Happy Halloween -- well, it was yesterday, but no one's ever accused us of being timely! This week, Ben "Slvbarek" Altenberg praises the shit out of Michael Jackson: This Is It, Sean "bad movie knight" Hanson describes the horrors that await inside The House of the Devil and Matt "the" Gronke, the only alpha male with a degree in film criticism, urges Tony Jaa to choose ass-kicking over exposition when it comes time for Ong Bak 3. Also, damn near everyone who has written for this column contributes to Halloween Movies That Don't Suck, because a marathon of scary movies you might have missed is the perfect cure for your Halloween hangover.
This Is It gives Jacko his due
by Ben "Slvbarek" Altenberg
EXPECTATIONS: I think it'll be fairly difficult to screw up a performance by one of the most amazing entertainers in history. As long as I get me some "Billie Jean" sprinkled with "PYT," I'll be a happy camper. The only thing I'm worried about is how much of a presence the Jackson family will have in the film. If I have to spend an hour and a half listening to those insufferable and utterly inferior siblings talking about their new solo projects, I will not be a happy camper.
REALITY: If you just purchased a ticket to Michael Jackson's This Is It, I have an easter egg for you. Towards the beginning of the film, get up out of your seat and put your ear directly against the closest right speaker. You should be able to hear what sounds like a hyena having an orgasm. Sure enough, that's Joe Jackson, cackling maniacally as he takes your admission fee to see two hours of dress rehearsals.
But don't fret, dear friend. Just imagine if you were one of those poor bastards who bought a non-refundable flight to London, only to have their dreams soiled by circumstance. Truth be told, I do have a friend who did that, and I shall be fueling his consternation by informing him I just paid six bucks to see the same show.
But all joking aside, it is hard to think of an aesthetic that needs less explanation than Michael Jackson singing and dancing. The movie could have been him doing his routine against a black screen for thirty minutes, and I feel like I would have gotten my money's worth. He moonwalks, grabs his crotch and robots all over the place just like back in the day. The man was a glorious creature to behold. I looked forward to watching him strike a pose while a rotary fan blew his shirt and hair all over the place in epic and iconic fashion, and my desires were met with stellar results.
Given the context of the situation, this is truly a unique documentary. Compared to the mass-media treatment over the past few months, this is easily the most respectful memorial for which one could hope. Gone are the scandals, the family history and the numerous quirky relationships. We simply get to see the man doing what he loved to do, and the film delivers indisputable proof that he was still awesome at it.
His surrounding musicians and dancers engage in understandable hero worship, and this comes out more touching than corny. Most of them talk about how big of an influence he was in their lives, and even though it's the same old sappy story we've been hearing since his passing, I'm not about to rain on the parade of a bunch of people who were putting on what could have been one of the greatest concert spectacles ever. They clearly put their all into this show, and the knowledge of its eventual cancellation lends a tragic tinge to the picture.
The production values of the set are mind-bogglingly high. From MJ running from a gun-toting Humphrey Bogart during "Smooth Criminal" to arising out of a giant robotic black widow in "Thriller," there is no basis of comparison for the bombastic scope that this show achieves. By the time it got to the more somber, sentimental presentation of "Billie Jean," I was expecting ninjas to fly down and battle against a platoon of barbaric lizard people while Elizabeth Taylor made out with Lisa Marie Presley atop a half-size replica of the Sears Tower.
The film's greatest flaw has to be the decision to include "Earth Song," probably his worst single. Filled with simplistic lyrics about saving the rainforest, it is exactly what one would expect from Michael Jackson trying to argue coherently about contemporary political issues. In the background is footage of a little girl playing with butterflies, whose paradise is shattered by an evil bulldozer. It's like FernGully but even less subtle; it is so bad that even Robin Williams playing a wise-cracking bat would be more tolerable.
In the end the film is enjoyable for anyone who even casually enjoys the man's work (i.e. anyone with the slightest semblance of musical taste). If it were anyone else, this would be an unending bore of an exposition. But Jackson's professional demeanor in such a wild and wacky forum is fascinating. So if you're one of those insecure macho types who refuses to appreciate one of the finest entertainers in history, I guess I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is still playing.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
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