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 Last Dance

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'Michael Jackson's This Is It' reveals the artist in
his element, but can't quite capture the magic.

by Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly

Michael Jackson's This Is It
Starring Michael Jackson
Directed by Kenny Ortega
PG, 111 mins.

Michael Jackson 'This Is It' Rehearsalichael Jackson always said that he wished he could live on stage, and in Michael Jackson's This Is It, there isn't a moment when he looks less than comfortably and pleasurably at home there. On the vast, half-empty, often darkened proscenium of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where we see him in bare-bones videotaped rehearsals for the 50 London concerts that he never lived to perform, Jackson moves lightly and easily, with his herky-jerky demon-marionette grace. On the rare occasions when he's not focused on dance moves and has nothing to do but sing, as in a soaring interlude of "Human Nature" or a version of "I Want You Back" that he tosses off with affection for his child-superstar pluck, the music pour out of him like sunlight.

This Is It is not in any way ghoulish. It has now been established that when Jackson died, he was, physically speaking, a relatively healthy man. And so we're spared the macabre spectacle of combing the movie for any literal signs that he was knocking at death's door. It should also be said, though, that in This Is It, Jackson shows no telltale signs of a broken spirit, either. From the moment he takes the stage, he's loose, robust, and in control. Maybe a little too in control. In the relative privacy of these rehearsal sessions, which took place from March of this year until his death on June 25, Jackson comes off as his friends have often described him -- as a gentle, sweet, but very shrewd soul who was also a painful perfectionist.
Michael Jackson's This Is It
Released on Oct. 26, the 2-disc This Is It soundtrack album features the original album masters of some of Michael's biggest hits such as "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," "Human Nature," and "Thriller" arranged in the same sequence as they appear in the film, as well as early demo versions of MJ classics.
Coaching his keyboardist and musical director, Michael Bearden, on how to play "The Way You Make Me Feel" with the exact right syncopated pull, Jackson says that he wants the song to sound "like you're dragging yourself out of bed," but Bearden can't seem to get it. Though they banter a bit about the word "booty," we get a hint of what a frosty taskmaster Jackson could be. When he's displeased, it stings.

As the last set of images we'll ever have of Michael Jackson, This Is It feels like a half-complete experience that it is -- a mere diagram of the excitement that Michael, for his comeback, had planned to unleash upon the world.

It's clear from the movie that the London concerts were conceived as a very grand series of onstage music videos, each with a huge, intricate set that at times involved digital productions, and each choreographed as a disco-inferno Broadway showstopper. ("Thriller," one of the few songs we watch as it was meant to be, had a full earth-packed graveyard.) The dancers were going to pop out from beneath the stage and crawl over skyscrapers, as Michael shimmied and boogied and got lifted into the air. Watching this without most of the sets, with the gears and pulleys still showing, and from two functional camera angles in front of the stage, we get the flavor of the songs but not the majesty.

And that's not just due to the lack of trappings. Jackson, it's clear, held back in rehearsal. In This Is It, he's singing and dancing, but he's also watching himself sing and dance, stepping out of his performance. What's missing -- what the film gives you only a tantalizing glimpse of -- is his ferocity. When he goes does a tamped-down version of his solo whirligig in "Billie Jean," playing air guitar on his crotch (a gesture that elicits a round of cheers from the dancers in the Staples Center), you feel him sketching in the heat without quite committing himself. "At least we got the feel of it," he says.

This Is It is fun, but it's a slightly airless experience. If the movie allows you to bask in Michael Jackson's aura, it also uses his image to foster "nostalgia" for a concert epiphany that never quite was. Maybe it was Michael's destiny to leave us all wanting more. Would those concerts have returned him to his magical pedestal? We'll never know the answer, of course. But watching this movie, at least we get the feel of it. B  

 Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out for Good

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One of the greatest live rock albums of all time just got better.

by Mark Kemp in Rolling Stone

'Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out' Deluxe Box Set - The Rolling StonesThe Rolling Stones
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert -
40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set


et Yer Ya-Ya's Out! -- recorded in 1969 over two nights at Madison Square Garden -- is the last official live document of the Rolling Stones in their swaggering Sixties prime; it's also one of the great live albums of all time.

Expectations were high for the band on its 1969 tour, the Stones' first in the U.S. in three years, and their first outing without guitarist Brian Jones, who had died that summer. They delivered in spades. Keith Richards and new guitarist Mick Taylor combined for angry workouts on Ya-Ya's "Midnight Rambler" -- the album's bluesy nine-minute masterpiece -- and a stark, rubbery "Sympathy for the Devil." Mick Jagger and Richards pull apart Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie" into a raunchy romp, as if to prove they had fully mastered the rock form.

This three-disc remastered Ya-Ya's includes the original in all its gritty glory. Disc Two is a five-song EP from the same shows, with acoustic performances -- "Prodigal Son" and "You Gotta Move" -- from Richards (playing a resonator guitar) and Jagger. The third disc is an unexpected treat: blistering sets by openers B.B. King plus Ike and Tina Turner (doing an outrageously steamy take on Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long"). And serious rock geeks will enjoy the final flourish: the original Rolling Stone review, by Lester Bangs. * * * * *  

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