Wednesday, August 24, 2011

13 Assassins (2011)

Title: 13 Assassins (2011)

Director: Takashi Miike


A while back I wrote an article called Totalitarian Futures, Big Brother is Watching You! in which I listed a group of subversive films, that is to say, films that speak up against governmental oppression and abuse. These films have many things in common amongst them. For example, films like 1984, Equilibrium, The Island, THX-1138, and Fahrenheit 451 are all about someone from within the system who can’t take it anymore and decides to fight it or escape it. One of the things that distinguishes these films from others is the emergence of a leader, a rebel. This rebel often times comes from within the ranks of the government itself; a government official or a cop as is the case with Equilibrium, a film in which Christian Bale plays a ‘Cleric’; a top ranking government official responsible for eliminating those who resist the system. At one point, this cleric realizes the beauty of art and the pleasures of reading a book and so he decides to defend the people and their right to feel and express themselves as opposed to everyone being lifeless, drone like, the same. These are my favorite kind of subversive films because they show how someone from within can also realize that there is something wrong, and that that someone can take matters into his or her own hands and actually do something about it.

 This is the case with 13 Assassins, Takashi Miike's new Samurai film in which a group of 13 Samurais decide to go up against a particularly abusive government official called Lord Naritsugu, a cruel and sadistic man who is well on his way to becoming the next Shogun. How evil is this man? Well, his own Samurais are committing suicide out of hatred towards him. They are so against his way of doing things that they kill themselves at his own door step. Lord Naritsugu does many evil deeds and then kills as many people as he has to in order to cover everything up the vile things he does. The 13 Samurai of this film realize that they cannot let this evil man become the ruler of the land, so they organize an attack to go up against him and his ever growing army. Will they succeed in their assassination attempt? Are 13 Samurai enough to go up against an entire army of more than 200 soldiers?

 In some countries human rights don’t mean a thing, especially when the government wants to stomp on its people for whatever reason they might have up their sleeves. Let’s say for example they don’t want people going to college so much, because they want people to remain stupid and controllable. Well, then they send a whole army of  armed policemen to the campus to beat the hell out any student they come across with, effectively scaring students from ever wanting to go back to college. Of course the government makes sure they stir up the students revolutionary sensibilities first, so students will revolt and the government will then have an excuse to go in there and stomp the crap out of them. Or let’s say the government is interested in a particular piece of land that they find profitable for tourism purposes, but the land is filled with poor people living in it. What will they do then? Well, they send in more heavily armored cops in there to terrorize the people, then they bring up the prices for utilities like water and light, then the people have no choice but to leave. Then they can build their hotels and condo’s. When the powers that be want something, they will find a way to achieve their purposes. What I always ask myself is, how can these police officers not realize that what they are doing is wrong? That they are being used to abuse the very people they are supposed to be protecting?

 This is why I love films like 13 Assassins, because they address the issue of the government official realizing their government isn’t doing what is right. I remember a video of a riot that occurred on the University of Puerto Rico where a student is standing in front of a cop, who is heavily armored. The cops were heavily armored, with helmets and bullet proof vests and clubs and pepper spray. The policeman had a blank stare on their faces, looking into nothingness, while the student was trying to connect with the police officers human side. The student couldn’t connect, because their was no one there. The officer was on auto pilot, he wasn’t even listening to the girl. He was ignoring her pleas for humanity; his brain had been washed in more ways than one. Things like that make me so sad, they are not upholding the law they are being used to break it. Governments like these should not exist. And the question inevitably arrizes: who watches the Watchmen? Who makes sure that these governments don’t abuse their people? Shouldn’t their be some sort of world police making sure governments are in line doing what they ought to be doing instead of abusing their people?

 This is where the 13 Assassins come in, in Takashi Miike’s wonderfully subversive film. Back in those days, the Samurai served as the government’s personal police force. They were especially trained in the ways of the sword and in the Bushido mentality. They were taught not to show any emotions and to follow the Shogun’s orders without question, no matter what the request might be. But the Samurai’s also lived by a personal code of ethics. They had a deep sense of what was right and what was wrong, which was often times in contras with their Shogun’s orders. This is what happens in 13 Assassins. Though the Samurai work for the Shogun, they realize that one of his officials is pure evil, and needs to be eradicated before he becomes a Shogun himself.  And so this film can be divided into two parts: the first half in which the 13 Assassins gather and prepare for their upcoming confrontation and the second half which presents us with the actual confrontation itself. The first half is actually very interesting because we get to know each individual Samurai and their reasons for agreeing to go up against Lord Naritsugu. I loved this part because we get to see these men getting together for the greater good, they tell themselves “let’s see if there are any good Samurai’s left”. They know they are going up against incredible odds, yet they go for it anyways accentuating the common theme in all subversive or rebellious minded films: the willingness to die for what you believe in; the idea that you’d rather die then live as a slave.

Films dealing with rebellion have to be realistic as well. One cannot make a film like this one and make it look as if everything will be fine and dandy if you go up against an evil powerful government. In many movies where a character goes up against the proverbial ‘system’, things don’t usually end up well for the rebel. In many of these types of films, the rebel usually ends up dead. If you want to read more about this subject matter check out a series of articles I wrote a while back during my VIVA LA REVOLUTION! three day event where Neil Fulwood from The Agitation of the Mind and I celebrated and explored Revolution on film. It was a pretty nifty collaboration, highly recommend checking it out. I think 13 Assassins displayed the idea of revolution realistically, I mean the second half of the movie is a 50 minute long battle sequence where a lot of people die! Takashi Miike really out did himself with this whole sequence. Literally, its slicing and dicing for almost a whole hour! One thing is made clear, going up against a despotic powerful government is not a clean wholesome affair. Lot ’s of blood is spilled, lots of death takes place, and many good people die.

I loved the confrontation between the 13 Samurais and Lord Naritsugu’s army. These Samurai’s display such bravery, cunning and smarts! And the dialog during these sequences really captures the outrage and indignation of the rebel mentality, special attention should be paid to the dialog in the last confrontation between a Samurai and Lord Naritsugu. During these sequences, the Samurai practically tells it like it is to the evil dictator. I loved that about the last half of the film, the honesty in the dialog. Also, I loved this sequence where the rebels don’t identify themselves with any political group or mentality; they call themselves “nobodies” because they are not siding with anyone but man. The are not fighting for a political ideology but for the basic human rights that we are all entitled too: the right to freedom and happiness. That’s what really matters in this world and that’s what we should all be willing to die for if need be. This could quite literally be Takashi Miike’s masterpiece. I do believe it is one of his best films, one of his most profound and relevant ones. It stands proudly next to other great Samurai films like Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), one of the most obvious influences over this picture.

Rating: 5 out of 5 

13 Assassins13 Assassins [Blu-ray] Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Title: Hobo With A Shotgun (2011) 

Director: Jason Eisener 

Cast: Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Molly Dunsworth 


Rutger Hauer has to be one of the coolest old actors on the planet. I mean, here he is 67 years old and the dude is making films in which he hides from his enemies inside of a rotting carcass. He is making films in which he blows every villain away with his shotgun and eats glass just so he could have a couple of bucks in his pocket. Not only is Rutger Hauer a talented actor (and criminally underused if you ask me) he is totally game for participating in gory and ultra violent films like this latest homage to revenge films; Hobo With A Shotgun. My hats go down to Mr. Hauer for still being so hands on in projects like this one where first time directors with promise like Jason Eisener, are given an opportunity to show what they are really made of.

Hobo With a Shotgun came to be when Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were looking for a way to promote Grindhouse (2007), their homage to films from the 70’s and 80’s. They came up with this contest in which people would submit their short films; the winner would be shown along side the other fake trailers that appear in Grindhouse, like Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS or Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving. Jason Eisener’s short film Hobo With a Shotgun won the contest, and here we are, a couple of years down the road reviewing the full length version of that short Eisener submitted for the contest. So basically, what we got here is an expanded version of that original short, expanding and exploring the premise presented on the original short film. Turns out, the result is an awesome revenge film that you will either absolutely love, or absolutely hate. This is the second fake trailer from Grindhouse to be adapted into a film; the first one was Robert Rodriguez’s own Machete (2010). Does this mean that we might see a full length feature of Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, with Nicolas Cage playing Fu Manchu? Here’s hoping! Now there’s a film I wouldn’t mind seeing either!

Hobo With A Shotgun tells the story of a nameless, homeless Hobo who hops off a train to wonder into a very rotten town. This is the kind of town where bad guys feed on the bad guys themselves. In a scene that was extremely similar to the first opening moments of Robocop 3 (1993), not even the villains are safe on the streets of this town. You might be a thief or a scumbag, but there is an even more desperate thief up ahead, so you better watch out! There isn’t a decent soul in this place, not one. So much so that Hobo suggests the cops of this god forsaken town to get a dumpster truck, so they could pick up all the bad elements in this town, throw them in and get rid of them. Problem comes when Hobo decides to save a prostitute from being beat up by a hoodlum. Unfortunately, this isn’t just any old Hoodlum; this is the son of ‘The Drake’, the baddest motherfucker in town. You don’t want to mess with The Drake, unless you’re a Hobo With A Shotgun of course! Hobo makes it his own personal mission in life to eradicate this town of every scumbag and sleaze ball that comes across his path, delivering justice and revenge “one shell at a time”; wich of course doesn’t go well with The Drake and crew!

Hobo With a Shotgun is an interesting film because it encompasses various film genres. First and foremost, this is a revenge film. Something along the lines of what Charles Bronson did with his Death Wish films back in the 70’s. In the Death Wish films Charles Bronson took the law into his own hands; a vigilante who is sick of it all and wants to deliver justice on his own terms instead of waiting around for the police to show up. Now those were the glory days of revenge films! In fact, there was a very cool homage to Death Wish (1974 ) in Hobo With A Shotgun in which Hobo fills a sock with loose change and whacks a bad guy on the head with it. Pretty cool, just like Charles Bronson did in Death Wish. On the other hand this was also one big, loud, colorful, gory, comic book of a movie. The color palette on this film is saturated with lots of reds, yellows and blues, lots of purples. The color scheme on this film is as saturated and loud as a comic book page, and the film itself is as over the top as a comic book as well. How over the top is this film? Well, we meet these two characters who call themselves ‘The Plague’ that completely shift the films tone right into sci-fi territory! These guys seemed to jump right out of a Judge Dredd comic book or something. These two stone cold killers walk around in black armor, basically, they look like androids! They even talk in this cool as hell robot voice, so get ready for a film that will shift in tone drastically and break your expectations for it, this certainly is not a film that adheres to reality at all! Hobo With A Shotgun is also a very gory film, almost functioning as a horror film with it’s excessive gore. The violence is extremely over the top and plentiful. We get juicy decapitations, bodies being split in half, feet being squashed to smithereens; trust me when I say that this one gets gooey.

The one weak link in the film is the actors they chose as the films villains. They don’t come off as evil enough. I mean yeah, they do really evil things (like chopping up bodies in half with razor blades and burning down school buses filled with kids) but in my opinion they didn’t convey that aura of evil well enough through their performances. The Drake (played by Brian Downey) comes off as an old actor playing an over the top bad guy, he doesn’t come of as an evil person at all. Same goes for his sons; they look too squeaky clean to be truly sick bastards. I mean, if these guys were as twisted and perverse as they are supposed to be in the film, I doubt they would speak and look the way they do here. In fact, to be honest, The Drake came off as kind of annoying. The acting on this trio of baddies was the worst part of the film, a pity since all the other elements of the film worked for me. My two cents on this matter are: if you put a strong actor to play the lead (like Rutger Hauer) then you should have gotten equally strong actors to play your villains. But alas, we got what we got. Speaking of the films villains, the film does introduce us to the ominous ‘The Plage’ a duo of henchmen who intimidate way more than The Drake and his two bumbling idiot sons do, so things are evened out in the villain department in this way. I think a whole film could be made out of ‘The Plague’; they looked and sounded so bad ass in that black armor and robotic voice. I guess we could say that everything that was missing from The Drake and his two sons, the film got right with The Plague.

This film comes to us from Jason Eisener, a first time director with an impressive looking and highly entertaining debut. I wonder what will come next from Mr. Eisener? Maybe a film based on The Plague characters? The extras on this dvd are a lot, and I recommend checking them out cause they really go into how this film was made. The extras show what a collaborative effort filmmaking is, especially when they show Hauer and Eisener working out a scene. Rutger Hauer will charm the pants out of anyone watching these extras; he was such a trooper. He comes off as such a collaborative and hands on actor. “Well get it Jason, don’t worry” he tells Eisner while trying to work out the logic of a scene. Hauer himself did some of the stunts, like jumping of a two story building into a bunch of garbage bags, now theirs commitment right there! And the dude is 67!? I hope I have as much stamina when I am that age! This is yet another memorable character in Rutger Hauer’s strong body of work. Like some of Hauer's best films, Hauer completely takes over the film, same as he did in The Hitcher for example; a film in which Hauer's character (the titular Hitcher) completely carries the film. Hobo With A Shotgun is a great revenge film, its gory, silly, fun, ultra-violent and an excellent example of what a Grindhouse film should feel like. In fact, if I am to be totally sincere, it is my opinion that Hobo With A Shotgun captured more accurately what a true Grindhouse film should be like, it really drenches itself in that 70’s revenge movie atmosphere, even more so than Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s own Grindhouse features. I loved Grindhouse, but Hobo With A Shotgun captured the Grindhouse spirit more accurately, kudos to Jason Eisener and crew for achieving that on Eisener's first film. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drive Angry (2011)

Title: Drive Angry (2011)

Director: Patrick Lussier

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, David Morse


Drive Angry is the title they gave this film because that’s exactly what the producers of this film expect everyone to do once they walk out of the theater: Drive Angry, very freaking angry! I guess with that title, they figured they might as well let audiences know what they can expect ahead of time. Wow, what a bad movie. That debt that Nicolas Cage has with the U.S. Government for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes must be a real bitch because the guy is taking every pay day he can get! No matter how crappy the movie is! Are you making a terrible film no one wants to be in? Contact Nicolas Cage’s agent, I’m sure he’ll have no problem squeezing you in to his continuously growing line up of bad films. Yes my friends, here we are once again talking about an extremely shitty Nicolas Cage film which he obviously did out of necessity. At least I hope he did! No self righteous actor would have agreed to be in this poor excuse for a movie. But alas, you might think I’m being overtly cruel with this picture, but I tell you I am not! As I watched it, I just couldn’t help seeing the words “tear this one a new asshole” flashing in my minds eye. And so here I am, poised and ready to tear this one shit stain of a movie a new one. 

This pic makes this film look cooler than it actually is

This film tells the tale of John Milton (get it?) a guy who has just escaped from hell itself! And what is his reason for escaping the fiery pits of Hades? To save his infant granddaughter from being sacrificed by a cult of inbred Satanists; so he has a noble cause at least. Along the way, he befriends an ex-waitress who has just quit her job. And guess what? She's in luck because Mr. Milton arrives just in time to save her from being killed by her abusive boyfriend. Of course, this is just a lame-o excuse so that she feels she like she owes her life to him, so that Cage can have a hot babe tagging along in his adventures. Funniest part of the whole film is that this girl has nothing to do with anything! She’s not related to Milton, the baby isn’t hers, and she has nothing to do with the Satanists, yet she insists in tagging along, risking her life for no reason whatsoever. A simply thank you would have been fine. Unbeknownst to this poor girl is the fact that Milton is being followed by a demon from hell who calls himself ‘The Accountant’. This demon is trying to recover Satan’s gun. You see,  Milton stole it from under Lucifer’s noses. And yes, you read that right kids, Satan has guns in this movie! Shouldnt be that weird, if you accept the fact that there are cars in hell as well, Milton actually escapes from hell in one! Ha! But anyways, Milton doesnt just steal any old gun, this is the gun with which Satan intends to kill God with on Judgment Day! The guns name is “The God Killer”! To be honest, I don’t know why Satan would want this gun; all it does is fire crappy looking CGI bullets that turn anything they hit into an even crappier CGI effect. Will The Accountant ever catch up with John Milton? Will Milton get to rescue his granddaughter from the clutches of the Satanists? 

When you watch Nicholas Cage acting in films like Drive Angry, The Wickerman (2006) or Season of the Witch (2011) you kind of have to wonder if he still gives a crap about acting. You also have to wonder if he’s sold his soul to the devil. I mean what is this, his fourth Satan related film? Let’s see, first there’s Ghost Rider (2006) where he sells his soul to the devil in order to save his fathers life. He then goes on to become the devil’s personal henchman. Then there’s Season of the Witch (2011) a terrible film in which Cage must go on a journey to destroy an evil witch who is possessed by a demon. Then there’s Drive Angry in which he steals Satan’s gun and escapes from Hell to stop a group of Satanists from sacrificing his granddaughter, and finally, there’s the upcoming Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance a film that is going to be showing its ugly head sometime in 2012. Not exactly the best films to have on your resume, but then again, considering how much Cage gets paid per picture, the guy should be out of debt and making good movies in no time! Right? In fact, in a small glimmer of hope for Cage’s cinematic career, it was recently announced that Cage would re-unite with Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze on a new film project. Something good should come of that reunion, after all, these where the same three guys who brought us the critically acclaimed Adaptation (2002). I’m sure one day we’ll look back at Nicolas Cage’s filmography and think of this particular time in his career as his “tax paying films”; when you think about it, it comes as no surprise that the villain in Drive Angry is called ‘The Accountant’. 

Nicolas Cage's worst nightmare! The Accountant!

Drive Angry is the kind of film that is so badly made that your compulsion to burst out laughing wont be helped; it’ll just come out of you naturally. How bad is this film? Let me count the ways: first off, this film has some of the worst computer animated images I’ve seen since Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010). I mean, the CGI on this film looked like something you’d expect to see on a Sci-Fi Channel movie of the week. How the hell could Patrick Lussier, this films director, look at this footage and be okay with it? How could he live with himself knowing he’d be responsible for this terrible film? Heres an example of how shitty the effects are: there is this one scene in which a truck hits a bunch of police cars and ends up flying through the air hovering above Cage’s car, and then falls back on the ground. This scene is a text book example of a badly constructed action sequence. The scene was not convincing at all. It had zero believability, zero tension, what it did have was the fakest looking computer effects! The truck was so obviously not there! You know how in some of the worst movies, when characters are talking inside of a moving car, the background looks fake and you can tell the actors are just sitting in front of a projection screen? That’s what happens on this film, you can tell they are sitting on a car with a green screen behind them! Ugh! I haven’t seen effects this bad since Ballistic: Eck Vs. Sever (2002). I clearly remember people laughing at that one in the theater, I’m sure Drive Angry had the same effect on many theater crowds. Just expect some of the worst CGI of your life. 

The worst special effect of all? Nicolas Cage's hair do! 

Patrick Lussier is the director orchestrating this attempted homage to Satanic films. It’s obvious Lussier and crew saw many Satanic classics before deciding to sit down to make this one, the most obvious influence being Race with the Devil (1975), even going as far as using the same car used in that film. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they tried, this isn’t a good film about Satanist. Then again, I really haven’t seen a film about Satanists that wasn’t funny or goofy to some extent. I mean, there are some good ones out there like for example Roman Polanski’s Satanic double whammy Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Ninth Gate (1999). It’s really difficult for me to see a film about Satan worshippers and not find it silly somehow, I guess adults dressed up in black hoods, thinking Satan is real is kind of silly to me. If you don’t believe me, then watch The Devils Rain (1975) where you can see Ernest Borgnine become Satan with a beer belly. If you want to laugh even harder check out Christopher Lee in To the Devil a Daughter (1976), and while your there, say hello to Christopher Lee’s ass while your at it, it makes a cameo during an embarrassingly bad orgy sequence. It’s not for nothing that this film ended up being the final nail on Hammer Film Studios coffin. I guess you can add Drive Angry to your list of silly Satanic films.

"Did I ever tell you this here skin jacket is a symbol of my individuality 
and my belief in personal freedom?"

Apparently, portraying a truly frightening Satanic cult isn’t quite as easy as we might think; the results are often times unintentionally funny. On Drive Angry we get the most pathetic group of Satanists ever! Some dance around naked, others don’t, I guess some are more into Satanism then others. The Satanists in Drive Angry are so pussy, that when they actually have a chance to sacrifice a baby and bring forth hell on earth, they think about it. Oh come on! You have the magical dagger, the moon is full and you have the baby in your hands, what are you waiting for?? Jeez. The most satanic thing they do is sit around drinking beers on the night hell is supposed to come to earth! But yeah, this movie is hilarious. I guess maybe in that way it can be enjoyed. To watch it and make fun of it with your buddies, at least thats what I did with my buddies. It does have on good thing going for it. The dialog made me laugh a couple of times. An example: “You know what this batch means? It means Federal Bureau of get the FUCK out of my way!” That’s right my friends, making a film about Satanist, and having it be good or frightening isn’t something that happens very often. I can count with the fingers on my hand how many films have achieved that. I just remembered another good thing that the film has going for it: it gave a small role to Tom Atkins doing what he does best: playing a tough as nails cop! 

Since the film is called Drive Angry, I was expecting it to at least have one memorable car chase sequence, something that really stands out. I was expecting something along the lines of a Fast and the Furious film but with a supernatural angle, or even better Mad Max with a supernatural angle.  And you know what? I bet if done correctly, this kind of film could actually work too. Unfortunately, the chase sequences are bland and filled with bad cgi, which proves to us two things: this movie not only got its supernatural/horror elements all wrong, it got it's car movie angle all wrong as well. Where were the good car chase sequences in this film? This proves my theory about putting guys who are on the technical side of filmmaking to direct, it doesn’t always work. Check out films like Virus (1999), Spawn (1997) and Blade Trinity (2004). All directed by writers, editors, and special effects technicians who thought they were directors. The results with those films where no less disastrous than Drive Angry a film directed by one Patrick Lussier, a guy who made a career out of editing Wes Craven films. In my book he isn’t a good storyteller or filmmaker, he might be a good editor which is what he’s supposed to be good at, but directing and telling a story with a film? Not his forte. You know what? Even his editing sucked on this one, some scenes just didn't match up; if you dont believe me check out this horrible sequence that takes place while The Accountant is chasing Cage down a bridge. Wow, logic, pacing, editing and everything else where entirely forsaken during that scene! If you ask me, My Bloody Valentine (2009) was as good as this director got. Surprisingly, Lussier will be directing yet again! Let’s see if he makes a worthy Halloween flick with his upcoming Halloween III slated for 2012. Buttom line with Drive Angry? This is yet another crap fest to add to Nicolas Cage’s ever declining filmography. Will Cage ever recover from this downward spiral in his career? Will he ever make a good film again? Or will the name Nicolas Cage continue being synonymous with bad films? Only time will tell with these questions. Let’s hope Cage will someday try to regain his dignity as an actor and do something that really cooks, instead of something like Drive Angry which fizzled. 

Rating: 1 out of 5

Monday, August 1, 2011

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Title: Castle in the Sky (1986)

Director: Hiyao Miyazaki

Castle in the Sky was the first official Miyazaki film to be released under the Studio Ghibli banner, it would be the film that presented the new animation studio to the world, so it was a film on which a lot was riding on. Of course, Miyazaki and crew must have been concerned with this film making an impression on Japanese movie goers, so it had to start with a bang, and it had to be something special. Miyazaki achieved this with great success; Laputa is a very fun and entertaining film with extremely lovable characters. For me all of Miyazaki ’s films are special treats, but I found myself having an especially great time with this one. I think a lot of my enjoyment had to do with the characters which are so much fun, so alive and so hilarious! Some of Miyazaki ’s films can be serious affairs, like Princess Mononoke for example, but Castle in the Sky was fun all the way for me because it did a fine balancing act between comedy, sci-fi elements and adventure.

On this film we meet two characters, Sheeta a young girl who is being chased by the government and by pirates and Pazu, a little boy who works helping out miners. What is so precious about this little girl? She carries with her a magical pendant that can make your body weightless, and number two it can show you the way to ‘Laputa’, a mystical flying city. Not many have seen Laputa, but those who have seen it or know of its existence will stop at nothing to learn the secrets of its powers. You see, it is said that at one time Laputa and its civilization ruled over the earth with it’s advanced technology. Will all that power fall on the wrong hands? Will the long lost city of Laputa be brought back to life once again?

Filmmakers are storytellers, and the best of storytellers use their abilities to send out a positive message to the masses, to lash out against the evils of the world and to speak out for the people. Miyazaki is such a filmmaker; many of his films have an environmentalist or anti-war message attached to them. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) is about a Princess protecting nature, Princess Mononoke (1997) dealt with similar subject manner and Castle in the Sky can be added to this roster of Miyazaki films with a social conscience. On this one, the villain of the piece is called Muska, a man hell bent on learning the power behind Sheeta’s magical pendant and finding the lost city of Laputa . His main goal? To harness the power of the floating city and conquer the world with it; to teach those he considers less than himself a lesson or two. In one moment, Muska speaks of himself as superior to other humans, humans whom he considers stupid and below him. The main focus of the film is politician’s lust for power, and the responsibility that accompanies the power they crave. This is a common theme in some of Miyazaki’s films, for example in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Nausicaa is a good, just ruler whose subjects admire and care for because she treats them with justness and respect. On Castle in the Sky we have a madman who wants to be a ruler, but is ultimately corrupted by this power. With Castle in the Sky Miyazaki’s is accentuating the importance of humility in rulers and the need for them to be compassionate with their people, to not let power go to their heads.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Castle in the Sky is the pirate family that we meet. They all live together in this pirate ship that flies around the skies, always looking for the next treasure. They are also interested in Sheeta’s magical pendant. The family is composed of a bunch of guys and their pirate mother and father, kind of like the Fratelli Brothers from The Goonies (1985), where the mother is this old hag and the brothers are a bunch of bumbling idiots who follow moms’ rules. Mama Pirate is a character called Dola, a really tough old lady who fights and eats like a man but has the tender qualities of a mother. Cloris Leachman does a great job voicing this character in the English version of the film. The dynamics and dialog between the pirate family are hilarious! A true highlight of the film and here’s where I tell you that Castle in the Sky is one of Miyazaki ’s funniest movies ever because of these characters. At first they appear as villains, but they slowly win you over until by the end of the film they are these lovable characters that you wish you could hang out with.

Dola, the coolest old lady you'll ever meet! 

Castle in the Sky plays with many of the themes that Miyazaki normally addresses: environmentalist issues, a strong female lead, an anti-war message…but I find it so interesting that Miyazaki can address the same themes and still make a film that doesn’t feel repetitive. You don’t feel like you are watching the same movie all over again. What sets Castle in the Sky apart from other Miyazaki films is it’s amped up comedy and its sense of adventure. The first half of the film has a chase sequence that takes place on a train track, which is truly awesome. It felt like something you might see on an Indiana Jones film or something. Another unique element is the idea of this mystical flying city that only a select few people have ever seen. The city is this interesting mix of technology and nature, remnants of a long gone society. And yet another aspect of the film that sets it apart is the films villain, which in my opinion is one of the most evil villains on any Miyazaki film. The thing about villains in a Miyazaki film is that most of the time, they don’t come off as being all that evil. They are soft spoken and polite, hell, in general, you come off seeing a Miyazaki film and you feel like you’ve seen nothing but goodness and lightheartedness. But on Castle in the Sky, Muska, the films villain is a truly evil individual, a selfish person looking for nothing but personal gain; he was voiced by veteran voice actor and Jedi Master, Mark Hamill.

But, at the same time, Castle in the Sky has all of the elements that you’d expect from a Miyazaki film. You get to meet these characters that are so pure and good of heart, they feel as if they have nothing but goodness inside of them. Pazu and Sheeta (wonderfully voiced by Anna Paquin and James Van Der Beek in the English version) are a boy and a girl respectively. Normally Miyazaki will have a female lead, but with this film, he went with both. Best thing is that Pazu and Sheeta develop such genuine care for one another; they have these tender scenes where they display such care and love, interesting part is that it’s not even on a romantic level. What they develop with one another is closer to true friendship. I love that about watching Miyazaki films, you just feel great after watching them. Even though bad things do happen in his films, most of the times you come off feeling as if you’ve just seen an explosion of love.

Rating: 5 out of 5


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