February 20, 2005

Movie Review: Catwoman

Patience Philips Posted by Hello

New York Times Movie Review:

Ms. Berry plays Patience Philips, a frazzled would-be artist who designs advertisements for a big cosmetics company run by the reptilian George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) and his icy wife, Laurel (Sharon Stone). In the course of a frantic day, Patience tries to rescue a mysterious cat that has been stalking her, and is herself saved from falling from a high window by a kindly, studly cop named Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt).

Later on, Patience overhears some deadly corporate secrets and is bumped off by the Hedares' goons, only to be revived by that enigmatic cat, who performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Patience's waterlogged body and thus endows her with super-human feline powers. Patience soon starts behaving the way that most cats do: sleeping on high shelves, tiptoeing along the back of her sofa and eating tunafish straight out of the can.

You may wonder if she also licks herself clean or leaves dead mice on the welcome mat, but these are matters the film tactfully declines to explore. She does, however, steal a motorcycle, break into a jewelry store (where a robbery is already in progress) and cut her hair using two pairs of scissors at once. Her basketball skills improve enormously.

The explanation for all this, supplied by a zany cat lady (Frances Conroy, best known as Ruth Fisher on ''Six Feet Under''), is that Patience has become a cat woman (which is not the same thing as a cat lady). According to the cat lady, cat women, servants of the Egyptian goddess Bast, date back to ancient times and reappear throughout history. (This lesson is foreshadowed by the opening credits and confirmed by an Internet search for the terms ''cats in history.'') ''Cat women are not contained by the rules of society,'' the cat lady says. This is, wouldn't you know it, ''both a blessing and a curse.'' ''You are a cat woman,'' she tells Patience, stunning the audience. ''Accept it, child.''

And why not? Directed by a Frenchman with the single, not uncatlike name of Pitof, ''Catwoman'' is a howlingly silly, moderately diverting exercise in high, pointless style. Pitof's approach to storytelling is casual; he yawns and stretches over the script, which is a pedestrian piece of committee work in any case.

But the picture, full of moody, oversaturated colors, twisty camera moves and stroboscopic editing, does have a certain decadent visual flair and a louche, sneering sense of humor. Watching it is like paging through a fat European fashion magazine at high speed in the lobby of a sleek hotel. Through the haze of moody color, you can occasionally glimpse the flicker of an idea about female sexuality or the manufacture of beauty, but these themes are ornamental flourishes in the pretty, kinetic emptiness.

Mr. Bratt and Ms. Berry are nice to look at, though the sloppy, hyperactive computer-generated effects may cause some eyestrain. Their romantic scenes together are fairly dull, at least when Patience is being her everyday human self. When she puts on her mask and leather suit (accessorized with diamond-studded claws and a long, snaking whip), it's a whole different scene, and the two of them enact a teasing S-and-M ballet on a backstage catwalk.

The character of Catwoman, definitively embodied by Eartha Kitt in the old ''Batman'' television series and dutifully updated by Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton's ''Batman Returns,'' has always been a camp dominatrix, a persona not entirely suited to Ms. Berry's soft, eager demeanor. She overacts Patience's flaky timidity and then, to compensate, overdoes catwoman's suave self-confidence, swinging her hips and pushing out her lips as if she were trying to attract the amorous attentions of Pepe le Pew.

The feline attribute she most lacks is the one the movie is most desperate to manufacture, which is elegant, graceful cool. Ms. Stone compensates somewhat for this deficit, and the climactic battle between Laurel and Patience is sure to thrill anyone who likes to see a good -- forgive me, there's no other word -- catfight.

I don't know, I disagree with this review. I really liked the movie and I thought Halle Berry did a smashing job of imitating a cat. Her jerky head movements (particularly when she is watching an aquarium full of tropical fish) were convincing and I had no trouble seeing her as a "feline fatale." These types of "gray" women (neither good nor bad) have always intrigued me. They live by their own sets of rules and use their sexuality as a sort of body armor that guards their oh-so-very human heart. They are irresistible to men - a black widow that spins a seductive web to trick unsuspecting victims. It takes a truly strong and self-assured man to control (for lack of a better word) a femme fatale type of woman.

Perhaps I'm biased in my opinion. I've always admired catwoman; what modern woman wouldn't? She embodies a strong, sexy, independent woman who occasionally kicks butt. But that's not all, she has a vulnerable, soft side that needs stroking now and then.

I thought catwoman's costume detracted from her character. Michelle Pfeiffer's costume in "Batman Returns" was more realistic (as real as one can get in a leather, skintight suit meant to imitate a cat's skin). The costume in this movie was clearly designed to exude Berry's sexuality and no one can dispute the actress simply oozes it by the bucketfuls. In some ways, I thought the costume distracted from the strong woman message, but it was all in good fun and if nothing else, it motivated me anew to work out. *smile*

I personally never get tired of these "comic book characters" and I think I know why. There's something to be said about having supernatural powers. It's seductive to think of having unique "gifts" - to never get hurt, to protect those weaker than yourself, to have POWER both physically and mentally - to be different from everyone else and stand out from the sea of humanity.

But really, deep down, everyone has some unique gift they can share with the world. The trick is to both recognize it and then voluntarily expose it in a productive way.

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