Admirers of Andrew Schimmer's body should cheer at the movie's loving attention to the actor's slabs of beef, tattoos, and bulging brief -- front, center, and often in close-ups. Which makes it even harder to buy the premise that this guy is so destitute and desperate for any job -- including perform as a transvestite singer, even though the macho dancers around him are less macho than he is.
Apparently, he also draws the line at sucking cock. He keeps repeating that it's the one thing he can't handle when offered to do a gay porn video. We're never really given the reason behind his misgiving, but we can assume it's probably because he's so straight. (His sex scenes in the movie are only with a woman.) How exactly is this guy supposed to be desperate when he bitches like a spoiled college boy half the time?
Along the way, there's a dying gay man who sacrificed his entire life for his lover, married to a woman and long dead, plus a flamboyant fag who's tough-as-slums with can-do attitude but in the end, commits suicide because of some silly debt to a crime syndicate. This from a person who will do anything to survive? None of it makes sense and functions only to souse the melodrama of the poor, at the same time reducing gay characters into tragic stereotypes. This is exactly the kind of social realist movie that gives a bad name to social realist movies. Maybe we should start calling them social scams.
It's a setup as old as ancient theatre: Three people live together in one house, one man shared sexually by a woman and another man. I don't blame you if you're already yawning before the movie even begins. I'd rather make a list of similar past films myself. But the difference is in the details, and Imoral hurdles the ho-hum premise by becoming a carefully studied presentation of how exactly this man, that woman, and the man's lover live and rub against each other. From the onset, when articles of clothing get mixed up in each other's luggage, the dynamics of the trio are dramatized in concrete, tangible terms. The film escapes being passe by being specific. It also wisely microscopes character more than plot, and uses that as its own sustainable drama.
To the film's credit, though one man (Arnold Reyes) is spelled out as "gay", the other man (Paolo Paraiso) has no easy labels, least of which "straight". He could be bi, he could be poly-whatever -- the movie trailer simply calls him "man". Here's that classic character who fucks both the woman and the homo, but thank god, here's a film that won't let him get away with it without picking apart his insides. I'm tired of the oft-used excuse in cinema that this kind of fantasy man (a straight man who can love a gay man) is a mystery we can only marvel. Dante has real, graspable feelings. The shades of differences between the way he relates to -- and feels for -- his woman and his man is my favorite aspect of the film. When a boy (Edgar Allan Guzman) befriends Jonathan, the Gay One, Dante reacts with something akin to jealousy, perhaps springing from love or childishness, or both. I'm only slightly bothered by the saintliness of the gay man, as if his love needed to be pure and untarnished to justify his existence, but I can still buy its truth. His preachy but understanding sister is a nice touch, a dose of tough love cynicism.
The movie falls apart in the final stretch, and that's because, despite the built-in friction of the setup, the film is remarkably slim in tension. When a bag of money lands on their laps, giving them reason to go their separate ways, I had to check my memory if there was enough drive for them to leave, or if the household had been boiled hot enough for that compulsion to flee. Are the woman's insecurities strong enough to warrant her whiny behavior or did the film unjustly turn her into a bitch all of a sudden? The answer is that all this is perfectly justifiable through logic. But there's a flatness to the proceedings that leaves out the sense of urgency, that immediate understanding from the gut. When you get down to it, Imoral is an intelligent diagram of a situation, but not a vivid experience of it. Director Adolfo B. Alix Jr. is now notorious for fast output (an impressive eight films in two years!), and I had to speculate if the cursory lightness that worked in a film like Daybreak is here an aesthetic choice or the by-product of ease. I wonder if Imoral would have benefitted from a little more rage, an I-can-tell-this-only-once madness that would drive the human demons into the surface, make it feel like dirt on fingers, not simply seen, and would give that silly title some credence, apart from the tacked-on religious imagery.
How long ago was the release of the first Climax photo book? The makers sure took their time with the second one. X-Ray Media, which also publishes the "X-Ray" titles, are by now the masters in assembling flavors-of-the-moment Filipino men for portfolios of impeccable quality and steaminess. Photography, styling, design, packaging -- all ace. Testicles, shafts, asses, pubic hair -- present and in abundance. Only the cockheads are missing.
The men of Climax 2 are collectively tagged "Indie Boys" -- actors starring in recent independent movies: Josh Ivan Morales, Kristofer King, Harry Laurel, Will Sandejas, Gabriel Del Rosario, and Andro Morgan. It must be noted that they're stars of a particular subgenre: films with sexy gay appeal. Though the guys let it all hang out (only Gabriel Del Rosario keeps his jewels encased), you may feel underwhelemed by a lack of new revelation. Afterall, we've seen more from these men in their movies and photos from the internet. Really, the only way Josh Ivan Morales can top himself is if he fucks in another hardcore porn. But that doesn't make these new sets any less hot. You'd be hardpressed to find their bodies worshipped in richer textures. Like the first edition, Climax 2 is a beautiful celebration of flesh. It feels like a liberation by way of objectification.
I'm also thankful for what is probably the first glossy spread for Kristofer King. Although the most talented, longest-running, and boldest dramatic actor of the lot, I don't think he's ever really enjoyed a full-blown, visual, sexy publicity like the others.
The copies are limited and hard to find, available only in the following stores: CV Magazine in Landmark Makati, Dongskie (below Quezon Avenue MRT and Cubao MRT Walkway), Hilom Spa Center along Mother Ignacia Avenue, and online through ManilaGayGuy. Filbars branches also sell but don't display them, so you will have to ask for it. Finding it will have to be like the minor effort before unearthing a gem.
The story of two brothers pushed into prostitution in different ways by their mother, who keeps losing her money to gambling and a freeloader boyfriend, Kalakal is the kind of sloppily made film that would be a bad melodrama if it weren't also so thoroughly enjoyable.
The movie depicts a family unhinged by an environment where men can use their bodies to take money from women and fags, who always seem hungry for sex. If you think you've seen that too many times already, well, you have. What's a little more special is the whacked sensibility of Kalakal, a movie that's not afraid to use goofy boinking sound effects during a job interview that turns into a blowjob, employ sniffing (of underwear, bodies) as a running motif, populate a bar with macho dancers who look like school delinquents picked up straight from the streetcorner, and make a shirtless teenager stand around the house with his arm up, exposing his armpit, for one entire sequence with only the flimsiest of logic. The raunchy idiocy of Kalakal surpasses its poor technical and narrative values to deliver pleasures clearly operating from a specific, personal, gay id. It's filmmaking that shits all over the place, but it's funny, sexy, and bold. It has personality.
Beejay Morales, who was reportedly 15 when he debuted in Hada two years ago, plays the same archetype in Kalakal: the underage object of lust of an older man, here played by Fredmoore Delos Santos as the businessman who hired him to shovel gravel. There's a whiff of expolitation in scenes featuring the goodlooking young actor, but then exploitation seems to be the strongest titillating weapon of Kalakal, no matter who is playing in whichever scene, even including, at one point, a flabby middleage housewife touching herself while peeping on a fucking couple. Normally, I would complain about the stereotypes and lazy ideas as those peppered all over the movie, but you can't take the politics of a film like this too seriously. I was delighted by it, and I can't wait to buy the video to rewatch the dirty, silly, crazy parts. Some comedies and horror ask us to check our brains out the door for maximum enjoyment; it should be done with some gay sex melodramas too.