So the short review of Howl’s Moving Castle.
As Miyazaki goes, don’t expect Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. It’s not even close to the magic of those films.
But as films go — well, it’s still Miyazaki. And he’s fucking brilliant.
As always, it’s beautiful. Sweeping vistas, skies that glow with life, inventive creatures, motion that’s not like any other animator. It’s inventive and clever.
Unlike the other films, though, there are plot and pacing issues. The plot makes little sense, and the title character never really makes any sense, vain, shallow and cowardly one moment, brave and honorable the next. We never really see any reason for anyone to love him, yet love is supposed to be the motivation for much of the plot. It’s a muddle, but a light-weight one. There are also moments that drag, where characters are talking to each other without it seeming very relevant.
There’s plenty to like though; the main character, a girl names Sofi who’s under a curse that turns her into an old woman, seems to change ages continually throughout the film in a deeply surreal way; this wasn’t an accident, I think Miyazaki is saying something with it, but I couldn’t quite crack the code. The voice acting is low key, with good turns by Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner and Jean Simmons, though Christian Bale is entirely too manly as Howl.
Unexpectedly, Billy Crystal’s vocal performance as Calcifer, a fire demon, was wonderful. Usually when they put someone funny in a part like this, it screws up the character, as with Phil Hartman doing the cat in Kiki. Here, for some reason, Crystal’s performance makes it work.
It’s well worth seeing; I’m hoping the weaknesses were due to it being a story from outside source, not due to any slippage of Miyazaki’s talent.
My father’s day was pretty much uneventful. No one fought, no one cried. The kids and I went to the Winchester Mystery House, a place that seems to have endless entertainment value for Olivia, and then I took off and had a little time to myself while the family made me dinner. Not exactly the plan I had in my mind’s eye for the afternoon, but you take what you can get, and peace is not a bad description for a day. Later, I’ll pour a scotch and watch Six Feet Under, and then I’m thinking good thoughts about sleep, something that’s been in short supply lately.
[ of course after I wrote that, I realized that they've moved six feet under to a different night, so I had to content myself with old Monty Python episodes, but you know there's still sleep to look forward to... ]