One of the things that literary managers tell new screenwriters is to be prepared to name some of your favorite movies—and specifically, recent movies—when you meet with executives. This is so they have a sense of your taste.
I can name oodles of my favorite recent TV shows...but movies of the last 20 years? I tend to draw a blank. I loved Lost in Translation, that latter-day Polanski film The Ghost Writer, the horror gem It Follows!...but I really have to think about it. (And most are hardly “recent.”)
I guess the standard for me is, if I see the film while channel surfing, am I am interested in just randomly watching part of it for the umpteenth time?
Strangely, I have a lot of affection for a little-seen and generally disregarded quasi-comic book film, Push, from the winter of 2009.
Push was an original story about psychic superpowers, with a motley group of paranormal good guys against evil government agents and gangsters, set and shot on location in Hong Kong.
It stands at 24% “rotten” from Rotten Tomatoes, with most critics dismissing it as frivolous and abstruse, albeit with some nice technical qualities.
I remember being intrigued by the early ads—because it sounded a lot like the X-Men comic books I read in the mid-1980s. Even the poster looked like an X-Men cover:
You know what it is? The glowing hands:
If memory serves, I went to see it, alone, at the Grove in L.A.—and I actually really dug it.
The X-Men comics from the Chris Claremont era are about more than just superpowers. They’re about a certain vibe, of friendship and belonging amongst outcasts.
Die-hard fans know that as awesome as the galaxy-hopping and giant fights are, the real scenes you treasure are the quiet moments with the X-Men goofing off at the mansion.
So in an era where we’re deluged by comic book movies—including many starring the actual X-Men—Push somehow captures the spirit of those books, but even better, because it doesn’t have all the crazy, save-the-galaxy showmanship and repetitive, city-wrecking fight scenes. (Although there is a very good and imaginative, building-destroying slugfest in the third act.)
It’s more grounded and tactile—and, with vivid direction by Paul McGuigan, like a colorful travelogue of Hong Kong.
There’s a likable cast: Chris Evans (oozing charm, before he was cast as Captain America), teenage Dakota Fanning, Dijmon Hounsou, Ming-Na Wen, Cliff Curtis, Corey Stoll (one of the first things I saw him in), Maggie Siff (from Mad Men and Billions) and Camilla Belle, among others.
The plotting and myriad superpowers are indeed way too convoluted—but given my education in several hundred X-Men comic books, I had no trouble following all the scheming. (Although there are some “cheats” to the storytelling.)
I actually inquired about the Push soundtrack rights. Here’s another dumb “war story” from the FSM years: I remember reaching out to various people trying to find out who would even do the license.
I was referred to an executive at a company in London—and next thing I knew, his office was asking to schedule a call with me. I was like, “Can’t we just sort this out over email?” But nooooooo, the guy really wanted a call.
So we set the call, the appointment finally came (early in the morning, because, you know—London), I say hello, we make small talk—and then, a few minutes later, the guy finally says, “Sorry, that’s not us. Try Summit.”
I was so annoyed—you couldn’t have emailed me this a week ago?!
Even when I saw Push the first time, it seemed obvious that the producers were hoping for a franchise—it doesn’t with a cliffhanger, per se, but the story is far from resolved.
Alas, that never happened. Nor did a TV series that was announced in 2010.
So Push has been relegated to the dustbin of genre history, although it has a way of popping back up on pay cable—where I again watched a part of it, last night, and was charmed by the cast and that grounded sense of locale.
It just has that good old-fashioned, Marvel sense of “regular schmoes with superpowers in over their heads.”
Nowadays, it’s incredibly difficult to get an original superpowers film made (provided you’re not already a famous filmmaker). They cost so much money that studios insist on using established I.P.
So, farewell, Push—but I appreciated you!