FlixChatter Review: FINCH (2021)

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Films set in apocalyptic setting is quite popular in Hollywood and in FINCH we’ve got Tom Hanks in the title role as practically the last man on earth. He seems to be quite chirpy given living in a post-apocalyptic earth that has devastated the world’s civilization. He’s singing along to his favorite song as he and his dog-like robot Dewey, which is tasked to collect things when they scour abandoned warehouses or stores etc. searching for food and supplies. Within just a few minutes, we get an idea just how hazardous life has become for humans that he has to wear a protective UV suit and helmet to be outside. The air and atmosphere has become toxic and the suit also protects him against extreme heat.

As if that isn’t perilous enough, he also have to deal with unpredictable dust storms that could come at any moment. The opening scene shows Finch barely escaping the storm as he rides his truck to get home safely. The key to dystopian sci-fi movies is in world-building, that the filmmakers have to convince us of the treacherous condition at the end of the world. Director Miguel Sapochnik (most notably known for directing Game of Thrones’ penultimate sixth episode Battle of the Bastards), working on a script by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell does that effectively and in an engaging way.

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When Finch reaches his makeshift home that resembles a lab in an abandoned warehouse, he’s greeted by his dog, an adorable brown Irish Terrier mix he named Goodyear. It’s quite an unusual name for a dog but later we learn more about how he first saw his beloved furry friend. The dust storm convinces Finch that he can’t stay in his home and must get to a safer location in order to survive. Well, his science & engineering skills has definitely come in handy for Finch, as he’s able to create these robots and other tools to help him survive the apocalypse. 

In many humans + robots movie, we usually just accept that the robots already exist, but I love that we’re shown how Finch builds his droid and his euphoric excitement when his creation finally does what he intends it to do. Jeff, voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, is absolutely delightful right from the start. The scenes when he first utter a word, answers Finch’s questions and learn to walk, etc. is wonderfully staged. The moment the robot comes up with a name for himself is both funny and moving, there’s something so earnest in Jeff’s child-like behavior that’s so endearing. 

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The second and third act is basically a road movie where Finch, Jeff and Goodyear travel together in a specifically-equipped RV to leave their home in St. Louis to San Francisco. What is in SF is explained later in the movie, but it’s not really important as I was already invested in their journey. Now, this is not a thriller or sci-fi horror, so people expecting some violent attacks or action-packed fight scenes with fellow earth survivors (or worse, aliens) will be disappointed. There is only one scary incident at an abandoned supermarket that’s told in flashback, which explains Goodyear’s origin story, but the gruesome bit is never shown. I actually like the fact that Finch is more of an existential drama and a story about relationships and what is meaningful to us in life.

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Despite the inherently distressing end-of-the-world topic and Finch’s terminal illness, the film’s tone is pretty light with plenty of humorous moments throughout the journey. The banters between Finch and Jeff are amusing but also reminds us what it means to be human. Jeff’s antics also provide levity and laugh-out-loud moments even when you know the droid is misbehaving. Despite looking very much like a droid with skeletal machinery, there are times where I wanted to give Jeff a hug given how human-like he’s become. The environmental message about global warming and taking care of our earth before it’s too late is obvious but also feels organic to the characters’ journey instead of being forced down our throats. One particular scene towards the end certainly makes me appreciate just being able to be outside and breathe fresh air without having to wear any protective gear.

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Hanks proves once again that he is such a charismatic actor that he could hold the audience’s interest all by himself.  I think a film like this definitely has to have an actor who is immensely watchable. At the same time, given the inherent similarities to the one-man-show of Castaway, I wonder what it would be like if they had cast a different actor with similar charisma and an every-man quality, perhaps Ben Mendelsohn? 

As Jeff the droid, Caleb Landry Jones is astounding. Hanks revealed in a recent interview that on top of providing the voice work, Landry Jones actually performed a lot of Jeff’s movements, wearing a robot suit which is then replaced with CGI. Jeff is definitely one my favorite movie robots now. The friendship that forms between Jeff and Finch are wonderful to watch. The dog takes a while to trust Jeff, but the eventual bonding moments are endearing.

Overall FINCH is quite a moving and heartfelt sci-fi drama that got me tearing up a few times.  For a film with such a dire subject matter, it ends with an uplifting and hopeful note that leaves a sweet, instead of bitter, after taste.

4/5 stars


Have you seen FINCH? I’d love to hear what you think!

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri + Blue Balloons

It’s just two days left in TCFF and I’m playing catch-up with posting reviews! You might’ve noticed I’ve got to post a couple of things in a day at times… too many films too little time (both to watch and to review!)

Well, below are couple of reviews from Day 6 and 7.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
review by Andy Ellis

It’s described as a dark comedy, but writer and director Martin McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has a lot more to offer. The film, led by Frances McDormand who plays Mildred who causes some small town chaos by using three billboards to ask local officials why they haven’t found her daughter’s murderer and rapist yet.

A subject such as this must be treaded upon carefully, and it’s done very well here. The humor comes from the fact that none of the characters hold anything back. Mildred has has no problem telling the local priest how she really feels, or anyone else for that matter. Sam Rockwell shines as Dixon,  a small-minded Sheriff’s Deputy with a short temper ends up costing him dearly in one key scene. If there’s a character who keeps his calm the best in the story it’s Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, the main target of Mildred’s billboard messages.

It’s also a film with a lot of heart in it as well, and it helps round out the characters. One scene causes causes Mildred to switch moods so fast you’ll realize that beneath that pissed-off no-nonsense barrier is a mother that just wants her daughter back. And this role may even earn McDormond some awards recognition, and then same goes for Rockwell.

The rest of the cast rounds out the story pretty well, too, with each one getting their own chance to shine—and they do. Lucas Hodges plays Mildred’s son Robbie who isn’t all on board with his mom’s methods, and Abbie Cornish plays the Sheriff’s wife Anne. Caleb Landry Jones has great scenes as Red Welby the owner of the billboards, and Peter Dinklage has a very small but memorable role. John Hawkes plays Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband, and Samara Weaving steals the show a couple times as Penelope, Charlie’s young girlfriend.

This film is a great mix of everything, and throws more than a few a surprises in there as well. The acting is superb and it’ll leave you wanting more. Now if only more films would grab a hold of you like this one did.


BLUE BALLOONS
Review by Ruth Maramis

This is one of the films with a Minnesota connection that I actually didn’t know much about. So I pretty much going in blindly about the story, other than the fact that the story deals with a terminal illness.

Right from the start, this film feels deeply personal. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but Blue Balloons is an honest, realistic story about a family gripping with the complexity of cancer. Written, directed and produced by Emily Troedson, who also acts as the eldest daughter Claire of the Kippson family, the story is told from her perspective. I like that it paints the day-to-day life of the family in a matter-of-fact, candid way… especially in the way Claire is questioning her faith and her existence in a devout Lutheran community.

Chari and Emily in Blue Balloons

The film’s pacing is a bit slow and really tries your patience at times. I have to say some of the acting by the supporting cast aren’t convincing (crying with no tears visible??), but overall it’s a well-crafted piece with genuinely poignant moments as well as interesting artistic choices. I wish there were more mother-daughter relationship being explored here, though I think the dynamic of the family is portrayed pretty well.

Chari Eckmann as Joanne

I connected most with Emily’s character and she did an amazing job juggling so many roles in the film. Being a daughter who dealt with an ill mother at a young age, there are parts that was hard to watch for me. I also have to commend Chari Eckmann‘s performance (as the cancer-stricken Joanne), her emotional transformation and deterioration throughout the film is believable.

Glad to see so many talented writer/director like Emily having their films at TCFF! I sure hope she continues to make films in the future.


There’s more films and festivities to be had at TCFF!

 

FlixChatter Review: Neil Jordan’s vampire drama Byzantium (2012)

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Before the vampire craze began started by a certain YA novel, Neil Jordan‘s made an epic vampire drama Interview With The Vampire in 1994. Nearly two decades later, the Irish filmmaker returned to the popular genre with another unconventional tale of the fanged one. Except that the vampires in this story don’t have fangs, instead they have sharp thumb nail that extends when they are ready to feed. The story is based on a play by Moira Buffini, who also wrote the screenplay.

The film begins with a schoolgirl, Eleanor, saying in voice over that ‘my story can never be told.’ She constantly writes in her journal, writing her life story she can’t share with anyone. The melancholy scene is contrasted with that of a sexy prostitute, Clara, tantalizing a client at a dingy club. It’s the oldest profession in the world, one she has held on for more than two centuries. The scene then turns into a big foot chase scene that ends in a bloody, grizzly murder. That incident forces Clara and her daughter Eleanor to move to another town once again. By that point I was hooked and I’m on for the ride to find out just who these two creatures are and why they are constantly on the run.

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At the core of Byzantium is a mother and daughter story, albeit a decidedly-unusual one. Gemma Arterton and Saiorse Ronan made for quite an intriguing pair as mother and daughter. Clara represents the ruthless survivor with a personal vendetta against men preying on vulnerable women. So yeah, there’s a not-too-subtle feminism commentary here. Meanwhile, Eleanor represents innocence and benevolence, preying on those she deems ‘ready’ to die. So they certainly have a very different approach to feeding human blood. The title itself initially refers to a hotel that somehow becomes a place of refuge to them, but the purported ties to the Byzantine Empire is rather forced.

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I’ve been wanting to see it for some time, but crushing on Sam Riley compelled me to rent it straight away and I’m glad I did. Sam’s part isn’t a big one but he played a dual character that plays a key role in Clara’s dark past. His scenes as a naval officer, along with a grimy Jonny Lee Miller, are some of the most compelling aspects of the film. The film takes place mostly on modern day, with extended flashback scenes that explain the origin story of Clara’s vampirism. It takes a bit too long to get to that part however, with hints peppered throughout and one secret is peeled after another in a leisurely manner. Rather indulgent perhaps, but I think the movie rewards your patience and for me, there’s enough going for it to keep me engrossed.

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The two female protagonists are fantastic in this. It’s perhaps my favorite role I’ve seen Arterton’s done so far, and though Ronan’s done superior work since, I still count this as one of her best work. Arterton’s absolutely ravishing as Clara, she uses her sensuality and seductive allure, combined with a convincing motherly love. Meanwhile Ronan’s forlorn demeanor is quietly eerie and she delivers one long monologue about who she really is that gives me quite the chills. A bit of trivia: Ronan did an intense 12-week crash course in piano lessons to be able to play the complicated Beethoven piano sonata in this film. She certainly is a dedicated performer.

I’ve seen this film twice in the past three months, and I must say I find this strangely mesmerizing. But the flaws keep this from being a truly great movie, as it doesn’t quite live up to its original concept. I still applaud it for that though, as originality is such a rarity these days in a world full of sequels and reboots. I could do without some of the scenes, i.e. the odd and pointless classroom scene with an uncredited Tom Hollander. I’m also not too fond of Caleb Landry Jones‘ casting as Eleanor’s love interest, thus their love story isn’t as appealing as it could’ve been.

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As with a mythology story, certain aspects sometimes don’t get explained very well. In this case it’s in regards to Clara’s relentless pursuers, who’s later revealed as part of the so-called Brotherhood. We don’t know much about it, but what we do know is that the ancient organization forbids women to join, and they’re ruthlessly strict about those who’ve broken that rule. It helps that there’s a Byzantium Wiki to devour after watching the movie, and I think the more I read about it, the more I appreciate the story.

Eternal life will only come to those prepared to die.

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So despite the flaws, I’d say this movie is well worth a watch. I always appreciate an unorthodox vampire story, be it comedic (What We Do in the Shadows) or what Neil Jordan‘s created so far. I’d say this film is more of a drama than a full-on horror film, which is just the way I like it. There are gory and bloody scenes, but it’s few and far between.

Stylistically, the film is wonderful to look at. Set in rundown coastal setting in the UK and Ireland, it’s an appropriately atmospheric and broodingly-mysterious for a vampire tale. Acclaimed cinematographer Sean Bobbitt added an occasional jolts of color, so it’s not all doom and gloom. It has an eerie, ethereal and mysteriously romantic feel to it, but not grotesque. The scene in the spooky island with its blood waterfall is especially striking. I also like the classically-tinged, serene-sounding score by Javier Navarrete that perfectly complements the tone of the film.

I like the ending as well, which actually is surprisingly hopeful. This is the kind of film that lingers long after the end credits. It certainly make me think about the concept and these bloodsuckers *ethics* if you will, that I never thought about before. Any good stories about monsters and mythical creatures ought to have humanistic elements and this one certainly does. Just like Jordan’s previous film Ondine, there’s more than meets the eye and has deeper significance than what the trailer suggests. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s quite mesmerizing and I now count this as one of my favorite vampire films.

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Have you seen ‘Byzanthium’? Either way, I’d love to hear what you think!

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