Woke up the other day with this playing in our head. Why, we have no idea. We read the chapter on earworms in Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia, but he doesn’t know what causes them, either. Earworms are also known as “last song syndrome”, but in this case we hadn’t heard Bob Dorough in years when he started singing in our head. We have a cassette of one of his albums, which a friend recorded from vinyl, but our one surviving cassette player has a perpetual whirr. So we were happy to find Devil May Care on YouTube, along with his other songs including Baltimore Oriole and Blue Xmas, an anti-Xmas song that ranks up there with Christmastime is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Yes, we like bebop, our musical tastes are guy-ish and Dorough’s singing IS odd.
The play of words in lines like “May pumapasok nang madilim pa, at may umuuwing madilim na—pero lahat sila, naiiwan sa dilim dahil hindi sapat ang oras ng pag-aaral” (Some went to school when it was still dark, others went home when it was already dark, but everyone was in the dark…) gave it rhythm.
His claims are supported by figures and percentages: dividends from GOCCs, revenues generated by BIR, budget reform, global competitiveness and economic growth, investment-grade credit rating, net foreign investments, domestic investments, growth of the manufacturing sector, lowest unemployment in a decade, better opportunities so OFWs can return to the Philippines, improved labor relations, support for education, wider heath coverage, etc. Admittedly numbers are not thrilling and many listeners may have tuned out, but how else do you illustrate improvement? Besides, we will know that we have matured as a nation when our politics becomes boring. Perhaps aware that reciting numbers makes listeners sleepy, he closed out the math section by quoting Aiza Seguerra: “I thank you, bow.” Later he provided a helpful summary for listeners who had just woken up.
Aquino absolves Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya for the atrocious state of the MRT, heaping the blame on the private corporation maintaining it. “Di po ba miski sinong kumpanya, dapat sinisigurong masusulit ang kanilang investment? Pero hinayaan lang nilang lumala nang lumala ang situwasyon hanggang umabot sa puntong ipinasa na sa atin nang ora-orada ang pagsasaayos ng MRT.” (Whatever the company, shouldn’t they be ensuring a return on their investment? But they let the situation get worse and worse…) Why are you complaining to us about how your private partner runs the MRT? You’re the government! The MRT is a public utility!
Aquino points out that politicians exploit the forgiving nature of Filipinos (which we ascribe to very poor memory and a refusal to do anything that might cause other people to dislike them), chanting “Kawawa naman kami” (Poor pitiful us) all the way back to power. This is the closest he got to criticizing his “bosses”. “May naalala ba kayong nagsabing, ‘Sorry sa pagnanakaw at pang-aabuso, handa na akong magbago?’” (Do you recall anyone saying, ‘Sorry for the theft and abuse of power, I am ready to change?’”)
In detailing efforts to upgrade the Armed Forces (the Air Force now has actual planes) and the National Police, he cited these statistics: In Metro Manila, from January to June 2014, there were 37 murders and homicides every week. The number is now down to 23 murders and homicides. There were 919 cases of robbery, theft and carjacking every week, but they’re down to 444 cases a week. What! That many?! The stats may be down, but it still sounds like a crime wave.
Jake Gyllenhaal is so good in Southpaw, so terrifyingly committed to the role, that we were prepared to overlook the deficiencies and absurdities of the movie. We were so impressed at his physical transformation (after the skeletal Nightcrawler), his movement, the way he spoke like a guy who’s been hit on the head constantly since childhood, that we went along with what is essentially a retread of the greatest hits of boxing movies. His character can take an inhuman amount of punishment, like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull! He’s fighting for his kid, like all the incarnations of The Champ! He’s the underdog, like Rocky Balboa in Rocky! He’s really after redemption, like every boxing hero in every boxing movie we can think of!
Then came what should’ve been the most exciting shot in the movie, the one that we expected to bring the audience to their feet screaming, “Kill him, Jake!” We nearly got up, alright, to scream, “Cheeeeeap!” !@#$%^& ang baduy.
Three things should’ve warned us that this would happen. First, the movie is directed by Antoine Fuqua, who accidentally directed Denzel Washington to an Oscar in Training Day. Second, the character is named Billy Hope, as in “The Great White Hope”, the white boxer who is supposed to take boxing back from the blacks, Latinos and Filipinos who have dominated it. Third, we learn that the movie is called Southpaw because Billy learns to punch with his left hand. Duh!
And when we saw that shot, everything we chose to ignore because we were rooting for Jake paraded before us like lewd boxing round girls. Billy Hope became the light heavyweight champion of the world with no discernible technique other than to absorb punches until he got so pissed off he fought like a wounded bear? With no notion of defense?? How can he even see through the rivers of blood pouring down his face? (Apparently he sheds several liters of blood in each bout.)
Tragedy strikes, and in a matter of weeks Billy loses everything? Not even a downward spiral, but a full-on splat. He loses wife, child, mansion, cars, all his possessions, his entourage (a tiny fraction of Manny Pacquiao’s—someone take Pac-Man to see this), and goes straight to the flophouse and cleaning toilets in a boxing gym? (As Noel pointed out, he couldn’t rent a smaller house first?) Of course the gym is run by Forrest Whitaker, who becomes his trainer and teaches him strategy—it’s that kind of movie.
Then in a matter of weeks he fights an exhibition match that gets the attention of his scuzzy ex-promoter (50 “Maybe I’m not really bankrupt” Cent) who says he can get his boxing suspension lifted early so that in six weeks he can get a shot at the title against the boxer who caused the tragedy that led directly to his downfall. In case that’s not enough emotion to fuel Billy’s comeback, something bad happens off-screen that is mentioned so casually it might not have happened at all. Cheeeaap.
Naturally we get a training montage featuring a new song by Eminem (the movie was supposed to have been an Eminem project) in which Eminem explains everything to the audience in case they were punch-drunk from being smacked in the face with so many clichés.
At which point we realize that Jake is acting in a vacuum. This movie is completely unworthy of him, or Rachel McAdams who turns in possibly her strongest performance since Mean Girls, or Forest Whitaker whose presence makes up for the clichés he must recite, or Naomie Harris as a child services rep who apparently has only one charge. Jake has brought a bazooka where a flyswatter would’ve been sufficient. All the stuff we see him doing—yelling into a pillow while bleeding, sweating, pouring snot and drooling—is just Acting. Akting na akting.
Of course we are very fond of Jake whom we tend to think of as Heath’s widow. Since Prince of Persia, the franchise that was supposed to make him a box-office star but didn’t, he has been on a roll: Source Code, End of Watch, Enemy, Nightcrawler. Great things are in store for Jake Gyllenhaal, just not Southpaw. Forget it, Jake, it’s Hollywood.
When we were kids in the 1970s and early 80s, Bruce Lee movies clobbered Hollywood flicks at the box office, David Carradine walked the earth every week on TV’s Kung Fu, and Ramon Zamora punched, kicked and yelped his way to stardom. Martial arts masters, male and female, flew across the screens in lush historical epics. By the time we saw Luke Skywalker being trained by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back we were already familiar with the concept of a student being oppressed, knocked around, and heckled by a Shaolin master, so Yoda seemed too lenient. A friend of mine, one of the smartest people I know, was so impressed by the martial arts ballet in King Hu’s Come Drink With Me that at age 7 he tried to do the moves himself. In the process he took a flying leap off the roof of the family house, fractured his spine, and had to wear a brace for months.
It’s 2015, and the kung movie is on the decline. “The master-disciple tradition is being lost,” declares director Teddy Chen, whose electrifying movie Kung Fu Killer (released in the US and UK as Kung Fu Jungle) is a tribute to the martial arts movie and its best-loved stars. “Tribute” is the word because unless this decline is arrested, we may never see their like again.
1. From Almost Famous: Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gives young rock journalist and Cameron Crowe stand-in William Miller (Patrick Fugit) advice to live by. (Rock journalist: a job description that barely exists anymore.)
We should commit this speech to memory.
You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.
We’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.
Great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love…and let’s face it, you got a big head start.
The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
My advice to you. I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.
Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been 48 years old today. As long as people watch movies PSH will live on.
Another line from Almost Famous, wrongly attributed to Goethe by William’s mom (Frances McDormand):
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