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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

entry arrow10:30 PM | Good Riddance!



[And hopefully I'll be able to say the same to someone else in 2022.]

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich





entry arrow8:33 PM | Reading 'The Gullet'



Finally finished the late Clinton Palanca's last book, The Gullet: Dispatches on Philippine Food, and I couldn't help but consider my reading of it a bittersweet valedictory: I enjoyed very much the elegant nimbleness and richness of the prose [in Philippine literary circles, Clinton was in a class all his own], while at the same time commiserating that we would no longer have more of the same from the author who suddenly passed away in May 2019. That we could no longer look forward to another book was what gave me the saddest pause. Much of The Gullet—a collection of his columns and short musings on food and his travels for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Esquire—begets an anticipation for more; it feels like an audition, a launching pad, a beautiful brainstorm for a longer, more comprehensive, more organically conceptualized book. As such, these are exquisitely written missives—which range from a historical consideration of Philippine cuisine to culinary finds in places as exotic as Rajastan, India and London—unfortunately marred by the fits and starts inherent in its editorial design. It left me hungering for more.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich





entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 56.



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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich





Tuesday, January 19, 2021

entry arrow6:31 PM | All the 2020 Films I’ve Seen, Ranked

If there was a year for endlessly watching movies, 2020 would be it. While movie theaters closed down, and while we thought of the last film we watched in the theater [mine was the Pixar film Onwards in City Mall, what was yours?] with some degree of premature nostalgia, we learned to flock to streaming online, Netflix most of all.

I have seen 331 films in 2020—features [including animated films], documentaries, and short films. A record for me. And I’ve ranked them all.

But any ranked list changes over time, because our responses to anything will always be tied to context and personal connection, which are relative. I say this because even up to now, I look at this list and it's difficult to resist the urge to rearrange. For example, when I watched Regina King's One Night in Miami for the first time, I was impressed—but not enough for it to breach my provisional Top 10 of the year.

But I could not stop thinking about the film. When I saw it for the second time a few days later, I was able to reach deeper into its cinematic nuances and the gravity of its themes, and I found a better movie than when I first saw it. Now, it's my No. 2.

But it has been an exhilarating year for the movies, even given the pandemic lockdown that made many of our anticipated releases unfortunately decamp to 2021. The loss of Black Widow, Coming 2 America, Death on the Nile, Dune, Eternals, The French Dispatch, The Green Knight, In the Heights, Memoria, No Time to Die, A Quiet Place Part II, Top Gun: Maverick, and West Side Story to later playdates was keenly felt—but it also afforded smaller films to rise and define the movies of 2020, outshining even the big ones that dared open, like Tenet, Mulan, and Wonder Woman 1984, which were disappointments.

What I like about the films I loved in 2020 were their daring to be blissfully, utterly human, warts and all—and yet finding ultimate grace in that exploration of humanity. In Nomadland, a woman loses her home in the recession and decides to live in her van while traveling the country—but finds uncommon bond with nomads like her, and beauty in harsh country. In First Cow, two strangers in frontierland America decide to live together, and find joy and sustenance in baking cookies flavoured by stolen milk. In Saint Frances, a lost soul in her mid-30s becomes a nanny for the summer with no intentions of being good at her parttime job—but finds herself becoming a better woman, much to her surprise. In Minari, a Korean immigrant pursues the American dream of farming land in Iowa—despite bad turns of luck, protests from his wife, and the culture clash he frequently encounters. Even in the horror landscape of The Painted Bird, a very divisive film where a boy encounters unimaginable perversions while escaping the fires of World War II, humanity glimmers like a kind of holy grail.

I think that's what I responded to in films in the difficult year that was 2020: grace notes in the midst of loss, horror, and depression. I found it in Elehiya sa Paglimot, the moving documentary on the filmmaker's grappling with his father's battle with Alzheimer’s disease. I found it in Soul, the Pixar film on jazz, death, and second chances. I found it in About Endlessness, Roy Andersson's final film in his trilogy of weird dioramas of human foibles and frailty.

I love that 2020 was the year of the lesbian in film, with Ammonite, Deux [Two of Us], The Half of It, Happiest Season, Kajillionaire, The Prom, and Summer of Mesa coming to the fore—some better than the others. I love that trans people found complex representations in Alice Junior, The Craft: Legacy, Funny Boy, and Lingua Franca, with the documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen capping it all—again, some better than the others. I love the gender fluidity of Aviva, Possessor, Shirley, You Don't Nomi, and True History of the Kelly Gang. I love that many films featuring gay men—End of the Century, The Christmas Setup, Los Fuertes [The Strong Ones], José, Matthias and Maxime, Monsoon, and Sublet—invariably involved place and transitions: whether arriving in a strange land or leaving a familiar one, and groping for anchor either way. I love that we have gay heroes to emulate [The Old Guard and Uncle Frank], and gay villains to make things more interesting [He Who is Without Sin]. And I love that we're still doing coming of age films [The Boy Foretold by the Stars, Summer of 85, Your Name Engraved Herein, and The Thing About Harry], even when we grapple with the continuing challenges of being LGBTQ [And Then We Danced, Supernova, The Surrogate, Welcome to Chechnya, and Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker].

I love that Greenland grounded for me my favorite genre of the disaster movie. I love that we had theatrical performances on film such as Hamilton, What the Constitution Means to Me, and David Byrne’s American Utopia.

I love that Steve McQueen made five films—Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Red, White and Blue, Alex Wheatle, and Education—in an anthology series collectively called Small Axe to document the black experience in Britain, and subsequently unleashing a debate fit for 2020: what is film, and what is television? I love that Steven Soderbergh continues to experiment with cinematic platforms, this year giving us the wonderful Let Them All Talk, and I love that his Contagion, released in 2011, belatedly became the most sought-after film for our fraught times.

And I love that the pandemic had an ironic effect moviegoing-wise: it allowed me greater access to films I would normally not be able to access in time—especially Filipino films. In answer to theater closures nationwide, the local film industry finally created an online portal to new films in release, Upstream, which made patronising Filipino films less a Manila-centric endeavour. Suddenly we had access to QCinema titles, and Metro Manila Film Festival entries without being at the programming mercy of local theater chains. [There is also the new FDCP Channel, which seeks to stream Filipino film classics and new festival titles.]

But I have yet to see some of the critically-acclaimed films of the year, including Asia, French Exit, Gunda, Judas and the Black Messiah, Night of the Kings, Saint Maud, Sun Children, Te Llevo Conmigo [I Carry You With Me], The Truffle Hunters, United States vs. Billie Holiday, and The White Tiger.

Here they all are, ranked.

THE TOP 30:

1. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, United States)
2. One Night in Miami (Regina King, United States)
3. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, United States)
4. Saint Frances (Alex Thompson, United States)
5. Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
6. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, United States)
7. The Painted Bird (Václav Marhoul, Czech Republic)
8. Colectiv [Collective] (Alexander Nanau, Romania)
9. Himala: Isang Dayalektika ng Ating Panahon (Lav Diaz, Philippines)
10. The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, United States)



11. Elehiya sa Paglimot (Kristoffer Brugada, Philippines)
12. Soul (Pete Docter, United States)
13. World of Tomorrow Episode Three: The Absent Destinations of David Prime (Don Hertzfeldt, United States)
14. About Endlessness (Roy Andersson, Sweden)
15. Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Ireland)
16. Ammonite (Francis Lee, United Kingdom)
17. Kalel, 15 (Jun Robles Lana, Philippines)
18. What the Constitution Means to Me (Marielle Heller, United States)
19. TIE: Slay the Dragon (Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance, United States)
19. TIE: All In: The Fight for Democracy (Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, United States)



21. Aswang (Alyx Ayn Arumpac, Philippines)
22. The Audition [Das Vorspiel] (Ina Weisse, Germany)
23. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe, United States)
24. Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy (Elizabeth Carroll, United States)
25. The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
26. TIE: Mangrove (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom)
26. TIE: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, United States)
28. Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always (Eliza Hittman, United States)
29. A Sun (Chung Mong-hong, Taiwan)
30. Your Name Engraved Herein (Liu Kuang-Hui, Taiwan)

THE REST OF THE TOP 100:

31. Greenland (Ric Roman Waugh, United States)
32. Scare Me (Josh Ruben, United States)
33. Mank (David Fincher, United States)
34. Let Them All Talk (Steven Soderbergh, United States)
35. Never Gonna Snow Again (Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert, Poland)
36. The Old Guard (Gina Prince-Bythewood, United States)
37. Deux [Two of Us] (Filippo Meneghetti, France)
38. The Booksellers (D.W. Young, United States)
39. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil)
40. Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

41. Jallikattu (Lijo Jose Pellissery, India)
42. Babyteeth (Shannon Murphy, Australia)
43. The Nest (Sean Durkin, United States)
44. Bad Education (Cory Finley, United States)
45. Summerland (Jessica Swale, United Kingdom)
46. News of the World (Paul Greengrass, United States)
47. Driveways (Andrew Ahn, United States)
48. The Forty-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank, United States)
49. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, United States)
50. Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)

51. His House (Remi Weekes, United States and United Kingdom)
52. This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Lesotho)
53. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom)
54. End of the Century (Lucio Castro, Argentina)
55. Mignonnes [Cuties] (Maïmouna Doucouré, France)
56. Hamilton (Thomas Kail, United States)
57. The Assistant (Kitty Green, United States)
58. Emma. (Autumn de Wilde, United States)
59. Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, United States)
60. Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, United States)

61. Over the Moon (Glen Keane and John Kahrs, United States)
62. Sylvie's Love (Eugene Ashe, United States)
63. Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, Russia)
64. Tesla (Michael Almereyda, United States)
65. Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (Halina Dyrschka, Germany)
66. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Jason Woliner, United States)
67. My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, South Africa)
68. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, United States)
69. City Hall (Frederick Wiseman, United States)
70. A Thousand Cuts (Ramona S. Díaz, United States and Philippines)

71. The Eight Hundred (Guan Hu, China)
72. Godmothered (Sharon Maguire, United States)
73. Ordinary Love (Lisa Barros D'Sa, United Kingdom)
74. Farewell Amor (Ekwa Msangi, United States)
75. Rewind (Sasha Joseph Neulinger, United States)
76. Sublet (Eytan Fox, Israel)
77. Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach, United Kingdom)
78. El Cazador [Young Hunter] (Marco Berger, Argentina)
79. Pieces of a Woman (Kornél Mundruczó, United States and Canada)
80. La Vérité [The Truth] (Hirokazu Kore-eda, France and Japan)

81. The Boy Foretold by the Stars (Dolly Dulu, Philippines)
82. Fan Girl (Antoinette Jadaone, Philippines)
83. The Wolf House (Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, Chile and Germany)
84. Let Him Go (Thomas Bezucha, United States)
85. The Devil All the Time (Antonio Campos, United States)
86. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, United States)
87. End of Sentence (Elfar Adalsteins, United States)
88. Matthias and Maxime (Xavier Dolan, Canada)
89. Totally Under Control (Alex Gibney, Suzanne Hillinger, and Ophelia Harutyunyan, United States)
90. Midnight in a Perfect World (Dodo Dayao, Philippines)

91. I Am Greta (Nathan Grossman, Sweden)
92. You Don't Nomi (Jeffrey McHale, United States)
93. Time (Garrett Bradley, United States)
94. The Mole Agent (Maite Alberdi, Chile)
95. Boys State (Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, United States)
96. The Swerve (Dean Kapsalis, United States)
97. Ema (Pablo Larraín, Chile)
98. Freaky (Christopher Landon, United States)
99. Love and Monsters (Michael Matthews, United States)
100. Palm Springs (Max Barbakow, United States)

THE REST OF THE TOP 200:

101. David Byrne's American Utopia (Spike Lee, United States)
102. Monsoon (Hong Khaou, United Kingdom)
103. The Father (Florian Zeller, United States)
104. The Way Back (Gavin O’Connor, United States)
105. The Surrogate (Jeremy Hersh, United States)
106. The Platform (Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia, Spain)
107. Last and First Men (Jóhann Jóhannsson, Iceland)
108. The Endless Trench (Jon Garaño and Aitor Arregi, Spain)
109. The Dark and the Wicked (Bryan Bertino, United States)
110. Gretel and Hansel (Osgood Perkins, United States)

111. Spontaneous (Brian Duffield, United States)
112. True History of the Kelly Gang (Justin Kurzel, Australia, United Kingdom, and France)
113. A Whisker Away (Sato Junichi, Japan)
114. Shirley (Josephine Decker, United States)
115. Charter (Amanda Kernell, Sweden)
116. The Glorias (Julie Taymor, United States)
117. José (Li Cheng, Guatemala)
118. Happy Old Year (Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Thailand)
119. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee, United States)
120. The Twentieth Century (Matthew Rankin, Canada)

121. The Personal History of David Copperfield (Armando Iannucci, United States)
122. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Will Becher and Richard Phelan, United Kingdom)
123. Radioactive (Marjane Satrapi, United Kingdom)
134. On the Record (Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, United States)
125. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham, United States)
126. The Climb (Michael Angelo Covino, United States)
127. On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola, United States)
128. Hayop Ka! (Avid Liongoren, Philippines)
129. Marona's Fantastic Tale (Anca Damian, France)
130. Onward (Dan Scanlon, United States)

131. Été 85 [Summer of 85] (François Ozon, France)
132. Buoyancy (Rodd Rathjen, Australia)
133. The Thing About Harry (Peter Paige, United States)
134. To the Ends of the Earth (Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Japan and Uzbekistan)
135. Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, Italy and France)
136. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa, Portugal)
137. A White, White Day (Hlynur Palmason, Iceland)
138. Run (Aneesh Chaganty, United States)
139. Miss Juneteenth (Channing Godfrey Peoples, United States)
140. Rifkin's Festival (Woody Allen, United States, Spain, and Italy)

141. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (David Dobkin, United States)
142. The Croods: A New Age (Joel Crawford, United States)
143. Evil Eye (Elan and Rajeev Dassani, United States and India)
144. Bill and Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot, United States)
145. Education (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom)
146. Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (Werner Herzog, United Kingdom)
147. The Call of the Wild (Chris Sanders, United States)
148. Black Bear (Lawrence Michael Levine, United States)
149. Kajillionaire (Miranda July, United States)
150. La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala)

151. The Lodge (Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, United States)
152. Yes, God, Yes (Karen Maine, United States)
153. Lost Girls (Liz Garbus, United States)
154. Dick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson, United States)
155. Welcome to Chechnya (David France, United States)
156. The Ghost of Peter Sellers (Peter Medak, United States)
157. Red, White, and Blue (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom)
158. Relic (Natalie Erika James, United States)
159. The Boys in the Band (Joe Mantello, United States)
160. The Story of Plastic (Deia Schlosberg, United States)

161. Ghost Tropic (Bas Devos, Belgium)
162. The Christmas Setup (Pat Mills, United States)
163. Hope Gap (William Nicholson, United Kingdom)
164. Herself (Phyllida Lloyd, United Kingdom and Ireland)
165. Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds (Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer, United States)
166. The Life Ahead (Edoardo Ponti, United States and Italy)
167. And Then We Danced (Levan Akin, Georgia)
168. The Dark End of the Street (Kevin Tran, United States)
169. Butt Boy (Tyler Cornack, United States)
170. John Lewis: Good Trouble (Dawn Porter, United States)

171. I'm Your Woman (Julia Hart, United States)
172. The Way I See It (Dawn Porter, United States)
173. Once Upon a Time in Venezuela (Anabel Rodríguez, Venezuela)
174. The Three Deaths of Marisela Escobedo (Carlos Pérez Osorio, Mexico)
175. The Fight (Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman, and Elyse Steinberg, United States)
176. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (Jonathan Hughes, Keith Scholey, and Alastair Fothergill, United Kingdom)
177. If Anything Happens I Love You (Will McCormack and Michael Govier, United States)
178. Death of Nintendo (Raya Martin, Philippines)
179. You Will Die at 20 (Amjad Abu Alala, Sudan)
180. Lahi, Hayop (Lav Diaz, Philippines)

181. The Empty Man (David Prior, United States)
182. The Other Lamb (Małgorzata Szumowska, United States)
183. I'm No Longer Here (Fernando Frías, Mexico)
184. Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen (Sam Feder, United States)
185. Better Days (Derek Tsang, Hong Kong)
186. Penguin Bloom (Glendyn Ivin, Australia)
187. Be Water (Bao Nguyen, United States)
188. The Photograph (Stella Meghie, United States)
189. Greyhound (Aaron Schneider, United States)
190. How to Build a Girl (Coky Giedroyc, United States and United Kingdom)

191. Alex Wheatle (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom)
192. Uncle Frank (Alan Ball, United States)
193. Los Fuertes [The Strong Ones] (Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo, Chile)
194. The Wild Goose Lake (Yi'nan Diao, China)
195. Dear Comrades! (Andrei Konchalovsky, Russia)
196. What We Wanted (Ulrikee Kofler, Austria)
197. The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania)
198. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (Frank Marshall, United States)
199. Impetigore (Joko Anwar, Indonesia)
200. Tommaso (Abel Ferrara, United States)

THE REST OF THE TOP 300:

201. Luxor (Zeina Durra, Egypt and United Kingdom)
202. House of Hummingbird (Kim Bora, South Korea)
203. Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (Alexandre O. Philippe, United States)
204. Out (Steven Hunter, United States)
205. Suk Suk (Ray Yeung, Hong Kong)
206. The Witches (Robert Zemeckis, United States)
207. Save Yourselves! (Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, United States)
208. Dreamy Eyes (Victor Vu, Vietnam)
209. Host (Rob Savage, United States)
210. #Alive (Il Cho, South Korea)

211. Athlete A (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, United States)
212. Agatha Christie: 100 Years of Poirot and Miss Marple (Sean Davison, United Kingdom)
213. Come to Daddy (Ant Timpson, Canada)
214. Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (Hitesh Kewalya, India)
215. Ava (Tate Taylor, United States)
216. Trolls World Tour (Walt Dohrn, United States)
217. Bad Boys for Life (Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, United States)
218. The Midnight Sky (George Clooney, United States)
219. The High Note (Nisha Ganatra, United States)
220. This is Paris (Alexandra Dean, United States)

221. Deerskin (Quentin Dupieux, France)
222. The Coin (Siqi Song, China)
223. A Secret Love (Chris Bolan, United States)
224. Magikland (Christian Acuna, Philippines)
225. The Willoughbys (Kris Pearn, Canada)
226. The German Lesson (Christian Schwochow, Germany)
227. Wild Mountain Thyme (John Patrick Shanley, United States)
228. Roh [Soul] (Emir Ezwan, Malaysia)
229. The Social Dilemma (Jeff Orlowski, United States)
230. The Prom (Ryan Murphy, United States)

231. Tenet (Christopher Nolan, United States)
232. Circus of Books (Rachel Mason, United States)
233. La Daronne [Mama Weed] (Jean-Paul Salomé, France)
234. Valley of the Gods (Lech Majewski, United States)
235. An Easy Girl (Rebecca Zlotowski, France)
236. Lamp Life (Valerie LaPointe, United States)
237. Endings, Beginnings (Drake Doremus, United States)
238. The Turning (Floria Sigismondi, United States)
239. He Who is Without Sin (Jason Paul Laxamana, Philippines)
240. Almost Love (Mike Doyle, United States)

FILMS WHICH AREN'T THE WORST BUT I DIDN'T PARTICULARLY LIKE:

241. The Call (Lee Chung-hyun, South Korea)
242. Wonder Woman 1984 (Patti Jenkins, United States)
243. We Can Be Heroes (Robert Rodriguez, United States)
244. After Midnight (Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella, United States)
245. Wander Darkly (Tara Miele, United States)
246. Undine (Christian Petzold, Germany)
247. Kintsugi (Lawrence Fajardo, Philippines)
248. Aviva (Boaz Yakin, United States and France)
249. Wendy (Benh Zeitlin, United States)
250. Lingua Franca (Isabel Sandoval, United States)

251. Downhill (Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, United States)
252. Kingdom of Silence (Rick Rowley, United States)
253. Spaceship Earth (Matt Wolf, United States)
254. Valley Girl (Rachel Lee Goldenberg, United States)
255. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (Cathy Yan, United States)
256. The Half of It (Alice Wu, United States)
257. Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, United States)
258. Fourteen (Dan Sallitt, United States)
259. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell, United States)
260. The Hunt (Craig Zobel, United States)

261. Sonic the Hedgehog (Jeff Fowler, United States)
262. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (Tim Hill, United States)
263. An American Pickle (Brandon Trost, United States)
264. Miss Americana (Lana Wilson, United States)
265. The Planters (Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder, United States)
266. Underwater (William Eubank, United States)
267. The Gentlemen (Guy Ritchie, United States and United Kingdom)
268. Beneath a Sea of Lights (Neel Kumar, United Arab Emirates)
269. 7500 (Patrick Vollrath, Austria, Germany, and United States)
270. Mime Your Manners (Kate Namowicz and Skyler Porras, United States)

271. Mindanao (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)
272. Superintelligence (Ben Falcone, United States)
273. A Muse (Jimmy Bontatibus, Germany and Romania)
274. The Craft: Legacy (Zoe Lister-Jones, United States)
275. My People My Homeland (Ning Hao, Chen Sicheng, Chao Deng, Da-Mo Peng, Ao Shen, Xu Zheng, Fei Yan, and Baimei Yu, China)

THE WORST:

276. Yellow Rose (Diane Paragas, United States)
277. Finding Agnes (Marla Ancheta, Philippines)
278. Crazy Samurai Musashi (Shimomura Yuji, Japan)
279. Agatha and the Midnight Murders (Joe A. Stephenson, United Kingdom)
280. On Vodka, Beers and Regrets (Irene Villamor, Philippines)

281. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, United States)
282. The Grudge (Nicolas Pesce, United States)
283. The 24th (Kevin Willmot, United States)
284. The War with Grandpa (Tim Hill, United States)
285. Hillbilly Elegy (Ron Howard, United States)
286. The Vigil (Keith Thomas, United States)
287. The Rhythm Section (Reed Morano, United States)
288. Fatima (Marco Pontecorvo, United States and Portugal)
289. Happiest Season (Clea Duvall, United States)
300. Leap (Peter Chan, China)

301. Brahms: The Boy II (William Brent Bell, United States)
302. Rebecca (Ben Wheatley, United States)
303. Honest Thief (Mark Williams, United States)
304. Train to Busan 2: Peninsula (Yeon Sang-ho, South Korea)
305. Tagpuan (Mac Alejandre, Philippines)
306. The New Mutants (Josh Boone, United States)
307. Dolittle (Stephen Gaghan, United States)
308. Bulbbul (Anvita Dutt, India)
309. Blackbird (Roger Michell, United States)
310. Alter Me (RC delos Reyes, Philippines)

311. Mulan (Niki Caro, United States)
312. Project Power (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, United States)
313. Antebellum (Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, United States)
314. The Wretched (The Pierce Brothers, United States)
315. You Should Have Left (David Koepp, United States)
316. She Dies Tomorrow (Amy Seimetz, United States)
317. The Last Thing He Wanted (Dee Rees, United States)
318. The Wrong Missy (Tyler Spindel, United States)
319. Spenser Confidential (Peter Berg, United States)
320. Like a Boss (Miguel Arteta, United States)

321. The Missing (Easy Ferrer, Philippines)
322. Holidate (John Whitesell, United States)
323. Artemis Fowl (Kenneth Branagh, United States)
324. The Secret Garden (Marc Munden, United States)
325. The Painter and the Thief (Benjamin Ree, Norway)
326. Nightshift (Yam Laranas, Philippines)
327. Lazy Susan (Nick Peet, United States)
328. Fantasy Island (Jeff Wadlow, United States)
329. Songbird (Adam Mason, United States)
330. 365 Days (Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mandes, Poland)
331. Hindi Tayo Pwede (Joel Lamangan, Philippines)

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich





Monday, January 18, 2021

entry arrow9:18 PM | A Conundrum of Streets and Places

When Jacqueline Veloso Antonio took the challenge of becoming tourism officer of Dumaguete City in 2016, one of the initial projects she had in mind for her tenure seemed simple enough to carry out: make sure to update the city’s street signs and install them in places where they were missing.

It felt very much a part of any good tourism mandate. After all, how can one give a proper geographic guide to tourists in Dumaguete when street names are not readily available as convenient signposts to their exploration of the place?

Worse yet, the unavailability of proper street signs have created a native population that’s also largely ignorant of their own geography, sometimes compelling them to create convenient but “unofficial” names to act as landmarks when they traverse the city.

“Laguna,” for example, is really V. Aldecoa Drive.

“By-Pass Road” is Gothong Avenue.

No one knows that the “Rizal Boulevard” is really called Rizal Avenue.

No one knows that from the Welcome Area of the pier going northwards Rizal Avenue continues on as Flores Avenue, which ends at the corner of Lantaw. It continues northwards to Bantayan as Escaño Drive [a new road], punctuating at the Silliman Beach. When the road turns west, running alongside Silliman Farm, it becomes Henry Mack Drive. Meanwhile, the name of the beach from Lo-oc to the border in Bantayan is Piapi Beach, not “Escaño Beach.”

Sometimes, locals are so used to hearing the sounds of street names and not reading them as bona fide signs that they are surprised to know that it is “Luke Wright Street” and not “Look Right Street.”

Sometimes there are streets we didn’t know have names. Jovenal V. Somoza Street is the road passing the ROTC Office at the Silliman Ballfield. Continuing that is a road locals call “Mango Avenue,” ending at Rovira—although officially it is Route 7. [A new name is in order!] And in the enclaves of Daro surrounding its market, we have small streets like Ipil Street, Tindalo Street, Molave Street, and others. The road cutting across Claytown Subdivision connecting Veterans Avenue to Gen. Diego de la Viña Street, where Gabby’s B&B is, has no name. Google Maps say it is Filomeno Cimafranca Drive—but I’m not sure it’s official.

The main thoroughfare of Amigo Subdivision has no name. Why don’t we just officially call it Mary Davis Amigo Drive, after the subdivision’s founder, an important pioneering businesswoman? And why are we sticking to just politicians for naming streets when we have two National Artists and two National Scientists? Let’s go for Edith Tiempo Street, Eddie Romero Street, Angel Alcala Street, and Clara Lim-Sylianco Street!

There are street names that are holdouts from the past that persist to this day, still being used by people in their commutes and by businesses in their addresses. People still say “Colon Street” when what they mean is Senator Lorenzo G. Teves Street. “Legaspi Street” is really Bishop Epifanio Surban Street. And “Cervantes Street” is really Mayor Joe Pro Teves Street.



“Real Street,” the old name of the provincial highway that cuts Dumaguete into its western and eastern halves, is a street of ultimate confusion—perhaps owing to its sheer length. Officially, it’s just the National Highway, with both its ends giving specific nomenclature, hence, “South National Highway” and “North National Highway.” But actually, the stretch from PNB to the Sibulan boundary [essentially, “North National Highway”] is officially Veterans Avenue. The rest of former Real Street, from PNB to the Bacong boundary [essentially also encompassing “South National Highway”] is Mayor Ramon T. Pastor Sr. Street.

And because of the length of the National Highway, the nebulousness in the naming not withstanding, locals have taken to calling specific places within its range some special names—even if the inspiration for those names may no longer exist. There was “Sharlyn’s,” once upon a time, named after a sari-sari store that sold ice cream in front of Freedom Park—although no one uses this anymore. Still persisting is “Orchids” just a stone’s throw away. Also “Bricks,” and nearby, the “Karate Club.” These are handy destination qualifiers all tricycle drivers know. Flag down a tricycle, and if you say, “Corner of Veterans Avenue and Aldecoa Drive,” you’ll get a driver scratching his head. Say, “Bricks,” and you’re off to go.

There are also conundrums.

What to make of the two Katada Streets in Dumaguete? One is the short length that begins at the Welcome Area and ends in Hibbard Avenue, Opena’s and The Rollin’ Pin along the stretch. The other is the narrow one that goes right along the painitan at the tianggue.

And where does Hibbard Avenue end and Airport Road begin? I still think Hibbard Avenue ends at L. Rovira Drive, continuing on as Airport Road from that point on to the airport runway itself, encompassing the place we call “Golden Rule.” [And why “Golden Rule”? Because the owners of Golden Rule Store downtown—the Chuangs—had a house with a huge bodega in the area. Since there were not too many houses there back then, locals took to calling it “Golden Rule.”]

And there is the mystery of San Jose Street. The “extension” of it westwards is so long and unwieldy it serves no geographic specificity—and thus is no help to anyone. There really should be a city resolution drafted to give specific lengths of its byways their own names. At least the curve that extends to Daro, going to the Water District, has been renamed Gen. Diego de la Viña Street—although locals still call it “Kalubihan.”

I’m glad we’ve retained some of the old street names, especially those streets that follow the Spanish tradition of naming the early streets of Dumaguete after saints. From Lorna Makil, we learn that this concept of “encircle and protect” allows for the spiritual protection of the poblacion, with streets surrounding it becoming hallowed by these saints’ names. Hence, we have Calle Santa Catalina, Calle San Juan, Calle San Jose, Calle Santa Rosa, and Calle Santa Cecilia—although the latter is now Silliman Avenue.

It took three years, in December 2018, for the City Tourism Officer to finally see some realization of her “proper street signs” dream. What “proper street signs” we see now in place is just Phase 1 of the project—perhaps owing to the fact that there really was no budget for it in the first instance of its conception back in 2016, and for which reallocations of funds had to be done. Phase 1 is all about taking care of the inner city streets. “Phase 2 is all about the outer city streets,” Ms. Antonio said, “and that’s in the works. We were supposed to do Phase 2 in January 2020, but COVID-19 happened. It was put on hold. We continue this year.”

And how come the street signs for Rizal are still missing?

“I had them removed for replacement,” she said. “The manufacturer put in ‘Rizal Boulevard,’ when it should be ‘Rizal Avenue.’”

Such distinctions are important, whether one likes the idea or not. A city progresses for the better if it knows itself—and that includes geography, and street names more specifically. If we cannot agree on the name of the street we live on, how can we agree on the best way to move forward as a community?


Image by Google Maps

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

entry arrow9:00 AM | The Tightrope of Writing About Art



There is a profound little moment somewhere near the end of Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women—an adaptation that reconfigures its protagonist’s main “romance” as primarily being between her and her creative vocation—where the filmmaker lays her thesis about the importance of writing as an instrument of record and highlight. We start with Jo March confessing to her sisters Amy and Meg that she’s been trying to write a novel, something “about our little life.”

“[But] who will be interested in a story of domestic struggles and joys? It doesn’t have any real importance,” she says, immediately dismissive of her subject.

“Maybe we don’t see those things as important because people don’t write about them,” Amy counters.

“No, writing doesn’t confer importance, it reflects it,” Jo says.

“I’m not sure,” Amy says, wise beyond expectations. “Perhaps writing will make them more important.”

I find Amy’s conclusion quite remarkable because it makes me think deep about what I do, which is write, and why I do it. The commonplace responses to that question of “why” are almost always in the vein of self-expression [which is not untrue], or of conveying a message [didactic or otherwise, which can happen]. Often the most pleasurable answer is that of doing a deep dive into a topic that’s unknown to you, with the act of writing itself becoming a venture of exploration and finding out how you feel or opine about that something just as you’re setting down the words and often becoming surprised by how it all comes to in the end. This compass-less navigation is the very heart and origin of the word “essay,” which is derived from the French infinitive “essayer,” which means “to try” or “to attempt.” We often write not because we know, but because we want to know.

But Amy is right: most writers do not settle on a subject because it shines with undeniable importance, compelling us to record it in words. [Although that happens often. Think of war correspondents embedded in battle. Think of reporters on a sports beat. Think of the journalist trailing a VIP for a profile.] But most of us, on good days, come upon topics that are often mundane—but something beneath their ordinariness can feel compelling, and in wrestling with their signification in words, writers inevitably shine a light on them—and the best of us are able to strip away their ordinariness to present them in scintillating light. Nora Ephron famously wrote about the sagging skin on her neck. Joan Didion wrote about the need to say goodbye to New York. David Shields wrote about tattoos. Jamaica Kincaid wrote about a dress she saw in an old photograph. What they’ve written are some of the vanguards of creative nonfiction, with topics no one would consider earth-shattering in importance.

Part of the arsenal of writing is evaluation, when we have to consider the relative aesthetic value of something and render a particular judgment. We call these “reviews”—and most of us traffic in them to manage our consumption of the popular culture that surrounds us. What movies to see? What exhibits or concerts to go to? What books to read? What play to watch? What album to listen to? What television to binge? What restaurants to patronize? In the endless choices that we often face, sometimes a persuasively written article can be the best nudge towards something that suits our taste best—or challenge it, if we are so inclined.

The best critics I know do no just judge in the strict formal givens of their subject. They bring peculiar subjectivities to the table, making their take interesting and unique. Film critic Roger Ebert, for example, evaluated movies as personal experience, while his contemporary Pauline Kael often judged them in the various ways they struck some carnal chord in her [or not]. Food critic Jonathan Gold brought a sense of place and culture to his understanding of the dishes he’d eaten. Dance critic George Beiswanger was all about translating signs and symbols into images and feeling. The book critic Michiko Kakutani shied away from the first person [“I”] as a critical device, which made possible the sharpness of her famous lacerations.

But always, like in Amy’s profundity, they certainly used writing to put spotlight on their “ordinary” subject—a film, a book, an album, a dance, a play, a dish—lifting them to careful scrutiny and regard, for the best of it [and sometimes for the worse]. I propose a higher calling for art criticism. To quote writer Taylor Murrow: “Art is a window for all of us to view and discern and question the surrounding world. Art uncovers what has been buried by societies before us. It retaliates against oppressors. Art provides a path forward. Art is a window for all of us to view and discern and question the surrounding world. Art uncovers what has been buried by societies before us. It retaliates against oppressors. Art provides a path forward. And art criticism can help us find that path.”

I’ve done my fair share of reviews and of cultural reportage, beginning with a column in the college organ. My first national gig was in the late 1990s for Sunday Inquirer Magazine, where I wrote about the Silliman University Campus Choristers, which was about to go on a goodwill tour of the U.S. Since then, I’ve written for major dailies such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star, and for magazines such as Graphic, Rogue, Smile, and Esquire—although these days, the online platforms have become the vanguard, so I’ve come to write for Spot.ph, Rappler, and CNN Philippines. I’m mostly known for my film and book reviews, but I’d occasionally dive into reviewing theatre, food, photography, and art exhibits—always with the intent of bringing Oriental Negrense art and culture into the mix that’s decidedly Manila-centric. This very column for the MetroPost also began as a food column in 2004—until restaurants began offering me free meals, and I felt compelled to shift gears or lose my dignity.

What compels me to do culture reportage? Well, the simplest answer is that I like art, have always been comfortable in the company of artists—with myself occasionally dipping my toes into art-making of various sorts. But what I discovered a long time ago is that, as a creative writer who also happened to have been trained as a journalist, I had the perfect opportunity to chronicle, to evaluate, and to highlight other people’s art-making in Dumaguete and Negros Oriental—especially when no one else seemed to be doing so. Flip the pages of our local weeklies, and you will barely get any article about local culture and the arts with some consistency, except for Moses Atega and me.

But for the longest time, I chose not to write about art in Dumaguete. Attentive readers would note I ceased writing this column for close to three years. Truth to tell, I was miffed.

I had written a review of a small exhibit by Hersley Casero and Anna Kousmann, where I had expressed some reservations about some of the works—and I was promptly attacked online by someone new then in the local arts community. She denigrated what I’d written as the misinformed missive of someone who was “just a wide reader,” and because I had no training in art or art criticism, I was not worthy to write about Mr. Casero or Ms. Kousmann.

It took me a while to process that, especially the vehemence of its language. I thought: my major concentration on art history at the International Christian University in Tokyo apparently meant nothing. I thought: my years as a practicing visual artist in high school [I was Class Artist four years running] who decided to shift to creative writing in college meant nothing. I thought: my years of curating art exhibits for the Luce Foyer Gallery meant nothing. I thought: my years of writing art criticism for various publications nationwide [including catalogues for national exhibitions] meant nothing. Because I was not a trained artist, “just a wide reader.”

Which confused me. Did Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael have to be trained filmmakers in order to critique film? Is theatre critic Gibbs Cadiz a theatre artist? Was food critic Doreen Fernandez a chef? And isn’t “reading widely” a prerequisite to give depth and texture to the piece you’re reviewing?

I also thought: the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz famously worked as a truck driver first when the art world beckoned.

So I abandoned writing about the local art scene.

Until now.

I’ve realized I do love the local art scene too much to allow its many worthy efforts to remain unchronicled, just because of ungracious asides. It would be shame to not talk about the bold palettes of Kitty Taniguchi or Iris Armogenia, the cinematic idiosyncrasies of Stanley Alcala or Andrew Alvarez, the poetic succinctness of Myrna Peña-Reyes or Cesar Aquino, the smoldering theatricality of Hope Tinambacan or Onna Quizo, the swift grace of Cheenee Limuaco or Janus Cedrick Grapa, the precise compositions of Urich Calumpang or Charlie Sindiong, the musical emotionality of Katrina Saga or Lorie Jayne Soriano. What new things they do for their art, they deserve witness in words.

If Amy March is right and writing does convey importance to what it covers—else it falls into the shadows of the obscure and unheralded—then the task is set before me. It is time to say “no” to being waylaid.


ART: David Shrigley, Untitled (Hands Writing), 2008. Woodcut Print. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 55.



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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

entry arrow7:40 PM | Rock as Metaphor

The point of art, so it is sometimes said, is to render the mundane into the level of the extraordinary and consequently lift it to higher, perhaps loftier, consideration. There, wrung out of its usual ordinariness, an object can often be used as vessel for self-expression, or as statement, or as reflection of some profound “truths” about life, about existence, about meaning.

The formalists call this process “estrangement.” In literature, where it is often used, scenes of ordinary reality is depicted, through words, in a stylistic manner that gives the reader an extra layer of interpretation that goes beyond the literal and into the metaphorical. At the ending of James Joyce’s iconic short story “The Dead,” the husband listens to his wife’s tearful, memory-filled descent into slumber while he looks out the window of their room, seeing snow falling everywhere—yet this is no ordinary sight of snow: in Joyce’s pen, it is a distillation of anguished knowing that we cannot really know the deepest truths about the people we love.

Then there’s Marcel Duchamp who, in 1917, presented for exhibition an ordinary urinal, and titled it “Fountain”—igniting controversy, and sparking an ongoing debate about what makes art. The artist Beatrice Wood, perhaps recognizing the innovative, inventive, and disruptive power of the work, wrote in the aftermath of the exhibition: “He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—[and] created a new thought for that object.”

This, for me, has always been part of what interests me about art—to see the artists’ subjects in the canvas or lens or mold of their subjectivities, and inquire of myself what provokes me of their specific ways of seeing, what reaches of metaphor [or, in Wood’s formulation, “new thought”] they are trying to go for.

The subject of Hersley Casero’s Organic Magic, an exhibit currently running at the new Dakong Balay Gallery along the Rizal Boulevard, certainly invites this kind of scrutiny. It is, after all, concerned with various depictions of one of the commonest things we have in this world: the rock—which is ubiquitous, and does not readily demand from us closer scrutiny, much less as agent of artistic expression.

(And yet this view might be one of contemporary failing. Because art history would tell us that rocks [and surfaces of rocks] have been there since prehistory, with early men shedding light on the daily life in the distant past through pictographs, petroglyphs, engravings, petroforms [rocks laid out in patterns], and geoglyphs [or ground drawings]. Today, there’s also land art occasionally using stones and rocks to render landscapes in new light.)

The seed of Casero’s exhibit sprang from his recent art residency at Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards on Chalk Hill in Healdsburg, California—a property in the Alexander Valley that hosts, partly, the Russian River. The meandering flow of the river leaves in its path what locals call “wishing rocks,” which are rocks with a single perfectly unbroken strip of quartz all the way around the circumference—with no splits, no out-runners, no faint second lines on them, to make them “true” wishing rocks. According to Jim Brace-Thompson of Rock and Gem, lore has it that “if you trace your finger around the line while closing your eyes and making a wish, and then throw the stone into the sea as far as you can [or, barring that, give it to another person], your wish will come true.”







This link with magic, wishing or otherwise, is the key to Mr. Casero’s immediate inspiration for the exhibit, based on what I have come to understand about his art. [Full disclosure: I curated his first solo exhibit, Uncommon Ordinary Magic, in 2011.] He has always been keen—because of very interesting family history that stretches back to magic-filled Camiguin past—on rocks and stones imbued with the supernatural. The title of the current exhibit alone cues us in.

Returning to the Philippines from that California sojourn, he began to seek out local rocks and minerals, now more attuned to their allure and to their magical promise. What resulted from this is a collection splintered into three modes of expression—ceramics, graphite on paper and canvas, and oil on canvas—that hint of the artist finding ways to express the rock in his specific metaphor for the world we live in.

The works in graphite on acid-free paper—collectively known as the “On the Rocks” series—feel like the artist in the initial phase of this “rocky” exploration. They have Casero deep in what you might call “rock portraiture,” delving into the very literal. The framed works, painstaking renderings of individual rocks in glorious black etchings, have their subjects seemingly afloat in the midst of negative white space, giving them personality, their realistic representational nature obliquely giving them a sense of the magical: they’re almost like icons behind the glass, demanding scrutiny, even worship.



In his sculptural, ceramic works, Casero goes into simile: most of the pieces are untitled, but you cannot mistake their identification—they’re shaped like ordinary rocks, like corals, like stones, but in sometimes giving them color, Casero also insists on other similes: “This one is not just like a rock, it is also like a sea cucumber or like a pigeon.”





And finally, in his works on canvas, Casero takes the rock, or the organic, into deep metaphor. The most commanding work in the space—simply for its size and for how its mounted—is his work in oil on canvas titled “Heart of Gold.” What’s portrayed is the bare human heart in all its muscular texture, floating above a somber sea—but a closer look gives us a human being embedded in its design, and an even closer look—this time in the context of the overall exhibit, is that the heart, by shape, also looks like a rock. Here, and following the rest, Casero limns on the magical connectivity of all these things in our natural world, asking us to pay closer attention to the organic connection we all share, which is the biggest magic of all.



The exhibit subscribes to that ecological reading. Its statement ends with this: “For thousands of years we worshipped, respected, and revered the natural world. But our modern, technological lifestyles have created a false sense of dominion over the Earth we inhabit. We endeavor to control and construct our surroundings in order to meet our desires, when in fact it is our environment, which weathers, carves, and polishes our hearts… All organic matter that exists on Earth today is made of ancient stardust and contains the whole universe within it. Us, the Earth, even the little rocks we tread into the ground beneath our feet. Ultimately, we are all made up of nothing short of ‘organic magic.’”

The exhibit statement also calls to mind how 2020 should make “rethink what is really important to us, and to rekindle a sense of awe and gratitude for the little mundane things we are already abundant in, in their many forms and facets.” Which brings me to my favorite piece in the exhibition:

In “It’s Been a Hard Year, But We Made It...,” a work in acrylic and graphite on canvas, Casero gives us a 2020 calendar, spaces marked out for all the months in Binisaya—but instead of dates in grids, we get pictures of rocks, their texture rendering literal hardness and metaphorical hardship. But they are also symbols of resoluteness, and gateways to wishes and magic—enough comfort for our hard times.




The exhibit is presented by Pinspired.ph and Dakong Balay, and runs until the end of January, 2021.

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

entry arrow5:14 PM | Michael Apted, 1941-2021



Unfinished business is my one constant haunting spectre, and there's no denying its place as motivation in ghost stories. When I heard of the death of director Michael Apted [1941-2021] today, the immediate thought that came to me was: "What happens now to the Up documentary series?" And a genuine restless concern stirred me to a molehill of anxiety. Apted has made some outstanding films -- notably Agatha [1979], Coal Miner's Daughter [1980], Gorillas in the Mist [1988], Class Action [1991], Thunderheart [1992], Moving the Mountain [1994], Nell [1994], and The World is Not Enough [1999] -- but his reputation as filmmaker lies in one of the grandest [and until now, continuous] undertaking in cinema: the 'Up' documentary series, which film critic Roger Ebert once called the "noblest project in cinema history." Ebert wrote: "Every seven years, the British director Michael Apted revisits a group of people whose lives he has been chronicling since they were children. As he chats with them about how things are going, his films penetrate to the central mystery of life, asking the same questions that Wim Wenders poses in Wings of Desire: Why am I me and why not you? Why am I here and why not there? / They also strike me as an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium. No other art form can capture so well the look in an eye, the feeling in an expression, the thoughts that go unspoken between the words. To look at these films, as I have every seven years, is to meditate on the astonishing fact that man is the only animal that knows it lives in time." What's astonishing was that it wasn't even Apted's project to begin with. Seven Up, the first film of the series, was released on Granada Television in 1964, and was directed by Paul Almond, with Apted serving as researcher. When the second installation, 7 Plus Seven, came seven years later, Apted was at the helm, and he'd been following most of them ever since. 63 Up, the latest film in the series, was only released in 2019, and I ranked it tenth in my Top 60 Films of that year. There will be no 70 Up, which is sad. With our loss of Apted is our equal loss in cinema culture.

Further tributes:

The New York Times: Michael Apted, Versatile Director Known for ‘Up’ Series, Dies at 79.
The Guardian: Michael Apted, 1941-2021: tributes paid to ‘visionary’ director of Up series.
Variety: Michael Apted, Director of ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and ‘Up’ Series of Documentaries, Dies at 79.
The Hollywood Reporter: Michael Apted, 'Coal Miner's Daughter' Director and 'Seven Up' Documentarian, Dies at 79.
Rolling Stone: Michael Apted, ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and ‘Up’ Series Director, Dead at 79.

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entry arrow3:01 PM | Nights By the Sea



This is what I love to do: occasionally go out at night to Piapi Beach, to stare out into the dark sea from the sea wall, the high tide at my feet.

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Saturday, January 09, 2021

entry arrow12:12 AM | Contemplating a New Year



I once read somewhere that the song we most associate with the New Year—“Auld Lang Syne,” a poem penned by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a Scottish traditional folk song—is not really about the year that’s still to come: it is a dirge for the one that’s about to pass.

The song is a nostalgic exercise in looking back, a trip through memory with old friends. In the standard longer version of six stanzas (including the chorus), it recalls various kinds of frolic with dear friends, and talks about days spent with them running about the hills, picking fine daisies, paddling in streams all day, drinking pints of beer—but their flimsy anchor is in ephemeral time (the past is always an unreachable country), which confesses an acknowledgment that what’s in store could be forgetting, or even separation (“but seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne”). Hence, a “dirge,” a funeral lament for untwining connections disguised as a merry anthem for New Year time.

It’s a sad song.

I think we mostly sing it now with some awareness of its subtly mournful nature—you feel it, too, right? those lilts in the song that maps a subterfuge of sorrow?—but we have now embraced the “goodbye” in “Auld Lang Syne” no longer as a marker for forgetting ties, but as a marker for bidding farewell to the old year, which we have personified into some curmudgeonly phantom figure with four digits for a name, all pockmarked and crippled by the unfortunate events, misfortunes, and bad decisions we’ve met and wrestled with in the grind and heels of the immediate 365 days. This personification is a specter of our bundled up disappointments and recriminations, which then we are all so eager to scrap and to banish away, in the faith of wiping our slate clean.

It’s almost amusing to consider how human beings have developed this uncanny ability to draw a definite line to boundary time, and to attach psychic importance to their significations—that’s the “old year” [regrets and sorrows], this is the “new year” [hope, starting anew, the resolutions of becoming our better selves]. And we do believe in it, this psychic demarcation in time, even the most pessimistic of us. Culture and human psychology have thoroughly embedded these expectation in us, it’s practically part of our DNA. To be human after all is to know yearning—and January 1st has become a culturally established celebration of this. If you could bottle that collective yearning that bursts in the 24-hour cycle of New Year’s Day, it could power industries. I like to think of the fireworks we launch as kindling to that fuel, not just driving away old demons with noise and light but also as a glimpse into our collective yearning for better possibilities.

It’s amusing because we know, deep down, that life does not really work this way. There are no driving away demons, there are no clean slates—all continue as they are, both the good and the bad, a flow of things that know no invisible demarcations in time.

But you know what? There’s no denying the spring to our steps, energized by hope, as we scurry about in the first hours of the first day of January. There’s no denying the psychic lift. There’s no denying the eager want for the better, and our entry into still young possibilities. We will never begrudge ourselves this, even if we know it’s a crutch. Whatever works.

I am reminded of this recent wonderful cartoon the artist Christopher Grady did for his Lunarbaboon strip just around New Year time. In it, we find a man in conversation with Year 2020, a gentle hulk of a creature rendered in blue. They’re both sitting on a curb, pensive in dialogue.

“You were awful to us,” the man tells Year 2020.

“That’s not fair,” Year 2020 replies, and then continues: “Stupid human decisions and bad luck caused your pain, not me… If you don’t take responsibility for some of your misery, 2021 will be no different.”

The man turns to him with pleading eyes, and says, “Listen… I’m exhausted... I’m angry... I’m sad… I just want something to blame.” A beat. “Can you just keep being a jerk?”

Year 2020 sigh deeply. “Fine.”

And then suddenly sporting an awful, villainous expression, Year 2020 blurts out: “I took Alex Trebek!”

Dramatically covering his mouth in horror, the man responds: “You monster!”

I love this installment of Lunarbaboon because it hilariously dramatizes our plight—but also goes for the jugular with various realizations succinctly illustrated. First, that time [i.e., years] is a neutral entity, which can be defined only by human decisions and luck. 2020 was not, per se, a bad year—it became a “bad year” primarily because a pandemic was unleashed, most likely because of factors figuring in climate change, exacerbated by a dictatorial menace of a country which values silence and strong man rule over transparency, and then compounded by bad governance everywhere else, complete with people ignoring good science to embrace denial [“COVID is a hoax!”] and misinformation [“Hydroxychloroquine is the cure!”]. For the Philippines and for the U.S., we are also reaping the political decisions we made in 2016, inheriting current leadership ineptness for the false rapture of populism.

Second, that if we not acknowledge our own culpability and learn from these mistakes, we’d only be dancing the old cha-cha of the old year.

And third, that sometimes we just want to vent and unleash our frustrations on something. The Year 2020 has become a totem for that, a ready scapegoat for our own shortcomings. It is our ready-made monster to be tarred and banished in the yearning for better things. So be it. In Lunarbaboon, at least Year 2020 is graceful enough to agree to play demon in our theatre of starting over.

I still like to think of 2020 as a necessary corrective to our complacencies. We needed the old world—which was hurtling so precariously into yet-unseen but most likely hellish repercussions of our unbridled greed—to stop in its tracks, and take stock. Stopping would have been impossible in the old normal. It took a rampaging virus to empty our airports, highways, and factories, and to force us into a prolonged communion with self in the lockdown. What have we learned about ourselves and our place in the world since? Did we even learn anything, or are we rearing to go back to the grind of the old, with lessons unlearned?

I’m still learning my lessons, comprehending—little by little—my life and my world in the light of necessary upheaval. I know 2021 is not just a “new” year; deep down, I’m gingerly embracing a new world, maybe a new life.

All that hopeful inchoateness I tried to distill to a kind of a ritual last New Year’s Day: I went to sleep at the stroke of midnight, having spent the eve on my own, by choice. I woke up early, after a good sleep, and then I went to see the first sunrise of the year off Piapi Beach. I knew I have not done such a thing since the year 2000—but what compelled me was the urgency of its symbolism: to embrace the new that’s to come after a hellish, albeit corrective, year.

I wanted to start the year walking, and the sunrise would be a good rest stop. On the Flores Avenue seawall, waiting for the sky to brighten in the horizon, I meditated, I prayed. And then when things were sunny enough around 6 AM, I stood up and continued on my regular walking route—and followed my feet to my mother’s house in Bantayan, utterly surprising her with my visit. We prayed for the new year, and then we had breakfast. As simple as that—but the reverberations of personal meaning from all these was resounding for me, and hopefully enough to light the path of the next twelve months.

We need our symbols, our songs, our singularly optimistic resolutions now, more than ever.

Happy New Year, everyone!


[Photo by Justine Megan Yu]

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Wednesday, January 06, 2021

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 54.

Something for the New Year...



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Tuesday, January 05, 2021

entry arrow8:04 PM | A Covid Scare, Part 3

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

There is cold brutality in numbers. As of this writing, Negros Oriental has recorded 47 new cases, and also 19 new recoveries, bringing the total number of local active cases to 174. Dumaguete currently has 104 active cases and remains as the province’s COVID-19 epicenter. “This is also the first time that any city or town in the province recorded more than 100 active cases in its area alone since the pandemic began,” the news report I’m reading goes.

Tanjay comes with the second highest count with 16 active cases, followed by Sibulan with 13, and Siaton with 10. Valencia has six active cases, Zamboanguita has five, Amlan has four, while Bayawan and Guihulngan have three each. Bacong and San Jose have two cases, while Bais, Mabinay, Manjuyod, Bindoy, Ayungon, and Dauin each have one active case. The total case count for Negros Oriental as of this writing is at 984—with 782 recoveries, but also 28 deaths.

Twenty-eight deaths—anonymous, for the most part—in one province is one too many, as far as we should be concerned. Taking into account the worldwide scope, the number is even grimmer: 1.85 million dead. There is no processing that number, especially for an illness that began early last year being downplayed by many as “just another flu.”

That indifference is hard to break.

We are told, for example, that numbers do not lie—but alas, they also have a flattening effect on most people. People are made curiously apathetic by numbers, a psychological phenomenon known as “psychic numbing,” which causes us to feel indifferent to the suffering of large numbers of people. It is the same curious indifference we feel when we regard the body count of a distant plane crash, the casualties of a faraway war, the victims in the thousands of a so-called “drug war.” It is the same curious indifference that makes some people deny the Holocaust. It is the same curious indifference that made Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin say, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

It is the same curious indifference that makes so many of us in Dumaguete complacent in the midst of a pandemic. There are too many people no longer wearing masks, too many people no longer physically distancing, too many people partying in numbers beyond the new accepted limits. The community transmission has been underway since October when bureaucratic indifference became our weak link, and the infamous “APOR” became the target of our outrage—and yet many of us still go about as if normalcy is still the norm.

It’s easy to see where this indifference spring from. Fear subsides, and we learn to believe ourselves to be Teflon to danger. The threat is also invisible—hence our guard is mostly down, our enemy a phantom we cannot even begin to comprehend. The lockdown has also been taxing in its boredom—hence our search for connection, for defiance against what we are told not to do. The hard information about the disease comes to us in trickles, and must swim and compete in an ocean filled with fake news—hence our propensity to believe in ardent conspiracy theorists.

In my case, the diligence of the early months soon gave way, slowly, to a wanting for old normalcy. By November, I was again meeting friends, having dinners, reconnecting with the old life—all with a nod towards protocol [masks and social distancing] and the assorted theatre of safety we’ve come to ritualize [temperature guns and registration books and disinfectant mats], but minus the urgency that once characterized our lives in the pandemic.

And then the fever came, and with it the realization that the time to let our guard down is never now.


On Day 6, I was finally able to call the Dumaguete COVID hotline. I knew the seventh day was crucial: this was how long it took, on average, for some patients in Wuhan, China to be admitted to the hospital after their symptoms started, many developing shortness of breath on this day. But by then my fever was gone, although my loss of taste persisted in an ugly way and my body felt ravaged still, like a rag doll violated by the most fearsome of child’s play. Still, no cough!—its absence felt like a kind of hope.

The hotline consists of three numbers, each one attended to by a name. I chose Hannah at 0935-272-2440, who listened to me—and then referred me to Gem from Lo-oc Health Center, to be nearest my local health monitor. Gem was a patient and calm voice at the other end of the line, careful and sufficient in her questioning. She recommended that I self-isolate for the next seven days; my symptoms were not harrowing enough, perhaps, to require going to the hospital. But I was required to monitor my temperature on a daily basis.

“Would you like for us to come to your house to monitor your symptoms? Or would you prefer you monitoring for us and reporting by phone?” Gem asked.

“What’s with these options?”

Apparently, they have developed this protocol to shield people from stray eyes and busy tongues in the neighborhood—the presence of health workers in the vicinity causes unease. I chose the option to phone in.

But I also wanted a test. I wanted the sureness of definitely knowing. I was told that, following local protocol, I was not in immediate need for a swab test—but a “rapid test” [the antigen test which detects protein fragments specific to the coronavirus, which has a rapid turnaround time for results] could be arranged at the end of my fourteenth day in quarantine.

In the meantime, I was to rest, nurse myself, and mark time.

Quarantine was slow and horrible, an elastic time that barely wobbled, finding the hours turning on themselves in a Dali landscape. Solitary confinement, coupled with slow convalescence, does things to your mind that blur the boundaries between night and day, sleeping and waking, consciousness and the realm of nightmares.

“Is this how I’m spending Christmas?” I thought and wept. I prayed once—fervently, for the world to heal, and for some deal made with God that if ever I became better, I would fearlessly seize all the rest of the days in my life. And then, having written so many obituaries of other people this year, I also wrote my own—and sent text and pubmat to the boyfriend, with instructions to post when the time comes.

I stuck to the routine: sleep, wake, urinate, drink the coldest of water, shower, monitor temperature, report. [Some days I was not able to report, stuck in overwhelming sleep that knew no hours.] These days in the doldrums required angels: my caregiver was my boyfriend, who brought me food, medicine, drinks [the Gatorade was most helpful], and whatever I needed to survive—all the while keeping his distance, his face masked up and shielded.

Slowly, I got better. The crippling fever was gone, the diarrhea subsided, and my sense of taste slowly returned by the end of the second week, the end of quarantine.

Going to the City Health Office was my first brush with the outside world: blue skies, fresh breeze, the bustle of downtown—each sensation was alien and frightening, yet also exhilarating. I went to get my promised antigen test, which Gem helpfully facilitated over the phone, endorsing me to the clinic.

The laboratory I was told to go to was curiously deserted, no amount of “ayo” could conjure attendance by someone. I waited, and then walked around to inquire about getting a “rapid test,” only to be told to wait at the same spot in the laboratory. Someone appeared—and when I inquired about my appointment, she turned out to be a condescending woman [who will remain unnamed] who gave me some run-around about stuff, putting me in my place about how busy she was, and told me to wait.

I waited, while also texting Gem my confusion.

Salvation came in the form of City Health’s Loryly Palubio-Ignacio—a gracious woman whose quiet demeanor belied a weariness you could almost touch. Why this was so, I would later on learn—after she sat me on my examining stool, after she asked me further questions in protocol, and after she took a syringe of my blood for antigen testing. I asked her questions—mostly about how the city was faring in the pandemic.

I learned then what exactly was COVID capacity for each hospital. [Turns out, not a lot.] I learned about why I was not given the proper PCR test, and almost was not even given an antigen test. [Turns out, both tests are in increasing short supply locally, and they had to revise protocols accordingly.] I learned about how City Health personnel have been driven to the brink almost every day, most of them out on the field monitoring cases and administering tests for hours on end. [Hence, Ma’am Loryly’s weary look.] I asked her whether there’s cause to worry about community transmission, and Ma’am Loryly shrugged and said, “We’re overwhelmed.”

The next day, I received my test result from Gem. “Good afternoon, sir,” she texted. “Negative ra imo RDT.”

It felt like exultation, a relief—but at the back of my head, caution whispered:

An antigen test is not a PCR test.

A test is not immunity.

My city is still this province’s pandemic epicenter.

Was what I had COVID-19? I hope not, but we will never know for sure. Still, what I had—ugly manifestations of symptoms and the confining reality of quarantine—was certainly a taste of it, and I knew—and still do—that I never wanted to go through that again.

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Friday, January 01, 2021

entry arrow8:14 AM | New Year Morn, New Year Mom

Woke up early today, after good sleep, to see the first sunrise of the year off Piapi Beach. I have not done this since the year 2000, but what compelled me was the urgency of its symbolism: to embrace the new that's to come after a hellish year. Besides I wanted to start the year walking; the sunrise would be a good rest stop. Waiting for the sky to brighten in the horizon, I meditated, I prayed. And then when things were bright enough around 6 AM, I continued on my regular route, and followed my feet to mother's house in Bantayan, surprising her with my visit. We prayed for the New Year, and then we had breakfast, where I made her do this pose:



Happy New Year, everyone!

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

entry arrow8:52 AM | My Top 20 Films of 2020 [Thus Far...]



It has been a strange film year because of the pandemic, but also peculiarly abundant because most films that dared some kind of release despite theater closures mostly did so via online platforms, hence accessible. In light of this day being the last day of the year, I thought of sharing my TOP 20 list THUS FAR -- which could change pending late releases I have yet to see [like Minari or Gunda or One Night in Miami or Fan Girl]...

1. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, United States)
2. Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
3. Soul (Pete Docter, United States)
4. The Painted Bird (Václav Marhoul, Czech Republic)
5. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, United States)
6. Ammonite (Francis Lee, United Kingdom)
7. Colectiv [Collective] (Alexander Nanau, Romania)
8. The Audition [Das Vorspiel] (Ina Weisse, Germany)
9. The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson, United States)
10. About Endlessness (Roy Andersson, Sweden)

11. Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Ireland)
12. What the Constitution Means to Me (Marielle Heller, United States)
13. Slay the Dragon (Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance, United States)
14. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (George C. Wolfe, United States)
15. Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy (Elizabeth Carroll, United States)
16. Mangrove (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom)
17. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin, United States)
18. Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always (Eliza Hittman, United States)
19. Greenland (Ric Roman Waugh, United States)
20. Your Name Engraved Herein (Liu Kuang-Hui, Taiwan)

The complete list soon...

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entry arrow7:39 AM | Not Rizal



In the interest of historical accuracy, this is not a photo of Jose Rizal. A popular Dumaguete FB news page posted it for Rizal Day yesterday [and got 245 shares!], but I knew from reading about it before that this is not a photo of the national hero. Nevertheless, I wanted to consult a Rizal expert, and historian Ambeth Ocampo confirmed it. See his post on the matter here.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 53.

Something for the New Year...



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Friday, December 25, 2020

entry arrow12:00 PM | Two Unplanned Noche Buenas

I had no plans to do noche buena for Christmas this year. This pandemic year has upended all expected things—and while I have not seen my family in months, I also had no wish to be in close range with them, indoors, and trust in fate to keep us safe and in check, health-wise. My mother was nearing 90, a demographic of some concern, and I felt keenly for her well-being—and so when my brother Dennis texted me the details of our Christmas dinner—"Be here by 5:45 PM"—I was ready to ignore the invitation, and keep to an inchoate wish to stay in the confines of my little apartment, eat what I could find in my refrigerator, and do some lonesome chilling with Netflix.

But the s.o. dropped by around 5 PM, full of cheer and love, and wanted to know what I was doing Christmas Eve. "I don't want you to be alone," he said.

Something in his voice, in his genuine care for my welfare, touched me profoundly, and I found myself asking for a lift to my brother's house in Pulantubig, as well as a promise he'd pick me up at 8 PM so I could join his own family for their midnight Christmas salubong feast.

So I had my family, and my s.o.'s family, for Christmas company—a bittersweet turn of events that makes me think deep about the depths of love, the frailties of life, and the chance we give ourselves for slivers of happiness.



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Thursday, December 24, 2020

entry arrow12:00 PM | Ranking the Queer Holiday Romance Movies of 2020

If there was one thing that's most curious about popular entertainment in our unprecedented pandemic year, it is the plethora of gay holiday movies that has suddenly come out, most particularly from platforms that have for so long embraced heteronormativity as a given. I'm talking primarily about Lifetime and Hallmark Channel, both of which grind out these holiday romances every year, unapologetic for their formula and for their sheer quantity—and more so for hewing close to an idea of love as strictly being heterosexual. Gay men and women hardly appear in these confections, and if they do, they play support: the best friend, the quirky boss, perhaps the florist.

But something happened late last year that would alter the landscape of Christmas romance movies this year. Patrick Serrano, writing for The Oprah Magazine, identifies the turning point: "Then came 2019, when the LGBTQ+ representation in the TV movie sphere shifted completely, thanks to two forces. First, Lifetime’s Twinkle All the Way featured a quick gay kiss between two C-plot characters played by Brian Sills and the ever-so-handsome, Mark Ghanimé. Around the same time as this landmark, if unceremoniously unrolled, depiction of gay affection, the Hallmark Channel pulled a Zola ad featuring a same-sex wedding and kiss because it was deemed 'controversial.'"

The pulling of that Zola ad, which was the Hallmark Channel's response to ultra-conservative forces decrying the "desecration" of one remaining stronghold of heteronormativity in the name of "family values," gave rise to LGBTQ voices protesting the decision—which, in turn, put under the spotlight, the very notion of representation in these movies. Why indeed have these movies resisted for so long gay love? After the public outcry, the network eventually reinstated the commercials.

The clapback must have been swift and brutal because only a year later, we have notably these: Hulu with Happiest Season, Paramount Network with Dashing in December, Lifetime with The Christmas Setup, and Hallmark itself with The Christmas House.

I had no plans to watch any of these. I've seen two or three of these Christmas romance movies before, and they've always struck me as pantomimes of holiday cheer and romantic love, the snow obviously fake, the screenplay an odious amalgam of retold stories [usually involving disputed real estate in some winsome rural setting, where the city rat learns to relax and give in to love, but not before a confrontation about lies and the secrets people keep], the cinematography a flatness of landscape that has no idea of depth or texture, and the characters overwhelmingly white in skin color and privilege. [In other words, I hate Christmas romance movies.]

But the curiosity eventually kicked in: what is a gay Christmas romance movie? I wanted to see how this panned out—and now that I have, here is my ranking of all four films [plus a series], from embarrassing inanity to giddy holiday joy...


5. The Christmas House (Michael Grossman, The Hallmark Channel)

Hallmark, the most conservative platform of the lot, steps ever so gingerly into diversity—by giving us a love story between a man and a woman, except that the man has a gay brother who is happily married to another man. Well, it's a start. Small steps, you could say. But it's not helped by the blandest of execution—a movie that sleepwalks its way through slapdash Christmas romance movie conflict and resolution. Brothers Mike (Robert Buckley), a TV actor, and Brandon (Jonathan Bennett), a baker, come home to revive an old family tradition—helping their parents Phylis (Sharon Lawrence) and Bill (Treat Williams) decorate full blast their house in Christmas lights and ornaments one last time, with the effusive help of Brandon's husband Jake (Brad Harder), before putting the house on the market. [Real estate!] Then Mike reconnects with high school friend and former neighbor Andi (Ana Ayora)—and a change of heart is in order, making theirs the central romance of the film, thrusting the gay couple into the sidelines, a diversity figurehead for the most part. It wouldn't have been so bad were it not for the fact they're in a film so bland nothing in it is believable.




4. Happiest Season (Clea Duvall, Hulu)

From first hearing about it, I was happy enough to dive into this lesbian Christmas romance movie, which felt very much like a corrective. But everything in Clea Duvall's film rubbed me the wrong way, from characters who are all extremely unlikable you could not find anyone to properly root for, to underlying thematic implications—gaslighting and emotional abuse in relationships, among other things—that gnaw at you, and continues at it post-screening that I had to ask myself if the film really made those choices, and what for. The story is simple and unproblematic enough: Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is taking her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) home for the holidays for the first time—but soon admits she has yet to come out to the family, thus necessitating a ruse that leads to shenanigans of all sorts. Duvall stages these "shenanigans" in strange comic sequences—a misunderstanding at the mall, for example, leads to cameos by comedians Timothy Simons and Lauren Lapkus as mall security too eager to delve deep into an accusation of shoplifting—which I take as Duvall making light of her material, but they stick out so much as sore thumbs they feel like standup comedy that has totally bombed it leaves the audience with plastered fake smiles as they try to make sense of a terrible punch line that doesn't land. This film is a joke that never lands.




3. Dashing in December (Jake Helgren, Paramount Network)

From Paramount Network comes a film that hews the closest to a typical Christmas romance movie: finance whiz Wyatt (Peter Porte) finally comes home, after five long years, to the family ranch in Colorado, ran by his widowed mother Deb (Andie MacDowell). But he has other things beside reunion in mind: he wants to convince his mother to sell the ranch [real estate!], which has long been a money pit he's been unwillingly bankrolling for years. Somewhat tense holiday dinners ensue—and it is up to ranch hand Heath (Juan Pablo Di Pace) to convince Wyatt to give the farm another go. Wyatt remains resolute, until he finds himself falling for Heath's rugged charm. It's all cute and comfortable, driven mostly by the believability of the characters and a focused sense of place.




2. Dash and Lily (Joe Tracz, Netflix)

Netflix's Dash and Lily is not a movie but a web series, but it feels like a worthy addition to this list because of one thing: the joyful pairing of Langston (Troy Iwata) and Benny (Diego Guevara) as a newly-hitched gay couple who do not just provide bland support to the titular leads, but actually provide the conceit [clues and dares in a red notebook!] that drive the story, and gets their own arc as well. The main love story, based on the YA novel by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, is winsome enough to follow: Christmas grinch Dash (Austin Abrams) and Christmas lover Lily (Midori Francis) find themselves falling in love, sight unseen, over the course of the holiday season as they exchange heartfelt correspondence [and dares] in a notebook, making full use of New York as a veritable Christmas wonderland. And then there's Langston and Benny who are unapologetic for their sheer horniness, they feel totally deserving of a spin-off.




1. The Christmas Setup (Pat Mills, Lifetime)

Lifetime's effort, like Dashing in December, also feels very close to the tropes we demand of a Christmas romance movie, including real estate as the B-plot, but I am utterly gobsmacked by how it transcends the formula without losing a single iota of its charm. This film is utterly delightful, and earns every ounce of sweetness it concocts—and while it is derivative and predictable [it is, after all, a Christmas romance movie], its characters feel grounded enough by winning performances they actually do the same to the material. Hugo (Ben Lewis) is a somewhat uptight, if ambitious, New York attorney who decides to come home to visit his mother Kate (Fran Drescher) for Christmas together with his best friend Madelyn (Ellen Wong), and soon also his brother Aiden (Chad Connell). Kate is an indefatigable community organizer who feels compelled to lead the way in bringing holiday cheer, complete with time-honored traditions, to the neighborhood and enlists her family and friends in the selfless service to this relentless march in the name of the Christmas spirit. But it also soon becomes apparent that Kate is capable of more than just community organizing. She is also perfectly capable of setting up her sons, in conniving and subtle ways, for romances they don't think about as even plausible. This includes Hugo being forced to consider what he really wants in life, especially when "circumstances" have him reconnecting with his high school crush Patrick (Blake Lee) just as he is being offered a promotion to his firm's office in London. Plus there's the B-plot of the town's train station—traditionally the site of a particularly beloved community Christmas tradition—which is being demolished for future development by the uncaring town aldermen, until Hugo digs deep into its history and not only finds legal real estate loophole, but also a symbolic full-circle of local queer history. The movie does so much, and does it all with infectious lightness of being.




For further reading:

The New York Times: Same-Sex Kisses Under the Mistletoe: Holiday Movies Rethink a Formula
Cinemablend: 9 Christmas Movies Featuring LGBTQ+ Stories
The Washington Post: TV’s Gay Christmas Movies are as Benign, Charming and Cliche as We Always Hoped They’d Be
Esquire: In the Queer Christmas Movie Arena, Predictability Still Outshines Realness
Decider: The Gayest Christmas Ever: Inside 2020’s Big, Queer Holiday Explosion
Advocate: 21 Movies That Queered Christmas
Good Housekeeping: 15 Most Festive LGBTQ Christmas Movies
NPR: Holiday Rom-Coms Go Beyond Diversity To Center New Christmas Stars
The Oprah Magazine: Lifetime's The Christmas Setup Is the LGBTQ Holiday Movie I Never Thought I'd Get to See
CNN: It's a Record Year for LGBTQ Representation in Holiday Movies
Salon: TV's First Crop of Queer Christmas Movies Range From Saccharine Fun to Superficial Flops
Film School Reject: Make the Yuletide Gay: Why We Need More Queer Christmas Movies

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