01 November 2009

This Is It (2009)

Listening to: Michael Jackson, "I Just Can't Stop Loving You."

If you're planning on watching "This Is It," stop right now and don't read this review. I'll ruin it for you. It's best to enter untainted by anybody else's opinion. For everyone else (if you've already seen it or aren't planning to watch it), what would you say if I told you that there was a documentary about the other MJ, Michael Jordan, but only covering his second return to basketball, when he came back to play with the Washington Wizards at age thirty-eight? You'd pass right? You'd rather remember the MJ of Finals success and fame right? And forgo seeing a neutered Jordan way past his prime? That's the whole experience of watching this movie. Michael Jackson can still do it, and he's still fucking Michael Jackson, but watching him go through the motions isn't very thrilling.

As everyone should know, this movie is a clear money grab. This footage was never intended for public consumption and there's no way Jacko would have allowed this to be shown during his lifetime. Not because it shows him in an unflattering light, but mainly because this is practice footage. Michael is rehearsing and sleep walking his way through the dances, the singing, and the emotions. You can't blame him because that's what he's supposed to be doing -- he even says he's going half speed multiple times throughout the movie. He was saving himself for the fifty show tour. It's insanity that Michael was still capable of all this at age fifty and his practice moves and singing can still awe and inspire but ultimately it just leads to a boatload of unintentional comedy.

I mean, thank goodness we watched this in a near empty theater. There's just too many funny scenes and moments, and it's impossible to not make fun of many of them, out loud and obnoxiously. Watch it and you'll know what I mean. This isn't Michael Jackson at his best, it's Michael Jackson with the curtain pulled back, and there's a magic that's lost in seeing all this practice footage. I mean, you want to believe that Michael is effortless and amazing every time he steps on the stage. That every time he moonwalks, head bobs, and shoulder shimmies, he's going all out. Of course that's impossible, because practice is practice and the show is the show. So that's what this documentary was missing: actual show footage.

Take Jay-Z's fantastic behind the scenes documentary of his "last" concert, Fade to Black. It was so awesome because you got to see the King of Rap work toward a moment, build to a 110% performance, and then deliver. With this movie, we only ever get Michael at 75% and it's jarring because we've seen him at his absolute best and even to the undiscerning eye, there's a spark and intensity missing. I have no doubt that Michael would have given 1000% during his actual concerts, and his popping and locking would have been sharp and convincing, and his singing ridiculous and tear jerking, but we don't get that because, well, Michael passed away. And this documentary does him a great disservice by showing him preparing for a superhuman return, but knowing full well that he'll never get the chance to actually return. They should have kept the tapes in the vault. We don't need to see MJ like this. Not ever.

Having said all that, if you did watch this movie, you probably had a fantastic time. There were quite a few really awesome moments -- all the backup dancers' scenes were fantastic. So one minute you're laughing (and feeling like a terrible human being about it) and the next minute you're getting that tingly "Wow!" feeling. And if you watched this movie within earshot of me, Hong, and Lilly, you heard a barrage of comments and side conversations. We had so many questions and so few answers.

A short sampling: Is "This Is It" the dumbest title ever? That actually wasn't a question, but a definitive "Yes, yes it is." Now for the real unanswered questions. Why are they suddenly and sporadically subtitling Michael? Why are his fingers taped? Where does he buy his clothes, or are they all just left over from before? Is that his real hair, no way right? Why do all his dancers look like they're stuck in the 90s? Did he really just do that weird hip thrust / hand wave move on purpose? Twice? Do you think the dancers laugh at Michael behind his back? Who is that crazy Jackson brother look-a-like doing backup vocals? (He was scarier than any of the Thriller zombies.) Is Mo Pleasure the trumpet player's real name? Did half the band use a porn name generator to come up with their stage names? Why was Lou Ferrigno the one getting Michael back in shape? And of course, on a scale of one to ten, how sexy is Michael Jackson? The answer was, "One and a half. Two if he's dancing." And if you're wondering who he beats on that scale, my poll of one revealed, "Rush Limbaugh. And Joe Jackson." Watching Michael interact with real life women is just odd. Even if they're just faking sexual intensity and attraction for stage purposes. This man has fathered multiple children (allegedly). What?!

To his credit, while we laughed heartily at Michael's hands-on performance management -- his inner ear is very sensitive apparently -- he was damn right with all of his comments. He knows how to create a show and he really notices every detail. He was looking for perfection and gave this show his all. So yeah, go watch it. Go when it's a matinee so you can make snarky comments with your friends. And remember, god bless you. God bless you all. Sir.

I would re-watch this movie immediately if it was marketed as a sing and dance-a-long. Most certainly. Can somebody do this already?