Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

howlsSophie is a teenaged hat-maker who angers (and is cursed by) the Witch of the Waste. Now an unrecognizable, very old woman, Sophie finds herself in Howl’s moving castle as she seeks a reversal of the curse. There is some kind of war going on, and although Howl refuses formal invitations to join one side or another, he is involved in an alter-ego form, attempting either to help one side or simply break up the hostilities. Yeah, the story is kind of fuzzy to me, and I’m not going to pretend I got it all.

Howl is some kind of wizard with an incredible vanity problem, at one point becoming depressed to the point of inactivity for some issue involving his hair. Somehow, Sophie (who could do a lot better, if you ask me) falls for him, and if you’ve seen a fair number of films directed by Hayao Miyazaki, you know that her love for him has great power. Like, world-saving power. There are also a wheezing dog, a turnip-headed scarecrow, and a talking fire demon with Billy Crystal’s voice (in the English dubbed release), and they are all appealing enough that the confusing story doesn’t really matter too much. I think I got enough of it at least to embrace the symbolism and develop a genuine fondness for the central character.

movingOne thing I appreciate about Miyazaki’s stories is that they hold to a kind of inclusion that makes any living creature worth caring for. When Sophie takes on her old-woman appearance, her problem is never that she is an old woman, as if being an old woman is somehow undesirable. She is instead dismayed about not being herself, and at times she embraces all the pluses and minuses of being in an old woman’s body. If the director sometimes goes overboard with preachiness, at least his heavy-handed messages are backed up by a graceful, delicate realization of characters.

It seems I write about this whenever I write about Japanese animation, but the Japanese aesthetic that appreciates the beauty in the impermanence of a moment is my favorite thing about the genre, and Miyazaki’s films, by virtue of incredible animation, illustrate it better than anyone else’s. There are moments where we are asked to pause, to soak up a moment, and to appreciate it while it lasts. They are my favorite parts of his films, and there are enough of them in Howl’s Moving Castle to make up for any bizarre, unexplained behavior by its characters.

I have to say that I didn’t love this movie. I barely liked it, but I did like it for all the usual Miyazaki reasons, minus great storytelling.


The Spirit is Willing

I saw Mistress America Wednesday afternoon and stayed awake the whole time despite choosing not to munch on anything. I’ve gotten plenty of sleep lately and didn’t think I’d have trouble with falling asleep. That turned out not to be the case: there were a few moments during the trailers where I felt myself drifting off, but once the film got rolling, it was pretty smooth sailing. Small victories. And a review of the film later.

Still working my way through my digital music collection, re-adding the songs that have been lost from my index but remain in my music folder. There used to be a keyboard shortcut in iTunes for importing the contents of a whole folder (or multiple selected folders), but in one of the updates a few years ago, they got rid of that shortcut. You can still do it, but you have to go to the file menu. It’s annoying. Also annoying is the horrifying lack of ID4 data in far, far too many of these files. I’m still kind of enjoying the task, however slow-going it is (I’m only on the Bs). I just wish there were better standards with music you purchase digitally.

Latest musical joy: the new Impellitteri album, Venom, is pretty dang good. Not very challenging, but pleasant to listen to with some of Chris Impellitteri’s mind-blowing speed on guitar. I’m turning into a fan. Also revisiting some of 2014’s discoveries, including Fallujah’s The Flesh Prevails (bliss!), The Contortionist’s Language (ecstacy!), Animals as Leaders’s The Joy of Motion (brain candy!), and of course Mastodon’s Once More ‘Round the Sun (perfection!). I also picked up the new Iron Maiden double album, The Book of Souls (their best since the Eighties!). I’ve also been listening to a Spotify playlist I made of Testament’s most-played songs on their current tour, since they’ll be here in October and I will be in the audience.

The NFL season starts Thursday with the Patriots playing the Steelers. I’m about as close to giddy about the upcoming season as I’ve been in quite a while. I’m looking for mass quantities of free mass media for my entertainment in the next few months, and football is one of the best. I’ll post my predictions for the season sometime before kickoff.

It’s 3:00 in the morning, and I expect to be pretty tired Thursday. I’m getting up early to put the last edits on my article for the day (on companies with “no firing” and “no layoffs” policies), then running a couple of errands in time to be back for the game. I may fall asleep during the game, but I’ve already set the TiVo in case that happens.

Getcha Popcorn Ready

There’s been a little bit of a change in my employment arrangement, but I’ll get to that another time. Yes, I know I always say that, but this time for sure.

I frequently have breakfast Saturday mornings with Anto, and last weekend he asked me a bunch of questions about my writing, and how much of it shows up online, and how much of it is personal writing (as opposed to writing I do for pay, or I suppose the film and book reviews I write mostly to keep my skills up, or my creative writing). My writing in this space has become sporadic in the past year or so, not because I have less to say or even less desire to write. It just seems that I only have a certain amount of writing in me per day, and with the writing I do for work now, there’s not a lot left for the reflective writing this space is generally reserved for. It’s been an unfortunate casualty of increased writing for pay and the increased fervor with which I’ve attacked my fiction.

Which is too bad, and is perhaps something I should do something about. I suspect that if I were more disciplined with my writing time, I would have more left for this space, something that annoys me, because although I’ve become a much more disciplined writer (a deadline and a paycheck will do that to you), I still wait until too close to deadline far, far too often. I do not believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s malaise, which I think is a quote. Writing is work. Writing well is excruciating work, at times, and I’m lazy. And agony-averse.

I saw the film adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns, and what Anto says is true: if you’re seeing a movie adapted from a book you know well, you have to see it twice to decide whether or not you like it, because the first time all you notice is what’s different. This hasn’t been true for me of the Harry Potter movies, because after the first two movies, which I saw multiple times before the third film was released, the film series and the series of novels have become two separate things. But it’s proven true of almost everything else. I don’t love Paper Town, so I kind of thought maybe it wouldn’t apply this time, but there were a lot of differences, and I couldn’t even decide if the differences were good or bad. So I’ll see it again and review it later.

I’ve seen a lot fewer movies this past couple of years, mostly because of work but also because of a bad car situation, and of the ones I’ve seen this past year, I have only written a few reviews because I’ve gotten into the habit of falling asleep in every film. That’s always been a bit of an issue for me, but I’ve either slept through little enough that I could still write a credible review, or I’ve seen movies twice and fallen asleep in different parts of the second viewing, and written the reviews after the second viewings. But I haven’t been able to get to theaters often enough to see movies twice, and I’ve been sleeping through alarmingly enormous stretches of the films, sometimes missing as much as half the movies. Crazy!

Then one day when I was at work and running on very, very little sleep, I noticed that the only time of day I wasn’t fighting off sleep was my lunch hour, during which I was alive and alert. So when I saw a film later that day (yes, that same day of very, very little sleep), I bought a bag of popcorn and a huge drink (I always buy the huge drink) and spent most of the film eating. Success! I don’t really care for movie popcorn, but I had to do something, and that seems to be the best option for extended munching.

I’ve put on weight this year. A lot of weight. So I’m a little concerned about this movie popcorn thing, for obvious reasons. I’ll figure something out.