The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 20/2/09

Push ****

It’s very likely that you will never have heard of the director at the helm of Push. After all, despite having been directing films for more than ten years, Paul McGuigan has led a largely unspectacular career, with the majority of his films not only failing to make an impression at the box office but also failing to make much of an impression on critics or moviegoers either. However, in 2006, McGuigan directed a film that brought him further into the spotlight and showed what he is really capable of. That film was Lucky Number Slevin, a project that didn’t sound like much on paper but proved to be one of the most pleasantly surprising movies in some time, packed full clever twists and stylish touches. On paper Push also sounds distinctly unspectacular, coming across like a cheap knock-off of last year’s Jumper or TV show Heroes. However, the involvement of McGuigan seems to provide assurance that the film won’t be just Jumper 2 or Heroes: The Movie but rather a film that can stand on its own merits.

Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is a young American living in Hong Kong, who has an ability that allows him to control objects with his mind. He is just one of many people with a variety of different abilities all around the world, all of whom have been artificially manufactured by a government agency known as The Division, which is seeking to create the perfect weapon, and is hunting down rogue people with abilities. After escaping The Division, as a young boy, Nick now spends his days using his ability to help him clear debts that he owes, until one day when everything changes. Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), a 13 year old with the ability to see the future approaches Nick, asking for his help in locating a woman who has escaped The Division and has in her possession a suitcase containing something that can bring the organisation down. Reluctantly agreeing to help Cassie, Nick finds himself coming face to face with old flame Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), the woman who Cassie is looking for, but they find that her memory has been erased, and she cannot remember where the suitcase is. With The Division’s top man Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) sending in all the best agents he has in their pursuit, and a rival Chinese group also after them, time is running out for Nick, Cassie and Kira find the case, and they must work together, utilizing their different talents, to escape The Division once and for all.

The plot of Push is a very complex one, with each different type of ability being given its own name, and at times it does get slightly confusing keeping up with which name refers to which ability. Also, some of the core plot points are quite tricky to follow, making it necessary to pay close attention to everything that is going on in the film, especially the opening introduction which establishes the back-story and pre-opening credits sequence that establishes a major plot device. However, while the story isn’t incredibly easy to follow at times, it is hard to deny that it is very clever, with some genuinely surprising plot twists and a smart resolution that brings together everything sufficiently, even if it doesn’t fully provide closure. The action sequences, while not being that big or that many, are well executed, and the use of practical effects where possible, as opposed to CGI is very effective. Despite the low budget, the effects are very good and quite eye-catching. The film is also quite visually appealing in other areas too. The vast, vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong is a good backdrop for the film’s events and everything is captured well thanks to some very good cinematography. The only gripe is that at times the use of hand held camera is slightly distracting. The direction is also strong, with Paul McGuigan making quite a refreshing film out of a concept that seems quite tired and overdone. On the acting front, the performances are hit and miss. On the upside, the standout performance is undoubtedly that of Dakota Fanning, who delivers a very mature performance, and shows that she is really developing as an actress, and effectively making the transition from child actress to adult actress. Djimon Hounsou is also good, delivering a suitably sinister performance as the chief villain of the film. On the downside, Chris Evans, despite being an entertaining screen presence, isn’t especially convincing and doesn’t do anything that makes him really stand out. His performance isn’t particularly bad but not especially good either. As for Camilla Belle, hardly anything is actually required of her for the most part, but she does serve the purpose of her character quite effectively. All in all, Push is a stylish and enjoyable action thriller that has more than enough distinguishing features to make it stand apart from the other super-powered movies out there, even if it never quite reaches the heights that would allow it to stand as an equal alongside them.


Confessions Of A Shopaholic ***

Based on the bestselling book series by Sophie Kinsella, Confessions Of A Shopaholic is the latest addition to the ever growing list of chick flicks aimed at more mature female viewers, following in the footsteps of such successful films as The Devil Wears Prada and Sex And The City. When the film initially went into development, it seemed like a sure-fire hit that had the potential to be just as successful as those aforementioned films. However, in the light of the current economic recession, what once seemed like a film that couldn’t possibly fail has become one of the few films to actually find itself hurt by the economic crisis by underperforming at the US box office, with the film’s central themes seeming rather less appealing in these hard times. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the film is unappealing however, just that it no longer offers the level of escapism that it would have in different circumstances.

Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) is a 25 year old New York City girl who, since childhood, has been obsessed with shopping, and now whenever she sees a store she can’t control the urge to shop, and she has found herself building up huge debts on her many credit cards. Unable to pay off the debts with the income she gets from her journalism job, she finds herself in even greater trouble when the magazine she works for is shut down and she loses her job. Attempting to land a job at fashion magazine Alette, where she has always dreamed of working, she finds the position already filled by someone on the inside and she ends up working for Successful Savings magazine, proving a huge hit with her column entitled The Girl in the Green Scarf, where she makes finances easier to understand by discussing them in terms of fashion and shopping. Her hope is that she can work her way up the ladder towards a job at Alette, but an attraction to her boss Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy) shows her what true love is for the first time and makes her question what she really wants. With the world at her feet, everything seems to be on the up but for the fact that her shopping obsession is out of control, much to the dismay of her best friend and roommate Suze (Krysten Ritter). Being pursued by a debt collector who is determined to catch up with her at any cost, she realizes that her shopping addiction is never going to bring her true happiness but can she overcome it before the truth about her debts is revealed to Luke and it ruins her life forever?

In a distinctly similar vein to 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, Confessions Of A Shopaholic could have rivaled that film in the quality department. Sadly, however, it fails to even come close, and this is not because its themes are less appealing at the moment, but rather that the film generally isn’t as good as it could have been. There are certainly some good things to be said about it though. Isla Fisher is perfectly cast in the lead role, excellently capturing the essence of the character and delivering a sincere and likable performance. The rest of the cast are also decent, with John Goodman and Joan Cusack appearing as Rebecca’s parents and Leslie Bibb as job rival Alicia Billington, but they are all completely outshone by Fisher. The romance between Fisher and co-star Hugh Dancy is sweet, but sadly the romance is greatly underplayed, and this is where the film’s faults begin. Throughout, the film fails to be completely engaging, with the humour never really taking off (with a few exceptions) and the light-hearted approach negating the impact of the more serious elements somewhat. The film does have some interesting insights to offer but isn’t as hard hitting as it could be, failing to put anything across in an incredibly insightful or thoughtful manner. Also, it drags a bit in places, not necessarily because it is too long, but rather because it just doesn’t have a very good narrative flow. The main reason the film doesn’t work as well as it could have is probably the direction. The script, while being far from spectacular, is mostly well done, with some quite clever touches, but ultimately director P.J. Hogan fails to really capture the essence or provide a film that is as enjoyable or as interesting as this could have been. Having directed romcoms from the 90s Muriel’s Wedding and My Best Friend’s Wedding, Hogan may have seemed like a good choice to direct this, but whatever he had back then he seems to have lost now, and this film suffers for it. All in all, Confessions Of A Shopaholic isn’t a bad film but it most definitely not a great one either. A film that is easy to enjoy but hard to love, there is no doubt that many female viewers will find an appreciation for it, but with the exception of Fisher herself nothing stands out, with most aspects of the film being merely average when compared to other similar movies.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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