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Apple TV+’s Wolfwalkers Shows 2-D Animation at its Finest

Wolfwalkers

Animated films have received a ton of attention this year (since the production of many live-action films was postponed), with more on the way. Despite many big studio releases, I think it will be very hard to top Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers, another visually stunning work heavily inspired by Irish history and folklore. I say “another” because Tomm Moore and the studio Cartoon Saloon have been consistently crafting fantastic films in this vein for years. Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and now Wolfwalkers all pull from similar legends and historical art to create a trilogy of mesmerizing and joyous tales. All of the lessons learned from their previous works are on full display in this new release, as it deftly explores themes of otherness, transformation, and responsibility.     

Wolfwalkers is set in Ireland during the Interregnum at the end of the Irish Confederate Wars, a period in English history where the monarch was overthrown and Oliver Cromwell made himself head of state and lord protector of the country. Cromwell then asserted control over Ireland, passing laws that discriminated against Irish Catholics and confiscating their land. This tension is baked into the story. As we are introduced to the main character Robyn and her father Goodfellowe, other children show disdain for Robyn because she’s English. Her father serves Cromwell in his crusade to tame the wild land (it’s not subtle, but it’s for kids, y’know?). Robyn’s desire to follow in her father’s footsteps lead her to meet Mebh, a girl who can turn into a wolf when she falls asleep. Robyn’s relationships with her father and with Mebh soon come into conflict after Cromwell orders all wolves in the forest killed.

In contrast to many of the Pixar-esque, 3-D animated films of this century, Wolfwalkers shows that 2-D animation is stronger than ever. The near death of 2-D animation in popular studios has led to innovation that few 3-D animated features have achieved. Even with several big 3-D movies being released this year, Wolfwalkers sets itself apart with its attention to visual storytelling.

Wolfwalkers

The film pulls heavily from Celtic art and imagery, while also using that imagery to contribute to the film’s story. The difference between settings is shown by the drastic visual contrast, as Robyn’s village is rendered in rigid, straight lines, while the surrounding forest is made up of semicircles and curves. As the villagers cut down the forest, we literally see the fields become drawn more like the town, with angular tree stumps covering the frame. This attention to detail is also present in the designs of the wolves, as the sketches their final animations were based on can be seen in many scenes. All these touches serve to emphasize Wolfwalkers’ themes, as the forest and the wolves feel unfettered and free while the inflexible angular lines of the town feel like a trap for the characters. Symbols of chains and prison bars are used in the village to highlight Robyn’s desires, while they reinforce her father’s worries. 

All this artistry serves a well-told, if predictable story. This conflict has been seen in other children’s films (even other ones with wolves in them), but a smart script and a few twists and turns give the film enticing energy. I would rewatch this for the animation alone, but it’s so fun I ended up watching it twice before finishing this review! Wolfwalkers is an excellent addition to Tomm Moore’s unofficial Irish trilogy with stunning animation elevating its story to one of the best told of the year.

Review copy provided by Apple TV+

Movie Review: Push Attempts to Lift the Veil on Housing Issues

Push Movie Poster

As wages are stagnating, the price of urban life continues to rise across the globe. Director Fredrik Gertten’s new documentary PUSH follows UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, as she meets with people from around the world who are struggling to afford housing.

PUSH presents interviews with disaffected tenants, city mayors, and experts in international economics, connecting the several stories to the main issue. The film does not focus on one city, but on many. We follow Farha everywhere from Harlem to Seoul. The wide variety of perspectives very effectively put us in the shoes of Farha as she tries to come to a greater understanding of why housing inequality is such a big issue in many cities today.

Since the film spends so much time with Farha, it’s a good thing that she is a very compelling subject. Her passion for the cause endears us to her and to everyone she fights for. We also see the frustrations she faces within the UN and with large companies profiting from the current system. From UN delegates ignoring her to Presidents of Real Estate companies refusing to meet with her, the struggles Farha faces help us to empathise with her and believe in her cause.

One way Gertten connects the viewer with the topic is through the cinematography. It excellently captures the details of each city Farha visits. As we see the forces that are profiting off of displacing communities, Gertten also takes time to show small moments of joy that make those communities so powerful. We see a neighbor waving goodbye to children on their way to school, two men having a cup of coffee together, and a family relaxing on their couch. Though there are some points where the film drags, the editing and pacing keep us engaged throughout while the cinematography connects us with the circumstances each subject is facing.

A larger issue with PUSH is that it does not have much focus on history. Housing inequality such as redlining and segregation in the United States and other nations is touched on, but not discussed in much detail. The majority of people Farha meets with over the course of the film are white, and little time is devoted to discussing these points with POC. Though the documentarians might have felt unqualified to discuss such topics, I believe it could have strengthened their message to point out how the housing market has always been unequal.

Considering how world events are affecting many people’s ability to pay their rent, this film has become even more pertinent to our current situation. Though the message could have been stronger if it delved more into the history of housing and included more diverse voices, I would still recommend PUSH. It makes a strong case that the housing crisis should be taken seriously.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is a Joyous Finale

Bill and Ted Face the Music

When Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson first pitched their script for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1987, they had difficulty finding a studio that would take a chance on such a silly, over-the-top idea. With 31 years of hindsight, those studios might have jumped at the opportunity. Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter) and “Ted” Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) quickly became icons and have only grown in popularity due to nostalgia for the 80’s and 90’s. After living through the meat grinder of America in 2020, Bill and Ted’s positive attitude about any situation they find themselves in is refreshing. Whether they are trying to pass high school history, stopping evil robots, or saving reality, no obstacle can keep them down. The franchise has produced two T.V. shows, comics, video games, a musical, and everyone’s favorite… Bill and Ted’s Most Atypical Movie Cards and now Bill and Ted Face the Music. Bill and Ted is a franchise, dudes. 

How many of us have quoted these movies with our bros? How many have triumphantly played air guitar in tribute to them? How many have been waiting expectantly for the finale to be released? I was so eager to see how the saga came to a close ever since the movie started production. After all this anticipation, I am happy to report that Bill and Ted Face the Music is a most bodacious sequel that lives up to the legacy of its excellent prequels. 

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter have effortless chemistry as Ted and Bill (it feels kind of weird writing it like that…) whenever they are on-screen, but also bring a gruff edge to their performance when they play progressively more jaded versions of themselves. The script gives both of them some hilarious lines as they misunderstand their wives, themselves, and their mission. Both bring so much physical comedy to their scenes while never feeling too jarring. They also model a relationship that is not often seen in film, a supportive, loving friendship between men. Their work together is joyous to watch and cements them in my mind as one of the great cinematic duos. 

One issue the film faces head on is how to retcon the ending of the previous movie, where Bill and Ted seemingly wrote the song to save humanity. Rather than ignoring that, the opening scenes focus on how far Bill and Ted have gone to embrace their destiny. As Bill and Ted fumble around with bizarre instruments and begin throat singing at a wedding reception, we are shown all the years of dead ends they’ve faced and what brought them to this moment rather than it being limited to exposition. 

Of course, Bill and Ted have also been raising their two daughters to be versions of themselves from their prime. Once they begin their mission to make the best band of all time, their true strengths are revealed. Their years of listening to music and creating their own inspire a passion in every historical figure they meet, even Death himself! Samara Weaving and Bridgette Lundy-Paine are clearly having a great time with their roles and I was too as I watched them go further into the past while their fathers traveled to the future. 

The two main stories complement each other as refined and trimmed down versions of the previous films in the series. While Billie and Thea’s adventure recalls the quest to find historical figures in the first movie, Bill and Ted’s journey more closely resembles the second film where they faced evil versions of themselves. The writers enjoyed building on the legacy they created while not relying on nostalgic references like other big franchise movies. These cinematic parallels also emphasize the theme of passing the torch, as Bill and Ted realize their destiny was fulfilled by their daughters, the true main characters. These two plotlines converge as all of time begins to converge as well, with a final scene of truly epic proportions.

While many smaller roles get terrific comedic bits to chew on (the marriage counselor fleeing her office, Louis Armstrong being transfixed by a smartphone), some feel under-utilized or mishandled. Dennis, the Bill and Ted Universe’s Terminator, started to grate on my nerves in the final act. His addition felt unnecessary in a group filled with great comedic roles and few straight men. Kid Cudi, while hilarious in parts, only seemed to have one joke and the reveal that he knew about Station, the extremely smart aliens from the second film, was confusing in a way none of the other references were. My issues with Dennis and Kid Cudi are relatively minor compared to one missed opportunity I noticed. During the first act of the movie, I was excited to see the story of the princesses after their bizarre double date/couples therapy appointment, but instead they are mostly ignored. The intriguing setup left me a bit disappointed. Their family members all have strong character arcs while they are mostly absent. 

Overall, the stories of Bill and Ted, and Billie and Thea were so strong that my minor issues with the film didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Bill and Ted Face the Music is a joyous finale to one of my favorite comedy series of all time and one I hope to revisit soon.

Score: 8.5

Almost American