Friday, September 21, 2007

Ang Lalake Sa Parola (The Man in the Lighthouse)

Justin De Leon and Harry Chua

It begs to be asked: When was the last time we saw an erect penis in a Filipino movie? In commercial theatres or legitimate video?

With the release of the R-rated Ang Lalake Sa Parola -- sans the erection and a variety of other sexual images that were the reason for its previous X-rating by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) -- we really should be wondering aloud: What's wrong with dick? Is our conservative taste in cinema a reality or merely imagined? And, most importantly, could our backward cinematic culture be directly related to the absence of acceptable phallus?

I have not seen the notorious X-rated (and therefore practically banned) version, but I imagine it to be a superior film to the one I saw. In the R-rated Parola, I sensed an underlying spirit of bravery and bravura. Images of complete nakedness and overt sexuality would have certainly made sense. My plea: Unleash the original cut.

For the most part, Parola plays out like something old and useless: a country hunk (Harry Chua) is visited by a city hunk (Justin De Leon), and country hunk "comes of age" -- which, in a gay film like this, means he gets it on with another guy and "discovers himself". His girlfriend (Jennifer Lee) is consequentially waylaid. It's Brokeback Mountain by way of standard Pinoy boldie. Sex scenes appear as key turning points of the story. Mateo has sex with his girlfriend, then Mateo has sex with Jerome, then Mateo doesn't have sex with his girlfriend but continues to have sex with Jerome. In the "bold" genre, plot can easily be understood just by outlining the sex scenes. Scenes and dialogue can sometimes seem nicked straight from ordinary online erotica. The steamiest scene, involving unzipped trousers, is a great work of tease.

But something unexpected happens towards the end, where the movie achieves a kind of mindfuck. STOP READING NOW IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS.

In the city, Mateo has dinner with his now-boyfriend Jerome and friends. In the middle of bilingual, educated but trivial chatter, he finds himself lost and unable to relate. If the movie hadn't been an effective romance up to that point, and not even an effective psychological study of a man, it's at least a movie with a big central idea. It invites us to pry into the nature of identity.

In a succeeding scene, the nextdoor maid asks Mateo if he's the new boyfriend, which he instinctively denies. A kitchen argument between the lovers ensues, in which Jerome forces Mateo to admit he's gay, but poor Mateo can't. I was rooting for Mateo not to answer. The movie asks: Could the label of homosexuality be largely an intellectual construct? As Mateo gradually rejects his taste for women, the film presents to us a slippery notion of gender. Although that final shot of Mateo framed by a painting of a woman's figure is telling of the filmmakers' position (they seem to say Mateo is, afterall, gay), I'd like to think it's not as closed. What I admire most is the depth and importance of the discourse.

There's a running narration about some silly folklore about a diwata (fairy) who seduces men. It intercuts with the main narrative, and it drove me nuts. It suggests the case of Mateo is not an isolated one but is the general plight of many men through time -- how straight men can turn gay or whatever. At some moments, I was reminded of Sa Paraiso Ni Efren, that classic Pinoy film in which a man who's primarily a woman-fucker goes into a relationship of love with a gay man. There's also a fairy symbol there, that signifies both a missing parental figure and also an elusive sexual identity waiting to be grasped. Anton Bernardo, that film's star, is similar to Harry Chua, too. Both embody the conflicting forces of man and child, starting with their physiques: a delicious balance of bulging muscle and baby fat.

Harry Chua is truly remarkable. He was perfect as a boy who was not necessarily inexperienced nor ignorant, but still in a way innocent. Clothed or undressed, fornicating or not, he was a joy to watch. My favorite scene was of him doing housework in just his whities. In that scene and others where the actors similarly expose or perform more than what conventional flicks would deem tasteful, Parola is elevated from a mere "story" into a filmmaking that approaches -- dare I say it -- Art. As the film coaxes the viewers to be voyeurs, it also implicates us in the ongoing exploitation: of one man's devolution (or evolution) as an object-slave. Too bad the truly baring incidents were wasted on the cutting room floor. I still maintain: A more explicit version of this movie could have been something powerful, as it moves farther from standard sex narrative into a reflexive provocation, in which our reaction to the image matters as much as the image itself. And besides, it would have been an even hotter film. Right now, in the sanitized cut, what we have is an incredibly steamy film that's not quite good, but close.


Related Links:
Forum on the movie at PinoyPride
synopsis and stills at FilipinoQueer
Parola Gets X-Rating
Parola Gets X-Rating 2

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sunkist Iced Tea - "Basketball"

Just how many commercials out there feature a finger running down a sweaty chest, ass-grabbing, chest-bumping, and three peeling off of basketball jerseys, one of which reveals a shaved armpit -- in 30 seconds?

This ad for Sunkist Iced Tea may or may not be homophobic, I'm still not sure. We're supposed to laugh at the idea of a basketball player (who's MVP, so he must be macho), suddenly turned "honest" after drinking the iced tea, and divulges -- in a flamboyant manner -- his real motivations for playing the game: the boys. The ad subverts stereotypes (that athletes, particularly in the macho sport of basketball, can be gay too) even as it feeds on them (they're in the closet and their "true" selves are sex-obsessed screaming faggots). The last reaction of the teammate on the right is point for discussion. However, the guys are hot, and the display of skin is delicious. Who are these terrific models? I didn't really find it funny, and I don't know if it effectively sells its product, but it has instantly become one of my favorite commercials for all time. I can't stop watching it.


Related Links:
Same ad on YouTube
Sunkist Iced Tea-"Movie"
Commercial Closet
Best Gay Commercials according to David Paul Robinson

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Be Bench The Model Search

Carlo and Kerbie

I didn't watch this show because I have this general notion about corporate-themed reality shows: They suck. In the past, they had been just long advertisements on toothpaste or softdrink or whiskey or whatever, without the unique personality of an actual piece of entertainment.

This currently running show by Bench (the clothing brand) was initially painful to watch. Every frame was emblazoned with the logo or the trademark colors red and white. You can see it behind the hosts, or in chargens, or while celebrities extol the brand's greatness in interviews. And when they cut to commercials, the first ad is, of course, Bench. My eyes hurt watching it. But there was reason to tune in: Aspiring male models. And man, I love those guys.

This week, the remaining bunch were asked to run through trees in only their briefs. In a speech lesson, Kerbie Zamora showed the cameras how he can twist his pink tongue in a knot. I almost kissed my TV set while he did it. I wonder what other nice things they were asked to do in previous eps. I already miss the guys who were booted out: Martin Grogaard who cried a lot, Joey who was discovered as a market vendor in Laguna, and Kerbie who was so hot in his underwear shoot, go look for it! They should have kicked out all the girls instead, and left all six guys for the finale next week. Now that's a show.

It's actually a bad show. Kill this type of reality format already, burn it, and bury the ashes. A panel of judges with expert "wise" words, the routine expulsion ceremony of one contestant every week, "humor" in the video playback -- are all yuck. Piolo Pascual's hosting has a weird, stoned non-presence. I sense he's gushing to himself everytime he has to mention the guys' names. But sometimes the bad shows are impossible to resist. Especially if the cast of boys are adorable.


Related Links:
Official Site
New Bench Commercial

Monday, September 3, 2007

Cosmo Men 2007


The happiest universal timepost of yet another year gone by is not Christmas, not New Year's, but Cosmopolitan magazine's annual roundup of 69 Gorgeous Bachelors and 10 Male Centerfolds. True, it's been disappointing the past couple of years, but this year brings one big surprise: They got almost all of the men to pose half-naked in well-produced photo shoots -- not just the star centerfolds. The special featurette is finally the cover-to-cover visual smorgasbord of yumminess it always could have been. However, I get the feeling that the editors deliberately choose safe photos over risque. Not one shot is truly ball-grabbing. I'm still waiting for them to top the Paul Artadi spread back in 2003. He was an average goodlooker captured at his sexiest. Today, we're seeing a lot of hot men with unutilized potential.

Astounding to see so many models or model-slash-somethings. It's a model's world, apparently. Not one bachelor over 30. A definitive catalog of current Pinoy male beauty it is not. The blurbs about how much they love women are as boring as ever (or as unbelievable).

Special mention to Jake Cuenca, who's the one irrefutable item on the top 10. He's the only one who still feels like a fresh discovery (unlike, say, coverboy Dingdong Dantes who's been popular for ages) while at the same time seems like he's due his spotlight (unlike Bruno Folster, who's yet to prove an impact on the public). Jake Cuenca is the most exquisite man in showbiz right now. Which is really just a euphemism for I'm-madly-in-crush-with-Jake-Cuenca-and-I'd-sell-my-soul-to-the-devil-to-sex-him.


Related Links:
Cosmo Bash 2007 Photos by Vince Lopez
Cosmo Bash 2007 Photos by Jujiin
Cosmo Bash 2007 Candid Video