Thursday, November 05, 2009

Michael Jackson’s “This is it.” And IT really IS!

I had no intention of going to see this flick. But, my girls were over for a visit and my oldest asked if we could go see a movie.

Checking the online Robinson’s movie schedule I told her, “No Isabel, they are only showing three scary ones and the Michael Jackson movie.”

In a heartbeat they began to jump up and down and tugging at my T-shirt in unison they shouted excitedly, “Yes! Yes! We want to see Michael Jackson! We want to see Michael Jackson! Yes! Yes! Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson!”

Using the old chanting ploy, they destroyed my will to resist. I have a hard time saying no to my girls anyway, but when they chant… well, it’s hopeless. So, that was it. The Michael Jackson movie would be the one we’d watch.

I used to think the world of MJ, loved his music big time, but two things changed how I felt about the guy: first, when he went through that crotch grabbing phase, made all the more raunchy when he wore that bright yellow codpiece diaper thingy on stage—Geez that was just creepy; and of course second, when all the pedophile stuff came out. With all that, he pretty much became a joke to me, a punch line on The Tonight Show. It got to the point that I didn’t even care to hear his music anymore.

So, when the news came out last June that he had died, I was only a little surprised and mostly just shrugged off how I felt about it, lumping him in with all the other super rich self-indulgent drug-taking dopey celebrities who have passed on similarly. Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix; geez, the list goes on and on. The fact that MJ died of drugs merely confirmed my dislike for him as the weak-willed person he apparently was. I believe my first reaction was, ‘What an idiot!’ and, ‘Serves him right,’ was my second. I think I thought those mean things because I was MAD at him for being so foolish.

I have to say though, that all my preset negative attitudes began to break down as I watched this documentary. First, the music got to me. I had forgotten how amazing it is, especially the old stuff. For one last time he had intended to perform all his brilliant original hits in this final hurrah 50-event London show, especially songs from “The Big Three,” those being his “Off The Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad” albums.

From the look of the rehearsals this was going to be an amazing show, because the clips that made it into the movie certainly were. In spite of myself I immediately started singing along to all the songs with my girls. It wasn’t long before they stood up and danced in sheer joy. I’m telling you, it’s that kind of a show. I was pleasantly surprised at how utterly delightful it was to take in. I recommend you go with kids; it will increase the fun of it by at least a factor of four.

Then there was Michael. This is the first time I’ve seen him where he just acted like a regular person for an extended period. There was nothing strange or weird about him. Actually, he struck me as a genuinely nice guy (an extremely talented one!). He was respectful to everyone around him and even in the face of his young co-performers’ continuous adulation he seemed humble and grateful for their appreciation. Occasionally, when the singing and dancing carried him away, these incredibly gifted youngsters in their own right would reverently clap and cheer. He always responds with a heartfelt “God bless you.” If only he could have come across like this throughout those strange times of his, during the decades that he wore the masks and bizarre get ups.

But what really impressed me was his intense professionalism and complete attention to stage detail. There was no aspect of the production that he did not seem to take an interest in, especially if it had to do with the way he wanted HIS music performed. No matter what though, when MJ corrected or explained how it SHOULD be done, he never got cranky or bad tempered; although who knows, maybe they edited that kind of stuff out. Somehow I don’t think so.

I was really curious to watch how he looked as he performed on screen. The rehearsal footage was shot over the month or two leading up to his untimely end. Was there any hint that he was not much longer for this world? To me he definitely looked semi-skeletal, especially in the upper body; aside from that, his legs also appeared to be much more slender than in times past. Ten, fifteen years ago he had willowy yet muscular dancer’s legs, but in the documentary they seemed on the scrawny, almost bony side. It appeared to me that he purposely wore extra loose layers of clothing to try to conceal this gaunter final version of himself.

All of MJ’s live singing comes across in the film as strong and in perfect pitch and key. I suspect that the sound editing folks made sure to make that happen, and if so they did a magnificent job. Like I said, he sounds great, almost studio quality great.

But it was the dancing that I really paid attention to, being a bit of one myself, even if I do say so! He does most of his signature moves in these practice sessions, although not with the old masterful intensity he probably would have had during an actual show. He is most inspired when he performs to Beat It, as well as to Billy Jean. He tried a very short moonwalk and only managed two and half pitiful backward pumps before it seemed as if pain shut down the attempt. I was disappointed, since I excitedly told my girls, “Watch for it! Here comes the moonwalk. I can FEEL it!” If you aren’t watching carefully you won’t even see the attempt. He mostly seems intent on practicing the easier to do sideways moonwalk, which doesn’t have near the impact as his signature move. For me, his failed moonwalk was evidence that his 50 year old body was seriously compromised, and most of us who have reached that mark will say, ‘who can blame him?’ Regardless, his stage presence is overwhelming. The eyes are drawn to the man, whether in full form or not.

And concerning the dancing, the one thing I was antsy about in taking my girls was that he might do all the raunchily revolting crotch grabbing that he was into during that his last big tour in the 90s. I needn’t have worried. Maybe it was the fact that he was a dad himself that broke him of that nasty habit, but there is barely a hint of it in all his routines. The only place it got stark was a short bit where the male dancers mockingly learn how to do it as a group. And yes, they look just as ridiculous as Michael used to. The movie would have been better without it, but there it is.

Anyway, it wasn’t his old dancing injuries that put Michael Jackson into the ground. I’m convinced of that after seeing him do “his thing” in this flick. Overall, for a 50 year old, he seemed fairly fit, if not slightly underfed. However, I’ve been reading that he was having problems sleeping, something I can definitely empathize with. After all, it’s almost 3am as I write this. If I was lying in the bed behind me I’d be staring at the ceiling fan wide awake. As for me, I don’t even worry about it anymore, but in MJ’s case he was desperate for sleep, for any kind of sleep evidently; and when you have the kind of money he had, all he had to do was ask and “sleep” was provided. I’m sure that if one of his doctors said no, then he’d just find another one that would say yes. Thing is I just can’t imagine using a general anesthetic like Propofol to attain sleep. I’ve been put under twice for surgeries and both times I woke up deathly sick. Michael must have been absolutely desperate for unconsciousness if he was willing to put up with those kinds of queasy side effects. Sigh. If only he hadn’t been so rich; maybe he’d still be around.

It’s amazing, for I NEVER would have cared about such a thing if I hadn’t seen this film. Seeing it definitely changed me. At several points I actually felt grief, wiping real tears from my eyes, finally realizing that the man is gone and I deeply felt the utter shame of it. There are times watching him perform that he seems so joyful in being alive and creative—obviously the man did NOT want to die. He was loving life. There was one song that he did about the environment, a song that he wrote, that was particularly poignant, especially hearing him talk about it.

I can honestly say that I enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. I’m glad my girls “forced” me to see it.


Ed said...

I normally don't read your reviews because I want to be surprised when I see them but in this case, I wasn't planning on seeing this one and read your review. Now I think I will need to go watch the movie anyway. I've gone through pretty much the same process as you, i.e. thinking what a goof to kind of being angry for killing himself. Maybe I need the next step of seeing this and realizing that there might be a normal guy somewhere inside after all.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yes, definitely, if you watch the movie you can't help but to like him. I don't think he was ever normal though, if you know what I mean. But he certainly comes across as decent. Another reason I'm glad I saw this in the theater is to get the full effect of the music and the "big show" aspects. I'm sure your little one would love this as mine did...

Unknown said...

You are the voice to our thoughts dude. I think i'll take the kids to see in too now, if for nothing else the music and dancing. They like to dance. I have some good memories of his old stuff when it came out; really takes you back.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Cool... Your welcome George. I know a couple of George's; do I know you?