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This week:
Cold Souls

Filthy says:
"High art meets lame plot."

I like Paul Giamatti. The guy was fan-fucking-awesome in American Splendor and Sideways. He's an actor who gets that we didn't come to see him play a role, but to see the character he plays. That's unlike the big shots who always want you to know they acting; they're still cool celebrities, just with an actorly layer on. And when they are acting really, really hard, they want you to know exactly how hard they're working. But instead of "Look at me! I'm acting!" Giamatti says, "Look at this poor schlemiel." I like to watch movies with him in them.

In Cold Souls, Giamatti is pretty fucking good again. The man has the saddest eyes. Actually, it's not the eyes, it's the bags under them, and the red rings around them. He looks like someone who woke up in a Exxon men's room with his wallet gone, a bite mark on his arm, someone else's crack pipe shoved up his ass and a vague feeling that it's his own fault. The problem with Cold Souls is that its concept is so fucking high-brow and undercooked that Giamatti has more work than even he can handle in trying to weigh it down.

Cold Souls' has a premise so precious that it better have something pretty God damn interesting to say about it: extracting the soul. Giamatti plays himself, a New York actor so absorbed by a character he's playing that he's miserable. The character is Vanya from the Chekhov play. Vanya is a whiny defeatist, much like Giamatti has played before. This time, however, embodying Vanya is causing him sleepless nights and physical pain. From the New Yorker he learns of a company that can extract a person's soul, rendering the person soulless and unable to feel the weight of the world crushing them like a toppled case of Drano at the Wal Mart.

Giamatti undergoes the procedure, believing that removing his soul will detach him from his character and at least give him a good night's sleep. It also makes him a horrible actor. He can no longer feel what Vanya feels and hams his way through the role like Jim Carrey doing Ace Ventura. Or Jim Carrey doing Andy Kaufmann. Or Jim Carrey taking a dump, during which he probably still hopes everyone notices how hard he's working. The soulless Giamatti's like a shit taco with piss salsa. Going down the windpipe.

Once he realizes how fucking awful an actor he's become and how crappy it is to feel nothing, Giamatti asks for the return of his soul. For plotting reasons he is told, no, he must choose another from a catalog. The soul extracters have been importing souls from Russia to supply the demand of people who want, not a mail-order Russian bride, but just the essence of one. The extracters offer him what was taken a poet, a very popular choice.

With his new soul installed, Giamatti can really fucking act. He can do Chekhov like it's a stroll in the park on a motorized scooter being pulled by wolves. I mean, he's really fucking terrific. He's also all torn up because along with the soul, he's received fragments of its original owner's memories and fears. They aren't his, and they are too beautiful, he thinks, to have been taken away from someone else. When he tries to return the rented soul, he learns that his own has gone missing.

This is where Cold Souls, unfortunately, relies on a conventional plot. Giamatti's soul has been spirited to Russia by the woman (Dina Korzun) who carries the imported souls to the US in her body. She was tasked by her Mafioso boss to bring back the soul of Al Pacino for his actress wife, but sadsack Giamatti was the best disembodied she could find. Apparently, Pacino sleeps okay at night.

Giamatti tracks down Korzun and enlists her help in traveling to Russia, kidnapping the mobster's wife and retrieving his soul. Once back in place, we are to believe that Giamatti is more satisfied, not happier, to be whole and complete with his soul. To have your soul, no matter how tiny and no matter how much you hate it, is better than to be without one.

Cold Souls goes a long way and makes a big deal out of a foregone conclusion. Does anyone who believes in the soul think it's better to be soulless? I mean, other than AM talk radio hosts. It's not a deep thought and Cold Souls doesn't have much else to say about our essence. The movie is based on the assumption that we have souls and nobody in the movie doubts this. In fact, when extracted, they have a physical presence. Each is different; Giamatti's is the size, color and shape of a garbanzo bean. Cold Souls doesn't say whether this is good or bad. Actually, it works hard not to say, but wants to laugh at it. While Giamatti's soul has a distinctive shape, the movie's idea of the soul is amorphous. Is the soul where morality resides? Is it where your personality exists? What does the soul do? The movie never says, which is strange or lazy, because even among those who believe in the soul, the definition varies.

Cold Souls could have gotten a lot of gags out of the difference between those who believe in souls and those who don't. Hell, it could have made some pretty timely observations about the soulless, and about people's desperation to believe in something, ad to put their money into it. I'd argue that the majority of people eager to remove their souls probably didn't have one to begin with. Or, if they did, it didn't work well, because one of its jobs is to keep you from removing it.

Instead of something intelligent, Cold Souls chooses conventional plotting where the soul must be retrieved, like a diamond in a Pink Panther movie or the golden dildo in Treasure of the Chupa Madre 6. The movie becomes more about the action, no matter how slowly it moves, than it does about the soul. For sure, there's still plenty of kvetching and hand-wringing, but it's pretty empty without the depth. Meanwhile, the action moves at a slow pace. While borrowing the plot of a conventional movie, it retains the pace of something that wants to be more profound.

Cold Souls maybe could have been good. I don't know. It seems like writer-director Sophie Barthes shot herself in the foot when she decided to treat the soul like an object and not explore it. Two Fingers for Cold Souls.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Pete Hammond of the LA Times (WTF?)

The Burning Plain is "A powerful, compelling and shocking drama that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger deliver explosive performances. A certain must-see this fall!"

I love how this whore has different levels of "must-see". Sometimes a crappy movie is just "must-see!" but this one is a "certain must-see" which isn't as good as a "must-see or die!"

Filthy's Reading
Philip Roth - Zuckerman Unbound

Listening to
Steolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup


Return of the Living Dead