Michael Jackson’s This is It

There are plenty of reasons not to see Michael Jackson’s This Is It.

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I went in with an open mind. Despite his questionable legal history and lifestyle choices, you cannot deny his musical genius and I was interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes look as he prepared for what would be his swan song, a 50-night engagement at the O2 in London, completely sold out.

My dad was lucky enough to see Michael Jackson in Wembley Stadium during the Bad tour. I remember him bringing back the official program, glossy in red and black and white with Jackson in black leather and looking as tough as he could look with that crazy perm.

When I was eight years old, my brother and our close friends Gabe and Shannan put on a breakdancing show with The Jacksons Victory album as our soundtrack. Ridiculous, I know. But we were kids.

The footage that makes up This Is It was intended for Michael’s personal use only; with his passing, it’s the last glimpse we get of a brilliant performer, a quintessential entertainer and a musical talent we are unlikely to see again in our lifetime. We see him rehearsing the iconic songs he became known for over a career that spanned four decades.

Personally, I was always a fan of Michael’s music, but not like with other artists. Michael’s music was just always there, a part of the thread of our culture, and just about everything he did was totally brilliant.

Watching this 50-year-old man sing and dance and prepare to perform a 50-night engagement was fascinating. He was lucid and involved and inspiring to those surrounding him — dancers, backup singers, band, crew. In fact, watching the reactions of those around him as he rehearsed was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Hearing the dancers explain that they had no idea where their careers could go. This was the pinnacle for them. How could it get better?

The thing that really bummed me out was that this tour never happened. It looked EPIC in rehearsals. They also showed many of the extras filmed just for the concert — a new 3-D intro to “Thriller”, an awesome multiplying green screen effect for “They Don’t Really Care About Us” and others. But I left the theater feeling a bit unsatisfied if only that I couldn’t see the finished product. Michael Jackson was a rare combination of accomplished musician and enthralling entertainer.

While this is a nice documentary and great insight into what it was like to collaborate with such a genius, it really just left me wanting more.

Transformers: Revenge of the Giant Robots

I will make no bones about the fact that I absolutely adored Michael Bay’s homage to the Hasbro toys of my youth. The original Transformers was everything that you could want in a popcorn flick:

  • explosions
  • tons of action
  • and giant freaking robots that transform into cars.

So. Awesome.

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Look, if you pay to go see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and expect anything else than 2 ½ fun-filled hours of some combination of those three things, you will be seriously disappointed. Don’t expect a rock-solid plot. Don’t expect great acting. Don’t expect perfect logic. You won’t get any of those in this movie.

However, if you enjoyed the first movie for those three things, you  will be entertained. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the flick. It’s a ten tons of explosive, effects-laden fun. There’s a typical Armageddon/Pearl Harbor love-story-buried-in-an-action-movie (Bay can’t seem to help himself). There’s an opening action/effects sequence in “Shanghai” that gets you ready for the rest of the movie. And there’s a lot of Shia Lebeouf and Megan Fox running. Running from robots. Running from explosions. Running from exploding robots.

Look, Transformers: ROTF won’t win any Oscars (maybe one nomination for effects, which are terrific), but it’s going to make Spielberg and Dreamworks a crap-ton of money.

This is the type of movie that is made for summer. And if you don’t enjoy movies like this, there’s just no talking to you.

Monsters vs. Aliens

Alli and I went with her sister, fiancee and to-be nieces last weekend to see Monsters vs. Aliens, the latest offering from Dreamworks Animation Studios, the people who brought us Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.

The movie is a lot of fun. There were several moments where I laughed out loud at the antics of Bob (the blob, Seth Rogen), The Missing Link (ape-fish man, Will Arnett), and Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie). But the plot itself is a little tired. Aliens invade with the idea of colonizing Earth. SNOOZE.

But the animation and the voice acting done by the Monsters and the main alien (Rainn Wilson) is spot-on and there are plenty of great one-liners that will stick with adults who schlep their kids to this latest family offering. It’s worth the trip.

The story centers around a run-of-the-mill bride (Reese Witherspoon) who gets hit by a meteorite just before her marriage to local Modesto, California weatherman Derek (Paul Rudd). Rudd is great as the greaseball local TV guy and Witherspoon’s charm manages to make its way through to her animated countenance.

The plot is really what fails this movie more than anything. I enjoyed it, but not because of the story. This movie dies if not for the great voiceover done by comedians Rogen and Arnett. And there really couldn’t be a better casting for a mad scientist than Hugh Laurie. Top that off with Stephen Colbert as the President and Kiefer Sutherland as the rogue general who has kept his monster force a secret and you’ve got a great cast.

Rachel Getting Married

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Alli and I rented a couple movies over the weekend, the first of which was Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-nominated performance in Rachel Getting Married.

Everything about this movie was independent:

  • Dysfunctional family? Check.
  • Drug problems? Check.
  • Indie music? Check.
  • Redemption? Why not?

But despite all the cliches, the movie is so dang charming that I didn’t really care. Anne Hathaway turns in a terrific performance as Kym, the drug-addled, tortured, look-at-me-look-at-me sister, and her career continues to rise as she takes on more challenging roles.

But to be completely honest, I felt like she was almost outshone in this movie by older, more responsible sister Rachel, played by Rosemarie Dewitt. (Interesting side note, Dewitt won two supporting actress awards for her performance in Rachel Getting Married in smaller film festivals last year.) Dewitt’s performance as Rachel is so honest…I just loved it.

The movie itself just kind of winds and meanders all over the place, but it manages to rub a few really great scenes together (especially the rehearsal dinner). It was certainly worth the $1.08 at Redbox.

Watchmen

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Just as many did today, I went out and saw Zack Snyder’s movie adaptation of the crazy popular cult classic graphic novel  Watchmen. Prior to seeing the movie, I picked up the full graphic novel at Target and finished the tome an hour before Alli and I went to see it at the Fork & Screen over lunch.

I enjoyed the book. It’s heavy and dark, but it’s extremely well-written. Alan Moore’s words and Dave Gibbons illustrations create the alternate-history 1985 in which Richard Nixon is entering his 5th term as President and the Cold War is at the height of madness, enough for there to be a Doomsday Clock, which scientists use to count down the annihilation of the world via nuclear weapons.

The movie follows the same basic plot, but lacks much of the depth that makes the graphic novel a classic. Zack Snyder is a good filmmaker, but the source material that he was provided with does most of the work for him here. Snyder recreates some scenes frame-for-frame identically to Gibbons’ original drawings.

That’s not a bad thing, but there are parts of the movie that got cut over others that I felt shouldn’t have. Snyder manages to find five minutes for a 5-minute long softcore porn scene, but other more critical plot points are glazed over (I would have liked to have seen more development of the New Frontiersman vs. the Nova Express part of the story, which is absent entirely from the movie until the last 5 minutes when it doesn’t even make sense).

Unfortunately, our experience with the movie was not great. The movie started and stopped 5 times before it finally continuously began and even then, we still missed the first few minutes. That was unfortunate because I felt it would have set the stage of impending doom better than what we saw.

The other thing that bothered me was something that bothered another reviewer (that I can’t remember now) regarding the ending. I won’t reveal what happens, but here’s what I’ll say: the ending is really one of the only major plot changes the movie makes to the book. And if you’re going to make a shot-for-shot recreation of a graphic novel, you should go all the way. By changing the end, it alters the story enough that it is noticeable.

The casting hits about as much as it misses. Jackie Earl Haley is perfect as Rorschach but I thought that Matthew Goode was the wrong choice for Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias. I also was totally impressed by Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl, especially after reading the book. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a good Comedian, but I could take or leave Malin Ackerman’s Laurie/Silk Spectre.

Like I said before, the movie version really lacked the layers that make the graphic novel so good. I imagine that most fans of the book will nitpick the movie to death. Others will be turned off by the extreme violence, while others will say it’s not violent enough based on the source material. But there are a lot of people who will appreciate the movie a lot. I liked it. I probably would have liked it even more had I not read it. It has really interesting things to say about human nature and what it truly means to be heroic. Sure, those messages come straight from the source material, but at least they didn’t get muddled.

I’m not sure if I’d recommend this movie. If you’re interested, you might think about taking a look at the Wikipedia page for the comic just to get a plot overview.