The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Catwoman (2004)

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We're kicking off the DTVC's Wild Card post look at comic book movies with Catwoman, the 2004 Halle Berry dud. I had actually never seen this prior to watching it for the review, but from what I'd heard I figured I was in for a bad time. Catwoman is a unique character in the world of comic books, because there really isn't an arch villain as famous that's a woman. It would seem like there's enough material to mine there, so I was curious to see how it went wrong.

Catwoman has Berry not as Selina Kyle, but someone else who works making ads and whatnot for a big cosmetics company run by Sharon Stone's husband, played by the French dude from The Matrix. Anyway, Berry finds out their next big thing, an anti-aging cream, has horrible side effects, starting with headaches and dizziness, to eventually making the user's face disintegrate if she stops using it. They don't like that Berry knows this, so they kill her, but an Egyptian Mau cat that's been following her brings her back to life, with the powers of a cat. Now she has a new lease on life, but first she has a score to settle with her old employers, and has to settle it without her new boyfriend who's also a police detective, played by Benjamin Bratt, catching her.

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It would be too easy to just write this off as a sack of asscrack, because it pretty much was. The thing is, as I was watching it, I saw glimpses of potentially good stuff that was just never fully realized, mostly because it was overshadowed by the bad stuff. I could point to specific scenes that were ridiculous, like Berry with her new powers playing basketball with Bratt, where both looked extremely awkward dribbling and shooting. Then there was Catwoman in her outfit awkwardly cutting a rug in some dance club that's situated on a dock amid a bunch of shipping containers. Just the CG images of Berry in her Catwoman outfit running around like a cat were enough to make me laugh. It was just all bad.

To me it was the initial idea that was sautéed in wrong sauce: her becoming a literal catwoman. House cats by their very nature are hilarious, that's why whenever previous on-screen versions of Catwoman would act like a cat, it was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Even Michelle Pfeiffer's, which was the most catlike and supernatural, only acted like a cat as a joke or to demonstrate her insanity. I get that this is supposed to be a unique interpretation of Catwoman, using the power of an Egyptian goddess to make a sort of super woman, but a CGI Berry leaping around like a cat, or hissing at dogs in all seriousness, as opposed to as a joke, was something that I just couldn't take seriously, and undermined the film as a whole.

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There was also an identity crisis that previous Catwomen didn't have. It was like she was Wonder Woman dressing like Catwoman and acting like a cat. The biggest example of this was the outfit. All the previous Catwomen wore a one-piece suit, as opposed to what's pretty much lingerie with boots and a cape that the usual super heroine wears. What the one-piece skin-tight suit does is create the silhouette of nudity, and nudity is often a sign of submission from a woman to a man, or allowing someone a part of her that she doesn't usually give. At the same time, while she gives this illusion, she also is completely covered, keeping men at arm's length and allowing her to use them for her means. She uses her femininity and perceived weakness against men. On the other hand, Berry's Catwoman is in leather pants and a bra, which is also definitely hot, but doesn't do the same thing that the one-piece suit does. Berry extolled the virtues of this suit on the 30-minute featurette that comes with the DVD, saying how great it was that it showed off her muscles and what not. Yes, if you're Wonder Woman it's great to show off your muscles, but not Catwoman. Catwoman's number one weapon is her faux vulnerability. She doesn't want anyone seeing her muscles at all.

Empire.com had this as number 15 in their top 50 worst films of all time, but one of the reasons they gave for it I thought was actually one of the film's positives. They said the face cream concept was too weird. Really? You don't have a problem with a Joker who gives people Bloody Smiles, but a face cream that never actually does make a woman's face disintegrate because Catwoman stops it from going to market is an issue for you? For me, the Faustian bargain Sharon Stone signs by using the face cream to preserve her looks is just the kind of women's empowerment statement they wanted to make, especially when juxtaposed with her equally aged husband dating a young model. Of course, the statement had two major deficiencies: one, there wasn't an alternative woman to Sharon Stone's villain to hold up as an image of a woman that was still relevant, despite her advanced age; and second, because the writers didn't have a solid idea of what they wanted to do with Catwoman herself, it was hard for any major themes or messages to materialize.

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On a different note, Catwoman had a few great people in it that would be recognizable to readers of the DTVC. I already mentioned the French guy from The Matrix. Then there's Byron Mann, who came up earlier this week in A Dangerous Man. Dolph fans may remember Chris Heyerdahl, who played a noisy neighbor in Catwoman, as the guy Dolph beat and then handcuffed to a dirty toilet in Silent Trigger. No spiders tattooed on his chest here. My personal favorite was Peter Wingfield, Methos from Highlander: The Series. I don't know how that dude doesn't end up in everything, he's just so awesome, and of course he was barely used here. Should we have expected anything more from a film that was so, as I said above, sautéed in wrong sauce?

I guess since we're talking about bad comic book movies, a recommendation probably isn't something anyone is looking for, so I'll skip that and go with some final thoughts. This movie was wrong from its conception, and it was wrong in two major areas. First, making Catwoman a literal catwoman was just too silly, and when you're sillier than the 60s incarnations, you have a big problem; and second, they didn't make Catwoman bad enough. Yes, as a villain, she might at times be an anti-hero, but she's no Wonder Woman or Batgirl, and this film was afraid to make her bad enough. From there it was just a mess of awkward scenes, bad dialog, and potentially poignant messages that were loss in the morass of the rest of the film.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0327554/

15 comments:

  1. The only positive angle I can say about Catwoman is that it was better than Batman and Robin. However it wasn't nearly funny enough, also Halle Berry looked utterly silly in that mask where as Pfeiffer looked sexy and menacing.

    One you should check out is Steel...with Shaq and Judd Nelson. Speaking of which Nelson I always felt sorry for the guy he was what made The Breakfast Club a classic, he also plays a good serial killer/White Coat degenerate (Relentless, Cabin By The Lake and Billionaire Boys Club) But for some reason he is the C-grade standard with guys like Jeff Fahey, Dean Cain, C. Thomas Howell and Michael Pare. Also if you want a really bizarre movie experience check out The Dark Backward...Insane. That's the one where he grows an arm out of his back. Anyway that aside (I'm on a Judd Nelson binge...for some reason) Catwoman was a turd and a complete waste of time.

    Even Judge Dredd was better.

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  2. You're the second one requesting Steel, so we'll see what I can do about getting it via VHS. As far as Judd Nelson, I may have a little something for you next week...

    I'm not even sure I can say Catwoman was better than Batman and Robin, but we'll see later on down the road when I review it. What gets me is that there was so much material to mine with Catwoman, but so many ways to make it go wrong, and they went wrong.

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  3. Just thought of two more superhero films i'd like to see reviwed-Black Scorpion and Black Scorpion 2.

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  4. I'd been trying to get the Black Scorpions up for some time now. The problem is, like Steel, they're out of print. I'll definitely see what I can do though.

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  5. Indeed one of my problems with doing my site (Is having to rereview a lot of movies, that are harder to find (I only have half of my notes) In anycase some of these are harder to get to, also being that I started such site at 18, mainly because I got married out of high school, joined the guard and pretty much spent my time living on Base and spending lots of my free time writing stuff (often on memory) and well video stores were walking distance, there was more time and most importantly the variety was all there. In anycase now that i'm out, I work,i'm engaged and go to school (going into special ed) and the variety is no longer there (DVDs especially of what we look for are often hard to find ) Hence why we are at an empasse when it comes to reviewing movies. Also they're no longer on TV. TBS, TNT, WGN, Sci-Fi and USA used to specialize in the stuff we review, now all they play is stupid sitcoms and crappy comedies. People these days...

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  6. Oh and in case you're wondering how I could've married out of high school at 18, and am now engaged 9.6 years later (Such blooper was September 1st 2000) It is because I am happily divorced, to this day, getting married out of high school remains the dumbest thing I ever did. Hands down. In anycase...if anyone ponders why I was MIA late 2004 and 2005 on my original site, now you know.

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  7. EncoreAction has some occasional gems, like Snake Eater recently. I'd say it's even more challenging now than it was even three years ago when I started this one, but I know what you mean. When I started, my plan was to do all those USA Up All Night greats and video store gems, and when I found a lot of them were unavailable or more expensive than they ever should be, I was disappointed. I also found on the ones I could get that I'd forgotten some great points, so I need to see them again before I review them, which makes finding them all a necessity.

    You know it's interesting you mention being MIA, because I've had my share of hiatuses as well. No divorces were the reason, so I kind of feel bad that I didn't have better reasons for them.

    Oh, and Judge Dredd is making it's way into the comic book series.

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  8. Well Divorce does put a damper on things. Actually my ex and I are still on speaking terms, it's just that getting married at 18 was an incredibly stupid idea. We both agree on this, just as we agree that both of us are nice people... that just don't belong together.

    But the biggest thing (You have a little depression but when it's mutual you bounce back fast) was a lot of my movies were in boxes and going through them as well as moving to another location and papers and all kinds of good stuff got lost in translation. Hence I have half of my notes as there are still boxes in my storage closet that I haven't gone through.

    Indeed the biggest thing was the DVD transition...but the truth is 3 years ago the video stores were open, now blockbuster and what have you are closing down shops and finding a place with great variety is nearly impossible.

    Hence our dilemma.

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  9. I actually have that issue too, where a lot of my stuff is in bins from various moves, and some of those bins are at my parents' house, and my brother stuffed them all in a closet so it's hard to get to them, as if I never wanted to use that stuff again, which is annoying, definitely. The odds are against us here, huh?

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  10. This director (Pitof) made a visually interesting film called Dark Portals, which I enjoyed. And thats probably why he got this gig, but he lost his chance to make an impact on american audiences with this piece of cat turd of a film.

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  11. Wouldn't be the first time a great director delivered a dud of a comic book movie, see Gavin Hood's X-Men Origins Wolverine (Oscar for Tsotsi) and Ang Lee's Hulk (Oscar for Brokeback Mountain).l We'll be looking at the two Hulks this week actually.

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  12. I enjoyed both Hulk movies for different reasons, for all the bad mouthing that Ang Lee's version gets, I actually thought it was a well written and intelligent film, the only problem is that it got a little too artsy fartsy and this movie is not the kind of movie that should be artsy fartsy, it should be a kick ass comic book movie, which in my opinion the second film was more successful at.

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  13. With Catwoman though, I wished they would have gone more down the path that Burton went with the character, sexy, gothic...I mean MIchelle Pfiffer is super hot on Batman Returns...they should have gone with something alone the lines of that...not this bullshit story that simply regurgitates story elements from Burtons first Bat flick with the whole killer make up thing.

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  14. Francisco - agreed: comic book movies, although they can benefit from being dark and hard-edged and played straight (Christopher Nolan's Batman movies), simply fail the moment a director tries to be arty or pretentious. Ang Lee's 'Hulk' is cleverer and has more ideas than Louis Latierrer's (apologies if I've spelled his name wrong) recent franchise reboot, but I'd still take Latierrer's movie over Lee's purely because he doesn't try to make the Hulk anything other than the Hulk.

    Getting back on topic, they should have drawn a line with Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. You're not going to get much more seductive than Pfeiffer's take on the character.

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  15. For me, the 70s TV show Hulk has always been the best, but what's great about this is I'll be able to compare all three, the TV show pilot, and the other two movies, all at the same time, which I haven't done yet. I don't want to say too much now, I'll save it for the review.

    With Catwoman, I liked that they wanted to do something different with her, it's just what they did with her that was wrong from the jump. A character like Catwoman probably has as many possibilities as Batman does for interpretations; but this Catwoman wasn't really true to the essence of what Catwoman always was-- like I said, it felt like Wonder Woman acting like Catwoman. And I can't stress enough that a literal "catwoman" is just too silly to ever take seriously.

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