I didn’t make the most of the semi-utopic state that Thailand enjoyed amid a global pandemic, thinking it’ll last a few more months. Now, we’ve gone back into lockdown which is terrible but necessary. Thailand handled the pandemic quite competently that even when citizens (mostly the youth) were staging revolutions against the government throughout Bangkok and in some other provinces, there were no signs that a second wave of COVID-19 was imminent. I almost made plans to plan a trip to Chiang Mai, a place I’ve only been to once but claim to love. But the most I did was make reservations at nice restaurants and a café for which reservations didn’t seem necessary because few people were eating out. Being able to do things and being able to take that for granted – it was fun while it lasted!
Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer for a two-man band consisting of himself and his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). His passion, art, and livelihood depend on being able to hear and create sounds that coalesce into music which they can sell and which allows them to live a gypsy life. One day, he wakes up and realizes that he has lost his sense of hearing. The treatment, a surgical implant, entails an indefinite period of rest and huge expenses. It confuses, angers, frustrates, and frightens him, sometimes all at once.
As he figures out a way to get surgery, in the meantime, he seeks refuge in a community of deafmutes who, unlike him, don’t see their condition as handicap. There, the community leader Joe encourages him to slow down, get in touch with his feelings by writing them down, and learn the art of just sitting and doing nothing.
He spends a few weeks in the community and gives to them as much as he takes from them. He gets free donuts, coffee and a room while he recovers and comes to terms with his condition/new reality. He learns sign language and integrates with the folks, even teaching the kids how to play drums. He draws nudes for a lesbian member and occasionally has a heart-to-heart with Joe. A period of pleasantness follows Ruben’s initial reticence to mingle with the deafmute community.
But Ruben is a young, attractive, and active musician who is at his creative peak. The community is just a pitstop, not a destination like it is for Joe who offers him long-term membership and mentorship. He eventually comes up with the money for the surgery and gets kicked out from Joe’s organization as a result. The surgery, sadly, only partially and imperfectly restores his hearing. In place of crystal-clear sounds of voices, music, and noise, he hears metallic scraping in his ears, effectively subjecting him to hearing screeching metal sounds for as long as he chooses to wear the otherwise neat-looking contraption on his head. He chooses to hear silence permanently instead.
This movie reminds me of Dancer in the Dark, a musical about a musical film-loving woman named Selma (Björk) who is wrongfully accused of murder and who is about to lose her sight and dies from state execution anyway. Sound of Metal is harrowing, but it is not misery-porn-like like the Lars Von Trier musical drama. Ruben’s condition reminds me of my unhealthy music listening habits too. I listen to music loud, but I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much because I don’t play drums or guitars. Sound of Metal is ultimately an excellent showcase for Riz Ahmed’s hotness and talent and a piercing reminder of the value of introspection, the unexpected beauty in settling into an agenda-free community, and Accepting Things You Cannot Change (I swear the film is not as trite as I describe it). And any film written in English, sign language, and some French deserves all the screenwriting awards.
I first watched Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love around the early ‘00s. A former friend recommended it, so I borrowed her VCD of the movie and copied it using a fantastic piece of technology called “CD burner”. I watched it on a chunky white computer monitor. I remember being fascinated at the Maggie Cheung character most of all. How could any man cheat on a woman this gorgeous? I also remember thinking, “This movie is so high-art and so sad and, oh, so ‘quizás, quizás, quizás’ is ‘perhaps, perhaps, perhaps’”.
I recently watched the 4K restoration of the film in House Samyan and had some thoughts and observations.
- Maggie Cheung is as radiant, as incandescent, and as ravishing as when I first watched the film. As a non-Hong Kong citizen who has no working knowledge of what HK women looked like during the ‘60s, I take it as a fact that a woman that beautiful can be cheated on by her husband perhaps because there are many other equally stunning women just like her. It also offers this insight on the precarity of most marriages: a married person falling for someone else has nothing to do with one’s spouse good looks and character.
- It would seem as if Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) didn’t have much to do to pass the time except wait at home for their respective spouses who were eternally on extended overseas business meetings. This was what may have compelled them to spontaneously reenact how their spouses carry on with their affair. It’s not that the cuckolded pair were inherently boring people or without any hobbies (Chow, who is a journalist, writes manga comics semi-inspired by real-life events while Mrs. Chan keeps herself busy at home and takes nightly trips to her favorite noodle stall). It’s that they were pining for their spouses and have chosen to process their pain by miming their emotionally and physically unavailable spouses’ ways.
- I would re-watch this movie even only to admire the many cheongsams that Maggie Cheung wore. As Mrs. Suen (Mrs. Soo’s landlady) had implied, the cheongsams are too exquisite only to be worn for nightly noodle noshing. Me and Mrs. Suen had the exact same thought.
- It would have made sense for the two to break it off with their spouses, but they didn’t. Maybe they knew that the snatches of time they spent together were more precious than actually becoming a couple, which, as they both knew, is rife with difficulties, temptation, and made-up business trips. And, there’d be no more goods from Japan and, worse of all, no more nightly treks to noodle alley. But, in the grand scheme of things, would it have mattered if they did end up together? Would they have been better off if they had Followed Their Heart? Quizás, quizás, quizás.
It would be difficult even for Hollywood filmmakers to make a biopic about Imelda Marcos, one of the most notorious first ladies who ever lived. I truly believe there is no actress chameleonic enough who can exude the delusional aura that Imelda possesses and no screenwriter talented enough who can write a script that can capture the inanity of every word that comes out of her mouth that spews twisted takes on truth, beauty, and their family’s supposedly glorious rule of the Philippines. But it would be interesting to see Natalie Portman tackle the role of Imelda fucking Marcos.
The Kingmaker is a documentary about Imelda, her pivotal role in shaping Philippine history, and her family’s audacious attempts to ascend, once again, to the highest government positions in the country. Imelda is a fascinating woman who will never cease to be a subject of films, songs, novels, and think-pieces. Also fascinating is how she willingly participates in these films and not think that she’d be portrayed in any way other than as a vicious monster who live —and will die — in a bubble. It could only be explained by her egomania. This documentary is so maddening and so well-made.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is about couple Lucy and Jake taking a road trip to meet Jake’s socially awkward parents. Lucy thinks out loud during the trip; in particular, she is thinking of ending things with Jake because she no longer wants to be with him. She’s narrating in her head, as one does while on a road trip to meet one’s partner’s parents. She’s unaware that Jake can hear her thoughts, which induces a pleasant kind of cringe.
It’s an interesting premise although one that would require paying very close attention (which is difficult to do considering this is a Netflix movie, and is therefore watched at home) to what soon unfolds when they reach their destination, Jake’s house, where his parents act all servile and weird. I would have been happier with a straightforward romantic comedy/drama in which a couple is about to separate, with one-half of the couple thinking out loud and the other hearing everything that’s not being said. I enjoy the occasional Charlie Kaufman mindfuck, but I was put off by the dream-like sequences in the school toward the end. It wasn’t quite clear if the person who was thinking of ending things, ended things. I think that is part of this movie’s allure.
Come and See
Florya, a boy barely out of his teens, is joining the village soldiers to fight against the Nazis. His mother is against it, but he does it anyway because it’s not as if there are many options for them; their entire village along with 600 others according to Wikipedia and history books are about to be razed to the ground by very bad people. Florya joins the troop only to be told to stay behind and give his good shoe to a veteran deemed more capable to fight in battle.
Nazi soldiers soon arrive, and it doesn’t take long for them to destroy the village and slaughter every man, woman, and child. Florya and those who manage to escape the first round of slaughter live through this long enough then promptly go mad. When everything you own and live for are taken away from you, it won’t take long before you lose your mind. Florya and some of the villagers are spared, not because they acted right and/or luckily escaped but because the soldiers needed an audience for their little fire show.
The barbarity of Nazi soldiers during World War 2 is well documented in history books, novels, essays, films, etc., but there’s something about its depiction in this film that gets under one’s skin. So many war stories need to be told, and movies like Come and See, about Germany’s invasion of the land formerly named Byelorussia, are an important reminder of the kind of evil humans are capable of, e.g., incinerating people like they’re kindling and doing it with maniacal glee, among many, many, many other acts of cruelty. This movie is a fever dream of atrocity after atrocity. It’s an Important Film, although one that’s very difficult to watch. Watch it.
Big news: I listened to a classical radio station on Spotify today. It felt like something I should do more often. I also played my Kid A CD, which is a grown-up album to listen to. As you know, Radiohead is not a Dua Lipa, a Cherry Sawayama, or a Chromatica. As a gay who’s always listening to pop girls new and old, I sometimes feel obligated to listen to pop queens, but at what age must it stop? Is it okay for a mid-30s gay to listen to “Rain on Me” and “Sour Candy” on repeat and not feel like an old uncle trying to be cool? I like the aforementioned Chromatica tracks, but it’s “1,000 Doves” that I love. That’s me as a grown-up – listening to classical music instead of pop girls. But that’s not all that I do that’s been making me feel like an adult.
I eat lots of vegetables now and even find them delicious (except ampalaya, a vegetable that relentlessly assaults the tastebuds with bitterness). I also cook veggies and always look forward to the results. My cooking skills are uneven; sometimes the dish comes out decent, sometimes it’s too salty, too spicy, too peppery, or too garlicky. If I were a parent, my children would hate the things I cook for them. First of all, if I were a parent, I don’t know that I’d be cooking vegetables for their benefit or for mine. I’d probably cook lots of fried foods for those needy bastards, which would compel me to eat some of the fried junk that their young body can process hassle-free. This is why I’m so glad that in my present reality, I don’t have to. The thought of me with children will never be not terrifying.
I also no longer put sugar in my first cup of coffee, not even “sugar in the raw” (which is Starbucks jargon for raw sugar that is barely sugar for how unsweet it is). The 28-year-old me, the one that drinks at least four cups of coffee a day and still manages to sleep like a baby, would never.
Still on food: I sometimes insist on giving friends “adult dishes” I’ve ordered or have stocked up on. I have friends who have the palate of 12-year-olds, and may they be always blessed. Being an adult requires the utmost politeness when accepting or denying offers of food. Some people would decline the food we offer them, and that’s okay. If you don’t want your feelings hurt by friends’ rejection of your adult dishes, offer it to a religious shrine instead. Similarly, we wouldn’t always like the adult food our friends give us, but we’ll accept them anyway because it seems rude not to. Unlike certain friends, I can eat almost anything and have grown used to different foods on my plate touching each other. For example, I don’t mind the ketchup touching the kangkong. But there’s a limit to this newfound tolerance. Rice drenched in sinigang soup touching portions of a saucy dish like mechado or menudo is still abominable. Still, I don’t think I’d mind should I ever find myself in a Pinoy food buffet situation where these wildly varying dishes find themselves on my plate. I’ll cross that bridge when that bridge finds itself on my plate.
The lockdown restrictions in Thailand have been lifted months ago, but people are encouraged to remain paranoid. And we still are. We still wear a face mask (or just “mask” as I prefer to call it) when going out and we still use hand sanitizers after touching any surface outside our homes. There are different groups of we’s, though, and some of these groups are more brazen and less fearful than the we I belong to.
We are no longer called on to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, as a certain meme had admonished (the one that thinks it’s so clever). It was good while it lasted, but who’s to say we should abandon our couch-sitting, Netflix-watching duties (which also applies to those who don’t have Netflix)?
So I still fulfill that duty whenever I can. I recently watched Bad Genius, an extremely enjoyable, well-made Thai film about a brilliant student and the kamotes that befriend her. I wrote my thoughts about it on my notebook then I followed the actor who played Pat on Instagram. His Instagram is “lit AF”. He’s an okay actor but you wouldn’t know it from his Instagram. On Instagram, he is like most cool young Thai guys who know how to make baggy and slightly trashy clothes look elegant and immensely photographable.
Recently, we went to the Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center (BACC) to see, gulp down, absorb, and take photos of art and oddities. It lifted my spirits somehow. The BACC is roomy, designed to accommodate crowds whose behaviors are forever changed by the pandemic. We had coffee at one of the shops, and the coffee was so excellent that I didn’t need to pollute it with brown sugar. I wish I’d taken a photo, but the thought of taking my phone out of my pocket and increasing the number of times it is exposed to the virus and having to disinfect it later was too much to bear.
We bought notepads from an artist whose current exhibit centers on 100-year-old men wearing funky, ahead-of-its-time, thong-like underwear. You’re not supposed to buy the photographs even if you had the money but especially if you don’t have enough money or don’t have money at all. Those photographs deserve to be seen by many, many 36-year old men. Those photographs are a window into (mostly) Asian men’s future as 100-year-old stunners. They’re beautiful photos but a tad terrifying. Just thinking about turning 37 next year horrifies me. It’s not the number itself but the inevitable thickening of the love handles. It’s the old-man health issues. It’s the gradual decrease in the number of push-ups that one can do in one go. It’s the further deterioration of an already-poor eyesight. I didn’t need Charnpichit Pongtongsumran’s exhibit to remind me of any of that. But I’m thankful for his useful, stunning reminders.
I live with a lizard who has a child, a very tiny lizardette who scurries away upon sensing my presence. No matter where I live, there’s always a lizard who adopts me. I, like many others who cohabit with reptiles, do not mind sharing a home with the yucky-looking creatures. They are harmless and unaggressive. They’re wimpy, even. Lizards are fine creatures to live with, except for several traits some of them have that border on rudeness. What truly annoys me is that they don’t ever bother to announce their presence. They always wait on you to discover them, and every time you do, they always act shocked, which has the effect of shocking you, too. It’s a situation for which the term “mini-heart attack” was invented. It’s an endless cycle of mutually shocking each other until one of you have had enough of the other and resorts to doing something drastic and may or may not regret later. I’ve done some things to a lizard I’m not proud of. In one encounter with one in my old apartment, I sprayed water on the motherfucker until it choked (or suffer some sort of water-related torture) and left my sink.
The lizards at my current place, I just yell at or shoo away. Here’s some terrific news for them: they’re all guaranteed to never ever starve. I always have crumbs lying around the house: in my bookshelves, dining table, kitchen counter, the top of my refrigerator, the tiny shelf where the microwave is. The pandemic has turned me into a hoarder (mostly of coffee beans, digestive biscuits, almond milk, and Green Leafy Vegetables), so any lizard who thinks to visit or permanently live with me is guaranteed a steady diet of cookies and a variety of crumbs. They will not suffer the same fate that the lizards in my old unit did: die of starvation and dehydration from the lack of food and liquids. I remember one fat lizard whose name is Elizabeth Anne Salander who died unnoticed while hanging in the back of a vintage art frame in my old place. I’ll never know if that was an accident or a statement, but what a poetic way to die.
Mini tubes of toothpaste
When checking out of a hotel, I take all the things I feel I ought to take: tea bags, toothbrush sets, and the tiny tubes of toothpaste that come with them. I save these for guests at my place, while the tiny toothpaste I use for office brushing. I don’t need to save these tiny toothpaste tubes anymore because me and them are not going anywhere. The concept of offices where one goes to earn a living may be obliterated soon, so these tiny toothpaste tubes are now going to make themselves useful in my home.
Group video calls
I usually dread video calls for reasons I don’t need to provide. But it’s important to participate in them because these days, I shouldn’t be relying on my own sources of information. Friends who are priests, government employees, bankers, and accountants offer some insight into their corner of this pandemic-stricken planet. Some friends of mine have read articles and have seen videos that shed light on things that have kept me in the dark for days.
Some days, I feel incapacitated to participate in group Zooms or chats. It’s as if all the space I have left in me have been filled with dread and anxiety. But it’s not always anxiety over the thing that’s punishing us all; it’s observing how some people can still function, share funny memes, be productive, and be happy and content and feel blessed send me to the pits of hell. It’s not that I’m unhappy that there are people who manage to be in high spirits; it’s that I can’t. It’ reminds me of what Eve Babitz said about death — it’s other people having fun without you.
This pandemic has effectively encouraged me to participate in conference calls. Seeing people in small frames squeezed into one main frame has become comforting. It encourages that oft repeated slogan, “We are all in this together” even though we really are not. And yet, it’s such a relief seeing people alive coping on their own as the horrors of uncertainty steadily creeps every day.
My grandparents were called to war; I am called to sit on the couch and watch Moving Parts
Moving Parts is a documentary you can watch in installments, which is how I watch most shows. It charts drag queen and folk recording artist Trixie Mattel’s semi-interesting life as an entertainer. What I love about Trixie is that she makes the most of what she’s given. She seems fully aware that Shangela should have won Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3, but did it stop her from starring in a documentary about her experiences in that season and the difficulties of what looks like a mildly successful tour? No, it did not.
Moving Parts is also a film about her friendship with the great Katya, although it only skirts around that subject. That’s probably because Katya might steal the film, which is fine because Trixie doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would mind fading in the background in a documentary about her life. I can relate with that okayness with being upstaged, but only if it’s to deserving queens like Katya.
Fun fact: Like Trixie Mattel, I, too, was called ‘Trixie’ by relatives who thought it clever to feminize Patrick as a way to torment me when I was revealed to be gay at age 7 or 8 or 9 (I can’t remember). This was in the ‘90s, a time that I like to think of as the golden age (in the history of my life) of people being homophobic and unapologetic about it. This may come as a shock, but there was a time when homophobia was as natural as disease. The feminization of my name was a result of getting caught trying on my cousin’s gown. I, too, had the makings of a drag queen. Sometimes, I think about what direction my life would have taken if, instead of being shamed for getting caught trying on my cousin’s gown, I was celebrated and motivated to dress up in girls’ clothes and championed by relatives instead of being mocked and called Trixie.
As it happens, there are many ways to feminize Patrick: Patricia, Patrixie (which was used by some of my dumb cousins and aunts and uncles), Trixie, and Tricia. This essay is a call to stop feminizing “Patrick” to torment little gay boys in Pasay and everywhere else.
Those of us who can still afford a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions are lucky not just because we still have money to pay for an incredible luxury like Netflix but because, according to some people who believe they’re clever, all we’re called upon to do is to sit on the couch and watch Netflix during this distressing time.
Watching TV is not my favorite thing to do, but I watch TV often enough — while having lunch or dinner at home and to watch the mandatory weekly movie — to not qualify as a non-TV-watcher like Jonathan Franzen who is proud to proclaim that he doesn’t watch or own a TV. Good for him, but I doubt if that’s still true.
The pull of the couch is indeed very strong in these strange times. I’d rather read, but lately I find that every other marvelous sentence of Eve Babitz’s that I read is interrupted by thoughts of buying next week’s groceries, health issues, and the bleak future. TV shows don’t demand my complete attention, so it has become, a more practical way to pass the time and forget about life for just a moment.
So, in the next few days, I’ll try to write reports of my TV-watching duties that I am being called on to do.
This is an edgy British sex comedy series about a couple, a female psychiatrist (Toni Collette) and her husband, who have lost the desire to have sex with each other. Other characters include their son who babbles about Jonathan Franzen to a girl he likes at school and the couple’s respective fuck buddies.
Toni Collette’s face on the title card made me watch this, so congrats to Toni Collette for earning my view. I’m never sure if I could finish an entire TV series because there are just so many and I am drowning. Also, I’m in my mid-thirties so I already have favorite shows that I turn to again and again for comfort.
For me, Wanderlust is quite similar to the brilliant Sex Education, but with adults, front and center. I didn’t think I’d finish watching the entire episode because I thought it was trying too hard to be cringey (e.g., the Toni character getting caught JO-ing by his son) and the random quirky characters (like the son) and his friends seem random and written to up the cringe.
It started to win me over in the scene where one of the psychiatrist’s clients was very incoherently yet valiantly trying to explain why and how he and his wife have ended at the therapist’s couch. “Mop up all the semen” also made me laugh.
The episode concludes with Toni and husband confessing their acts of infidelity, leading to their mutual agreement to sleep with other people as a way to keep their marriage intact. The end.
The rest of the five episodes could be as quirk-filled and may contain some hilarious dialogue, but I think the pilot episode could stand on its own, and if I never watch another episode again, I’ll be fine. I feel it has already made a point and Toni Collette was a delight to watch, so that was time well spent.