Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Puppet Angel PWNed By Fluffy Representation Of Architectural Marvel

Here is the pictorial proof.

Last week Canyon and I went to Paris for a few days, which is why this blog went into yet more hibernation (and why, if anyone reading this has tried to contact me in recent days, there has been little or no response. Many apologies; I'll catch up ASAP). We learned a lot about Paris, and French culture, and took photos. Here are some of them. Many of these can be enlargenated using a cursor click to activate the process, FYI.

One of the things we felt compelled to do was visit the bookshop called Shakespeare and Company, as it had featured so prominently in one of our favourite movies, Before Sunset.

I had hoped that we would be able to retrace Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's steps through Paris, but that would have involved even more walking than we already did, which made it untenable. Still, we had this as a consolation prize; a rare sighting of the Lesser-Praised Hawke-Novel.

Over the road from the world-renowned bookstore is the less well-known Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux, named after a famous carpet and a popular US university football team.

Within the cathedral are the usual churchly accoutrements, such as pews and elaborate windows. There is also, for the conspiracy theorists and Da Vinci Code fans, the infamous Swarovski Stable Scene.

This crystalline rendering of the birth of Christ has been carbon-dated to 5000BC, which has sparked much speculation about the chronology of events in the Bible. Whatever the truth behind this mysterious artifact, I think we can agree it sure does look pretty!

Speaking of pretty, here's the Venus De Milo.

It is, of course, named after the song by Television, "Venus", from their album Marquee Moon, and the fictional genius Milo Rambaldi, from the beloved pre-Da-Vinci Code conspiracy theory show Alias. This picture was taken by Canyon inside the Louvre. Here is the exterior, inspired by the terrifying Silent Hill antagonist, Pyramid Head.

In addition to Venus de Milo, the Louvre also contains the painting known as the Mona Lisa.

Named after the beloved Neil Jordan movie, starring Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine, it's a lovely painting, the epitome of beauty and classiness. I was humbled in its presence, made to feel so insignificant in the scheme of things. I doubt I was the only one who felt he should have arrived in this room wearing a dinner jacket or something. My Lego Han Solo t-shirt was not right for the occasion, but at least I wasn't this guy.

That's right, it's a National Pornographic t-shirt. Well done, sir. Da Vinci would have been honoured to have you around, that child-of-Christ concealing, codec-creating maverick.

Paris is full of relics of famous and talented people. While searching for the gallery of famous comic artist Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, I stumbled across this statue of Gaston Mangin, the inventor of the Mangina.

Such a small memorial to such a great man. However, that was more interesting than the Moebius gallery. Can someone alter his website to state that the building at 27 Rue Falguière is empty, so that no one else wastes half a day tromping through a really depressing series of backstreets? And can they go back in time to do it? For that, I'll side with Denzel Washington. Kirby Silver Surfer is definitely better than Moebius Silver Surfer.

Everywhere we went last week, we were watched by a train lady. Or, should I say, La Fille Du RER.

To put this into perspective, imagine a British movie called The Girl From The Docklands Light Railway. Actually, it does sound pretty good, though who knows if it will get a UK release. It doesn't happen that often. Still, there's an upside to that. At least we won't get to see Coco.

There were posters for this all over Paris as well, and after a day of seeing Gad Elmaleh's gurning face I began to quietly despair. I was almost tempted to see the damned thing just to exorcise myself, but without subtitles I doubt there would be much point. The trailer above is incomprehensible to me. I could have gone to see Marley Et Moi instead, with Jennifer Aniston as a private eye who dies and comes back as a dog.

It's silly to be annoyed at the posters for Coco. For all I know it's a highly sophisticated comedy, and Elmaleh is the natural successor to Jacques Tati's crown. It's just that it was everywhere, tainting the image of France as the cultural capital of Europe, home to great cinema, great food, great theatre.

Still, some parts of Paris were free from Coco. Paris is the city of romance, and so I felt compelled to visit the site of my favourite French romance, the Pont Neuf, immortalised in Leos Carax's notorious Les Amants du Pont-Neuf.

Yes, at 0:43 you do indeed see a fleeting, silhouetted glimpse of Denis Lavant's enormous schlong. Ah, Les Amants. What a movie. While the majority of heterosexual man-dom fell for Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, my own crush was formed during Les Amants and Carax's previous movie, Mauvais Sang. Both are great. (N.B. If anyone fancies buying me this, please feel free.)

Of course, Carax was unable to film on the actual bridge, seen above, so instead he filmed on a set. While standing on this stunning piece of architecture, I tried to see how much the surroundings matched the set; a silly task considering it's been years since seeing the movie, and I can't remember the exact details. While I pirouetted in an attempt to recall something, poor Canyon got more and more tired. We did a lot of walking that day.

Funnily enough, it wasn't until our last night there that we walked the relatively tiny distance to the nearest tourist trap. The apartment we stayed at was so close to the Eiffel Tower that you could smell the puddled iron. I wasn't about to leave Paris until I'd seen it, so a couple of us wandered over after an excellent meal of roast duck with duck pate, duck stew, and duck cassoulet. Here is a photo of Alec Eiffel.

He is, of course, named after the song by The Pixies.

The view from the bottom of the tower made me feel like I was docking with the Death Star.

Here is a shot of the famous Eiffel Death Ray.

This is used to repel all of the threats from outer space that have reduced the tower to a heap of melted slag in several motion pictures, including War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and Zéro De Conduite. Those previous three pictures are by me, and are flukes. These next four are by Canyon.

Yes, I have been horribly glib throughout this post, but it's merely to disguise my true feelings about the trip. Have you ever visited a place and fallen for it the instant you leave the station/airport?

It happened the first time I came to London, home of my heart even now that the substandard infrastructure drives me to distraction (and not my desired destination, 99% of the time). I thought that feeling would be replicated when finally visiting New York, but while I very much like it and want to spend more time there, there wasn't the immediate blast of emotion I had expected.

Paris, on the other hand, completely won me over. Never have I seen a city containing such effortlessly beautiful buildings, nor have I been lucky enough to visit somewhere so busy and yet filled with such charming and polite people. It's often said there is an antagonism between the English and the French, but I think that's bullshit. Even though my command of French is minimal, I felt relaxed and welcomed by Paris. My next visit cannot come soon enough.

Vive la France!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The International And A Man Of Mystery

There are some movies that I'm sure are made specifically with me in mind. Last year Speed Racer, Redbelt, and John Woo's magnificent Red Cliff made me incredibly happy, much as I had expected. They would have had to be total failures for me not to appreciate them on some level. This year the same applies to Ninja Assassin, Inglourious Basterds, and Transformerbots 2: Revenge of the Subset of Transformerbots Known As The Fallen Transformerbots. In different ways they all feature something that appeals to some part of my brain, be it fighting robots, Rain kicking people in the skullparts, or Nazi scalp-hunting.

Another genre I eat up with a big-ass spoon is the dour corporate thriller, which seems to be undergoing a revival thanks to the success of Michael Clayton. Tony Gilroy appears to be thriving with these movies. His next, Duplicity, looks like a frothier entry than most, a Thomas Crown Affair-style romp with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts flirting through Europe while conning evil corporate scum played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson. Other than the presence of the bafflingly successful Roberts, that's another movie you would have to restrain me to stop me from seeing. As I said in my Push review, I adore con movies, though it's hard to be caught out by one as you go in expecting a big shock twist in the final scene. That's deadly, as I spend the whole movie trying to figure out what that final con will be. One day I'll learn how to switch that impulse off.

Another genre piece I felt compelled to see (even though it nearly killed me to see four movies in one week) was Tom Tykwer's The International, a much-sterner, Pakula-esque kind of corporate thriller than Gilroy's forthcoming movie. Just to really sell me on it, the cast was headed by Clive Owen (this time in vengeful, non-flirty mode), Naomi Watts at her most pale, and Armin Mueller Stahl, again staking a claim to the roles that would previously have been automatically handed to Max Von Sydow. The two leads are guaranteed to raise my interests, Owen since his superb performance in Children of Men, and Watts ever since playing Jet Girl in the otherwise unforgivable Tank Girl. Yes yes, I know...


I hadn't even noticed the movie at first, so hectic are things at the moment, until I read the usual slew of reviews on its day of release. The plot grabbed my attention instantly, even if it is doing little more than taking the standard corporate conspiracy thriller template and adding topical(ish) elements to the open slots. Owen is a former Scotland Yard police officer now working for Interpol, investigating the shady actions of a bank (the International of the title) with the help of the CIA (and pale Naomi). While everyone around Owen thinks this is a standard investigation that will proceed along traditional lines, our hero is convinced that the bank is responsible for numerous obstructive acts, from bribery to murder. No one believes him, and throughout the movie his options shrink to none, until he is forced to go off the grid to find justice.

It's shocking how little The International deviates from convention. Europe is traversed many times over, bugs are found in phones, pencil-pushing superiors shut down investigations with the phrase "You've no idea what a shitstorm you've created!", hyper-capitalist bad guys are as nonchalant as you can be without starting every sentence with "Meh", and assassins know where video cameras are located in airports and tilt their heads accordingly.

That adherence to convention is almost laughable at times. In one scene our heroes have gone to Milan to meet Umberto Calvini (played by Luca Giorgio Barbareschi, with the finest head of hair cinema has seen in years), a politician who is willing to give them the lowdown on what The International is trying to achieve with their plan to facilitate the sale of a few measly missiles. It's a fantastic stream of exposition, linking international banking to arms deals and profiting from war and the crippling debt it generates, turning the people of the world into indentured slaves.

Thrilling stuff, and based not only on the BCCI scandal of recent times (rather cheekily, The International is officially called the International Bank of Business and Credit), but also the kind of revelations you could find in John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman, as well as being a not-too subtle dig at the International Monetary Fund's method of generating indebtedness in the countries it "helps". It's the kind of revelation you don't expect to see in a mainstream movie, unless it really is a sign that people are waking up to the unsavoury practices of our financial institutions, and seeing that Capitalism is a system that can easily be abused to wreck billions of lives when ethics are compromised and regulation is removed.

Sadly, that scene ends with Calvini hilariously announcing that he doesn't have time to give Owen and Watts any more info at that moment, even though it surely couldn't take long. The dialogue goes exactly like this:

You'll have to excuse me, I'm afraid. I couldn't possibly give you that easily explainable piece of information you desperately need, because of Reason X. I have to go outside to give a speech to my supporters on a stage in the middle of a plaza surrounded by buildings that provide a perfect vantage point for numerous snipers, and as you can imagine, this being Italy, the movie birthplace of corruption, the head of the Carabinieri has almost certainly been bribed into helping cover it up. Kindly wait for a few minutes, and when my brains exit stage left, please rush through a panicky crowd in a futile attempt to get to me. You could also solve the crime that the few honest policemen cannot figure out while you are here. Use those techniques from CSI and a modicum of common sense to do so. That will prove entertaining to the audience, and will please me while I watch from the afterlife.

Okay, he doesn't say all of that, but he might as well have done.

The International sure does love the idea of political assassinations. The film begins with Owen's partner getting killed in much the same way Georgi Markov was killed in 1978, and ends with a Mafia hit that brings up memories of the murder of Roberto Calvi. Inbetween those scenes, so many people get shot by unseen assailants that by the midpoint of the movie you expect every character filmed in medium frame to suddenly erupt in squibby death. A lot of the time that is indeed what happens.

So why, if the movie is so predictable, did I think it was the best film I saw last week, far superior to Franklyn, Push, and Zack Snyder's lamentable waste of time and money, Watchmen? Mostly because I lap this stuff up with a spoon. The lone avenger, abandoned by everyone, facing down the might of the corporate-military-industrial complex in a heroic last stand, assailed by the seemingly unvanquishable monolith of The System, and dwarfed by their sterile, inhuman steel architecture; that's the stuff. The Parallax View, Michael Clayton, All The President's Men; even the fantasy sub-genres like The Matrix or the first X-Files movie; I can't get enough.

Just to make me even happier, Clive Owen does a fantastic job as the rumpled loner, out of his depth but driven to break the law to find the truth. He even gets to wear his trademark long coat, that has served him so well in Children of Men and Shoot 'Em Up, making him look like a rumpled, handsome Jacques Tati driven to the edge by the vicissitudes of modern life. With every new performance I like him more and more.

Watts has much less to do, but I'd happily watch her play a switchboard operator for two hours. The supporting cast are great too. Patrick Baladi (forever to be known as David Brent's super-competent boss in The Office) is amusingly slick and obstructive as the IBBC lawyer who gets in Owen's way. Ulrich Thomsen is suitably impassive and creepy as the IBBC head who calmly leads his bank down a immoral path. Bryan F. O'Byrne radiates unnerving professionalism as the assassin that Owen chases for much of the movie.

Best of all, Mueller-Stahl does superb, haunting work as the former Stasi officer who has sold his soul to Capitalism, still performing terrible acts but now so dead to the ramifications of his actions that he no longer cares who he works for or what political beliefs they hold. An interrogation scene between him and Owen that comes late in the film is chilling, even though, yet again, Eric Warren Singer's script serves up a beige platter of "truth this" and "justice that". The committed performances transcend the humdrum dialogue.

The only real variable when deciding whether or not to watch this was Tom Tykwer. I've only seen Lola Rennt, which was a lot of fun and doubled as a great introduction to the sorely underemployed Franka Potenta. Other than that, I've missed out on Heaven, his adaptation of Kieslowski's last script, and even though I have recorded Perfume seemingly dozens of times via Sky+, it always gets deleted before I get to see it as we need room for Daily Show, Colbert Report, or Grand Designs. Some day, you weird-looking film based on a beloved German novel. Some day.

I've always had the impression that Tykwer was like the German Danny Boyle, randomly throwing wacky visuals at the screen with little care for whether the scene needed them or not, or what the overall tone of the movie should be. It's not really fair of me to assume that on such little evidence, but this reputation has existed whether or not I've seen them. Considering the material he is working with here, would he wreck the movie with endless, pointless flashiness?

The answer is hell no. Tykwer turns in a classy, restrained, but exciting thriller, swallowing any showy impulses to deliver a taut conspiracy piece. Even better, he delivers a couple of superb set-pieces. The first, the murder of Owen's partner, builds brilliantly from innocuous calm to panic and death, and all it features is a heart attack and Clive Owen crossing a road. Tykwer takes what should be a simple scene and imbues it with horrible menace. Not bad for one minute of film. De Palma would have been proud.

The second is the lauded shootout in the Guggenheim Museum, with Owen attempting to apprehend the assassin who has been busy killing the majority of the supporting cast to that point. What starts as a simple tail ends up being a bloody and brutal massacre, leaving the gallery shattered and bullet-ridden. In a way it's probably a terrible scene, being far more violent and extreme compared to the mild thrills to that point, but a setpiece as thrillingly staged as this deserves praise, especially when it is shot and edited with such clarity and attention to detail. Even more impressive, the scene is filmed on a set built to the exact specifications of the original building. It boggles my mind. Some of the effects are rough and ready, but no matter. It raised the blood pressure brilliantly, and certainly throws Owen's life into such turmoil that he can no longer afford to play by the rules, thus setting up the finale.

For all of the predictability of the conspiracy plot, as well as some glaring illogicalities (the final confrontation ends with an unbelievable leap of logic, and I don't mean Owen's sudden ability to travel internationally despite the warrant for his arrest), it was a satisfying experience. Would it get on my end of year list? Not a chance, unless we're in for a terrible year. However, I'm thrilled that Tykwer, a director I had ignored in the past, has been able to serve the story so well, intelligently staging the action and the suspense, creating a coherent visual template (all cold steel, granite and glass, until the finale in an alien locale where all bets are off), and not distracting the audience with extraneous narrative and/or visual trickery.

That ability to adapt his style to the material has given me new respect for his talents, even if The International is merely on the right side of average. There is a possibility that his next project will be an adaptation of David Mitchell's stunning novel Cloud Atlas, produced and co-developed by the Wachowskis. Of all the dream projects seemingly made with me in mind, that has now become the ultimate.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Sci Fi Through Space/Time: Push

It's a testament to the success and widespread acceptance of the superhero genre in recent years that David Bourla and Paul McGuigan's Push has been derided as a second-rate superhero movie and not a second-rate rip-off of Scanners and The Fury. To be honest the idea of a group of psychic-powered individuals hiding in plain sight from dubious governmental agencies certainly is a staple of superhero stories, but this feels more like the kind of thing Stephen King touched on in Firestarter, Carrie, or The Dead Zone. The major difference is that now we are able to leapfrog past the long set-ups of those late 70s / early 80s stories - as we already accept the conventions of this sub-sub-genre through over-exposure - and can instead tell stories with large and complicated mythologies. A billion comics, usually in lower-tier comic universes separate from the big two of Marvel and DC, have taken this approach, and now we see it in a brand new potential franchise.

The question is, have Bourla and McGuigan brought something new to the table to justify investment in that potential franchise, or will this fade into the background like some Hong-Kong-based Misfits of Science? The backstory, blasted through in hyper-exposition-mode during an inventively created title montage, sets out a humdrum universe of scientific experimentation into creating psychic soldiers, based on Nazi research during the war. The powered types can be divided into different groups based on their powers. From what I can remember, Pushers are able to manipulate people's minds (though not read them), Watchers can see the future, Sniffs have a kind of psychometric power that regrettably manifests only when they sniff objects (there's no way to make the act of intensely smelling something look anything less than stupid), Stitches can manipulate living tissue, Shadows are able to hide powered individuals just by hanging around them, and Bleeders have a scream that can demolish things (and makes their eyes go lizardy for no apparent reason). Thankfully most of this info is revealed as we go along, interspersed throughout the mostly dreary back-and-forth of much of the movie's running time. Here is a list of them if you're desperate to know more.

All of this is surface dressing on a predictable story about psychics on the run from the evil government psychic division, known as Division (not to be confused with the inept bureaucratic jerks in 24, also known as Division). This sort of thing has been done before, and I have to admit, I've been in two minds about seeing Push for exactly that reason, and not because it looks like Jumper, as pointed out by Masticator. That, too, had the plot of powered individuals chased by shady operatives of a mysterious organisation, which just goes to show that it is a very appealing kind of story on a deep level. Who hasn't fantasised that they are somehow special, and yet misunderstood and persecuted by a force greater than themselves? (Please don't tell me that's just me and a lot of Matrix fans!)

Luckily, Push has more up its sleeve than just having a bunch of photogenic people with Amazing Powers of the Brain trying to elude The Man. Those photogenic people with Amazing Powers of the Brain are also trying to elude a power-crazed Chinese gang who also have Amazing Powers of the Brain. The film tends to get rather busy with the powered people a la Heroes, though sadly we don't get those powers used willy-nilly as in Jumper.

Our hero, Nick, played by Chris Evans, is a loser whose psychic powers (he's a telekinetic, or Mover) have done nothing to stop him being a jerkoff dropout living in Hong Kong and getting into trouble with gambling debts, as people do in the movies (though they don't usually look as hott as Chris Evans). His loser status is attributed to the trauma of seeing his psychic father murdered by a dastardly member of Division played by Djimon Hounsou, wearing an evil goatee. Haunted by relentless Flashback Syndrome in times of great stress, Nick is a burnout, and to make things worse, his Amazing Powers of the Brain are actually very Mediocre.

Into his life comes Cassie, played by a pubescent Dakota Fanning wearing punkish gear and a skirt so short Canyon exclaimed in horror upon seeing the trailer. It fits the character, weirdly. She's older than her years, bossing people about and getting hammered on cheap booze to "improve her powers", though really she's just being a brat. Her past is also filled with that screenwriting staple of emotional pain caused by the fate of her parent, this time her super-Watcher mother, a woman of immense power who has been captured by Division.

Eager to save her, Fanning enlists the help of Evans in the search for Kira, a Pusher played by Camilla Belle (winner of 2008's prestigious Caruso Award for Most Improbably Styled Hair as well as a Worst Actress Dishonourable Mention, thanks to her mystifyingly poor performance in 10000 B.C.). Belle is on the run from Division after absconding with a MacGuffin; a syringe filled with a drug that causes Amazing Powers of the Brain, as well as Not So Amazing Side Effects of the Death, except in certain arbitrarily determined circumstances.

In order to prevail against the machinations of Division, Evans and Fanning enlist the help of various other psychics dotted about Hong Kong. Cliff Curtis, Ming Na, and Nate Mooney (as a nine-fingered sleaze called Pinky Stein) get dragged into the proceedings with varying degrees of enthusiasm. This sadly does not mean we get to see a lot of exciting action, but then the movie has other ideas on its mind. We also don't see the psychics here use their powers to help people, which I've banged on about before. Okay, so I'd argue this doesn't really count as a superhero movie, so these guys have no real narrative obligation to do it, but any conversations within the film about stopping Division from creating an army of super-soldiers seem even more feeble than usual when the two main characters are more interested in gaining some kind of leverage over Division in order to settle their old scores / parental issues.

Okay, sorry, bugbear rant over. As I was saying, in addition to the cliched shady operative antagonists, our heroes also have to contend with a ruthless clan of cliched Chinese gangsters who are desperately seeking the MacGuffin. The number of confrontations between good and bad guys is minimal, which is probably down to the low budget (about $38m; it looks fantastic for the money), and is thus understandable. Instead, for the most part Push features our photogenic heroes meeting a variety of powered people to find other powered people who will help them find their MacGuffin in order to something something. One of the posters for this movie shows someone using telekinesis to blast a car into the air. Trust me, no cars get blown into the air. There are lots and lots of sarcastic conversations, but that's a little harder to dramatise in a poster. Also, who wants to watch a film like that? Other than me, obviously.

There are a couple of action sequences, but sadly they're cut with such a shockingly poor understanding of how editing should work that I silently raged in my seat. McGuigan does such a piss-poor job of cutting these sequences that he makes Quantum of Solace look like it was directed by Tarkovsky. Any joy I might have had at the sight of faceless goons getting thrown through the air with telekinesis was totally scuppered. This scene, from the big finale, is cut and shot so unclearly that you can't tell who is getting hurt, and how. Are the light FX denoting energy in the punches, or deflections? I've watched it a number of times and I just don't know what the hell is going on. I do know it looks as goofy as hell, though.

What does set Push apart is that it evolves into a peculiar hybrid of the usual psychic runaway blah blah as described above, and stern Ocean's Eleven-style con job japery. Again, this is very hard to communicate through trailers and posters, and so I was taken aback as the final half of the movie becomes a chaotic and barely logical series of tricks, counter-tricks, and final act twists, except here the con is complicated by the various superpowers of all the major players. And believe me, when I say complicated, I really really mean complicated.

Complicated is fine if the con has been worked out properly, but regrettably the con makes very little sense. Our heroes -- who, in a nice touch, are not all that great a bunch of psychics compared to the professionals -- need to get hold of the MacGuffin, but not only do they need to figure out where it is, they also have to do so without alerting the various Watchers who are monitoring the future for signs of alteration. The precognition powers are the ones given the most attention and exposition, which was gratifying. Most tales featuring precognition tend to fudge the details of how such powers would affect the actions of everyone involved, or get tangled up in messy continuity. For the most part, Push gets it right, setting out some solid ground rules early on, and sticking to them for much of the film.

Especially interesting is Fanning's explanation of how the future is so malleable even talking about her predictions can often change the future again. So often people hear about their destiny and either do nothing about it, or make it come true through their attempts to avoid it (a million bad stories have ended that way). Push at least accepts that the future is not set in stone, which creates new storytelling opportunities, as every move they make changes something in the future, until at some point they seem doomed thanks to the intervention of a super-Watcher, a Chinese gang-member who apparently has no name, if IMDb and Wikipedia are anything to go by.

This Watcher, focused only on our band of sarcastic heroes, is predicting every move they make, so they have no hope of changing their destiny. Bourla has decided that the future actions of a person can be deduced as soon as they make a decision to do something. It's as if their precognition is linked to some kind of telepathy. It's this conceit that allows Evans to come up with his too-complicated con plot, which involves giving sealed instructions to his group of psychics and then getting his memory wiped so as to confound The Pop Girl (seriously, that's what she seems to be known as). As no one knows what they are going to do right up until the moment they are going to do it, The Pop Girl can't predict what is going to happen.

That's a pretty cool idea, and seems to make some kind of sense within the parameters set out earlier (as well as making the most of the heroes' ingenuity in the face of superior brainpower), but the execution is confusing. Evans' mind gets wiped after three of the envelopes are opened, which seems to contradict those rules. Even weirder, The Pop Girl is already sketching her vision of the future when this happens, and then makes a big fuss about losing that image.

What, she can't remember what she was drawing two seconds earlier? I guess that's the downfall of this new sub-sub-sub-genre; cons work fine onscreen when it's all crafty hand-offs, rigged props, and Matt Damon in a fake nose. As soon as you bring metaphysics into the equation, that flow of set-up / con / "prestige" falls apart.

There's also a lack of rigour to it, especially as the twists and deus ex machina of the final act start happening. One is kinda clever: Fanning is saved from the death she has been predicting since the start of the movie by the intervention of the creepy brainsuck guy who has been hovering around in the background for a while. He has been hired by Fanning's mother, who has seen so far into the future that she can maneouvre people into place years in advance. It's a cute twist, though having an offscreen character influence the plot in such an extreme way inevitably feels like a cheat, no matter how well it has been set up.

There is also a lot of back and forth between Evans, Belle, and Hounsou about whether Belle was his former girlfriend or a sleeper agent from Division that goes through several complicated twists, all of which contradict each other. The only way the final scene could possibly work is if you fanwank like crazy, assuming that Fanning's previous vague predictions were suddenly incredibly precise, or Evans' written instructions to Belle were very complex and called for her to Push Hounsou the moment she meets him, though even that would require yet more contrivance and fanwanking.

That final scene seemed very clever when I first saw it, but by the time I had returned home it had started to fall apart with even a tiny bit of scrutiny. Much of the rest of the film seemed hollow too, suggesting the script wasn't thought through enough during writing, and the filmmakers figured no one would notice, or there were reshoots and rewrites that rendered some of those twists incomprehensible. It's a shame, because the idea of creating a movie like this is very appealing. Yes, I like to see psychic action scenes, but this felt like there was a fresh idea trying to break out from all of the intense concentrating, elaborate gesturing, and eye-morphing effects.

It wasn't all bad, though. Chris Evans has long been a favourite in our house, thanks to his pitch-perfect work on the otherwise risible Fantastic Four movies, as well as his charming performance in Cellular and his intense grouchiness in Sunshine. Watching him turn up in forgettable dreck like The Nanny Diaries (as, I swear to God, Harvard Hottie) has been dispiriting, and then appearing in an underpromoted action film like Push makes things worse. When is he going to hit big? Does anyone else even care? His Wikipedia page hasn't even been updated with the news that he's going to be playing one of the evil ex-boyfriends in Edgar Wright's adaptation of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Am I going to have to join to update the damn thing myself? I could be Keeper of the Flame, I guess.

He's predictably terrific in Push, playing a stock character (the lovable and acerbic loser) with much charm and conviction. Even better, he's paired up with Fanning, who does a great job as the old-beyond-her-years Cassie. Plagued with visions of her own death, she's a nihilist and alcoholic 13-year old who sasses everyone. I gather I'm supposed to dislike her because she's precocious, and yes, I usually have a problem with child actors, but I thought she was one of the best things about War of the Worlds, and the same thing applies here. Her chemistry with Evans is one of the things I enjoyed the most about Push, their snarky paranoia tempered by growing affection and concern.

Much of the supporting cast are entertaining too. Cliff Curtis can be variable, depending on the movie he is in. I was deeply disappointed by his work in Fracture and Die Hard 4, but he was great in Three Kings and Sunshine. Here he's light and charming, which is a nice departure from his more serious roles. Nate Mooney, as Pinky, is also very likable, and won over the group of teenage girls sitting at the back of the cinema when I saw it. Everything he said was greeted with a delighted cackle. Ming Na gets little to do other than be cynical about everything, which was a bit of a waste. Hounsou glowers a lot. There's not much else for him to do, I guess.

In an improvement on her performance in 10000 B.C., Belle adds a third expression to her repertoire. As with the caveman movie she has happy and scared down-pat, but now she has intense focus mastered too. At this rate, she'll be a watchable actress in about 30 movies. She was recently featured in a Glamour magazine photoshoot of up-and-coming talent pretending to be icons of fashion and female empowerment, for which she should thank her publicist with diamonds and unicorns and suchlike. Nothing she has done on film to date has warranted any attention. Maybe there are hidden depths there, but they are really really well hidden so far.

(N.B. I appreciate that picking on Belle for being out of place in that photoshoot is a bit rich, as the equally micro-talented Hayden Panettierre, Alexis Bledel, and Odette Yustman are also in there too. Basically, except for the inclusion of America Ferrera, the whole thing is an embarrassment.)

McGuigan may fluff the action scenes, but there is other stuff to enjoy there. The Hong Kong location shooting is interesting, only occasionally succumbing to the temptation to postcarditise the city. I also liked his use of pastel colours. It's possible he did that annoying thing of using colours like this because that's what comics do (seriously, only Warren Beatty made that work in Dick Tracy, and only because he went all-out), but nevertheless, it made my eyes very happy. The annoying flashy over-editing irked, though, and not just in the action scenes. At times it feels like Slumdog Millionaire, if Slumdog was about psychics and not implausible fairytale gamepieces.

One decision he has made doesn't work as well as he would have hoped. Turning his back on digital effects (except for where they are necessary), McGuigan fills the screen with physical effects, with the powers having a visceral effect. When people are being thrown around using wirework, that decision pays off, but a floaty gunfight between Evans and Hounsou's Mover right-hand man (played with silent scowly menace by Neil Jackson) rapidly become ridiculous. Seeing two guns hover through the air, obviously stuck to the end of green sticks removed in post, is unintentionally hilarious. Seeing one gun pressed against Hounsou's temple totally broke the spell. I didn't bother to check the credits to see if there was a gun-pole wrangler, as his/her work was terribly unconvincing.

So is it worth watching? As a rental, maybe so, even though that labyrinthine plot is contrived and filled with illogicalities, and the finale hints at future installments that will almost certainly not happen (even with a small budget, it's not going to make a profit, unless there was an amazing deal made for post-theatrical rights). Considering the interesting additions made to the stock plot, it still feels humdrum, and would only really appeal to fans of Chris Evans, psychic-story completists, and people who enjoy seeing things fly through the air because some guy is gesturing like someone infected with Ultra-Vogue Fever. So that's probably just me and three excitable girls who liked Pinky. I will say that even though Franklyn was an underdog film with lots of ambition, I got more out of this psych-heist flick, though again that's mainly because I get a thrill from this kind of thing. Nevertheless, I'm not going to lie to myself and everyone else and act like it's a good movie. It's not even as good as Jumper. I can imagine that anyone reading this it not about to rush out and rent it now. Oh, Chris Evans! Forgive me!