Michael Jackson's This Is It (PG) BUY THE:Poster!
Watching Kenny Ortega's feature documentary assembly of rehearsal footage of what would've been Michael Jackson's London comeback concerts makes one mourn his tragic loss anew; however, such is the force of the legendary entertainment icon's talent and energy that, in characteristic Jackson fashion, any sad feelings that arise are quickly, frequently wiped away by the pure joy he brings to the stage, even in barebones rehearsal venues. While it would have no doubt been great to see the finished This Is It tour production, ironically, the work that Ortega was forced to make under these tragic circumstances is perhaps an even greater testament to Jackson's galvanizing gifts and rather peerless professional dedication than any full-blown show could ever be. Beyond a concert "mock-up" culled from video intended only for Jackson's personal reference (much of which looks far better than expected, thanks to most of it being shot on high-definition cameras), Ortega offers a keen glimpse into the entire creative process behind the show and a rare look at how Jackson was so intensely involved in and focused on every last detail of this mammoth production, from matters of staging and choreography to the most subtle of musical nuances--in addition to what he brings to the table as a vocalist, dancer, and all-around entertainer. (That he often says during the rehearsals that he's holding back and saving himself is a wonder, since Jackson restrained is far greater height of performance than most could ever hope to achieve.) The grandiose production numbers with troupes of back-up dancers that became synonymous with Jackson are plentiful here, and they don't lose any impact without full sets and costumes. But the most astonishing number of all (and the best illustration why Ortega's unwavering focus on only the work is far more powerful than any easy, maudlin manipulation he could have easily layered onto the film) is a late run-through of "Billie Jean" that finds a street clothes-clad Jackson on stage with only himself, the music, and his moves--punctuating what a pure, naturally captivating talent he was, and what a huge loss the world has suffered with his passing.
The Janky Promoters (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Studios dumping projects with name brand, bankable stars is nothing new nor unusual, but The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films's treatment of Ice Cube and Mike Epps' much-delayed fourth screen teaming has to be a landmark of some sorts in how a company's complete lack of concern for its own product could not be more brazenly apparent. First, there's the poster (and single-page official website), which on its large logo and credit block simply has the title stated as Janky Promoters, when the actual on-screen title is The Janky Promoters. And, most of all, there are those actual on-screen titles: the movie opens with a text card defining the term "janky," and it reads: "shady, untrustworty, dishonest, despicable"--yes, the word "untrustworthy" is actually misspelled like that, and co-star Glenn Plummer is credited as "Glen" Plummer (though the end credit roll spells it correctly). When the studio cannot even bother to proofread the credits from frame one before throwing the film onto screens (even if only 22, as the theatre count is on this unpublicized, obviously bare-minimum contractually-obligated theatrical run), and this from usually polished, image-minded professionals as the Weinsteins, it's a shock.
Just as shocking is the film itself, which, in terms of quality, really doesn't make much of a case for any company to support it. The premise is certainly workable for Cube's return to R-rated comedy: Cube and Epps are the promoters of the title, and they prove their monumental jankiness in their attempts to put on a Young Jeezy concert in sleepy Modesto, California. Given that Cube and Epps more than likely have had their fair share of experience with real-life janky promoters, one would think that Cube's script would have some clever and biting jokes about the many such unprofessionals who infest the business, but the sole inspired moment is in a fairly throwaway visit with Cube's not-so-upstanding mother. The rest of time is fairly one-note in its obvious, rather dully executed, and unfunny comic directions: Cube and Epps cut costs by putting up Jeezy (who appears as himself) and his entourage in a cheap motel (which, predictably, employs some ghetto groupies on the make in the housekeeping staff); Cube tries to push his wannabe rapper son (Little JJ) to Jeezy; etc. Cube and Epps still have chemistry, but both seem on autopilot here, as does director Marcus Raboy, who just slogs through the motions with little energy or visual creativity. Perhaps it's for the best of all involved that this remarkably forced effort will barely be a blip before hitting DVD shelves next month, where it really would feel at home alongside the straight-to-disc product.
Paranormal Activity (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Oren Peli's no-budget supernatural thriller is as no-frills and no-nonsense as its rather generically clinical title, mirroring its obvious conceptual and stylistic (and marketing) forebear, The Blair Witch Project, in how its often hand-held, video-shot footage begins wallowing in rather mundane minutiae of everyday life with a young couple (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) until the presence of unknown, unseen force becomes ever more increasingly clear in their San Diego home. Peli makes a number of smart moves here, such as cutting to the chase by beginning the film after the purported hauntings have already begun occurring, and maintaining a streak of dark humor that keeps the proceedings from becoming too self-important. But smartest of all is his skill at building the slow-burn tension, and the naturalistic performances and the grounded, fairly understated scare scenes give the film a real-world air that make the chills hit that much harder. Not the game changer the ever-building hype (fueled by the buzz-building midnight shows last weekend) may lead you to believe, but fun, creepy, unpretentious little haunted house rides like these are so hard to come by these days that slight overpraise is understandable.