Took a daytrip to Portland yesterday. They have an arthouse movie theater there, so I didn’t waste the chance to see the new Miyazaki movie, Howl’s Moving Castle. Miyazaki gets a lot of smack from my rabid-anime fan friends, mostly for being the Japanese equivalent of Disney pap (unsurprisingly, Disney is his U.S. distributor). I find his movies to be far more enchanting and cerebral than recent Disney fare, and really loved Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Howl’s doesn’t reach those heights, either in enchantment or even pure quality of animation, but it has some wonderful moments, such as the introduction of the Witch of the Waste, and the exteriors of the Terry-Gilliamesque moving castle. As with all Japanime I’ve seen, with the possible exception of Princess Mononoke, the dubbing didn’t support the movie (Billy Crystal seemed especially out of place). The movie ran long and themes of beauty/ugliness and war/peace never quite cohered. Still, from what I hear about Madagascar, kids and adults will enjoy this movie far more. Of course, you only get the choice if it’s playing in your area.

PLAUDIT: NYTimes’ A.O. Scott jizzes all over the movie.
PAN: “Miyazaki bores me to tears,” says Stephanie Zacherak in Salon.

The multiplexes around Olympia unfortunately offer little more than the ususal wide-release slate. It is, then, with low expectations mildly exceeded that I report Mr. & Mrs. Smith to be an entertaining diversion. Until the final act, when Bradgelina stop fighting each other and join forces, writer Simon Kinberg manages to sustain interest in the absurd premise that two elite assassins have been married for six years without knowing the secret identities of the other. As a metaphor for being honest in marriage, the premise certainly strains credibility. But everyone is clearly having fun and the running time flies by until that last act.

Undoubtedly test audiences asked that Vince Vaughn’s character come back at the end. The filmmakers should have listened. Without his comedy, the sexual tension, or Mr. Limon’s usual inventiveness in the final action sequence, the movie runs abruptly out of gas. Mr. and Mrs. Smith survive for a sequel, but we get the feeling it will be as dull as their alter egos.

ANOTHER OPINION: NYPress’ Armand White rips Mr. & Mrs. Smith a new one. [Via threebie thecobalt9]