Reel Critics: This 'Valentine' is not all love and flowers

"Blue Valentine" is a film about a couple on the verge of a meltdown, with emotions as raw as the sexuality. The strength of this bittersweet story lies in the care and passion with which it's told.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling give all-stops-out performances that feel so real, you forget they're acting. It's puzzling that only Williams was given an Oscar nomination.

The film opens with the pair going through the motions of a marriage, and you can feel a long-building tension between them. It's almost a shock to see them in flashback six years ago to when they first met, when everything was charming instead of irritating. He's a happy, freewheeling sort of guy. She's drawn to that and to his heartfelt emotions, but has her own dreams of being a doctor and getting away from her overbearing dad.

Their loving intentions prove to be not enough — life keeps changing, and at the end of the day we may not know why the relationship went wrong. It just did. And that's a real heartbreak.


'Eagle' soars with real fighting effects

"The Eagle" is a sword and sandals tale set in a mysterious period of ancient history. The real Ninth Legion of Rome fought in many of the empire's most famous battles. But it seems to have suddenly disappeared around 120 A.D. while stationed in what is now modern-day Britain.

Legend claims that the soldiers were slaughtered by wild tribes in Scotland. Their bronze eagle standard was captured by the savages. Channing Tatum plays Marcus Aquila, the son of the Roman General who commanded the doomed men. Marcus seeks to restore his father's honor by learning the true fate of the legion and returning the lost eagle to Rome.

Marcus takes a slave with him on his undercover mission into the wilderness. Most of the film is about their solitary quest to recover the lost eagle. But there are some rapid-fire sword fights done the old-fashioned way with minimal CGI effects. They give heart-pounding personal reality to the man-to-man combat on screen. It's a kind of gritty adventure that's been done before. But "The Eagle" is a very competent example of this genre, if that's your cup of tea.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

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