This Is It

So I saw "Michael Jackson: This Is It" this afternoon. ... I'd been looking for a good time to see it since it hit theaters last week, and today was my best shot. I took off straight from work for a 12:30 showing ...

It's been so long since I've seen a movie in a theater, I was looking for a seat belt when I took my seat. After the usual pre-show trailers, I buckled down for the show ...

(... About the trailers, nothing extremely enticing. Although there was a semi-interesting one for a Hugh Grant/Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy, "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" ... The film depicts an estranged couple who gets moved to rural Wyoming as part of a witness-relocation program. In one funny bit, a woman dressed as a hunter steps out and cocks a shotgun, to which Sarah Jessica Parker's character deadpans, "Oh my God, it's Sarah Palin." I'm willing to bet, though, that it's your everyday Hugh Grant flick and all the truly funny moments went into that trailer.)

A lump settled in my throat during the opening scroll of "This Is It."... Man, I hope this is good. Please don't let this make me cringe, I thought.

But the moment the beat started popping for "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," a smile broke over my face. My foot started tapping and it barely stopped the rest of the way.

I'd read a few reviews of the film, but I still wasn't sure what to expect today. I knew the film was taken from footage of tour rehearsals, but I wasn't sure whether to expect a concert-style film loaded with Michael and company performing whole songs in full costume just as they would have in their London shows -- only without the screaming fans. Or would the film be a giant montage of footage, music bits and interviews cobbled together in a timeline to his June death?

Actually, it turned out to be everything I had imagined and hoped it would be: The perfect balance of Michael and company performing entire songs mixed with backstage footage of the planning, technical work, teaching moments and preparation that was going into the shows.

The whole film shows Jackson in a way the public has rarely, if ever, seen him. From moments of him tutoring his young dancers to encouraging a guitarist to sieze "her moment" on one of her solos, to critiquing his backing musicians. The film shows an extremely human and caring side of Michael Jackson, but it also shows the creative psyche of a man who was in charge, precise and determined to be the best on every turn of his shows.

He knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn't afraid to let director Kenny Ortega, the sound mixers or the musicians know it. At a couple points in the film, Jackson scolds the musicians to watch for his cues, but then reminds them "It's all for love." Multiple scenes show Ortega giving Jackson the last word on film and dance sequences.

Other points in the film show the childish wonder inside Jackson, like when he stepped onto a cherry picker for "Beat It." Jackson wanted to rehearse with the music right away, but Ortega only wanted Jackson to get a feel for the contraption and had to talk him out of rehearsing with the music "for safety."

For two hours, I was wishing I could have been anyone on that stage with him. A dancer, a background singer, that rad girl rocking on her guitar, didn't matter. It looked like they were having so much fun! You knew from their giddy smiles and adoring eyes what an amazing experience and honor those rehearsals must have been for each of them.

And oh, the sets and effects. There were fireworks exploding from the stage. Jackson, dressed in his classic white suit, was worked into some vintage film footage as part of "Smooth Criminal." One of my favorites was the industrial skeleton of a building the dancers descended from during "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Given that "The Way You Make Me Feel" is my favorite MJ song, I could have predicted that performance might also be one of my favorites in the film. ... The segment opened with Jackson working with a keyboardist on a jazzy intro to the song. Jackson dances to the keyboard and nitpicks on the arrangement. "Let it simmer," he says. A debate continues until the keyboardist tells Jackson he's got to be clear with the musicians about what he wants from them. Jackson needs to tell them if he wants "a little more booty," the keyboardist says, causing Jackson to fall into laughter. "A little more booty, I like that," he laughs. ... Moments later they perform "The Way You Make Me Feel." The music, the dancing, Jackson's voice -- it all had me smiling again.

I got my first real bout of chills and misty eyes when a colorful psychadelic backdrop appeared on the stage with the J5 logo, and Jackson started doing the "I Want You Back" routine with his dancers ... The joy of that was quickly squelched, however, when Jackson lost some of the lyrics and then berated the crew because he couldn't hear through his earpiece; it felt like someone was punching him in the ear, he said. Ortega noted it, the music resumed with a medley of "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There," and I got the chills again. The music also featured accompanying footage of Jackson's childhood days with the Jackson Five.

I got bigger chills during Jackson's calls to save our environment and his performance of "Earth Song." But my misty eyes and chills didn't reach full force until the film's "Man In The Mirror" finale.

As I drove home, nothing on the radio compared. I wanted more Michael. ... I got home and wasted little time putting on my "Thriller" album.

Here's the trailer. And here are the songs featured in the film (with a few video clips):

"Wanna Be Startin' Something"
"They Don't Really Care About Us"
"Human Nature"
"Smooth Criminal"
"The Way You Make Me Feel"
"I Want You Back" / "Stop The Love You Save" / "I'll Be There"
"Can't Stop Loving You"
"Beat It"
"Black or White"
"Earth Song"
"Billie Jean"
"Man In The Mirror"

Update: 11.04. 2009 -- Here's a couple good reads I stumbles across today about the film ...
a 'I'm happy for Michael' says director Ortega
a 'This Is It' as his personal thriller: The film on Michael Jackson proves an unlikely odyssey for Tim Patterson, a commercial director who made crucial contributions.

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