The Voice Season 7: It just keeps getting better

After new coach Usher took The Voice crown last year with soul artist Josh Kaufman, I was really excited to see what Season 7 had in store. Unfortunately, Usher is on tour this year and Shakira is pregnant with another baby boy. So two new superstars had to step in to take the vacant seats left behind by original coaches Christina Aguilera and Ceelo Green.

When I heard that Gwen Stefani and Pharell took the gig, I was psyched. I was really interested to see how these two would gel with coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, who have dominated the competition with a total of five wins in the show’s six seasons. Pharell intrigued me because he seemed reserved, unlike Usher who wore his swagger like a cape. And Gwen, well, I grew up with No Doubt music so I know what she brings to the table. I was really surprised how the first two episodes turned out because the two new coaches had no problem blending in. And the banter, oh the banter was super fun to watch. It was hilarious, and leaves no doubt that everybody brought their A game. Everybody wants to win.

Adam has grown really competitive this season and viewers can see the passion that he has for finding artists whom he can groom to be the next big thing. Its funny to see him beg contestants to pick him while Blake pokes fun at his pleas. Blake, in turn, has a goldmine of quips and the newbies were not spared from his quick wit and jokes. Of course, his favorite target is still Adam and I love to see these two go at each other’s throats. Gwen is such a big surprise. She is super badass on stage but I never would have guessed that she was so frickin nice as a person. She’s really down to earth, very earnest, and I love to see her guilt Blake into giving her a hug when he gets mean or laughs at her. Plus, she gives away t-shirts to her team members, which is very cool. Pharell, on the other hand, is cool as cucumber but very sincere. People can see his passion for his music and his genuine artistry with his words, and whether or not he gets the contestant, his speech strikes home. Oh, and did I mention how awesome this year’s pool of auditioners are?

So far, I’ve only seen two episodes but I couldn’t wait for more. I can’t wait to see whom the coaches will enlist as celebrity mentors. And just like that, I’m addicted to this show again. It happens every year.

While waiting for the next episode, here’s a spoof of The Voice done by Sesame Street to tide you over. Puppet Blake is totally spot on. :D

Begin Again: Movie Review

Begin-AgainWhen I first saw the film poster and the trailer, I assumed that Begin Again was going to be a sort of a May December affair between a record producer (Mark Ruffalo) and his protege (Keira Knightley). While I was on the fence about it, I was intrigued not just because  it was a strong lead cast but because it was Adam Levine’s film debut. For some, this would be reason enough to buy a film ticket but when I saw the film’s entirety, I realized the film had so much more to offer than star power. It touches something basic in the audiences and the best part is, it uses music to accomplish this purpose.

Greta (Knightley), a British songwriter, moves to New York when her long time boyfriend and musical partner Dave Kohl (Levine) lands a record deal after successfully doing the score for a blockbuster movie. When Dave dumps her after an extended tour in LA, Greta decides to fly back to England to mend her broken heart. But before she is able to do that, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo), a down on his luck record producer who has an uncanny vision of music, who offers her a deal straight out. While Greta is initially apprehensive, she bonds with Dan over music and they form an idea to produce a unique record outside of the studio, using the entire city of New York as a backdrop.

I loved Begin Again, from beginning to end, no matter how much some reviewers have bashed Kiera Knightley for being “too thin.” Straight up, how she looks should not be the main focus of criticisms because first and foremost, she is a good actress and she delivered her part of the movie flawlessly. Not once did she stray from her portrayal of a pure artist who never compromises about her artistry and she was charming, abrasive, tough and vulnerable when she needed to be. I never knew that she could sing but she has a really great tone to her voice that sounds really raw but really clean, which is perfect for the role because she was playing an indie singer/songwriter who cared nothing for convention. As for Adam Levine, I saw his acting once in American Horror Story and he was okay but in Begin Again, he has matured a lot and began to show level in his acting. My favorite part was his poignant performance of Lost Stars, where he showed a remarkable range not only in his voice (this dude has a faultless falsetto), but a variety of emotions when he realizes the error of his ways and understands the result of his choices.

However, the star of this show is really Mark Ruffalo, who wore his heart on his sleeve for the entire movie. From his first appearance, audiences will fall in love with his character, no matter how unkempt he looks or how old he appears, compared to his other movies. And its because its obvious behind the flippant remarks that he has been through a lot, lost a lot, but not his love for the purity of music. His portrayal of his vulneraribility is just so amazing that its impossible not to root for his character.

Begin Again also showcases the beauty of New York as a city, away from the glamor and the grind — the side alleys, the skyline, even the streets that are filled with people milling about, going about their business, the steps of the narrow apartments — the film shows that New York, just like any other city is not perfect, yet its a city filled with romance and possibilities. The scenes showcasing Greta and the gang making their records behind the dumpster, on a rooftop, outside of a museum, under a bridge, was a really creative way to connect the city to the music. Mark had a quote after one of the most special scenes in the movie where he and Keira walked around New York listening to music from Greta’s music library, where he said music makes the banalities of normal life become like pearls, and this holds true because when the scene was taking place, everything that was happening all around them seemed to sync with the beat of the sound and it seemed like the beauty of the moment was magnified by meaningful sound.

And speaking of music, music was at the heart of the film and it was awesome to experience. The lyrics were so engaging and so releatable, and just spot on in painting the picture for the story that its hard not to get drawn in by the sound. I loved every song on the soundtrack, and Adam was the perfect guy to sing the theme song. When Usher was praising him in the Voice in saying that he had one of the most unique voices in the industry, that was an absolute truth and you could tell that the acting was only gravy for his part because he was so into the music that it could well be his life story, except for the beard and the douchiness. Its also awesome to know that  writer/director John Carney also wrote some of the songs in the film — Like a Fool performed by Keira Knightley with James Corden, who played her best friend in the film, and some in collaboration with Gregg Alexander and Nick Lashley, who were responsible for most of the songs in the movie.

Kudos to the filmmakers for innovative way of presenting the lead characters’ back stories. How they went back and forth before the moment where Greta played her song on stage, and how it was compared to how Dan was listening to it — it was very creative, and very entertaining to see. It made audiences connect to the song on different levels and it was really cool.

All in all, Begin Again was a great feel good movie, because it was so much more than a love story. Its about a journey — a journey made much more colorful by great melodies and great characters. It was about opening up and learning, and not losing oneself to the lights and the sound. It was about one woman finding a connection with another person and finding a family of sorts in a foreign country. It was about a man disillusioned by his industry and finding fresh inspiration in his life and family. It was a story of friendship and finding joy. It was a story about having the power to choose how to start life anew. It was a charming piece of cinema that tugs at the heart and one can’t leave the theater without a smile on their faces.

Begin Again is distributed in the Philippines by Solar Entertainment and will open in theaters July 9.

Why I’m switching to The Voice

I’ve been a fan of American Idol ever since it started airing on local TV on its third season. I have yet to pick a winner since I rooted for Fantasia but I have religiously supported the show because of its great dynamics and mix of honesty and drama. With Simon, I know that I would get a truthful critique with his superior British flair, even if it meant people hating him. Randy was also great back then. He wasn’t too mean but he wasn’t a pansy either. Paula kept the balance by being the one that contestants could count on with a kind thing to say.

However, the show has been on a decline ever since the trio broke up. When Paula was replaced, even if her comments were really not that substantial, it was if an integral part of the show was gone and dynamics simply gave out. There was open hostility between Simon and Kara and the tension was palpalable and not even Ellen Degeneres could diffuse it. So when Simon finally left, it was totally expected. Powerhouse Jennifer Lopez and rock legend Steven Tyler agreed to fill the vacant seats and for the 10th season, they did well enough. Randy was a meanie throughout this season and put it upon himself to be the bad guy henceforth.

But this season, things seemed to take a turn for the worse. The judges, perhaps in feeling as if they did such a great job last season, began to pluck repeat contestants from the auditions and heaped the roster of golden ticket holders with praise. Even when they were horrible, the judges tried to keep up their spirits with words of comfort. Peggi Blu, the vocal coach from hell, was actually more of a help to the contestants than the judges. This year’s Idol is filled with drama alright, and it seemed as if the contenders did not have a backstory, they would get left in the dust.

I feel that despite the pool of talented kids that the show has right now, it is still a singing competition and the judges should call it as it is. I love Jen and Steven but I’m getting tired of hearing “That’s beautiful,” after each performance when it clearly was not. This is the reason I am beginning to appreciate The Voice more and more in its second season.

I love how many of the contestants were invited into the blind auditions so we don’t really get nuisance performers. When viewers want entertainment, they get it with good music and raw talent.

The Blind Auditions are a nice touch to gauge talent as the judges are not able to see the complete package and pick their team with only their instinct and the voice that they hear. It’s awesome to see nerdy looking guys, bakers, sandwich makers, sorority girls and regular people just coast through the auditions with the more seasoned veterans not getting picked at all after their 90 second performance.

The interaction among the judges, especially between Blake Shelton and Adam Levine totally rocks. These dudes are so witty and so competitive that they try to psych each other out even during the selection process. It is also very cool how they lob snarky comments at each other and no one gets offended. Blake was the one coach I was most unfamiliar with at the beginning of the show but he’s turning out to be my favorite, especially with the maverick way he picks people. Cee Lo is the cool kingpin type who is the most relaxed of the group and Christina Aguilera is the most technical in choosing vocalists for her team given her experience. I like how they justify their picks and give advice to their team members in order to develop their potentials. Each mentor is a relevant artist and truly knows how to make stars out of their amateurs. An additional strength of the show is Carson Daly, who is a pro at hosting entertainment and reality shows like this one and would give Ryan Seacrest a run for his money. This is probably what the X-Factor US is lacking, a compelling host that could charm viewers into switching. But that’s another story for another day.

The Voice is a balanced show that does not veer from its main objective of developing stars through the guidance of the mentors so aside from the contestants, the competition among the mentors is also something to watch out for. Their styles are so different in grooming their team and its really great that they have brought in advisers to help them mold these young artists into stars. Another thing of note, even when battlers are not picked by the coaches, contestants from The Voice have shown a tremendous amount of breeding and sportsmanship unlike sore losers from Idol who swear at the judges like there’s no tomorrow. This stark contrast truly makes for good television that could even serve as a good example for younger viewers. The show doesn’t have to be a circus to be great.

I don’t think I’ll be dropping Idol yet because there is some life left in the show, and because I’m still rooting for some (Colton, Philip, Jessica) but as for The Voice, I’m all in. I am certifiably addicted to this show. I love it. Quality wise, in my honest opinion, The Voice is a superior show and has the potential to grab the number one spot in the ratings. It’s already on its way. Even Meatloaf says so.