Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Watch It This Week: Dose



It's one of my favorite films from last year, when it premiered at Cinema One Originals Movie Festival. Now, after a successful bow at this year's Barcelona Asian Film Festival, Dose finally makes its commercial run, at Robinsons Galleria IndieSine from July 1 to 7, 2009. It's a delicate beaut, and the way to enjoy it is to relish its many delicious paradoxes: Funny but sad, romantic but sinister, sexy but childlike, campy but sincere. You're not supposed to take pleasure in this, but maybe you should take pleasure in this. With its controversial subject matter and no easy answers, Dose is already being ignored by the country's award-giving bodies, but that doesn't mean you should, too.

Big Night


Jordan Herrera and Marco Morales

Business is slow in a provincial hole-in-the-wall girlie bar, so the men and women of the place – mostly women – stage a “big night” that will rake in the cash. Set in the 24 hours leading up to the event, Big Night (not to be confused with the Stanley Tucci movie about brothers in a restaurant) follows the exotic dancers in and out of the house, guiding us into their half-banal, half-sensational routines. In an early scene, the manager’s virtuous wife (Jaycee Parker) and the resident cook zigzag through the public market in the morning, buying ingredients for the night’s menu, also stopping by the ice plant to order lots of ice. Immediately, we’re immersed in the ordinariness of the activity as well as the extraordinariness of the situation that makes it necessary. Too often, our sex trade movies bask in the woeful, abnormal aspect of prostituion; The sneaky brilliance of Big Night is that it may be one of the few movies in which the business of selling sex is nuts-and-bolts unglamorous as it is alluringly strange, and sex workers are portrayed as both exotic and familiar with remarkable fluidity. It's what Prosti (2002), its closest forebear, would have been if that film's awkward romanticism was replaced by unsentimental frankness. Big Night also uses the overrated “real-time” style not as a mere gimmick in ironic gazing (see Serbis), but one that feels organic. Director Alejandro 'Bong' Ramos, who previously made the tricky but clunky Butas, redeems himself in a major way.

The men may not be in the spotlight, but they each have a (heterosexual) sex scene. Althea Vega, a firecracker of a woman, spends her sweaty afternoon shagging her boyfriend (Kian Cruz). In one cool sequence, Sophia Lee devirginizes a boy inside a sea hut while his peeping pals jerk off. It’s as hot a scene as any involving horny highschoolers, if that’s your thing.

Jordan Herrera plays the cliché role of a master with an iron fist. Watching him, I kept wondering why he’s been grunting and yelling in the same wife-beater alpha male role recently (Lalamunan, Pakpak), when he’s not even convincing. His cutie pie face and boytoy bod gets in the way of his pretend viciousness. Marco Morales joins the fray as a live sex performer hired especially for the night, and before you dismiss him as an actor who’s shed his clothes one time too many, the guy plays his most interesting role yet. His affection for his friend is more than a little homoerotic – their favorite memory is when they fucked each other for a Japanese audience. (Sorry, no flashbacks.) Plus, in one drunken scene, he storms naked into a dance rehearsal, hinting that the cocky confidence of this torero stems from an inner need to be watched.

The movie stalls when the big night finally arrives, as the women brace the stage for solo stripdances in predictable succession – but fans of popping boobies won’t get bored. For a while, it seems as if all the previous mini-stories don’t build up to anything. But then the movie takes a satsifying surprise turn. If you don’t like spoilers, stop reading now.

SPOILER ALERT!

The real climax is a police raid that seems to come out of nowhere only because in this busy day of people working hard to make a living, no one talks about the possibility of not making it. In a deft sleight of hand, the film asked us to hope for deliverance, deceived us into thinking the villain is the manager with a gun, then throws us into the reality that the party-pooper, the destroyer of hopes – the real villain – will come from outside. It’s unnerving that on the same week that Big Night debuted in theaters, a real-life massage clinic in Quezon City was raided by the QCPD City Hall Detachment and a camera crew from ABS-CBN, then exploited on national TV. In the operatic final act of Big Night, the matronly bar owner, glued to a wheelchair, laments that they have complied with all possible requirements yet still end up bullied by the powers-that-be. It resonates as a cry against the authorities that can impede on our lives whenever they wish to do so, without reason or warning. What is exploitation, really, and who are the real exploiters? As the end credits appear elegantly over a funereal coda, Big Night, though rough around the edges, reveals itself to be a film of raging humanity.

GRADE: B+

Related Links:
Negative Review by Philbert Dy
Poster and Pics
Trailer

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ten Deadly Clichés of Pinoy Gay Movies


10. Gays have money, while straight men are poor.

9. Gay men just want to be women.

8. Gays have a tendency to go insane.

7. Straight men are desirable, while gays are not.

6. Male prostitutes have good hearts, while their bosses and clients do not.

5. Gays who are not out and flamboyant are confused or lonely.

4. Safe sex does not exist.

3. Gay relationships don’t last.

2. Giving in to gay desire leads to violent death.

1. Bottoming is the ultimate suffering.


What other gay movie cliché bugs you? Can you name the films that are major offenders of these clichés?

Tutok


Emilio Garcia and Allen Dizon, with Raymond Cabral in the background

Like Paupahan or Booking before it, writer-director Joven Tan has made another movie about fame-seekers on the bottom rung of showbiz – this time in TV news, same potato. The face-off between two men desperate for recognition – a washed-up reporter (Emilio Garcia) and the rebel leader he interviews (Ian De Leon) – should be the stuff of sizzling drama, yet their verbal spats fizzle because they don’t seem to be arguing about anything concrete. Does this rebel even have an actual plan other than to be seen on TV?

Once again, Tan’s characters are simplistically drawn as victims or abusers to supersize his favorite didactic message: that the media don’t really care about human beings. It’s hard to ride with the sentiment when there’s not much to believe in the first place. The director has seldom been a practitioner of subtlety, but Tutok is his least convincing film yet.

Allen Dizon plays Garcia’s loyal cameraman – with unspoken hints that he may be in love with his friend. Both actors prove they’ve graduated from former beefcake status by not once removing their T-shirts. Likewise, Victor Aliwalas remains clothed as a network drone. The token display of flesh comes courtesy of Raymond Cabral, as a goody from the enemy side, in one blink-and-you-miss-it flash of nudity. But I hope no one’s calling this a gay movie just because the insurgents turn out to be sodomizers.

GRADE: C-

Related Links:
Movie Trailer and Photos
News: Victor Aliwalas Makes Movie Debut
Negative Review by Philbert Dy

Monday, June 1, 2009

Nagmahal Ako Ng Bakla - Dagtang Lason



You know how people accuse hiphop of being homophobic? Well, this old-school rap is all about love for gays, sort of. In the knock-you-off-your-seat sing-along refrain, the group Dagtang Lason declare they're bums who got tired of women, so now they prefer gay amours.

The song, which is at least over a year old, should have been a hit. The MC'ing isn't perfect -- awkward phrasing and rough rhymes here and there -- but it has the immediate ticklish appeal of a hysteria-inducing novelty song. Half of it is spent dissing women as users and heartbreakers, but the punchlines are reserved for homos, calling us on sexually transmitted disease or as means to get money. Because the modern climate of gay-straight relations in the Philippines is too loose and colorful, I can't tell if the song is a nasty put-down capitalizing on bad stereotypes or just a bunch of guys who are sincerely sharing how they feel. It's likely both. "Nagmahal Ako Ng Bakla", in spots, can seem naively romantic. The video, a no-budget DIY affair, is fun to watch because I keep imagining those boys making love with the gay species, like me.

GRADE: B

Related Links:
Dagtang Lason on Friendster
Song Lyrics
Music Video on YouTube
Catholic News Agency: "Youth Endangered by Music With Suggestive Lyrics"