Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Last Kiss and Tristan + Isolde

[The Last Kiss (Tony Goldwyn, 2006): Less of a vanity project for Scrubs star Zach Braff than his directorial debut Garden State was a couple of years ago, The Last Kiss kind of gives itself away in its title, but I suppose we can blame that on Gabriele Muccino's Italian original L'ultimo bacio (literally The Last Kiss) and not screenwriter Paul Haggis, whose involvement here seems somewhat odd based on his recent Oscar prestige (Crash and Million Dollar Baby, and possibly Flags of Our Fathers this year) but is nevertheless a sign that the film has more on its mind that empty-headed cliches. Though Braff does, indeed, get the most screentime, this remains a nice ensemble piece, with a cast of undeniably talented and surprisingly well-cast mix of old and young around him. Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkinson inhabit the mirroring middle-age saga with a quiet dignity and often movingly underplayed drama. Meanwhile, the underrated Jacinda Barrett (appearing in a slew of starkly different movies this year, including Poseidon and The Namesake) and O.C. starlet Rachel Bilson (in her film debut) are the two women in 29-year-old Braff's life, as he faces up to a family life with Barrett by dalliancing with Bilson. The Last Kiss is absolutely nothing new, but Haggis' script is pleasingly astute, and it's put across with solid and often moving performances; my main problem is perhaps the soundtrack- perfectly fitting, enjoyable songs (including Snow Patrol's Chocolate and Imogen Heap's haunting Hide and Seek) that are nevertheless enormously intrusive whenever they blare up on the sound-system. And if only Goldwyn had had the nerve to end it just ten seconds before he does... Grade: B-]

[Tristan + Isolde (Kevin Reynolds, 2006): Tristan + Isolde clearly wants us to see it as hip, if that trendy plus sign in it's title is anything to go by. Nevermind the fact that Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet actually warranted this idea, and that was made ten years ago. Nothing about Tristan + Isolde is hip; nothing about it needs to be. A tragic romantic tale apparently pre-dating Romeo and Juliet, the story has little of the impact of that classic tale, and it's native feuding between Ireland and Britain fails to impress on any level. In fact, that is the main problem here: the romantic tale is perfectly fine- often moving, constantly involving and well-played- but the film seems to be struggling with itself, far too intent on this warring battle which is something we've seen done better many times before. Nevermind that they have one excellent performance in Sophia Myles, who puts on a pleasant Irish burr as she tears herself up between her husband King Mark (Rufus Sewell) and his second Tristan (James Franco). Nevermind that Artur Reinhart's photography is gorgeous, a haunting mixture of blue and grey hues, hanging over the film like a warning. And nevermind that the film moves so briskly that it makes Braveheart look like Shoah. If Tristan + Isolde had reigned in it's focus to the tragic romance, it would have, ironically, been so much more. Grade: C+]

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