotline was responsible for the Cullens and Jacob’s Wolf pack to finally form some kind of alliance. I found it quite interesting to watch the Cullens and the Wolf pack battle against Victoria, Riley and their minions. This plotline also allowed Edward and Jacob to somewhat cease their constantly annoying rivalry over Bella . . . finally. There were other aspects of the film that I liked. I found it interesting to learn about the origins of the Quileute tribe’s hostilities against vampires. I also found the back stories for both Rosalie Hale and Jasper Hale rather interesting. It turns out that Jasper’s background in training newborn vampires for his sire Maria allowed Bella to understand how Victoria was using Riley Biers.

Despite these positive aspects about ”ECLIPSE”, I still found it a trial to watch. Why? Simple. I still had to endure the incredibly dull and tortuous love story between Bella and Edward. Even worse was the incredibly dull and tortuous love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob. Mind you, it seemed a bit surprising to learn that Bella was also attracted to Jacob. But it really did not help matters. Especially when I had to endure the god-awful dialogue between Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner, written by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. I fear that Ms. Rosenberg had to utilize a good deal of the dialogue from Stephanie Meyer’s novel. One scene that had me writhing in despair featured Bella’s attempt to “seduce” Edward into having sex, following a conversation she had with her father about her virginity. It went on too . . . damn . . . long. And the dialogue was simply awful. Another scene that tested my nerves and patience centered on Jacob’s attempt to convince Edward to give up Bella, in order to stop her from becoming a vampire. The only thing that made this scene remotely bearable was Lautner’s occasional witty dialogue.

”ECLIPSE” also marked the return of members of the Volturi, the vampire coven that ensured the vampires’ existence as a secret from humans. Apparently, Victoria’s plans to use an army of newborns against the Cullens attracted their attention. I wish to God that it had not. I found them unbearable in ”NEW MOON”. And they were certainly a nuisance in”ECLIPSE” – especially Dakota Fanning’s Jane, who managed to stand around, while attempting to look menacing. I wish to God that Stephanie Meyer had not created them in the first. I tend to compare the Volturi to the game of Quidditch from the HARRY POTTER saga.

I found nothing remarkable about the performances in the movie. Well, Taylor Lautner managed to be occasionally witty, despite the addition of the dreadful dialogue he had to spout in this film. Jackson Rathbone also managed to be rather witty. Nikki Reed gave a surprisingly poignant performance as Rosalie Hale – especially in the sequence in which she recalled the sordid tragedy that led to her becoming a vampire. Bryce Dallas Howard did a solid job in replacing Rachelle Lefevre as the murderous vampire, Victoria. Billy Burke was entertaining, as always, as Bella’s sardonic, yet protective father. Kristen Stewart managed to be bearable in scenes that only featured Bella and Jacob. As for the rest of the cast . . . you can keep them. Including the very popular Robert Pattinson.

I understand that there will be an adaptation of the fourth novel in the TWILIGHT saga – ”Breaking Dawn”. However, the studio had decided to break this particular story into two films. I see that they were inspired to follow the example of Warner Brothers’ decision to do the same with the last HARRY POTTER novel. And considering how popular theTWILIGHT movies are with my family, it looks as if I have more suffering to endure in my future.

“NEW MOON” (2009) Review

 

”NEW MOON” (2009) Review

The sequel to last year’s box office hit, ”TWILIGHT” was released in theaters, last weekend. Based upon Stephanie Meyer’s 2006 novel and directed by Chris Weitz (2007’s ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”), ”NEW MOON” continued the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, the Washington State teenager and her love for vampire Edward Cullen.

”NEW MOON” began several months after the 2008 film, with Bella celebrating her birthday. However, her life underwent a drastic change when she cut her finger during a birthday party held for her by her vampire boyfriend Edward and his family, the Cullens. Her blood attracted the attention of Edward’s brother, Jasper Hale, and he attacked Bella. Not long after Jasper’s attack, Edward informed Bella that he and the rest of the Cullen clan plan to leave Forks. Following his departure, Bella succumbed to depression for several months, until she renewed her friendship with Jacob Black, the son of her father’s Quileute friend. Unfortunately, Bella’s relationship with Jacob threatened to fall apart, when he fell in love with her despite her feelings for Edward and when he began to manifest into a werewolf – a natural enemy of vampires.

I had not been particularly kind in my review of “TWILIGHT”.  And in ”NEW MOON”, I noticed that some of the aspects I had disliked in the 2008 film were also apparent in this latest film. The dialogue – especially between Bella and Edward – seemed as atrocious as ever. I found the movie’s 130 minute running time to be unnecessarily long. Bella and Edward’s relationship not only brought back bad memories of the romance between Buffy Summers and the vampire Angel during the first three seasons of Joss Whedon’s ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”, it also made me realize that William Shakespeare’s play, ”ROMEO AND JULIET” might be overrated.

But what can one expect from adolescent love in fiction? If it caused young individuals to behave in the most ridiculous manner, then I can deal without it on my television screen or on a movie screen. And just to show how ridiculous adolescent angst was portrayed in this film, all I have to do is point out Edward and especially Bella’s behavior in ”NEW MOON”. For example, Bella sank into a depression for at least four to six months following Edward’s departure from Forks. Excessive much? She also risked her life with stupid acts that included accepting a ride a group of bikers that reminded her of the bunch that nearly accosted her in ”TWILIGHT”, rode a motorcycle before Jacob could teach her and engaged in bungee jumping without any elastic cord whatsoever. Why? Because Bella had discovered that thrill-seeking activities grant her visions of Edward. My God! What an infatuated moron! After Alice Cullen had a vision of Bella’s cliff jumping stunt, Edward assumed that his human ex-girlfriend had committed suicide and decided to kill himself by provoking the Volturi, a powerful coven of vampires, into killing him in Italy. What an idiot . . . and who wrote this crap?

And there were other aspects of the movie that bothered me. I never understood why Jacob and the rest of the werewolves in his pack found it necessary to walk around bare-chested, while in human form. If they were afraid of ruining their clothes, while transforming into werewolves, then they should have did without the shorts and tennis shoes as well. It would have made more sense. And I found the movie’s finale in Volterra, Italy to be a bore. Not only did I found Edward’s suicide attempt a waste of time, I also found his and Bella’s confrontation with the Voluturi vampire coven had seriously dragged the movie’s last half hour. Which also made me realize that using Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning in this sequence as a waste of their time.

Surprisingly, ”NEW MOON” was not a complete exercise in torture for me. It had its moments. I have to give kudos to director Chris Weitz for the original way he had depicted Bella’s depression by revolving a camera around actress Kristen Stewart, as she sat in front of window that revealed views of the passage of time over a four to six month period. Javier Aguirresarobe’s photography of the Pacific Northwest was just as impressive as Elliot Davis’ in the first film . . . and just as atmospheric. I can also say the same about his photography of Siena, Italy that served as the town of Volterra. Many of the interactions between Bella and Jacob seemed like a breath of fresh air, following the overwrought angst fest between her and Edward. With Jacob, she seemed so . . . normal. So relaxing. Until Jacob manifested into a werewolf and declared his love for her. Still . . . Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner had a relaxing screen chemistry that made me wish that Bella had chosen Jacob, instead of Edward.

I had been somewhat tolerant of Stewart’s screen chemistry with Robert Pattison in the first film. But after viewing ”NEW MOON”, my tolerance went by the way of the Dodo bird. I just found it so difficult to endure Bella and Edward’s moments together. Without Pattison around and during Bella’s saner moments, Kirsten Stewart seemed pretty solid. And she also did a good job in carrying the film on her shoulders. Graham Greene gave a subtle performance as Harry Clearwater, a Quileute tribal elder and friend of Bella’s father, Charlie. I also found Billy Burke’s portrayal of Bella’s father, Charlie Swan, a little more impressive in this film – especially in a scene in which Charlie pleaded for Bella to break out of her depression. And Michael Sheen gave an entertaining performance as Aro, the leader of the Volturi coven, even if I found his appearance in the film a waste of time. However, the performance that really impressed me came from Taylor Lautner, who portrayed Bella’s friend and newly manifested werewolf, Jacob Black. If I have to be honest, Lautner struck me as the movie’s true bright spot in an otherwise unimpressive film. He seemed like a natural and very relaxed actor. I also thought that he brought out the best in Stewart, allowing her to be more natural, relaxed and a lot less constipated.

Upon leaving the movie theater, my eyes spotted a poster for the ”TWILIGHT” saga third film, ”ECLIPSE”. Apparently, it is due in theaters next summer. And already, I am not looking forward to seeing it. Then again, perhaps I should. According to my sister (a fan of the movie, who is also familiar with Stephanie Meyer’s novels), the Jacob Black role is even bigger than in this one. I hope so. But a small part of me suspects that this third film might be a continuation of the mediocrity and annoying angst fest already found in ”TWILIGHT” and ”NEW MOON”.