ABC Film Challenge – Thriller – M – The Manchurian Candidate (2004) Movie Review

Director: Jonathan Demme

Writer: Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgaris (Screenplay) Richard Condon (Novel)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Jeffrey Wright, Pablo Schreiber, Anthony Mackie, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight

Plot: In the midst of the Gulf War, soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed for sinister purposes.

Tagline – Everything is under control.

Runtime: 2 Hours 9 Minutes

There may be spoilers in the rest of the review

Story: The Manchurian Candidate starts as we see Ben Marco (Washington) leading his men in the war, one of the soldiers includes Raymond Shaw (Schreiber) who was awarded the medal of honour for his duty at war. Once out the war they have gone their separate ways, until Raymond’s mother Senator Eleanor Shaw (Streep) talks him into a vice president run, one that was a move nobody saw coming.

Ben doesn’t understand how this happened and wants to learn more about the incident in Kuwait, an incident which has left many of the soldiers with nightmares and more dangerously, being mind controlled.

Thoughts on The Manchurian Candidate

Characters – Ben Macro is the former army captain that saw some of his men fall in war, while many returned, he does live a normal life until one of his men becomes a surprise candidate for Vice President. Ben starts to look into the dreams and nightmares he once experienced and starts to learn of a bigger conspiracy of mind control being used to control the political situation. Raymond Shaw is the former soldier turned congressman whose mother had been planning his political career for decades, he will lined up to become Vice-President, a role he could do well in the future, but at the moment he is still learning, he has been put through a mind control program, being lined up to be a sleeper in the white house. Eleanor Shaw has built herself a reputation in government for being controversial, with her plan to put her son in the white house being the latest plan, an idea she has gone further than anyone ever imagined. We do see the other contenders, the former soldiers and military people that are being part of the bigger problem, with most not believing everything they are seeing from Ben.

PerformancesDenzel Washington in the leading role shows us why he is one of the greatest of all time once again, with a role which sees him carefully balance pain and paranoia through the whole film. Liev Schreiber does make for an excellent political figure that is running for office, he fits the political figure with ease, while also being deadly in the controlled side. Meryl Streep will always be the centre of attention does steal nearly ever scene in the film. The cast is strong throughout, with a few big names in early roles.

StoryThe story here follows a new surprise vice presidential candidate who has come from nowhere and ends up turning head including his own former captain who wants to look into the truth about how he got into this position so quickly, along with the nightmares his former squad have been suffering through. This is a remake of the popular movie, which does bring forward the idea of mind control off in a political world, showing how it could go unnoticed if the right people were put in the right place. We do see a lot of the film looking like a conspiracy theory that is mostly thrown out as nothing, before people do learn the shocking truth.

Mystery/Sci-Fi The mystery in the film is about whether the candidate will get elected and how far people will do to make this happen, along with the sci-fi elements being about mind control.

SettingsThe film does use the political settings that will make us understand the political play for everything.

Scene of the Movie – Election Party.

That Moment That Annoyed Me – You do need to understand American politics to understand the roles we would be seeing.

Final Thoughts This is a strong remake that updates the original with enough to give us a fresh feeling story from start to finish, with excellent performances.

ABC Film Challenge – Favourites – V – Van Helsing (2004) Movie Review

Director: Stephen Sommers

Writer: Stephen Sommers (Screenplay)

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J O’Connor

Plot: The notorious monster hunter is sent to Transylvania to stop Count Dracula who is using Dr. Frankenstein’s research and a werewolf for some sinister purpose.

Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

There may be spoilers in the rest of the review

Verdict: Highly Entertaining

Story: Van Helsing starts as Dr Frankenstein completes his monster (Hensley) for Count Dracula (Roxburgh), only to lose the monster in the villager attack, move to Paris, legendary monster hunter Van Helsing (Jackman) is hunting down Mr Hyde for the order.

The latest mission for Van Helsing is to head to Transylvania to help Anna Valerious (Beckinsale) in the fight against Count Dracula and a new werewolf threat, getting welcomed like every town, Van Helsing will learn about his own past when he comes into battle against Dracula.

Thoughts on Van Helsing

Characters – Van Helsing is the legendary monster hunter, capturing or destroying them all over the world for the order back in Rome, his reputation strikes fear in some monsters, while others are hunting him. He doesn’t remember his past, he doesn’t always work well with others, but now he must and now he is going to face his toughest test now. Anna Valerious is the last member of her family, one that has defended a town for centuries, hunting down Dracula without any success, expert with a weapon, she is willing to risk it all to save the world and her family. Count Dracula is all controlling, like most version of him, the normal vampire killings don’t work on him, this Dracula has a greater plan, to fill the world with his children and is searching for a solution to give them life. Carl is the assistant set with Van Helsing for this fight, he is basically a rip off of Q in the Bond franchise.

PerformancesHugh Jackman does work very well in the leading role, he has the natural charisma to become the hero with a dark past. Kate Beckinsale as the leading lady will always look, with Underworld under her belt, we know she is an actress that is good for the fighting side of films too. Richard Roxburgh does everything he can with the Dracula character, one that has started to get overused by now. David Wenham gets most of the laughs in the film, which is needed to help everything flow smoother.

StoryThe story here follows Van Helsing as he travels to Transylvania to fight Count Dracula along with a host of other monsters from the universal monster collection. When it comes to the battles between Van Helsing and Count Dracula, we have seen it happen for decades now, we do find ourselves going through the normal ideas, but we have an idea that Dracula is planning something bigger, which is the fresh side of the story, we have a couple of unique ideas for Dracula here too, with the ice tomb he sleeps in, being the true stand out. The mix of using werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster add plenty to the film too. This is big and wildly over the top for story, but it is a lot of fun.

Action/Fantasy/HorrorThe action is massive scale fights, swinging, shooting, different weapons, it all helps add to the fantasy world we are entering for the Universal Monsters, while the horror is weaker than we would like to see from such iconic characters, it does keep everything as a more fantasy accessible level.

SettingsThe film takes place mostly in Transylvania with the cast of Dracula being massive, hidden from the world to add extra mystery to the story, everything in the film looks beautiful on the settings side of things.

Special EffectsThe special effects are the biggest mixed bag, following on from what we saw in The Mummy, we get certain moments, including Frankenstein’s monster look truly brilliant, while certain transformations look CGI heavy.

Scene of the Movie – Van Helsing’s first day in the village.

That Moment That Annoyed Me – The transformations are the weakest part of the film.

Final Thoughts This is a fun fantasy action film that brings to life some of the more popular Universal Monsters in a fresh tale that brings them together like never before.

Overall: Enjoyable Action Fantasy.

ABC Film Challenge – Favourites – G – Garden State (2004) Movie Review

Director: Zach Braff

Writer: Zach Braff (Screenplay)

Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm

Plot: A quietly troubled young man returns home for his mother’s funeral after being estranged from his family for a decade.

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

There may be spoilers in the rest of the review

Verdict: Nice Serious Comedy

Story: Garden State starts when aspiring actor Andrew Largeman (Braff) must return home after the death of his mother, he is estranged from his father Gideon (Holm) and gets to catch up with old friends Mark (Sarsgaard) and Jesse (Riesco).

Andrew finds himself feeling out of place in his old town until he meets Sam (Portman) who makes him fit in and gives him more motivation to make the most out of his life.

Thoughts on Garden State

Characters – Andrew Largeman hasn’t always had the best life in his search for fame, he has had one role but is stuck being a waiter, seeing his life go to waste, his mother passes away which sees him return home for the funeral, where he still doesn’t fit in until he meets Sam, someone he can relate to in life. Sam is a girl that Andrew meets in town, she is a compulsive liar but her character shines through to help Andrew rediscover his happiness after the death he couldn’t find a way to grieve. Mark is one of the old friends that shows Andrew around town, brings him to the parties, even if the tension between the two can often cause the problems, even if his heart is in the right place. Gideon is the father of Andrew who has always put his son down, trying to use his own psychology to analyse him in life.

PerformancesZach Braff in the leading role brings his ever enjoyable style of comedy to the front here, which sees him not only shine in the leading role, but behind the camera too. Natalie Portman is great to see in such a positive happy role, seeming to be so natural in how her character acts. The rest of the cast are fun to watch through the film they each bring something different to the characters Andrew meets through his time in his town.

StoryThe story here follows a young man whose career hasn’t gone to plan that must return home after a family death, only to need to find himself more in life than he had ever imagined. This is a story about dealing with loss, finding direction and understand things don’t always have to go to plan in life for them to be good. We get to see how memory lane can have things painted out differently and you can always outgrow the people around you. With a moving tone to everything that does try to bring everything back down to normality in life rather than making anyone seem like an over the top character.

Comedy/RomanceThe comedy in the film works very well, it will get laughs without being set up jokes, mostly reaction to what is going on, while the romance shows that you could find love in someone you might never though you would meet.

SettingsThe film uses the small town setting to show how well the community can come together for grief and how life shows people how far they could have come.

Scene of the Movie – The arrow scene.

That Moment That Annoyed Me – The search for drugs doesn’t need to be here.

Final Thoughts This is an enjoyable comedy that shows us just how important life can be and how you can find direction when you least expect it.

Overall: Enjoyable

ABC Film Challenge – Oscar Nomination – P – The Polar Express (2004) Movie Review

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Robert Zemeckis, William Broyles Jr (Screenplay) Chris Van Allsburg (Book)

Starring: (Voice Talents) Tom Hanks, Leslie Zemeckis, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Peter Scolari

Plot: On Christmas Eve, a young boy embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole on the Polar Express, while learning about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas.

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

There may be spoilers in the rest of the review

Story: The Polar Express starts as a young boy who is starting to lose his faith in Christmas gets a visit from the Conductor of the Polar Express, offering him a ride to the North Pole, joined by other children, the boy gets taken on an adventure of a life time to visit Santa Claus at the North Pole in an attempt to renew his faith in Christmas.

Thoughts on The Polar Express

Thoughts – The Polar Express is a Christmas movie that tried something different with the animation techniques, this is by far the weakest part of the film, which ends up making everything feel lifeless in this animation. When we dive into the story, it is one that is here to try and help children keep their faith in the magic of Christmas, not being in a rush to grow up, we also get to see how children will need to learn that not everything is from the same position in life and Christmas might not have always been easy for everyone. Tom Hanks ends up taking multiply roles in the voice work, which does help make the Conductor even more charismatic. The Christmas message is clear and easy to see, but the animation ends up just making things feel lifeless.

Final Thoughts The Polar Express has all the feel good spirit of Christmas.

Franchise Weekend – Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) Movie Review

Director: Phil Tippett

Writer: Edward Neumeier (Screenplay)

Starring: Billy Brown, Richard Burgi, Kelly Carlson, Cy Carter, Sandrine Holt, Ed Lauter, Brenda Strong, Colleen Porch

Plot: In the sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s loved/reviled sci-fi film, a group of troopers taking refuge in an abandoned outpost after fighting alien bugs, failing to realize that more danger lays in wait.

Tagline – They’re coming back to wipe us out!

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

There may be spoilers in the rest of the review

Verdict: Noticeable Small Sequel

Story: Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation starts straight after the first film, the humans know have the upper hand in the war against the bugs with more soldiers on the ground ready for battle. We follow a small unit that find themselves surrounded in a night assault, who seek refuge in an abandoned outpost, deep in the bug territory.

The unit finds Captain Dax (Burgi) locked away inside, while the unit gets surrounded Lei Sahara (Porch) does what she can to save her unit against her LT Dill (Monoson) who wants to get involved in paperwork and ranks, when the real enemy is a new threat they have never seen before.

Thoughts on Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation

Characters – Captain VJ Dax is the officer found trapped in the outpost, once a hero of the war now a disgraced man, he is the only one that seems to know how to fight back on a more aggressive way than other soldiers are. He will demand the best from the soldiers no matter how it might see him clash with the others. Pvt Lei Sahara is one of the strongest members of the unit, she is a weak psychic that gets visions that don’t always get taken seriously, she makes the rash decision to release Dax. LT Pavlov Dill is the inexperienced soldier put in a position of power that is more interested in dealing with the ranks and orders than saving the soldier’s lives. Pvt Soda is one of the soldiers saved that needs medical attention, though she isn’t everything she looks like.

PerformancesRichard Burgi is the best of the performers here, he does continue the tone of a strong military man, while most of the rest of the cast don’t reach this level. Colleen Porch does handle the serious side of the film well too.

StoryThe story continues the war between humans and bugs, only this time we see the soldiers cornered in battle which will see them finding an enemy coming from within. The story here does scale back big time what we are dealing with, giving us a small unit that must battle from within one location instead of different warzones. We do move the story on from the original as we see just how humans once again understatement an enemy, as well as providing more to the bug intelligence that we are seeing. One of the problems with the story though does come from the fact we are making the story more contained, this doesn’t help on the idea of the large scale war going on, this conflicts the audience into seeing almost like a small chapter of the war over the next battle for victory.

Action/Sci-FiThe action does continue to be large scale shooting between the humans aiming for the bugs that don’t stop, while the sci-fi is more horror based with the idea of the new bug that no human has seen before.

SettingsThe film does use the outpost as the main setting, it would be a safehouse for the soldiers during the attack, though just how safe is a different question.

Special EffectsThe effects while given a much small budget, don’t look bad at all, they continue to make the bugs look terrifying for anybody that comes across them.

Scene of the Movie – Stand off on the roof.

That Moment That Annoyed Me – We try to swap genres doing an alien to aliens reverse tone for the film, that just doesn’t work.

Final Thoughts This is a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original, it does try to do something different, though it just fails to make everything hit the heights of the original.

Overall: Simple Sequel.