Cold Souls
by Phil Boatwright

The deadpan, surreal comedy Cold Souls arrives on DVD March 2 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) stars as an actor named…Paul Giamatti. During rehearsals for Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, he finds his soul growing so heavy under the weight of the material that his whole life begins to suffer. When Giamatti hears of a doctor who extracts and stores souls, he decides to undergo the procedure. Unburdened, Giamatti's life becomes freewheeling, easygoing…and more intolerable than ever! He returns to the doctor demanding his old soul back, but a little snafu involving the Russian black market leads him on a harrowing journey that gives new meaning to the term "soul searching"!

Featuring an all-star supporting cast that includes Emily Watson (The Water Horse) and David Strathairn (The Bourne Ultimatum), Cold Souls is the debut feature film of Sophie Barthes, who both directed and wrote the comedy, which garnered her a nomination for Best First Screenplay by the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards. The Cold Souls DVD includes the "Soul Extractor" slide show featurette and nine deleted scenes and will be available for the suggested retail price of $19.98 U.S. 101 min.'

REVIEW: I'm not sure if this is technically "irony," but I found it strange that a script dealing with the soul of man had its lead character profane Christ's name ten times, seemingly unaware of the personage of the Christ. Perhaps the invective use of "Jesus Christ" was not on the written page. Maybe it was the actor improvising, time after time, searching for a word or phrase to express his continued frustration. While we Christians are sensitive to the misuse of our Savior's name, you'd think that any filmmaker would find the expression overused, artistically. Or, maybe the constant profane use of Jesus' name is supposed to be part of the satire. Nah, I didn't get the impression that God was a part of this examination of the soul, mainly because religious themes are never addressed. I think it's just a sloppy use of language, a curse we've come to expect from screenwriters, no matter the genre.

Though some of you may raise an eyebrow at this, allow me to give you an example of a use of language compared to an abuse. In the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the protagonists find themselves faced with having to escape a posse by jumping off a cliff into a raging river. As they make the leap, Sundance, unable to swim, yells, "Oooooh, s---." Well, most people would probably let lose with a similar expletive at the thought of being crushed to death from rocks poking out of a swiftly moving current, especially if you don't know how to swim. The scene brought a laugh from the audience. I refer to that as a use of language. Had the actor (Robert Redford) used the expression several times throughout the film, would it have been as effective during that scene? Probably not. If he kept saying it, the word would have lost its impact. It would then have been an abuse of language. "Less is more" is a term seldom used in Tinseltown, where excess and overindulgence rule supreme.

I took the previous three paragraphs to make a point: this sullen farce is irreverent and ultimately unsatisfying artistically, and certainly spiritually. The premise is creative, but the film's structure, its pacing, and Mr. Giamatti's dour characterization miss the mark. It's funnier in its description than its delivery. And how can you make a film about the soul without any spiritual significance? Why would you? Perhaps the filmmaker thinks there is something ethereal about such a production, seeing the soul from a humanistic viewpoint. Those who see the soul as an intangible connection between self and the Creator may find this effort unsatisfying.

Cold Souls is rated PG-13 for language and mature subject matter. 101 min.

DVD Alternatives: A Matter of Life and Death (originally released as Stairway To Heaven). Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this engaging fantasy has David Niven as a WW2 pilot surviving a crash that should have killed him. Soon, however, he faces a heavenly court that proclaims his survival was a mistake. The flyer must defend his existence in order to remain on Earth with his new love. The scenes filmed in color are breathtaking, Niven gives a sound performance, and the romance, ah, the romance – superb.

Groundhog Day. Bill Murray learns how to treat others after being caught in a surreal world where he wakes up each morning to re-live the same day.

The Enchanted Cottage. Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire star in this heartwarming fantasy about a scarred war vet and a homely woman, both made beautiful by their love. Very romantic film.

The Case For Faith. Journalist Lee Strobel investigates two of the most emotional objections to Christianity, which have become barriers to faith and are confronted by believers and skeptics alike: Why is Jesus the only way to God? And, how could a loving God exist if there is evil and suffering in the world? It is a spiritually rewarding film.