Pelikula Q&A with Juana Change
by Jansen Musico
When you keep alternating between two unique personas, one more outlandish than the other, chances are, you have a personality disorder. That isn’t the case for actress and advertising mogul Mae Paner. When her better-known irate YouTube doppelganger Juana Change, takes over her body, it’s time for action. Juana Change to Mae Paner is a Hulk to Bruce Banner. She’s become the face of several socio-political advocacies, the hand that pushes this new generation to be more proactive. With Juana C. The Movie, she’s taking her act to the big screen.
Where do you draw the line between Mae Paner and Juana Change?
There was a time I was in a cab, and the driver was trying to kick me out because he wanted me to add 50 pesos to the meter. And I got so furious at him. I felt as though it wasn’t me. It must have been Juana Change, because she’s so matapang. I’m matapang as Mae, but I’m not as matapang as the character that just came out then. That must have been Juana Change. Mae is more regular. Juana’s the one who wears colorful wigs. Mae Paner is just the body who’s inhabited when Juana wants to get out there.
How did Juana Change even come about?
In 2008, when Jun Lozada came out as a whistleblower of the NBN-ZTE deal, I had been inactive in the political scene. But that itch to do something for country was calling me. I knew at that point, I had to do something, so I started to gather my friends. I said, “Hey, come on, let’s come together. Let’s do something. We have time, talent, there’s the social media now. We can upload videos on YouTube. I can direct. I can be an actor, so let’s do it.” And my friends, who are also like me, lovers of country, readily said yes. That’s how the movement started.
Isn’t it tricky you’re directing and acting at the same time?
It’s actually kind of cool in a way. We don’t have budgets, and because I’m a director, it’s very easy for us to come up with videos. While I’m the talent, I can also direct. That came in handy for the advocacy.
How many are you in the team?
Strictly, tatlo lang kami. Whenever there’s an issue, we get together. They come to my house for dinner, and then we talk. That’s how we start. And then we produce the video. Rody Vera is one of the writers. He’s a very prolific writer, a multi-Palanca awardee. In fact, two if his pieces are Un Certain Regard entries to the Cannes film festival. He wrote Death March for Adolf Alix and Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan for Lav Diaz. The other writer is Raymond Lee. He’s the brains behind Zombadings. He wrote it and produced it, Maximo Oliveros, and a lot of other movies.
How is it working with them on a regular basis?
I’m so lucky to be around very good artists. Kasi it’s not easy to pull off political satire. Hindi naman madaling magpatawa, tapos very edgy pa ang topic mo, tapos it’s also very truthful because it’s about the national situation. Kung hindi magaling ang mga writers ko, siguro hindi ako magkakaroon ng ganoong lakas ng loob na mag-produce ng videos. Yung soul talaga ng Juana Change advocacy ay yung content niya.
Why make a full-length film this time?
There are still a lot of apathetic Filipinos. They don’t care for the news. They don’t care for the country as much. But they love watching telenovelas. They prefer to watch film festival movies. We wanted to broaden the audience of the advocacy. If we make a movie, we’ll be talking to these people.
What’s the film about?
Juana is part of an indigenous people’s community. And because of mining and tourism, her community was threatened. So her parents told her, “Hey, you’d better study, because if you don’t, people will just get our land and we will have nowhere to live.” Juana didn’t really want to study, but she was forced to. And when she got to Manila, ayan na, napariwara. Before she knew it, she was in debt. Her last recourse was to become a prostitute and she began to enter into the doors of power.
What got you into performing?
Actually PETA really got me into performance. When I entered PETA in 1983, I became really active in political theater. Kasi during that time, it was the Marcos years eh. And that was when I actually started my love for country. We were joining rallies. And I was doing political theater. Then I understood, ah, ito pala ‘yon. Because it was also at that time people were trying to overthrow Marcos.
That was a dangerous time.
Actually, I was incarcerated in 1984 with Lino Brocka and Ben Cervantes when I joined the jeepney transport strike.
What were you doing before acting?
Right after college, I really went into theater. Then I was in advertising. I was an assistant director. I was production assistant before that. I was production manager, then I became a director, and then, that’s it.
Do you consider advertising your sideline?
Actually ito dapat yung sideline ko, pero ito yung naging buhay ko.
Would you ever consider bringing Juana to TV? It’s been a while since we had a political satire like Abangan Ang Susunod na Kabanata.
We’ve always wanted to have Juana Change on television, pero parang the stations are not ready kasi masyado kaming matapang. We were almost on air a few times, and then matatanggal.
The elections are done now. If you were a senator, what would be that one thing you’d lobby for?
Freedom of information. I think it should be made into law. A lot of things continue to happen, because people don’t have access to information. If we had, we’d know how much the government earns, what transactions and spending are done, and where our money is going.
Read more of the interview on Philippine Star Supreme.
Juana C. The Movie opens in cinemas on May 29.
Pelikula Q&A with Annicka Dolonius and Niño Mulach
by Jansen Musico
He’s a 70s child star. She’s a budding actress. Both were sharing a motel hot tub with a socio-political activist. If this wasn’t part of the promotion of their upcoming film, Juana C. The Movie, the scenario would have been more than just a bit peculiar. The two were in character. Niño Mulach, portraying a corrupt military man, was in a wetsuit with matching snorkel. Laughing at him was a tattooed Annicka Dolonius, playing a college vixen, who didn’t look too bashful in her bikini. Several shots later, they were in the backroom, willing to share a thing or two about the film, drinking, and dressing in drag.
How did you get cast?
They sent me an email. I almost missed it, actually, because I never check my email. They couldn’t contact me, so they sent me a message on Twitter, and I didn’t see it… again. And when I finally did, I missed the first audition, but I emailed them right away. I said, “I’m sorry I didn’t see this, bada-bada-ba,” and they were like, “No, it’s okay. Come for an audition, cha-cha-cha.” They asked me for an audition. I came in, and then I read, and then I got the part.
What’s your role?
I play Eva. She’s like this conyo college girl that Juana meets. We’re classmates. She sort of becomes Juana’s friend and becomes a bad influence to Juana, so…
So you’re that girl.
Correct me if I’m wrong. Your first ever acting first gig was in Pisay?
No. You’re correct.
How did you get into that?
My mom knew they were holding auditions for Pisay, ‘cause she had been in Maximo Oliveros. And so she took me to the audition.
Willingly or begrudgingly?
Willingly! [Laughs.] Because she knew that I originally wanted to get into drama school, and I was taking a year off at that time. So she took me to the auditions, so maybe I could, you know, get some experience. And I got it.
Then five years later you got cast in Ang Nawawala.
Yeah. I got the role of Enid in Ang Nawawala.
That was a very long gap between films. What did you do then?
I did a bunch of commercials, and I did music videos. It was probably because I was busy trying to figure out what I wanted to do. At that time, I don’t know… Do you remember what it was like being in your early twenties and you’re just all over the place? That’s what I was like, basically. And so I didn’t have a direction. I knew that I wanted to act. But I think, um, I don’t know what happened.
And now, you’re in a sex movie.
It’s awesome. I think that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do the film, because it’s so outrageous. It’s so out there. It’s so shocking. And it’s something I’ve never done. It’s just a lot of fun, man.
What’s your favorite role so far?
So far? I have three to choose from. But they’re so different. I can’t choose a single role. I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing. I can’t choose one.
That’s such a safe answer.
Yeah, right? That is the safe answer. [Laughs.]
What do you do in your down time?
I don’t know, man. I go out and drink with friends, and I wonder why I’m drinking so much with friends. I don’t usually know what I do in my free time. I don’t pay attention. I don’t even know what day it is.
Any plans after this film?
I’m wondering the exact same thing. I’m just making this shit up as I go along.
Raymond Lee, the film’s producer, cast you for the role.
Yeah. She saw me in Slumber Party, then naisip niyang i-cast ako. I play General Palakpak. I got the services of Juana. Si Juana kasi naging prostitute… My role is a spoof of the recent generals na involved sa mga political scandals.
I don’t want to name names. [Laughs.]
Were you familiar with Juana’s work before working on the film?
Yes. That was one of the reasons why I accepted the part. The fact that I was going to be involved in the advocacies of Juana Change was already a big thing for me.
There’s a special screening where your movie’s being bundled with—
Slumber Party, back to back. Yes!
How was working on that movie?
It was good. First time ko kasing maging bading, so a lot of people were surprised with the way I played that role.
How was it talking in Baklese?
Ang hirap sobra ng lines. They only gave me like five days before shooting? They gave me the script. It wasn’t easy. Even on the set, on the day of the shoot, I was still memorizing. Each and every word, iba eh. “Kayechi bang nakatira sa balurchi nitechi balu?” Di ba? Kayo ba ang nakatira dito? Ganun lang kasimple, pero ang hirap. [Laughs.] It’s so hard.
How was it like dressing in drag?
That was the fun part of it. They even did my nails. I couldn’t even hold the script with those nails.
You’ve been in the industry since when?
Since I was two-and-a-half years old.
And for a time you disappeared.
I spent time with my kids a lot. I scuba dived. I’ve been directing stage plays. Now I’m shooting my first film in June, Sino Ka Ba San Pedro Calungsod? By the way, I’m going to have another movie coming out, OTJ. I have short guest role there.
On The Job by Erik Matti?
Yes, yes. It’s already in Cannes. But it’s coming out here I think in August or September.
There are a lot of Filipino films in Cannes this year
Yes. I just hope to see the day the Philippine movie industry comes back to life and we’re able to come out of this rut we’re in; hopefully with better movies. It really hurts for someone like me na dito na nagkamulat. I know that we are the first filmmakers in Asia pero napag-iwanan na tayo. So sana manumbalik ulit yung sigla.
Juana C. The Movie opens in cinemas on May 29.
By Issa Perez de Tagle
The Host (2013)
D: Andrew Niccol
S: Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel and Diane Kruger
“The earth is at peace. There are no wars. There is no hunger. Honesty, courtesy and kindness are practiced by all. The world has never been more perfect. It is no longer your world.”
The battle for the planet Earth is over and we have lost. Our bodies have been taken over by alien souls and there are only small, almost irrelevant pockets of resistance left. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of those few and now she’s been captured. Everything she has lived to protect is in jeopardy and she is not going down without a fight. She refuses to disappear from the mind of Wanderer — her body’s new occupant. Using her humanity to her advantage, she turns Wanderer into an unlikely ally in the war for our planet’s future.
I will be honest and say that I did read the book this was based on and I actually didn’t think it was half bad. Now before everyone attacks me with Stephenie-Meyer-hate, I would like to point out that her corn-syrupy writing does not totally obscure the fact that it has quite the mature premise. This is not a story about how some girl becomes suicidal after her boyfriend leaves her.
It’s a story about the will to survive and the complexity of human bonds. It even calls into question man’s very ability to attain utopia. So many fascinating questions come to light with this one topic. What is perfection? Is it achievable? If not, then why is it still so important? What is human nature? Are we inherently good or evil? Are we simply blank canvases?
That being said, the fact that it’s still written by Stephenie Meyer and “not half bad” does not mean a masterpiece. So if there was ever a time that I wish a director had taken more creative license in a book-to-film adaptation, this would have been it. I had great faith that Niccol was the right man for the job since he brought to life the thought-provoking science fiction movie Gattaca and got the genre out of the distant corners of the universe, into our own near and plausible futures. He also has a knack for zero-ing in on our society’s superficial pitfalls, making us face them in ways both brilliantly disturbing and glaringly honest as in the films S1m0ne and The Truman Show.
The Host, however, doesn’t seem like it was made by that same visionary director. Niccol’s talent for creating a believable futuristic world seems almost absent in this movie. All the chrome, white suits and cartoon-ish sets come off forced and underdeveloped.
Not very much happens in terms of action but it manages to give you the feeling that it was rushed. The pacing and the editing were poorly executed, making it seem episodic, like something The CW is about to cancel.
But I think the saddest part is that its premise, which held so much potential, was almost completely ignored. This could have been so much more than just tween fluff. Hell, even the love…square, romance between four people and three bodies would have been really interesting if done correctly. But the characters were all flat despite them having boatloads of time to talk since 99.9% of this film is them just shacking it up in a cave.
Which wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing if the dialogue was at all good. I’d like to blame Meyer for this but Niccol actually wrote the script. I have no idea how it could’ve possibly turned out any worse. The disembodied voice of Melanie was just awkward to me. It somehow worked in the novel but on film there were definitely times wherein I couldn’t decide whether to cringe or burst out laughing.
A shame since I thought it was a waste of Ronan’s talents. Given what she had, she performed credibly, lending a distinct voice to both characters she was portraying. Kruger was also surprisingly captivating. Which makes me wish they had given her something more interesting to do. I believe she had a struggle that was worth a little more exposure.
The Host is a disappointment. It could’ve been Stephenie Meyer’s ticket to gain some actual respect and for Andrew Niccol to prove he wasn’t the next M. Night Shyamalan. But all we have is Twilight: Chrome Version.
A Boy’s Yearning
by Jansen Musico
Noordzee, Texas (North Sea Texas, 2011)
D: Bavo Defurne
S: Jelle Florizoone, Mathias Vergels, Eva van der Gucht
Noordzee, Texas opens with a tune flowing out from an off-screen music box. From the black fades in a bokeh of slowly flickering carnival lights, and then we’re introduced to our protagonist, a small blonde-haired boy named Pim who’s excitedly running into the arms of a man in a leather jacket.
There is something very different about Pim, and we discover this soon enough when he sneaks into his mother’s room to put on her jewelry. He is naked, letting the sun’s rays shine on his innocence. That is, until his mother catches him, and he hides away at his neighbor’s house.
To write off Noordzee, Texas as homosexual fluff would be unfair to the work of its director. Bavo Defurne neither creates a film to pander the LGBT community he champions nor to offend those who find it queer. Any film with gay characters has that effect; it elicits an instant reaction. But Noordzee, Texas is more than mere controversy or fluff. It’s a story about abandonment and finding “home”—concepts so universal they’re able to cut through gender stereotypes.
Defurne captures a teenage Pim (Jelle Florizoone) at his most fragile state. He is growing up, falling in love with his childhood friend Gino (Mathias Vergels), and being left behind by the people he cares about the most, one after the next. And he battles through the confusion and sadness, trying to make sense of the changes, trying to look for something that will last. All of this plays out beautifully, a coming-of-age montage filled with a progression of color-coded frames, scenic wide shots, rich ambient sounds, and delicate scoring.
The film has an abundance of stillness and space. Defurne and cinematographer Anton Mertens never clutter the screen. They allow shots to loiter, letting the audience take in everything in each frame, as if to transfer Pim’s mood and psyche onto them. Every cut from wide to narrow is precise. Every placement on screen is intentional. All the elements serve to serve the film, as they should. Defurne’s mastery of them shows. They push the story along and amplify each actor’s performance.
To think that Noordzee, Texas is both Florizoone and Vergels’s sophomore attempt at acting is notable. They flounder from time to time, but put together in a scene, the tension they build closes any physical gap separating them. This gives the film’s ending more impact. Though bleak and open-ended, it’s both fiery and comforting, and neither depressing nor exaggerated; a good change in LGBT cinema.
That Chris Colfer Movie
by Jansen Musico
Struck by Lightning (2012)
D: Brian Dannelly
S: Chris Colfer, Allison Janney, Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Sarah Hyland, Ashley Rickards
Chris Colfer. You either love him or don’t give two shits about him. There is something with the pasty skin, shrill voice, and perfectly styled hair of his that polarizes people. I, for one, find him rather annoying.
Glee had introduced him to the world, and it wrecked him at the same time. He was given a caricature to play, a character that carried a rainbow-colored burden too big for his own good. Colfer became the fresh face of an agenda, a stigma he will have to live with for the years to come. In Struck by Lighting, a film he wrote and starred in, he tries to veer away from Kurt Hummel. He doesn’t quite succeed in that, but it’s a good start.
Colfer plays Carson, a high school senior trying to jump start his writing career. Believing he’s too mature for his age, he often rolls his eyes at his short-sighted peers and pill-popping mother (Allison Janney). The confidence he exudes makes him an outcast in school, which he doesn’t mind as long as he reaches his goals. But once something threatens his chances at a better future, he blackmails everyone to get what he wants.
There’s nothing novel in the tale, no part in Colfer’s story that jumps out as original. There’s too much pastiche. He plays with tropes and stereotypes and weaves them all together into a raggedy comedy-drama. The story’s far from terrible, but the insights it draws out are a bit too trite.
One good thing about the movie is its gimmicky casting. Colfer and Janney are joined by familiar small screen faces. There’s Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Sarah Hyland (Modern Family), and Ashley Rickards (Awkward). Rebel Wilson also pitches in as Malerie, Carson’s only loyal writers’ club member. Each one has their stereotypes down pat, with Janney and Hendricks carrying most of the drama while Wilson is stuck with the humor.
For his first jab at film, Colfer showed he’s an able writer and actor. With more pruning and experience, he might just be able to surprise everybody with new dimensions of himself.