Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Is It and Paranormal Activity Reviews

There have been two movies as of late that have gotten a lot of attention for one reason or another. One is a tribute to the King of Pop, the one and only Michael Jackson, while the other has been declared the "scariest movie ever made." I found that only one of these two actually lived up to the hype. However, since they are shorter and, while not undermining the artistic merit of either of these films, less deep productions, I decided to write shorter reviews for both of them.

This Is It
Love him or hate him, but Michael Jackson was one of a kind. From his roots in Gary, Indiana, where he started the Jackson 5 with the rest of his family to the days of Thriller and Off The Wall and until his tragic, confused death, no other individual ever made such an impact on pop music as MJ. As a tribute to his legacy, This Is It seems like a money-grabbing attempt at the countless legions of fans who want to see what Michael's final days were like. However, much to my surprise, this movie turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable and perhaps the best tribute that could be made.

This Is It's premise is simple:  take the footage of Michael's rehearsals for his planned reunion tour which was filmed all just weeks, days or mere hours before his death, and add some interviews and stylish editing to top it off. Honestly though, it works. The movie can be labeled a concert film considering that about 75% of the on-screen action is singing or dancing but it keeps you engaged throughout with great pacing and effects. 

The music is the star here, and it does not disappoint. MJ sings most of the songs with an energy that strictly contradicts his supposed sickly state of the time, considering he hits most of the high notes with relative ease. Basically all of his classics are here, with "Beat It", "Billie Jean", "Human Nature", "Thriller", "Wanna Be Startin Something" and many more. For songs such as "Thriller", filmed sequences in graveyards were filmed to be used as a backdrop for the concert action. We see the filming process and the intricacies involved, though obviously most of the detail will probably be included in the Ultra Super Collector's Edition of the film which is bound to be released.  The "Smooth Criminal" scene is fantastic, blending scenes from Humphrey Bogart's film Gilda with the, well, smooth criminal that is MJ. At the end, or even in the middle, of some songs Michael will stop to note something he wants changed or improved upon. He was always a perfectionist and this film truly shows how he wanted everything to be just right for his final shows. 

There is no look at Michael's troubled life or death in this film whatsoever. It is all about the music, and the lives he touched throughout his life. Interviews with backup dancers and musicians all gush over what Michael brought to their lives and the effect he made on them.  The director, Kenny Ortega, obviously saw the greatness in Michael as well and worked hard to make this concert be the best it could be. Unfortunately, it never happened. After watching this rehearsal footage you can only wonder what could have been. Seriously, this would have been one of the most elaborate, and probably best, tours ever done if it could have followed through. But, in the end, we are left with this tribute alone, and it achieves its job and then some by reminding us all of Michael Jackson's legacy in a positive, loving light.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5 Stars

Paranormal Activity
Well, there is not much to say about this film besides the fact that I was disappointed. I do not know why I even anticipated much, though the claim that this was the "scariest movie ever made" definitely enticed me into seeing it. However, I never was genuinely scared or really spooked. I was interested in it, but not in a very attached way.

Basically, Paranormal Activity is the story of a couple in Los Angeles who experience various "hauntings" in their bedroom at night. The boyfriend installs a camera and documents everything Blair Witch-style, as the whole movie is in the handicam format. I am not an advocate of that type of filmmaking (Cloverfield was not a big hit for me) but, in this case, it does work to some extent. With the lack of any real special effects and the bare bones budget of $15,000, Paranormal Activity is taking the raw approach and an acknowledged, cheap camera can get the job done. Once the movie gets going (there are no opening titles or credits), it becomes very formulaic. A night passes by and we see the strange footage of things that happened. Micah (the boyfriend) and Katie (the...girlfriend) observe the footage and freak out. It is quite a bore for the first half or so as nothing really occurs of much significance besides an extremely cheesy appearance by an actor playing an expert at psychological and spiritual affairs like the ones the two are experiencing. I will not spoil anything else that happens in this film but I will say that I never was scared in a way that I anticipated. This seems to be a trend too; only the really, really sensitive will be genuinely freaked out by this. The ending is a bit of a disappointment too. Too anticlimactic, gimmicky and cliched to leave a good impression.

Overall, Paranormal Activity is a movie that really benefits from our current forms of communication (Facebook, Twitter, etc), because it has been making rounds on the Internet and claiming the spoils with a near $90 million domestic gross as of this writing. This may be the most profitable movie ever made in the long run. Still, Paranormal Activity is a shallow film that will be all the buzz now but never thought of again a few months down the line. It may be worth seeing it to just experience it, but the experience really is nothing special.

Final Verdict:
2.5 Stars Out of 5 

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