Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! This batch of films all randomly turned out to be family friendly which doesn’t happen that often.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Starring: (English dub voices) Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson, Billy Crystal, Jena Malone, Crispin Freeman, Mark Silverman, and many more.
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Genres: anime, adventure
Synopsis: Sophie is a young woman (voice by Mortimer) who works in a hat shop that gets mixed up with a controversial wizard, Howl (voice by Bale) that a witch (voice by Bacall) is sweet on. When the witch finds out, she casts a spell on Sophie and turns her into a crone (voice by Simmons.) Thus begins Sophie’s adventure, when she leaves the town and comes face to face with Howl’s moving castle in the mountains. The castle is a decrepit mechanical vehicle, powered by a demon named Calcifer (voice by Crystal) which is in the enchanted form of a hearth fire. Also inhabiting the castle is a small orphan boy wizard trainee. Howl, the wizard, is gone more than he’s there, off fighting war planes that blanket the sky, using magic to give him the form of a great winged beast. Sophie becomes the housekeeper and travels with this motley crew.
Impressions: The animation is first class as all Studio Ghibli anime is. Although this is a children-friendly movie, there needs to be a warning that a lot of magic is used and there are some slightly scary scenes, like giant black blobs that are evil minions of the witch who is trying to get Howl and Sophie. Most of the magic is light-hearted. I like the story as the enchantments that several of the characters are under can be looked at as metaphors for moods that can affect people. I watched this in Japanese with English subtitles in order to get the original voices/sounds.
Etc.: imdb trivia: The film is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Welsh author Diana Wynne Jones; upon seeing Spirited Away (2001), Christian Bale immediately agreed to play any role in this film. He didn’t expect to get the titular role.
Awards: 14 wins and 20 nominations
The General (1926)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender, Jim Farley, Frederick Vroom, Charles Henry Smith, Frank Barnes, Joe Keaton, Mike Donlin, Tom Nawn, and many others.
Director: Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton
Genres: silent, black and white, action, adventure
Synopsis: Johnnie Gray (played by Keaton) is a steam locomotive engineer for a Confederate railroad company during the Civil War. A group of Union soldiers hijack the engine to bring the Union soldiers further South. Gray, throughout this adventurous silent film, dedicates himself to retrieving his beloved locomotive, The General.
Impressions: Buster Keaton is a hell of an actor, even with no dialogue. His expressions and body language tell the story so well. There is all manner of stunts and special effects. As this is 1926 there are no magic manipulations to do the amazing stunts that are shown here. I got tired just watching all of them! The General is a movie you’ve got to see at least once. It sets the bar for all other action adventure chase-type movies.
Etc.: imdb trivia:
For the scenes with the opposing armies marching, Buster Keaton had the extras (which included 500 Oregon National Guard troops) wear the gray uniforms of the Confederacy and march in one direction past the camera, then he had them change uniforms to the Union blues and had them march past the camera in the other direction.
Awards: 2 wins and 1 nomination
Growing Up Smith (2015) (alternate title Good Ol’ Boy)
Starring: Jason Lee, Anjul Nigam, Brighton Sharbino, Hilarie Burton, Roni Akurati, Poorna Jagannathan, Samrat Chakrabarti, Shoba Narayan, Jake Busey, Tim Guinee, Alison Wright, and many more.
Director: Frank Lotito
Genres: comedy, drama
Synopsis: Set in 1979, Smith (played by Akurati) is a 10 year-old son of the Bhatnagar family, who are from India. They live across the street from the Brunner family. Smith’s family consists of his parents and a high-school-age sister. The Brunner family consists of the dad (played by Lee,) the mother, and a 10-year-old daughter (played by Sharbino.) The story revolves around the friendship of the two kids but also covers culture clashes between Indian customs and American ways of life, mostly in a humorous way. It also highlights the connection between Smith and Mr. Brunner, who becomes a kind of surrogate American father for Smith. Smith is the main character and the story is narrated by him and from his perspective.
Impressions: I got a kick out of the movie. It’s good to see Jason Lee. I loved him in “My Name is Earl” TV series. I enjoyed Nigam as Mr. Bhatnagar who is quite a funny guy. I love the innocence of the movie and its ending!
Awards: 5 wins and 8 nominations
Starring: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, and many others.
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Genres: action, drama
Synopsis: The Garrity family (Butler, Baccarin, and Floyd, a young kid about 6 years old) live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. The story begins with an awkward strain between the dad and the mom that isn’t explained until later. Quickly the news on the TV becomes riveting as a Comet that is breaking up is headed towards Earth. At first the reports say nothing to worry about, but when the first fragment hits FL and lays fire waste to it, the apocalypse begins. The rest of the movie is about the family trying to get to the airport where specially selected people can get on transport planes to a survival shelter at an undisclosed location. The film shows the best and the worst of human nature on their hair-raising journey.
Impressions: This is a “big” movie with a lot of moving parts. It does a good job of capturing on-the-ground chaos of a cataclysmic disaster. Family-friendly but teens and up as there are some disturbing scenes for younger kids. It was great seeing Scott Glenn in here as the mom’s dad. He needs to be in more movies! I also loved seeing Baccarin in this. I loved her in Gotham. Butler is rock steady in this. The poor kid in this movie seemed more like a ragdoll than a human being.
Etc.: imdb trivia:
The comet is named “Clarke,” in a tribute to the late Arthur C. Clarke, author of the 1993 novel “Hammer of God,” which describes the impact on Earth of a planet-killing asteroid. The novel predates the movies Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998), which deal with similar events.
Awards: 1 win and 2 nominations
Starring: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, and many more.
Director: Niki Caro
Genres: action, adventure
Synopsis: From the time she was a child, Mulan had a warrior spirit, which meant nothing but trouble for her as cultural expectations for females at the time were to cultivate aspects of themselves to be housekeeper-oriented demure wives. Her family tries to crush her warrior spirit even as it pains her loving father to do it. After she’s an adult the military visits their village to recruit one male from each family to fight against an invading horde from another land that is vanquishing everywhere with the help of a “witch.” Mulan’s dad, who is older and walks with a cane, prepares to leave, but she sneaks off in the night with his sword and armor and disguises herself as a male to be trained as a warrior. The rest of the movie shows her training and how she fits into the military life and battle.
Impressions: I never saw the original animated Disney movie and so have nothing to compare it to. I think it’s a good one for kids to see as it shows Mulan breaking gender barriers as well as shows the men in the film accepting her for the great warrior that she is. This is another big budget film ($200,000,000)!
Etc.: filmed in New Zealand and China; in Chinese language with English subtitles; imdb trivia:
Casting directors reviewed more than 1,000 candidates for the role of Mulan. The requirements focused on skills in martial arts, the ability to speak English, and the potential to be an international star.
Awards: 2 wins and 43 nominations