Friday, December 23, 2011

Acoustic Goodness with Boyce Avenue

Boyce Avenue has been covered here before. But they are such as talented force, I felt compelled to write about them again. Mainly because I've kept listening to them. They excel in what ever song they attempt but are especially so with acoustic versions of other artists. Some songs like Take That's Back for Good are good acoustically but don't really add or expand from the song's original sound. Here is where Boyce Avenue are geniuses. They understand how a song should sound acoustically and how to arrange and sing them, even if it means changing the sound of the original song. They do this and the song sounds even better. Take One Direction's What Makes You Beautiful. They distill the song to it's essence and made it sound rich and deep.

Now if you tried to listen to the original after that... well, you just can't. I felt robbed. So many people were deprived of a great song.

So turn down the lights, turn up the volume, snuggle up, put on the Boyce Avenue Acoustic Covers playlist and press shuffle. Over 5 hours of smooth sounds and songs that you remember and love. Sometimes even better.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Fade Away: A Son's Journey

Starring: Mischa Barton, Ryan Kwanten, Beau Bridges, Ja Rule
Category: Drama, Romance
This is a beautiful, powerful drama on life, love, friendship and the business of living. Jackson is a music executive losing his star client, survives a mugging and finds out that his father is dying. Already having lost his mother, Jackson realizes what is important in life and decides to do the right thing. He drops everything and goes home to Asheville, North Carolina (which according to IMDB has seen quite a number of movies made there). But Asheville is in the sticks and far removed from LA, where Jackson is calling home now.
He is at a crossroads in his life but decides that taking care of his father is more important than taking a fork in that road. He puts off his life and decides to face some of the history he has left behind. His father's mortality has him re-evaluating his life up to that point. Whatever doubts he expresses, his father has great faith in him and is proud of him nonetheless.
Jackson reluctantly reconnects with old friends and old wounds are re-opened. Jackson meets Kat, a girl who worked at his father's office and is drawn to her as she is to him. He can't understand why she would be interested in him other than having a common love for his father. But time ultimately draws them inevitably closer and soon he has to make a decision, to take one of the forks in the road of his life journey. I won't spoil the ending because for some people, they wished the movie would have just ended there. The director/writer has all right to end it any way he wishes. But the way he chooses to end it shows what the movie is or who it's for. 
Acting was great all around. But Ryan Kwanten and Mischa Barton's really stood out. Ryan's acting signals clearly that he is leading-man material. His character showed genuine remorse and concern for his father. Always underneath whatever he was doing, was his concern about his job and his career. It surfaces and clashes with Kat's carefree but meaningful outlook on life and that is how they first connect. Kat, while seemingly carefree, carries her own burden. She realizes who she has become and feels powerless to stop it. Yet with Jackson, she finds a kindred spirit, someone who is also dealing with his demons that threaten to derail his life. Together they find solace and strength.
Supporting cast also didn't let the story down, living their characters as if they had been so all their lives.
The movie has two things going for it other than lead actors. First, it had an interesting story structure. It is a story of coming home to find oneself. But also is also a reflection of sorts into the past. There are flashbacks that seem strange and dream-like. As the movie progresses, it seems like the story is breaking apart at the seams and at the end it looks like it's taking a different turn. But the twist in the end ties it all up together. It's just not what the audience expects and hopes. Second, it features great music. Sometimes it would "bleed" into the story. You would think that the music is background music and suddenly the character would point it out or make a comment on it. It happens quite a few times that you become more aware of the music and songs.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sweet Karma: Action Indie Movie

Starring:  Shera Bechard  Category: Action
If you've been reading this site for some time, you would notice that I don't review action movies that much. Not that I don't watch them. But most of the time they fall into two broad categories, Hollywood and low-budget. Hollywood types are those that are full of crazy, expensive, over-the-top action and a simple enough plot to follow along and seem interesting. Low-budget of course are the B-movies and where blood is spilled by the pint-load. Add a dash of intrigue and it would be more of a thriller or mystery. Add a bit of comedy and it'll more funny than bang-bang. Most of the time there is nothing interesting to write about either of them. They may be a good ride but there is nothing to take away with you once it's done.
There are notable exceptions to the first category. Comedy and action are just at the right mix in Die Hard. The Bourne series capture the even more elusive mix of action and mystery. And then there is Hot Fuzz, mixing action, comedy and mystery in almost equal amounts. Most of the action is at the tail end of the movie, though and it does have the advantage of being in awe of and drawing inspiration from other action movies.
Basically, an action movie has to be special for me write about it. It has to fall outside of the two broad categories or be interesting enough to write about. It has leave an impression.
Which brings me to Sweet Karma. It is one of those movies other people tell me I should check out. I watch more than my fair share of crappy movies and feared the worst. I put it off for fearing it was the result of a few rednecks with a camera trying to get away with a Saturday Night Special (pun intended). After watching it, I wasn't sure what movie I had watched. But I was sure I had just watched a star being born. 
The movie starts with Russian girl Karma being duped into a job in Canada by the recruiting agent for a human trafficking syndicate. I use the term loosely because it's not really human trafficking if you are utilizing the "workforce" yourself. It's worse because basically it's kidnapping for prostitution. Then it gets interestingly confusing because Karma lands in the promised land of maple and honey but does not get corralled with the other girls. The Russian mob are not looking for her either. We then find out she is really seeking revenge for the death a girl that was previously duped by these people. And that she killed the recruiting agent after she got her papers. Thus begin the killing spree.
If that were just the movie then it would have fallen into the B-grade low budget action movies. But more twists and turns come up. The narrative shifts time moving from the present to the past with slightly confusing flashbacks. It moves the plot along and provides more information at the same time. The dead girl turns out to be her sister. Karma is also not a trained professional nor does she transform into one right after her first kill. That is squarely Hollywood territory. She is nervous. She messes up, gets caught twice. Some more twists follow. More killing and graphic scenes of violence. All leading to a, let's call it "eventful", ending.
For all the movie's faults, it was made up by lead actress Shera Bechard's brilliant acting. She was so good that at times her acting looked out of place with the other actors. They would look okay doing a scene together but then Karma walks in and suddenly they looked bad by comparison. Did I mention Karma was mute? So Shera had to really act to convey her emotions and thoughts. Her facial expressions and her body language had to make up for the missing dialogue. Sometimes looking at her eyes, you would know what is going on in her head. I think this also had the added effect of the audience having to relate closer with her, to get what she was trying to get across. The audience would have to pay close attention to her to better understand what was going on. Which they had to because of the various twists and turns. No exposition on who was who. In Hollywood movies, there is a conscious effort to introduce the key characters, so that the audience can follow. This doesn't happen in this movie. Some characters look alike enough for me to get confused. And a minor character at the beginning suddenly becomes a key character half-way through the movie.