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

Mary and Max

Movie Review                                                                                                             31/3/11


Starring the voices of: Barry Humphries, Toni Collette, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman
Directed by: Adam Elliot

            Before the end credits roll, Ethel Mumford’s famous quote appears onscreen: “God gives us our relatives – thank God we can choose our friends”. The simple, heartfelt sentiment of a longing for meaningful friendship, understanding and an outlet to share is a huge driving force that makes Mary and Max a cinematic gem one finds hidden in the cave buried amongst heaps of awful movies – a gem one only finds every so often.

            The Narrator (Humphries) lays it all out: Mary (Bethany Whitmore as a child, Collette as an adult) is an eight-year-old Australian girl, bullied in school, mistreated by her kleptomaniac, drunk mother and neglected by her factory-worker father. She has no friends. Max (Seymour-Hoffman) is an obese, middle-aged New Yorker who has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has no friends either. When Mary finds the strange name “M. Horowitz” in a phone book and decides to write to him, it’s the start of an unlikely friendship spanning two continents and twenty years and enduring countless hardships.

            Directed, written and designed by Australian animator Adam Elliot, Mary and Max may at first seem inaccessible because of its arthouse sensibilities – there’s a misconception that claymation is only ever used to make either films for very young children, or bizarre adaptations of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The delightfully whimsical style here is very comfortable, honest and real, raw emotions balanced with an appropriate sprinkling of black humour.

            To get an idea for the feel of the movie, take the heartbreaking opening sequence of Pixar’s Up and stretch that to 80 minutes. The movie’s childlike honesty belies a large range of very real and mature themes, making this not ideal for very young children, but something that older kids will appreciate. Danny Boyle’s film Millions, also about a young outcast kid making sense of life and the world at large, comes to mind.

            Unlike such claymation films as Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Mary and Max doesn’t derive most of its charm from being dark and grotesque. The characters feel so real that their appearances are the only thing remotely caricature-like. Through their letters to and fro, Mary and Max work through issues such as making friends, dealing with bullying and teasing, approaching relationships and so on. Just as Max mentors Mary, so the young girl has a thing or two to teach him. The film tracks as their lives progress, Max winning the New York lottery, Mary going on to study in university and get married, all the way up until they finally meet face-to-face in New York.

            I’ve known someone with Asperger’s Syndrome for a very long time, and being this person’s friend, I was surprised at how accurately the movie portrayed the disorder. Max decides that he likes being an “Aspie”, that there’s no point in finding a “cure”, and that it’s all about working around the anxiety attacks, sensory overload and social awkwardness that is part and parcel of the “syndrome”. Max finds solace in order, routine and comfort foods like his invention, the chocolate hot dog. “If only there was a mathematical equation for love,” he sighs.
            One feels as much for Mary as for Max, the young girl lacking the life experience, with tragedy and heartbreak heaped onto her. From having a school bully pee on her lunch, to being unlucky in love and unable to have a good relationship with her parents, let alone any friends, it’s hard not to immediately want to give the awkward bespectacled girl with the birthmark on her forehead a great big hug.
            I spent the whole movie fighting back tears – partly because of how genuinely moving it was, but also how happy I was that here was a wonderful film that had got everything right. While charming and beautiful throughout, the movie isn’t afraid to offer a real and unflinching perspective, and never once feels preachy or contrived. There are very few movies that can truly be called “life-changing” – this is one of them.


Jedd Jong


Friday, May 6, 2011


2011 Release

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

            The folks at Marvel Studios have good business sense, and have put a lot of effort into building a Marvel movie universe populated by popular Marvel Comics characters. Iron Man 2 closed with a secret teaser ending, showing the discovery of Thor’s hammer Mjolnr, and introducing an important piece of the Marvel movie universe puzzle.

            Thor is a staggering achievement, filled with imaginative energy and crackling with excitement, but the greatest weapon this warrior wields is its strong plot. Director Branagh brings his Shakespearian senses to the fore, stirring elements such as the Cain-and-Abel tussle between Thor and Loki, the star-crossed romance between Thor and Jane and also the friction between Thor and his disapproving father Odin into the cinematic pot.

            Branagh proves that he is no pushover when it comes to action sequences and wide panoramic vistas either. He has a keen eye for what looks good to excitement-hungry moviegoers, and this movie is packed with fantastic and beautiful visuals. From the sparkling spires of Asgard to the desolate wasteland of Jotunheim, this is a ten-course feast for the eyes – especially when given the 3D treatment.

            Chris Hemsworth proves himself as a charming and charismatic leading man. Thor is portrayed here as a skilled but reckless and headstrong warrior prince, and Hemsworth takes the audience along as Thor learns humility and finds love on Earth, even as he experiences some hilarious moments of culture shock. He also does well in the fight sequences, having trained and gained 20 pounds of pure muscle for the role.

            The supporting cast hits all the right notes as well, Anthony Hopkins imbuing Odin with thundering authority, Tom Hiddleston always possessing a malicious glint in his eye as Loki and Natalie Portman at her most normal and girlish as astrophysicist Jane Foster. Stellan Skarsgard grounds the film as Foster’s level-headed mentor, and Kat Dennings is well-cast and very funny as the comic relief sidekick, usually a male role.

            An all-round movie-going experience, Thor is the explosive and substantial summer movie season opener everyone has been hoping for, and is unmissable on this and any other of the eight known realms. Oh, and don’t forget to stay past the credits for a mind-blowing revelation.

SUMMARY: Action-packed, with a strong hold on a good story and boasting startlingly beautiful visuals, Thor will have everyone asking for more. By Odin’s command, see this one!