The men and women on the island have one secret each. Too bad that's all they have. They're as lifeless and inert as the film's mysterious mountain hut: basically a shell of a secret doing nothing. While we wait about an hour before they confess, they keep mum and pretend there's drama. There's none. This is not a movie; it's a test of patience.
The secrets aren't shocking either. SPOILER ALERT! The married guy is gay, no surprise. He's played by Emilio Garcia, no surprise. His lover is Paolo Rivero, no surprise. To indicate that his secret is ruining his marriage, he grunts and acts like a snot. For his big revelation, he simply says it aloud. So much for struggling with a secret. John Apacible plays a cocky drifter who's supposedly numbed by constant attention from both sexes. They may sound like sexy roles, but you're better off watching these actors' better, sexier movies. Here, they're practically neutered by lack of personality.
But the real mystery is the origin of this movie, which emerged from nowhere. When was it made? What was the original title? Who made it? Both director and writer are uncredited. Are they ashamed, understandably? With no one else to blame, why not veteran cinematographer Romy Vitug, who obviously prioritized pretty colors over motivation and natural movement? Or Sony's Cinealta camera, which curiously gets marquee billing? No toy should ever be substitute for good material. That's no secret.
1017, a hybrid gay romance and political saga, has one clever hook: All Jojo (Kahlel Urdaneta) wants to do is declare his feelings for his childhood friend Manuel (Kristofer King), as he tags along with him in the mountains. His secret is obvious to everyone they encounter on the trip, perhaps even to Manuel himself, so why is it even necessary to say it aloud? The film tells us, smartly, that with expression comes freedom, and it's really of value to no one more than Jojo himself. It's a refreshing point of view in a swarm of stories of unrequited gay love. Too often, in such movies, gay men ask for too much. In 1017, the request is simple, but it too can be denied.
The low-budget film is set in a socialist community in the mountains -- Manuel is a comrade of the New People's Army -- and also in various protest rallies in the city, shot during real events, where Jojo's friends search for him. Writer-Director Zigcarlo Dulay finds the broader national implications when a person is snuffed of his right to be heard. It would have been mind-blowing if only the political causes didn't remain so vague. The rebels here are portrayed in purple talk about motherland and liberation that's not rooted in anything tangible. It's the kind of image that makes people think they're idealistic freaks. While the personal love story remains intimate, the political backdrop floats in the wind with so many empty words, creating an uneasy imbalance. Even the schizophrenic sound mix and editing seems to agree. A gay civilian (G.A. Villafuerte) who was kidnapped and tortured by the military, and then escaped, has significant presence, although as a character, his emotions and psychology seem confused and arbitrary. But he does have a terrific moment in which he narrates his sufferings in jovial gayspeak.
Still, you've got to admire a movie that takes a stand on not one but two things that are obscene in the eyes of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB): homosexuality and government opposition. (The unappealing title refers to a short-lived proclamation by the Arroyo administration declaring a state of national emergency.) Most memorably, the film is bold enough to point out that gay marriage is accepted among the rebel community, because, unlike the Catholic Church and the government, they recognize that love knows no gender. They even have openly gay leaders. The film wears its agenda on its sleeve alright, but as issues rarely discussed in our cinema, it's most welcome.
John Prats, Manilyn Reynes, Ogie Alcasid, Judy Ann Santos, Jon Avila
Super comedian Ogie Alcasid goes Mrs. Doubtfire for super celebrity Judy Ann Santos’ Notting Hill. The cross-dressing story – written by a committee that includes Alcasid himself – is a trifle, but we’ve seen enough comedies to know that even the stupidest plots are watchable for as long as they bring the funny. OMG lumbers about like a heavy sack of kamote because the director, Dante Nico Garcia, is averse to the thing called setup: you know, the ride before the punchline. The jokes are a barrage of gimmicks that wink and nudge out of nowhere. In one typical scene, Santos appears as if suddenly deranged, until we realize she’s drunk, until we realize she’s imitating dance steps from Pinoy stars of the 80’s, but by the time we process all this, the laughs have long past gone. Garcia’s previous film, his debut Ploning, was a potent drama that suffered from the same rhythm deficiency. Both movies -- one supposedly "art" and another supposedly "dumb" -- don't make it easy for the audience to ride along. I'm worried his next film might be another storytelling struggle.
But the half-absurd, fourth-wall-breaking, 80’s-trippin’ gambit pays off with the parental figures, played by Roderick Paulate as an is-he-gay-or-isn’t-he adoptive dad and his arch nemesis Carmi Martin as a washed up sexpot who stole his best friend. The closet queen jokes are tired, but Paulate knows how to cross the threshold of overacting to arrive at a place of pure bliss. The face-off between these two 80’s icons, moderated by John Lapus as a reporter, is over-the-top nonsense, and the movie’s liveliest moment.
Jon Avila plays beefcake showbiz boyfriend, but the real revelation is John Prats as brother sidekick. Especially when shirtless, he's the hottest guy with love handles to grace our movie screens in a long time, the epitome of a sexy chub who deserves to be a star.
A Filipino movie that makes a case for gay marriage? Sure, but a weak case.
10-year old Zach (Renz Valerio) comes into the home of affluent Emon (Paulo Rivero), but I’m not sure that made any difference in either of their lives. Maybe it’s because the two start out already eager to accommodate each other. On their first breakfast together, Emon is already caring and self-sacrificing, going out of his way to buy Zach something he could eat. Whenever Jack isn’t being cute or obedient, he’s ignorably self-sufficient, playing by himself with his PSP. Their biggest problems? The kid skips meals and occassionally walks into the bedroom to catch something for adults only. I would call it a sitcom setup, but even sitcoms have more conflict. A housekeeper even takes care of the boy while Emon’s away. By the end, when the mother retrieves her son, I couldn’t buy the “growth” that supposed to have happened, because it actually didn’t.
The most disappointing aspect of Little Boy/Big Boy is its crude notion of what a family is. When Emon’s new lover Tim (Douglas Robinson) comes to live with them, Zach welcomes him as a second Dad. But the three don’t really affect each other – positively, negatively – the way a real family does. They don’t tear or bleed into each other, or cause each other’s life-defining moments. The way the boy learns anything from either of them is through easily spewed truisms, like “Life is unfair.” He’s the child as reflection, or worse, accessory. In one telling shot in a game arcade, the trio are juxtaposed with a more “normal” family who are similarly having fun, and it’s the movie’s statement as propaganda image: They look like a family, so they must be. It's ironic that a movie that spotlights a couple of gay fathers may be evidence that gay men – or at least gay filmmakers – don’t really know much about the meaning of fatherhood, or care to explore it with delicacy. The "parenting" on display here is strictly casual babysitting.
What Little Boy/Big Boy turns out to be is a movie about the survival of a just-begun gay relationship, not even marriage, exactly. The writing-directing team of Lex Bonife and Joselito Altarejos didn't make a more “mature” work, but rather an extension of some issues they tackled in their first film, Ang Lalake Sa Parola: the way a person’s gay identity or sexuality rubs against his romantic relationship. Viewed this way, Little Boy/Big Boy offers a handful of entertaining insights: the rules that couples agree upon for the sake of their staying power, the importance of coming out to the public, and the destructive dichotomy of trust versus privacy. These are areas the filmmakers are clearly familiar with.
Despite its slicker look and sound – Director Altarejos does away with the grunginess of his previous films for a smooth commercial sheen and fashionably peppy music – Little Boy/Big Boy is more of the same gay indie introspection we’ve been fed in the last three years by queer movies good and bad. It's not likely to win new admirers, but keep the old fans who are already attuned to Altarejos' and Bonife's greenhorn concerns and platitudes. In fact, the most enjoyable portion of the film, and the most intricately detailed, is a steamy orgy scene with steamy guys. In a press release written by Screenwriter Bonife, he prescribes we should watch films for the story, not the nudity, possibly because nary a dick is dangled on this one. (The MTRCB cut it out.) The film that came with the article should have been a little more convincing on that respect.
Akihiro Sato, the Brazilian model who doesn't speak Filipino, stretches to play the role of... a Brazilian model who doesn't speak Filipino. He's reasonably (or unreasonably) half-naked in early scenes -- such as dipping into a jacuzzi in black trunks -- until he discovers his face is used in the cover of a romance paperback, after which he's more clothed -- perhaps there's a connection. Next to him, the sullen Jason Abalos appears ungroomed and unscrubbed, but maybe that's part of his appeal, or lack of makeup budget. He's an auditor with a penchant for reading those paperbacks because it reminds him of his mother.
The two men are the unlikely love interests of the movie's heroine, Chin Chin Gutierrez, and for a while, it seems as if it would be an erotic journey; She's a romance novelist who doesn't have sex. But the movie doesn't want to go there. Instead, it rhapsodizes on the "art" of writing, as a matter of life and death, so much that the characters would rather internalize than connect with each other, even when they're the only three people on the beach. It's the kind of movie that relies on tiny sparks of human interaction to work, except it doesn't. Food is served many times, but no one even touches it. That's how removed it is.
24K About: A group of men hunting for treasure in the mountains. What’s gay about it? A local informant is a teacher who’s flamboyant and feisty (Andoy Ranay). Otherwise, everyone is macho, bonding away from women. Spot the homoerotic undertones at your own risk. Eye candies? Julio Diaz is a surprisingly sexy daddy once again. Alcris Galura, Miguel Vasquez, Jojit Alonzo, Archie Adamos are rugged men of various ages. It’s this year’s...Kadin. A solid story, and the mountain is half the movie. Grade: B+
Astig (Survivors) About: Four stories of men toughing it up to survive in the big city. What’s gay about it? Two of the stories push the guys into gay sex in order to make badly needed money. A gay sex theater is a prominent location. Gay icon Boy Abunda is executive producer and makes a cameo. Eye candies? Dennis Trillo, Edgar Allan Guzman, Arnold Reyes, and Sid Lucero are the four stars, de-glammed and hottified. They’re surrounded by plenty of other guys. The movie is a bag of M&M’s. It’s this year’s… Pisay. Four stories about young people of a particular environment, and the festival’s box office champ. Grade: C+
Colorum About: An ex-con and a cop on a road trip. What’s gay about it? Practically none, but it’s an odd couple buddy movie, so spot the homoerotic undertones at your own risk. Eye candies? Alfred Vargas is the modelesque cop with a body that’s criminally kept under wraps. A bunch of beach bums make an appearance. It’s this year’s…Isnats. A layered crime story that suffers from hazy execution. Grade: B-
Dinig Sana Kita (If I Knew What You Said) About: The love story of a rocker chick and a deaf dude. What’s gay about it? Some of their friends seem like they could be gay, or not. Eye candies? Romalito Mallari is the charming deaf dancer. Everyone looks wholesome. It’s this year’s…Boses. Earnest advocacy that unfortunately abuses storytelling formulas. Grade: C+
Engkwentro About: A day in the life of youngsters in the slums, one of whom is fleeing a possible death threat from government-hired assassins. What’s gay about it? The word “faggot” gets thrown around as an insult. Eye candies? Those cute gang boys include Felix Roco, Daniel Medrana, and Zyrus Desamparado. It’s this year’s…Tribu, obviously. Grade: A-
Last Supper No. 3 About: A guy goes through legal hell after losing a Last Supper wall décor. What’s gay about it? The guy is a gay assistant production designer (Joey Paras). Gay humor abounds, but sexuality is otherwise a non-issue. Eye candies? His righthand guy is a straight hothead cutie (JM De Guzman). At one point, a hunky tricycle driver gets embraced. It’s this year’s… Big Time. A snappy comedy championing the underdog. Grade: A
Mangatyanan About: A photographer who’s a sex abuse victim is assigned to cover a strange ritual. What’s gay about it? None. Eye candies? Neil Ryan Sese is her work partner and suitor. The local boys are nextdoor types. Publio Briones III makes for a pasty chub in Ifugao-like bahag, if that’s your thing. It’s this year’s…100. Stylish, but shallow. Grade: C+
Nerseri About: A boy who must take care of his mentally deteriorating family. What’s gay about it? None. Eye candies? Lance Raymundo is a mercurial junkie brother. His sister is repeatedly tormented by a jock type. Timothy Mabalot is the endearing kid, but he’s not of legal age. It’s this year’s…Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros. An idiosyncratic, heartfelt coming-of-age. Grade: A
Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe) About: A woman with an abusive husband mysteriously receives black fruits at her doorstep. What’s gay about it? Said husband accuses another man of being a faggot because he’s not seen with any woman… Eye candies? …But the guy is TJ Trinidad, and he’s just secretly carrying an affair with the wife. Meeyo Candelaria is his fine younger brother. Nonie Buencamino does a rape scene and fucks a carabao, if that’s your thing. It’s this year’s…Baryoke. There’s pleasure in unexplainable magic in a small town. Grade: A
Sanglaan (The Pawnshop) About: The residents of a dying pawnshop, who treat each other like family. What’s gay about it? None. Eye candies? Joem Bascon as a former prom king smolders. It’s this year’s…Sarong Banggi. A miniature portrait with a languid visual style. Grade: A-