9 November 2009

Underrated, Overrated, Rambling Free...

I don't pretend that I go against the current in any way, shape or form. Once you start Media Studies at degree-level, you realise that for every blog slating a really rubbish mainstream film, there are about four journals or academic writings to say you're Michael Bay's bitch. The two big mainstream preoccupations of the year I can't pretend to understand the appeal behind though are probably Megan Fox and Michael Jackson. And Britain's Got Talent. And Twilight. And... alright two OF the preoccupations. And alright, I'm not saying MJ was anywhere near as talentless as Megan Fox, but I'd have to get back to you on who looks more plastic...

The point is eluding me in talking about it all like this- what we're here for is reviewing. Specifically, reviewing Jennifer's Body and Michael Jackson's This Is It. As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion on here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments. With This Is It not following any conventional narrative structure, you could argue that the only spoiler there has been widely circulated in the news media for the last three months.

But first, to Jennifer's Body. The eponymous Jennifer is played by Megan Fox, and her sole characteristic at the start of the film is that she's the hottest and most desirable girl in her high-school. That's right, you have to believe that Megan Fox is young enough to be at school... again. Her best friend is Needy, played by Amanda Seyfried, a bespectacled, nerdy but sweet young lady who follows Jennifer's every whim. That's right, you have to believe that Amanda Seyfried isn't attractive and popular. But on with the story- an indie band has stumbled upon a satanic ritual whereby they'll become famous if they sacrifice a virgin, and they mistakenly believe that Jennifer still has her cherry. Bad juju and demonic transference ensues, and Jennifer is suddenly possessed of a demon that must consume boys to survive.

It's an interesting enough premise from Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind Juno. I enjoyed Juno very much, but I don't think that the cast and director behind Jennifer's Body is anywhere near as talented as those behind the earlier film. That aside, there's nothing particularly awful and horrible about the film, and in some ways that's a bad thing- it is meant to be a horror film after all, so there should at least be some scares. But as a film, the lack of awful, horrible shite makes this far and away the best thing that Megan Fox has ever been attached to. I still remain unconvinced that she can act, nor that she was cast here for anything other than needing a body worth naming the whole film after, but with a half-decent script, she's not as intolerable as I usually find her. That pout that makes her face look like a kazoo is still there though.

Far more endearing is Amanda Seyfried, though this is actually the first thing I've seen from the apparently much-lauded actress. Her character is burdened with a unnecessarily uncommon name that I suspect may become Diablo Cody's trademark, but Seyfried is never any less than watchable in her role. JK Simmons makes an always welcome appearance too, and Fox aside, I don't really have anything bad to say about the cast. Even though I said the cast and director elevated Juno to what it was, the script here shows that Cody isn't quite the writer I thought she was. The esoteric slang that only niggled slightly in her first feature positively irked me this time around, mostly because it's so inconsistent with the characters. Jennifer is meant to be a ditz, but can snappily come out with cracks about MoveOn.org- it seems Diablo Cody is writing her own dialogue rather than her characters' dialogue.

It's a slightly disappointing sophomore effort from Diablo Cody, but while Jennifer's Body won't be winning her any more awards for writing, it's still a cut above most of the horror films that came to cinemas this Halloween. It's not as original as people seem to think, as this type of premise has been around since Carrie, and the soundtrack is incredibly intrusive throughout, but in spite of its minor flaws, the film is actually a fairly enjoyable guilty pleasure. It's lacking in genuine scares and it's kind of forgettable, but it's still entertaining enough to make a decent dark comedy.

I'm actually fairly loath to reviewing Michael Jackson's This Is It, because it's not like anything else that's been reviewed on this blog before now. Covering two months of rehearsals, this is a look into the show Michael Jackson was planning to put on across 50 sold-out dates at London's O2 Arena, compiled by the show's director and the director of numerous Zac Efron aberrations, Kenny Ortega. The film includes interviews about Jackson with dancers and technicians, as well as the supplementary effects footage that would have played during the performances. It's a concert film essentially, and being the laziest music listener in the world, a review of a live music performance puts me out of my critical comfort zone a little.

It's tempting to go off on a cynical rant about how this is just being released to make money off of Michael Jackson's death. That's because it is, really- the man's own father proclaimed that his son was worth more dead than he had been when he was alive. And to some extent that's true as well, if you want to be blunt about it, given Jackson's chequered medical history and the staggering prospect of doing the show this film tries to represent not once or twice, but 50 times. I think to do that would be to get too wrapped up in context rather than looking at the film itself. What there remains to say about the contextual detritus is that the opening caption, "for the fans", just about sums up the selling point. I'm not particularly a big fan of Michael Jackson, and this didn't entirely change my mind- there may well be something someday that does that, but ironically, this isn't it.

The ethical issues I had with the film only became greater once I'd seen it. Although it didn't convert me into a fan of his music, it did persuade me that Jackson was a consummate perfectionist. He stops performances throughout the rehearsals to correct a dancer or a technician who've fouled up in seemingly inconsequential ways. He's every bit a performer, and it looks like this gig really would have been his masterpiece. The highlight of the whole thing for me was the video that would have accompanied Smooth Criminal, shot in black and white with Jackson digitally inserted into a chase sequence with Humphrey Bogart. It's visually stunning, whether you believe Jackson could give Bogart that much trouble or not- I mean, it's Humphrey chuffing Bogart! The other sequences never make as much of an impression as that one, particularly the cringe-inducingly tacky short for Earth Song, which is a cringe-inducingly tacky song to begin with.

Where the ethics come in is that I don't think Jackson ever intended this rehearsal footage to be seen by his fans, especially seeing how perfect he wanted things to be. Imagine if Terry Gilliam had simply made a film with Heath Ledger talking to people on the set of Doctor Parnassus, and you'll come pretty close to what Kenny Ortega's sort of done here. For him, This Is Not It- the actual concert would have been It. Nevertheless, I have to admit that This Is It won me over in the end. Money-grubbing or not, the fans who did really love Michael Jackson's music will really want to see this, especially those who had tickets booked for the concerts before his untimely death. And I can't begrudge anyone that- the man did create good music and greater performances, even if his body of work isn't constantly rattling around my iPod. Fans will love it, and if you can abandon your scepticism like I did, I'm sure you won't hate it either.


Next up will almost certainly be Harry Brown and 2012, though I may slip An Education in instead of Roland Emmerich's latest war on the world. Early reports say that film is so bad, it's good, but that guy must really hate the world. Greenpeace need to get onto him, I'm sure he's hurting the environment more in a pretend way than Land Rovers ever could in real life.

In the meantime, if you've seen Jennifer's Body or Michael Jackson's This Is It, why not share your comments on those films below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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