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This Is It

Musical genius, eccentric or tabloid pariah, Michael Jackson polarised people.  This was clear in the many tributes following his death, as each article either praised his legacy or criticized his personal life.  What each had in common was their agreement of the power of his showmanship and how his songs benefited from his multi-talented persona.  Documenting the rehearsals for a show which ultimately never happened, This Is It highlights the energetic spectacle which saw his music top the charts over many decades.
Although billed as being ‘for the fans’, it wouldn’t be too churlish to suggest the film is a great way for the promoters to recoup their outlay.  It probably sounds very cynical but given the more temperamental aspects of Jackson’s character were vetoed by his family, This Is It only really gives part of the picture.  This in no way suggests the film is a disappointment although it ties in well in his early lesson of the truth holding little sway in selling news.  Whether he would have approved of the raw footage being shown is another matter, as the purist in him may have fought its release.
Free of diva-like tantrums and dramatics what we do see is a performer full of vigour and precision.  His ability to leave his fellow crew awestruck shows the vital showbiz ingredient of a magnetic presence enabling him to sell his songs.   Although still coming across as a personal enigma any emotion needed is in the music which, in choreographer/director Kenny Ortega’s hands, makes each tune come alive.  The stripped back nature of the enterprise provides a great insight into the mechanics of such a huge production with Ortega thankfully ensuring the film isn’t just one long video clip. 

It would have been one hell of a show to see, although Ortega is careful not to turn This Is It into a sorrowful tribute.  The enthusiasm and hard work of the dancers, musicians and general crew is well shown, although it’s difficult to not feel sorry for them in how events transpired.  If there’s any consolation This Is It showcases their talents superbly with some great cinematography dragging you right onto the stage.  This adds another dimension to his catalogue of well known hits, with some surprising re-interpretations showing the creativity in each written word.
Even after his death, some may never understand what drove Michael Jackson.  Like any self-made legend the facts of his life will be debated for years, although This Is It provides a timeless document of a great performer who handled the slings and arrows of fame with finesse until the final fadeout.
Rating out of 10:  7

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

It seems Terry Gilliam has continued to pay a heavy price for his creativity.  From the beginning of his career with Monty Python to his directing efforts, he’s struggled every inch of the way.  This led to an unfair reputation of being a cinematic ratbag, with Imaginarium sadly fuelling his fearsome status.  Notorious as the film in which Heath Ledger was starring when he died, that it was able to be finished is a testament to Gilliam’s tenacity.  It also serves as a reminder of the talent that dispersed that fateful day with Ledger’s swansong marking a perfect end to a short but memorable career.
Immortal showman Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) leads a travelling theatre troupe.  With a cast of colourful characters including dwarf Percy, the centrepiece of his show is a magical mirror enabling entry to other dimensions.  Although the strange carnival is a hit with punters, this comes at a cost as Parnassus, due to an ancient pact with the Devil (Tom Waits), must either give him five souls or his young daughter.  When peculiar outsider Tony (Heath Ledger) joins, the good Doctor enlists his help in saving his daughter through the parallel worlds in which she has become trapped.
Whatever can be said of Gilliam’s skills, his visual palette always amazes.  Imaginarium sees his vivid mind run riot with a blancmange of fantasy and colour masking a dark tale of good vs. evil.  At its core ‘Imaginarium’ is about the limitless power of people’s imaginations and our ability to create our own version of paradise.  In Tom Wait’s typically arch manner, the Devil represents the mundane forces attempting to stifle creativity.  Sometimes you wonder if Gilliam is having a joke at our expense, as the plot mirrors a lot of the struggles he’s been through in the Hollywood system where profit always wins over originality.
Although the story is interesting and visually impressive, Imaginarium suffers from Gilliam’s inability to clearly articulate his ideas.  Maybe it’s a bit much to expect of the old rebel by now, but his previous films have fallen into this same trap with a very haphazard story-telling approach.  But if some sequences don’t work as well as they should there’s always something to gleam from the acting and dazzling scenery.  The main cast provide plenty of conviction in their roles, with Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell doing a great job in standing in for Ledger who steals most of his scenes.
Terry Gilliam deserves a lot of praise for the flack he’s received over the years.  Imaginarium is probably not the best he’s done, but his unique style and determination to finish the film in Ledger’s memory counts for something in a profession needing more of his quirky endeavours.
Rating out of 10:  6