This Is It

tn_thisisitAs a Michael Jackson fan who stuck with him in the later years, I was always dreaming about the comeback he could have some day. I never really believed in my heart that I’d get a chance to see him live, but maybe on DVD. I was so excited for those 50 shows he was gonna do in London, and nervous about what would happen if he wasn’t feeling up to it. There are still a million lingering frustrations about all the possibilities that were cut off when Michael died four months ago. But one of the more dramatic ones was this series of shows he called This Is It. He was so close. And we’ll never get to see the exclamation point on the end of that sentence.

So as a fan it’s a comfort and a blessing to see this almost-concert movie made up of footage taken during his rehearsals in Los Angeles. I mean, I would’ve loved to have seen this even if he hadn’t died, but as the rough draft to his last ambition it takes on extra importance.

mp_thisisitObviously Sony’s gonna make alot of money off this movie, so some people see it as a graverobbery. I don’t dig on corporations either, but the fact is Michael was a multi-million dollar corporate enterprise for most of his life, and he was trying to get back to his moneymaking prime, everybody knew that. So yeah, this’ll make more money for some assholes who don’t give a shit about the music, but so would the concerts have or any future albums. And the money is shared with his estate, which means split between his kids and the charities he held so dear. So I have a hard time feeling bad about the money.

And if we’re accusing people of greed I might as well admit my guilt in this because I’m greedy to see this footage. You guys know I would’ve flipped out for an MJ concert movie regardless of the tragic circumstances, but there never would’ve been one.

It’s true that Michael was very private and was a perfectionist (as demonstrated repeatedly throughout the movie) and while he was alive there’s no question that he wouldn’t have wanted people to see this much intimate footage of his rehearsals. But unfortunately he’s not alive, and had he known that this would be the only way he could share what he was working on with the world he might have felt different. I don’t know, but Kenny Ortega (the creative director of the show and credited as director of the movie) is convincing in last week’s Entertainment Weekly article. I can’t find the quote but he basically says that Michael didn’t plan not to finish this, he wanted people to see it, and making the movie fulfills all Michael’s original goals: sharing his performance with his children, rewarding his fans for their loyalty over the years, and sharing his concern about the environment, not to mention the more messy business of clearing his debts. In the movie Michael talks about finding and showcasing the best talent from around the world, and the movie gets to share what those people were working on too. I think Ortega is sincere and I’ll take his word for it, even if he’s some guy who directed NEWSIES.

It’s closer to a concert movie than a documentary. There’s a little bit of background, and some footage of auditions and filming on soundstages and stuff. You do get some glimpses of people on the outskirts of the production, funny moments like the backup dancers practicing in a dance studio and debating the specific technique of crotch-grabbing. But by far the main focus of the movie is Michael on stage practicing his performance.

Given the amount of material I was worried that it would hop around through edited versions of different songs, but fortunately it’s all full songs and covers most of his biggest hits (except for “Bad” or anything from “Off the Wall,” but they had to leave something out). They edit together different shots from multiple rehearsals, some of it perfect hi-def footage and some of it lower quality camcorders. They don’t try to pass it off as a concert – they often stop to discuss changes or cues or what’s going to happen during the real deal. In the opening number “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” he explains to the band that it has to be funkier and demonstrates by beatboxing the song better than they just played it.

Of course he’s just trying to get it all down, so he’s not always trying to be perfect. Sometimes he skips a line or apologizes and says he’s saving his voice. But I was very surprised by the quality of the singing. I read something about the high tech lip synching technology at the 02 arena, and after all one of his most famous performances (“Billie Jean” on Motown 25) was an unapologetic lip synch. But most of this movie he’s clearly singing on a live mic and even when he says he’s saving his voice he tends to sound otherworldy. Check out “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Incredible.

I’ve obsessed over Michael’s videos and short films for many years but for some reason until these last few months I never watched footage of his concerts. If you’re into him you have to check out the Live in Bucharest DVD from the Dangerous Tour. There’s that and an earlier show in Japan that are available officially and those helped me to understand this a little more. See, Michael not only has dances for his most iconic songs, he has outfits. For “Billie Jean” he wears a variation on the black sequined outfit from the Motown special, and repeats that routine leading up to the moonwalk. For “Beat It” he wears a version of the red zippered jacket from the video and does the gang fight and dance from the end. For “Thriller” he wears the red and black jacket with the V on it and of course does the dance with the zombies. In THIS IS IT we don’t see him in any of these outfits, although we see costumers working on the Billie Jean, and parts of “Smooth Criminal” have him wearing the suit with the fedora and armband. So these weren’t dress rehearsals. Of course, he’s Michael Jackson though, he’s not wearing sweat pants and a Budweiser t-shirt.

One really thrilling spontaneous documentary moment is the “Billie Jean” performance. He seems like he’s working up to the moonwalk, but he doesn’t do it. He gets lost in his freestyle and as exciting as it always is to see him do that move, you can see that he’s really feeling this and he doesn’t have to worry about the fans being disappointed that he didn’t do the famous move so he just goes off script. When he’s done his audience – which is just his dancers and some crew members – are going fucking nuts. But he seems kind of apologetic and says “We can at least get a feel for it.”

That’s one thing you really get from the movie – Michael seems really nice. He never comes across as a prima dona, and whenever he asks for something he adds in a “I know you mean well” or a sincere “it’s okay, this is why we rehearse” or something. The crowd I saw it with laughed really hard at all his weird descriptions to the musicians or Ortega, talking about “simmering” and “sizzling” and “nourishing the audience” and stuff. There’s a great scene where he’s in another room dancing and explaining to the keyboard player in maddening detail how to start “The Way You Make Me Feel.” It would require great patience to work with someone like that but the musicians seem okay with it because they know he’s a genius and it’s born out as they play the song the way he’s asking and it sounds incredible.

Another thing I learned from those live DVDs is holy shit could the man put on a spectacle. And Kenny Ortega directed those tours too, he’s not just the cheeseball who did HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. In the Bucharest one Michael starts by leaping out of the stage and standing like a statue for several minutes of straight applause, and ends by putting on a silver suit and helmet and flying away on a fuckin jetpack. And from what I understand the HIStory Tour shows were even crazier. So when I read that he was trying to top everything he’d done before with these shows I knew that was not to be taken lightly.

Alot of that is left to the imagination, I can’t tell from this if he would’ve topped those stunts. Most of the more show-offy stage gimmicks weren’t ready yet, we only see them in animatics (god damn I wish I could see that “Light Man” entrance for real) and it doesn’t address how he planned to end it. We see some pyrotechnics being tested without anybody on stage, and Michael mimes to his group how his “Beat It” jacket is gonna catch on fire and he’ll throw it down and stomp it out. There’s some great stuff though, including a giant animatronic black widow that he steps out of during “Thriller.”

Some of the coolest stuff is the movies they shot to be projected behind him during a few of the songs, which were gonna be in 3-D (they would’ve actually handed out 3-D glasses to concertgoers – but not moviegoers). They did a great update of the graveyard scene for “Thriller,” mingled in with an improved version of elements from his short film GHOSTS, and a tribute to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. My favorite though is the black and white “Smooth Criminal” segment where he stars in a film noir, hitting on Rita Hayworth and exchanging tommygun fire with Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. It’s all very faithful to the style of the movies it borrows clips from until the last shot when it turns into the fuckin MATRIX.

Another highlight is the staging of “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Expanding on the sexual harassment theme in the original video this scene actually depicts his dancers as construction workers climbing down from a highrise-in-progress to watch Michael woo a hot chick.

The nice irony of THIS IS IT! is that it’s about trying to put on the biggest show ever, and it’s a worshipful monument to Michael’s genius and hugeness as a performer, but it’s also some of the most human footage we’ve ever seen of him. You see him laughing, thinking, figuring things out, making mistakes, giving encouragement. Even when he’s completely on it feels intimate because the camera is right up there on the stage with him, and you know he’s not surrounded by thousands of fans like usual. He’s performing mostly for himself, listening, trying to make sure he’s happy with it. You feel like it’s supposed to be a movie about a god but instead it makes you realize that he’s mortal. And it makes you love him all the more.

If you’re not very interested in MJ you’re not planning to see this, and you probly shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s gonna explain much of anything and it’s alot of Michael Jackson to sit through. But the credits announce that it’s “for the fans,” and for us it’s great. Everybody else had their way with him for 15 years, let us have a minute. The scene at the first showing in Seattle was not as crazy as I thought it might be. It was in a couple small theaters instead of a big one, and the people were mellow. But they applauded and laughed and smiled. A guy near me kept saying things like, “What is he doing!? He’s Michael, he can do anything!”

I was worried that it would be a real bummer to watch – it’s all about what could’ve been, what never will be, what was cut tragically short. It’s a reminder of what and who we have lost. And the dedication to his children at the end is a reminder of the bigger tragedy, that he wasn’t just lost to the world but to his family. But going to it wasn’t a solemn occasion. You could hear a pin drop during the long, silent opening crawl, but held-breath turned to whoohs and raucous applause as everybody recognized the opening notes of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. The vibe of the movie is so positive, so hopeful, so un-self conscious. After the end credits you get to see not only a little girl hugging the earth, but the old Michael Jackson Productions logo of his feet and shimmering sequined socks. I’ve seen it a hundred times on my Moonwalker video, but seeing it on the big screen gave me chills.

(incidentally, I assumed this was gonna be a digital-projection-only deal considering the rushed nature and supposed 2 week only release, but no, it was on film, they struck up prints of it.)

If Michael had been able to go through with the concerts I’m not sure what would’ve happened. Obviously it would’ve been a great show, nobody would’ve been disappointed. Physically I don’t know how he could do that many shows in a row, but it looks like he would’ve been blowin the roof off as long as he could stay on his feet. How the outside world would react would be another question. The media would’ve been there with knives, forks and lobster bibs. All the TMZs and everybody would’ve been salivating for any gossip or made up drama, just dying to say that he cancelled or collapsed or was lip synching or that he did a bad job. And Michael never cursed so he wouldn’t have said this, but I say fuck ‘em. I guess that’s the silver lining on it, we don’t have to watch that unfold. Michael was not ironic, he would say “Heal the World” and make a film about a butterfly escaping deforestation and not give a shit if anybody thought he was corny. And now we don’t have to give a shit either. We can celebrate and revel in this almost-concert as unselfconsciously as he performed it.

Going to this movie was kind of a ritual, maybe a part of the mourning process. In the lobby as I left I noticed two people wearing sequined gloves, and a whole bunch of people wearing their MJ shirts. I have to plead guilty on that one myself. We never had a chance to be the nerd who wears the shirt to the concert, we had to do it at a movie. I didn’t see any tears, just smiles, and people talking about what songs he played, what surprised them, like we were leaving a concert. I mean, a regular concert, not This Is It – I’m sure if we’d seen the real thing we would’ve been speechless. But we’ll take what we can get.

So I think Michael would’ve wanted us to see that footage after all. He wouldn’t want us to keep mourning forever. Michael Jackson lives on.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 at 11:45 am and is filed under Documentary, Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

65 Responses to “This Is It”

  1. Dammit, Vern, I didn’t miss the weirdo until just now.

  2. I cannot believe that Michael would allow himself to be set on fire, given the whole ‘He was set on fire’ thing. I don’t think I’ll see this, Michael Jackson just isn’t really my thing. But I think I can understand where Vern is coming from as a fan and that sense of loss that he has. I hope all of Michael’s fans can enjoy this movie and get a few last moments of joy from him.

  3. Well, his music lives on forever. Thats good.

  4. What’s the point…if he didn’t do nuthin from Off The Wall???

    I ask you.

  5. I really would like to know if Kenny Ortega is a nice guy, because his career might be the best proof for Karma.
    He directs “Newsies”, one of the biggest bombs for Disney ever. Then he directs “Hocus Pocus”, which also disappoints at the box office (although not as much as “Newsies”) and disappeared into TV work, when it was still a little bit of a shame to work for TV. But almost 20 years later “Hocus Pocus” is a beloved cult classic, he is the man behind one of Disney’s most commercial successful franchises (“High School Musical”) and we can be sure that “This Is It” will be one of the biggest hits of the year.

  6. ya the complete lack of Off the Wall is a disappointment, but i’m still excited to check this out. tried to watch Moonwalker the week after he died and turned it off within 10 min. just didn’t feel right. but i think i could get into this one now. don’t even know if it’s playing any theatres nearby, should probably look into that before it’s gone.

  7. Wait, maybe “Workin Day and Night” was in there? I don’t think so. I could be wrong, I’m pretty sure there’s no Off the Wall in there. Anyway I’m sure he would’ve done “Can’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” at least during the show but they couldn’t fit every song in the movie and who knows what kind of footage they had.

    (plus there’s always DVD extras.)

  8. Weird, I thought “Don’t Stop till you Get Enough” was on the setlist. You lied wikipedia!

  9. Vern – Honestly I was more anticipating your review of this than said movie itself since we all know your passion and nuanced knowledge of the material. A fanboy without being a fanboy. So no I’m not enough of a Gloved One’s fan to go trek this out in theatres (maybe Netflix the DVD?)

    But your review was thorougly insightful and entertaining.

    Dan – I thought maybe it was because MOONWALKER, aside from the well-choreographed and executed “Smooth Criminal”*…is a shitty movie?

    *=OK, “Leave Me Alone” video was good too. But come on, two music videos in a 80-90 minute movie the only positive things I can say about it?

  10. I also hear that, contrary to her wikipedia entry, Janis Joplin did not eat cats. Apparently, that was Alf.

  11. Mr. M – Nah, Janis apparently liked some pussy on the side while on tour.

    At least thats what I heard.

  12. actually RRA, i lied, didn’t even make it 10 min in. i like shitty movies. they appeal to me even moreso than good ones when i’m in the mood for something like that. but it started up, he’s singing Man in the Mirror, they’re flashing pics from when he was young. was just too depressing at the time.

  13. Dan – Interestingly I never liked that song for some reason. And honestly that video segment of MOONWALKER just comes off as egotistical. I’m sure Vern disagrees, but its one thing to write/sing a ballad about people needing to come together to make the world a better joint.

    But that juxtaposition of MJ with Dr. King and Gandhi? Just too much, or it gives off the wrong impression if you ask me. Hell alot of MOONWALKER comes off as MJ’s (his his inner-circle’s) masturbatory shine to him. Yeah we get it Mike, you were a God in the late 1980s. We know, you were pretty good back then.

    Oh and in off-topic random news, Pepsi lost $1.26 billion in a lawsuit. All because they fucking ignored it. MJ getting revenge from the grave!

    http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Price-to-PepsiCo-for-Not-law-3214509113.html?x=0&.v=1

  14. i’ve actually never seen Moonwalker. but we were looking to have some drinks, watch a shitty movie, have a good time. seemed disrespectful, being so soon after his death, to watch it for that purpose.

  15. Man, this is great, Vern. Not like I WASN’T planning on seeing this, but it’s great to know that I won’t be weeping as I leave the theater. Sounds like a real pick-me-up after a personally shitty week; I’ll catch it this weekend.

    I assume you won’t be picking up the “companion soundtrack”? Your description of the live vocals in the movie makes me really irritated that Sony didn’t do the same thing for the accompanying album, just slapping ANOTHER greatest hits collection together with a few tantalizing demos (“Beat It”, “She’s Out Of My Life”, and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”) as incentives to completist fans like me and, well, millions of other sucker…er, people. THAT’S what we call a cash grab. If MJ’s singing in the movie is that good, I wouldn’t mind hearing it over tapes of the musicians’ rehearsals or, hell, even the original backing tracks. “This Is It”, the song, made me grin from ear to ear when I heard it just because it was MJ singing again. And it’s not even that great a song.

    Minor complaint about what otherwise sounds like a nice tribute, far from the jacksploitation I thought it was going to be.

  16. Another terrific review was from Roger Ebert, who seems rather fucking surprised himself with it. Though kinda funny that he apparently was looking through THIS IS IT for any signs of Senor Jackson’s drug/health problems…and couldn’t find any.

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091027/REVIEWS/910289999

  17. Vern – I’d be curious to hear your response to McWeeny’s criticism that the film is hurt by its lack of narrative. If I understand your review, you are implying that THIS IS IT isn’t so much a documentary (as McWeeny claims) but rather some sort of homage or act of closure.

    Am I getting that right?

  18. Narrative in a concert movie? That’s the dumbest criticism I’ve heard in a while.

  19. hamslime – what else you expect from McWeiner?

  20. I don’t mean to pick on the guy, but I don’t see how a concert needs a story.

    That’s like those critics that complain that a certain comedy is just joke after joke without any sort of plot. IT’S A FUCKING COMEDY! All it needs to do is make people laugh. Just as This Is It only needs to have songs. Not everything committed to film needs to have a story.

    I wonder what he thought of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold or Pink Floyd’s Pulse DVD?

  21. If your curious for Vern’s reaction look in the comments section on Hitfix where he wrote a long response. I think Drew was fair, its not like Vern disagreed with him in terms of content. It’s just that for Vern, this was the right way to present this footage and Drew thought it needed more to it. McWeiner? C’mon guys, he had to get through grade school with that name, don’t add to his pain. Drew, if you’re reading this, it’s no problem being your public spokesman, I enjoy the responsibility. And I enjoy the monthly checks for $157 dollars you send me. Hintity-hint-hint.

  22. Thanks Brendan, I didn’t know Hitfix had a comments section.

  23. Brendan – Why you sell…$157?!?

    Holy shit, where do I sign up?

    Hey Moriarty, you’re a great nuanced insightful witty writer! You’re the sole reason for Carpenter’s upcoming comeback. AICN is shit without you. Harry should have paid you more. You’re not a hypocrite for the HULK bootlegging fiasco. Screw the haters!

  24. Moriarty is a condescending dick. I don’t like the way he talks to people.

  25. Since Moriarty got brought up, what ever happened to that movie he wrote that Joe Dante was supposed to direct? I liked his Masters of Horror episodes that John Carpenter directed. It would be a shame if he had to put making movies on the back burner so he can review movies. I understand why he would do that because at the end of the day you gotta pay the bills but I hope that it isn’t something he has to leave in the dust.

  26. Michael mimes to his group how his “Beat It” jacket is gonna catch on fire and he’ll throw it down and stomp it out.
    Oh, ok.

    Wait – WHAT

  27. I like Drew. He’s always been really cool to me, I do think Ain’t It Cool is less without him, and I like reading his blog. He does tend to get exasperated with commenters, which I think he did with me although he took it out on the other guy. Oh well, it’s not like I haven’t had my share of run-ins with talkbackers on Ain’t It Cool.

    Anyway, don’t make fun of his name please. He doesn’t seem to be sensitive about it (otherwise he’d go by Moriarty or McW) but I just think it’s not fair.

    I understand his review because if you weren’t really into MJ this movie would be a chore. But I disagree with his idea that it should be a documentary. You have to go into this movie excited to see Michael perform. I think it does have incredible insights into his process, but that’s not the main goal. This is a movie made for a very specific group, it’s “FOR THE FANS” as it says in giant glittery letters on the opening of the movie. I know that’s corny as hell but since I’m one of them I can vouch for it hitting the spot.

    If they had made the movie Drew wants that would be fine, but that would be tailoring it to try to appeal to a larger audience, i.e. people who are not interested in watching the rehearsal for the Michael Jackson comeback concert that never was. As someone who stayed loyal to MJ during the 15 years he was raked over the coals I’m glad that they would throw us a bone now instead of having a bunch of interviews and short clips of the songs. This is the movie I wanted to see (although damn, I wish I knew how he was gonna exit the stage!)

  28. Apparently hsi Dante movie got stuck when dealing with overseas funders, so it’s kind of on hold. No one knows what’s happening with it. You hear a lot of stories about that, movies just vanish off the face of the earth and not even the people involved can figure out what happened.

  29. The difference is that you treat every commenter with respect, no matter how asinine their comment, until they get mean, at which point you demolish them hilariously. You always extend the olive branch before you pull out the knives. Hell, you were even nice to that Australian guy who keeps calling us all faggots. Drew just comes right out of the gate like a scolding schoolteacher who hates having to explain this again to the slow kids. Running a site is a leadership position of sorts, and it requires a certain noblesse oblige that Drew lacks.

  30. I will concede that dealing with talkbackers for a decade will make anyone a little testy.

  31. Vern: Thanks for clarifying your thoughts on the “documentary” remark made in McWeeny’s review. It seems to me that presenting the footage as excerpts from a series of rehersals is actually a more compelling and original idea than either the documentary McWeeny wanted to see or a standard concert film. I’m not a fan, but there is something intriguing about the thought of watching unguarded footage of the construction of one of these mega musical spectacles.

  32. Majestyk I don’t know if comparing our talkbacks to AICN’s is fair. In some of those (I’m thinking particularly of the Clone Wars Revies Debacle) it wasn’t a case of him being a dick to the talkbackers because they didn’t understand something, it was a case of him spending an entire week explaining, re-explaining and re-re-explaining over and over again why certain things happened, and people STILL kept calling him a liar and a sell out and a dope and insulting his kids (yes I’ve read comments where people said shit about his toddlers, they usually get banned immediately afterwards but they’re there for a little while).

    The situation is different here, there’s not that many of us. Most of us were coming here and e-mailing Vern before he put up a talkback so of course we’re going to be well behaved. And we’re pretty self-censoring anyway, if someone goes apeshit, the rest of us will euthanize the fucker ourselves so Vern never even needs to comment. When that Australian guy’s brain broke in JCVD I’m pretty sure almost every regular stepped to shout him down. It’s like that scene in the Thing where Wilford Brimley goes nutty so they lock him in a shed. We should have a shed to send people to, like a little timeout for when you mouth off, or for when an alien parasite infects your mind. I’m rambling. He can be a dick sometimes and overreact, but I think ANYONE would lose it over little things if they had that job for over a decade. It goes with the territory.

  33. Brendan: I don’t want to speak for Mr. Majestyk, but I assumed his “scolding schoolteacher” comment was a reference to McWeeny’s anti-piracy speech, the one where he repeatedly wrote “shame on you” to the talkbackers.

    But you’re right: those talkbackers who verbally threatened McWeeny’s kids were way out of line.

  34. I used the Australian nutjob debacle as an example, but I was mostly thinking of Vern’s responses to talkbackers when he publishes reviews on AICN. He tries to find some common ground first and understand where the douchebag is coming from, but if that’s not possible, he slays him with wit. Drew’s responses to people always seem pompous and bullying, and that tone colors his writing for me. I don’t like being talked down to.

  35. I found both Vern and Drew’s reviews to be enlightening. The fact that they ended up on opposite sides of the spectrum meant I had more to think about, more to compare. The strength of both was that they came from an honest and truthful place; Drew with a desire to learn about Michael’s last days, and Vern with the need to be with his hero for a few hours more.

    Both these positions are valid. I think any criticism comes posthumous to a feeling, sitting there in the dark. First gets articulated as either “This works for me” or “What the fuck;” then, depending on the individual, this feeling gets refined into an argument, an analysis — or just a dismissal, and afterthought to whatever it is you have next. Vern and Drew both polished their feelings into something clear and concise, and whether or not you agree, you know where they’re coming from. That”s all I ask of the critics I admire.

    One last note; as some one who likes but doesn”t love Michael Jackson, I can say that I’d probably lean more toward’s Drew’s impression. But I wanted to add that a documentary that examines his last days doesn’t need to be exploitive. Moreover, I doesn’t need to be a replay of the cultre vulture frenzy that marked the media’s coverage. Most stories were a sensational scramble, a minutia of facts strewn across the vast chasm of media. The news had to justify running with the coverage 24/7, and in the process Jackson’s became a series of images, sound bits, a stream of images without context; broadcast for broadcasts sake. I think a first class documentary might actually do what Vern and other fan’s want; lend Michael dignity by providing a truthful portrait of a singular human being who was finally afforded scrutiny that went beyond the grotesque, passing through to something approaching a real perspective on just what his final days were.

  36. Bad Seed: There’s one significant difference between McWeeny and Vern. McWeeny very consciously
    situates himself as a critic in the tradition of Roger Ebert; he employs rhetorical devices familiar to film journalists and he conspicuously sheppards films into both the marketplace and a conventional, connonical idea of Film History. Unlike Ebert, however, McWeeny isn’t as successful at divesting himself of his childhood sci-fi/action fetishes.

    Vern’s approach is far more informal, thematically-driven, and at times hostile to the marketplace. Vern’s conception of Film History is far more idiosyncratic and sympathetic to outsiders.

    In short, Vern writes from the margins of the machine that McWeeny is so eager to be a part of.

    But you’re right: both produce interesting work.

  37. I think Drew is generally a good guy but has a pretty short fuse. I remember a while back he was in the talkbacks calling people morons for believing such and such a thing (I forget what), and I politely reminded him about the time he called us all morons for believing it was Bruce Willis in the TB that time, and that maybe he lacked a little credibility with regards to calling people out as morons. The next day I realised I’d been banned, so I sent him an apologetic email explaining that I was just trying to yank his chain and he emailed me back his own apology saying that he’d been having a bad day or whatever and that he’d reinstated my account, which I think is a pretty cool thing to do since he could have just completely ignored me.

    It is kinda weird that Drew still has the power of ban over on AICN though, since he doesn’t work there anymore. Maybe Harry forgot to revoke his special blackbox privileges.

  38. It’s like in Minority Report when Tom Cruise was the most wanted man in the world but his eyeballs still unlocked all the doors at the police station. Then again, I’m sure there is a lot of paperwork involved in disavowing an eyeball. Maybe it was a long weekend or something so they didn’t get around to it in time.

  39. No way man, he got through because Tom Cruise’s eyes contain so much power they short circuit any electrical device if he unleashes their full strength. The puny ‘temple stations’ never had a chance.

  40. How hilarious would it be if this talkback wound up in one of Drew’s Morning Reads? Pretty fucking funny if you ask me.

  41. Tom Cruise’s blue-laser Terminator stare is pretty powerful. It’s because there’s no humanity in it, just pure thetan energy.

  42. How hilarious would it be if this talkback wound up in one of Drew’s Morning Reads? Pretty fucking funny if you ask me.

    And Majestyk buddy, I understand exactly what you mean about tone. I’m the guy who starts foaming at the mouth when you bring up Mark Kermode…whoa, sorry, needed to wipe my mouth there. And I will agree with you 100% that Drew can take on a holier-than-thou attitude when talking about the industry and the state of the talkbacks.

    But y’know what? The thing that overcomes that for me? The guy loves movies. He genuinely loves movie and talking about them and sharing them. His “Film Nerd 2.0″ where he talks about showing movies to his son, that’s about as good as writing about film gets, that’s as good an example I have ever seen of someone cutting through all the box office, special edition re-re-release bullshit and getting to the heart of what movies are about and why we (and by we I mean myself) love them so fucking much and love to share them. I bring up my little brother on this site, and all the times I’ve sat him down and shown him old(er) movies that I love, and Drew captures the way I get him to sit down and watch something and how I set up the movie for him, the way he responds to the sights and sounds he’s never seen before, the crazy little grin he gets on his face when something really fucking cool happens (he had that look on his face for the ENTIRE running time of Big Trouble in Little China).

    There are a lot of people writing about film who make it seem like some empty industry just cranking out product. But guys like Harry and Vern, and yes like Drew McWeeny, they get the soul of it, and they capture that in their words and share that with the rest of us so we can nod our heads and say “That. That’s it. That’s why I put my money down and sit amongst strangers in the dark. That’s what I’m getting out of it.” Just my two cents.

  43. That’s cool. I guess I’m not familiar enough with his writing to get all that out of it since his attitude often grates on me, but I will take your word for it. The guy’s probably just insecure and doesn’t like being challenged, and since he’s the bossman of the websites he posts on, he gets a little drunk on power, like that janitor who’ll never let you forget that he and only he controls the freight elevator.

  44. In the movie version, the janitor controls the freight elevator … to HELL!

    Mr. Majestyk, I totally get what you mean when you write that his “tone colors his writing.” For me, though, it isn’t the bullying (which I have witnessed in the talkbacks) so much as it is his affectations of being a “serious” (ie. conventional, mainstream) critic.

    His INLAND EMPIRE review is the best example. I agree with almost every point he makes, and he exhibits patience with a challenging film, but at the same time you know perfectly well that he’s crafting his review in a way to flaunt his perceived insider credentials. It totally affects the way I read his work.

  45. I haven’t been a fan of MJ for a long time. This has little to do with the hype, controversy, etc that has surrounded him for years and more to do with a feeling that his music just never really seemed to progress after Thriller. That said, when I was about ten years old, my mom took me to see him (and his brothers… it was billed as “the Jacksons”) in support of Thriller and it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. He even slayed a dragon with a big frickin’ sword. I remember wearing a sequined glove that my grandmother made for me as well as a pair of penny loafers with white socks. Geeky, sure. But at the time, I thought I was the coolest. Anyway, while I probably will wait for DVD or Satellite on this… Vern, I am glad you finally got to wear your MJ shirt and be the concert geek.

  46. Jareth, I’ll buy that. There’s no doubting that Drew is in the machine. At times he laments the loss of the shot-from-the-hip, hell’s abandon 70′s aesthetic; at other times it’s like you say, the experience of being in the industry interweaves with the viewing itself, almost becoming a metatale on the current state of Hollywood.

    Usually I think this doesn’t detract from his work. In fact, I think it adds value in ways that are lacking with a lot of the other online critics who do the set visits, press junkets, and assorted grinders that make the sausage we call entertainment. I get a lot more enjoyment out of a piece that looks at the process of creation and acknowledges it, and even lets me know that the process may be influencing its opinion, rather than a piece that was birthed by hanging out with the director for the weekend, and then tries to sell itself as impartial come press-day.

    Which brings me to why I like the flipside; Vern is great because he hits the ttheaers and video stores like us. I’ll always give him props when AICN offered him to interview . . . oh, shit, I can’t remember! It was definitely recent, and focused on one of the up and coming action directors/stars. Vern turned them down, because he didn’t want to get into the “interview thing.” This, to me, is a perfect balance to the insider machine perspective.

    To sum up: I like both Drew and Vern, because they give me different perspectives on things I love, and depending on my mood I’ll gravitate to one more than the other. Both, however, are in my cool book.

    Oh, and personally I’m a big fan of The Morning Read.

  47. I really like the two albums that Michael and his brothers made as The Jacksons. Destiny has some bona fide classics on it (Blame It On The Boogie, Shake Your Body Down to the Ground) but even Victory, which Michael is barely on (and his one solo song is easily the worst on the album, sadly) and is generally considered a shameless cash-in on the Thriller phenomenon has some great tracks, like Torture and Wait. And it has Mick Jagger on it, determined not to let Paul McCartney show him up with The Girl Is Mine. That album is probably the most underrated of the MJ discography.

  48. Bad Seed – I’m probably not giving McWeeny enough credit. You’re right, he is able to perceive the machinery in which he operates. And I don’t think his enthusiasm should be mistaken for greed or an appetite for power.

    Having said that, though, if you’ve ever listened to the audio commentary for THIS FILM IS UNRATED it is obvious that McWeeny’s participation completly inhibits his ability to ask interesting questions; he’s too grateful for the opportunity to rock the boat with anything but fluff questions.

    And he used to write those occasional articles on aicn that amount to pep rallies for consumption. Those articles in particular really grated on my nerves because they basically asked you to suspend your critical abilities and be grateful that fucking Weezer was putting out a new album.

    In the spirit of fairness I’ll read one of these Morning Read things you mentioned.

  49. Vern – Yeah I was juvenile for using the McWeiner name-calling. But talking as a Gayeski, that McWeeWee kid can fucking bite his lip.

    You know what the other difference between Vern and Mori/McWheeny/whatever?

    Vern has integrity that shines through. An ultra-leftist sure, but have any of you ever had the feeling that he is bullshitting you? He is what he is, not some scriptwriter/wannabe filmmaker in Hollywood. Or constantly bragging about having this and that filmmaker on speed dial. Those nerd kings can really be as obnoxious as rappers can be about their current status of success.

    While those AICN guys are reactionary and worried about sillyness, Vern put out SEAGALOGY. I mean he gave a serious (but funny) critical argument for why a cinemaphile should check out Steven Seagal. Now that’s impressive. Wasting David Cronenberg’s time in an interview? not so much.

    With Vern, his political articles are absolutely fascinating. No I don’t probably necessarily agree with everything but like a good writer, he ropes you in with the realist tidbits and nuanced ground-level observations of (mostly) bullshit. The WTC protest crackdown, the Hillary Clinton racebaiting, Obama’s election, etc.

    I mean lets admit it, his legendary TRANSFORMERS review where he castrates that stupid bullshit mentality used by (sometimes) smart people with decent cinema taste to defend a dog turd. He’s so on the money, its his face on the $1 bill. Not you George.

    Someone earlier brought up McWeeny trying to be Ebert and failing. Well, Vern is Ebert-esque in being a bastard witty critic when a movie rubs him the wrong way.

    Not bad for a convict.

  50. *applauds* brilliant Vern, just brilliant

  51. I find it very odd that there is a lot of talk of cashing on Michaels memory (I heard someone on the radio this morning saying that the family will get nothing from This Is It) and yet in the USA, where everything is for sale, you cannot buy Moonwalker or Ghosts on DVD.

  52. You want to talk about cashing in on Michael’s memory, go back in time to New York City the morning after he died. I have no idea how the street vendors got all those T-shirts printed up so fast. They were pretty psyched, though, since the once-lucrative Obama merchandise business had plateaued.

  53. My favorite Obama t-shirt said: That’s MISTER President, cracker.

  54. I was thinking about it and I realized part of why this movie made me happy is that it’s proof of MJ’s talent in the 21st century. I think alot of people thought of him as a has-been, he used to be great but he lost it. That was how alot of the media portrayed him. I was always trying to convince people “No, most of ‘Invincible’ is great!” and “He can still dance, check out that part in the ‘You Rock My World’ video!”

    Not to say it’s wrong for people to have their own ways to remember him, but I noticed how as soon as he was dead everyone busted out all the old images (mainly Thriller era) and didn’t want to look at the later pictures of him. I get it because of all the great albums and videos from the late ’70s through early ’90s, but I felt like they wanted to erase the older, weirder Michael from existence.

    At the EMP they put out sheets of butcher people for people to write their tributes on. A guy I know drew a picture of Michael with the modern triangle nose and hair, in a Captain EO costume with Bubbles and E.T. or something. When I came back later somebody had crossed it out and ripped its head off – l think maybe they thought it was making fun of him. What made my friend love Michael was what they were ashamed of him for, I guess.

    So now we have this movie that combines the later Michael with the acceptable Michael, shows that they’re the same person. He’s scorching through all the old hits but he’s got the modern face. And yes he’s weird and yes he’s still putting it together, but he’s got a talent we’ve never seen in another human body. You can’t watch that footage and tell me he didn’t have it anymore. So it’s kind of a vindication of the faith I had in him over all those years.

  55. Vern,

    You mentioned the Dangerous and Bad tour but I am surprised you didn’t mention M.J. History tour he had back in the 90s. I think it was a pretty good concert minus the fact he mostly lip synch the concert citing illnesss for not singing most songs live.

    Youtube has a lot of clips of these concerts on there so check it out when you can.

    Not sure if I am allowed to post this here but check out his beginning set for his History Tour:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mkzqdx021k

  56. No offense, but HISTORY sucked. I mean really what hubris to make a fan buy the first disc of “greatest hits” they already own…and the second disc?

    Of course I’m of the view that after BAD, Jackson either lost his edge, got soft, went complacent on his title as “King of Pop,” whatever you want to call it.

    Honestly, I can’t come immediately to mind any song in the post-BAD era that I liked.

    Though I suppose HISTORY was better than INVINCIBLE. Slightly.

    Vern – Any suggestions from HISTORY that I should check out and reconsider?

  57. wuwu – thanks for that, I’d never seen the HIStory stuff because there’s not a legit dvd. Too bad about the lip synching, but that’s an incredible entrance! I love that he did ridiculous stuff like enter on a crashed spacecraft.

    RRA – Well, I never knew the story until reading Rolling Stone’s tribute to MJ, but HIStory started as only a greatest hits album. The record company wanted to put something out since he was taking forever to do a new album. But he wanted to make some new tracks to make it more worthwhile, and ended up so productive they had to cut tons of it off (I think it said they almost made a third disc).

    I feel your pain though, I actually didn’t buy it when it was new for that reason, and it’s why I haven’t bought the “This Is It” album even though I want those demos.

    I also partly agree with you. I like things on all of his albums, but I think Bad is my favorite and then after that the albums are all mixed bags. I don’t like the new jack swing style he got into starting with Dangerous. HIStory is interesting though because of how angry he is and how complicated the beats are. I can imagine him beatboxing those to the producers. I really like “Scream” but you remember that one I’m sure.

    I actually think Invincible is underrated though. I fucking hate “2000 Watts,” and “The Lost Children” is a little much, but most of the rest I like. I would especially point to “Unbreakable,” which takes on new meaning now. The first time I listened to it after he died it was making me sad because he’s talking about people trying to put him down and how he’ll always be there, he’s unbreakable. And he sings:

    “You can try to stop me, but it wont do a thing
    no matter what you do, I’m still gonna be here
    Through all your lies and silly games
    I’m a still remain the same, I’m- un- break-a-ble!”

    Just then I was thinking no, but they finally did it, they finally did break you, you’re not still gonna be there. But then it goes into a posthumous verse by Biggie Smalls. And I realized he’s right, he’s eternal now, the way Biggie is. Too late for anybody to stop that.

    My favorite songs on the album are the love songs though, especially “Butterflies.” I don’t like modern R&B and I’m not generally into love ballads unless it’s Al Green or something, but he just makes that song incredible.

    http://songza.fm/~2cna4f

  58. Vern – Alright, thanks for the recommendations. When INVINCIBLE came out, I (with Internet help) checked it out…and it came off as a hearty meal of tap water and vanilla wafers. Bland as hell. But hey you know, I’ll give your picks another shot.

    I prefer THRILLER because the one major thing holding back BAD for me is that…”The Man in the Mirror” does absolutely NOTHING for me. “Liberian Girl” is OK.

    At that point, MJ had become the “genius” and well, who’s going to argue with him at that point? The Jones-produced OFF THE WALL and THRILLER were just so fucking tight, that even the weak shit…I’m looking at you “The Girl is Mine”…has a place at the table. It has a purpose, even if technically it could have been kicked out. Sum greater whole than individually, you know the ABBEY ROAD effect.

    Didn’t know about HISTORY’s…well, history. I do remember that “Scream” video, but nothing much of the song itself. What happened to that 3rd disc of music? I’m reminded of THE WALL losing a disc, and Pink Floyd putting that shit (with tweaking) into THE FINAL CUT.

    And speaking of which Vern – Your thoughts on the Yankovic parodies? Kinda strange how he’ll outlive MJ and still record new stuff. Then again, he outlived Kurt Cobain so its nothing new.

  59. By the way, if anybody’s thinking of getting me a Christmas present, I want you to know that the original painting from the CAPTAIN EO movie poster is on ebay right now. It’s $20,000 starting bid or you can just skip that and do the $50,000 “buy it now” option. I know that sounds like alot, but keep in mind that the shipping is free.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/MICHAEL-JACKSON-in-CAPTAIN-EO-by-WALT-DISNEY_W0QQitemZ380173786802QQcmdZViewItemQQptZArt_Prints?hash=item58841f9eb2

  60. Vern – I’m surprised you haven’t reviewed CAPTAIN EO yet. I mean Francis Ford Coppola directing, George Lucas producing, its got the pedigree. Oh and puppets.

  61. Vern,

    Thanks for writing such an eloquent and truthful review of Michael’s This Is It. You hit the nail on the head for me for sure. Even now the media dogs, especially Diane Dimond, are trying to eat Michael alive, er, dead, for money, money, money. They ought to get out and get real jobs and leave the family of a wonderful artist and humanitarian alone. Of course he wasn’t perfect. He was human with flaws like all of us, but he tried to make the world a better place and put his money where his mouth was unlike the vast majority of the celebrities. He was a real person and This Is It makes that very clear. I feel every day for his children who at some point, will be confronted by the allegations that continued to haunt him even after he was acquitted by a jury of ordinary folks. Three cheers for his attorney Tom Mesereau and for Aphrodite Jones who after the acquittal studied the evidence and wrote and self-published (because no publisher would even consider publishing it) her book The Michael Jackson Conspiracy. If you haven’t gotten a copy, go to her web site http://www.aphroditejones.com and buy a copy and read it. (I do not work for or even know Ms. Jones and this endorsement was not solicited by her or paid for by anyone. It’s just my opinion.)

  62. My, my, looks like somebody just got linked as Pitchfork’s “favorite” review of THIS IS IT:

    http://pitchfork.com/news/37257-michael-jackson-film-coming-to-dvd/

    I just linked a link, which is fairly pointless, but thousands of music geeks, including myself, look at that site every day, so consider that that link was your 30-second commercial slot during Thursday night Must See TV. Or something. Either way, congratulations on more exposure for your Excellence-striving ways, Vern.

  63. What came to my mind while watching “This Is It” is that Michael had the same vibe and brilliance of Walt Disney. His magnificent show was about going on a thrilling adventure, and being in magic that tantalizes the senses. With doses of love, humanity, faith and joy thrown in for good measure. That’s exactly what I get from a happy day at Disneyland. Michael was a creative genius! Thanks for the awesome review.

    Gina

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