August 6, 2007

So Very Many Writer Girls

Cinecultist has had actress Julia Stiles on the brain lately. It's sort of unfortunate really. See, Julia reprises her role as the slightly inept CIA handler Nicky Parsons in The Bourne Ultimatum, so last week Cinecultist was watching her running through the Morocco streets with Matt Damon. But then we couldn't help but also think about Sylvia Plath.

Here's where the brain leap happened: after this report in Variety from last spring that Stiles had optioned the rights to Plath's novel The Bell Jar, we'd picked up a cheap paperback of it from the Strand because even in our days of reading all those feminist classics we'd never gotten to it and CC also finished reading it last week. Of course, when you read a book while thinking about its upcoming movie adaptation you can't help but picture said stars speaking the book's dialogue, so all through The Bell Jar it was Miss Julia we saw wearing the fussy '60s outfits as an unpaid intern in the magazine offices and stalking around the fancy insane asylum. Julia has a good look for that era, despite being a pretty mediocre actress, so we'll be curious to see the movie when it comes out. Especially because after reading the book, since CC didn't develop any kind of pre-teen style fascination with the story, we'll be okay if it sucks. In fact, we found neurotic, anti-social, privileged Esther Greenwood tough to get invested in. Certainly being manic depressive and suicidal is something that's going to be outside of your control, but all through the book we couldn't help but wonder if English major Esther was so damn smart, why couldn't she at least try to will herself into a better mental state? It sounds a bit insensitive but with all of those opportunities to excel, we sort of wanted to slap her around a bit and yell, "Man up, woman!"

As for Esther's drive to live a life of letters, Cinecultist certainly identifies with that. We've been doing some freelancing at some Condé Nast publications over the last few months, but today was our first day working at the 4 Times Square location (which we've been lovingly/mockingly calling "the mothership"), and as we waiting in the lobby for our security pass, it was sort of thrilling. After six years in New York, and over three working in publishing, you'd think CC would be inured to the imposing security turnstiles and the lure of the Frank Gehry designed cafeteria. But nope. It's cool to be here, another little cog in the vast machine that is the magazine industry. Although much to our Mom's chagrin, we would not promise to take a camera phone picture of Anna Wintour if we were to end up in an elevator with the Vogue editor. A with-it downtown New Yorker like the Cinecultist has to draw the line somewhere.

August 3, 2007

Car Crashes, Hand to Hand Combat and Surprisingly Political

The Damon man talks with director Paul Greengrass on set.

The third installment of the Bourne series, The Bourne Ultimatum, was one of Cinecultist's most eagerly anticipated summer release and as you can tell from our rave on Gothamist yesterday, it didn't disappoint. Our girl Manohla loved it too, and in her review she touched upon what we found so exciting about the movie, that it is popular entertainment with smarts and a point of view.

She writes,

"As Bourne has inched closer to solving the rebus of his identity, he hasn’t always liked what he’s found. He isn’t alone. Movies mostly like to play spy games pretty much for kicks, stoking us with easy brutality and cool gadgets that get us high and get us going, whether our gentlemen callers dress in tuxes or track suits.

What’s different about the Bourne movies is the degree to which they have been able to replace the pleasures of cinematic violence with those of movie-made kinetics — action, not just blood. Mr. Greengrass and his superb team do all their dazzling with technique. They take us inside an enormous train station and a cramped room and then, with whipping cameras and shuddering edits, break that space into bits as another bullet finds its mark, another body hits the ground, and the world falls apart just a little bit more. Without fail, Mr. Greengrass always picks up those pieces, reshaping them so that Bourne can move to the next location, the next kill, as he gets closer and closer to the mystery of his terrible existence."

As the movie thunders towards its climactic showdown, Cinecultist realized that this is one of the most politically minded current Hollywood movies we've seen. Almost as a counterpoint to director Paul Greengrass's brutal September 11 movie from last year United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum looks into the face of our government's policy decisions and demands to know what we've become. It's not enough to say we were just following protocol or making the best decisions we could with the information we had. Like Jason Bourne, our country has to face ourselves in the mirror every morning knowing what we've done. And this coming from a filmmaker who's a Brit.

August 1, 2007

Foodies At the Movies

The Cinecultist is reporting to you today via free wifi from the second floor food court of the Whole Foods on Houston Street and thus it is fitting that we want to discuss No Reservations, a movie we saw last weekend. Foodies and cinephiles seem to be cut from the same bolt of cloth, and CC likes to think of ourselves as both a food and film fan. It's really all about Taste, a commodity that's important in our ever increasingly homogenized culture. However unlike the excellent Ratatouille, No Reservations is not about the quest for good taste. Rather, it's about how uptight, career driven girls should loosen up, listen to some opera and learn to Feel.

CC has some friends who are quite devoted to Catherine Zeta-Jones, or CZJ as they lovingly refer to the Welsh actress. While we've never been an unabashed fan, we did find her performance as Kate, a superstar perfectionist chef at a West Village boîte who has to care for her orphaned niece, to be quite charming. She really is lovely to look at, and her chemistry with her costars the square-jawed Aaron Eckhart and the cutie pie Abigail Breslin is believable.

So what's the problem?

No Reservations is yet another merely serviceable Hollywood romantic comedy. Two hours of mildly diverting entertainment floats by, but are we changed or moved? Hardly. It seems overly cranky to really get worked up about a movie like this. Sure, it's not as cute as the European original and its depiction of Kate's New York single life is wholly unrealistic but are either of these gripes those new arguments about mainstream cinema? Watching movies like No Reservations is probably why Janet Maslin went back to review books for the NYT—if yet another movie is neither really bad nor particularly good, what can you even say about it?

In other movie news, CC was saddened to hear we also lost Michelangelo Antonioni so shortly after Bergman. A film artist who brought us coal-eyed Monica Vitti on screen is someone to be sorely missed. Also, if you're curious about our opinion of Milos Foreman's Goya's Ghosts we wrote about it for the Movie Binge.