Contact (1997)

Twenty years ago this film was frequently given much praise by the pretentious film critics of the day, and mocked by people who knew better. In many ways, Robert Zemeckis’ Contact was and still remains an example of everything that is pompous and awful about Hollywood since the 1990’s. Bloated production budgets (this was made for $90 million), ludicrous, half-baked plots that are stretched out beyond reason, palliative moralising, and a mushy style of writing that oozes Oscar bait, and that’s basically what Contact was.

The story, longwinded as it was, revolves around Dr. Ellie Arroway, a woman who has been fascinated by science and communication since childhood, and now works for the SETI program at an observatory in Puerto Rico, listening to radio emissions hoping to find signs of intelligent life in outer space. She eventually gains funding from a secretive billionaire to continue her work in New Mexico, but her work falls under tight scrutiny from the government, and the world at large her discovery is broadcast around the world.

You would think this was a decent enough subject, but the film itself is boring. The pace is intolerably slow as the film wades through one snooze-fest of a scene after another, and the ending isn’t even worth it. We all know the raw deal we got from the film. A lot of hype is built up over the protagonist finding an alien, you wait for two and a half hours and then you find out that the “alien” is just her father, or rather some mysterious being taking her father’s form. It’s clearly supposed to be a schmaltzy sort of ending, and it’s just awful.

Another theme you’ll notice throughout the film is the writers’ attempts to shoehorn a debate between science and faith. The director of the film once claimed that the film was intended to deliver the message that science and religion can co-exist, but that’s not the message I got. In fact, if the film was trying to have a debate, it seems as if they’ve rigged it in favour of the science side of the debate. In the world of this film, all scientists are noble and righteous fellows, and there are few openly Christian characters who aren’t ignorant science-deniers, which is unsurprising considering that by 1997 it had become fashionable to demonise religious people. In that sense, the film isn’t so much a celebration of science, as much as it is a glorification of scientism.

The acting is all well and good, but the characters are terrible. I find it impossible to relate to any of the characters, especially not the film’s right-on “IFL Science” protagonist Ellie Arroway. Her whole story centred around how she “has” to get her way because it’s important to her, and anyone who doesn’t give her what she wants doesn’t care about science. At least this is what I get from her general tone. The other characters aren’t too bad, and I should at least give some praise to the late John Hurt’s character, the billionaire S.R. Hadden, whose performance was befitting of his enigmatic character.

I suppose the film’s main strength was in its special effects, which would explain the $90 million budget. But I think that’s one of the film’s fundamental problems, that’s mainly special effects and virtually little substance. The film as a whole was a bad attempt at “philosophical” sci-fi, and it was barely entertaining. What’s really sad is that the people who worked on the film are capable of better. I find it baffling how Robert Zemeckis went from Back to the Future to a film with all the hallmarks of a lazy, Spielbergian snooze-fest, and yet here it is. A film that mainly got respect from the snooty establishment film critics for being a half-assed progressive think piece disguised as a movie, but I bet it ended up being a film that most people only watched once, which I’d understand because the film isn’t even that good. Twenty years on, it’s time we accepted the reality that Contact was never a good film.

  • Score: 44%
  • Grade: E

Last Action Hero (1993)

lastactionheroI’m not surprised that Last Action Hero was maligned by critics back in its day, and is still generally ignored by the public at large today. It was a ludicrously ridiculous action flick in a time when action films were just starting to go out of vogue. Of course, I’m certain this was intended as a satire of Hollywood action films (particularly the ones set in L.A.), and in that spirit it’s certainly more well-produced than a similar film named Loaded Weapon 1 (a cheesy National Lampoon parody of Lethal Weapon). It wasn’t a bad film, but perhaps it was a bit too silly for your average moviegoer.

A big problem is the ridiculousness that is the film’s main premise. A movie-obsessed young boy is given a magic ticket, and he’s somehow transported into the latest entry in the “Jack Slater” series, where he gets to see the world of a badass action hero, and Jack realises that he is just a film character. For me, the film could have been more satirical if the whole film played out like an action film that didn’t always take itself seriously, as opposed to the whole “magic ticket” approach. As it stands however, it’s essentially a matinee film with a goofy plot and wasted potential.

To be fair there’s plenty of humorous moments where the film essentially deconstructs its own genre, but that’s hampered by an often hackneyed script that, sadly, tends to rub off on the characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger still managed to play the lead role effectively, but mainly in his capacity as an action film star. The other characters seem to wilt in the background for the most part, if that is they aren’t hamming their way out of it. One silver lining I can count on is the skilful performance of Charles Dance in the role of the lead villain. A lot of times he unapologetically steals the show, even though he’s not immune to the iniquities of the film’s numerous script problems.

The way I see it, the problem with a setting that gives the characters licence to act like they’re in a Hollywood movie is that they always take it too far. To take this film for what it is requires not so much a suspension of disbelief, but a complete silence of disbelief, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film. There are many enjoyable fantasy films that constantly skirt the issue of suspension of disbelief, often to the point that they risk butchering it, but we still enjoy them. Besides, I kind of like the film’s obvious ridiculousness, which sometimes has a weird comic charm, but I think that comes from the fact that I’m familiar with it (having seen it roughly four times to date).

It also helps that the film had some good production values on its side, but I think they used way too much special effects, which lead to the film having a bloated budget so big that the seemingly plentiful box office returns could be considered a disappoint (a film needs to make more than double its budget to turn a profit, and Last Action Hero costed $85 million to produce).

In terms of ridiculous matinee fair, Last Action Hero isn’t actually as bad as people say it is. I’d say it’s mediocre, but with more than a few good moments. The problem, however, is that the producers wasted a lot of the potential that might have been capitalised on to great effect, and the end result can’t be anything better than a mildly humorous parody film with a choppy script.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Seven (1995)

seven_ver1I once attempted to write a review of this film towards the end of 2015, but I had come down with a case of the norovirus, and found myself unable to focus, so I continue writing it at the time. Now, over a year later, I went back and reviewed it again, this time without having to live with a lingering stomach virus. Abundantly praised by critics for its edgy, then-contemporary style, Seven appears to be more of a film of style than of substance, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Seven manages to accomplish the rare feat of having both good style and an engaging story, even if it plays into the occasional cliché now and then.

Set in a bleak city reminiscent of New York City, the story concerns the ageing detective William Somerset, who is soon to retire but is called for one last case, in which he is partnered with the young, short-tempered David Mills, who is set to replace him at the end of the week. Together they reluctantly work to track down a deranged serial killer whose creative methods of killing people are overtly linked to the seven deadly sins, seeing the case all the way to its ghastly conclusion.

At its core, it’s essentially a genre thriller with more layers of sophistication compared to what you usually get in the market. There were already plenty of films with deranged serial killer antagonist, but this film has a certain dark, edgy quality that distinguishes it from others. The pacing is quite slow, but there are plenty of riveting plot twists that can keep you engaged, though that’s not the only way the film manages to do so. The film’s main asset is in its visceral shock thrills, which come from the trail of grotesque imagery that the killer leaves behind.

Although I think the performances were a bit low-key, I feel that the actors did a good job playing their respective characters. Morgan Freeman seems to be a good fit as the retiring detective who’s seen far too much throughout his career. As for Brad Pitt, this seems like the kind of film that Brad Pitt could do well in, and he plays his character quite convincingly, in the sense that I mostly believe that his character would act in the way that he does. Of course, the villain of the story had the best performance, with Kevin Spacey injecting a dose of self-righteous madness into the heavily grim atmosphere lingering over the film.

The film’s greatest asset is its consistently dark style. There’s a notable absence of colour in the film’s visuals, and I think it was quite deliberate. The other main component would be the gory special effects, which, without the kitsch found in many slasher horror films, the visceral horror has an added sting, which is odd because this was never intended as a horror film. There’s sort of a brutal realism to the film’s overall style, and yet the murder scenes seem quite exaggerated, but the chilling part is that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. It’s quit easy to imagine some sicko committing murders like those in the film.

In that sense, Seven is a very compelling film. I don’t consider it a neo-noir classic, but it’s strangely effective for what is effectively a slightly more sophisticated genre film. It’s a little overrated, but over the years that high praise still proves well-earned.

  • Score: 81%
  • Grade: B

Jingle All the Way (1996)

jingle_all_the_way_posterOh joy, the time has come for schlocky family comedies to invade the TV screens for the holidays. This one is very much typical for its time, with its formulaic, sitcom style plot, though it’s the kind one can accept at around Christmas time, and nowhere else. It also has the misfortune of being one of those mid-career Schwarzenegger films where he tries to do something other than what he’s best at, with mixed results.

The plot is simple enough. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, a workaholic dad who can’t seem to find any time for his wife and son, who are spending more time with their neighbour Ted Maltin, who consistently denigrates Howard while passing himself off as the “good neighbour”.

In order to make up for well-meaning yet inept parenting, he vows to get his son the hot-selling “Turbo Man” action figure, which is all but sold out. He also winds up in a race with a stressed out postman named Myron Larabee, who wants to get his son the same action figure, but there’s only one left, and they have to fight each other over it.

Of course, the immediate criticism levelled at the film was that the film was made to sell an actual “Turbo Man” toy. Truth be known, the producers were actually planning to do that, but the film was shot so quickly that there wasn’t enough time left for the merchandising, and whatever merchandise was made was limited to a replica of the Turbo Man in the film, and in significantly lower quantities compared to the likes of Space Jam, which had the good fortune of being released in the same year, at around the same time, and outperforming it in the box office (despite being even more of a ridiculous commercialist farce of a film).

In terms of actual substance, the story is only slightly more advanced than a by-the-numbers sitcom episode, but at least we’re free not to have to expose our ears to a laugh track. That said, in terms of family fare, it’s not that bad. I’ve definitely seen worse holiday films (The Santa Clause 3 for instance), and this one at least tries to pass for decent family-oriented entertainment, but it definitely has its flaws, with the main flaw being its less than clever script.

The acting isn’t too bad, but I don’t see Schwarzenegger are a comedic actor. In fact, most of the time he’s funny because the idea of him as a comedic actor is absurd. Phil Hartman, meanwhile, fits perfectly in the film. I would say the same is true with Sinbad, but to a lesser extent. If I’m going to be completely honest, some of the jokes were a bit lazy, and a lot of the humour comes from zany, slightly over-the-top acting from the three main characters, with a bit of support from the minor characters, but it’s not bad.

As far as holiday films go, this isn’t the worst you could pick. There are several worse options you could consider, but sadly this one might be little on the underrated side. If you want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger at least try his luck in a purely comedic role alongside the late Phil Hartman, this might be the film for you. I’d also recommend this for any parents looking to huddle around the TV with their children for a family flick that isn’t completely sterile. In other words, it’s decent, but no more than that.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Home Alone (1990)

Home_aloneWith Christmas just around the corner, it’s inevitable that this film always ends up on rotation, as if it’s some kind of annual TV tradition. This makes sense, since it’s pretty much a quintessential Christmas film, complete with all the dysfunctional family clichés. In a nutshell, it’s basically Die Hard for kids, but the different is that Die Hard was awesome, and it simply doesn’t work when taken through a family-friendly filter. It’s also one of those films that tend to be incredibly easy to oversell. That is to say that most people remember the slapstick, but that’s only half of the movie, and often, the slapstick comes across as more flat than the producers intended. Suffice it to say, this film requires quite a lot in the suspension of disbelief department.

The film insists that Kevin was left behind by accident, but since the first part of the film is basically a typical argument taking place in a stereotypically dysfunctional family, which ends with Kevin hating pretty much everyone, doesn’t it seem like they abandoned him on purpose? Never mind that, how do you sustain a whole franchise on that premise? Immediately, I get the sense that this is more of a kid’s movie, and that in its self is somewhat worrying due to the fact that most of the adults here are portrayed as completely unlikable. Another problem is that the dysfunctional family trope is so horribly repetitive even for the time the film was made, and it’s almost as though the actual plot of the film was lifted from the desktop of the laziest Hollywood hack.

To be fair, the film had a pretty good cast, and at the very least Kevin develops into a more likable character towards the end. Of course, when you look past the comedic element, it’s basically schmaltz, but at least its tasteful schmaltz with good acting behind it. As for the slapstick, it’s kind of predictable. But then again, I guess that’s because the film was more of a novelty than anything else, but the “filthy animal” gag doesn’t seem to have gotten old. Maybe that’s why they repeated it so many times.

The way the film presents itself is a bit heavy-handed, what with the overuse of orchestral music. I get why the Christmas songs are here, but John Williams’ orchestra just seems unwelcome here. We’re talking about a Christmas family film, not another Star Wars film. Then again, orchestral music always ruins this sort of film by making it sound bigger than it is. However, the film itself is by no means bad. In fact, it’s decent viewing for its intended audience, but it tends to rely very heavily on suspension of disbelief, and it’s a gamble which more often than not fails to pay off. Of course, it’s not a complete pain to watch, but to make a long story short, let’s just say that you’ll only really consider watching it when your house is already decorated with fairy lights.

  • Score: 63%
  • Grade: C

Basquiat (1996)

BasquiatmovieposterI discovered this film almost by accident, in another case of me stumbling upon a film that, perhaps not a gem, was a good film that took on genuinely interesting subject matter, namely the trappings of the art world from the view of an artist, as he quests for fame and lives through what it is really like. Of course, I say this as an art student, and I very much doubt that anyone not interested in art would be interested in this film.

The film is a biopic based on the life of Jean-Michael Basquiat, a neo-expressionist painter from Brooklyn, New York who emerged from the American “punk” scene to the international art gallery circuit, and quickly became one of the most celebrated artists of the 1980’s, until his death in August 1988. The film chronicles a fictionalised account of his discovery by Andy Warhol, his subsequent rise to fame, and the price he pays for it.

A number of fictional characters were added to the film, perhaps to create a more dramatic and possibly more relatable film. For instance, there’s a character called Gina Cardinale, who, because the film is biographical in nature, I assumed was a real person, but upon googling the name, I discovered that she was basically a character created so that the fictionalised Basquiat could have a lover who sticks by him. The film also has the honour of being the first feature film about a painter that was made by a painter (that would be director Julian Schnabel), and he created a character based on himself, so as to insert himself into the film.

The film sometimes comes across as a glamourising portrayal of the art gallery scene, but it certainly makes for an engaging drama, thanks mainly to its characters. In addition to looking the part, Jeffrey Wright delivers a good performance as Jean-Michael Basquiat, injecting a sense of humanity into his character. It showed a man who was neither a completely good man (he certainly took pleasure in painting over his girlfriend’s clothes) nor a completely bad man, and was concerned with his bottom line, which would be fame.

The characters work quite well, but the film is perhaps best known for David Bowie’s role as Andy Warhol. Bowie’s brilliant character acting succeeds yet again, as he delivers a nuanced portrayal of an artist often stereotyped as a pretentious phony. I’m not entirely surprised, since Bowie personally knew Andy Warhol (he even wrote a song about him for his fourth album). He brought a lot of depth to the character he was playing, and he even looked like a very good Warhol impressionist. His portrayal of Warhol adds a lot to the fictionalised Warhol, and I dare say his version of Warhol is more likable.

Thankfully, the man at the directorial helm, Julian Schnabel, is an artist himself, and his knowledge of art world helps him bring the film to life. The film visually coneys the kind of environment that Jean-Michael Basquiat worked in, and this is also helped by the film’s choice of music, which I felt worked in a number of ways. Because Basquiat’s estate refused to let him use the late artist’s original works, Schnabel himself, along with his studio assistant, created a number of paintings in the style of Basquiat, and I feel this adds another layer of authenticity to it, or about as close as they could get.

Though it comes across as the heavily fictionalised kind of biopic, it was definitely an entertaining film, and a uniquely compelling parable of an artist who propelled himself into fame as quickly as he could and paid the price for it.

  • Score: 73%
  • Grade: C

Rodrigo D: No Future (1990)

Rodrigo_D-_no_futuroAt some point, I got the impression that what Gypsy 83 was for the goth scene, Rodrigo D seems to be for the punk and metal scene. In retrospect, however, the two are not alike. As frenetic as it tends to be, I do laud its intention. Namely, I felt the film was an earnest drama of a youth growing up in the bottom rung of society, and doing what he can to follow a dream, though I think the producers squandered the chance to make a truly compelling film.

From what I can tell, the film’s story revolves around the eponymous Rodrigo, a poor and troubled teenager living in Medellín, Colombia who wants to be a drummer in a punk band. Even though his musical ability is not the best, he can identify with the punks. Alienated, angry and destructive, he sees the music as the only way he can drive the despair out of his mind.

That’s basically the gist of what the film is about, and keep in mind, the film had no subtitles, not even if you find it on YouTube. Unfortunately this makes it one of those films where the language barrier makes it difficult to get into the film. That said, this past summer I’ve seen a number of films that were seemingly handicapped by a language barrier, but they were all just fine for the most part. With this film, I think the frenetic pace was more of a problem, and the fact that it was generally noisy and dim. On the whole, the story plays out like a coming of age film with street kids wandering and rampaging in an empty place. Interesting maybe, but it was somewhat aimless in its approach.

As for the characters, I think there was sincerity in the characters, especially in the main character, even though I can’t exactly understand any of them. To be honest, I wasn’t overly interested in them, and couldn’t see myself emotionally invested in them, but the performances weren’t bad. With the characters, I think the biggest strength is that the film presented them as if they were real people, fitting the film’s pseudo-documentary approach. In a sense, the characterisation is pretty chaotic, and I guess that fits the film.

I don’t know if this is true of the original film, but when I watched it, it seemed to look as if it was a low-quality VHS. Some of the scenes were so dark that it was quite hard to make out what was actually going on in those scenes. I do admire the realistic nature of the setting, as it conveyed the desperation of the kind of world the street punks inhabited, accurately presenting a poor neighbourhood in a third-world country. The choice of music wasn’t exactly my taste, but I do feel that it works well enough for the film.

Though I found the film wanting, due to its incoherent direction and messy production, I found it to be decently interesting film. It has its flaws, but at least it was sincere in its approach.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Cool World (1992)

Cool_WorldFor the past few years there’s been one animator who I’ve come to admire, the legendary Ralph Bakshi. Unfortunately, while I admire much of his work (for instance, Wizards was particularly influential on me and remains so to this day), I can’t exactly say the same for his last feature film, which was something of a legendary flop. Savaged by critics and gunned down in the box office, Cool World was intended to be an animated horror film, but it ended up being a cautionary tale about the horrors of executive meddling, and the disaster that ensued effectively drove one of the great geniuses of animation out of the business. If you ask me, that might as well be the film’s sole accomplishment.

Before I talk about what the film ought to have been, let’s look at the film as it is. The film revolves around Holli Would, a sultry cartoon temptress who resides in the eponymous Cool World, the realm of the cartoon characters. Holli wants nothing more than to be human, and she gets her chance when a cartoonist named Jack Deebs gets sucked into her world. The only way she can achieve her dream is if the two enter in carnal embrace with each other, thereby breaking the oldest law in Cool World (“noids and doodles can’t have sex”), and drawing the attention of detective Frank Harris, who wants to stop Holli.

Now I’m sure anyone looking at this will no doubt think of this as essentially a mediocre clone of the technically superior Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and they’d be right. The premise is much the same (Cool World is essentially a sleazier version of Toontown, but with original characters), right down to the noir-style detective story. To top it off, it uses the exact same combination of live-action film and hand-drawn animation that Roger Rabbit made famous. It’s as if the producers couldn’t think of anything better than a dumbed down version of Roger Rabbit, and compared to what Ralph Bakshi originally had in mind (which I’ll eventually talk about), it comes across as wasted potential more than anything else. The film also suffers from a disjointed plot broken up by the occasional antics of the minor toon characters, and the end result is a chaotic mess of film noir clichés and half-baked Looney Toons characters.

The acting isn’t completely bad. If anything, Kim Basinger, though not the director’s first choice, does a good job at conveying the intensely sensual character that is Holli Would. Brad Pitt, the man who plays the detective, spends the whole film pretending to be a 40’s gumshoe, complete with the obviously typical accent, but he’s not a very convincing character. The villain from Roger Rabbit was more convincing, and he was essentially a caricature of a villain. The rest of the characters are all unlikable, and everyone else is a background character. The film itself is often billed as a comedy, which I find ironic because the jokes are so dull that much of the laughs will probably be coincidental.

The animation style, as I said before, is identical to Roger Rabbit, with animated characters pasted into a live-action world, and vice versa. I actually like the way they’ve drawn Cool World. It’s a far more surreal counterpart to Toontown, and I personally feel that they could have done plenty with that sort of world. They certainly took the time to animate original characters, but the vast bulk of them are purely background characters that often whiz around the screen like wild spectres, and the end result feels unfocused. I kind of like the music they composed and selected (including David Bowie’s brilliant “Real Cool World”), though I think some of the songs they picked were selected just because they sounded trendy at the time, and don’t exactly sound right.

I can go on and on, but ultimately I would be saying the same thing. Cool World was ultimately a disappointment. Now the question is how exactly did we end up with this? I mentioned in the preface that Cool World is essentially a cautionary tale of the horrors of executive meddling, and that’s exactly how Cool World was made. In 1990, Ralph Bakshi began working an avant-garde animated horror movie which he pitched to Paramount Studios, who quickly bought Bakshi’s idea. The original Cool World was supposed to involve an underground cartoonist and a cartoon woman who have sex and produce an illegitimate hybrid child who hates herself for what she is, and visits the real world in order to try and kill him.

This version would have been a gritty, sex-laden horror film of an avant-garde breed, and if you look at the original storyboards, it seems as if it could have been a great work of art. For a time, everything seemed to be going well, but one of the producers, Frank Mancuso Jr., had the script completely rewritten without Ralph’s knowledge, and the two got into a fight. At this point, Ralph would probably have quit, but Paramount, which was run by Mancuso’s father at the time, threatened to sue him if he refused to finish the film. Added to that, Kim Basinger wasn’t even Ralph’s first choice to play Holli. He originally wanted the character to be played by Drew Barrymore, with Brad Pitt playing the role of the cartoonist. However, Basinger was cast, and she basically wanted to turn the film into a PG film (which ended up being rated PG-13) so that it could be shown in hospitals, and for no real reason other than it might further her career. Nonetheless, Mancuso agreed, and under threat of litigation, Ralph was basically forced to make a movie that, if I’ll be totally honest, probably wasn’t even his anymore.

Well, there you have it. Cool World may have been a disappointing film, but it’s not as if Ralph Bakshi could help it. After all, the film was practically forced from his hands. Had Ralph been left to his own devices, I’m sure it would have been a very good film, but sadly, that isn’t the case, and what we’re left with is a disjointed, mediocre clone of Roger Rabbit that embodies the twisted committee thinking of Hollywood.

  • Score: 53%
  • Grade: D

A Wind Named Amnesia (1990)

Kaze_no_Na_Wa_Amnesia_(pamphlet)Another day, another obscure anime film that piques my interest, this one being a post-apocalyptic film from the supposed golden age of anime and manga. Nonetheless, this film is interesting own way, perhaps mainly because of its premise, though not quite in the same way as the last film I picked.

In the film, which is set in 1999 (but made in 1990), a mysterious wind blew all over the planet, and then suddenly most of humanity lost all of their memory, forgetting their names, how to speak, or even how to use the tools of modern civilisation, and thus mankind has been reduced to a primitive state. Two years later, a re-educated American man who now goes by the name Wataru travels across the country with a mysterious woman named Sophia, hoping to help people rediscover the knowledge their ancestors left behind.

Before I saw the film, I thought the title was pointlessly highbrow, but when I actually watched the film, the premise, though it made for an interesting story, made even less sense. I know it’s a sci-fi film and so I should be inclined to engage in the suspension of disbelief, but there’s a lot that isn’t very well explained, including how this wind is supposed to affect people’s memory. Usually sci-fi films at least try to explain what happens, but then when the film finally does drop the explanation (Sophia being a representative of a race of “higher beings”), it only makes even less sense. The main thing I took from the story is that, in this film at least, higher beings are retarded, and have no idea how to help humanity.

The characters leave quite a bit to be desired, and to be fair, the film’s length doesn’t help matters much. At 81 minutes, the film is much too short and it doesn’t do a whole lot with its characters. Right at the beginning, the main character sounds like a jibbering idiot (which makes sense given the context, though compared to most of the denizens of his world he might as well be a genius). In fact, a lot of times, the film comes across as an accidental comedy due to how silly the characters often seem, and it’s mostly because of the bit parts. It doesn’t help that the English dub for the film is rather cheesy, which, unfortunately, I kind of expected.

Of course it’s not a totally bad film. In fact, I was thoroughly entertained by the film’s accidental humour. And of course, like many other anime films of the time, the art style was very good, with detailed, hand-drawn characters and objects. I also like the musical score they composed for the film, at least film producers had some taste back in the day. To be fair, it does make a for a fairly good adventure film, and it could have been amazing overall, but in my mind, I think they should have worked on the plot a bit more, because I think the film itself is a bit too silly, and is often more of an accidental comedy than it ought to have been.

  • Score: 69%
  • Grade: C

Little Buddha (1993)

littlebuddhaLittle Buddha seems like the kind of film that was meant to capitalise on America’s infatuation with East Asian culture, particularly Buddhism, which I suspect was becoming insanely trendy for liberals during the 1990’s. That aside, the film itself seems to have been intended as an epic spiritual journey, and though I think it’s more for believers than any other demographic, I still find myself fascinated and somewhat enthralled by the film’s lofty vision.

The story is essentially split into two story arcs that eventually come together. One is the story of a group of monks travelling in search of a little boy from Seattle who they believe to be the reincarnation of a great Buddhist teacher named Lama Dorje, and the other is a rather religious retelling of the story of Siddhartha Guatama Buddha, and his quest for enlightenment.

The story sort of comes across as a naive parable of spirituality, or more or less the kind Hollywood liberals liked to dabble in back in the day. I found the idea that of a little boy being the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama to be rather ridiculous, and serving only the purpose of making an American (let alone from Seattle of all places) the centre of the plot, and it really seems to make this film a relic of a rather silly point in history. By contrast, the re-enactment of the story of the Buddha may well have been the best part of the movie, mainly because it was told in a very compelling way, and trust me, you don’t have to be religious in order to appreciate the way they’ve faithfully recreated the story of Buddha.

The acting throughout the film is quite good, and is best in the scenes with the Buddha. Keanu Reeves is a surprisingly good fit for the role. Aside from looking the part, he delivers a stand-out performance that, believe it or not, suits the role quite well, and it’s definitely a big leap from Bill and Ted. All the characters performed well in this film, even Alex Wiesendanger, the young boy who’s supposed to be the lead character, back when such starry-eyed child characters were still universally endearing (nowadays, they’re often more annoying, especially in family films).

The film also sported very good production values for the time, and took a rather interesting approach in terms of direction. Most of the scenes set in America are deliberately given a sober blue-grey lighting, while most of the scenes set in Asia (including the story of Buddha and the flight to Bhutan) are given a lush red-orange colour scheme. I think this is intended to present two different worlds in two different lights, though I think it indicates a bit of a bias in favour of Eastern spirituality. I don’t particularly mind though, because I think it gave the film a unique visual identity.

Overall, with nice characters, an unbelievable yet consistently interesting premise, and a compelling narrative and atmosphere, this, in my opinion, is a very underrated film, and it’s certainly one of those films where seeing is believing.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B