Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thanks for Everything, Michelle Pfeiffer

Last night Patrick and I attended a special post-Pride showing of Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy at the Met. The exhibit showcases comic book inspired fashions as well as original costumes from movies like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Spider-man 3. My personal favorite, of course, was Catwoman's leather outfit from Batman Returns (1992). (The astoundingly tiny costume can be seen below next to an example of Catwoman-ish couture.) When I was growing up Batman Returns was one of my favorite films; it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I've probably seen it close to 100 times. While writing my recent post on Jurassic Park, I realized that these two films' butt-kicking female heroines were very inspiring to me in ways that take on added significance from my current perspective. I'm not sure what, exactly, makes female superheroines so appealing to gay men, but they come up again and again in many of our childhood experiences; openly gay writer Phil Jimenez, for example, had a lifelong fascination with Wonder Woman when he took on scripting duties for her comic a few years back. Maybe it's because they, like us, are feminine individuals who defy expectations by being every bit as empowered and aggressive as their more masculine counterparts. And with their provocative outfits and lithe bodies, they express their sexuality in ways that challenge conventional mores. Catwoman certainly does the latter; always a fetching character, she explodes onto the screen in Returns with a skintight leather bodysuit and punishing whip that would make Betty Page proud. Michelle Pfeiffer's utterly brilliant performance (the kind that so often gets ignored by the stodgy Academy) depicts a woman who jarringly transforms from meek and mousy secretary Selina Kyle to mischievous dominatrix Catwoman. Surviving a murder attempt by her boss Max, Selina is revived by a horde of alley cats and returns home in a post-traumatic haze. In one of the most bizarre and astonishing sequences I've ever seen, Selina proceeds to trash her apartment, eliminate anything cutesy (up to jamming stuffed animals down the garbage disposal), and manufacture a stunning ensemble equipped with cat ears and razor sharp talons. "I don't know about you, Miss Kitty, but I feel so much yummier," Pfeiffer purrs in a voice miles away from the flustered Selina's. The next day she shocks Max-- and an intrigued Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton)-- by showing up at work, alive and well, with a claim that the night before is a "complete blur." She's also got a new, frizzy hairstyle and dark eye makeup. "Well, I remember the day I forgot to wear my underwear to school and the name of the boy who noticed was Ricky Freeberg," Selina offers. "He's dead now." Catwoman's next appearance cements her status as a postmodern feminist icon. "Be gentle, it's my first time," she tells an unruly mugger before kicking his ass. "Thanks," his would-be victim starts to say, before Catwoman cuts her off with a restraining paw. "Always waiting for some Batman to save you," she says mockingly. "I am Catwoman. Hear me roar." She then back-flips away in a jaw-dropping stunt. To say that I loved this character would be a gross understatement. She was one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen-- powerful, funny, and with an uncompromising sexuality that seemed alluringly adult and exotic to my nine-year-old self. Like many of the women who saw the film, I think I wanted to be her. (My straight male peers were just as in love, in a whole other way; in a chat I had earlier today, my friend Lucas wrote, "Dude, but every straight guy loves Catwoman, too.") I remember my dogged pursuit of the inexplicably rare Catwoman action figure as well as doing an impression of her grand entrance; standing before Batman and the Penguin, she says simply, "Meow." (File that as Sign # 2,576 that Should Have Given My Mother a Clue.) I know I wasn't the only one who was inspired; one of my dad's coworkers took his little girl the same day we saw the film, and when Catwoman made her final, triumphant appearance at the end, she stood up in the theater and shouted, "Yay, Catwoman!" Last night, as I looked at the stitched together outfit on display, I told Patrick simply, "That's a part of my childhood, right there." I'll always be grateful to this character (and those who created her) for showing all of us just how powerful we could really be.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

All About E

Greetings, East Siders. Gossip Girl here with the latest dish. I hear that J and E, everyone's favorite frienemies, may be done for good. Seems J got a nasty email from E yesterday-- something about how "creepy and stalker-ish" he was being to a mutual filmmaker friend of theirs. Details are sketchy at best, but I have a feeling this has way more to do with E's sour grapes at being "abandoned" by his onetime pal than it does with anything J might have done. Either way, it looks like J's cutting all ties now. E may just find himself self-destructing all by his lonesome. A word of advice from yours truly, though: you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Have a pleasant meltdown, E. xoxo Gossip Girl

Monday, July 21, 2008

Darkest before the dawn

This past weekend saw the record-breaking release of The Dark Knight, the highly anticipated sequel to Batman Begins. As a life-long Batman fan, I would have been excited for this movie no matter what-- especially considering how much I enjoyed Christopher Nolan's first installment, a moody and action-packed origin story. But after the death of Heath Ledger, who completely reinvents Batman's greatest nemesis the Joker, I was more eager than ever. The arrival of Joker had been teased at the end of Begins, and many wondered if it was a good idea; after all, Jack Nicholson's portrayal in Batman (1989) was terrific and seemed all but definitive. The announcement of Ledger seemed strange indeed; after all, while he was a respected actor, his good looks seemed incongruous with the bizarre character. But every on-set report and early review suggested he was creating something special... and the movie itself was touted as outstanding in virtually every aspect. I'm happy to report that everything you've heard about The Dark Knight is true. It's relentlessly dark. It's dense and thought provoking. And yes, Ledger is mesmerizing-- but more on that later. The Gotham City we return to here is a little different than the one depicted in Batman Begins. The criminals have been forced to regroup and go under the radar; a host of well-meaning fools have donned makeshift Batman costumes in an attempt to "help"; and the police and the population at large have decided they might not be so crazy about their newfound protector. (There's actually a warrant out for his arrest; between this movie and Hancock, superheros have it tough this summer!) Even Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) isn't sure how he feels about the state of things. He's annoyed by the wannabes and both inspired and threatened by Harvey Dent (a superb Aaron Eckhart), a hot shot D.A. who looks like Gotham's great white hope-- but is also romancing Bruce's old flame Rachel. (This time, Ray Ray's portrayed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is much more adept at playing a grown-up than Katie Holmes was.) Into this fray enters the Joker, a mysterious, makeup-wearing maniac who seems motivated by nothing more or less than a destructive and anarchic glee. Joker's sudden dominance over gangland sets in motion an unsettling chain of events that have cops, citizens, and elected officials scrambling in panic. (I was on edge for pretty much this entire movie; Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's sublimely menacing score only enhances this effect.) Over the course of two and a half hours (a little too long, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?), we watch events awash in moral complexity as the characters clash, strategize, and mourn. There are schemes on both sides, intense battles, and tragic losses. Nolan's film plays out on a grand scale, but never succumbs to the sort of mindless drivel that permeates too many lesser comic book movies. What he's aiming for here is something subtler, darker, and infinitely more effecting than a mere collection of stylized set pieces. He certainly engaged a dynamite cast to bring his vision to life: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman all engage in supporting roles; only Bale, so appealing and multi-dimensional in Batman Begins, seems in need of meatier material. Plus, that heinously exaggerated rasp he uses as Batman has got to go. (He seems to fall victim to the same problem that plagued original big-screen Batman Michael Keaton; he's outshone by his villains and supporting cast.) But back to Ledger: all sympathy and hype aside, his performance here is nothing short of extraordinary. He owns every scene he's in and always leaves you wanting more. Ledger hits just the right notes of creepiness and humor, expertly crafting one of the great screen baddies of all time. Scenes like his opening proposal to Gotham's criminals (they're ready to shoot him on sight, but he ensures they're forced to take him with deadly seriousness) and his sinister taunting of a guard ("How many of your friends have I killed?" he asks in a sing-song crazy voice that stops just short of camp) are gruesomely, unforgettably compelling. Ledger's willingness to so thoroughly immerse himself in the character, even appearing in drag for one memorable sequence, signify him as one of the greatest young actors of the 21st century. It's certainly a shame that neither Ledger nor movie fans will ever be able to revisit his dazzling interpretation of the Joker. Meanwhile, Eckhart follows his own character's journey from hard-working do-gooder to tragic monster; 13 years after Tommy Lee Jones' hackneyed turn in Batman Forever (1995), we're finally getting the psychologically complex, deeply disturbing Two Face we deserve. (Be warned: Harvey's mutilated visage is not for the faint of heart.) In the end, The Dark Knight shines as a rich and rewarding cinematic experience, one that pushes the boundaries of not just the superhero mythos but film in general. I can't wait to see it again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Happy" ending

I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for another update from yours truly. Hope that you all had a joyous Fourth of July, btw. I just got back from a week with my parents, which came right after Pride here in NYC. Pride was... well... interesting this year. It didn't help that the weather was horrible: humid on Saturday, wet and muggy on Sunday. (They literally rained on our damn parade! The only upshot to that was all the dripping wet man candy on display-- le sigh.) I realized this was my first New York Pride without a boyfriend of some sort-- Doug in '06, Jacob last year-- but sadly there were no hot flings to report. Instead, I got a big steaming pile of earnest rejection from Roman, the one I'd been pining for over the last couple months. After two weeks of waiting for our supposed dinner date (see "Seriously..."), he finally told me what was up on Sunday night at XES. (You know, where I was supposed to be having fun. At least Peppermint, the world's sweetest drag queen was there, and they played great music like Dolly Parton's "9 to 5.") He just got out of a two year relationship, he tends to seclude himself from the world when he's upset so don't take it personally, yada yada yada... I was at least glad that he was honest with me, though I kind of wish he'd told me all this when I asked him out in the first place. (As much fun as all the neuroses and self doubt were...) So I left all sad and depressed-y, although we texted back and forth the next week and we're cool now. I know it doesn't really have anything to do with me, after all, and although it's a bummer-- I hadn't had a crush like this in a long time-- at least I don't have to worry about it anymore. And I'm plenty excited for the rest of the summer; next week I'm going to see my friend Alex for the first time in close to a year, and in August Jacob's coming in for a visit. Who knows? Maybe there's some love to come this summer, too.