Monday, November 30, 2009

What the Cuss?

It's pretty clear early on that Fantastic Mr. Fox is going to be a very special movie. It's during the first scene, when Mr. Fox (George Clooney) and his wife, Felicity (Meryl Streep), raid a chicken farm to the sounds of the Beach Boys, that you get your initial taste of director Wes Anderson's vision. The characters, with their overly long legs, run and jump, pop up here and there, and speak intelligently, like adults — unlike the characters in most kid-oriented movies. Yes, the director of such films as Rushmore (one of my all-time faves) and The Darjeeling Limited has not made a typical children's animated film. First of all, FMF is stop-motion animation, which is less commonly used (and less popular with mainstream audiences) these days than computer-generated animation is. Secondly, it's very adult, and very Wes Anderson (cue the title cards, whimsical score, and misfit characters voiced by Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). No wonder the kids at the Sunday afternoon screening I saw were fidgety and seemed not quite sure what to make of it.

I, however, loved the movie. It's got great style and scenic design, an enjoyable screenplay, perfect voice performances, lots of humor, and lots of heart. It's rare that a film with the word Fantastic in the title is actually that good, but FMF makes good on its title. The film may not be kid-friendly — parents will have to explain the many uses of the word "cuss," for example — but adults with a sense of wonder and adventure will surely enjoy it. I'm giving Fantastic Mr. Fox an A–.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

More to Be Thankful For

I was remiss on Wednesday when I posted my list of the things I'm thankful for this year because I left off my sister and brother-in-law, Mitzi and Jason. This weekend they gave me a couple more reasons why they should have been on the list.

First, on Wednesday afternoon, they surprised me by taking Abby and me to the mall after we picked her up from day care. A shopping trip? Why, no. They figured, why not bring together my two great loves — Christmas and Abby — and celebrate them in a picture with Santa Claus? (And if it got me to change my mind about not doing a new Very Marty Xmas CD this year, then that would be a bonus.) I was stunned, impressed, and excited, because I've never had my picture taken with Santa Claus, and I thought taking one with him and Abby would be really fun. Alas, Abby did not agree. She was a bit freaked out by Santa and just wouldn't go anywhere near him, despite how nice he looked, and how helpful he was trying to be. Clearly, I have some edumicating to do about how wonderful this man is. But the point is, Mitzi and Jason tried, and for that, they earned some big points.

The second thing they did was give me a niece. Alright, that's nothing new, but this weekend Abby made me happier than ever. During the day on Friday, while Mitzi, Abby, and I were hanging out (at Stepping Stones and other places), Abby began to say some new words: "Unca Momo" and then, more clearly, Mar-Tin. If you've ever been lucky enough to hear a toddler say your name for the first time, then you know how it made me feel. It warmed my heart and made me feel even more loved. Abby says my name in syllables, with the first one a higher pitch than the other. It's awesome. And it's even better because I know she knows it's me she's saying, and not just any word (because she would say it and point at me). Even better than that? At 8:10 a.m. this morning, Mitzi sent me a text message: "Abby has been up since 5:30 and keeps walking around saying Martin." Another text came at 2:40 p.m.: "Mom and Dad showed up before and Abby yelled out Martin!" Too bad I was not there.

So yes, I am also thankful for my sister and brother-in-law for bringing me joy this past weekend, and always. Thanks!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Three Years Later

I don't really know what to say today, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that it's the third anniversary of the day my Bubby passed away. Jeez. Three years. It still feels like yesterday. It's no lie to say that I still think of Bubby every day, due in large part, I guess, to the fact that I keep a picture of her at my desk at work and right next to my couch at home. Not that I need the reminders, of course. And until recently, when I got a new cell phone, her number would always come up when I scrolled through the Bs. It was like I didn't want to let her go.

My Bubby was a very special lady, and we were very tight (as I'd imagine all my cousins would say about themselves and her). Every day, either at 8 a.m. as I walked to the train or at 1 p.m. when I went to lunch, I'd call her and we'd talk and laugh. I miss those daily chats. The last couple years of her life, every time I'd leave her, I made sure to give her a big hug and kiss, because I never knew when it would be my last chance to do so, and I was very aware of that fact. When she passed away, I had just seen her days earlier, on Thanksgiving, and we had spoken on the phone not even 24 hours before she left us.

Days like today, as much as I take comfort in the fact that Bubby never doubted how much I loved her, and as much as I made an effort to make sure I said a proper farewell, I long for one more chance. What I wouldn't give to give Bubby one more hug. To talk with her on the phone one more time. To tell her how much I love her. Oh well.

I really miss my Bubby, and today, on the third anniversary of her death, I wanted to you all to know that.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Time to Say Thanks

It's the day before Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd continue my tradition of posting a list of some of the things I'm thankful for this year:

* My job. No, this is not a suck-up thing. Starting a new job at the beginning of this year has done nothing short of change my life in many good ways. I'm thankful I got a new job, that it's at this company, that I work with the people I work with, and that it's all been pretty great for me so far. (And I'm also thankful for the friend who referred me and helped me get the job in the first place.)
* My niece, Abby, who continues to make me smile and laugh even though she has no clue she's doing it
* Mrs. Freshley
* Bruce Springsteen, still going strong at age 60
* My iPhone
* The Matty in the Morning show — specifically the podcasts, which allow me to catch up on and listen to the show at any time of the day
* This
* Facebook, for the hours and hours of amusement it brings me (and allows me to bring to others)
* Blake Lively's legs and whoever's dressing her for awards shows
* Good friends
* Ruth's Chris Steak House
* The cover of "Somebody to Love" by the cast of Glee
* Modern Family — particularly the deadpan idiocy of Ty Burrell
* The new Star Market in Chestnut Hill
* The Interwebs, which allows me to find and download music by my favorite singers months before it's released
* Hood's Green Monster Mint ice cream
* ... and of course, you, my dear readers. Whether you read these posts at Martin's Musings or on Facebook, you encourage me to keep at this. Four years in and I'm not slowing down.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and that it's as full of turkey and gravy as I'm hoping mine will be.


Monday, November 23, 2009

A Rave for Radin

I hadn't really heard of Joshua Radin before my friend Fidge asked me a couple weeks ago if I'd be interested in going with her to his concert at the House of Blues here in Boston. I said yes, and I'll admit that after listening to his two albums, and finding his music pleasant but maybe a little too low key for my tastes, I didn't really have high hopes for the show. But I have to say, Radin's an awfully talented and engaging live performer and I really did enjoy the concert. Sure, he started the show by singing the one song I knew best, "Brand New Day," but his voice and lyrics really impressed me and kept me entertained for the entire 90-minute set.

Maybe you've heard of Radin because his song "Today" was Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi's wedding song. His music has also been featured on Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs, and on the soundtrack for the movie The Last Kiss (most likely because he's Zach Braff's good buddy). Radin's music is similar to that of Jeremy Fisher or Josh Kelley, which is to say it's chick-friendly, guitar-strumming, sensitive-guy singer/songwriter tuneage, with a sound not unlike modern-day Simon & Garfunkel. It's "whisper rock," the kind of music you can "put your babies and dogs asleep to," as Radin himself described it on Sunday night. Yes, it's mostly mellow stuff, the kind you might hear in a coffee shop on any given night, but in Radin's case, it's quite good ... if you like that sort of thing. (And for the record — no pun intended — his most recent release is called Simple Times.)

Radin's show Sunday night was like an episode of VH1's Storytellers: The stage had little on it other than Radin and his 4-man band (and some lamps), and before each song, Radin explained its backstory. The HoB's excellent, sharp sound system — and an audience that barely made a peep during the songs — allowed us to hear every word clearly. While he didn't sing "Only You" (another song I'd heard before — probably because it's a cover of the Yaz song), he did play others that I look forward to getting to know better, such as "I'd Rather Be with You," "No Envy No Fear," and "You Got Growing Up to Do." He also got some yayas out by singing some more uptempo songs from his soon-to-be-recorded third album, which should be out sometime next year. And then he closed the show with a great cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice (It's Alright)," during which he was joined by openers the Kin and the Watson Twins.

I always enjoy finding a "new" artist that I can add to my iPhone playlist. Radin's concert was a pleasant surprise, and his music will certainly get a few more "spins" from me.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

She Just Wants to Be Loved

If you're anything like me, then chances are good you've not seen many movies like Precious. Oh, you may think you've seen one too many movies about underprivileged young people from bad homes who deal with multiple hardships but who find the strength to persevere despite all the odds being stacked against them, but I'll bet those movies didn't move you like Precious moved me. Believe the hype; this is one great film.

In Precious, Gabourey Sidibe stars as the title character, 16-year-old Claireece Precious Jones, who lives with her abusive mother (played by the comedienne Mo'Nique) and is pregnant (for the second time) with a child fathered by her own father. To say life is hard is an understatement; at one point, Precious says she wishes she were dead, and that it wouldn't be much of a change for her because she's already used to being so far down and looking up at the world. When she's thrown out of her school, Precious enrolls at an alternative education center, where her teacher (played by the beautiful Paula Patton) and classmates show her the love and guidance she's never had, and help put Precious on the road to redemption.

The film is marked by some super performances: Sidibe, in her film debut, gives a heartbreakingly natural performance of such subtlety that you'll think she's not acting at all. Mariah Carey, as a social worker, is impressive and real and nearly unrecognizable. Lenny Kravitz, as a nurse, is charming and great. Patton is more than just a pretty face; she shows depth and feeling, and turns the saintly role into something more well-rounded.

And Mo'Nique ... What can one say about this performance? Mo'Nique's character is perhaps the purest definition of evil that we'll see on screen this year. She's one of the worst on-screen mothers of all time. And Mo'Nique is so good in this role that it's hard to believe she makes a living telling jokes. It's a career-changing performance, and it will leave you in awe. Near the end, both Mo'Nique and Sidibe get the chance to deliver devastating lines of dialogue that will have you tearing up. Bring your tissues to this one, my friends. Even the hardest hearts will be affected by what they see on screen.

Adapted from the 1996 novel Push by Sapphire, Precious was written by Geoffrey Fletcher and directed by Lee Daniels, and it is a raw and unflinching portrait of a young girl with very little going right for her. Yes, there's hope to be found, but there isn't a sappy happy ending here where everyone smiles and the music swells. Precious is hard to watch and it isn't pretty, but it's well worth seeing. I'm giving the movie an A–.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Does John Mayer Read Martin's Musings?

It's always an exciting thing when a highly anticipated album leaks ahead of its official release date (at least it is for me. I can't say the same for the artist). Such was the case with John Mayer's Battle Studies, which I downloaded a week ago and have been listening to almost nonstop ever since. How great is it when an artist you like releases an album that's worth the wait? (This is the second time in a week or so that it's happened for me.) From the opening track, the U2-esque "Heartbreak Warfare" to the closer, "Friends, Lovers, or Nothing," Battle Studies is a keeper. Sure, traces of John's on again/off again relationship with Jennifer Aniston are all over this one (or at least, that's what a tabloid reader would assume), but they do say heartbreak is the impetus for the best art, right?

Anyway, as much as I like so many of the tracks on Battle Studies (a shout-out to the Taylor Swift collabo "Half of My Heart," as well as "Edge of Desire" and first single "Who Says"), my favorite one is the track called "Perfectly Lonely." Listening to it, I feel like John took my recent blog post about how "content" I am with being single, and just set it to music — with an upbeat melody, too. He perfectly captured the underlying denial that's inherent in a post like that. Have a listen for yourself and see if you don't see the similarities in tone. Or, just read some of the lyrics here:
"...Nothing to do, nowhere to be
A simple little kind of free.
Nothing to do, no one but me
And that's all I need.

I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely, yeah
'Cause I don't belong to anyone
And nobody belongs to me.

I see my friends around from time to time
When their ladies let them slip away.
And when they ask me how I'm doing with mine
This is always what I say:

Nothing to do, nowhere to be
A simple little kind of free.
Nothing to do, no one to be
Is it really hard to see

Why I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely
I'm perfectly lonely, yeah
'Cause I don't belong to anyone
And nobody belongs to me.

And this is not to say,
There'll never come a day
I'll take my chances and start again.
[ ... ]

That's the way (3x)
That I want it."
Yeah, that's my new personal theme song. No wonder it's the track I've played the most times thus far.

Battle Studies officially drops tomorrow. Pick yourself up a copy and see which track speaks most directly to you.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lloyd Dobler Saves the Day!

Instead of a formal review of 2012, allow me to be totally obvious and cheesy and cliched, and to sum up my feelings by quoting R.E.M.: "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." Basically, there's a lot of cool special effects, a lot of preposterous plot points, plenty of close calls, Danny Glover as the President (not getting too old for this sh*t, apparently), all the expected cheeseball lines of dialogue ("I thought we'd have more time," etc.), stubborn government officials, a good-hearted scientist, a rich jerk who doesn't make it to the end of the movie, and a lot more cool special effects. Monks fall prey to a huge wave. The Vatican is destroyed. Las Vegas crumbles. The White House gets swept away. The entire state of California falls into the ocean. Oh, and just when you think things can't get any worse for the world, there's an Adam Lambert song on the soundtrack! What a disaster!

John Cusack stars as Amanda Peet's estranged husband, a father of two, a writer, and a daredevil limo driver, who saves his family and civilization — all while never removing his tie! But it's when you stop to notice those kinds of details that you miss the fun of 2012. This is yet another big, dumb, overly long, but enjoyable action film from director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow), where stuff gets destroyed and it all looks great. What the film is lacking in script quality and common sense, it makes up for in technical wizardry. If you go to see this one expecting anything other than that, then you're just kidding yourself. I'm giving 2012 a B.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Train Kept on Rolling

They may be derided as "middle of the road," but Train is still one of my favorite bands. They put out consistently good music, and frontman Pat Monahan is one of the more charismatic and enjoyable guys to watch. He also has an awesome voice. Monday, at the House of Blues here in Boston, Pat was nursing a cold, but he still sounded great as the band played its latest gig to support Save Me, San Francisco, its latest release.

No surprise, the band's set leaned heavily on well-known songs (including "Drops of Jupiter," "Calling All Angels," Get to Me," "She's on Fire," and of course, "Meet Virginia," which came out early in the setlist), with a few from Save Me sprinkled in, starting with opener "Parachute," and including my favorite track, the title song. There were also a couple of impressive covers, including Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" and Aerosmith's "Dream On" (enhanced, kind of randomly, by two members of the band All-American Rejects). Guitarist Jimmy Stafford made a memorable impression on "Mississippi" and "Free." And the acoustics were also fantastic; Sara K and I stood pretty much right in front of a set of speakers and we could still hear everything clearly (though my ears were ringing for a while after the show).

Opener Uncle Kracker (yes, he's still around) played a laid-back set. We missed the first couple songs, but got there in time to hear "Drift Away," "Follow Me," and a mostly carbon-copy cover of Kid Rock's "All Summer Long," which Kracker co-wrote. No need to run out and buy his latest album.

On the whole, this was a solid show — nothing earth-shattering, but it was worth it for me. Train's a great, reliable band and they never disappoint.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

A Toast to the Friendly Toast

You might think from its kitchy, retro décor that the Friendly Toast is just some too-hip restaurant that's almost too cool for its Cambridge locale. But after my first visit on Sunday, I can safely say this much: don't judge a book solely by its cover.

The Friendly Toast is one of those perfect brunch places. It's homey, intimate, local, and fun, and the food is pretty darned terrific too. But better than that is this aspect of the menu: A few of the items can be ordered a la carte. How many times have I gone places like Johnny's Luncheonette and bemoaned the fact that I couldn't order a little of this and a little of that? At the Friendly Toast, you can do just that. In fact, that's just what I did on Sunday: I ordered one piece of French Toast (on the cinnamon raisin bread) to go with my waffle. The waffle was actually a late decision. I almost ordered one pancake instead. Anyway, both were yummy. Amy, who went with me, ordered the King Cakes and said they, too, were good.

The Friendly Toast has only been in Cambridge (near the Kendall Square movie theater) for about six months, but it's got quite a following (no doubt partly due to its other location up in Portsmouth, NH). At 11 a.m., we were quoted an hour to an hour and a half wait. But then we saw two seats open up at the bar and we sat right down. It was worth it.

I'm always looking for good, "new to me" brunch places that make basic brunch food well — none of that chi chi frou frou fancy schmancy stuff that masquerades as "brunch" — and I have found a winner in the Friendly Toast. Can't wait to go back.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Force Is Not Strong Here

Sometimes, when you set out to make a movie that's wacky funny, you end up instead with something that's strange and unfunny. Such is the case with The Men Who Stare at Goats, one of those classic misfires that has almost no redeeming qualities. Starring George Clooney (clearly doing a solid for his friend and producing partner, Grant Heslov, who makes his directorial debut here), Men Who Stare is about a reporter (Ewan McGregor) who tries to impress his wife by going to Iraq. There (or rather, in Kuwait), he meets Clooney's character, a military man who may or may not be gifted with special psychic powers, who may or may not be retired, and who may or may not still be a part of a top secret military unit that specializes in nonviolent action (such as Jedi mind tricks performed on goats). The film is only sporadically funny, the tone just isn't right, and Clooney, sadly, seems totally miscast. Just about the only thing worth mentioning positively is Jeff Bridges, who plays the hippie-like leader of the group and seems perfectly cast in his role. Otherwise, Men Who Stare is just weird and unnecessary, and I'm giving it a D.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Can't Stop the Music

You might call this a case of "Desperate times call for desperate measures" — relatively speaking, of course.

Monday, Jamie Cullum's new album, The Pursuit, will be released in the U.K. and all over Europe. I'm a very big Jamie Cullum fan, have been for years, and for a while now, I'd been banking on the fact that the album — Jamie's first in more than four years — would be released in the U.S. a day later, on Tuesday. That's how it usually works, after all (though one wonders why albums don't just drop on the same weekday around the world). Well, last week I got an email telling me that in fact, the U.S. release would not happen until March 2.

Suffice it to say, I just couldn't wait that long. I mean, that's crazy, right? Releasing the album in Europe, and then waiting four months to do it here? Especially after a four-year gap between albums. Jamie may not be a household name in the U.S., but he's hardly an unknown, brand-new artist (Pursuit is actually his fifth album, though not all have been released in the U.S.). People like me are going to notice if he has an album out elsewhere in the world, and they're going to want to get their hands on it now.

So as any enterprising person would do, I went on a pursuit of my own, and set off to find the album somewhere on the Interwebs. Before you could say "I'm All Over It Now," I found a site (actually, a couple of them) where I could download all 12 tracks, for free, before the album had even been released overseas. It was almost too easy. Isn't the Interwebs great?

Now, before you get all huffy and accusatory on me, and tell me I'm "stealing music," you should know this much: I have every intention of buying the album when it's officially released over here next year. In fact, I'll probably even go for the deluxe edition (assuming I have the same option as the European fans), which includes bonus tracks and a DVD. I support artists I like, and I want this album to do well.

Speaking of which, let me say this: The Pursuit is great (of course it is). More mature, confident, and experimental than Jamie's previous albums, Pursuit features some impressive tracks, such as his take on Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things," Stephen Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around" (from Sweeney Todd), and Rhianna's "Don't Stop the Music." The originals "Love Ain't Gonna Let You Down" and "Mixtape" are cool. "Music Is Through" will be a hot number when Jamie plays live, as will the raucous swing tune "You and Me Are Gone." The dramatic "If I Ruled the World" erases any memory of Tony Bennett's more-famous version. In short, Jamie's come a long way from his U.S. debut, Twentysomething (a long way from his follow-up, Catching Tales, too), and he's pretty much blasted out of the "jazz singer" box that some have painted him into (just in case the album cover wasn't symbolic enough for you). The Pursuit is well worth the wait.

But let's not miss the larger point here: In the age of the Interwebs, you can't keep devoted music fans waiting. If an album is out in one part of the world — and it's going to be hyped in other parts of the world with emails, on Facebook, Twitter, and a podcast — then it should be out everywhere. Otherwise, you can't blame a guy for finding it on his own, especially when it's this easy.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

He Needs a Little Christmas

Disney + Jim Carrey + Robert Zemeckis + Christmas should add up to a joyous and fun holiday movie, right? Well, then, what the Dickens is up with Disney's A Christmas Carol? This umpteenth retelling of the classic story is a dark and often scary film with very little joy and festivity. Not even Carrey giving voice to multiple characters can liven the mood. Kids at the screening I was at were fidgety and clearly not engaged, and I couldn't blame them. Maybe I don't know the Charles Dickens story as well as I should, but I've never seen it told in such a dark and depressing way — and this is a Disney film!

That said, the animation is really impressive. There's great detail in many of the images, and the 3D effects provide depth and added realism without being a distraction. The opening credits sequence, when the "camera" goes sweeping over the London skyline, is particularly great. Carrey, too, is quite good; he makes the most of the material he's been given, as does the rest of the cast, which includes Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. I just wish I walked out of the theater feeling uplifted and happy, like Scrooge is at the end of the film.

Disney wants this Carol to be a fun holiday film, like Carey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps. (Which is not to say that The Grinch is anywhere near a holiday classic, of course.) But they've gone all Scrooge on the seasonal charm, and instead, all we're left with is a lump of coal. That's why I'm giving Carol a C+. Bah humbug.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

I Could Be Stamos' Wingman

Over the course of the nearly 7.5 years that I worked on Continental magazine, I was lucky enough to interview a fair number of big-name celebrities, including Nathan Lane, Jennifer Hudson, Mitch Albom, Jesse L. Martin, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idina Menzel, Jason Lee, Joan Allen, Jason Mraz, Roger Bart, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. But I have to say, none of them was as much fun to chat with as John Stamos, who I recently interviewed for a freelance article in the magazine (my first such assignment since I left that job). And of course, I'm telling you this because the article is now online.

I spoke (by phone) with the erstwhile Uncle Jesse, who is currently starring on Broadway in a revival of Bye Bye Birdie, and the real bummer was that the article was so short and couldn't adequately convey just how cool John was. I mean, he volunteered to dish on the Olsen twins (I said no thanks, that I knew all I needed to know about them). We discussed how we're both single, and how we could go out together and be each other's wingman (full disclosure: the wingman thing was my idea — but he agreed). He mocked his buddy Bob Saget (something he does often), and spoke affectionately about another good friend, Don Rickles. And he was just so easy to talk with, so charming, so open, and so nice, that I wished I could have extended the chat longer than my allotted time.

If you're interested, here are some quick quotes from our interview that fell on the editing floor.

On "creating" a role in a new Broadway production, after stepping into other productions in the past when they were midway through their runs: "I’m happy that I got to do the other stuff first because I think I needed to pay my dues. And maybe I wasn’t ready before to do what I’m doing now. So I think I’ve worked for it. This wasn’t just handed to me. And I’m up for the challenge."

On maintaining his youthful appearance: "I take care of myself for the most part. People who aren’t from Hollywood, they say it’s special creams and ointments. But I guess genetically I’ve just been lucky to hold on to my youth. I’ve never had any plastic surgery or done Botox."

On his time on ER: "It was the best. It was the best adult role that I’ve gotten to play. And probably, with how challenging it was, the best time I’ve ever had on television. I mean, Full House was fun, but on ER I felt like a real actor. And I worked with some really incredible people that I learned a lot from."

If you're flying Continental during the month of November, you'll see my article on page 52. If not, just click here to read it. And of course, if you're in New York, go see John's show!

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Can't Beat It

For much of the past decade and a half, Michael Jackson the troubled man overshadowed Michael Jackson the talented performer. And it was a sad statement that it took Jackson's death this past June for folks to remember just how great a performer he was and to put the scandal and outrageousness of his off-stage life in the background. Jackson tried to make that shift happen while he was still alive; his "This Is It" series of concerts in London were meant as a last-ditch effort to remind people why they came to love him in the first place. Alas, those concerts never happened and the world would be denied the chance to see what Jackson had in store.

At least, that's what it seemed would be the case. Thankfully, Jackson was documenting the rehearsal process for the concerts, amassing more than 100 hours of footage for his own personal use. It's that footage that forms the basis of This Is It, a two-hour look behind the scenes of a Jackson concert that never was. The film provides a fitting tribute and final chapter for Jackson, and it's a celebratory, fun, and insightful look at a side of Jackson that few outside his inner circle got to see.

In the film, we get to see Jackson, a notorious perfectionist, as a more vulnerable, imperfect performer. He doesn't rehearse by singing at full strength (so he can conserve his voice), and in the case of a couple songs, he skips over a few lyrics. He rushes dance moves, he makes his musicians stop and start again, and he pushes for more from everyone around him. No doubt Jackson would never have allowed this footage to see the light of day if he were still alive, but it makes a strong case that the man was, indeed, human. (Of course, even when he was performing at half-strength, Jackson still impressed.)

Other than Jackson himself, the star of this movie is definitely the music. From "Wanna Be Startin' Something" to "Human Nature" to "Smooth Criminal" to "Man in the Mirror," and everything else, this is basically a greatest-hits compilation brought to vibrant life. Jackson may try not to push himself, but on songs like "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," for example, even he can't resist the power of the music and he gives in to it, naturally. Sitting in the movie theater, you, too, will be hard-pressed not to tap your feet, bob your head, or sing along. And when the dancers and others on the floor get their own private show as Michael sings "I'll Be There," "Billie Jean," and other solos, you'll be beyond envious that they got such an opportunity to see the performance up close and in such an "intimate" setting.

Yes, there's a fair amount of fawning over Jackson by nearly everyone in the ensemble (those personal home videos were going to be quite the ego boost), but it only adds to the tribute feel of the film. And in fact, it's the only thing that comes close to overdoing it in this otherwise very respectful and not exploitive look at Jackson and his creative process.

Like Jackson's life, the film ends too soon. After feeling so good for the two hours, all of a sudden This Is It comes to a close and you instantly feel sad about what was lost. But as the film says, Michael's music and his love will live forever. This film helps to restore that legacy.

If you're even the slightest fan, you can't miss This Is It. Don't wait for the DVD. Michael was bigger than life, and he deserves to be seen as such on a big screen. I'm giving the film an A–.

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