Skip to main content

Review: Michael Jackson’s This is It, My Year Without Sex, The Limits of Control and Black Ice

By November 14, 2009August 10th, 2010No Comments

Thi is It posterFull dis­clos­ure: I wrote a play about Michael Jackson once (“Dirty Doris”, BATS 1995) so I’ll con­fess to always being inter­ested in the real char­ac­ter behind the tabloid and music video façade so the arrival of This is It (what some have described as a cheap cash-in flick) is of more than passing interest to me.

And of all the pos­sible adject­ives avail­able to describe the film “cheap” would seem to be the least appro­pri­ate. This behind-the-scenes doc­u­ment­ary, made up of foot­age inten­ded for “Making of” extras on an even­tu­al DVD plus han­dic­am foot­age for Jackson’s own per­son­al archive, shows a ded­ic­ated bunch of ser­i­ously tal­en­ted people pre­par­ing a huge stage show for an audi­ence of demand­ing fans. However, no one involved is more demand­ing than the star of the show MJ himself.

In the film we see Jackson and his crack team rehears­ing the massive series of 50 London shows that were sup­posedly to mark his retire­ment from live per­form­ance. Pushing 50, with a body battered from years of ill­ness and tour­ing, suf­fer­ing from anxiety-induced insom­nia, Jackson knew that audi­ences only wanted the moon­walk­ing King of Pop per­sona, an act that he wouldn’t be able to main­tain much longer. So, he wanted to go out with a bang, with some­thing mem­or­able, and he was evid­ently very ser­i­ous about put­ting on a truly amaz­ing show.

It wasn’t to be, of course. History shows that. But let his­tory also include This is It as a test­a­ment to what should endure about the man (a real man whose life was more com­plic­ated and dif­fi­cult than most of us can ima­gine) and his desire to enter­tain. It’s a remark­able, heart­break­ing, doc­u­ment and full cred­it must go to director/choreographer Kenny Ortega (pre­vi­ously known to me only as the auteur of the High School Musical series) who has seam­lessly pieced togeth­er an enter­tain­ing and mov­ing test­a­ment to the finest enter­tain­er of our age.

My Year Without Sex posterSo far, nearly 20 of this year’s Wellington Film Festival titles have returned on gen­er­al release (which seems to me like an accel­er­ated pace on pre­vi­ous years). This week is no excep­tion with anoth­er two hit­ting loc­al screens barely three months after the Festival fin­ished. My Year Without Sex is a dear little Australian film made by the keenly obser­v­ant Sarah Watt who made the quirky Look Both Ways in 2005. A middle-class Melbourne fam­ily is rocked when Mum, Natalie (Sacha Horler), col­lapses with an aneurysm and the film is about the way this par­tic­u­lar fam­ily copes (or fails to cope) with the near-miss.

Screenwriting gurus will always tell you to get into a scene as late as you can and leave it as early as pos­sible and Watt’s style has this qual­ity with lost of short scenes adding up to a power­ful punch. In fact, it’s her abil­ity to build ten­sion this way that is one of her greatest strengths (as well her obvi­ous affec­tion for her characters).

The Limits of Control posterJim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control is the kind of art­house film that gives art­house films a bad name. Slow and delib­er­ate, and all the while going nowhere and tak­ing itself incred­ibly ser­i­ously while not get­ting there, I found it a pain­ful exer­cise until Jarmusch’s anaes­thet­ic dir­ec­tion finally knocked me out.

An unnamed African hit­man (Isaach De Bankolé) arrives in Madrid to do a job that requires a chain of instruc­tions from some ridicu­lous and mys­ter­i­ous char­ac­ters includ­ing John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Gael García Bernal. Jarmusch recycles some of the suc­cess­ful ele­ments of pre­vi­ous films (includ­ing a sub-Neil Young soundtrack and the self-possesed black hit­man from Ghost Dog) to no great effect. Boring nonsense.

Black Ice posterNot bor­ing but also not ter­ribly effect­ive is Black Ice, an art film that didn’t play in the Festival. It’s a Finnish psy­cho­lo­gic­al thrill­er about a cuck­olded woman who becomes obsessed with her husband’s young­er girl­friend to the extent that she takes on a new per­sona in order to get close to her. Full of unex­plained (yet help­ful) coin­cid­ences, Black Ice is clev­erly plot­ted but impossible to take seriously.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 4 November, 2009.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: This is It looked and soun­ded superb at the Empire in Island Bay (although I do regret not see­ing and hear­ing it at the Embassy); My Year Without Sex was in the Vogue Lounge at the Penthouse where they seem to open all their mar­gin­al films these days; The Limits of Control was in the big room at the Paramount with all of the incon­sist­en­cies that implies and Black Ice was an aver­age (i.e. not very good) digit­al present­a­tion in the Bergman room at the Paramount.