Twelve men -- in solo chapters representing the twelve months of the year (a New Year's reveler in January; a graduating schoolboy in March; and so on) -- strip to their bikinis, get wet, rub their bodies, but oddly, don't show their faces. I don't get it. The guys don't even do anything particularly wild (such as, there's no frontal nudity) to warrant the anonymity. It's a showcase of headless men doing boring things!
Granted, it's hard not to get enticed by close-ups of bodies, which range from light to dark-toned, baby-fatty to lean-and-ripped. There's miniscule masochistic pleasure to be had at watching patiently, waiting for something extraordinary to happen that doesn't, then settling for a guy's chin or obscured facial angles, imagining they're as hot as they're suggested to be. Sort of like the sexiness of a geisha's nape. You're thankful for what you get because they don't indulge you with much. But when it's over, you've merely sat through twelve months of blah.
When a fitness instructor named Kirk removes his shirt and gamely flexes for gratuitous shots of his torso flashed again and again, I know I'm watching an excellent show. The Good Times! is the spin-off of the popular radio talk program Good Times with Mo on Metro Manila's 89.9, and -- surprise! -- it makes for fun late-night television. Director RA Rivera and producer Angel Rivero -- minds behind the defunct cultish TV show Strangebrew -- bring the same idiosyncratic flavor to the magazine format; They capture the frenetic, anything-goes energy of radio gab.
The hosts -- a straight guy, a gay guy, and a girl -- don't seem to be as concerned about imparting "information" as they are about being their talkative, goofy selves. Mojo Jojo is a refreshing gay host, in our culture where TV homosexuals often only talk about showbiz gossip or take so much pains to be asexual upstanding role models. Here's an openly gay guy who can carry a show just fine with a flamboyant, sexual, witty personality. He's just like many gay best friends we know. In this week's episode, in which a Fitness First gym is transformed into a playground, Mojo casually claims to have been a former runner and a martial artist, but admits to being misshapen, and can laugh at himself when he can't work the Hercules bar. He begs another trainer for a peek at his abdominals and gluteus maximus, yet he doesn't come off as offensive at all. Plus, his rapport with the straight guy, Mo Twister, is unprecedented in Philippine television: a platonic, comfortable camaraderie in which the straight guy and the gay guy can compete as equals, make fun of each other, and still look like they genuinely love each other as friends.
The Good Times! airs Tuesdays at 11:30 PM on Studio 23.
To call it a film about nursing -- or nursing students -- would be off-the-mark. Rather, When Timawa Meets Delgado describes something more abstract: the nursing phenomenon. What is the significance of so many Filipinos taking up nursing in the hopes of working abroad? The movie throws the discussion in a wide variety of modes: talking-head interviews with real nurses and students, documentary footage of the poor Visayan region (including a visit to a sick farmer in his hut), and the fictional stories of the two titular characters -- told through music videos, fake advertisements, poems, and other more conventional dramatic vignettes. It's a feat of rigorous assemblage of a treasure's worth of videotape. The result is often funny and inventive, but it can also seem like a lot of noise.
But God bless the creation that is Ruben Timawa. Amid the sketchy wilderness of the movie, he's a gay character whose dignity reveals itself slowly, surprisingly, and so unassumingly that it's an experience of transcendence upon its final impact, when the credits roll. We first see him as a fairy with a pink umbrella travelling away from his ricefield hometown to the tune of a parodic folk song -- surely a heightened exoticized vision of everything about him that is easy to pigeonhole: an effeminate rural curiosity. But something happens along the way: He becomes more human, even if he remains somewhat the same fairy we first see.
Through the movie's staccato styles, we find out he's a Palanca-winning poet with a natural pop wit in conversation and a romantic, naive motivation for nursing: to rejoin the former activist he fell in love with now living in the U.S. His poem entitled "The Pig" (see clip above) is the movie's funniest, most genius moment -- recited in three languages (one in local gayspeak), it toys with image and self-image to approach identity. In the movie's final act of subversive intelligence, the actor Kristoffer Grabato sheds his Timawa persona to be interviewed as himself. It's a fitting final act in the humanization of the character -- a long way from the stereotype of his introductory scene. We're not even sure if the actor is gay in real life, but by then it hardly matters. He's an artist who's also a registered nurse, and apparently one terrific actor, a man who, in that one scene, inspires not only awe but respect. He offers a speech about the dignity of nurses who stay in the Philippines to work -- the preachiest the film comes to delivering its social politics, which elsewhere is indirect or muddled. The movie's gender politics, however, is beyond reproach.
The boygroup known as The Studs don't exactly possess the advanced physiques of reliable gym guides, but why complain? They're incredibly cute and their bodies are delicious in each of their own developing boyish ways. This could be an instructional workout video that's also sexy by accident. But it could really be the other way around. It begins with the boys in just their towels, if that's any hint.
The exercises are strictly beginners' stuff, so it may be helpful to a wide demographic. Most of the talking is done by an expert, while the boys (and two girls) demonstrate and throw in a line or two. If you're averse to corporate placements, you may groan at the major participation by Gold's Gym.
But it's a treat to watch the boys obey and work hard, like when supercrushable Felix Roco pushes his butt out or when hunky Dion Ignacio's triceps tense up. Mostly, though, this video is an armpit fetishist's delight, with all that stretching and lifting opening to heavenly vistas. It's amazing I kept myself from licking the screen. But where's the copious perspiration? Just when the boys heat up and you think they'll be soaked, the moisture gets magically wiped away in the next segment. Don't they know you can't make a fantasy workout without sweat? Must be tricky how to balance sexy with clean and wholesome.
The DVD includes a gallery and bios about the boys, but frustratingly, is not divided into chapters. They don't expect us to work out with this from start to finish, do they? The other Studs are Mike Tan, JC Cuadrado, Edgar Allan Guzman and Coco Martin.
At nearly two and a half hours, Selda devotes a lot of time to "imagery" and "lyricism" that may trick many people into thinking it's a classy film. What it really is is a movie that masks the ugliness of its homophobia. Selda has the bitter taste of an anti-gay film.
It's not readily apparent in its first half. We're supposed to root for an incarcerated man, Rommel (Sid Lucero), mainly because he doesn't deserve to be in jail (his crime was accidental), but also because he's constantly threatened by gay rape -- first by the warden (Michael De Mesa), then more pressingly by the prison bully (Allan Paule). To make matters scarier, he's heterosexual, in love with a woman outside (Ara Mina). Apart from this, we know nothing about the man, and his character disappointingly doesn't deepen the rest of the way. What drives the drama is not character psychology, for sure, but the suspense of looming abuse from external villains.
What's offensive is the disparity of what the movie chooses to show and what it chooses not to. When events turn violent, Selda is detailed and unforgiving. The rape scene in the woods is a feat of orchestrated sadism. We're also treated to misery porn -- aesthetic videography of tough prison life. Essentially, writer-directors Ellen Ramos and Paolo Villaluna employ great effort to victimize our hero. But when it comes to depicting the substantial element of the story -- the bond that develops between two inmates; Brokeback Mountain behind bars -- Selda becomes subliminal to the point of avoidance. We barely glimpse the intimacy between two men in the dark, and the movie cuts too early to tell us what exactly happened. Selda belabors on terrifying us with the negatives of homosexuality (or man-to-man sexuality, if you will), but scrimps on making us understand the minds of the men as human beings, thereby failing to redeem them. Is it any wonder the rest of the plotpoints are contrived and confounding? Selda disrespects its gay subject through its discriminative style and philosophy.
The second half is more of the same abhorrent filmmaking, and structurally identical too, although set in the expanse of a farm, years later. Rommel, now a simple family man, is visited by the man with whom he once had an intimate moment, Esteban (Emilio Garcia), and again, the tension that ensues is so underdramatized, it's frustrating, but there sure are a lot of shots of the beautiful green grass. Again, it culminates in an explosion of blood and tears, and to drive the nail in the coffin, it was all the gay man's fault. Or gay men. Or the gay monsters that lurk inside the otherwise straight men. Damn, those homosexuals can sure destroy our lives.