The weekend before last, I chose No Reservations as my more-or-less weekly cinematic treat. It was a nice little Romantic comedy about a hard-driven New York chef (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who suddenly becomes responsible for her orphan niece (Abigail Breslin). It doesn't look like she can balance a career in high-culture food and the responsibilities of sudden motherhood, until a charming and spirited assistant chef (Aaron Eckhart) enters the mix. The question becomes whether their romance will fall like an ill-fated souffle, when Zeta-Jones' career instincts come in conflict with her heart.
The movie blends gentle romance and humor with the sadness of loss and the most appetizing look behind the baize door of a French-style bistro kitchen since, er, Ratatouille. If you asked me which film I would see a second time, however, it would have to be Ratatouille (which is a real possibility, since it is still playing in local theatres).
This past weekend, naturally, I went to The Bourne Ultimatum. This is the third movie in a series of chase-and-combat-intense spy thrillers based on novels by Robert Ludlum, and starring Matt Damon as an amnesiac American spook who makes James Bond look like the Constant Gardener. A previous movie in the set was called The Bourne Identity, and the other was The Bourne Something, I forget what, but it hardly matters. Jason Bourne is a tortured soul who has lost all his memories, but kept a set of disturbing skills - the skills of a master spy and assassin. As he tries to unlock the secrets of his own past, he finds himself surrounded by more and more danger from practically every covert organization in the world, especially the CIA, which somehow made him what he is. This is the movie where he finds out how they did that, and why, and who he was before that.
Whether there are still enough unanswered questions at the end to leave room for another Bourne adventure, I suppose we will see in due time. Meanwhile, you won't have time to do much deep thinking while you sit on the edge of your seat, crushing your tub of popcorn in your hands, through 111 minutes of unrelenting pursuit and action. Bourne is so good at what he does, he should scare you. I don't know whether Damon or director Paul Greengrass should have credit for this, but you can tell that wherever Bourne goes, he is acutely aware of everything going on 360 degrees around him. He would be a life champion in Kim's Game.
Fortunately for him, none of the top-drawer spies gunning for him is nearly as good. In fact, most of them seem to spend a lot of time wearing an expression of bemused helplessness, though their other expressions vary from admiration to loathing, depending on how much sympathy they have for his cause. His fellow-spooks in this outing include David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Julia Stiles, Albert Finney and Joan Allen.
The cast is good, but it is continually upstaged by the restless motion of the camera and balletic intricacy of the choreography. With a globe-trotting plot that touches down in Moscow, Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier, and New York (please, don't tell me if I forgot somewhere), high-tech novelties such as guns with built-in webcams and LCD monitors, and an underlying homily about the morality of using terror tactics even against enemies who do the same, it's such a crowded canvas that you can only tell the actors are good because they don't get pushed completely off it.