Star Wars: Episode VII Cast Reveal

Star Wars Episode VII Cast

It was announced today from Disney the main cast for Star Wars Episode VII.  It will be a mix of cast from the classic trilogy as well as new actors.  The picture above is the first picture of the cast (funny to see R2-D2 in a crate).

When I saw the news break, I was excited.  It’ll be cool to see characters that I know and love (Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, Artoo, Threepio) along with some new characters.  It was interesting to see Andy Serkis as a part of the new cast.  He’s best known for his work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings saga.  I think that’s a good hire.  I do hope that Billy Dee Williams and Denis Lawson (Lando Calrissian & Wedge Antilles) will at least have cameos.

The Star Wars saga is my favorite series of films.  I’m looking forward to December 2015 for the next piece of the film series.

Miyazaki Mondays: Spirited Away

This week’s Miyazaki Monday’s featured film is 2001’s award winning Spirited Away

The film is centers around a young girl named Chihiro Ogino.  She and her parents are traveling to their new home when they take a wrong turn and end up in a magical world.  She gets separated from her parents and meets a young boy named Haku.  He warns Chihiro to leave before sunset.  However, she is unable to and is trapped in this spirit world while her parents have been turned into pigs.

Chihiro gets a job at a bathhouse working for Kamaji, a spider like spirit.  She meets a witch Yubaba who takes Chihiro’s name away and renames her Sen.  Haku tells Sen that Yubaba controls people by taking their memory of their real names away.  In order to leave, she has to remember her true name.  Meanwhile, Haku is more than just a regular boy.  He also can turn into a magical dragon.  The two take turns protecting each other while she tries to regain her memory of her name and get her parents back to their real selves.

Spirited Away was a project that meant a lot to Miyazaki.  He wanted to make a film for young girls so that they could have a peer role model to look up to.  Strong heroine characters are a staple of Miyazaki films and this one was no exception.  He was in a state of semi-retirement after making Princess Mononoke and was simply going to write the film.  However, he would end up coming out of retirement to direct the film as well.

The budget for the film was about $15 million dollars. It was released in Japan on July 20, 2001.  To say it was a success in Japan is an understatement.  It would go on to be the highest grossing film in Japanese history grossing nearly $230 million dollars.  It was also the first film to ever gross over $200 million dollars before a U.S. release.  Interesting enough, Disney invested 10% of the cost of the film to have right of first refusal for distribution in North America.  Both Disney and Dreamworks bid for the distribution rights to the film but Disney ended up winning the rights.

The English dub version was supervised by none other than John Lasseter.  His friendship with Miyazaki played a big role as well for Disney getting distribution rights for the dubbed version.  The English voice actors for the dub include Jason Marsden, Lauren Holly, Michael Chikis, Tara Strong, John Ratzenberger and Daveigh Chase.  The English dub debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2002 and released theatrically in North America on September 20, 2002.

Spirited Away is probably Miyazaki’s most well known & successful film.  Besides the money the film grossed, it received acclaim from film critics.  It also was recognized with an Academy Award.  it won Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.

To close here’s John Lasseter talking about Spirited Away back in 2006 as a part of the month long celebration of Miyazaki films on Turner Classic Movies:

Sunday Devotional: Matthew 11:1-6

“When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.  Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Matthew 11:1-6

We all get discouraged.  Doesn’t matter who we are or where we are in our walk with Christ, we get discouraged.  Even John the Baptist got discouraged.  While sitting in prison for preaching the coming kingdom of God, he wondered if the Messiah had truly come.  So he sends some of his followers to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah.  And Jesus’ response is simple, tell John what you see.  Jesus’ actions speak about Him being the Messiah.

When we get discouraged and beat down, pray to God, talk to Him.  Remember the work that He has done in you.  Be encouraged that He is there, that He listens and He understands.

Ordinary World

I was watching Grey’s Anatomy last Thursday night (yes I watch Grey’s, I have since the show debuted) and was struck by one of the songs that played in the background.  One of the things that stands out about that show is the soundtrack of the show.  They will play a lot of up and coming artists, songs that become hits, or covers of great songs.  This was a cover of a great song.

The song was “Ordinary World” from Duran Duran.  This cover that played was probably the best cover I’ve heard of that song.  After the episode ended, I went looking online to try and find who done it.  Turns out it was Joy Williams, one half of the duo The Civil Wars and an accomplish solo artist.  Apparently she recorded it back in 2010 but it was never released.  She uploaded it to YouTube today.

The chorus to that song always sticks out to me:

But I won’t cry for yesterday
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive

We all have hurt in our past.  There are things said and done to us that hurt us and scar us.  That is a part of this life.  But we must not continually dwell on that.  We have to keep moving forward, looking ahead.

Here’s Joy Williams’ version of “Ordinary World”

Building Bridges or Building Walls

We all have opportunities to build bridges or to build walls.  I don’t necessarily mean literally building bridges or building walls though they do make good metaphors.  The relationships we have with those around us are to be cultivated.  It isn’t something that one just has.  It takes work and effort to develop and maintain friendships and relationships.

It is hard work to build bridges.  It takes a lot of effort and dilligence to lay brick by brick the foundation for building bridges.  And the thing with friendships and relationships is that it can’t be a one way street.  It has to work both ways.  Unfortunately, sometimes the other person may build a wall up instead of build a bridge.  They may hurt you with their words and actions.  This in turn will may you want to build a wall instead of a bridge not just to the one who built a wall up to you but to those who are building bridges as well.

I know I’ve built my fair share of bridges and I’ve built my fair share of walls.  It’s hard to build bridges and it’s hard to maintain bridges, especially when people build up walls.  It’s very hard to tear down walls and build a bridge instead.  But that’s where Jesus comes into the picture.  He gives us the strength to build those bridges and He can tear down the walls that we build up.  We may think those walls protect us but in reality they just shut us out from everything and do more damage to ourselves and others than good.

The older I get, the more I understand this.  We all have bricks and we all have a choice.  We can either use those bricks to build bridges or build walls.  I can’t control how others will use their bricks.  But I can control what I do with mine.  And even if someone builds a wall to me, that doesn’t mean I should turn around and build a wall as well.  I need to keep building bridges.

I want to show Christ’s love and build bridges instead of walls and I hope that you will do the same too.

Miyazaki Mondays: Princess Mononoke

This week’s Miyazaki Monday’s featured film is from 1997 and is called Princess Mononoke.

Princess Mononoke is a mix of history and fantasy.  The film is set during what was know as the Muromachi period in Japan (which is roughly 1337 to 1573).  A young warrior prince named Ashitaka is cursed by a demon while fighting to protect the village.  The curse gives him superhuman fighting abilities but has doomed him to death.  The village’s wise woman tells him that there may be a cure but he must make a long journey to the west to find it.

Along his journey, Ashitaka runs into Jiro, a monk who tells Ashitaka that he may find what he is looking for from the Great Forest Spirit.  The two then travel together to Irontown, which is run by Lady Eboshi.  Before they get there, they run into a clan of wolves led by the wolf goddess Moro.  A part of the wolf clan is also a human female named San.

Ashitaka learns that Lady Eboshi and the people of Irontown are clear cutting the forests to procure material to make iron.  Because of this, there is growing emnity between the people of Irontown and those who live in the forest.  He also learns about San and her background.  San was raised by the wolves and mistrusts humans but grows to develop feelings for Ashitaka.  A battle is brewing and in order to bring everything back into harmony, Ashitaka must fight for San as well as the forest while trying to bring the humans of Irontown to understand their place.

Princess Mononoke was initially going to be Miyazaki’s last directorial film.  Miyazkai had a protégé lined up to take over (that being Yoshifumi Kondo, who had directed Whisper of the Heart).  However, Kondo passed away suddenly in 1998.  That news made Miyazaki consider retirement and that Princess Mononoke would be his last film.  However, we know later that he had a few more films left to direct.

The film has a lot of ties to the environment and powerful female characters, two recurring themes in Miyazaki films.  There was also an interesting mix of history and fantasy, which had been seen in some ways before in the film My Neighbor Totoro.

It was released in Japan on July 12, 1997.  It would go on to be the highest grossing Japanese film that year and was the highest grossing film in the country (both foreign films and domestic) until Titanic came out.  An English dub of the film came from Disney (under the Miramax production company) in the fall of 2000.  The English dub translation was headed by fantasy writer Neil Gaiman (best known for his work on the graphic novel series The Sandman).  The voice actors for the English dub featured Billy Crudup, Minnie Driver, Claire Daines, Gillian Anderson, Billy Bob Thornton and Keith David.

Princess Mononoke was actually the first Miyazaki film I ever saw.  I was in college when a roommate of mine recommended it to me.  We ended up renting it at Blockbuster and watched it.  To this day, it is still one of my top 3 favorite Miyazaki films.  To close, here is another clip from John Lasseter from Pixar talking about the film during the monthlong celebration of Miyazaki films on TCM back in 2006.