Picking up 10 years since 1997’s Henry Fool we see that struggling writer Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) has fled the country and is presumably dead leaving his estranged wife Fay Grim (Parker Posey) to fend for herself. She is now using her maiden name trying to live a normal life as a single mother. Fay’s poet laureate brother Simon (James Urbaniak) is in jail for aiding and abetting Henry while his publisher (Chuck Montgomery) is putting the moves on Fay. But then the CIA shows up on Fay’s doorstep with suspicions Henry may still alive and believe the clues to his whereabouts may be in his diaries. Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) sends Fay on a spy mission to obtain said diaries and things get further complicated as more quirky characters weave in and out of Fay's journey. It might be wise to rent Henry Fool before seeing Fay Grim just so you can remind yourself about these characters and have a better understanding. Everyone is being idiosyncratic on purpose but not in an unnatural way because the characters aren't too far off from the performers' distinct personalities. Posey is naturally off kilter overwhelmed by her surroundings whether as a character in a movie or an actor navigating red carpets and press junkets. As a woman left in the lurch by her husband and thrust into international espionage she’s perfect. Goldblum speaks with his usual frazzled authority. The other lesser known personalities fill their roles effectively as well. Urbaniak is just socially awkward enough you can see why he'd be the chump but smart enough to be ultimately helpful. Montgomery is an executive type who relishes his involvement in the intrigue. As Fay's son Liam Aiken plays the loner kid not quite Goth but a disaffected rebel nonetheless. Fay also encounters plenty of European spy types who bring a certain level of campiness to the espionage genre. You might feel left out if you haven't seen Henry Fool. They manage to fill in the Henry Fool backstory without a lot of exposition but there is definitely something missing. Then again so what if it might all be a little confusing? Figuring out the details is not important it’s the ride that counts. Being ultimately quirky himself indie director Hal Hartley manages to keep the pace moving throughout Fay Grim and all of the elements seem to tie in. The breezy dialogue is a treat. And for being an international adventure on a budget the film never feels cheap. Presenting chases and gunfights as a series of still shots may avoid actually staging elaborate action sequences but it's also more interesting to watch than the same old shoot 'em ups. Nobody is going to out-Woo John Woo so having this device is better. At two hours it does get a bit overwhelming to keep up but there are worse places to be stuck for 120 minutes.
In the beginning of the Dark Ages the warlords of England are brutally kept in line by the Irish King Donnchadh (David O'Hara). Tristan (James Franco) has grown up hating the Irish for killing his family and has made a strong allegiance to father figure Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) while Isolde (Sophia Myles) Donnchadh's daughter has grown up under her father’s thumb. After a fierce battle that leaves Tristan near death he washes up on Irish soil and is nursed secretly back to health by Isolde who tells him she’s someone else. The two fall madly in love but Tristan must return to England before he’s discovered. Meanwhile Donnchadh decides to stage a tournament between all the champions of England with his daughter as the prize. Tristan ends up winning the princess' hand for Lord Marke but is horrified to find out she’s his own true love. Tristan and Isolde now must suppress their love for the sake of peace and the future of England. But despite their best efforts to stay apart the lovers are driven inexorably together. Despite the fact that Franco (Spider-Man) and Myles (Underworld) look lovely rolling around on the ground in romantic trysts and gazing forlornly at one another you don’t necessarily feel any heat between them. That seems to be mostly the fault of Franco who plays the young Tristan far too stoically. We understand he’s a tortured soul torn between duty and love with his eyes perpetually half-filled with tears. But couldn’t he have shown a little more passion (and while he’s at it washed his hair)? The luminous Myles is better at showing her burning desire but she too is left many times sad and weepy. Only Sewell (Legend of Zorro) who is usually delegated to playing bad guys shows any kind of raw emotion as he first falls genuinely in love with his bride--and then is betrayed by her and the only son he ever knew. He’d probably make a great King Arthur. As the Celtic myth of Tristan and Isolde predates the Arthurian legend as well as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet you can easily see how those two more famous stories were possibly formed. Tristan & Isolde is a classic story of forbidden passion set against political upheaval as well as a tale about a tragic love triangle. Producers Ridley and Tony Scott had been fascinated with the legend for many years and finally got the opportunity to bring it to the big screen. Ridley however who directed last summer’s medieval fare Kingdom of Heaven wisely chose to hand over the directing reins to Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) who adequately paints a picture of a time when chaos reigned. Maybe Tristan & Isolde is not as compelling or romantic as the king of them all Braveheart but it is certainly far more accessible than say Kingdom of Heaven. Sorry Ridley.