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Movie Reviews – Push Hypnotizes, Coraline Horrifies

Push Hypnotizes, Coraline Horrifies” width=”560″/>

In the scifi and fantasy realm, “all style” is tossed around a bit too casually as an insult. In fact, since world-building is so important to the genre, it’s more often “no style” that’s the problem. Inkheart and The Golden Compass are two recent fantasy flicks defeated in large part by their visual blandness with elaborate sets that looked like, well, elaborate sets. Sometimes “style” can carry the day.

Consider Paul McGuigan’s Push, which approximates what would happen if arthouse darling Wong Kar-Wai ( In the Mood for Love , My Blueberry Nights ) were to direct a totally boneheaded action movie. By almost any standard, this half-hearted mishmash of Jumper and X-Men — with a touch of Stephen King’s Firestarter — is hugely problematic. But you could definitely spend two hours staring at it without getting bored.

The set-up — supplied to us by a handy Fanning voiceover during the opening credits — is complicated but not really thought through: There are, we’re told, people with special powers and a nefarious government agency called Division set up to catch and perform unpleasant experiments on them. (Apparently the goal is to create an army, though the movie doesn’t really elaborate on this.) There are “watchers,” who can see the future and draw it on paper. There are “pushers,” who can implant a thought into your head and make you believe it. There are “movers,” who can pretty much do just that. And my personal favorite are the “bleeders,” who scream loudly and make you bleed from your ears.

Nick (Chris Evans), a mover, teams up with Cassie (Fanning), a budding watcher, to rescue Kira (Camilla Belle), a pusher who miraculously survived one of Division’s experiments. Division’s after her, sending a fearsome and ruthless pusher (Djimon Hounsou) to retrieve her at any price — though if you start asking ridiculous questions like “why,” you might come up empty.

In essence, Push doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But Paul McGuigan — whose previous movies Wicker Park and Lucky Number Slevin were also visual marvels — turns Push into an oddly hypnotic tone poem: Action movie staples like laser-sighted guns become impressionistic flourishes as the lasers flare across the frame and momentarily turn the screen a sickly green. When a character is telepathically hurled against a tiled mosaic wall, the force of the impact sends a rain of color streaming down. All of this is cut together with an almost musical flow, the editing often settling into a perceptible rhythm. Push is supremely elegant, even beautiful; you can get lost in the visuals even as the narrative implodes. If ever there were a triumph of style over substance, this is it.

If you’d prefer style fortified with some imagination, I commend to you Henry Selick’s 3-D stop-motion wonder Coraline, which also stars Dakota Fanning (or at least her voice). This movie creates not one convincing self-contained world, but two, each miles more plausible than anything in Push as the titular character, bored with her inattentive parents, finds a portal into a parallel universe with guardians that dote on her every desire. The PG-rated flick is also deeply frightening, telling a story that could bore into your kids’ nightmares if you’re not careful. What child wouldn’t be afraid of an alternate universe where parents have buttons for eyes — and want to sew buttons onto yours?

There’s a classic haunted house feel to Coraline, though it’s leavened by bits of off-the-wall humor — Coraline’s upstairs neighbor is a portly former circus acrobat, and the downstairs is occupied by a pair of busty old showgirls. There’s a subtly touching relationship between Coraline and her loving but inattentive actual parents (Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman), which leads to the movie’s be-careful-what-you-wish-for message. But the centerpiece is definitely the “other” world the child finds when she crawls through the little door in her living room. This world is off in little ways that are so creepy, they put to shame most recent offerings in the horror genre.

Coraline does ultimately get a bit bogged down in a long, action-packed climax that starts to drag. But even more so than Push, it is never boring. Selick’s animation is so effortless and smooth that it becomes hard to believe this is still stop-motion technology. The 3-D effects are beautiful and unobtrusive, not just there to make you giggle as objects fly at your face. Fantastic and mundane locations seem tangible; you feel like you could go right into this world and walk around. I can’t even imagine the painstaking effort Coraline required — I can only reap the benefits.

It is, quite literally, a beautiful weekend at the movies.

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