Yesterday, Today, & FOREVER The King of Pop

Reviews: Michael Jackson’s This Is It


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Review: "This is it" a touching triumph

By
Tim Miller

October 30, 2009

I
went into “This Is It” with skepticism. I wondered if the documentary
about Michael Jackson really was “for the fans,” as it declares at the
beginning, or whether it was to make a quick buck after his death.

It
didn’t take long for me to get my answer. “This Is It” is without
question for the fans, and if anyone makes a truckload of money on it,
that’s fine with me. It’s a great film, an amazing film, a film so
powerful that you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re choked up from time
to time. I was.

It
shows Jackson rehearsing earlier this year for an upcoming monster
concert tour, a triumphant return to the stage. And, after seeing this
movie, I’m sure it would have been a triumph – if he hadn’t died, at
50, just before the tour began.

But, thanks
to director Kenny Ortega, who was working with the singer during
rehearsals, enough footage has been retrieved so that not only do we
get an insider’s view of the rehearsal process, but a strong sense of
what the final product would be like. This isn’t merely a backstage
documentary, it’s just as often an onstage one, with Jackson delivering
one amazing performance after another.

To be
honest, I forgot how great he was. I forgot how he blew me (and so many
other people) away when, with his electrifying performance of “Billie
Jean,” he flat-out stole the 25th anniversary Motown show in 1983 from
the likes of Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Steve Wonder and so many other
musical legends. I got too caught up in his goofy – and disturbing –
celebrity persona, and all the weirdness that came with it. I stopped
taking him seriously.

“This Is It” serves as
a reminder for people like me and, perhaps, an unnecessary (though
welcome) confirmation for his more ardent fans of what a breathtaking
performer he truly was. And he still had it.

He
still could dance in that remarkable manner that seemed herky-jerky yet
perfectly choreographed. And, though we hear him from time to time
worry out loud that he has to save his voice, he could still sing,
beautifully, sweetly, as with “Human Nature,” or with great heart and
passion, as with “Man in the Mirror.”

His
personal life isn’t addressed at all, a good choice for this movie. Yet
we do get glimpses of Jackson, the person, in the way he works with his
musicians and crew. He’s demanding – he knows exactly what he wants and
exactly how it can be accomplished – and he firmly pushes (inspires
might be the better word) his team toward excellence, though no more
than he pushes himself. He isn’t willing to compromise his vision, but
he leads in a genuine, gentle manner; he really seems to speak, and
act, out of love.

It breaks your heart
watching all of this, knowing that he would soon be dead. And it leaves
you grateful – to Ortega, to anyone else involved in the making of the
film, to Jackson himself – for this extraordinary gift on the screen.

Star rating: ****

Tim Miller’s reviews can be
found at http://www.capecodonline.com/miller. His blog, Miller’s Movie
Blogorama, can be found at http://www.capecodonline.com/millerblog.

Cape Cod Times

This Is It, the Star Wars of Rock Documentaries

Sony Pictures upbeat “it” documentary, the triumphant return of the King of Pop
**** Four Stars
By Robin Rowe

“Love is important,” says the late Michael Jackson in the spectacular documentary This Is It. “This is an adventure. Give your all. We have four years to get it right. Or, it’s irreversible.” Jackson is talking about his concern for the destruction of the Amazon rain forest and of the planet Earth.

Speaking softly and hardly at all, Michael Jackson was most comfortable speaking through his music, which he does eloquently.  What you’ll see is an amazing re-emergence of the great pop music icon Michael Jackson. It’s an Oscar-worthy film.

This Is It traces on the rehearsals and other preparations for the fifty-show This Is It concert that Michael Jackson planned for his 50th birthday. His sold-out concerts would have taken place starting this summer in London’s O2 Arena. The documentary focuses on Michael Jackson’s work from April through June, 2009, rehearsing on stage with his back-up singers and dancers.

“That can’t just go by itself,” says Jackson referring to a lighting cue. “I have to cue it.” The light will come on when Jackson points to it. Every move in the show is directed by Jackson on stage with the support of Michael Jackson’s creative partner and director of the stage show Kenny Ortega, who is also the director of the film. In another scene Jackson tells Ortega he will cue the dancers when to react to a scene projected on the stage’s huge screen. Ortega points out that Jackson will have his back to the screen, that he won’t be able to see it. Jackson says, “I’ll just feel it.” When the moment comes, Jackson hits the cue without looking.

“I met Michael Jackson when I was 13 in the cast of Oliver,” says This Is It director Kenny Ortega, who went on to direct many of Jackson’s concert tours. “Michael Jackson and his brothers, The Jackson Five, were touring and performing in the same theater. I remember his graciousness at eight years old.”

Casting the dancers for This Is It feels like a scene straight from A Chorus Line. The stage is packed with incredibly precise auditioning dancers who look impossibly fit. They’ve flown from all over the world for the chance to perform for Michael Jackson.

This Is It is more than the story of Michael Jackson’s last show, it’s the story of the dancers, musicians and singers. Those who work with Jackson appreciate the star’s perfectionism. That comes through not as attitude, but as dedication to his art. Everyone in the show is jazzed to be guided by Jackson and relies upon him to take them to a level that they haven’t been asked to perform before. Jackson, in control of the stage, his team, and his performance, is quietly exacting. When he gives a correction, it’s in his usual soft speaking voice, and he always gently asks that they do their job “with l-o-v-e”.

This Is It was produced by Randy Phillips, Kenny Ortega and Paul Gongaware. The executive producers are John Branca and John McClain. The film is slated to be distributed worldwide by Sony Pictures as a limited two-week engagement. Sony has lost their minds if they think two weeks is enough time for this film. This is the sort of feel-good, toe-tapping, sing-along film that people want to see time after time. It’s going to be huge on the big screen and on DVD.

It’s really a “making of” tribute film, not a documentary in usual sense.

Michael Jackson redefined the music video in 1987 with Thriller, which he’d spent $3 million to make. That video’s success launched the most successful album of all time. Jackson has done it again. This Is It redefines how performers will document their work. A must-see film for anyone who cares about music.

Hollywood Today

This is definitely it – the Michael Jackson way

Michael
Jackson is incredible, and few will disagree with that. Yet, even
holding to that belief myself, I was blown away (even moved to tears at
times) by the intimate and explosive portrayal of the man in action.
“This Is It” is not about Jackson’s death, nor is it necessarily a
documentary about his life, with people looking back and remembering
(goodness we’ve seen enough of that). At Jackson’s own request, the
film is a personal look at what goes into making his performances
fantastic, memorable and sufficient to grant him the title ‘King of
Pop.’ Originally intended for Jackson’s personal archives, the world
now gets to see the work behind the music (as well as lots and lots of
music). And remarkably, what this inside look accomplishes is a
dispelling of common beliefs of a weird and creepy former star. Jackson
comes out for love, peace and saving the planet, and none of it feels
fake. He used his music to promote these qualities in others, and his
music was phenomenal enough that people remembered.

And about
that phenomenal music, mixed in with interviews and effects and
backstage of the concert are performances of the entire concert lineup.
These performances are full dress rehearsals, complete with fantastic
dancing, lighting, effects and classic Michael Jackson improvisation.
Many of the numbers are interrupted by Jackson so he can fix something
that wasn’t quite right and, while jarring, it only makes it that much
more exciting when he signals the music to begin again.

As is
typical at a big name concert when the music starts up for a well-known
and loved song, I found myself itching to get up and scream when the
familiar tones of “Thriller” or “Smooth Criminal” filled the theater.

Though
at times Jackson tones down his singing to save his voice (these are
only rehearsals, after all), just watching the man and his constant
dancing and moving and tweaking of the music is more than enough to
carry the show, which makes instances of full-throated glory nothing
short of incredible.

This is a movie where you leave feeling
that life is a little better for having seen it. The music and message
will leave an indelible impact, and you might turn around at the door
to watch it again.

While it is difficult to classify documentary
type films in with typical Hollywood, I still have to call “This Is It”
the best movie this year. It is a lasting portrayal of a man whose
music will always be loved. This film is not a one-time see, but one
that will resonate over and over again.

I give “This Is It” a
SCORCHING (5 of 5) rating, and it is required to see this in theaters
to get the full, concert experience. And don’t forget to stay to the
end of the credits. You get three more songs and some extra footage.

RATING: SCORCHING (5 of 5)

TONY POTTER

Nothing wrong with ‘This Is It’ – surprisingly

Just to clarify – I am not, nor have I ever been, a Michael Jackson fan.

So
when I walked into the theater to see Michael Jackson’s "This Is It"
documentary, I was expecting, even hoping not to enjoy it and give it a
poor rating.

I figured that after the seemingly endless media
coverage following his death and the never ending TV Guide
documentaries on his life, I really didn’t think I could take yet
another "Life and Times of Michael Jackson."

But much to my
dismay, I found next to nothing to criticize in this film. To put it
frankly "This Is It" is awesome – it is (and I can’t believe I’m going
to say this) most likely one of the best films of this year.

What
made this movie spectacular is that it was not about his life or his
death. It was about his music and specifically about the preparations
that went into what would have been his upcoming concerts in London.

And from all the footage that is shown in the documentary those concerts would have been his greatest curtain call ever.

Whether
you like him or hate him the fact is that Michael Jackson was a
phenomenal artist vocally, visually and of course on the dance floor.
And it shows in almost every scene.

Thankfully the documentary
is devoid of narrative and driven purely by the music. Jackson, his
dancers, band and production crew go through every song that would have
been played at the concerts and show the visuals and special effects
that were to accompany them.

Spliced into Michael’s practice
sequences the songs really come to life, I can’t imagine how good they
would have looked complete and in person.

Of course there is the
occasional boring sequence in the film, but overall "This Is It" is
simply stunning. The film offers a unique look into a concert that
millions were hoping to see – that will never happen.

It also
provides an interesting look at Michael Jackson and the special way he
worked with his music. It was nice watching something about the man
that didn’t seem tainted by weird or bizarre behavior.

Despite
his personal faults this film is an excellent and very fitting tribute
to the music of the so-called "King of Pop." For that reason this film
gets a FLAMING HOT (5 of 5) rating.

Go see this movie – I promise you’ll enjoy it.

RATING: FLAMING HOT (5 of 5)

NATE SUNDERLAND

Standard Journal

Movie review: Michael Jackson’s "This Is It" is exuberant and moving

By Matt Soergel

If you had time traveled into a screening of “This Is It” from, say,
2008, you could watch the entire movie and not know that Michael
Jackson is now dead.

That’s how restrained, how remarkably
unsentimental, is this exuberant, astonishingly entertaining concert
film. It doesn’t try to deify him or explain him, and it’s all the more
moving for that understatement.

You may cry as he sings “I’ll
Be There,” part of a medley of Jackson 5 songs – plenty of people at
the screening I attended did. But “This Is It” doesn’t try to jerk
those tears from you; it just offers up the song, the performance. The
tears? They come by themselves.

“This Is It” was made
quickly, opening at midnight Wednesday, barely four months after
Jackson’s death. Yet it was made with such care that it doesn’t seem a
quick ripoff: You don’t need to be a Jackson fan (I wasn’t) to be blown
away by this.

Most of the movie is taken from 120 hours of
rehearsal footage from this spring, as Jackson, his dancers, his band
and his crew prepared for 50 comeback shows in London.

The
film’s director, Kenny Ortega, was also director of the concert show.
For “This Is It,” He makes a couple of crucial decisions that take the
film close to perfection. The first, mentioned above, was resisting the
temptation to milk the story for cheap sentimentality – there are no
tears over Jackson’s death, none of the nonstop news coverage, no
solemn platitudes, no trite foreshadowing.

The second was
allowing the songs – some two dozen of them – to play out in their
entirety, often with various rehearsals of the same song melded into
one take, without gimmicks and quick-cut editing.

The
rehearsal footage is spectacular, a mind-boggling display of top-notch
musicianship and exuberant yet precise dancing. It’s intimate as well,
shot up close, with flubs and do-overs left intact – you see the
effort, the thinking behind it.

There are high-tech moments
too, of course. Some of the green-screen visual effects that were
created for the concert tour are showcased judiciously during the
performances, including a new 3-D collection of the undead for
“Thriller.”

Even better is the presentation of “Smooth
Criminal,” in which Jackson is plopped into 1940s’ film noir, admiring
the amazingly sexy Rita Hayworth croon in that famous black dress from
“Gilda,” then exchanging gunfire with Humphrey Bogart.

It’s great stuff.

At
50, weeks before his death, Jackson was frail-looking, thin as a nail.
Yet he could still more than keep up with dancers half his age.

That’s
not really a surprise though. What is surprising is how he comes
across: Enthusiastic, likable and eminently capable of inspiring
devotion. We know that demons tormented him, but they’re not on display
here. Oddly enough, he seems almost – well, normal.

He’s is a
perfectionist, insisting that everyone get it right, though if he was a
diva, it’s not evident. Instead, he is patient, deferential and polite
as he takes everyone step-by-step through the slightest details – and
he’s always right.

“This Is It” is, happily, pretty funny in
spots. Ortega himself is on screen numerous times, and he graciously
serves as sort of a comic foil, attempting Michael Jackson dance moves
and forever deferring to the man he called “sir.”

And watch
how Jackson’s dancers are trained to perfect the famous crotch grab –
apparently, to get it right, it’s not as easy as it looks.

Perhaps
the sweetest, most revealing moment in “This Is It”  is one of its
smallest. It comes early in the film as Jackson and his dancers get a
routine down just right, just perfect, and as the last note fades, you
see a genuine smile cross his face, a smile he couldn’t keep from
coming.

Moments like that, it’s clear, is what he lived for.
“This Is It” doesn’t need to pound that point home, though. It just
shows you.

4 stars.

Jacksonville.com

REVIEW: Michael Jackson’s "This Is It" $9/10

And that was that.

It sort of
explains how I felt after watching "This Is It," the swan song created
from the last remaining footage of Michael Jackson’s life. I saw
everything I expected – a remarkable entertainer perfecting his craft,
a spectacular light show with pyrotechnics galore, and plenty of
moments to make you wonder what could have been.

Sorry if this
review seems a little disorganized and frantic, I’m venting everything
I’m feeling after a late screening. Here it goes..

There will never be another Michael Jackson on stage. He can take such
a grandiose monstrosity of a set and shrink it down to just a few feet.
The man moves like no other man can. The dozens of background dancers
flip, do splits through the air, gyrate in all sorts of alien positions
– something a 50 year old man would never be able to do again. Not one
of them comes close to capturing any of MJ’s magic.

I could watch him do a simple robot for hours. I found myself chuckling
as his feet shuffled around the stage during "Wanna Be Startin’
Somethin’." I was a kid again, amazed at this man who seemed so far
from human. This was the
Michael Jackson I want to remember.

Then there was the movie. Director Kenny Ortega does his best to weave
all of the 250 hours of footage together into some sort of timeline.
The film follows the concert’s path, from start to finish. I assume the
goal was to make the audience feel what it would have been like to be
at the show – it ends up feeling a little redundant. Luckily, "This Is
It" ends up being so much more, giving us a candid look at how the
world’s most famous magician created
his magic. 

Ortega is clever enough to include several miscues during rehearsal. Michael is quick to
stop the show and point out other’s mistakes, yet he always adds a
"much love," or a "I’m just trying to do this for love."

Off camera is another story. "This Is It" proves that on stage, Michael always got things right,
and he stuck it to you until you got it right with him. Tough love, perhaps.

Michael Jackson was also quite humorous. There’s a wonderful moment in
the film where Michael is rehearsing in studio with his musical
director. He harps on the director to "keep it simple," telling him to
play it the "way he wrote it." The MD tells Jackson the beat might need
more "booty."

"Booty," Michael sheepishly repeats. "That’s funny."

"You know what I mean, though?" the musical director responds.

"Oh, I know what you mean," Michael replies. It’s probably the best laugh in the movie.

Does "This Is It"  have some faults? Sure – it gets a little slow in
the third act, some of the pre-recorded bits work better than others,
and we spend way too much time on the technical design of the final
show. I know it would have probably felt like a waste of great video, but do
I really need to know how the pole dancers are holding up?

Bottom line: "This Is It" has everything Jackson fans will be looking
for – the big hits performed one last time, and plenty of smooth moves
on the dance floor.

The
Leshock Value Movie Reviews are based on a $10 ticket price. Because
most movies never live up to forking out so much cash, Marcus tells you
how much they’re really worth. We don’t recommend negotiating with the
cashier at the box office window. Do so at your own risk.

Chicago Now

Michael Jackson’s This Is It – and so much more


(out of 4)

This is Michael Jackson unvarnished, the wizard behind the curtain
and the man-child in the mirror, and it’s fascinating to behold.

He’s
as tough as Frank Sinatra with his perfectionistic demands, brooking no
dissent as he puts dancers and musicians half his age through their
gruelling paces.

But he’s also as fragile as Judy Garland, as is evident on the moving ballad "Human Nature."

This with pyrotechnics and big rock flourishes you’d expect more from the likes of Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones.


It also packs an emotional wallop; there’s an undeniable sadness seeing
this and knowing it’s the show he never gave and now never will.

Directed
by Kenny Ortega, Jackson’s longtime collaborator and creative director
who was also in charge of the London concert series, This Is It is
scheduled to run in theatres for just two weeks. An extension is widely
expected if screenings sell out, as advance sales indicate they will.

The
film is culled from more than 100 hours of high-definition rehearsal
footage, shot from March of this year up to the hours before Jackson’s
June 25 death from heart failure at age 50. It was lensed mainly at the
The Forum and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Jackson had been
putting in full days of work for weeks.

He sweated every small detail, as the film shows in scenes both onstage and backstage.

This Is It packs
a lot into nearly two hours, covering all of Jackson’s career from his
early days dancing and singing with the Jackson 5 in the 1960s to his
near-recluse status in this decade, when he rarely performed and only
occasionally recorded.

Such familiar Jackson hits as "Beat It,"
"Billie Jean" and "Thriller" are given the full production treatment.
Jackson is assisted by 11 dancers (including Canada’s Daniel Celebre of
Nobleton, Ont.), with choreography by Travis Payne, another longtime
collaborator.

This Is It includes a salute to Old
Hollywood, through a production number and short black-and-white film
celebrating such classics as the noir dramas Gilda and In a Lonely Place and the screwball comedy His Girl Friday. Jackson segues into it by way of "Smooth Criminal," a hit from his 1987 album Bad.

Jackson, Payne and Ortega alsoeagerly revive the Thriller zombie
dance number, which by chance was performed for the first time in full
costume at Jackson’s final rehearsal, the day before his untimely death.

The
28 songs (26 by Jackson) in the movie include a four-tune medley
tribute to the Jackson 5, the Motown brothers act (later called The
Jacksons) that propelled young Michael to pre-teen fame in the 1960s
and 1970s:

"I’ll Be There," "I Want You Back," "The Love You Save" and "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)."

This Is It sounds
like a title epitaph written after the fact of Jackson’s death, but the
connection to the singer oddly goes back more than a quarter-century.
It was originally the title of a song he co-wrote with Paul Anka in the
early 1980s, which was shelved at the time but recently reissued as a
"new" song to promote the movie (it’s heard over the end credits), with
fresh backing vocals from Jackson’s brothers.

This Is It was
also intended to be the title for the series of 50 career-reviving
concerts by Jackson at London’s 02 Arena, which had been scheduled to
begin July 13 and continue through March 6, 2010.

At a London
press conference last March to announce the series, Jackson called the
02 shows "the final curtain call." Whether he was referring to his
last-ever shows in London or calling it quits to the road altogether
was never made clear.

But this film of Jackson’s preparations
for the London gigs proves how seriously he took them, and how
determined he was to make them memorable.

Toronto Star

Movie review: Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’

   Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)

     He still had it.

   
The big question preceding the international debut Tuesday of the new
Michael Jackson documentary “This is It” is whether the singer-showman
still had the goods at age 50 to pull off a major concert, let alone a
50-night residency, as he was scheduled to perform in London. We’ll
never know, of course, because Jackson died June 25, but perhaps this movie would provide a glimpse of what might
have been.

      
   
“This is It,” a documentary by Jackson’s confidante and
collaborator Kenny Ortega shaped from 120 hours of rehearsal footage,
shows a Jackson fully in command of his music and art. Jackson
sometimes appears frail, but when he starts to move, his lean, lanky
frame radiates a feral energy and grace. He knew how to turn even the
smallest gesture into theater, and that ability remained undiminished
even in the final days of his life.


    When Jackson died, he
was only weeks away from the residency’s July 13 start. The documentary
provides a glimpse of the demanding schedule Jackson was under as he
oversaw everything from choreography to video treatments for the
concerts. For most of the nearly two-hour movie, Jackson is on stage
working with his dancers and singing. He does not appear zonked on
medication. Instead, he is in roll-up-the-sleeves mode, his hair pulled
back in a pony tail, his garb attention-grabbing but casual (a neat
trick for a guy who likes wearing para-military jackets that look like
they were once worn by a Russian admiral).


    The hectic pace
sometimes gets a bit much for him, and though the movie is anything but
morbid, there are tiny hints that presage the tragedy to come. At one
point in a run-through of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” he pauses to
complain, “Why do you do this to me? I shouldn’t be singing right now.
… I gotta save my voice.”


         The movie is designed to remind fans of why they fell for
Jackson in the first place: a career retrospective of not just greatest
hits, but greatest dance moves, topped by eye-popping spectacle. It is
the centerpiece of a concerted marketing campaign for all-things
Jackson, including the release this week of a “This is It”
greatest-hits compilation.


    Experienced on screen rather than
in a stadium, most of the special effects planned for the comeback
concerts lose whatever impact they might have had. We can guess that
certain passages might have been mind-blowing in person — a 3-D
“Thriller” set piece in a cemetery, a gangster skit with the video
image of Humphrey Bogart chasing a fedora-wearing Jackson with a
machine-gun.


        he movie is best when it catches
Jackson at work using only his imagination as a prop. He is portrayed
persuasively as a master of timing and detail, whether it’s how a turn
of the wrist follows a flip of a hip, or dictating to a keyboardist
that a sequence of notes should sound “like you’re dragging yourself
outta bed.” With Jackson, it’s all about magnifying drama.


   
We watch him build a presentation for “Human Nature” from scratch,
beginning with an a cappella vocal quietly sung to a handful of
collaborators and then becoming increasingly animated with his voice
and gestures, until the song bursts into a full-on ensemble piece. He’s
rolling on stage during the finale of “Beat It,” imagining a moment
when he sets his jacket on fire. “Let it burn!” he commands.


   
And that’s just what he does when he’s performing “Billie Jean” on
stage, in front of his band. The music drops to just a bass line, and
even at three-quarter speed he pops off a sequence of dazzling moves.
They seem to flow through him, all that muscular coordination, timing
and discipline reduced to liquid.


    The movie doesn’t exactly
bring Jackson closer to the audience, doesn’t make him any easier to
figure out. He remains a remote, inscrutable, soft-spoken, somewhat
needy presence. But then he begins to dance and his fragility hardens
into purpose.

Chicago Tribune

Review: ‘This Is It’ a homage to Jackson greatness
By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY

Watching "Michael Jackson’s This Is It" will have fans grieving once
again, but this time, it won’t only be for the fallen King of Pop, but
for what we lost — a brilliant entertainer who gave every inch of his
body and soul for what might have been one of the most spectacular
comebacks of all time.

Jackson never got to complete that
comeback, dying days before his London concerts were to begin in July,
but "This Is It," culled from hundreds of hours of rehearsal footage
for those shows, does it for him. Even though it’s been well edited,
the amazing performances Jackson delivers in this film are not a result
of camera magic, but Jackson’s own.

At 50, Jackson was still an amazingly gifted
dancer with moves that leave your mouth agape. Though we only see him
do the moonwalk once, and just fleetingly, his stop-on-a-dime spins,
deft footwork and body jerks recall the Jackson the world fell in love
with 25 years earlier with "Thriller." And Jackson’s voice still
dazzles — even when he’s trying to play it down.

"I’m trying to
conserve my voice," Jackson says at one point — then delivers a vocal
that is spine-tingling — and these are just run-throughs, not the
actual show.

Fans never get to see what would have been the "This
Is It" concert — full dress rehearsals weren’t due to happen until the
show went overseas for final rehearsals. Instead, the movie takes from
segments of taped rehearsals, and also weaves in film segments Jackson
planned for the concert to give at the very least an idea of how the
concert might have looked.

A graveyard scene meant to be in 3D
was planned for Jackson’s performance of "Thriller," and a
computer-animated dancing army would have accompanied Jackson on screen
for a militaristic version "They Don’t Care About Us." Jackson kept
much of the same moves from his classic "They Way You Make Me Feel"
video — including the floor humping — as well as the groundbreaking choreography from his "Beat It" clip.

But
whether it was through new visuals and different musical arrangements,
he appeared to be breathing new life into his well-worn catalog,
promising fans a show that would have taken Jackson and his fans to new
heights. Jackson is gentle but authoritative as he demands perfection
from his crew, whether it’s gently taking the audio crew to task for
making his earpiece too loud or attempting to elicit a grand
performance from his young star guitarist.

"This is your time to
shine," he says in that famously soft soprano voice before delivering a
high wail and challenging her to do the same on her guitar.

The
film doesn’t give viewers much insight into Jackson outside of
performance mode — we only see him rehearsing or hear him talking about
music, or the meaning of his songs. Yet the film does give a glimpses
into Jackson’s personality — alternatively playful and shy, firm yet
understanding, often saying phrases like "with love" after giving a
command.

There were certainly critics of "This Is It"
before its release — those who wondered whether it would be an
exploitative flick, a quick attempt to cash in on his newfound
popularity, and those who felt the preparations for the concert
contributed to his death.

But "This Is It" is a beautifully made,
loving tribute that gives Michael Jackson what he so desperately wanted
— affirmation that he indeed was the greatest entertainer of our time.

Three and a half stars out of four.

Associated Press

‘This Is It’ and it is good

Jackson rehearsal movie is full of contradictions and raw power

Four
stars

 In the
seven months since Michael Jackson announced his plans to perform a series of
concerts to be called “This Is It,” the intended interpretation of the phrase —
a final extended celebration to crown an amazing career in show business — has
dwindled down to mean “this is all we have left.”

The movie
resulting from the rehearsals for the 50 shows holds a little bit of both
meanings, which actually gives it a very powerful emotional punch.  

The
performances captured are said to have only been intended for Jackson’s
personal use, so it’s hard to fault the film for being unpolished, which it
definitely is, and we’re given such a clear glimpse of Jackson the performance
perfectionist, that watching him behind-the-scenes feels voyeuristic, knowing
he would have never allowed such a rough film to be shown to his fans were he
still alive. He is caught between telling his musicians “I want it like the
way I wrote it,” and the next moment he thanks God for them.

“Human
Nature” will raise the hairs on your arms and you won’t be able to
resist
snapping along to “Billie Jean” but then you have to watch Jackson make
unconscious self-deprecating remarks about his performance. His fluid
dancing is awe-inspiring, and it even inspires such a reaction from his
beefcake dancers, who for a good portion of the film are just watching
and applauding their boss. The other portion they’re nailing the dance
moves.  

It is
within this field between opposite energies that “This Is It” sets itself so
far apart from any other concert film that has come before it. And because of
Jackson’s untimely death, this film is how we’re invited to celebrate his life,
and our own lives in how his music relates to us.

It’s just
more than a little frustrating that the production he and his crew were working so
hard towards would never come to be, and that the day after he encourages the
team to take audiences to “places they’ve never been before” is the day he
died. But that is where the tragic beauty of this film lies, that his final
dream was never realized, that this is it.

Pat Healy @ Metro International


Movie review: ‘This is it’ shows Michael Jackson preparing for greatness

Tom Long

The only bad thing about "This Is It" is that Michael Jackson isn’t around to see the movie.

The
movie is crammed full of songs — everything from "Thriller" to "Smooth
Criminal" to "Jam" and "Black or White" — but it also serves up a
clear picture of Jackson as an artist, a bit volatile, but filled with energy and passion and always in control.

This
was his show, no doubt about it, although artistic director Kenny
Ortega who also directed the movie was obviously there to hold his hand
every step of the way — interpreting, consoling, safeguarding and
working with the singer.

It’s fairly amazing that Ortega was able
to throw this film — which is made up of rehearsal footage Jackson
intended for his own us — together so quickly; but part of its charm
is that the movie doesn’t pretend to be a polished concert. It’s a
record of a work in progress.

But what a work that might have
been. The integration of dancing, singing, lighting, pyrotechnics and
filmed elements is dazzling even when only half-realized.

Understand,
most of the songs here don’t play out in full. Jackson or a dancer or
band member might need direction and things come to a halt as they’re
worked out. Michael can be heard saying "That’s why we rehearse" more
than once.

At first there’s a fear that this is going to be a
let’s-put-on-a-show exercise as we’re shown dance auditions. But
Ortega, a veteran choreographer, makes sure to keep the music flowing
throughout, and he seems to exult in Jackson’s every twist and turn and
hand whip. Jackson is most sure on the dance floor, but he also closely
tracks the band, at one point coaching a keyboard player — "You’ve got
to let it simmer," he says. Everybody seems to get where he’s coming
from.

The weakest number is a Jackson 5 medley in which the
singer has monitor problems and goes a bit sharp. And the ballad "I
Just Can’t Stop Loving You" is uneven at best.

But again, the
imperfections contribute to the charm. Beyond that, it’s obvious that
Jackson is holding back since these are
just rehearsals.

This fact hangs over the entire film; he’s
this good just going through the motions and working things out. How
good would he have been in a real concert setting?

Probably no
better than he is in an improvised series of dance moves that he breaks
into during "Billie Jean." The song is pretty much over so there’s no
reason for him to perform the fantastic twitch ballet that he does.
It’s as if he’s forgotten he’s practicing, he’s completely in the
moment and the movement, and it’s transcendent.

"This Is It"
isn’t Michael Jackson at his greatest; it’s him preparing to be at his
greatest. But just watching that preparation is gift enough.

The Detroit News

Michael Jackson still the King in This Is It

Joey Guerra

Michael Jackson’s This Is It — in case you’ve yet to see it — is not:

— a full-on concert documentary;
— a Madonna-style performance film;
— the King of Pop’s life story.

It is, however, much more than a simple concert doc. Rather than exploit its star, This Is It works as a bittersweet testament to Jackson’s still-
potent powers as he rehearsed for a marathron stretch of dates at
London’s O2 Arena. Almost every moment is visually and sonically
arresting — and every classic song still crackles with urgency and
electricity.

He was still, indeed, the King. And fans agree. The film made $21.3
million domestically over the weekend and will stay in theaters at
least until Thanksgiving. (It has already crossed the $100 million mark
worldwide.)

This Is It was whittled down from more than 100 hours of footage, but it’s clear we’re getting at least some
sense of Jackson’s overall state at the time. He was very much alive:
healthy, mentally stable and — surprise — sort of normal.

He jokes around sweetly with his crew. He chatters with dancers and
director Kenny Ortega (who has made it his mission to preserve
Jackson’s legacy). He demands perfection from his band.

And whe Jackson performed, it was still magic. Witness his playful chemistry with a female dancer during The Way You Make Me Feel. His solemn passion during Earth Song. His gorgeous, emotive delivery during I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.

He’s joined by zombie dancers during an updated Thriller, and it captures some of the freaky fun of the landmark music video. Even more remarkable? Jackson was holding back, conserving his full power for the 50 shows that would sadly never come.

Even new song This Is It sounds like Jackson at near-best.
As a whole, the film itself is essential not only for fans, but for
lovers of music, of art, of the constantly evolving process of
creativity.

"At least we get a feel of it," Jackson says to the young, awestruck
dancers who watch him during a loose, absolutely stunning run-through
of Billie Jean. Watching Jackson work, you’ll likely be in awe, too.

Houston Chronicle

Michael Jackson’s This Is It
By Armond White

Directed by Kenny Ortega

Fans will cheer Michael Jackson’s This Is It. Haters will sneer (as expected). But Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and other first-class filmmakers who failed to transition Jackson onto the big screen during his pop-idol years ought to weep at the missed opportunities that This Is It makes apparent.

Based on rough video records of Jackson’s rehearsal process prior to his planned comeback and world tour (plans cut short by his death on June 25, 2009), This Is It captures Jackson at peak inventiveness. His genius is brought closer and clarified. Behind the tabloid image, he’s seen thinking, devising, improvising—and performing masterfully. At age 50, Jackson was still a prodigy; possessed of protean talent and when in the company of collaborators ("These dancers are an extension of Michael" says director Kenny Ortega) he is inspired. He proves/justifies the legend the world already knows.

Several of the rehearsal numbers—especially a nearly acapella "Billie Jean" and a stirring new arrangement of "The Way You Make Me Feel"—immediately rank with the greatest musical performances even seen on the big screen. That’s the opportunity lost by such pop-attuned directors as Scorsese, Stone and, especially, Spielberg—who betrayed Jackson by cutting off ties following the witchhunt and erroneous accusations of bigotry that met the 1995 release of "They Don’t Care About Us." Spielberg’s failure to engage Jackson on a movie-musical project (Peter Pan or Earth Song or Childhood) deprived the world of a possible Minnelli-level masterpiece.

Ortega’s collage work on This Is It shows the same care for dance and spectacle that distinguished his original High School Musical from its poor sequels. He blends behind-the-scenes details with prospective stage concepts so that Jackson’s showbiz vision remains a tantalizing probability. Both marvelous entertainment and post-modern deconstruction, its art value is as high as Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense (recently remastered on BlueRay DVD by PALM Video, it’s an instructive parallel to Ortega’s accomplishment). Ortega integrates addition footage commissioned for the world tour–mini music videos that recall Jackson’s great achievements in that field.

The what-if aspect of This Is It has a poignant element. It recalls the posthumous ballet sequence of The Red Shoes (1948) where empty ballet slippers trace a late artist’s well-rehearsed steps. Yet, This Is It is too vital to be elegiac. We’re watching a virtuoso in the midst of creativity. This is pop, after all; plus a dazzlingly accomplished run-through of some of the greatest music of our lifetime—whether the scorching "Black or White" (a song many Americans still can’t face that occasions Jackson‘s gracious encouragement of a shy white blond female guitarist) or the magnificent "Jam"—the most powerful rock song ever to masquerade as funk. (His desultory, though hot, Jackson 5 medley shows he has transcended fans’ nostalgia.)  Jackson’s concert version of Smooth Criminal features a new movie-intro where he is inserted into Hollywood mythos, interacting with Rita Hayworth in Gilda as well as Bogart, Robinson, Gloria Grahame and a panoply of movie land immortals. This flamboyant sequence asserts Jackson’s physical oddity yet it proves Jackson’s fame equaled theirs and surpassed their talent. Just as Richard Pryor had to make his own concert movie to show the rich artistry Hollywood ignored, this Smooth Criminal clip glimpses the new Astaire and Kelly Hollywood should have embraced.

Look at Jackson’s "I Can’t Stop Loving You" improvisation: music goes through his body, inspiring physical poetry–pointing, picking notes out of the air like berries on a bush. He’s some kind of pop mandarin whose art (performed at the crossroads of genius and injustice) is just beginning to be understood. This, indeed, is it.

Armond White’s Michael Jackson Video Show premieres at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater on Nov. 22. His new book, Keep Moving: The Michael Jackson Chronicles is available at resistanceworkswdc@yahoo.com

New York Press

Michael Jackson shows he still had It to the very end

by Roger Ebert 

"This is it," Michael Jackson told his fans in London, announcing his forthcoming concert tour. "This is the final curtain call." The curtain fell sooner than expected. What is left is this extraordinary documentary, nothing at all like what I was expecting to see. Here is not a sick and drugged man forcing himself through grueling rehearsals, but a spirit embodied by music. Michael Jackson was something else.

The film has been assembled from rehearsals from April through June 2009 for a concert tour scheduled for this summer. The footage was "captured by a few cameras," an opening screen tells us, but they were professional high-def cameras and the sound track is full-range stereo. The result is one of the most revealing music documentaries I’ve seen.

And it’s more than that. It’s a portrait of Michael Jackson that belies all the rumors that he would have been too weak to tour. That shows not the slightest trace of a spoiled prima donna. That benefits from the limited number of cameras by allowing us to experience his work in something closer to realistic time, instead of fracturing it into quick cuts. That provides both a good idea of what the final concert would have looked like, and a portrait of the artist at work.

Never raising his voice, never showing anger, always soft-spoken and courteous to his cast and crew, Michael with his director, Kenny Ortega, micro-manages the production. He corrects timing, refines cues, talks about details of music and dance. Seeing him always from a distance, I thought of him as the instrument of his producing operation. Here we see that he was the auteur of his shows.

His choreography, built from such precise, abrupt and perfectly-timed movements, is exhausting, but he never shows a sign of tiring. His movements are so well synchronized with the other dancers on stage, who are much younger and highly-trained, that he seems one with them. This is a man in such command of his physical instrument that he makes spinning in place seem as natural as blinking his eye.

He has always been a dancer first, and then a singer. He doesn’t specialize in solos. With the exception of a sweet love ballad, his songs all incorporate four backup singers and probably supplementary tracks prerecorded by himself. It is the whole effect he has in mind.

It might have been a hell of a show. Ortega and special effects wizards coordinate pre-filmed sequences with the stage work. There’s a horror-movie sequence with ghouls rising from a cemetery (and ghosts that were planned to fly above the audience). Michael is inserted into scenes from Rita Hayworth and Humphrey Bogart movies, and through clever f/x even has a machine-gun battle with Bogie. His environmental pitch is backed by rain forest footage. He rides a cherry-picker high above the audience.

His audience in this case consists entirely of stagehands, gaffers, technicians, and so on. These are working people who have seen it all. They love him. They’re not pretending. They love him for his music, and perhaps even more for his attitude. Big stars in rehearsal are not infrequently pains in the ass. Michael plunges in with the spirit of a co-worker, prepared to do the job and go the distance.

He was fully prepared for his opening night. He and Kenny Ortega, who also directed this film, were at the top of their game. There’s a moving scene on the last day of rehearsal when Jackson and Ortega join hands in a circle with all the others, and thank them. But the concert they worked so hard on was never to be.

RogerEbert.com

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