Godmoney (1997)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Rick Rodney, Chrisi Allen, Bobby Field
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, Featurette and Gag Reel, TV Spot, Theatrical Trailer, Original Footage

Over the past decade, there have been many movies, which have dealt with inner-city life and the struggle for youth to escape that life. Films like "Boyz ’N The Hood", "Menace II Society" and "Set It Off" set the stage for a new kind of cinema which dealt with urban decay. But there haven’t been many films that deal with the issues surrounding young adults who live in the suburbs. "Godmoney" takes a hard-hitting look at life in the suburbs and lets us know that nice homes and tree-lined streets do not guarantee happiness. "Godmoney" tells the story of Nathan (Rick Rodney, of the band Strife). Through the opening narration, Nathan informs us that he meant to move to Hollywood, but when he woke up on the bus, he was "in the valley." Nathan has moved to California from New York, to escape a tortured past that he doesn’t like to talk about. Nathan shares a house with three other people and works as a waiter. Nathan’s roommate Dana (Chrisi Allen) introduces Nathan to Mathew (Bobby Field), a small-time drug dealer who has his sites on being the only dealer in town. Mathew offers Nathan a job, but
Nathan declines, stating that he’s left that kind of life behind. Nathan has a plan to save his money, get his own place, and make a fresh start.

Then, things begin to look bleak for Nathan. He loses his job and can’t find another one. He begins to get desparate for money. Whenever he considers going to work for Mathew, he has graphic nightmares about the things that he did in New York. As Nathan’s money runs out and his landlord is pressuring him to make the rent, Nathan begins to seriously consider Mathew’s offer. But where will that lead him? Is he willing to sell his soul just to have money?

"Godmoney" is a powerful film and much of that power lies in the simplicity of the story. The main focus of the film is that Nathan needs money in order to survive. On some level, we can all relate to that. Nathan is presented to us as a young man with a corrupt past who is trying to better himself. Unfortunately, "the system" is making it tough for Nathan to meet his goals. Although one could nitpick and argue that Nathan doesn’t exhaust all of his possibilities for getting a job, his character does make an attempt to make an honest living before being tempted by a life of crime.

Writer/director Darren Doane has created a realistic and bleak look at suburban life. Doane gives the film a nice look, shooting the majority of the film in a very real-life style. However, it’s during the nightmares and flashbacks that Doane goes overboard. Doane is a veteran of music videos and it shows at times as he uses flash-frame as if his life depended on it. This technique became hackneyed after REM’s "Losing My Religion" video in 1991. While some of these sequences have some powerful imagery, Doane can’t let those images speak for themselves and loads the film with too many "fancy" camera tricks. The shots of a rainbow or Nathan covered in blood communicate a ton of information to the audience and don’t need to be underlined with slow-motion or jump-cutting. Also, the pacing of the film seems to lag at times. There are too many shots of the sky or Nathan staring into the camera and these begin to feel like filler.

Doane’s powerful script is brought to life by the relatively unknown actors in the film. Rick Rodney (who looks just like John Malkovich) shows the charisma that he must exude when fronting his band in the role of Nathan. Rodney lends a much needed air of credibility to this character who is potentially violent, but is just trying to do the right thing. Allen is good as Dana, balancing warmth and a feeling of hopelessness when addressing her situation. Bobby Field gives a wonderfully subdued performance as Mathew. Field’s ease in front of the camera gives the film a verite feel whenever he is on screen.

The Image Entertainment Special Edition DVD of "Godmoney" offers many great features. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 to retain its original theatrical aspect ratio. The picture itself is clear, but often grainy. (I’m not sure if the film was shot on 16mm, but it looks like a 16mm film that has been blown up to 35mm). The graininess isn’t so bad as to be distracting, but it is very noticable at times. Also, there are some obvious defects in the source print. (A blue line runs down the right side of the screen at one point). Still, for a low-budget film, the transfer is acceptable. The daytime scenes are nicely shot and look very good. The color balancing on the DVD has been handled very well, giving the film a warm look that juxtaposes its icy subject matter.

The audio on "Godmoney" is Dolby 2-channel surround. The sound is clear and free of distortion, and the dialogue is always intelligible. The film features songs by many punk bands and the music sounds very good throughout the film. Don’t expect much surround sound action though, as most of the audio is maintained in the front and center channels. One interesting note, on the featurette (which I’ll discuss shortly), the audio is very good, and the samples of songs sound great, with a very rich, bass-heavy sound that wasn’t evident during the main feature.

As this is a Special Edition, the "Godmoney" DVD is loaded with extra features. There are two running commentaries. The first one features director Darren Doane. Doane talks throughout most of the feature and offers some interesting anecdotes and his perspective about the making of the film. The highlight of the DVD (even better than the movie itself) is the second commentary. This commentary is a "Spoof" commentary featuring director Doane and producer Ken Daurio. While watching the film, these two offer stories about the film which are blatantly untrue, but extremely funny. They point out things such as shots that were actually claymation and how ILM assisted with many CGI shots. I was very surprised by how funny this was considering how dry Doane was in his solo commentary. The only thing that I’ve ever seen (or heard really) that comes close to this is the <$commentary,audio commentary> on "Idle Hands" where Seth Green insists that the film made over $200 million domestically. Even if "Godmoney" doesn’t sound like your kind of movie, I urge you to check out the "Spoof" commentary and let’s hope that other filmmakers will try this funny experiment.

There are three deleted scenes that really don’t offer us any new information. These are presented at 1.85:1. There are four music videos. Unfortunately, we aren’t told who the bands are. As far as I can tell, the videos are by Strife, MXPX, The Descendents, and…I just don’t have any idea who the last band is, but the song rocks. The theatrical trailer for the film is included and is presented at 1.85:1. There is a 30-second TV spot, which is actually a commercial for the film’s soundtrack.

There is a 12-minute behind the scenes featurette, which is actually just an interview with director Doane. In this he explains that the film we are watching is actually the second incarnation of "Godmoney." A first attempt was made in 1992 (featuring "American Psycho" star Christian Bale), but financing ran out. Included on the DVD are the twelve minutes that were shot in this first run at making "Godmoney", <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. Although similar to the finished product, the film as it stands today is much better.

It’s very nice to see a relatively unknown film get special edition treatment on DVD. When you see a movie that is totally foreign to you, sometimes you want a little background info, and the "Godmoney" DVD is packed with it. Let me once again point out that the "Spoof" commentary is something that must be heard to be believed. Image Entertainment has created a nice package for this film, which deserves to find its audience. Now, if only we could convince those big studios to include extras on their DVDs.