Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Howl's Moving Castle (film)One of my top five favorite movies is Hayao Miyazaki’s animated gem, Howl’s Moving Castle. Beautifully rendered, it is a witty, whimsical, gloriously romantic fantasy with an unconventional heroine, a troubled, conflicted hero, and a motley crew of misfits who help and hinder the quest. In a kingdom at war, all the main players are trapped by a curse or self-imposed façade. This plays well into the movie’s main theme: overcoming fatal flaws.

The heroine, Sophie, is a quiet, hard-working girl who puts the success of the family hat shop above her own pleasure. One day, two soldiers accost her in an alley, and the beautiful, powerful wizard Howl swoops in and rescues her. This spurs the jealousy of the Witch of the Waste, who casts a spell that turns Sophie into an old woman. Hunched over and barely recognizable as her former self, Sophie heads out into the wasteland of witches and wizards in search of a cure. Her journey takes her aboard the wondrous moving castle of Howl, and she begins the adventure that forever changes her life and the lives of all those she encounters.

When I first saw this movie, I couldn’t believe that somebody had encapsulated my idea of the perfect fairy tale. The heroine’s strength is her weakness, and vice versa. Sophie’s work ethic and complete lack of vanity are what help her cope with her curse. “You’re still in pretty good shape,” she says, looking at her wrinkled visage in the mirror, “and your clothes finally suit you.” Yet her forced old age gives her the wisdom to appreciate the beauty of life around her, the antidote to her workaholic flip side. Howl is the dark hero, one minute kind and protective, the next minute self-centered and despairing. Until Sophie shows up, Howl has never had a reason to rise above his self-indulgent cowardice and answer the King’s summons to fight in the war. Ironically, it is Sophie’s arrival as an old crone that arouses the joy and adoration of the needful inhabitants, which forces her to face her own inability to recognize her feminine charms and accept love.

The allies and enemies are more than stereotypical fluffy cutesies and straight-up evil-doers. Calcifer, the fire demon who is forced to fuel the castle, lacks confidence and develops a bickering brother-sister friendship with Sophie. Markl, the wizard’s apprentice, at first begrudges “Grandma” Sophie’s presence but comes to depend on her like a son. The roly-poly wheezy dog has to be literally carried by Sophie out of and into trouble. The wicked Witch of the Waste is consumed with a trauma many of us can relate to—the inability to let go of a lost love. Each scene sparkles with sophisticated humor, and some of the lines are almost throwaway. While prepping Sophie for a dangerous mission, Howl says, “You’re wearing that hat? After I used all that magic to make your dress pretty?” All of this makes for a magical masterpiece.

Finally, the wonderful thing about this fairy tale is that although the characters are cursed, they learn that triumph comes from saving each other, and that conquering their internal demons is the ultimate battle.

Alisa Valdes Talks about The Temptation

May 11, 2012 § 5 Comments

The storm came out of nowhere.” —From The Temptation by Alisa Valdes

Alisa Valdes read from her new YA novel The Temptation at Bookworks in Albuquerque last week. From that first line, I was mesmerized. New Mexico storms are spectacular, but add a violent car crash, a circling pack of hungry coyotes, and a mysterious cowboy with unnerving powers, and you’ve got a storm to remember.

The Temptation, the first in Alisa Valdes’ Kindred trilogy, was released by HarperTeen on April 24, 2012. It is a supernatural suspense novel about two teens from opposite worlds who are kindred spirits. She’s urban prep school, he’s rural cowboy. That isn’t their biggest obstacle, however. Their biggest obstacle is that the boy is dead.

“The idea for this book came from somewhere other than me,” said Alisa. She knew she wanted to write a Romeo and Juliet ghost story, and originally her male lead was going to be a gang member. When she told people the idea, however, they weren’t sympathetic to the character, reformed or not. She was casting about for another opposite to her girl when she saw an article about two rodeo boys from Roswell. They were handsome young men, and one had just won a competition at a PRCA. And they were dead, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while they slept in the camper of their truck. The tragedy struck Alisa, and her male lead, Travis Hartwell, was conceived. Her book is dedicated to the two young men who died.

Author Alisa Valdes and her YA novel The Temptaion. At Bookworks bookstore in Albuquerque.

As for the girl, Alisa wanted to create a female hero in a paranormal romance who is a stronger alternative to the Twilight-Bella mold. While the Twilight books tell a story of epic love and that is wonderful, Alisa feels girls should have something more than a hero who doesn’t go to college, gets pregnant, and wants to become a vampire. Enter Shane Clark, a girl who plays violin in the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, attends prep school on an arts scholarship, and has doubts about her boyfriend. Alisa even tried to inject some unconventional braininess into her hero, by having Shane solve one of the mysteries using algebra. HarperTeen nixed that idea. “They were like, ‘Keep the ghosts, no math,’” said Alisa.

I have started The Temptation and it is a fast, exciting read with evocative imagery. If you love paranormal romance and suspense and want something different than the vampires and werewolves fare, pick up this book.

Visit Alisa’s blog and learn more about her book The Temptation.

Read my post about Alisa’s talk at the Southwest Writers meeting in December 2011.

Week Eighteen: The Temptation, Still Typing, and the Awesome Avengers

May 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

May 6, 2012

I started reading The Temptation, a new YA novel from best-selling author Alisa Valdes. The Temptation, which was released on April 24th, is the first in Alisa’s supernatural romance Kindred trilogy. It’s about a girl who begins a strange and dangerous journey after her car crashes in a snowstorm and she is rescued by a mysterious young man with healing powers. The author, who lives in New Mexico, gave a talk and book-signing at Bookworks in Albuquerque last week. I will post more details on Alisa’s talk later this week. I am also still reading On Writing, which leads me to—

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”—Stephen King’s first editor, from King’s book On Writing.

I’d like to be rewriting, doors open or closed, but I’m still typing, often times while eating dinner. I wrote a lot of freaking pages that need to be transcribed, so, yeah, I’m still typing. Coffee is my best friend, and I am two episodes behind on Mad Men. You’d think with all the typing I’m doing that my speed and accuracy would improve, but no.


Albuquerque Studios, a movie studio located at...

Albuquerque Studios provided sets for The Avengers.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was up until 2:00 a.m. Saturday, all because of The Avengers (parts of which were filmed here in Albuquerque). When my friend and I got to the theater on Friday night, all the shows were sold out until eleven o’ clock. So we got tickets to the 11:00 p.m. show and whiled away the time at a nearby Asian restaurant and ate and talked until the smell of bleach told us the crew was cleaning—and closing the place. We went back to the movies a half hour before showtime, and as soon as the previews ended, people started clapping. I couldn’t be happier that Joss Whedon (whom I adore for Buffy and Dollhouse), broke opening weekend box office records and had people applauding before the movie had even started. The Avengers popped with Whedon’s particular brand of off-beat humor and snappy bicker/banter, and he characteristically turned the traditional female role on its head with one statement from Black Widow: “I’m in the middle of an interrogation!” I loved how he wrote the sad, haunted, emotionally isolated Bruce Banner, whom Mark Ruffalo portrayed perfectly. My favorite line: “A little secret—I’m always angry.” The entire audience laughed, clapped, and cheered throughout the movie, causing my friend to jokingly gripe, “People are acting like they’re watching live theater.” That is how much we were moved by The Avengers.

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