Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance is best known as a documentarian and his beautifully crafted "hate story" Blue Valentine has the rawness of real life, which is what makes it nearly impossible to watch. Cianfrance directs Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, both riveting in their roles as a young couple who should be neither married nor parents but they are and are in torments. Told with a fluid, time-shifting narrative line, Blue Valentine delineates with documentary clarity where the innocent romance between these two damaged people began to unravel -- and it was almost immediately after they met. Williams is indeed spectacular, and Oscar-worthy, as the conflicted enabler Cindy, who has nothing left to give to a man she thought she loved but now loathes beyond speech. One particularly sickening moment comes late in the film when Gosling's Dean -- an irredeemable, self-serving narcissist who has been dipped in charm -- tries to embrace Cindy in her father's kitchen as hollow gesture of reconciliation. She whimpers and cringes during the embrace and her revulsion oozes off the screen. It's a devastating moment in a truly powerful film.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Eagle

Kevin Macdonald's sword and sandal epic "The Eagle" has a cruisy Abercrombie & Fitch style that is not incidental considering the film stars Channing Tatum who epitomizes A&F's homoerotic narcissism. Tatum is strikingly handsome and cameras love him but he seems to be most comfortable in front of one when he's dancing (see Step Up). And yet, Tatum isn't half bad as the Roman cohort centurion Marcus Aquila on the hunt in the British Highlands for the ninth legion's lost golden eagle emblem. He doesn't show nearly as much skin as he customarily does in his movies, which might be a sign that he wants to be taken seriously from now on. The film still has a sticky masculinity, most of it provided by Tatum's buffed-up co-star Jamie Bell, who plays Aquila's bitterly aggrieved slave Esca. Bell, who I've always thought is a fine actor with a distinctively jug-eared handsomeness, doesn't seem to mind playing second fiddle to hunkier leading men, many of whom he ends up outshining (see Defiant & Jumper). That's true of The Eagle, too, though the circle Bell acts around Tatum is not nearly as wide as I expected it would be. In the end, Tatum carries the flick nobly (as the poster suggests) though his accent is spotty and he has no acting range to speak of. The Eagle is entertaining enough though not groundbreaking in any sense and, oddly, there is not a single female speaking part.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...