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Raise the Castle!
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by David Cornelius

"A sweet little mini-movie."
3 stars

“Raise the Castle!” ends with just enough light, airy magic that we leave with a big fat grin on our faces, a grin so wide and unshakable that we’re instantly forgiving of the weaker parts that came before.

Not that the movie has too much time to go all that wrong - the whole thing clocks in at just under an hour. As such, the movie skips along in a breeze, rushing through the parts that don’t work and coasting along on the charm of the parts that do.

Written and directed by Yo Kohatsu and shot on low budget digital video, “Raise the Castle!” tells of an ancient samurai lord who arrives in the present day with the hopes of raising his old castle, a castle that has long gone buried under the earth, now on the grounds of a city park. With his are two bumbling servants who energize passers-by to helping them build a new castle out of cardboard. The samurai meets a history professor, who becomes enthralled by this opportunity to encounter the past. Meanwhile, city officials, upset that this castle will ruin the park (think of the permits!), set out to sabotage the mission.

That last bit is where the film goes wrong. The entire movie is overplayed with an intentional hamminess (in spots, it feels more like a pageant than a movie), but while it works elsewhere, it flops in this subplot. The officials are the sort of sniveling brats that seem to be modeled after James Spader in “Mannequin,” which just isn’t funny. Plus, the subplot is just plain unnecessary - with such a brief running time, this extra bit of forced conflict wastes too much precious space.

Fortunately, that’s all that bombs. The interaction between the samurai lord and the professor has a sweetness to it, and the servants’ comic relief, while quite broad, is actually very enjoyable. Perhaps this is due to the filmmaker’s decision to cast real townsfolk as extras. The servants’ antics then play out like jesters at a public festival, their interaction with families enjoying a day at the park feeling natural.

As such, when the public gets into a “let’s build a castle out of cardboard!” frenzy, it comes across like it should: as a bunch of ordinary folks buying into the fantasy and helping out on a crazy project. And what a project. Cardboard appears by the ton, and the crew actually manages to build a working castle out of empty boxes.

The whole finale then turns out a fantastical vibe, with cardboard castles and ancient warlords mingling with modern life. We end on a high note, the story becoming the celebration of a singular dream shared by many, and again, we smile. “Raise the Castle!” may be fluffy and silly, but it’s a cheery, delightful way to spend an hour.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16154&reviewer=392
originally posted: 04/20/07 15:59:59
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6/08/07 Johnny Cien Pesos A Wonderful Film! 5 stars
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  10-Apr-2007 (NR)
  DVD: 10-Apr-2007



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