Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Movie Review: Surrogates (2009)

Surrogates (2009)

Director - Jonathan Mostow
Release date – September 25, 2009
Runtime – 88 min; PG-13

Bruce Willis – Tom Greer
Ving Rhames – The Prophet
Radha Mitchell – Peters

The definition of a surrogate is “One that takes the place of another; a substitute.” I wish I could have had my own surrogate attend the viewing of Surrogates I sat through, and maybe report back to me.

Bruce Willis is agent Tom Greer, a man we initially come to know as a chiseled chin, perfect skin and flowing, parted hair attempt at a modern day god of a detective, but who we quickly come to realize is just an average couch potato at home, balding and out of shape. Why the dichotomy? Oh the humanity! We initially meet Greer’s surrogate, a robot-esque humanoid which roams the real world while it’s’ owner sits safely at home connected via wires which allow sensation and a ‘real world feel’ without any of the complications.

The idea is intriguing (though not new) and I suppose a good story is somewhere to be found, but it is not here. Too much of this film is formulaic (for no reason!) and too much of it is harshly edited to keep us un-nauseated. Why the director (Jonathan Mostow – of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines fame) chose to gloss over all the important and potentially exciting aspects of a world where people sit at home and control themselves through surrogate robots is beyond me. Instead, what we end up with is a conventional story that quickly deteriorates into an obvious who-dunnit detective piece. If you don’t figure the entire story out by the half way point you either A: Fell asleep; B: Went to get popcorn and decided not to go back; or C: you were absurdly high.

The gist of the film is as follows: In a world where 98% of the population uses a surrogate to live life, and 2% resist this new technology, there is little crime and no murder, since the surrogate is a robot and the controller cannot be harmed in real life if the surrogate goes splat – or so it always was, until a strange killing device is employed and all hell breaks loose. Tell me again why there are so many surrogate cops in this movie when most crimes are no longer happening? No worries, it’s just one of a thousand questions I don’t really want an answer to from this film.

Without giving away any of the awful details, Greer is dismissed by his superior for improper conduct (shocking, this has never happened in a cop movie before) and he goes rogue to find out information. This is some serious writing folks. The end is just what it always was going to be, and the questions you think you want answered about what you just watched will not be answered. I mean, if your surrogates have sexual intercourse…well… you know, all those crazy questions.

If you look at the cast credits you’ll notice Ving Rhames is credited as The Prophet. The Prophet. Ving Rhames. If that doesn’t just scream to you that his role will be nothing more than a stereotype of so many movies with a fringe society that threatens the evil-doers nothing will. Any of the intriguing characters in this story are so quickly dismissed in depth that it is difficult to understand why they were even cast. With all that said, the film is not as bad as I thought it would be, and at just 88 minutes it isn’t pretending to be more than it is, which has to count for something.

** ½ out of 5

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Movie Review: Cold Souls (2009)

Cold Souls (2009)

Director - Sophie Barthes
Runtime - 101 min; PG-13

Paul - Paul Giamatti
Nina - Dina Korzun
Claire - Emily Watson
Dr. Flintstein - David Strathairn

I think the notion that removing one’s soul to gain some clarity is a pretty cool idea. It’s also pretty cool that you can see it, touch it, and store it in a cool (temperaturely speaking) environment. Cold Souls, a well-crafted look at what happens when people decide to hastily try new and untested scientific adventures, is a film by first time feature film director Sophie Barthes, and I think she has done a very competent job in giving us a thought-provoking film that is really more along the lines of a noir sci-fi imbued with utter realism.

Paul (Paul Giamatti) is an American actor who is sort of the Paul Giamatti of our world and he is working on the play Uncle Vanya, by Chekov. It is a deep role which requires range, and Paul is struggling to find the correct tone. Alone in his apartment one evening he sees a story written in the New Yorker about a research lab that will extract the human soul and store it in cold storage for a period of time all in the likelihood that by doing so it will free you up from many burdens.

All of this will be done, for a fee of course, by Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) and his egg-shaped looking futuristically designed shell of an x-ray machine, which will actually remove the soul and drop it into an airtight container. Once removed, Paul is a bit upset to see that his soul resembles a chick-pea – such is his life.

The resulting story follows Paul as he struggles to enjoy his life now free of the burden of his soul, and his search to have it re-implanted. Confounding such plans is Nina (Dina Korzun), a Russian mule of souls who crosses continents right and left trafficking souls back to Russia where they can be removed in a much unregulated environment and sold to the highest bidders. Paul and Nina come to share a bond that only those who have had their souls extracted can really understand; “soul-brothers or sisters” does not quite do it justice.

A re-telling of the plot of this film does not quite do it justice, as it sounds simply like a hokey attempt at the sci-fi genre. In fact, this is a gritty film told from the point of view of many who are suffering, but done so in a way that allows for many laughs and some great performances. This is the exact role that Paul Giamatti was born to play. He exemplifies the struggling actor weighed down by life, who can put on a wonderful and moving performance and still knows how to make you chuckle. David Strathairn is really superb as the doctor who will remove your soul but does not really want to talk too much about the how and why. He simply wants to run it as a business and speaks of soul removal in such a light-hearted way that you might think it is as ordinary as a simple dental procedure.

The film has some plot flaws which, really, just come in the form of some undeveloped thoughts, and I think if the director and writer were given a chance to remake this film in 3 years it would be excellent. Other than that I don’t find much fault here at all, and was pleasantly moved by the dialogue and human interaction set among some far-fetched notion of what the soul is and how we can control its’ functions. This is a slow moving film but at 101 minutes does not feel too long, and if you are the type of person who only sees one or two small-screen released independent type films a year, I suggest you add this to your list.

*** and ½ out of 5