Saturday, February 7, 2009

Push - my notes on the movie

I caught a matinee of Push today. Two and a half years or so after reading the original script, I finally got to see the movie. I've managed to avoid reading any reviews of the movie, though I couldn't help but notice that the commercial I saw on TV the other day only had quotes from one critic, and I hadn't heard of him.* Considering the genre and the release date, my sense is that Push is basically 2009's Jumper. I didn't see Jumper because of its bad reviews, but even Jumper had some notable fans--Stephen King himself wrote a blurb for it: "This movie rocks!" So here's my blurb for Push: "Push is totally awesome!"

I'm not really one to write a review of a movie; I'm not usually critical enough to be a critic. Besides, I admit that my opinion of the movie is largely based on the opinion that I originally formed about the script, and my discussion of the script is in a previous post. I loved almost everything about the movie. My only complaints are a number of things that were changed from how they were in the script that I read. Anyway, I jotted down some notes as I watched the movie in the theater--mainly these differences between the movie and the script. The following are my notes (they are mostly incomprehensible) and my post-movie discussion of what the notes mean.

SPOILERS (and anyway, these probably won't make much sense if you haven't seen it)

1. "D.F. voiceover": The voiceover at the beginning of the movie is Cassie, not Nick as it was in the script. That's fine. Doesn't make much of a difference to me.

2. "Beginning scene": They have added a whole scene where Nick's father is killed, rather than just a shot of him dying, as well as a whole scene of Kira getting the black injection and breaking out of the Division facility--in the script, she had merely described this event to Nick. I think this was a good choice, to show more and tell less.

3. "Nick got nerfed": In the dice scene at the beginning, Nick can't even turn the die to the right number. In the script I read, Nick had been taught how to properly use his telekinetic powers by his father, and while he may not have had the sheer strength that rival mover Victor had, he was perfectly capable. And that was cool. But throughout the movie, Nick recognizes that he's not very good with his powers, and whenever he does something well, he's kind of surprised. It's clear he has the talent, he just hasn't figured out how to use it. In a way, it was good to make Nick more of an underdog, but I was unconvinced. His father would have taught him how to defend himself. And he would have worked on honing his skills so he could keep his freedom. Here my bias from having read the script shows; I may have been skeptical of his lack of talent because I was already expecting him to be really good with his powers.

4. "New scene - dice": Speaking of the dice scene, the fact that Nick was strapped for cash was new to me. It doesn't make so much of a difference, really, but it added conflict--that Nick had potential trouble from the people he owed money to--that was kind of brushed aside and forgotten.

5. "Sniffing ew": The sniffs are really gross, walking around the room and getting their hands and noses on everything. I like it; it works.

6. "They're strangers": Cassie and Nick are strangers when they meet at the beginning of the movie. In the script, they knew each other; they'd been family friends when he was living back in the U.S. or something like that. I preferred it this way. They could establish a better rapport more quickly if they already knew each other, and it would make more sense that Cassie would seek Nick out if they're friends. It's easier for Nick to give Cassie a hard time about her bad habits when he already knows her and her mother, and she can give him a hard time about wanting to avoid trouble because she knows he "used to raise hell". I guess in the original script, it was a little unrealistic that all psychics seemed to know each other, and the movie helped to fix that.

7. "Bleeders cooler in script": I think when I wrote this note I was being unfair. The bleeders scream but don't themselves do much visually; they don't exactly need stunt doubles or anything. I think that's what prompted my comment, that they were just walking and screaming, walking and screaming. But the movie did a very good job using them. The Popboy bleeders' main scene was in the fish market with lots of water tanks full of fish exploding. And the sound effects for the bleeders were appropriately painful.

8. "Bathroom scene!": My favorite scene when I read the script was the one that, in the script, had introduced Kira. The bathroom scene, where she pushes the sniff through the crack in the door of the bathroom stall. And it was in the movie, much as I had pictured it. Kira is a badass. Very cool.

9. "Find on pier...": In the old script, Kira had been in Hong Kong (well, it was all in Beijing in the script, actually) to get a cure for her black blood medical problem. She had stolen $6 million from Las Vegas (from Cassie's mother, actually... but that's another story that was taken out of the movie) to pay for this cure, but the guy she was buying it from 1) didn't actually have the cure and 2) wiped her memory when she refused to tell him where the money was. In the movie, Kira was in Hong Kong to find Nick, and she got wiped on purpose because, um, it would keep her and the suitcase with the syringe of black stuff safer, I think. The script version had a bit of a "small world" issue--that she happened to be in the same city as Nick--though it was explained that a lot of psychics wound up in the city, making it somewhat less of a coincidence. There were advantages to the change for the movie, especially since the whole $6 million plot went away which streamlined everything (see note #10), but I thought it was better when she wasn't there specifically looking for Nick. It factored in to the plausibility of her not actually knowing Nick before the events of the movie (see note #14).

10. "$6 mil - gone?": As I just mentioned, the $6 million was taken out of the movie. The black suitcase held only the syringe of the black drug, while in the script it had both the drug and the cash. This had an important effect on the characters and the tone of the movie. In the script, they were more mercenary. Emily, Pinky, Hook--they were in it for the big payoff, not just because they wanted to help out and hurt Division. In the movie, the only one who seems to get a good payday is the wiper, who in the script I think only got $20 (at least, that's what he asked for; I'd need to reread the script to make sure he didn't get any more later). There's nothing wrong with the change; it's just a matter of taste. The characters being in it for the money helped to differentiate Push from the movies and TV shows it has been compared to. These people aren't heroes, they're just trying to make it in a dangerous world.

11. "Fuck Watch: patriotism": They cleaned up the movie. Like a lot of action movies, I think, the screenwriter writes it with an R in mind, but since it's usually easier to make money with a PG-13, it all gets toned down in the final script. The language was reduced to one "fuck" to ensure its PG-13 rating. How was this lone expletive spent? Carver: "Fuck patriotism."

12. "Toned down the drinking": Also cleaning up the movie was the fact that Cassie only got drunk once, and then promptly fell asleep. This sets a better example for kids, but it's not nearly as funny as having a drunk 13-year-old for most of the second half of the movie, as in the old script. I was disappointed by this.

13. "Drawing?": Speaking of disappointment with changes to Cassie's character, why must she draw the future? In the script, she had merely seen the future. The movie wasn't quite like Heroes, where the person who can see the future goes into a trance and uncontrollably draws something that they'd never have the talent to draw under normal circumstances, and once they're finished they have no memory of making the drawing and have to base their guesses about the future on the drawing alone. No, Cassie sees the future in flashes, has some measure of understanding about what she sees, but then draws it in her own hand, perhaps to help her remember it. And the Popgirl does the same thing. I guess this has a visual appeal, but I thought it was unnecessarily similar to Heroes.

14. "So clearly pushed": Now, back to this twist ending--the major SPOILER--where Kira admits to Nick that they just met yesterday, but she had pushed him into thinking they'd been lovers. And then at the end Nick gives Kira the photo of them together on Coney Island, and it's clear that Carver pushed Kira. Double twist! Maybe it was just because I knew about the twist, but I thought it was a LOT more obvious in the movie than the script that Kira was the one who had been pushed. As I've already mentioned, we knew that she went to Hong Kong looking specifically for Nick. Why, if they'd never met, would she seek out a random and incompetent mover to protect her? Also, the scene where Carver pushes Kira was much more subtly done in the script. In the script, Carver has Kira in his custody, and she tries to push him. His response: "Don't you try to push me, Kira. [He leans in - and both his pupils contract.] Or did you forget who trained you in the first place?" It is totally believable that they're just having a master vs. student push-off. In the movie, Carver has some story about how the drug they gave her made her confused, and he starts telling her about how she was an agent as his eyes go black. Clearly a push, without her pushing back. Since the plot twist is one of the really cool things about the movie, the lack of subtlety was disappointing.

15. "Kira envelope": In the original script, Nick didn't give an envelope to Kira until just before she got on the plane with Carver. In the movie, she got her envelope along with everyone else. This streamlined the movie, which is good, but it did take out Nick's cool line: "When you get on that plane, I want you to ask yourself just one question. Who pushed you?" A fair trade, I suppose.

16. "Kill him!": This leads me to the ending, which was different. In the script, Kira had gone off with Carver, and the final scene was of Cassie and Nick discussing how they were going to go break her mother out of the prison Division was holding her in. In the movie, the possibility of them saving the mother was certainly there, but they weren't planning to fly to the U.S. right then. And the very last scene was of Kira on the plane with Carver, opening the envelope to find the Coney Island photo. And--here's the kicker--Nick had written directions for her on the photo: Kill him. As the screen cut to black, Kira pushed Carver into shooting himself. He did not die in the original script that I read. It was a less satisfying ending in the script, but Kira was in a position where she needed Division to treat her sickness. I guess the new ending is fine, though, and it is possible that Carver doesn't die, since they didn't actually show it.

Looking back on this list, I should note that even though many of these seem to be complaints, there were plenty of things in the movie that weren't in the script that I really liked. I just didn't write as many notes about them. And I'm totally biased, because I liked that script, had two years to picture what it would all look like and feel like, and then did not see what I had expected. And that's fine. It's not unlike when I see a movie adapted from a book I've read, though there is less expectation in the case of an adapted book to see everything in the movie exactly as I'd pictured it, scene for scene.

Comments on the casting: For the most part, I approved. I liked Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning a lot (though I think she should have been drunk more). Djimon Hounsou as Carver was great. The supporting psychics--Emily, Stowe, Hook, Pinky, the two sniffs--were well cast. The Popgirl was appropriately annoying and creepy with her lollipop, and I have to admire the Popboy actors, whose roles consisted mainly of straining their faces in really freakish ways. The only problem I had with the casting was Kira. I didn't really like Camilla Belle as Kira. I thought she was way too bland. She wasn't strong, confident, smooth, or sexy enough. I didn't get anything from her. Reading the script, I thought she was really cool. In the movie, she was forgettable.

I really enjoyed the movie. The fight scenes were pretty awesome, and the movie's depictions of the various psychic powers were effective. The concept is cool and the plot is clever. The twists are gripping (though the pace could have been snappier towards the end). I realize that much of my post may not give this impression, but I have a great deal of affection for this film. I sign off with another blurb: "Push pushes all the right buttons. I loved this movie!!!"

* I still refuse to read any reviews of the movie, but I have seen a couple one-line quotes from critics about it. Is seems their main complaint is that they had no idea what was going on in the movie. The fact that I'd read the script helped me to avoid this issue, so it makes sense that my view of the movie is much more favorable.

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