header image


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

Interested in What I Create?


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...


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

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.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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

Something for the New Year...

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

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.

Labels: , , , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

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

Labels: , , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 52.

[Something for Christmas...]

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 51.

[Something for Christmas...]

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

entry arrow7:27 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 50.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

entry arrow7:33 PM | A Covid Scare, Part 2

[Read Part 1]

The taste of cinders in the mouth. That should have been a sign—and the jar of Nutella was still there in the pantry, eager for a taste test and lonely for bread in equal measure. We used to make jokes in the ensuing months of the pandemic that the reason why we were gaining weight, aside from the issue of a prolonged and mandatory sedentary existence, is that we were eating as barometer of health. “I can taste this fried chicken! Thank God.” “I can taste this lechon! Thank God.” “I can taste this green pro-biotic shake! Thank God.” There's some truth to that. In the absence of mass testing, we provide our own road map to uncharted 2020 terrors.

It was easy to ignore the semblance of ash in my mouth. Fevers bring that on. On the third day, finally remembering to eat—part of the pleasures of living on your own—I opened the box of Tuscan chicken, a favorite meal, and stared in feverish delirium at the crispy brown tenderness of the meat glistening in oil and herbs. I dug in. One bite, two bites.

Have you tried eating wet cartolina? Eating the Tuscan chicken was akin to the experience. It was so unappetising that by the fourth bite, hunger felt like the better option. I gave the Tuscan chicken to the cat, and Mouschi felt like he was king of the world.

It was time to retake the Nutella test. I gingerly spooned in, and took it. It was squishy mud on my tongue, absent of all its sweet hazelnut chocolate come-on. That full stop was sadness. I went back to sleep, like I lost a battle, but telling myself I was content on four bites of cartolina chicken and some spoonfuls of cartolina rice. I stuck to fulfilment of my routine: sleep, wake, urinate, drink the coldest of water, shower.

Routine is good but you could not ignore a growling stomach. And I stumbled on another converse mystery: hunger pangs and loss of appetite can in fact occur at the same time.

The next day, I had another favorite meal: the chicken inato, the pecho cut, from Jo's. It tasted like four-day old thick-crust pizza with no toppings left out in the sun for far too long. I chose hunger, and gave the remainder to the cat. But I knew I was playing a dangerous game: I had to put in something in me besides all the water I was taking. So I had some longganisa and scrambled eggs, a meal that came with a preamble: “Swallow, no matter what, and hold it in.” I lasted five swallows, not without effort, but it was my body regurgitating the blank vileness of what I was eating, threatening to push the last bite up my throat, while I desperately willed myself to hold it down. I considered five swallows a success, and the cat licked its whiskers, Mouschi's green eyes conniving and superior.

Taste is a peculiar thing, and like all things most vital in our lives, we take it for granted, its absence a gaping void we are surprised could thoroughly misorder our world. I didn't appreciate that taste is very much our gateway to sustenance, which without, makes hunger like Piolo Pascual. I ticked one more symptom down, this one which had been my secret indicator. And then the loose, watery stools also began. So I ticked another symptom down.

I was still trying to self-monitor, like how we are all advised, harboring the vaguest of hopes that it could be just something else. My friend Malcolm Hiponia, after all, had this to say: “I had all the symptoms. Tested negative twice. Went to urgent care on the second week. The doctor said I had bronchitis, and prescribed antibiotics. I got well two days later.”

You never know, really, until you get tested. I texted Jacqueline Antonio at the City Tourism Office, and she gave me the hotline to call. I was apprehensive. It was, I knew, my Day 4. And I also knew that by Day 5, the notorious breathing difficulties, on the average, could appear. Breathing is important, and I'm not sure even the cat could be of much help in that regard.


Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Monday, December 07, 2020

entry arrow7:29 PM | A Covid Scare, Part 1

The first thing I noticed about the strangeness of COVID-19 [if indeed this is COVID] is the converse manifestations of the sensations of its emerging symptoms. The body ache that comes with that thunderclap arrival of fever—it was so sudden I felt like a hapless marathoner dropped into a race that had already began—was to get to know your bones. There is no English word for the sensation. In Binisaya, we call it “ngilo,” a phantom discomfort that goes deep under the skin. It was that, but also more: I felt my “ngilo” bones mashed up inside as if they didn't fit, sockets and ligaments mere suggestions. So I lied in bed hoping for the body to find truce for respite. The sleep I got those first three days was reprieve, but when waking came, I was at it again, making desperate sense of the misalignments of my bones, but knowing full well it's just in my head. How could bones feel this way?

I found a quick routine: sleep, wake, urinate, drink the coldest of water, shower, and take Bioflu at safe intervals. I needed to combat the fever, and it felt good to go to bed with the glorious sting of cold water on my skin. It was devilish quick comfort, like the invention of Coke Sakto, but it was enough to remind me there was still humanity in my fever-drenched body, which I found hurtling around my small apartment in delirium. I forgot to eat, too tired to think of food.

I began noting the symptoms I had—all culled from Google which distributed the manifestations on a day-to-day scale, a helpful map in a pandemic world swirling with disinformation. I knew I had hypochondriac powers to manifest symptoms in my body for assorted diseases I didn't actually have. For Day 1 to 3: I had fever, check. I had body aches, check. But I didn't have dry cough! It felt like a beacon of hope, that perhaps this was just the flu, which I doubted because I got vaccinated only last September, or what my brother hopefully diagnosed as dehydration, which was sweet.

Denial will always be a necessary defense, especially absent testing. I messaged my classes, citing my dilemma, and making hard choices regarding requirements with the term about to end. I messaged my friends with whom I had previous plans to have Friday dinner at a new restaurant that offered alfresco dining, and canceled my participation. I messaged my boyfriend to update him about the slow ravages to my body. All these while swimming in delirium. No one said it was COVID-19, always something else—plus I was not coughing! I said I'll monitor things, self-isolate, and hope for the best.

My boyfriend messaged back: "Can you still taste things?" I got up, and looked for the best, strongest flavour on my pantry.

I eagerly messaged back: "I can still taste Nutella!" That exclamation mark was happiness.


Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 49.

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich