Millennials Talk Cinema: ‘Christmas,’ ‘Wolfwalkers’

MIllennials Talk CInema, this week, brings an Amber-Rose Reed review of the new Netflix romance “A California Christmas,” and Katie Wigglesworth’s look at a gorgeous new hand-drawn animated film from the makers of “Book of Kells.”|

‘A CALIFORNIA CHRISTMAS’

Netflix

Amber-Rose Reed

I don’t love Christmas movies.

This always feels anathema to say, but especially so at this time of year. I’m not Scrooge or anything, but the only Christmas movie tradition I have is watching “Die Hard.“

What I do love is “tropey” goodness, and that “A California Christmas” (directed by Shaun Paul Piccinino, produced by Petaluma’s Ali Afshar) definitely delivers, along with a fun cast of characters — and Petaluma in the background.

It’s very cute, and has a lot of heart.

"A California Christmas“ is not especially Christmas-y, despite its title, but does have a message very in keeping with the holiday season — true worth is in family and in our dreams, and money cannot buy those things. (Though I appreciated the movie’s realistic understanding that money sure does help.)

Parts of the movie are definitely rough. Some of it feels choppy, and though the movie sets up a ticking clock — a big city businessman has until Christmas to convince a struggling rancher to sell her farm — time doesn’t feel like it has much meaning here.

But honestly, that is so 2020, so I forgive it completely.

Despite a lively cast of characters, I was totally perplexed by possible antagonist Connor, who seemed to be set up as threatening but was just ... a well-meaning, low-key misogynist, I guess?

To me, despite the incredibly handsome, appropriately charming business guy Joseph (Josh Swickard), the character of ranch-owner Callie (Lauren Swickard, who also wrote the script) was the high point. She was trying so hard to do everything, fix everything, be everything for everyone that she was losing herself in the process.

Sometimes what a person needs is someone to share the burden, to help in the spots you can’t quite reach. It’s telling that in a romance mostly shown in montage, that montage showed Joseph being a helpmate. I never thought fixing a chicken coop would be romantic, but thinking back on the movie, that is what stood out — Callie’s face looking over the newly fixed coop, something not on the list of ranch chores, but that he’d done simply because it needed doing. As someone who is a caregiver to a disabled parent, as well as working full time, let me tell you, that is the definition of loving kindness.

If you like sappy romance or light-on-the-Christmas Christmas movie — or would like to see how filmmakers make Petaluma briefly double for San Francisco — do watch “A California Christmas.”

[Suggested Emojis: Thumbs Up, Chicken]

‘WOLFWALKERS’

AppleTV+

Katie Wigglesworth

I can’t begin to express how much I adored this movie. I’ve already seen it three times, started digging into the lore and hyper-detailed visuals, and flooded my family and friends with recommendations that they watch it immediately.

Robyn Goodfellow (Honor Kneafsey) is a young English transplant to 1650’s Kilkenny, Ireland with her hunter father (voiced by everyone’s favorite eternal fantasy dad, Sean Bean) who’s been freshly widowed and recently appointed by the Lord Protector of the Realm to rid the neighboring forest of wolves. Complicating this decree is the existence of possibly the last remaining Wolfwalker, a young spitfire girl named Maeb (pronounced ‘Maeve’ and voiced by Eva Whittaker) and her mother, who commune with the wolves and call that very same forest their home. Every voice actor in this movie is delivering great performances, with the two relative newcomers Kneafsey and Whittaker nailing their characterizations and emotional resonance with every line under, the talented direction of co-directors and long time collaborators Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.

Cartoon Saloon, the animation studio that breathed life into the visuals of “Wolfwalkers,” has always had a unique style readily identifiable across each of its hand-drawn original releases, such as the illuminated manuscript inspired “The Secret of the Kells” (2009) and the melodiously magical “Song of the Sea” (2014).

For history buffs, there’re plenty of subtle, environmental treats to catch the eye, but “Wolfwalkers” doesn’t strive to tell its tale as straight realism, and instead blends history, modern perspective, folklore and fiction into a dazzling display of storytelling centered on two girls in the midst of a massive cultural metamorphosis. It’s delightful, deeply thrilling movie, and a joy to watch that reminds me strongly of Studio Ghibli. Fans of the Japanese animation studio, which has produced a huge catalog of work including “Spirited Away,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “Princess Mononoke,” should definitely check this one out.

The only real shame about “Wolfwalkers” is that I’m not sure how many people will come across it, since it is an Apple TV exclusive, and only accessible with a subscription. That said, Apple TV does offer a one week trial period, and if you’re curious and want to try them out, I highly recommend it.

While you’re dabbling, you should also dive into their original series “Dickinson” which stars Hailey Steinfeld (“Edge of Seventeen,” “Bumblebee”) in a hilarious, historically anachronistic and absolutely brilliant re-imagining of the life of young Emily Dickinson. The second season is slated to drop in January of 2021, and the first season is brilliant and boasts bonus delights such as Wiz Khalifa as the dashing and darkly intriguing personification of death, John Mulaney as a mulishly repugnant Henry David Theureau, and Jane Krakowski as Emily’s frustrated and furiously funny mother.

But getting back on track, “Wolfwalkers” is great.

Lush and spirited, with a beautifully intricate style of animation and wonderful performances from a stunning voice-cast, “Wolfwalkers” is an enchanting visual feast of folklore-inspired delight. It is breathtakingly beautiful from nearly every angle. The art, story, writing, and music are all masterpieces in their own rights, but in combination they’re a deftly executed sensory adventure, never afraid to blend contrasting style or dip toes into the pools of impressionism.

“Wolfwalkers” is fun, gorgeous, and a true must-see movie of 2020.

[Suggested Emojis: Heart-eyed Face, Wolf]

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