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Howl’s Moving Castle (film)

Hayao Miyazaki is like the Walt Disney of the Japanimation world. He makes amazing and timeless animated family films, and Howl’s Moving Castle is one of them. It’s based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones, but I never read the book, so I can’t really compare them. It’s a decent story, but the animation takes it to a new level. This is a fun fantasy film.

The movie is about a young hat maker named Sophie who makes hats. She’s kind of stuck in a rut and dreams of a better life. Instead she gets cursed by the Witch of the Waste, and Sophie gets transformed into an old woman. She can’t tell anyone about the curse, and so she leaves home to find a cure.

She helps out a scarecrow with a turnip for a head. The scarecrow is under a curse too, and even though Turnip Head can’t talk, he helps out Sophie as much as he can. Sophie eventually ends up in a moving castle, owned by a wizard named Howl. Howl has an apprentice named Merkl, and a fire demon named Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal).

Sophie’s country is about to enter war, and the king insists that all wizards be enlisted to help fight. Howl is a pacifist and doesn’t want to, and that kind of kicks off the larger plot. To help disrupt the war, he transforms into a bird-monster-thing, but each transformation makes it harder to return to human form. To complicate matters, a witch named Suliman is also after Howl, and a lot of stuff happens before shit gets resolved and you have your happy ending.

Miyazaki is a genius. He’s one of those filmmakers who creates a masterpiece and retires only to come out of retirement and make another amazing film. His attention to detail is impeccable. Every scene, shot, and frame is a piece of art. He makes the characters compelling and keeps the movie flowing at a good pace.

The castle is fantastic. You can sense the magic in the walls. It adds to the tone of the film and feels like another character, similar to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. In films about magic and wizards it is important to have the sets feel magical and impressive.

A lot of Japanimation films can get lost in translation. Spirited Away is great movie, but unless you know the significance of bathhouse spirits in Japanese culture, you aren’t getting the full picture. Howl’s Moving Castle is based on an English author’s book, so the culture clash isn’t as evident. It also helps getting well known actors to dub the English version. Christian Bale, Billy Crystal, and Lauren Bacall are among the celebrities to voice a character.

You either like Japanimation or you don’t. There is no in-between. If you don’t know if you like Japanimation, Miyazaki is a good start. He’s got a few good movies, this is one of them. Spirited Away is probably his best. This one’s not too shabby.

Critically Rated at 12/17

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City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold

I’m not much of a Hollywood insider, but I have noticed that if a film does well financially it sometimes warrants a sequel. Some sequels are actually better than the original. And some sequels are totally unnecessary and cheapen the first film. If you are unsure which of those two categories City Slickers II falls under, just look at the second part of the title: “The Legend of Curly’s Gold.” Still not sure? It is an unnecessary sequel.

The premise is that (Mitch) Billy Crystal finds a treasure map in Curly’s old hat. Mitch, Phil (Daniel Stern), and Glen (Mitch’s brother, played by Jon Lovitz) decide to go in search of Curly’s gold. Oh yeah, and Curly had an identical twin brother named Duke, and Duke is just as tough as Curly. The only real difference between the two is that Curly was a cowboy and Duke was a Merchant Marine, and Duke’s name is Duke and not Curly.

So the four of them go on a treasure hunt, following the map and shit happens along the way. Eventually they find a cave, and in the cave they find a treasure chest. And in the treasure chest is gold! But then it turns out it was only fake gold, and they are sad for a minute, before they realized that even though the blatantly failed, they still succeeded in a way (even though they really failed). And then they all go home.

Just when you think that it’s the end to a shitty movie, Duke comes back to visit Mitch one more time. It turns out that Duke found the real gold, and he wants to share it now. Because he had a change of heart for some reason, because why not?

It is a tolerable movie, but it definitely cheapens the original. There are a few funny moments, but the first one had more laughs, more heart, and was much better. Lame sequels are a Hollywood tradition.

Critically Rated at 8/17

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City Slickers

City Slickers is Billy Crystal’s best movie. It is the story of a guy who goes on a cattle drive with his two best friends in search of his smile in the middle of a midlife crisis. Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern are great costars, and Jack Palance secured his legacy as a badass for a whole new generation. Pay attention to Billy Crystal’s son, played by little Jakey Gyllenhaal. Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson, also makes an appearance as Phil’s young lover.

Lots of great moments as the title city slickers try to adjust to cowboy life and they embark on a paid vacation to experience a real life cattle drive. Shit gets real, and Billy Crystal must rise to the occasion and lead Norman and his fellow cows to their destination.

It is a heartwarming movie. Funny and true, something that you can watch with your family or your friends. I think you are legally obligated to watch this if you stumble upon it when channel surfing.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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