Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rakenrol - False Depictions, Tepid World

Odie and Irene (Jason Abalos and Glaiza de Castro respectively) have been friends from school, and though they seem to be poles apart, their love for the local music scene has brought them closer. Now they’re best friends. One day, Irene hears one of Odie’s own compositions. She comes up with the idea of putting up a band. Though initially reluctant, Odie soon finds people to fill up the group: an ex-punk coffeeshop staff Mo (Ketchup Eusebio) and the emotionally labile Junfour (Alwyn Uytingco). Even before I could correctly enumerate the complete names of the original members of the Eraserheads, the group suddenly finds themselves a gig! What’s better, Matet de Leon (yes, one of Nora Aunor’s children) offers to manage them, shows them the ropes, introduces them to the movers and shakers of the scene.

When Jacci Rocha (Diether Ocampo), flamboyantly high profile lead singer of “Baron Munchausen” enters the picture, Irene succumbs to his charms. Hapipaks (the band's name) starts recording songs and making a music video of their first coming-out single. The group is suddenly thrown into a maelstrom that envelopes this vibrant underworld, all the while struggling to deal with their domestic lives: Mo is conflicted living with his eccentric artist friend; Junfour learns that his girlfriend is pregnant; and shy Odie can’t reveal his feelings for Irene. Why is everyone miserable when their dreams are coming true?

Quark Henares revealed in a talk show that “Rakenrol” was a wish fulfillment project. In fact, it’s taken him 5 years to make. He wished to translate a moment in his younger years when he would navigate this subculture of struggling, albeit talented musicians. Alas, where’s the thrill and urgency? Though the first half of the narrative is told in brisk chapters, the latter half soon dwindles into prosaic storytelling. The bristling introduction hopelessly turns into one drab exposition.

For the most part, the story loses steam in translating the vibrancy of that music subculture. As is depicted on screen, this was a world populated by people who look like they haven’t bathed in 5 years, no, make it ten! They were struggling (artistically and otherwise), aberrant, capricious and completely unrelatable. What’s worse, when Hapipaks finally plays their main number, “Oplan Pag Ibig”, it was nothing more than pedestrian. Sure, their audience was jumping up and shouting, but you can’t fake great music! And great it wasn’t!

Now let’s get into the casting. I’ve always found Jason Abalos a sincere actor, except in a cinematic crap called “Handumanan” (one of the worst films in two decades), but does Abalos embody the persona of how we perceive musicians should be? I think it’s clear he doesn’t, which makes this foray a little too disconnected. It’s like doing a biopic on Lea Salonga with, say, Kris Bernal portraying her. Doesn’t work. Abalos is probably too dour to represent a figure head! Maybe Abalos represented the shy and self effacing Henares? Maybe, since Quark is the epitome of a well grounded guy who admits his triumphs as graciously as his failures (In the aforementioned interview, he considers “Keka” as his greatest achievement, while “Super Noypi” as his worst – didn’t I say it here?)

But cinema is a medium that needs emphasis by writing such statements in bigger, bolder strokes. This is exactly the reason why when we want to propagandize personalities, we choose high profile celebrities. This is the same reason why a little known murder victim like Lilian Velez becomes Sharon Cuneta on screen; why Jericho Rosales had to portray the younger Manny Pacquiao in “Pacquiao: The Movie” instead of the likes of Mark Herras or Carlos Agassi. My point is, when you need a poster boy to represent a habituĂ© from that oh-so exciting underworld, you require gravitas; not someone with the verve of a complacently growing pumpkin.

We love Glaiza de Castro’s Emma in Katski Flores’ “Still Lives” and as Isabel in Rommel Sales’I-Libings”. She has somehow proven that an inferior Angel Locsin she isn’t, but if she’s indeed the Irene in “Rakenrol” (as her Facebook pronouncements would say, “Ako to!”) then Glaiza doesn’t paint a flattering picture of a rock and roll vixen. The portrait is wanting; the brew is tepid. Listening to her sing her bubblegum song, “Patingin-tingin” (from her 1st and only CD) was more enjoyable by leaps and bounds than having her rock it out here!

Diether Ocampo must have pleasurably crapped himself portraying the gaudy, resplendent, and downright splashy Jacci Rocha, but his portrayal is too out-there to be truly enjoyable. Parodies only work when there’s ample moderation, and Ocampo’s portrayal just shoots through the roof. There are a few more items on our list why “Rakenrol” is a snooze, but the ones mentioned have been the most blatant.

How do you find a band drummer, for example? Choose the school bully! That way, he can channel his frustrations by way of hitting his drums. Brilliant, right? Sounds like quack therapy to me. I didn't think it's funny so I scoff. Ketchup Eusebio plays Mo as smugly as Jacci Rocha swaggers with confidence. Eusebio should be here to pay homage to a departed online critic for whom this film was dedicated. Unfortunately, Eusebio's winking portrayal doesn't depart from a less regarded Smokey Manaloto! I'd choose the latter for his genuine humor - anytime.

As the film moves to its conclusion, the narrative shimmies into a plateau. Is there really a plausible moral of the story? When its protagonists are as plain, homely and tentative as the ones in this film, I couldn't give a damn! They might as well give me a shot of epinephrine before I flat line out of disinterest.

That the film won an "Audience Choice Award" in Los Angeles is a bit of a mystery to me. Mainly, it goes to show how some film festivals abroad can be so apocryphal. It's as ambiguous as when "Twilight Dancers" is supposedly hailed at the Toronto Filmfest. Ditto the execrable, vomit-inducing "Fidel" at the Berlin Filmfest, and the underdeveloped "Thelma" at the Hawaiian Filmfest. You just have to scratch your nape and believe that a parallel universe exists. Otherwise, such things wouldn't happen.

Quark Henares may have fulfilled his wish list. But this was a personal story that somehow wasn’t worth sharing. Not to a paying crowd, anyway. If this were an invitation to a subcommunity, I’d say, no thanks. It’s too small scale and unexciting. More importantly, the people looked like they smell.

The iconic Ely Buendia cameos: "You have to play, man... for us!" You gotta be kidding me.


Anonymous said...

Henares is one of the most arrogant and self-important of filmmakers working in the industry. He struts like he's the shit whenever you see him. The sad truth is he's just rich, being the son of Vicky Belo. And there are more worthy filmmakers out here in the Philippines who can make better movies than this crapfest called rakenrol.

This movie-tinira lang lahat ng tao na hindi trip ni diego castillo at ni quark. even if you listen to their radio show in nu 107 dati, puro inside jokes at patama lang sa mga taong may may talent kaysa sa kanila.

this movie is really offensive and should not be lauded. i wanted to walk out of sm manila, when i watched this. really offensive to all honest and hardworking artists.

Cathy Pena said...

Is this you, Juan? Since you gave me notice from the "Thelma" post, I'm publishing this otherwise anonymous, albeit interesting comment. You see, some dweebs would accuse me of writing my own comments which is ridiculous and senseless since all of my thoughts have been written down the main article.

I'm far from being an insider in that world, thus the level from which I approach "Rakenrol" is from a spectator's. This doesn't make my thoughts less than valid. Afterall, a film has to be universal. If it fails to unravel "inside jokes", then there is a degree of failure in its presentation. This is probably true in "Rakenrol". Self indulgence meets nostalgia meets smarmy romance. Didn't quite work.

To be fair about it, Henares isn't wanting of skill or vision, but this was somehow a disagreeable cinematic broth. Lukewarm in presentation; capricious in temperament. It could have been engaging given the vibrancy of the live band circuit. Ain't that sad?

duduy said...

The entire movie IS the inside joke, if you're looking for one. And a clever one, too. The fact that it's shameless doesn't make me admire it less.

But no, i wouldn't watch it even if i was given a free pass. You could smell the stink of it days ahead.

Cathy Pena said...


I'm not sure I get your point. Felt like you were contradicting yourself in both paragraphs.

duduy said...

Apologies for the vagueness Ms Cathy.

Just to be clear, I haven't watched the movie; and after seeing the trailer, i was more resolved to not do so.

And just to be clear also, i don't think this movie is for everybody. It will find its footing in audiences who are familiar with the scene.

Is it a faithful depiction? To a certain degree, yes, in the sense that the characters are all there. The real talents, the wannabees, the elitists, the posers, the fanboys,..etc. Even the people who you elegantly put as "not having bathe in 5 years", they really ARE there, repulsive as it may sound. And the director is putting them all on display for his satisfaction. This is your inside joke.

Do they really act that way, though? Not unless you're talking about a bunch of 13 year olds. This is more about someone who's acting out his rock and roll fantasies. Henares talks about this as a wish fulfillment project. A schoolboy's wet dream is probably a more appropriate term.

I'm tempted to say that this movie is almost an indictment of the state of today's indie music scene, but that's probably just me sourgraping. It's pretty likely it was the same back in my days. It's just that now it's glitzier, flashier, hippier. And invariably more annoying.

I'm not gonna talk about narratives, soundtrack and stuff like that. You've pretty much mentioned what we need to know about it.

Clever idea, bad product. Not altogether contradictory.

duduy said...

Footnote (pun intended here, if you can get it).

The band's name, for me, was quite ominous of the film. If you're not sure what a kapipak is, i can enlighten you po :)

Cathy Pena said...


There's a scene at a restaurant explaining how they accidentally picked their name, but I'd rather not get into it. Too menial and "minor minor".

My cousin (who travels a lot) once told me of a place in Laos where food products are advertised in restaurants as "Happy", thus you have "Happy Pizza" and "Happy Spaghetti" and these are actually spiked with drugs (marijuana, etc.) So I can only guess the "Hapipaks" (or was it really "kapipaks") you're referring to is along this vein. If not, please do enlighten me.

I do stand by my thoughts that the film made the live music scene seem uninteresting, petty, and cringe-worthy, and I KNOW it should be otherwise. It's a film maker's job to let his audience in on "the joke"; that's a piece of the pie in the universality of the medium.

I can name several films related to the live music scene, with drama or comedy intertwined within the narrative: Oliver Stones' "The Doors", Alan Parker's "Pink Floyd The Wall", Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous", the Michael Winterbottom's porn chic "9 Songs", and, before I forget, J. Neil Bloomer's documentary "Festival" (which should be seen by anyone who wants a career in live music business).

The list is long. Each one grazes the surface of the live music scene. Sadly, it's unfair to clump them beside "Rakenrol" as the latter is way of of their league.

Finally, I guess Henares' "Rakenrol" is really personal; and that's something I'm vaguely interested in.

Anonymous said...

there was a time when you need a lot of goodwill to appreciate an "indie" film. that was probably when people were genuinely excited and enthusiastic about a looming movement called independent film. i remember this was the environment in the first year of cinemalaya. most films had shortcomings. but this we're mostly overlooked, couldn't have been the filmmakers fault, they had a laundry list of excuses (low budget, cheap equipment, etc).

but years have gone on since then, those filmmakers have matured, able new blood have entered the scene. in those years we have also seen the maturity of the independent film itself. and for the last 2 years, i actually realize i can enjoy an indie film even without a ready goodwill. i've even seen people without an idea of what "indie" is enjoy this stuff. the lines between indie and standard is blurring. it's now about a good film and a bad one. the excuses that were acceptable before are no more.

unfortunately, this film, needs a lot of your goodwill to work. you can feel it has a lot of good intentions. if it was released before 2005, this would be one of the landmark films then. but it's already 2011, guys like chris martinez, jerrold tarog have raised the bar for everyone. it took henares 5 years to make this. it doesn't look like much. looks like he has a lot of catching up to do. or maybe he should just be content to directing mtvs. -juan

duduy said...

To get the full effect of the meaning of the word, tagalugin ko muna po.

Ang kapipak (or in their case, hapipak) ay ang basang libag na namumuo sa gitna ng daliri ng mga paa o sa anumang singit singit ng katawan tulad ng ilalim ng itlog ng lalaki. Tulad din ito ng kukurikapu (libag sa ilalim ng boobs), agihap (libag na kumakapit sa brief o panty) at barnakol (libag sa batok na naipon sa matagal na panahon).

As i said, ominous. Any band that names itself as such definitely shouldn't be taken seriously. (Siakol would be the exception. And while i wouldn't take their music seriously as well, they struck a chord with the masses for a time and they were pretty successful. Respect to that.)

And this is how i view the film. It's an unintentional parody interwoven with some head-scratching storylines (nobody scratches their napes kasi :) ). It's a distorted snapshot of an adolescent time.

As with the band's name, anytime viewers takes this film seriously, the joke's on them.

Cathy Pena said...

That was beautiful.

It’s been a part of an argument when film makers run to “good intentions” to defend their work, i.e. they’ve invested blood, sweat, tears and good intentions to make such films, but in the long run, it’s the end product that matters. What does a paying audience do with good intention? When a cinema goer pays his P170, he should get what his money’s worth. Blood, sweat, tears and good intentions are the least of his concerns because he paid for good cinema. Unfortunately for us, the Tarrogs and Martinezes of local showbiz are few, and their cinematic outings are relatively scarce and sporadic compared to several names from the Pink Film machinery and Joel Lamangan.

A lot has changed since Cinemalaya started. The economics of movie watching and advancement of technology have made such excuses in indie film AND mainstream movie making feckless.

duduy said...

This is spinal tap. Ever heard of it?

Cathy Pena said...


Yes, I even own a copy if you’re referring to Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap”.

And ohmygod, such despicable terms, you had me retching, thank you very much. Now how am I gonna go through with lunch?

I scratch and touch my nape when I’m uncomfortable, so speak for yourself. ;-) It’s like biting or flicking nails, clearing throat, shaking a fringe. In fact, I do a lot of it when I’m watching bad parodies.

duduy said...

Haha. touche'.

i actually rub my eyes like maniac and pick my nose like there's no tomorrow when i get uncomfortable. or when my allergies act up.

Sorry bout lunch. At least nakapag diet ka. Or just think of yourself as enlightened now. :)

Cathy Pena said...

Good thing it's the "eyes" you rub... instead of the "elbows". Anatomical parts that start with "E" could be so fragile, you know.

... like the Eustachian tube!

Anonymous said...

Dear Quark Henares,

Please stop making films. Just stick to music videos.


Cathy Pena said...

All the way from Oshawa, Canada and anonymous? It'd be a stronger statement if you placed a name. ;-)

kayakongmagenjoynawalangpera said...

Parang isang tao lang ang nagkokoment... (bukod sakin syempre)

Pero sa bagay iba talaga pag may pera.
Kaya mong mamili ng kasma...
o kaya yung buong eksean. sa mayrics pag may gig mga conyo kasa mga minyon nila.
parang sila lang nandun. Lahat ng banda magaling. Lahat ng kanta maganda.
Pero isa lang naman ang may talento...
yung folk singer na kumakanta pag happy hour.

tagal ng download ko.
bigyan ko chance itong pelikula na ito...
wala akong pambili dvd.

Cathy Pena said...

As long as there's a semblance of a name and a reason, they get published. I'm not really in the business of finding out if a single person would use multiple names for comments.

As for downloading, didn't even know the film could be downloaded online, but yeah, good luck with that, seeing that you seem to be familiar with the "scene".