Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Green Lantern


Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by: Martin Campbell

            Let it not be said that the Green Lantern is a second-stringer. Sure, he may not be as well known a comic book character as his DC compatriots Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman, but he has a strong fan following and as much cinematic potential as his illustrious peers. As a DC Comics fan, this reviewer has been waiting a while for a Green Lantern movie, and is glad to report that this mostly delivers the goods.

            The movie is a skilful adaptation of the comic book source material in that it distils the Green Lantern lore for moviegoers such that the uninitiated won’t feel lost. The characters are fleshed out decently and this is a comic book come to life in a good way. Sure, it verges on being a little cartoonish at times, but is tonally assured and brings to mind another green-themed superhero movie, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Both films tackled the source material with a comic book sensibility that brings out the more fantastical elements in a palatable manner.

            As an action flick, Green Lantern pulls no punches and is a rollicking adventure from start to finish. Director Martin Campbell, having helmed the James Bond films GoldenEye and Casino Royale, proves he has a good eye for bigger, cosmic action sequences in addition to superspy shenanigans. The film got an additional $9 million late into the game to boost the visual effects, and thank goodness for the extra moolah because it sure helps. While it takes some getting used to, there’s a certain appeal to the organic look of the Green Lantern uniform and the planet Oa.

            Ryan Reynolds makes for a charismatic leading man and possesses a charming mischief, never taking himself too seriously as Hal Jordan. He’s also in tip-top physical condition and handles the action beats well. Unfortunately, his leading lady Blake Lively is anything but, always a tad too stiff as Jordan’s fellow pilot and boss Carol Ferris. Peter Sarsgaard laps up every last bit of his villain role with glee, and the voice cast of Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re and Michael Clarke-Duncan as drill sergeant Kilowog is well chosen.

            The main thing this movie has going for it is that it’s fun, and after all we go to the movies to have fun. DC faces stiff competition from Marvel Studios at the movies this summer, but at least it put up a valiant fight in the form of this lantern’s light.

SUMMARY: Raise the green lantern! It’s not a surefire classic, but this is a good adaptation of the DC Comics character and is an enjoyable ride even if you aren’t already a fan.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011


2011 Release

Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Karl Urban
Directed by: Scott Stewart

            Paul Bettany seems to have a thing for tough, butt-kicking religious types: he played an assassin monk in The Da Vinci Code, an uzi-wielding archangel in Legion (also by director Scott Stewart), and in this Korean comic book-based film is the titular warrior priest, a specially-ordained vampire fighter. When his niece Lucy (Lily Collins) is kidnapped by vampires, the Priest (Bettany), rendered redundant after the human-vampire wars, goes back into action to rescue her, assisted by small town lawman Hicks (Gigandet), and his former colleague the Priestess (Q), facing off against the villainous human-vampire hybrid Black Hat (Urban).

            The main problem with this movie is that it brings nothing new to the table. Warrior priests aren’t new, vampire wars aren’t new and totalitarian religious regimes aren’t new either. In fact, the whole movie can be turned into a game of “spot-where-this-came-from!” Elements are liberally borrowed from such movies as the Underworld films, the Mad Max films, Blade Runner, Equilibrium, V for Vendetta and so on. Black Hat’s getup is straight out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and even the monstrous hive guardian brings to mind the rancor beast from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

            The film is droll, joyless and takes itself far too seriously. Movies like this are meant to be escapism, and the 3D adds very little to the uninspired mix. The characters are mostly one-note and the cast doesn’t have to do very much. In addition to the cross tattooed on his forehead, all Bettany needs to carry him through the movie is a scowl. However, Karl Urban seems to be having fun, chewing the scenery as the big bad, but even he is underused. Also, what on earth is veteran actor and Oscar-nominee Christopher Plummer doing here?

            Sorely lacking in imagination, energy and about as soulless as the vampires in it, Priest is far from a fun night out at the theatre. However, it does have decent visual effects and a stylish animated prologue going for it. But in the end, maybe paying your own priest at church a visit is more worthwhile– he’s probably more fun.

SUMMARY: Bringing nothing new to the table, Priest is a lifeless, paint-by-numbers post-apocalyptic thriller. Get your warrior priest/vampire war fix elsewhere.


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane
Directed by: Rob Marshall

            In 1957, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. In 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, based on the ride and expected to be a flop, brought the big swashbuckling pirate movie back in a big way. And now, Captain Jack is back for a fourth voyage in this movie, based on the novel “On Stranger Tides” by Tim Powers.

            In search of the fabled Fountain of Youth, Captain Jack has to battle the treacherous pirate Blackbeard and encounters his daughter, the beautiful Angelica, with whom he had a fling many years ago. Racing them to the Fountain are Jack’s old rival Barbossa, now in the employ of the King, and the Spaniards.

            For a franchise that was almost swallowed up by its ambitious scope and convoluted plot, On Stranger Tides is a triumphant return to form. This is a sequel in the best sense of the word: carrying on yet starting anew. The story is well-told and the pacing is swift. Everything we loved about the first film is back stronger than ever: the wonderful period atmosphere, the swordfights, chases and naval battles, and, of course, Captain Jack.

            Johnny Depp returns to his defining role like wearing a glove, every amusing mannerism, every witticism, delivered with strong craftsmanship and lithe energy. He’s also armed with some great lines by screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot. Now that the “Will and Elizabeth” story arc from the first three movies has wrapped, attention has returned square to Sparrow, and Depp never once disappoints.

While Depp certainly gets the lion’s share of the limelight, he never hogs it. The new players fit in just right among familiar characters. Cruz and Depp share crackling chemistry, the beautiful and cunning Angelica the only one to ever come close to beating Sparrow at his own game. Ian McShane makes for a very scary Blackbeard, a worthy adversary to Sparrow. Sam Claflin as missionary Philip Swift and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as the mermaid he falls in love with work hard to keep up with the rest of the cast and fare well too.

The old-fashioned spirit of adventure missing from many modern films is alive and well in the fourth Pirates outing. This is a supremely enjoyable ride (almost as much as the source material), filled from start to finish with the same energy that flowed through the veins of the first film.

SUMMARY: Fun in the right places, thrilling in the right places, scary in the right places and humorous in the right places, this is one ship everyone should hop aboard. Arrrrrr!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Justin Bieber: Movie Star?


Princeling of Pop has his sights set on Hollywood

By Jedd Jong 20/4/11

We had gathered for a press conference scheduled for 5 P.M. By 5.45, the shutter fingers were getting itchy and there was a professional restlessness in the room. And then, the reason for all this attention and commotion strolled in, huddled by minders and scary-looking bouncer-type bodyguards.

This “reason” looked as normal as a 17-year-old kid could get, barring the giant aviator shades. Black shirt, black Bermudas, green sneakers – the picture of normalcy. Deejays Shan and Rozz of 987 fm did emcee duty, but all eyes were on the feather-haired heir of pop.

It was a little like getting on a ride at Disneyland – three hours in the queue for three minutes worth of excitement. But hey – it’s Justin Bieber, and you don’t get any more exciting than that.

Bieber got down to business: the first question he answered was about him allegedly spurning fans who had camped out at Changi Airport anticipating his arrival, while he quietly sneaked out the back. “Security reasons” was what he cited. “I’m getting better (at handling the celebrity) and am taking it one day at a time”, Bieber said. Every aspect of this kid’s life had become infested with attention, both good and bad, and it was remarkable how well he kept this balance.

What’s next for the boy who has everything? The answer straight from the horse’s (or pony’s) mouth – movies. “I’m trying to explore movies and stuff like that…hopefully do a movie soon.” So far, Justin’s filmography includes two episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (in which he played a psychotic teenage anarchist) and his concert movie, Never Say Never.

But what Justin wants is a script. “They just followed me around with a camera”, he says of the 3D documentary. When asked which actress he’d like to star opposite, if given free reign, Bieber offers excitedly “Jessica Alba!” And we can’t blame him.

And just like that, “12 minutes with Justin” was over. But Bieber’s “15 minutes” – those definitely aren’t. 

2011 Release

Starring: Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith
Directed by: Jon Chu

            They said he’d never make it. I said I’d never watch it. Yet here we are, and here Bieber is at the height of his popularity. Director Jon Chu, famous for the Stomp the Yard films, has crafted a heady and exciting hybrid of the concert movie and the documentary: 2D footage of interviews and candid captures of Bieber’s life interspersed with 3D videos of his sell-out performance at Madison Square Garden.

            Like it or not, this could well be the definitive concert film of our generation. This pretty much epitomises a good time at the movies, and is a great deal of fun to watch. Never Say Never peels back the candy wrapper and reveals a squeaky-clean Christian boy raised by a single mum, along with his tight inner circle. 

            Director Chu smartly addresses some of the hate hurled at Bieber, and the film has its tongue in its cheek at all the right moments. For example, Jaden Smith, son of Will and who had a rap duet with Justin on the titular song, is listed as a “karate expert”. Instead of taking Bieber-detractors head on, the film throws them a bone and could even convert them into Beliebers. 

            The film is as much a behind-the-scenes peek as it is a concert movie. Bieber is shown at his “realest”, and we glimpse how the 17-year-old, with the help of his mother, manager, vocal coach, head of security and others in his entourage, keeps a good head on his shoulders. This is juxtaposed with immersive 3D concert footage packed with gimmicky but effective camera tricks, including confetti rain and lots of the Biebs reaching out into the audience. 

            Expertly and slickly edited but somehow always sufficiently emotional and even inspirational, Never Say Never is a howling good time, and many will find themselves enjoying it in spite of themselves.

SUMMARY: A surprisingly fun concert film cleverly spliced with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, Never Say Never is an insightful and enjoyable look behind the phenomenon that is Justin Bieber.


Thursday, May 12, 2011


For F*** Magazine, Singapore

2011 Release

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Seth Rogen (voice)
Director: Greg Mottola

            Ever since 1982’s E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, everyone has wanted to have an alien as a best friend – sometimes a friendly alien is more fun than a vicious invasion. 19 years later, British comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost give us “E.T.” for grown-ups. They star as two British nerds on a pilgrimage to the San Diego Comic Con, and who go on a road trip to fabled UFO hotspots. On the way, they pick up escapee alien Paul (voiced by Rogen), meet trailer park-owner Ruth (Wiig) and evade Man-in-black agent Zoil (Jason Bateman).

            This movie is first and foremost a celebration for nerds everyone, a joyous ode to geekdom. Nerds need not be ashamed of themselves, and this film shows that they have the capacity to be awesome. Loving references to science-fiction favourites are scattered throughout the movie, Star WarsClose Encounters of the Third KindStar TrekThe X-Files and more get nice nods. The best part is that there’s a real story, and good characters that go on a journey and finish the film changed people (and aliens).

            Pegg and Frost share an easy bromance that is carried over from their cult hits Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Their comic timing seems almost synchronised, but they wisely do not hog the limelight, allowing the supporting characters to shine as much as they do. They also prove themselves capable of serious acting during some dramatic moments. However, there are moments when there’s a rift between their style of humour and the more accessible, crasser material that Superbad director Mottola brings to the table.

Kristen Wiig makes for an interesting love interest as the one-eyed Ruth, but the film attempts to deal with the theme of science vs. religion and gets a little wobbly there. Jason Bateman is an interesting casting choice as the steely and no-nonsense Agent Zoil and Sigourney Weaver is actually quite scary as his boss, “The Big Man”. Watch out for the obligatory Aliens reference.

Seth Rogen’s laid back voice is a good fit for the foul-mouthed, pot-smoking Paul. The thing that’s interesting is that not only has Paul been influenced by our pop culture, he’s made his mark on it too, hence a scene where he advises Steven Spielberg via telephone about the special abilities he should give to E.T. The visual effects work is commendable, Paul seeming like a real character and possessing very expressive, liquid eyes.  

Even for those who aren’t sci-fi aficionados, Paul is a genuinely funny joyride packed with a good amount of belly-laughs. Of course, it helps a little if you know your pop culture references, but the enjoyment isn’t contingent on that.

SUMMARY: An ode to the joys of being a nerd, Paul is carried by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s chemistry. It’s a whooping good time and is one of the better comedies this year so far.


I was interviewed by the guys from CTV Movie Mania (Ngee Ann Polytechnic) after watching the film.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Source Code

2011 release

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffery Wright
Directed by: Duncan Jones

                Lots of problems in this world could be prevented if we were granted a second look, to return to the scene before the incident even took place. Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) is given such an opportunity – as part of the “Source Code” military program, he is made to repeatedly relive the last eight minutes of a train passenger’s life, in order to find the bomb and prevent the next attack.

            Source Code is a heady blend of winning elements from all over the sci-fi mystery thriller genre – you have echoes of Deja Vu, The Matrix and Inception all stirred into the pot and simmered for maximum flavour. Duncan Jones’ direction greatly benefits the story, allowing the far-out concept to feel easily relatable and not too pie-in-the-sky.

            The cast ably carries the source (heh) material on their shoulders. This is probably one of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performances, where he doesn’t overly rely on his puppy dog eyes, instead portraying a confused, panicked but skilled soldier thrown into the thick of it very well.

            Michelle Monaghan’s everyday girl-next-door appeal also helps to ground the movie, and on the other side of the program Vera Farmiga as the no-nonsense Goodwin and Jeffery Wright as the eccentric inventor of the Source Code itself lend gravitas to the proceedings.

            The film is tautly-paced and gripping, the ticking bomb plot device truly effective. Some of the finer mechanics are brushed aside though, but this is in favour of character and story elements, which is a wise choice on the part of director Jones.

            The pleasant surprise is that the movie is genuinely uplifting, hopeful and heart-warming at the end, the message of “making every second count” very much at its core. A well-rounded and wholly entertaining piece of filmmaking, Source Code crackles with pulse-pounding energy and is capable of delivering a warm fuzzy feeling or two.

SUMMARY: Intelligent, entertaining, pacey and even heartwarming, drink this straight from the Source.


Jedd Jong

Sunday, May 8, 2011



Starring the voices of: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha

            Blu (Eisenberg) is a Spix’s macaw, captured as a baby by illegal animal smugglers and shipped to the States – but he’s lucky enough to have been delivered to Minnesota and comes into the care of Linda (Leslie Mann), a kind, intelligent and beautiful bookstore-owner. He’s the last male of his kind. Independent, free-spirited and sultry Jewel (Hathaway) is also a Spix’s macaw. She is the last female of her kind.

Ornithology professor Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to Linda, requesting that she bring Blu to Rio de Janeiro to meet Jewel. They have to get to know each other, as Blu’s city-pet ways annoy Jewel even as she warms to him. However, the real threat is the vicious smugglers on both their feathered tails.                               

A remarkable piece of storytelling and a success on every level from the animation to the humour, the music to the madcap action sequences, Rio is a very polished film. The story flies straight on, never losing its aim, right to an edge-of-your seat sequence onboard the smugglers’ plane, right out of the best action thrillers. It opens with a sequence straight out of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”: birds singing and dancing happily – cut immediately short by them being brutally trapped and ruthlessly spirited away.

This opening scene establishes the tone effectively: colourful cartoony spectacle leavened with a sensitively well-told (and surprisingly un-preachy) conservation message. The script is sharp, almost every line side-splittingly hilarious. The film looks utterly gorgeous, native Brazillian director Saldanha offering not only gorgeous vistas of the Carnivale and the majestic Christo Redentor statue, but also an unflinchingly gritty look at the favela slums and the dirty world of underground wildlife trading.

The voice cast is uniformly superb. Jesse Eisenberg is the standout in addition to being the lead. The Academy-Award nominee plays a nerd, just as he did in The Social Network. However, unlike his character Mark in that film, Blue is a nice, “adorkable” one – bookish, socially awkward, but very sweet, his initial lucklessness with the girl reminding this reviewer of himself. Hathaway provides a wonderful foil for him, feisty and sultry, but also sensitive and kind when required – and, she showcases her golden pipes in several musical numbers.

The main human characters of Linda and Tulio are also a joy to watch, the both of them also sharing a romance that progresses as sweetly and realistically as that of the two birds. Every other character in the film serves a purpose too. Usually, ensemble-cast animated films are a big waste of voice talent, but here none of the characters are superfluous, from the villainous sulphur-crested cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement channelling Tim Curry at his deliciously evil best), to Rafael (George Lopez), a gregarious, family-man Toucan who is always on hand to offer the hapless Blu some much-needed love advice. Also listen out for Tracy Jordan, Jamie Foxx,, Jake T. Austin and others.

A wholly stunning experience not to be missed, Rio is packed with astonishing visuals, a good well-told story, comedy, romance and poignancy. This is something you wish every animated film was, and you could be well forgiven for mistaking this for a Pixar film. Yep, it’s that good.

SUMMARY: Ratatouille meets The Little Mermaid and Princess and the Frog with some Beauty and the Beast and Up thrown in, and deserving of the mean score of all those films.

RATING: 4/5 STARS           

Jedd Jong