Another year gone, and we have arrived back at poetry-lovers’ favorite month. That’s right; April is upon us and so is National/Global Poetry Writing Month (or NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo for short). It’s mind-blowing to me that this is my seventh year participating in this challenge, since 2016. It has always been a great opportunity to stretch my creativity and catch up on my backlog of films to review, which is bigger than ever with my slow output of late.
Obviously, a lot has happened in the world over the last year, but that’s especially true in my own life, where I finally finished with college and secured stable employment. Now that I don’t have those worries, I would expect to have more time for writing, but other activities and obligations have just filled that time gap (including a bigger project I have in the works).
Nothing is certain, but I’m hoping that I can keep up with the one-poem-a-day pace that makes April such lyrical fun, even if it might mean shorter film reviews. I plan to follow the daily prompts at the NaPoWriMo website, and I encourage anyone interested out there to do the same. Here’s looking forward to a great month of poetry!
Who knows what mystery occurs Within the woods, what secret stirs Outside the realm of man’s mundane Within the cryptic and arcane Dimension far from mine and yours?
To know that it exists might be Enough to bring anxiety, To paint this aberrant unknown As one more threat to be o’erthrown, A cause for endless enmity.
And so it stays the stuff of tales, In deepest wood and virgin trails, A whisper easy to ignore, That men may not endure one more Concern to tip their tender scales. _____________________
MPA rating: PG
I had wanted to post this review for St. Patrick’s Day due to the Celtic roots of a film set in Ireland, but time got away from me. Still, I’m due to get back into writing mode since National Poetry Writing Month is right around the corner. I had been eagerly awaiting the next film from Tomm Moore and the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, but I was disappointed that Apple TV+ got exclusive streaming rights to it. It wasn’t until I finally bit the bullet and subscribed to yet another streaming service (thanks, CODA and Finch, for changing my mind) that I was able to see Wolfwalkers. Thankfully, it was exactly what I wanted it to be, a warm and colorful flight of Irish fantasy that may well be my favorite entry from Cartoon Saloon.
Set in Kilkenny in 1650, Wolfwalkers draws on Celtic mythology, like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea before it, specifically the notion of forest-dwelling werewolf-like folk who become actual wolves while their human bodies are sleeping. Young Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey) is an English girl brought to Ireland by her father Bill (Sean Bean), a hunter commissioned by the dictatorial Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) to clear the nearby woods of all wolves. Not welcomed by the Irish children and reluctant to work as a maid, she desperately tries to help her father, eventually ending up alone in the forest. After a fateful encounter with a Wolfwalker named Mebh (Eva Whittaker), Robyn finds she’s become a Wolfwalker herself and must find a way to save her newfound friend from her own father.
Wolfwalkers has the same distinction I mentioned of The Mitchells vs. the Machines: so many elements of its plot have been seen and done many times before, yet it uses these well-worn tropes so well that it exceeds the sum of its parts. We have the concerned and controlling father figure of The Little Mermaid, the prejudiced nobleman villain of Pocahontas (who even resembles Ratcliffe), the conflict of a supposed enemy turning out to be friendly from How to Train Your Dragon, the look-through-their-eyes transformation of Brother Bear, and I could go on. While I personally love all of these movies too, those who don’t like recycled ideas could easily label Wolfwalkers derivative. Yet the way the story unfolds is so much better than the cut-and-paste formula it might have been. The conflict goes beyond human and wolf, extending to the drudgery of dirty city life compared with the freedom of nature’s communion, and it’s notable that Robyn’s father is kept sympathetic and shown to be similarly hemmed in by the weight of responsibility and expectations. (Some unfortunate religious justification from the villain makes it a church vs. magic hostility too, though there’s also a line connecting the Wolfwalkers to St. Patrick.)
One aspect that certainly helps the film stand out is Cartoon Saloon’s ever-gorgeous animation influenced by illuminated manuscripts, which uses its symmetrical style to full effect in contrasting the dark, angular town of Kilkenny with the lush, painterly backgrounds of the forest. It’s an intoxicating style of picture-book illustration come to fluid life, and it still warms my heart that one lone Western studio is keeping the spirit of 2D animation alive, no matter how much time and effort it takes. In addition, it seems inevitable that I would love a film with a montage set to an Aurora song, the fitting and enchanting “Running with the Wolves.”
While I also loved The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea and admired The Breadwinner, Wolfwalkers feels like Cartoon Saloon’s most complete and satisfying film yet (with a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score to back it up), though I am still partial to Song of the Sea too. It well could have won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in one of Pixar’s off years, but Soul proved too strong a contender. Even so, Wolfwalkers is an animated delight that feeds my inner fondness for all things Celtic and distinguishes itself from similar stories with exceptional artistry and a winning blend of friendship and myth.
I glance at you like Moses gazing toward the promised land, His sight the only starving sense to perish satisfied. No such content will compensate my ears, my lips, my hand, For God has deemed to make the gulf between us two too wide.
My covert dreams alone can see you near me, arm in arm, The scorn of cruel reality that jostles me awake. I cultivate my nobler traits, my eloquence and charm, Yet never do they seem enough for your transcendent sake.
I spy so many all around, in stories and in song, Who find their love without the threat of mockery or laughter. I’d whisper every secret of this lonely love lifelong If only I lived not in fear of what might follow after. ___________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
It’s so easy to associate musicals with Broadway since Hollywood usually only seems interested in adapting musicals into film if they have a reliable following that promises a decent box office. I can understand that instinct; no one wants to take a risk for a flop, especially when musicals are considered more effort with extra talents of singing or dancing required of their cast. Yet there are a host of excellent musicals out there that have never made it to Broadway, like Tick, Tick… Boom!or Frank Wildhorn’s The Count of Monte Cristo. I may never have heard of Erica Schmidt’s Cyrano stage production if not for this film adaptation, which only deepens my love of musical cinema and my desire for more like it.
Many things fell into place for the creation of this film based on a musical play based on Edmond Rostand’s classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, the original catfishing story. Schmidt’s husband Peter Dinklage played the title role on stage, along with Haley Bennett as Roxanne, and Bennett’s involvement no doubt helped convince her partner Joe Wright of Atonement and Darkest Hour to take up directing the film version. Both Dinklage and Bennett reprise their stage roles and prove how well-cast they were from the beginning, joined by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., as Christian, the soldier who loves Roxanne and is aided by the eloquent Cyrano to woo her via love letters. Instead of the traditional abnormality of Cyrano’s large nose explaining his self-loathing and hesitance to pursue his love for Roxanne, Dinklage’s short stature is used instead, yet there are only a few direct references to his height. Indeed, the songs seem to be written so that any uncommon or “ugly” physical quality could take the place of Cyrano’s nose, even down to the series of taunts he lists for himself while dueling.
Musicals come in many different forms, and Cyrano is certainly not the typical Broadway product with big showstoppers. The choreography is decent but never vies for any kind of wow factor, and some of the lyrics are less than inspired in terms of rhyme and complexity, particularly a rather drab villain song for Ben Mendelsohn. Yet the songs, provided by rock band The National, still work on a more subtle level, with layers of sensitive piano and violin seamlessly folding the musical numbers into the score. Dinklage may not have a wide range, but his baritone complements his ever-expressive face, while Bennett gets more musical highs in songs like “Every Letter” and “I Need More.” I think “Every Letter” is my favorite, achieving its goal of making the sadly outdated act of letter-writing sensual with its beautiful staging of fluttering pages falling around the three overlapping singers. I’ve listened to the soundtrack quite a bit lately, and my love and appreciation for the songs have only grown with time.
It must be said that Dinklage absolutely deserved a Best Actor nomination, and the Academy’s ignoring of him is probably the worst snub since Amy Adams was passed over for Arrival. His eyes alone convey Cyrano’s latent heartache as he pines for Roxanne, especially when he is so close to her as a friend. Heck, the film could have deserved multiple nominations – Best Actress for Bennett, Cinematography, Score, Original Song for “Every Letter” – instead of just the one nod for Costume Design. Yet despite an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’ve seen many articles labeling Cyrano a “failed musical” or a flop, which may be true in a purely box office sense but certainly not for the film’s quality. I don’t know what the moviegoing public wants in a musical, but their apathy toward recent movie musicals breaks my heart.
Though I may just be easier to please, I found Cyrano to be a perfect mixture of sincere and superb for any fan of tragic romance, elevated further by Wright’s elegant direction and a palpable fondness for the written word that rivals Violet Evergarden. To be honest, Steve Martin’s Roxanne was my previous touchpoint for Cyrano before this and sort of spoiled me with a happier ending than the source material had, but this Cyrano is the new gold standard for me, an exquisite film and a personal one for any sufferer of unrequited love.
Best line: (Roxanne, singing) “What is it you’re so afraid of losing?” (Cyrano, singing) “That I might lose everything if I lose the pain.”
It feels good to get back to blogathons! Check out my poem and review for The Pianist, my contribution to the Ultimate Decades Blogathon, focusing on films from years ending in 2 and hosted by Drew’s Movie Reviews and Kim of Tranquil Dreams. And take a look at all the other reviews as well. There are plenty of great films from ‘2 years.
We’re midway through the second week of this year’s Ultimate Decades Blogathon. Today’s entry is also the final participant before Kim and I wrap up the blogathon to close out the week. And our last participant is one of the most unique film bloggers I know: SG from Rhyme and Reason. I describe his blog as unique because he is the only blogger I know who combines his passion for poetry with his love of film. If you aren’t familiar, you can see what I mean below. Follow his site to keep up with all of SG’s poetic musings. Today, SG reviews 2002’s war film The Pianist.
What would you do were you hunted and hated?
What if your value were hotly debated?
What could you share with the Cain to your Abel
To sway them to see you as more than a label?