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Cold Souls

March 1, 2011

That's a lot of Giamatti

I am sorry that I haven’t been posting for the past week. School and work and sickness has held me back from my cinematic responsibility. But now that I am recovered from a harsh week of essays and folding clothes, I am ready to get back on my game and catch up with these posts. Although I wasn’t posting, I was still watching movies in between my many responsibilities. Watching movies and writing essays do not really go hand in hand, which is why it took me 3 days to get through the movies. Cold Souls was another random NetFlix find. I had seen the trailer for this dark, quirky comedy about a year ago, and even though I wanted to see it I never actually go out and pursue these movies. They play at virtually one theater in all of Boston and just walking in there makes me feel like I need to flash a special badge just to prove I know about movies to the ticket guy. So instead I watch it in five minute increments while being told to price German khakis or trying to write papers on how high the cocaine content was in the original Coca-Cola. When I eventually got through those movies I found out that my feelings towards it was very much like the main character through out the film: ambivalent.

Cold Souls is an independent comedy featuring Paul Giamatti playing himself. I love Giamatti as an actor because I feel that he is very different from the rest of the actors in Hollywood. Even though he relies on the way he looks to get roles just as much as anyone else in Hollywood (it’s not like Matt Damon is running off to play a fat disgruntled middle-aged loser, Giamatti’s dream role), he still takes the roles that he gets and turns them into his own creation. His look does also allow him to break out of that typical role, which is why he is so good and why he is rarely recognized simultaneously. In the film, he plays a version of himself, obviously not his full self. But in that version we see an actor who is confused and lost. He is acting in a play by Chekov called Vanya, which I know less than nothing about, but I’m guessing it has something to do with a fat disgruntled Russian finding himself. He feels bogged down by the role and fears that he can not longer embody it. But Paul’s answer comes to him in the form of the New Yorker: Soul Removal.

This guy will totally remove your soul

Soul Removal does not in any way resemble the process in The Exorcist (even though that could have been a sick movie). In stead, soul removal, or soul extraction as the company that executes this process calls it, allows a person to have their soul removed through a weird, CAT-Scan looking machine. The person can then either decide to continue being soulless, or to have some one else’s soul be implanted in them for a certain amount of time. This company is run by David Strathairn, otherwise known as the awesomely villainous CIA Director Noah Vosen from The Bourne series. When the soul is extracted it is put in a glass jar and stored at the facility. The souls tend to look like black blobs, or gray strands, not the right flowing colors one might expect.

This is what my soul would look like

Paul gets his soul taken out and after realizing that soullessness wasn’t flying with him, he decided to try out the soul of a Russian Poet. This Russian soul makes him amazing in his Chekov play, but after his two week period with the soul is up, he goes back to the facility to return it and get his soul back. Unfortunately, Mr. Giamatti find out that his soul has been stolen and taken to Russia because an aspiring soap opera actress wanted try out an American actors’ soul (preferably Al Pacino or Robert DiNero). Paul suddenly realizes that he will do anything to get his soul back, and travels to Russia with a woman who is responsible for muling souls from Russia to the U.S.

Cold Souls? More like Awesome Vodka Russian Gun Souls

Mr. Giamatti’s trip takes him through sketchy Russian warehouses where he meets smugglers, gangsters, and common Russian peasants. It is supposed to be a trip that helps him define himself, on a search to truly find his soul. But the ending does not make you feel any better about him getting his soul back. I loved how the addition of someone else’s soul to a body only creates slight changes, instead of huge obvious cliche changes. And the dark tone of this movie, especially with backdrop of snowy Moscow, went well with Giamatti’s acting style. But the truth is, the movie did not make me care enough about Paul’s soul to root for him to get it back. By the end I felt that the movie did not do much to define the soul, or even really make it seem important. The assertion the movie makes that one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure and that everyone should appreciate and never give up who they are, is undermined by the lack of soul in Giamatti’s acting throughout the film. The first three quarters was well done, but the ending had me wanting something else. The soul is a great subject, but it usually only works when a demon is possessing one, or when one is talking to Morgan Freeman in heaven. If you want an amazing movie about finding yourself and a strange scientific operation that attempts to change a person, watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Same tone, same-ish context, better characters, better outcome, more trippy. Here’s the trailer for Cold Souls…


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