REVIEW: Wolfwalkers

Director Tomm Moore knows the feeling of being otherized. “When I was a little kid, I was in a playground and I was playing with this little kid and his brother came over and asked if I was catholic or protestant and that’s how I found out I was catholic and how I found out that there was a problem with being one or the other.” Moore and his team have recently been nominated for their third Academy Award for Wolfwalkers, a delightful, animated feature steeped in Irish folklore and carrying themes that never seem to get less relevant. At its core, Wolfwalkers is about our connection to our past and to nature, but it is also a signpost for us all as we seek to tear down the many divisions in our society.

“I hate to say it, but I grew up in the 80’s and the tension going back to the English colonization was really present and I thought we moved past it but even today riots have started again. I feel like we need to talk about this,” says Moore as his film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2020, seems to be speaking even louder so many months later. Britain’s ongoing exit from the EU and the stress of a global pandemic have brought new unrest stemming from decades old divisions in Northern Ireland. Here comes Wolfwalkers, a story about a little English girl, Robyn, living in a British settlement in Ireland befriending a little Irish girl, Mebh, who lives in the woods and may have supernatural wolf powers.


Robyn lives with her father in a puritan village that she very desperately wants to escape from. She would love nothing more than to run through the woods hunting with her father, but, in his misguided attempts to keep her safe, she is, instead, relegated to the palace kitchen. Naturally, Robyn follows her father anyway and winds up on an adventure alongside the wild-haired Mebh and her wolfpack. Mebh isn’t what Robyn is used to. At first, she’s even more off putting than the wolves. Once Robyn has a chance to see the world through Mebh’s eyes, though, her awareness, her sense of self, and their friendship begins to grow. Moore says of what he hopes to convey in the film, “I think about little girls that can see this story playing out and see that they have some say in their voice because it’s still a bit of challenge I think for young women to go against the grain of what society says.”

There just aren’t that many stories focused primarily on female friendship and empowerment, but what is so encouraging about Wolfwalkers, is that it allows Robyn and Mebh to make mistakes as they navigate a world that says they shouldn’t be friends. This is especially true as Robyn tries to bring her dad along on her journey of enlightenment only to find new pressure and stress to conform and stay safe. The process of reconciling divisions in our world is incredibly messy. We see that all around as it often feels like we are taking one step forward and five or six steps back. As we finally have a police officer on trial for the murder of George Floyd, a few blocks away history repeats itself. As history is achieved with America electing a female Vice-President, the capital is stormed with violence and insurrection. As Robyn tries to embrace her wild side and help Mebh out, she ends up reflecting her own oppression onto Mebh.

Wolfwalkers 2

It is a sophisticated film that makes these complicated themes very palatable for children. Afterall, it is when we’re young that we first start recognizing our differences. Just as Moore did on that playground as a kid, and as he describes when he first moved from Northern to Southern Ireland. “So when I came down I had to do a lot of adapting to try and fit in. I had to try and change my accent on purpose, play down how my parents would take me to mass every day, a lot of that stuff that wasn’t seen as ‘cool’ or ‘normal’ amongst kids in my school.” Moore and his filmmaking team hope to inspire our current younger generations to imagine something different. He says, “That’s who it’s for, really, that generation. Cause they’re the ones that have to deal with all the division that we have and maybe if they can see themselves in these characters, they can imagine a less divided way of relating to each other.”

The film also imagines a world where the safety of women is placed more firmly in their own hands, something that is rarely a given in our world plagued by continued oppression of and violence against women. Complete human flourishing is often hard to come by in our fallen world. Wolfwalkers allows us, through folklore and friendship, the opportunity to have a holy imagination and look towards something better. Can you envision a world where all women are allowed to run free into whatever adventure they choose without fear? Hopefully it won’t be long before that world is a lot less fictional and with only slightly fewer magical wolves.

Wolfwalkers is currently streaming on AppleTV+

Boyhood: Capturing the Reality of Life

The funny thing about children is that they are always watching. They are always observing the world around them, taking it all in. The scary thing about children is wondering what they are absorbing. The smallest conversations, actions, facial expressions, etc. can transform a moment for a kid, and change the way they see the world. This is something that is depicted with terrifying reality in Richard Linklater’s sociology-experiment-of-a-movie, “Boyhood.”


For those who don’t know, the gimmick behind “Boyhood” is that it was filmed over the span of 12 years with the main cast all aging in real time. We join young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) at the age of five staring into the sky wondering, dreaming of what, we can only guess. From there we watch as new characters enter and leave his life like a revolving door all while he looks on with his deep blue eyes that are washing over everything in his environment, consuming all of the sights, sounds, and movements his world has to offer.

Gimmicks can lead filmmakers down some treacherous roads, for examples see the onslaught of point-of-view films in the wake of “The Blair Witch Project” or the decreasing interest in M. Night Shyamalan movies as audiences became accustomed to surprise twists. However, this year we saw some quirky gimmicks used brilliantly (see “Birdman’s” one-shot). What makes “Boyhood” so effective is that we are seeing real people really moving through time, the movie expresses a sense of reality that the best make-up artists in the business can’t provide.

As an audience when we are watching biographical movies we are trained to expect tragedy. You expect people to experience life-changing accidents, heart-breaking deaths, or at least the embarrassment of a parent walking in on something no parent wants to see. Linklater builds these suspenseful moments again and again in “Boyhood,” but with no expected pay off. We have seen story after story of people formed by tragedy, but the truth is that lots of people move through life being formed by very normal experiences: the first time you get a note from a girl in class, your first beer, the first time you shoot a gun, the first ride in your dad’s classic GTO. This again, adds to the reality of the movie.

This may sound mundane and uninteresting but the draw of “Boyhood” is that we experience this story with the wide-eyed wonder of Mason. We are interested in the characters in his life because he is. Mason, as most kids do, says anything and asks everything. The benefit is that we get to see how people react to being asked curious, blunt questions. What this creates are two versions, the audiences’ and Mason’s.

The audience may experience Patricia Arquette’s mom as a strong woman who has survived incredible pain to work through school and become a master’s level psychology professor. Mason barely knows what she teaches or does. Every move she makes is her trying as hard as she can to give her kids a better life. Rarely does Mason or his sister understand why they have to move or why mom is crying. The heartbreaking reality of how little we appreciate our parents.


Mom is contrasted by Mason Sr. played by Ethan Hawke. Raising the kids is easier for him. He gets to swoop in and do fun things with them. He gets to be overly romantic and idealistic. It’s no wonder that by the end of the film, Mason is a spitting image (down to the wrinkled button-up T and scraggly goatee) of his father.

The examples Mason gets are of very real people who are wandering through life without a clear sense of whether or not they are doing things right. They get excited, they move, they fail, they cry, they do it all again. Mason experiences it all and the result is the latter parts of the film being filled with him asking what life is really all about. No one has given him an answer and you can believe he’s been looking for it.

Mason’s penchant for wonder and observation leads him to photography which symbolically fits the entire scope of the film. “Boyhood” is about the moments that make up life. Linklater provides these moments in many ways: fashion, hair styles, music of the time. Mason loves capturing those moments, freezing them, examining them. There are very few overly dramatic or intense scenes, but “Boyhood” is engaging and beautiful because it is life displayed in a way movies rarely can capture and, by the end, it may have you asking what your life is really all about.

I’m not “Wild” about grief but love redemption.

Cheryl sits up, hunched over barely holding the weight of her body numbed by the drugs flowing through her veins. She is naked, bruised, colored by the smears of her makeup and the mattress on the floor she rests on is hardly offering support or comfort. Everything about the woman, daughter, thinker, sister, wife she once was is lost. Her body is lost to the drugs. Her dignity is on the mattress with the guy passed out against the stained wall. Her mother is lost to the disease all too common, cancer. Her mind is lost to grief.

Cheryl Strayed

Real life Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Coast Trail.

For those who have experienced grief, this tale might be relatable or understandable. The world changes on the other side loss. Before loss you feel safe. Before loss you are moving forward towards your dreams and goals. Afterwards the rules are different, you are different. How can you possibly move forward when you can barely move? How can the world have meaning when you can barely feel? This is the ride we get to go on with Cheryl Strayed in “Wild,” based on her memoir and starring Reese Witherspoon.

“Wild” tells a story about grief but also about guilt and shame and thousands of other emotions that we experience with Strayed as she pulls a Proclaimers and walks 500 miles and then walks 500 more on the Pacific Crest Trail. This journey is like watching someone go through an entire penitential Lenten season in two hours. Every step of the trail is a reminder of the pain she’s felt and wrongs she’s committed to those who are closest to her.

The walk is part of finding herself. After all, Strayed’s memoir is subtitled “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” However, the walk is also self-inflicted punishment. Strayed carries her pack like it’s filled with all her burdens and at the end of the day she has the scares to prove how heavy it is.

The clever way the film is pieced together combined with Witherpoon’s performance pulls you in. You want to know what went wrong, you want to know how bad it got. And as Strayed goes back, deeper and deeper into the dark places she goes forward. The hike gets easier the farther she goes. The pack, sometimes literally, gets lighter.


There are times in this film when you hate Strayed for doing drugs, for cheating, etc. The thing is she hates herself for the same things as she imagines doing them with her deceased mom, played beautifully by Laura Dern, looking on. There are also times when you will love Strayed for her insightful quotes, the comradery she forms with fellow hikers, her reactions to well deserved Snapples, and more. There are also times when you feel her fear, her frustration, and her sadness.

It is easy to feel with Strayed, one because of Witherspoon’s portrayal, and two because she could be any of us. This film won’t be a cake walk for anyone who has experienced the kind of grief Strayed has but it can be rewarding knowing that anyone deserves a second chance. Along the way Strayed gets to realize how much she was throwing away, how much she is worth. Perhaps the best part about this journey is that it didn’t make Strayed perfect, it redeemed her and made her stronger. The rules do change after your loved ones slip through your fingers, but Strayed proves you can still play the game.

In “Foxcatcher,” devaluing others leads to a grim ending.

The real-life John du Pont

John du Pont, dressed in his Foxcatcher best, being arrested after the murder of Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz.

When I was a kid my favorite toys were action figures. These were not the dolls my sisters played with, they wore camo, carried guns, and always caught the eye of the lone female action figure I had (Dr. Ellie Sattler from “Jurassic Park” of course). As the only boy amongst my siblings, my narrative interests as I played with toys were very different from those of my sisters. They cared if Barbie finally landed Ken, while in my productions there was always more at stake, most of the time the safety of the entire world.

What drew me in to playing with these toys was the creative freedom I had. They could do anything and go anywhere I needed them to go to advance my story. I used old soda boxes to create elaborate city skylines and when my main villain needed the upper hand on my valiant hero his main mode of capture was freezing my protagonist in a glass of water. This is a good time to thank my mom for putting up with the lack of freezer space.

As time went on, I realized that the fantasy world I’d created in my soda box city didn’t have to be the end. I could put the action figures away and participate in the real world with real people. When we enter Bennett Miller’s hauntingly weird retelling of the real-life events that ended in the murder of Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz, the picture he paints of Schultz’s murderer, John du Pont, is that of a man raised in wealth that maybe never separated the six inch plastic soldiers in his life to living breathing people.


“Foxcatcher,” named for the ranch owned by du Pont that became a training ground for US Olympic wrestling in the late 1980’s, exhibits du Pont as a boy trapped in a man’s body. Every move is made to impress his mother that has little to no interest in anything but maintaining the gaudy brass sconce laden world that is their estate. He fills his ranch with action figures in the form of wrestlers led by world and Olympic champion Mark Schultz, whose book the film is based.

Maybe we see du Pont’s life when he has given up on participating in the world and just wants to play with his toys. These wrestlers are things that he can play with and exploit. Mark Schultz has been adamant that there were no sexual interactions with du Pont during his stay at Foxcatcher and I really don’t believe that Miller expresses an explicit homosexual tone in some of the scenes that are called into question. Du Pont’s actions in the film, to me, are exploitation. He is acting out all of his boyhood fantasies with real-life toys. We even see him buying a tank. What little boy doesn’t want to ride in a tank?

Carell’s performance, the shocking murder scene, the dark, foggy environment of the ranch are all frightening aspects to the film but perhaps the most horrifying piece of this true crime puzzle is how old money and a culture of wealth created the monster. The tragedy is that when he was done playing with his toys one Olympic gold medalist was no longer a champion and the other Olympic gold medalist, devoted coach, loving brother, husband, and father was dead. A possession of du Pont’s put back in the toy box because the game didn’t end his way.

“Foxcatcher” is undoubtedly filled with some of the best acting performances of the year. My sympathies to Channing Tatum who will more than likely be overshadowed at Oscar time by Carell in the lead and the awards veteran status of Mark Ruffalo who starred as Dave Schultz. Tatum was perfect and heart-wrenching as Mark Schultz, a role the likes he may never see again.

Tatum’s best scene in the film is an example of the emotional toll exploitation can have. Dealing with a loss and looking into a mirror, unable to recognize the person he has become in the wake of the life he has been leading as du Pont’s lap dog, he snaps and self harms. He spins into self-destruction. He loses his sense of worth he proudly felt at the beginning of the story with the gold medal around his neck. Du Pont’s whittling away of the personhood of those around him leads to an unhappy ending, a reminder of what it looks like to take away the value of another person.