Sunday, August 11, 2013

Netflixing the Summer Away, Part 1

Lots to catch up on.

Blue Valentine - Ryan Gosling and Michele Williams are terrific portraying a young couple struggling to make things work in a deteriorating marriage.  The movie alternates between the present day and six years prior, when the couple had just met and was beginning a relationship that was based on their faith that they would figure things out as they went along.  Both lead actors immerse themselves in their roles to a degree that you feel as if you're watching real people, which makes their conversations difficult to watch both then and now.  By movie's end they both know something is dreadfully wrong, but are at a loss as to fix it.  You're rooting for them at the same time you're saying to yourself, "make it stop."

Kingdom of Heaven - Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Orlando Bloom, an epic tale of 12th century crusades.  Knowledge of this period of history is not my strong suit, but based on what I've read, what Scott presents us is a highly fictionalized account of the defense of the kingdom of Jerusalem, and how Balian of Ibelin found his way to the city, and became the leader of its defense against Saladin and his fellow Muslims.  As the movie moves inexorably towards the climactic battle (think the Battle of Helms Deep in "The Two Towers"), we see the political machinations taking place behind the scenes, and learn why war was always inevitable.

The cast is uniformly strong, featuring such noted players as Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Eva Green, David Thewlis, and Martin Csokas.  Edward Norton is particularly good as the leper King Baldwin - you never see his face, but Norton - through using voice and eyes only - creates a deeply sympathetic and heroic figure.

Rabbit Hole - Like "Blue Valentine," "Rabbit Hole" tells the story of a couple struggling to keep their marriage intact.  In this case, they're figuring out how to live a life that has lost most of its meaning following the death of their 4-year old son.  The pain and grief are palpable, and everything that happens to the couple (portrayed by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart), whether important in the scheme of life or not, becomes a battle against the pain, which seemingly never goes away.  Kidman is particularly good as the mother - you find yourself cringing at some of the things she says and does, but at the same time you can completely understand why she's saying and doing them.  The pain is still too close, blocking the way back to a normal life.  Again, the cast is strong, with outstanding performers like Dianne Weist and Sandra Oh in supporting roles.  Miles Teller is very strong as the teenage driver who accidentally hit the son, facing down his own grief and search for meaning in the comic book he's creating, a search for the meaning of life through the pages of a science fiction story.  Well done, all around.

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