August 30, 2004

A Tale of Three Movies

I haven’t been in much mood to write long reviews of movies lately, so I’ve lagged behind in informing you of my video exploits. Here are three recent “film experiences.”

Open Water, Godsend, and Shaolin Soccer. Read on for the lowdown. (Also, read on for drink recipe)

Open Water

Open Water has been billed as a Jaws for the post 2000 crowd. It is not that. I’ve seen Jaws, I know Jaws, I’ve enjoyed Jaws. You, sir, are no Jaws.

However, it does have merits in its own right. It’s a diver’s cautionary tale, at its center. The premise is that an ordinary couple (Susan and Daniel) have chosen a vacation getaway, which includes a diving adventure. They’re experienced divers. However, something tragic happens to them, which you already know if you’ve seen the trailers. The boat leaves the couple behind.

At one point, Daniel points out to Susan and the audience that, yes, these things happen. People get left behind. He has to try a little harder to hang on to the idea that they also get rescued.

The filmmakers don’t have much to work with. You can probably already guess most of what happens in this movie. But have they made a watchable film? It succeeds in carrying you along with the divers and involving you in their plight. There are a decent number of “cat scare” moments (the woman in the row in front of us jumped about 3 feet in the air at nearly every abrupt scene change).

This film is probably a little more entertaining for divers, because they’re more familiar with the “terrain” but it may also be true that they’d pick up factual errors. But there isn’t much room for factual error. It’s hard to dispute that what you’re seeing is what would most likely happen to two people stranded for so long in shark-infested waters.

There is little event-wise to focus on in a review. Mostly, you’re subjected to the changing emotional state of the divers. I give full credit for the believable relationship between husband and wife. And the acting keeps you in the film.

The impact of this film will be minimal when it hits the small screen. If you’re at all interested, you should see it in the theatre. It just won’t be impressive if you’re sitting comfortably at home and at any time can stop the action and leave.


Ever heard of a bad omen? This film Godsend is a bad Omen. I mean, really bad. The only thing that saved it was MSTing it with Maggie and Julie. Really.

You know me, and you know I like crappy films. But this is a film partly about a cloned little boy and how he begins having nightmares after his 8th birthday. More than that, it’s a film about some filmmakers who had no idea where the hell their film was going.

Rebecca Romjin-Stamos and Greg Kinnear play a hard-to-believe and hard-to-watch couple who lose their son Adam conveniently early in the film. They later meet hard-to-believe mad scientist Louis Cyphre Robert DeNiro who promises them he can fix their dead son problem. Brilliant what medical technology can do nowadays. Unfortunately, crappy movie technology is still in the dark ages, because this film died on the operating table.

We’re never given a believable explanation of why problems are occurring when they do in the young clone’s life. The nightmares are creepy when you think his dead original brother might be haunting him, but while this movie doesn’t mind stealing clich�s from every other movie it scrupulously avoids stealing any of the good ideas.

Julie and I sat through all 4 alternate endings on the DVD, and I think we agreed that all of them were better than the one chosen by whatever process they used (random?). But even a better ending couldn’t salvage this dog. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid at all costs. I promise you, you will be sorry if you watch this film, especially if you watch it alone.

Aside from the MSTing it, this film was slightly improved by a drink suggestion from Julie. Diet Coke with Lime plus Captain Morgan’s Parrot Bay Rum. Now that was a godsend.

Shaolin Soccer

Shaolin Soccer (Siu lam juk kau) was the film that saved our Saturday-night viewing fun. We actually watched this before Godstink so it was like having dessert before having to eat poorly prepared liver.

The film is a Chinese-made spoof of Kung-Fu movies and sports movies where the sad sack home team always wins. The students of a dead Kung-Fu master come together at the urging of their brother to play soccer and promote the power that Shaolin Kung-Fu can bring to everyone if it is only integrated into their everyday lives.

The plot is almost entirely predictable, but the fun lies within the goofy characters, the actors’ performances and the eye candy of both physical effects and special effects.

The writer/director Stephen Chow stars as “Sing” - the fifth brother of a Shaolin temple. He dreams of everyone, everywhere using Shaolin, and for everything. When he meets up with faded soccer glory boy “Golden Leg” it plants the germ of an idea in his mind. Mui, the female lead, further reinforces his enthusiasm as she embodies the use of Kung-Fu in the preparation of sweet bakery buns.

Even if you don’t love Kung-Fu, if you liked “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” or you just like goofy films, this film delivers. It’s silly fun.

Posted by James at August 30, 2004 10:36 AM
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The makers of Godsend made some of their decisions about the ending based on focus group feedback. That *still* doesn't excuse it. We each could have spliced together our own endings and we still wouldn't have been happy because the groundwork wasn't laid for *any* decent ending.

But the alternate endings did show us how poorly considered the editing was in general. There was something going on in one of the last scenes that was edited for the final cut in such a way as to defeat the purpose of the scene (i.e. knowing why the DeNiro character was there would have changed the significance). It was also odd to see their attempts at "subtlety" in a movie that was often ham-handed in making its points. You can't be subtle in a ham-handed movie.

The sad thing was that, despite the ham-handedness and some early indications that there really *was* a point, by the time we got to the end it was clear that either no point was intended, or the points were mutually exclusive. Ultimately, it was pointless.

Sometimes a crappy movie is redeemed by its unintended humor, or by some earnestness that makes it charming. Godsend is certainly earnest, but it's incoherent and lacks any redeeming charm.

Posted by: Julie at August 30, 2004 12:12 PM

Julie is clearly the one who should be writing the reviews. She clarified it much better than I did.

Posted by: James at August 30, 2004 1:09 PM

You probably went to sleep after seeing the movie. I had the whole ride home to think about it some more.

Also, many of my thoughts on Godsend were recycled thoughts from Mothman Prophecies, ready to be applied to a similarly bad movie. (MP was a little better because the ending had me saying "well, okay. That's kind of crummy, but it fits.")

Posted by: Julie at August 30, 2004 2:26 PM

As much as I disliked Mothman, I have to agree that Godsend is the worse movie. Amazing, but true.

Posted by: James at August 30, 2004 10:39 PM

Heh... you know, I actually forgot I even watched Godsend when I was listing movies earlier today. I have to agree... It started off in one direction (With the spooky idea that it was his former self haunting him), but then that plot was forgotten and we get a whole new ghost thrown in. It just seemed random and I ... well ... by the end I was wishing that the kid would just die. "It's ok, his parents could just clone him again."

Posted by: Beck at September 1, 2004 12:07 AM

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