The romance between Ben and Sam is built on the stuff of great pop opera: Ben the jock (Rayan Dulay) and Sam the artsy type (Jess Mendoza) are rivals in both film class debates and an upcoming popularity pageant. So it's a disappointment that the movie doesn't muster connective power the way timeless youth movies do. How could it go wrong? The answer: Ben and Sam is a thoroughly distracted picture.
Directed by Mark Shandii Bacolod, with self-conscious camera work and frilly subplots -- the most belabored of which involves a homophobe (Micah Munoz) heading towards homicide -- the love story gets lost amidst much hullabaloo.
What's crucially forgotten is the attraction. Those intellectual debates, likely meant to be sparring matches as foreplay, meander into sexless recitation. It's hard to pinpoint when the two guys started getting into each other.
We're left to rely on the easy function of stereotypes for tension. Ben is The Closeted Athlete, and therefore, must be having a hard time with his feelings. There's little evidence for it, except in dialogue about honesty (Those truth-in-cinema discussions reflect being true to yourself -- what a stretch!) and in the acceptance of a crazy, costume-changing (hence, unconventional) Mom. Yet Ben also seems to be comfortable being different around his basketball teammates from the start. So what's the problem? We're made to grasp for clues about what it is that Ben sees in -- or needs from -- Sam, and vice versa. Neither Rayan Dulay nor Jess Domingo are intense enough actors (nor do they have enough chemistry) to fake this love without the story details. When they jump into making out while working on an assignment together, we understand it only because we know working on assignments together can do that to you.
(SPOILER ALERT!) In the end, when one of them dies, the film makes a tough bid for emotionality that only comes across as a lightweight you-love-him-now-that-he's-gone because we were never really convinced to begin with. We only understand it because we know death to be the pits. But dude, what loss are you mourning?
Bonus points for casual locker room nudity and butt-naked frolicking in the garden.
When people say a film is so bad that it's good, they're usually talking about one thing: passion. The film makes so many aesthetic missteps because, in the first place, the filmmaker has committed himself -- thrown his being -- into something so wrong or so awful. It's that dare to dream -- and fail -- that gives the film its unique joy. Think of your favorite so-bad-it's-good movie. Now try to measure the amount of love you conceive to have been put into it. Without that leap of passion, it would merely be bad bad. With it, it's bad good. I would argue that the best examples of such films aren't bad at all; they're usually just strange, left-of-center outcasts.
Libido never got a theatrical release, but it did have a special screening for a curious paying audience, before it was released on video. From the start, it was announced by its spin machine as a film of low standards -- you come for the sex and nudity because it has nothing else to offer. True enough.
The story is old, but not bad. A city couple vacations with a country couple (The women are sisters) in a house near a brook, which leads to an opening of minds, naturally. There's spouse-swapping, and rape, but better yet: After the city guy excites the country guy with stories of his pansexual experiences, the two dudes get it on. There's little guilt, or any other emotion for that matter, and everyone walks away happy.
The cardboard performances are the constant source of amusement, especially by actress Maricris Losada, who looks like she's perfectly content with not knowing what she's doing. A certain amount of innocence always works well with sexploitation. Jeff Luna as the older farmer and Marcus Cabrera as the young nurse are exciting because their limited, barely written characters are offset by their confident parades of fresh, fleshy, imperfect bodies. (CJ Manalo is the third guy in the flashback.) I probably would've been bored if they weren't so cute.
But where's the passion? Writer-Director Lucas Mercado's filmmaking is so sweatless and impersonal, Libido ends up less of a so-bad-it's-good movie than just every other run-of-the-mill cheapo. Most of the lovemaking scenes -- watch two bodies pile on top of each other -- barely generate heat, not because of misplaced effort, but because of lack of it. The recipe for a great bad-good entertainment is here. The cook would have served us better if he poured out his guts. I hope that's a lesson for everyone out there venturing into bad movies.
When murdering his victims, the cross-dressing serial killer (Mon Confiado) wields his weapon with his pinky finger pointed upwards! (The title refers to the limp hand movement that's supposed to be a telltale sign of homosexuality. Right.) This detail is the sole cool thing about Pilantik, a movie that ought to be scarier and funnier, but is only a mess.
It makes the great mistake of many psycho killer stories: The drama is all in the past. Here, an abusive, homophobic stepfather (Pen Medina) and a stepbrother broke his hand bones permanently when he was a kid -- but even this is staged like a bad afternoon teledrama. (It's directed by TV veteran Argel Joseph.) Meanwhile, in the present, what exactly is going on? For all the loony-fag hamming of Mon Confiado, the character operates without logic. What in the world is he doing with his life, and why? He's rich, takes care of his crazy mom, has a boyfriend, hangs out with a parlorista friend (Lito "Shalala" Reyes), and on the side, hacks people into parts. None of the elements connect. The movie is so lost that somewhere in the middle, we are introduced to three gay killers (as in, straight men who kill gay men), and in the "climactic" action chase that follows, one of them (Jao Mapa) may have suddenly turned into the movie's new lead role we root for. Or not. Your frustrated guess is as good as mine.
What was the best Filipino gay movie of 2009? 122 votes
22% Sagwan 21% In My Life 19% Heavenly Touch 13% Boylets 09% Ded Na Si Lolo 08% Little Boy/Big Boy 08% I Love Dreamguyz 07% Boy 07% Campus Crush 06% Bayaw 05% Showboyz 05% Pipo: Ang Batang Pro 05% Others 04% Booking 03% Last Supper No. 3 02% Ang Laro Ng Buhay Ni Juan 02% Walang Hanggang Paalam 02% I didn't see any. 01% Padyak 01% Astig 01% All I saw were bad. 00% with votes: Hikbi, Tutok, 1017: Sa Paglaya Ng Aking Salita, Latak
What was the worst Filipino gay movie of 2009? 61 votes
26% Sagwan 16% Boylets 13% Showboyz 13% Campus Crush 11% Bayaw 09% Tutok 09% In My Life 08% Ang Laro Ng Buhay Ni Juan 06% Booking 06% Little Boy/Big Boy 06% Pipo: Ang Batang Pro 06% I Love Dreamguyz 06% Latak 04% Heavenly Touch 03% Hikbi 03% Ded Na Si Lolo 03% Walang Hanggang Paalam 03% All I saw were good. 03% I didn't see any. 01% Padyak 01% 1017: Sa Paglaya Ng Aking Salita 01% Boy 01% Others 00% (No Votes) Last Supper No. 3
The sidebar on this blog is getting unmanageably long, so it's time to retire some of the polls. For posterity, here are the results:
What was the best Filipino gay movie of 2008? 19 votes
42% Ang Lihim Ni Antonio 26% Daybreak 21% The Thank You Girls 10% Walang Kawala 10% Manay Po 2 10% Kambyo 05% Dose 05% Sa Pagdapo Ng Mariposa 05% The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela 05% Kurap 05% Binyag 05% Eskandalo 00% Jay, Lovebirds, Quicktrip, Imoral, Hugot, Kalakal, Lalamunan, Others
What was the worst Filipino gay movie of 2008? 7 votes
28% Hugot 14% Ang Lihim Ni Antonio 14% Walang Kawala 14% Kambyo 14% Manay Po 2 14% Sa Pagdapo Ng Mariposa
Are the younger generation still familiar with the meaning behind the title? In this age of reserved seating and fire safety regulations, “standing room only” is a moviehouse term that’s barely used anymore. The double meaning is that, in run-down theaters that also function as prostitution dens, there’s a lot of standing and walking going on inside. Like the title, the movie SRO feels moldy and out-of-touch. Can’t get enough of the sight of an experienced serviceboy throwing up after giving head? That’s just one of the film's many standard “insights” about the miserable lives of sex peddlers.
The acronym also stands for the initials of the three main hustlers (Sonny, Roldan, and Oscar), played by Rain Javier, Kristoffer King, and Charles Delgado, and the movie supposedly depicts the struggle for dominance among them – the passing of the baton, so to speak, of who is the hottest callboy inside. Sounds like a cool setup for some micro politics, or at least some backstabbing, bitching, or one-upmanship – but alas, the movie doesn’t know what to do with it. The boys don't really try to outsex each other. Like so many Filipino films lately, the conflict remains a concept, not really played out for the thrills they promise. For a film about a power struggle, it’s baffling why none of the people actually interact. They all prefer talking by themselves, like the blind woman (Ana Capri) who speaks but is not heard. Sonny, the first king of the territory, likes talking to the movie screen. Oscar, as the young upstart, narrates in dry voice-over. In effect, everyone is either a pontificator, or, like Paolo Rivero as a mysterious habitue, a spectre. Where’s the fun in that?
Serbis, also set in a dirty picture house, was over-semioticized junk, but at least it captured the existential chaos of its environment. SRO gives us ghosts in place of people, and blank space instead of place. But at least the horny kid stripping in front of the mirror is a guy this time.
I have been remiss in my reviewing duties the past three months. I hope you didn't miss Last Supper No. 3, a comedy about a gay man who, by going through the hell that is the justice system, embodies the resilience of the regular Juan Dela Cruz -- How often do homosexuals step up to represent the entire citizenry? It's a gay movie for sure, even though people will be inclined to "defend" it's "not a gay movie" just because there's no gay sex.
This week is a busy one for Filipino films, with two definitely gay movies, Parisukat and Ben and Sam, in select theaters. But they're not the only indies making an appearance: The Red Shoes, a heterosexual love story starring Marvin Agustin and a pair of Imelda Marcos' shoes (Then again, How can an Imelda film not be a little bit gay?; It's also one for foot fetishists); and Bakal Boys, one of my favorite films of 2009, is not a gay movie, despite the suggestive title. It's a mesmerizing drama about children metal divers in the shores of Manila. The kids are cute, though, if that's your sort of thing, and one of its strongest themes is the friendship among boys. And of course, the already blockbuster hit studio entry Miss You Like Crazy, starring every mother's favorite son, John Lloyd Cruz, is still pimping itself to audiences nationwide. Have fun.