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Autumnal lust: (l-r) Reid and Craig in The Mother.

Mums and Lovers
By Laura Leon

The Mother
Directed by Roger Michell

Not to be confused with Mother, Albert Brooks’ scathingly funny look at a wacky parent-son relationship, The Mother is a much darker, complex story that offers a rare glimpse into the life and sexuality of a geriatric woman. Written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell, who made Persuasion the absolute best of the Jane Austen film adaptations, this is an excruciatingly difficult story to watch, being equal parts documentary of sorts and compelling drama of the kind that, regardless of one’s own family situation, hits too close to home in its rugged honesty and unsympathetic realism.

The title role is May (Anne Reid), a recently widowed parent who, unable to return to the stifling home in which she raised her family, decides instead to hover between the London houses of her two grown children. Son Bobby (Steven Mackintosh) has a career wife, three children, a nanny and maid, and the kind of house an editor of London Metropolitan Home would give her eyeteeth to cover. This abode veers between chaos and emptiness, with May and carpenter Darren (Daniel Craig) its only real inhabitants. Darren, a poor knockabout with marital issues and an autistic son, is engaged in a halfhearted affair with May’s daughter Paula (Cathryn Bradshaw), a single mother and teacher who longs to write professionally, and who harbors deep resentment at what she perceives is the ill will she has been dealt by the world in general and her mum in particular. Paula begs May to run interference for her with Darren in order to find out what he really thinks of her. What May does instead is take Darren to her bed, repeatedly, and with gusto.

The utter shock of seeing an aged woman (even one of such a handsome visage as Reid) in all her loose flesh and pot belly, copulating with a much younger man (especially one in such hale condition), says much about how even the most sophisticated viewer has come to view onscreen lovemaking: beautiful woman and handsome—or handsome and powerful—man go at it against a jazzy aural soundscape and amid lovely or artily posed surroundings. What perhaps is more shocking is May’s lack of remorse over what she’s doing, in her son’s house, with her daughter’s lover. May comes alive under Darren’s, er, tutelage, and seems to enjoy really opening up about herself, seemingly for the first time, almost as much as their marathon lovemaking sessions. Meanwhile, Bobby and Paula barely notice their mother’s newfound glow, or the fact that she ditches her matronly polyesters for more bohemian flowing skirts and beads.

Reid is remarkable at going from mute housewife, trained to go unnoticed among the real-world interests of her family, to a person remembering what interests her in this world. Her May is, indeed, flawed—at least in the traditional sense—as we find out that she generally hated her children, and would leave them squalling in their cots to find a moment’s peace at a nearby pub before her husband Toots (Peter Vaughan) returned home. As the movie progresses, however, we gain an understanding of just how thankless her role has been, as both Bobby and Paula have lived their lives closed off from any relationship with May and Toots. The elder generation’s visit early in the film to London, although solicited, is met with barely concealed annoyance, as if the children had hoped that the formality of an invitation would be graciously declined. Bobby is preoccupied with his failing businesses, whereas Paula is obsessed with finding blame for why her life isn’t something else. Compared to them, the poetry-reading handyman seems a breath of fresh air.

In an interesting though disturbing twist, the filmmakers show how May and Paula share the same blindness when it comes to Darren, an infatuation that at least serves to unite them, if only psychologically. Watching May get on her knees before the coked-up and bitter Darren as he goes off on the mother’s and daughter’s clinging neediness is chilling, to say the least, and removes from him the cloak of one- dimensionalism. Darren shares a nearly incestuous relationship with all surviving members of the family, needing their affection and wages, and his disgust at his own need is palpably clear by the movie’s end. The Mother is sympathetic in its evocation of the needs, and I don’t just mean physical, of women once their families have flown the coop and their partners are dead. In a way, it’s a modernization of the classic but hard-to-find 1937 gem, Make Way for Tomorrow, in which an elderly couple’s very existence gets in the way of their children’s lives. Who’d have thought that here, 70 years later, we haven’t come any further when it comes to caring for our families, or accepting their clay feet.

Spayed and Declawed

Catwoman
Directed by Pitof

If Catwoman, the cheesy, witless, and visually obnoxious travesty of Batman’s sexiest nemesis, had played up its inherent campiness, it might’ve at least been an amusing trifle. But as directed by the pretentiously arty Pitof, it’s just a bore. Even Halle Berry’s laboriously art-directed beauty gets to be tiresome: As Catwoman, she’s shellacked into a cartoon version of a Revlon magazine ad. And as Patience Phillips, the wimpy artist who is murdered and resurrected with super feline powers, she’s too stupid to care about, climbing out a ninth-story window onto a rickety old air conditioner to “rescue” a cat (a rather ordinary-looking Egyptian mau, to be exact) that doesn’t need to be rescued. But in a movie this brainless—Patience gets herself killed by wandering into a secret meeting at the cosmetics company she works for—there’s no point in nit-picking. The script resembles a really lame version of Law & Order (screenwriter Theresa Rebeck’s previous gig), and exists only to put Berry in situations that will flaunt her physical sex appeal.

That’s physical appeal only; as far as brandishing the sexually charged “duality of women” (that ol’ good-girl-bad-girl blather), Pitof’s Catwoman is about as intriguing as a dime-store kitty figurine. We never get the sense of a brutalized and vengeful alternate identity (a la Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns), while comparing her to Eartha Kitt’s incomparably campy yet genuinely challenging feline avenger . . . well, there is no comparison (anyone familiar with Kitt’s “purrrring” enunciation, a cultural icon of the 1960s, will wince in embarrassment at Berry’s attempts).

French actor Lambert Wilson should’ve been a hoot as George Hedare, the hissy CEO of Hedare cosmetics company, who fires Patience when she talks back to him. But the character is too wooden even for snickers. And Patience’s best friend, the man-hungry Sally (Alex Borstein), is gaggingly offensive: After Patience attracts the attention of detective Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), Sally tells her to “Go give him some brown sugar.” Later, Patience and Tom, the stereotypical Mr. Sensitive and Intuitive Perfect Guy, will go out on staggeringly trite dates. While on duty, Tom heroically resists the aggressively titillating, hysterically silly toying of Catwoman, whom he is investigating in relation to the murder of a cosmetics scientist.

The film’s feminist angle is that Catwoman must protect unsuspecting women consumers from Hedare’s toxic beauty cream. Yet Catwoman herself is painted with enough artificial ingredients (especially bronzer) to cause skin cancer. The inept action sequences—CGI blurs of gimmicky editing and lousy choreography—completely negate the liberating effects of Catwoman’s super powers (night vision, springy feet, and really rude table manners when it comes to sushi). When Catwoman skitters up and down walls in fast motion, she resembles a comically hyperactive cockroach, while her martial-arts skills consist mostly of well-placed donkey kicks—she could’ve more accurately been christened Donkeywoman.

Ironically, it’s Sharon Stone as George’s conniving, unliberated wife, Laurel, who steals the story line. “The face” of Hedare, Laurel is dumped by her husband for a younger model, and retaliates by wresting control of the company. When she tells an adversary, “I’m a woman. I’m used to doing all kinds of things I don’t wanna to do,” it’s a cheerworthy moment that deserves a better movie. The moral of Catwoman’s feminist drivel is unintentionally this: Supernatural feminine empowerment is no match for wounded vanity.

—Ann Morrow

Pale Imitation

The Bourne Supremacy
Directed by Paul Greenglass

The shoot-’em-up, car-chase sleeper hit of 2002, The Bourne Identity, was a pleasant surprise on multiple levels. It was entertaining as hell. It proved that filmmaker Doug Limon (Go) was no fluke talent—aside from his obvious directorial skills, he showed an uncanny knack for superb casting. It revived a classic ’70s genre, the Byzantine-plotted Cold War thriller, in a way that was both contemporary and compelling. Most important, it was an action thriller in which violence had a real emotional cost, both for the perpetrators and the victims.

Thus, all of the above makes it painful to report that the sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, comes up short. It’s by no means bad; it’s just not very inventive or inspired.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), the ex-CIA killer with superhuman skills, a heavy heart and amnesia, has made a life for himself with Marie (Franka Potente), his paramour from the first movie, in far-off India. Since it’s obvious that his happy life can’t continue if there’s going to be any movie at all, a sense of inevitable doom hangs over the opening sequences of the film. Sure enough, before you can say lock-and-load, their life is destroyed and Bourne is on his way to Germany to hunt down his former CIA colleagues—just as he promised at the end of the first film.

Limon, who is said to have battled with Universal all through Bourne Identity’s production, is gone. Brit director Paul Greenglass (Bloody Sunday) has taken his place. While Greenglass gets the right tone—a conflicted mix of remorse and remorselessness—he can’t direct a single decent, comprehensible fight scene or car chase. (Did he study the work of Michael Bay before filming?) Worse, the hard-to-follow action isn’t paced well either; the plot progresses in wearying fits and starts.

That said, the acting is excellent. Brian Cox and Julia Stiles reprise their earlier roles with equal success, and the estimable Joan Allen joins the cast as a tough-as-nails CIA supervisor. Best of all is Damon: As the killer with a conscience, he again shows surprising gravitas.

Of course, there’ll be another sequel: This one is making a pile of money, and the late Robert Ludlum wrote more Bourne novels. One can only hope that a little more imagination and competence go into the next episode.

—Shawn Stone


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