January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Posted in 2013 | Leave a comment
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I had wondered if anything was going to top “Fruitvale Station” as my favorite film of the year and I may have just found it.  Spike Jonze (“Adaptation,” “Where the Wild Things Are”) has made his best film in almost 15 years, since the unspeakably brilliant “Being John Malkovich.” With an eye for the smallest details, Jonze has managed to create the most plausible near-future world I have seen on film; the digitally enhanced cityscape, the cars, the computer screens/interfaces, the video games all seemed to make perfect sense. I was even willing to go along with the grandpa style pants; though they were a tad distracting, they seemed a plausible reaction to the sagging fashions of the past 2 decades.  Of course, the film hinges on the believability of the OS technology at its center. Do you think that in 20 or 30 years we could have Siri-type technology capable of seeming completely human? I certainly do and this film makes it seem entirely plausible. As such, watching the relationship between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) develop was a joy. Phoenix is a brilliant actor whose performances have only become more nuanced. Here he brings Theodore to life by capturing his range of emotions so naturally: he is melancholy and romantic and kind and a bit self-involved and hopeful and guarded and it all shows in him almost all the time. This is the most layered performance I have ever seen from Phoenix. Johansson is equally brilliant, especially given that she never appears on screen. In fact, the voice of the OS was initially played by Samantha Morton (“In America,” “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Minority Report”) and this is whose voice Phoenix was playing against.  So, it is all the more impressive the Johansson can come in after the film is fully wrapped and add a voice that seems so naturally to be communicating with Phoenix. Without ever seeing her on film, the audience is able to get a clear sense of the richness of her character just from Johansson’s voice. The film works at all because these two actors are able to make their love believable.  The story is quirky, laugh-out-loud funny in parts and also deeply sentimental, romantic and moving. Even in this strange sci-fi story, there are real truths about love, loss and the human condition. And, while it is sad in moments, it is ultimately a film that is incredibly kind and loving to its characters. This is reflected in Jonze’s color palate. The film is inundated with warm colors (reds, yellows, browns, and lots of warm woods everywhere), with the most prominent being orange; I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie so dominated by one color, from most of Theodore’s clothing, to his office furniture to the color of the OS set-up screen. I’m not sure what Jonze was saying but it’s clear he was saying something– perhaps simply linking Theodore to the OS through color (I cannot remember if orange was present at the very beginning of the movie before the OS was activated. If anyone knows, please share). This is a movie trying to say a lot about what it means to be human and, with the help of an artificial voice, is succeeds gloriously.


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