Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Cold Souls (2009)

Just take my soul already!

Paul Giamatti stars as a fictionalized version of himself, who is an anxious, overwhelmed actor who decides to enlist the service of a company to deep freeze his soul. Complications ensue when he wants his soul back, but mysteriously, his soul gets lost in a soul trafficking scheme which has taken his soul to St. Petersburg, making Paul have to venture all the way out there to see just what the hell is even going on in the first place.

What you see in the title, is exactly what you get in the movie’s tone. Seriously, don’t come expecting some minor laughs here and there, because the film really just doesn’t seem all that concerned with that aspect at all. It’s more about being dark, moody, bleak, and overall, pretty frigid in its portrayal of where our society may be turning towards. Actually, it’s a pretty far-fetched idea, but I could definitely imagine, just waking up one day, and wanting to be and have Brad Pitt’s soul.

Damn, now that I think about it, I hope this future does come to existence!

Here's a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

Here’s a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

This is the debut flick of Sophie Barthes who not only directs, but writes this flick as well and the information I was looking up for this said that apparently she had this idea in her dream. Now, I could only wish that any of my dreams had anything as ambitious lingering around in them, as apparently the ideas she has swimming in her brain when it’s sleepy-time, but considering that she’s working off of an idea that was probably no less than two minutes, I have to give the gal some credit because it’s pretty intriguing what she comes up with here. Even if the results don’t fully match the ambitions, you have to at least give her credit where credit’s due, because it’s sure as hell not easy to make a movie in today’s day and age – let alone one with as kooky of an idea as Cold Souls.

Barthes doesn’t paint a portrait of a future that’s groomed for doom, where people are in desperate need to be others, have different lives, and basically just erase or escape any type of life they have and don’t like. It’s sort of like the same ideas that went through mind-benders like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, and although this one doesn’t really stack up anywhere near those masterpieces, Barthes at least tries to capture that Charlie Kaufman-esque nature of her material without really going overboard. There’s a lot of weird, sci-fi stuff going on here that’s definitely thoughtful, but it’s also grounded in a reality to where you feel like something could happen like this, had somebody gotten a more well thought-out plan. Barthes definitely deserves style-points on this one in terms of his screenplay, but damn, did we really need to be so sad the whole time?

The answer is no, but most people will probably disagree with me.

Even though the premise definitely promises a bunch of weird, wacky fun in the same light as a Kaufman flick, that promise never gets fulfilled. Instead, Barthes seems like she’s content with just focusing on the sad aspect of this story with long, gloomy shots of a snowy Russia, and an even more horrid-looking New York City that looks as if it hasn’t seen the sun in a decade. All of the colors in this movie feel like a mixture of soft blues and muddle grays, and as much as that may make this flick seem more depressing and sad, do we really want to feel like we, as well as the characters were watching, should just go kill themselves and get it all over with? I don’t think so, because even while you may have an interesting premise to work with, to just constantly hammer us over the head with your inherent seriousness about it can get pretty old.

And another, even despite the fact he's in the same bed as Emily Watson.

And another, even despite the fact he’s in the same bed as Emily Watson.

But even despite the actual lack of fun in this movie, probably the most disappointing aspect of this whole flick is that it brings up all of these questions, ideas, and messages about life and exactly where we are headed as a society, but loses them about half-way through once the last act kicks into high-gear; and then, it ends, just leaving everything up in the air. Listen, I’m totally game for any type of film that wants to bring up a lot of food-for-thought, have me doing thinking about what’s it trying to say, and eventually allowing me to go out with some people afterwards and talk it up, but this movie doesn’t even seem like it wants to give me that privilege. Even when that last act comes around and the movie oddly changes from this existential drama, into this mystery/romance/off-kilter comedy that now all of a sudden wants to please us, rather than having us contemplate jumping off the San Francisco bridge. It was a change in tone that not only felt phony, but showed that Barthes maybe backed-out on an ending, that could have answered a whole lot, and even left some more up for thought and discussion.

But nope, she didn’t even give us that.

What’s even more surprising than this change in tone, was how Paul Giamatti seemed to be a bit boring to watch as well. Granted, the guy isn’t given all that much to work with, other than a slew of shots of him just staring off into the space, looking all mopey and sad all of the time, but when the guy does need to liven things up, he does with that charm and wit we all know and love the guy for. His character (which is pretty much him, just not nearly as famous), is a downer and that’s why it’s pretty fun to see what happens to him when he switches souls, gets a little bit more energetic, and a bit more inspiration with how he lives his life and it’s one of the very rare moments in this flick where not only he comes alive, but the movie as well. Sadly, Barthes knocks his character back down to reality, and he becomes the same old, sad sap we started out with in the first place and it’s a bummer, because Giamatti’s always good and entertaining to watch. You just got to give him the right material that allows him to have some fun every once and awhile.

Consensus: Cold Souls deals with a very interesting idea about the current landscape of our society, but is too dour to really bring anybody into the world it’s trying to portray, nor does it really follow through on any of the rules it sets up to begin with.

5.5 / 10

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz


Please Give (2010)

Leave the homeless be! They’re already fine living their simple, care-free lives.

Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) seem like a happy couple because not only do they own a mid-century antique furniture shop where they sell stuf for a much larger price than they originally get it at, but because they see nothing really wrong with their lives. Sure, they take stuff from families who just had somebody die, but they aren’t exploiting them and even give them some cash for their problems as well, so they can rest easy on their conscience, right? Well, for some reason, Kate still feels guilty about all of this and begins to start helping anybody that she can, especially her neighbors (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall) who aren’t really fond of her because of the fact that their 91-year-old grandmother (Ann Guilbert) lives in the house that she owns. Meaning basically, when she croaks, then they get the house back and are able to sell it for whatever they want and do whatever they want with it, which obviously rubs the granddaughters the wrong way, as you could expect.

I must admit, even though I’ve only seen two of her flicks so far (this one included), I don’t really see the whole appeal behind Nicole Holofcener. She’s a good writer and is more than capable of stacking together a very talented ensemble, but she seems like she has a little too many ideas crammed into one, less-than-2-hour movie, and doesn’t seem to go anywhere with them. Like I said, this is coming from a guy who has only seen 2 movies of hers so far so take with that what you will, but I feel as if I’ve seen two, realized that they both sort of share the same ideas and plot-points in ways, than I’ve practically seen all of them. While Enough Said looks like a bit of a change-of-pace for her, once again, I’ll expect to see somebody complaining about how much or how little money they have, and/or start talking about how they’re getting older and how they have no control over it.

"Hey, hey, hey! We're just a happy, old-time family from Manhattan. Love us, please.

“Hey, hey, hey! We’re just a happy, simple-minded family from Manhattan. Love us, please.”

But those aren’t bad things to talk about in movies, regardless of if it’s over-and-over again, because they’re problems actual, real-life people have. Which, in a strange way, made this movie a bit more interesting to watch because even though it gives us characters that aren’t all that pleasant to be around as they bitch and moan about their financial issues, it still gives us a reason to care or at least be interested by them, just by the way they’re written. There’s more than meets the eye with these characters, and even though most of them aren’t happy people, you can tell that they are capable of being happy, and making those around them happy as well. At times, it may seem like it’s hard for them to do, but you know they’ll be able to in the near-future, and I think that’s what really kept me going with this movie.

Holofcener could have really thrown it in my face and given me characters that I didn’t give a shit about, and made me watch them as they throw their misery and unpleasantness on others around them, but she doesn’t allow for that to happen. She allows them time to grow, experience life, and realize that there are bigger problems out there in the world which, believe it or not, are more important than a $200 pair of jeans. But Holofcener also does something else with these characters where she does have a sort of playfulness with them; one in which she isn’t making fun of the way they overreact to little happenings, but at the same time, she’s not really supporting it either. It’s strange, but somehow, some way, it works well in the movie’s favor. It allows plenty of room for character-development, some emotional moments, as well as others that are rich with dark-comedy. Take, for instance, the awkward birthday party that goes oddly astray once the liquor is brought out. It’s a funny scene, but also a very dark one for reasons I won’t give away, but will open your eyes to what the rest of this movie can and will do.

However, this is a very slight movie that I don’t think you need to see right away, but definitely should if you’re just hanging out and slumming around the house. Everything that happens to these characters by the end, can sort of be seen a mile away, but it never rings false. It just sort of happens, with enough humanity to seem believable, despite it being as obvious as humanly possible. But, that’s life, and sometimes, things just happen the way you expect them to happen. Maybe not in the way you had originally imagined, but still with the same result.

Like with most of Holofcener’s films, Catherine Keener obviously plays a big role in it, which isn’t such a terrible thing to have because Keener has been a solid actress for as long as she’s been working, and she’s able to turn any character into a likable, sympathetic person. Even though the main conflict that Keener’s character has is that she can’t stop “giving” to people who seem as if they are in need of something. For example, one of her main quirks is that she gives money away to homeless people that she sees on the street, except that sometimes, they aren’t even homeless. Wouldn’t be so bad either if all she did was give her money away to the homeless people that need it, but she won’t even give her daughter money that she oh so desires and has been desiring for quite some time. The fact that this character can’t stop helping and reaching-out to others is a problem that nobody should care about, nor ever want to see a whole movie surround itself around, but Keener makes it ring true and Holofcener never judges her character for the over-dramatic gal that she is. Sometimes the movie will throw a joke making fun of her ways, but never anything that could be deemed as “disrespectful” or even “mean”. They both keep Kate likable and sympathetic enough to where you sort of want her to wake up and change her ways, even if that means giving the homeless $5, instead of $20 . Hey, any change is a good change, especially for her!

Caught in the act of actually appearing in a good movie.

Caught in the act of actually appearing in a good movie.

Everybody else gets the same fair-treatment as Kate and Keener, even though it’s obvious that Holofcener’s heart truly lies with her. Oliver Platt is, as usual, fun and fluffy playing Kate’s husband who’s a bit more realistic with the way he lives and spends his money, however, also has a bit of problems too that are shown throughout the movie and make you wonder if he’s a nice guy, or not. Amanda Peet gets a meaty-enough role that’s worthy of her talents as Mary, the more stubborn granddaughter of the two and seems to really be enjoying herself with this material, while also being able to get past all of the high times, and give us some substance that a character like hers so desperately needed in order to be considered “tolerable”, and she pulls it off very well. It’s been awhile since I’ve really seen Peet do something that’s as dramatic as her work here, and it makes me wish she would take these types of roles more often.

Rebecca Hall plays her younger sister, Rebecca (original), who’s a lot more meek, quiet and sweeter, even though there’s an underlying sadness to her that you can’t help but make you feel as if you want to hug her, hold her, and just tell her that life will go on and she’ll be happy. Hall’s good in this role, even though it feels like she could have easily been the main character in this movie, and it probably would have been better had she been. However, that’s not what happened, so what the hell do I need to complain about?!?! Nada, that’s what!!

Consensus: Though the problems the characters in Please Give face may be a little over-dramatized, the emotion and heart is still there enough to make you feel for them, rather than belittle them for being so self-loathsome all of the time.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Believe it or not, G-Mom's the happiest one out of them all.

Believe it or not, G-Mom’s the happiest one out of them all.

Photo’s Credit to:

Hope Springs (2012)

Face it, old people bone.

Many years of marriage have left Kay (Meryl Streep) wanting to spice things up and reconnect with her husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). When she hears of a famed relationship guru (Steve Carell) in the town of Great Hope Springs, she must persuade her skeptical husband to get on a plane for an intense week of marriage and sex therapy.

Judging by the first couple of trailers I saw, I was expecting another zany, Streep comedy, where she plays an older gal trying to relive her older days by doing what it is that she wants, when it comes to being between the sheets. In that regard, it reminded me a lot of It’s Complicated, which is a film I laughed at, but still thought was your average, rom-com that nobody thought twice about. That is not necessarily the case here, and that’s what really, really took me by surprise.

Despite being advertised as this totally zany comedy, the film isn’t filled to the core with that. Yeah, there is a couple of funny light moments that really work and made me crack up (one scene in particular where Steep tries oral sex on Jones in a movie theater, which probably gave a lot of people in the theater with me a lot of ideas), but it’s more about the dark, sad truths that come behind relationships and marriages, regardless of how long you have been together.

People, as a whole, grow old. And it doesn’t matter what you try to do with your life to never grow old, but that’s eventually what happens and you can see that especially with this couple of Kay and Arnold. Not only did these two grow old, but they also just grew apart from one another, becoming more of room-mates than actual life-mates. Arnold wakes up everyday, eats the same breakfast combo (one slice of bacon and two eggs, remember that), kisses his wife on the cheek before going to work, comes home from work every night, eats dinner with his wife, goes to watch the Golf channel, falls asleep (typical), and gets awoken by Kay to go up-stairs to his own room, where only he sleeps. This is how his day is every day and it never changes, and it all occurs with barely any talk between him and his wife. What the hell happened between them? Why won’t he just love her? Why doesn’t he talk to her? Why? Why? Why!?!?

Much to my surprise, I was very intrigued by this couple within the first 10 minutes and I kept sitting there to myself wondering just what was up with this obviously, once-loving couple. Director David Frankel is actually more intrigued than anybody else watching this and through the series of non-stop therapy sessions, we see what happened to them, how it all started, who’s to mainly be blamed, and just why they are the way with each other now. The smartest thing that Frankel does other than just let all of these play out, is that he doesn’t take anybody’s side in this relationship. Nope, it’s actually both of their faults for the reasons as to why they aren’t as in love as they once were. I don’t want to give away as to how and why they all of sudden changed things up in their relationship, but what you may find and hear about here are some very honest truths about the way couples begin to act, especially when they have been together as long as 31 years together. Yeesh!

Though, as surprisingly heavy as this film may be, there was still a whole bunch of unneeded rom-com elements that I didn’t feel were really needed. After about the third, awkward sexual scene these two have, I was pretty much getting annoyed by how it seemed like the only way that Frankel could get comedy for this material is by placing a whole bunch of stupid, jokey-jokey sex scenes that didn’t seem to really add much to the film and the ideas, other than show us how old people can’t really be dirty and sexual. Another rom-com formula that also seemed to bother me was the types of songs Frankel used here. A lot of them are a bit too-on-the-nose with certain sad and sappy songs playing whenever either one of them don’t feel loved, and so on and so forth. Basically, the fact that this is a rom-com kind of ruins it but I guess it wasn’t all that terrible to totally destroy the final-product.

But I guess when you have the actors that you have in this film, it doesn’t matter what type of material you have, because it works anyway. Meryl Streep is of course, great as Kay, but this performance is a lot different from what we’ve been seeing from her as of late. There’s a lot more subtlety going on here with her act that really stands-out as we can tell that this girl just wants to be loved and just wants her old relationship back as most people would feel if they started to get in a relationship like the one she’s in. Kay is a character that doesn’t get too up-front with her husband because she’s a bit afraid to ruin any type of chance of intimacy that they may or may not have, and it also shows the effect that this dull relationship may have on her self-esteem and feelings. Streep is great in this role and she gives us a female character that is not only as strong as the male, but also gives us a lot of insight into how our woman feel if we don’t show them the bedroom from time-to-time. Am I right men?

As good as Streep was (and trust me, she was good), I was more involved with Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold and actually found him to be the best thing in this whole flick. Jones starts out as the usual grumpy, stand-offish old man that doesn’t really want anything to do with anybody or anything, he just wants to go about his day the same way he’s been going about it for the last 20 or 30 years. But as time moves on in this flick, we start to see a lot of those walls come down and we see a very lonely and self-conscious guy that doesn’t know what to do with his wife, other than just be a husband and not much else. There’s a lot of moments where Jones nails a lot of the comedic moments, but his emotional moments where we see the character for all that he is, is what really took me by surprise and has me hoping that he decides to take more roles like these in the near-future because isn’t it just a total treat to see this guy shed a tear every once and awhile?

Steve Carrell plays the therapist that somewhat helps this couple out and as successfully deadpan as he can be, truth is, he doesn’t really have that much to do in this film other than to ask these two questions and try to “connect” with them emotionally. Carrell isn’t really ever in this film all by himself and it seems like sort of a waste of a very good actor that shows he can do great things with his roles, even if he isn’t playing his usual, funny-side that we see so very often. It’s not necessarily that this is a criticism of the movie, it’s more that I wish they used him more or if they didn’t want to do that, then they should have just got somebody else that wasn’t such a big-name to do this role in-place of him.

Consensus: Though it follows the same-old, rom-com formula most people hate (and surprisingly love), Hope Springs still succeeds with great performances from Jones and Streep and at showing us the dark and sad truths behind older relationships that can sometimes be healed just by a little communication and most of all, love. Yes, that “L word” always finds itself back.