There's only one DVD release that's getting any attention today: Michael Jackson's This Is It. Culled from 80 hours of footage of Jackson in rehearsal for a series of London concerts, and interviews with associates and friends, This Is It is what fans get instead of a good-bye tour. The documentary, reportedly filmed for Jackson's personal library and not for public viewing, earned more than $71 million at the box office during a limited theatrical run late last year.
Kenny Ortega, who was director of the stage show, takes on directing duties here too, and his affection for Jackson shows. The rough, raw style most behind-the-scenes performance documentaries have is absent here. And viewers don't get even a glimpse at the sweat and effort that goes into putting together a stage show of this magnitude. Ortega shows the audience only smooth, polished bits. There are flubs, of course, missed cues and interruptions, but even those are elegant and graceful.
Jackson was 50 at the time of filming and his voice was obviously not the voice of a man in his 20s; there are no real cracks or wobbles, but it's less sweet than in the past. Some of that can be attributed to age, but some of it, too, is due to the fact that this is a rehearsal, not a performance. Even singing full-out, which he does at times, Jackson in rehearsal is not the same creature as Jackson in performance. And even though Jackson spends the film playing not to the camera, but to an imagined audience, minus the flesh-and-blood fans in the seats, Jackson lacks the magic that made his stage shows so extraordinary. That's not to say that there aren't any "Wow!" moments in This is It, there are. But Jackson in performance was about "WOW!"
His dancing on screen is as magical as ever. He seems feather light and in complete control of every movement, every twitch and shudder. His backup dancers, decades younger than him, do their best to keep up, but Jackson outshines them with a simple head nod or flick of his hand. He knows it. So do they.
Among the songs Jackson performs are bits of "Human Nature," "Black and White" and "Beat It." There are also scenes of him singing "The Way You Make Me Feel," "They Don't Care About Us" and "Billie Jean." Familiar, but updated, each song is, like Jackson, a matured version of a previous self.
Viewers hear from Jackson's friends and associates, a seemingly unending line of people anxious to praise him. The flattery is unnecessary. Jackson on stage is all the testament his talent needs.
The one thing missing from This is It is Michael Jackson the invalid, the supposed doper who was allegedly addicted to pain medication for years and years. Unlike the dazed and delicate Jackson seen during his 2005 trial for sexual abuse of a child (walking in to court in his pajamas, glassy-eyed and overwhelmed), the Jackson seen in This is It is in complete control -- of himself and everyone else in the room. He's alert, coherent, in excellent physical shape and energetic. Which makes the fact that he felt it necessary to go home and have a physician administer anesthesia to him so that he could sleep all the more puzzling.
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Fans of African-American theater will be glad to see that Je'caryous Johnson, Houston's own Tyler Perry, has a new DVD out. It's Je'caryous Johnson presents 3 Ways to Get a Husband, the story of one woman torn between two men. The all-star cast includes Leon, Billy Dee Williams, Shirley Murdock, and Lenny Williams. What else do you need to know? Billy Dee Williams. Shirley Murdock. And did we mention Je'caryous Johnson? Come on, you know this is going to be good.
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Audiences have been raving about 3 Ways to Get a Husband on stage and now DVD viewers at home will get a chance to see why.
We mentioned Je'caryous Johnson, right?