Friday, January 20, 2006

Tristan & Isolde - Movie Review

Tristan & Isolde 2006

There’s good news and bad news with the latest epic film romance to hit the silver screen! The good news? “Tristan & Isolde” is a triumph and a highlight to the director’s career! The bad news – the director is Kevin Reynolds who also spawned “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, “Waterworld” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Sigh. Well, we can’t have everything. And we weren’t kidding with our intro. The film is indeed the best thing ole Kevin has managed to sling at us, but as you will note from his less than stellar career, usually to be found clinging desperately at the coattails of his bud, Kevin Costner – it may not be saying that much. In retelling the age old legend of two young lovers from warring kingdoms – he is treading head-first into the waters of mythology, romance, adventure and tragedy. Sadly, at some turns it’s more like the kiddie pool at the Best Western.

The romantic myth of “Tristan & Isolde” first appeared during the 12th century via an Anglo-Norman verse telling by one Thomas of Britain. A few decades later, some sneaky German (typical) by the name of Gottfried von Strassburg churned out his own pot boiler version in the Nazi tongue. And soon, before you knew it – women everywhere were gathering around the communal well dishing the latest installments. “Oh how dreamy!”, “That Isolde, what a lucky gal!”, “What’s that spot on your cheek dear, got the plague have you? HAVE YOU???”

Before you could scream “Romeo & Juliet” – literally, way before – the legendary tale of doomed star crossed lovers swept all of Europe, much like the aforementioned plague. By the 15th century, that cheeky Brit Sir Thomas Malory had neatly folded in the tale into his magnum opus which established for centuries the myth of King Arthur and his Camelot – “La Morte d’Arthur”. As you can see by now, the story of “Tristan & Isolde” is ever lasting in its appeal and equally cluttered in its many variations. It has inspired poems, songs, short stories, paintings, film, ballets, operas, stained glass, gay porn . . . you name it! Artists as varied as Thomas Hardy, John Updike, and Dorothy Parker have all taken a whack at cracking the lover’s code. And now we have Kevin Reynolds version replete with medieval era production values, and a game and VERY attractive cast – more on this later – oh fuck it, let’s get to that right now!

JAMES FRANCO, JAMES FRANCO, JAMES FRANCO, JAMES “FUCK US NOW” FRANCO!!!!!! Whew! We have been in love with our future husband, James Franco since his breakthrough co-starring role on the short lived cult classic television series “Freaks and Geeks.” (If you missed this brilliant show, it is blessedly available on DVD – go rent it now!) Our future husband Mr. Franco is perhaps best known for his Emmy nominated interpretation of the immortal James Dean in the TV biopic, called strangely enough “James Dean.” He gave a brave performance, even if no actor alive could ever hope to capture that elusive quality of the original. If you’re incredibly thick, you might only know our future husband from his supporting turn in both “Spider-Man” flicks, as the troubled best friend to ole Petey Parker. In which case, you’ll be thrilled to know you only have some four hundred plus days till part three comes out. Losers.

Anywho, our future husband portrays the dashing young and INCREDIBLY WELL BUILT hero, Tristan. Isolde is played by one Sophia Myles, the slag – well, okay she’s pretty in a dishwater blonde with Rapunzel like wig extensions who KEEPS TRYING TO STEAL SOME PEOPLE’S FUTURE HUSBANDS with her erstwhile feminine charms kind of way.

Rufus “Wandering Eye” Sewell portrays the dolt in the middle, Lord Marke – oh, hang it all, he’s pretty damn handsome too, despite the Sandy Duncan glare. And relative newcomer, Henry Cavill is one blisteringly sexy Lord in waiting named Melot.

All in all, a damned attractive cast – cast semi adrift in a sea of muddled bliss.

And by muddled, we mean the murky and somber setting of England and Ireland in the “Dark Ages”. For some strange cinematic reason, which may have started with the pared down opulence in 1968’s “The Lion in Winter” – another great flick – go rent that Oscar winning gem now! (NO, not the remake with Glenn Close and the Enterprise Captain – sheesh!) We feel that ever since that landmark historical drama / family bitchfest – any film set before the Victorian era is portrayed as dank and dark and confined to two color schemes – mud and muddier. Well it may evoke a period to some, to us it just resembles the latest “Cloak” line by Alexandre Plokhov. But we digress.

The director and screenwriter, one Dean Georgaris – famed scripter of “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” and “Paycheck” – good lord, we’re losing you now, we just know it. Hold on child! Hold on! Anyway, these two hacks may have found the perfect source material for their combined thrombosis inducing talents. Since the legend of “Tristan & Isolde” has been told and retold to death – and varies wildly from each version. Even the title names are inconsistent: Tristan, Tristram, Drystan, Drust . . . Isolde, Isolt, Yseult, or Iseult. From this cacophony of discrepancies – tales bearing the medieval folklore of knights, damsels, dragons, magic love potions, etc . . . the filmmakers have paired down the various sources into a tale of love that saves the day, loses its footing, becomes embroiled in the political machinations of warring Kings and suffers the consequences upon discovery by less than amicable means. This version works in spite of the low pedigree of the director and screenwriter in charge. Perhaps it is our basic desire to see love portrayed in the grandest and most romantic fashion – a love that will transcend time.

Perhaps it was the incredibly defined pectoral muscles of James Franco as he lay recovering from mortal wounds while his new found love Isolde languorously massaged healing oils onto a six pack that you could shred Pecorino cheese with! Whew! (Sidenote: We must apologize to our fellow audience members for our spontaneous cries during this scene, we didn’t really mean to yell out: “Bitch, you betta step off before we snatch your tired weave of your ugly pin head!” We apologized to the ushers, why can’t you get over it?)

We suppose it angered us to the extant we wished physical harm upon Isolde, but this is really a credit to the lead performances. Despite a few lapses of accents on our future husband’s part, and a shortage of characterization on the lead actress’s part – the two made their scenes work. We wouldn’t claim they had the best chemistry since Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman – but they sold us their love, and acquitted themselves nicely in the more dramatic parts when their love is put to the ultimate test. As for our two boyfriends, Henry Cavill certainly cuts a dashing period figure and lends good support as the onetime friend and possible enemy to Tristan. And Rufus “Winky Winky” Sewell takes home the acting honors with his very good interpretation of a feudal Lord intent on uniting the warring tribes of Britain against the Irish enemy. His good fortune at becoming betrothed to the lovely Isolde is handled wonderfully well, and leads to the high points of the love triangle dramatics. He does more with his one good eye than most ocular-abled actors can pull of with both.

The film is certainly watchable, thanks mainly to a script that manages to take the proceedings seriously and respectfully pays equal attention to the warlike atmosphere and the human drama behind the doomed love affair. Yes, we said doomed. Sorry kids, but since the ad campaign fairly drums you over the head with comparisons to “Romeo & Juliet” – we hope that by now you didn’t think the two lovers dance happily into the sunset by the flicks end. Like every famous love affair in cinematic storytelling – “R & J”, “Rhett & Scarlett”, “Rick & Ilsa”, “Oliver & Jennifer”, “Hubbell & Katie”, “Jack & Rose” to “Ennis & Jack” – the tale of “Tristan & Isolde” recognizes that the greatest love affairs end in tragedy. And we happen to agree. For one good reason - Men. They’re assholes. No matter how blisteringly hot they may be. So, in closing while we cannot recommend that you drop what you’re doing and run out and see “Tristan & Isolde”, there are plenty of worse ways you could spend a few hours in the dark. So, if you’re in the mood for a dark, muddy, romantic tragedy played out by gorgeous actors against a misty milieu, then by all means go! It’ll probably be the best thing you’ll ever see from director Kevin Reynolds. Although, that’s a mixed review if ever we wrote one. Bless you all!

(End note: If you want to reach James Franco or Henry Cavill, drop us a line - they're lounging around our pad as we speak - those poor tired lambs. What can we say? We were happy to see them!)

James Franco as Tristan
Sophia Myles as Isolde
Rufus Sewell as Lord Marke
David O’Hara as King Donnchadh
Henry Cavill as Melot
Bronagh Gallagher as Bragnae

Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Written by Dean Georgaris

Director of Photography Artur Reinhart
Film Editing by Peter Boyle
Costume Design by Maurizio Millenotti
Original Music by Anne Dudley
Production Design by Mark Geraghty
Set Decoration by Johnny Byrne