Who would have thought that a teenage Canadian pop singer would be the one to give the 2011 movie year a much needed spark?
“Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” might be dismissed by anyone over the age of 12 as a silly excuse to cash in on the success of the recent Grammy nominee, but this proves to be a film that is actually a pleasant surprise. Part documentary, part concert film, this is a quite interesting look at the young pop star sure to please his rabid fan base, while also managing to make nonfans a little less skeptical.
Director Jon Chu (the man behind the last two “Step Up” films) mixes early home movies and interviews with concert footage from his 2010 tour to show how Bieber went from a young kid in Stratford, Ontario, making YouTube videos to teen idol headlining Madison Square Garden, giving everyone a rare peek behind the curtain.
To his credit, Bieber seems to be down to earth, with the ability to poke fun at himself. At times, “Never Say Never” tries too hard to depict Bieber as a normal kid, but it does provide the film with its strengths - showing his genuine appreciation of his fan base and his savvy sense of surrounding himself with a support group that serves as a surrogate family.
None of this would matter if the kid couldn’t sing, but “Never Say Never” shows he has talent. Mixing it up with everyone from Usher and Ludacris to Miley Cyrus, Bieber provides an energy in his concert footage that is slightly infectious. Even if you don’t like his music, you have to give him props for his hardworking demeanor.
The film also serves as an interesting case study on the influence of social media (YouTube and Twitter were both big factors in building his fan base, according to the film) in music and how Bieber and his management team took advantage of the new media to make him one of the biggest pop stars in music today.
I’m not about to download any Bieber songs on iTunes, but I will say I have a little more respect for him after seeing “Never Say Never.”
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Unstoppable” (B), an action film starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine that delivers. With some nice action sequences and surprising restraint from the usually hyperactive director Tony Scott, this is a solid flick that should play well during the holiday season.
Inspired by true events, “Unstoppable” tells the story of a runaway train carrying a cargo of toxic chemicals barreling toward Stanton, Pa. The only chance to stop the train hinges on a young conductor named Will (Pine) and a veteran engineer named Frank (Washington), who decide to chase down the runaway train in a separate locomotive and bring it under control before it derails.
With Washington prominent, this film is sure to draw comparisons to last year’s “The Taking of Pelham 123,” another thriller set on a train starring the veteran actor. Those comparisons are unwarranted - this is a much better film.
Washington and Pine have good chemistry together, taking what could have been a rather clich/d dynamic and making it interesting. There is also some good work from Rosario Dawson as the yardmaster where the runaway train takes off. It’s the type of role that is usually a throwaway, but Dawson gives a performance that makes the character much more three-dimensional.
I’ve always considered Tony Scott, brother of Ridley Scott, a bit of an eclectic director. His style is so herky-jerky that even his films that work - such as “Top Gun,” “True Romance” and “Enemy of the State” - all seem to have a distracting pace and tone.
That is not the case with “Unstoppable.” Quiet moments help flesh out Will and Frank’s backstories, playing to the strength of the chemistry between the two leads.
But there is still plenty of action and by Scott’s standards, even those moments feel restrained - but that’s a good thing. The tension never feels forced, and even when the characters start doing things that are perhaps a little far-fetched, it still feels plausible.
It all adds up to a solid action film that stays on course and never derails from its strengths.
“Unstoppable” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and peril, and some language and is available on DVD.