Thursday, October 29, 2009

* Culture * Music * Michael Jackson This Is It review: Michael Jackson film is fitting tribute to a bittersweet legacy

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Michael Jackson's This Is It has all the singer's hits in their toe-tapping glory. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Sony Pictures Releas/PA

For everyone who's thirsted for more Michael Jackson since his death little more than four months ago, the wait is finally over. For the rest of us, it's time to look on in awe as Jackson's memory – and the legendary fervency of his fans – is ruthlessly exploited till the pips squeak.

As is all too well known, Jackson was carried off shortly before embarking on a 50-date residency at London's O2 Arena to try and pay off his rumoured $500m debts; footage shot during rehearsal for this series of shows forms

the vast majority of this much-heralded and hyped film, and goes some of the way to plugging both fans' disappointment and his estate's balance sheet.

So, to the burning question: is there any intimation of Jackson's impending demise? I can't honestly say there is. In the footage we are permitted to see, Jackson appears in pretty good shape for a 50-year-old Рeven if his general spindliness makes him occasionally look a bit like Skeletor in a lam̩ tuxedo. He performs at walking pace for much of the time, but makes it clear he is holding himself in.

As for the film itself, I can simply report that it isn't too bad at all. It's pretty much unadorned rehearsal footage, artfully stitched together to create complete song sequences; and since the O2 gigs were intended to present his crowdpleasing hits, they're all here in their toe-tapping glory. Director Kenny Ortega puts himself in the frame quite a bit (sucking up to Jackson something rotten, it has to be said), and we learn that Jackson appeared to prefer culinary metaphors to describe his music: it must "sizzle", or "simmer", or indeed "nourish".

The big fear, though, was that fulsome homages to the man and his talent would smother This Is It in a coating of treacle; thankfully, Ortega limits it to the occasional sobbing outburst from the dancers or choreographers. We are instead offered genuinely interesting tidbits of Jackson's stagecraft, in the shape of intense discussion of cues, cherry-pickers and trapdoors – presumably to demonstrate how hands-on he was.

And there's some fun sequences showing the creation of specially filmed inserts, such as the intro for Smooth Criminal having Jackson being Photoshopped into black and white movie clips from the 1940s, fending off Bogart and Cagney.

Jackson's penchant for drivel couldn't be entirely eliminated, as evidenced by the sickly little scene, built around a small girl wandering through an enchanted forest, that heralds Earth Song.

Still, this could have been a lot worse. It's a bit much to claim it's any kind of viable substitute for the live show, and since Jackson avoids conversation as much as is humanly possible it's also a bit much to claim we get to know anything more about how he ticks. But This Is It a testament of a kind, and one that is no disgrace to his memory.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zombieland (2009) Movie Review

zombielandAh, Zombies. There’s really no better way to spend an evening with your loved one than in the tender care of the recently deceased or horribly infected. Zombies are fun for the whole family!

There’s something in the Zombie movie for everyone. Delight in the shambling hoards of the slow Zombie as they lurch, crawl, or slide, trailing little bits of peeled, mouldering or putrefying outer or inner fleshy stuff, recently but no longer near and dear to the re-animated dead or bloodshot and wild eyed microbial infested remains of the corner checkout girl. If the slow Zombie isn’t your style, the fast Zombie may be more to your liking. Where the slow Zombie must employ mass numbers of the heaving and decayed to get you cornered, the fast Zombie is all kinds of fun all by themselves. The fast Zombie isn’t just fast, he’s quiet and sneaky too. Unlike the slow Zombie, which likes to gibber and grunt all the time, the fast Zombie waits until he’s just about to eat you before uttering his crude vocalizations.

alg_movie_zombieland“Zombieland” is a comedy that understands fully the myths, behaviors and mandatory gross out components of any movie featuring the walking dead. It follows in the lurching footsteps of one of the great comedies of our time, “Shaun Of The Dead”, staring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. “Zombieland” is not quite up to the standards of Shaun but it has it’s heart completely in the right place. The cast includes Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin alongside a very large number of Zombie extras who are truly in fine Zombie form. Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus (the cast uses their home towns as names to avoid getting close) narrates and fills us in not only on how the whole Zombocalypse begin (a virus in a bad burger) but how he has managed to stay alive amidst an army of leaping and sprinting horrors. Columbus has rules. These rules serve as excuses for mini scenes in the movie that drive the story along.

There are many rules (47 in all) and all of those we learn about are funny. After Columbus fills us in on the basics of the infection and how it started, along with a few rules, he meets up with the rule-less Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. I think that there is a place in every movie for Woody. I never get tired of seeing him. He is wonderfully enthusiastic as a man that has found his calling in life as the most creative and spirited Zombie killer left alive. Tallahassee takes pride and joy in his work, shooting, chopping, smashing and smushing every Zombie he sees, all in the quest for perhaps the last twinkie in the United States. Columbus and Tallahassee have differing styles for staying alive and the mix makes for fine road and buddy movie material.

zombieland-movie-image-woody-harrelson-jesse-eisenberg-abigail-breslin-emma-stoneAlong the road the fellas meet up with a sister team of survivors, Wichita (Emma Stone), sexy and smart and her tough little sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). After a few tense moments the four agree to team up for a journey to the West Coast, to visit an old amusement park for the childhood benefit of Little Rock. Zombie killing can be a maturing experience. What is great about “Zombieland” is the completely happy and joyful approach director Ruben Fleischer takes in the torture and dismemberment of one Zombie after another. Zombies are killed in every possible way and clever sequences are constructed in many fun places such as supermarkets, gift shops and the climatic amusement park location to showcase our heroes numerous talents at gratuitously and graphically putting the hurt on the infected. It’s a good time. “Zombieland” seems to be a popular date movie from what I have seen myself and from what I’ve heard. Beware that “Zombieland” is as violent as a movie gets. It’s really not disturbing though, since there’s no empathic connection to the torment and slaughter of the Zombies. Killing them is good. You may clap along and cheer as I did. There’s a fantastic cameo from a famous actor mid way through. Just an added bonus to the feel good movie of the early Fall. Expect a sequel.

Ruben Fleischer (Director) Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Screenplay)
CAST: Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee)
Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus)
Emma Stone (Wichita)
Abigail Breslin (Little Rock)