The street of low-lives in this slum neighborhood represents the Philippines at large and the human condition at largest. There, that's the gist. Many "great" Filipino films are micro-macro like this. Ataul For Rent reaches for a grand encapsulation, but with minimum precision and less subtlety. It's the kind of movie in which a crazy homeless person is the wisest man among fools, with the wisest words. Like the recent Tribu, Ataul is not much of a narrative and not much in insight, but an achievement in slice-of-ghetto-life bits and pieces. Some details are hard to forget.
Among the large ensemble of bottom-dwellers (most of whom are perennial actors' actors), Coco Martin plays a snatcher and a callboy. For a prostitute, the actor, chunkier than when we last saw him, doesn't even take his shirt off in the entire film. There are also two female prostitutes here, who also remain discreetly covered or slightly turned so that we don't see anything. If this movie were made in the late 90's, such missed opportunities for sex and nudity would be unforgivable. Writer-Director Neal Tan, who made several B-movie boldies in the past, seems to have found a more chaste aesthetic. Or could the culprit be either of the following: (a) the aim for a respectable rating from the MTRCB censors? Or (b) the aim to be called Art Film, and the notion that art must be tasteful?
More positively, Denver Olivarez, in his first movie role since winning the Ginoong Filipinas 2007 title, plays a drug pusher and addict who's often shirtless. In one scene, he's taking a shower in a street corner in white briefs. But he's shot too far away that we barely get to enjoy it as a wet underwear moment. His naughty face brings excitement though. Jet Alcantara, a third hunk, is unrecognizable here, and his role disposable.
Ataul has two homosexual characters worthy of close scrutiny. Tita Swarding is the pimp who peddles women prostitutes, then later a minor girl; and an unnamed swishy Customer in a taxi who picks up the callboy, then... (SPOILER ALERT!) ...gets murdered. Later, Coco Martin gets chased as the killer. It's an interesting storyline straight from the headlines. Maybe something is being said about how the lives of the poor can only get more miserable and how salvation lies in the afterlife, but I'm more interested in this: In a movie of varied representations of Filipino people, the only gay people are the pimp who sells sex and the customer who buys. Even the male prostitute who sells his body is depicted as possibly non-gay (heterosexual) with a female love interest. Is this our role in the world? If not criminals, then victims? Should we be bothered by this representation? Discuss.
So you think you're satisfied with the pics you see on the net? There's nothing like holding this baby in your two hands. The pages are big, the quality crisp -- details like the fine hairs growing on the armpit or around the belly button or the delicate contours of nipples or the pores of skin are vivid and savory and nearly life-size. I'm tempted to curl up in bed next to the pages.
The eight models are members of a soon-to-be-launched boy group called The Studs. Not all of them are at par with my personal taste in men, but there's no denying each of them look especially good, photographed spectacularly well. The X-Ray Books have thus far been consistently exquisite works of beauty. The lesson here is that execution and quality of production are as important as the models employed.
It's not a full calendar though, and that's my only gripe. Some photos are cut visually down the middle by the line that separates two adjacent pages. A full-spread centerfold would allow an unobstructed view of Dion Ignacio's underwear bulge, for example. But once you accept that this is really a photo booklet more than a calendar, then it's easy to see it's the best of its kind out there -- its virtues a possible template for others to follow. A warning to the discreet buyer: You need a large bag in which to fit it. God, I love it when it's big.
The female bonding comedy. It's about time we pay attention to this pesky genre of Pinoy cinema. About two or three of them get made a year. Pinay Pie, Bridal Shower, I Will Survive -- to name the more memorable ones -- seem cut from the same women's apparel cloth. Do they really make money? Are they even funny?
I will not attempt to answer these two questions, but will instead pose a third one: Are female bonding comedies really, at their core, gay?
In such a movie, the women, playing a tight-as-a-pussy group of friends, often with a token gay friend (who's often flamboyant), are female actors who are cast mainly for their funniness or their ability to go over-the-top. Meanwhile, the supporting men are cast mainly for their hunkiness.
In Apat Dapat, a fine stable of men all manage to, at one point or another, parade shirtless. Christian Vasquez plays the worthless, dependent stuntman-lover of Eugene Domingo (it echoes Nora Aunor and Philip Salvador's Bona) and he's slinking in his skivvies most of the time, including one extended sequence of him getting chased and splashed by boiling water right unto an EDSA flyover in just his red briefs. Deejay Durano, who always has a role in director Wenn Daramas' projects (you may raise your eyebrows), is Candy Pangilinan's thug husband, also dependent, albeit romantic. Kian Kazemi plays Rufa Mae Quinto's ignored suitor, who doesn't do much but gets topless anyway. My favorites are Chester Nolledo and Andrew Schimmer, who don't do much either as tattooed thug brothers, but my eyes are glued on their smooth bodies and faces everytime. Even Vince Saldana, playing Pokwang's teenage son, remaining fully clothed, appears to be a hunk in the making.
The plot is ostensibly about four women breadwinners who enlist as domestic helpers in Hong Kong as the ultimate act of love for their dependents and also, more unconventionally, for themselves. There's the old hide-the-dead-body situation, some old racial stereotypes, and some old special-effects action sequences milked supposedly for old laughs. Much of the punchlines (and indeed, plotlines) are sketched in the realm of non-logic. Most of it is unfunny, but I'm kept entertained by the film's idea of women's liberation as really rooted in economics -- that love is expressed by providing financially; self-worth is measured by men's (and children's) simple appreciation -- and that it applies to more of my gay friends in real life than my female ones. Do the women in these films behave the way they do to reflect real women, or are they stand-ins for the ultimate aspiration: to be gay? Or a certain idea of gay, as in loud, wild, sexual, cliquish, fools for love and pleasure, responsible, and underappreciated. Are homosexuals really just women inside, or are women really just gay inside? I'm not about to buy this notion just yet, but maybe someday, an enterprising student of media can explore the topic in depth in his thesis. Is it a gay fantasy to be surrounded by hot men everyday of our lives? I know the answer to that one.