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'This' is the real Michael Jackson

Published November 03. 2009 05:00PM

It's admittedly kind of creepy going to see a concert rehearsal film about a dead pop star.

And yet, "This Is It" is filled with the charm, energy and talent of Michael Jackson.

The film, directed by Kenny Ortega, was shot April - June 2009 and is mostly footage of rehearsals for Jackson's sold-out 50 concerts in London. Alas, the King of Pop died about eight days before the first concert.

What a concert it would have been. The film shows sequences originally shot in 3-D of "Earth Girl" in a rain forest for "Heal the World"; a new "Thriller" music video with all-new ghouls; and clips from "In A Lonely Place" (1950), starring Humphrey Bogart, and "Gilda" (1946), starring Rita Hayworth, who sings "Put the Blame on Mame," with Jackson green-screened to interact with them, for his song, "Smooth Criminal."

This was to be a Jackson greatest hits concert. The some 26 songs include "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,'" "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Billy Jean," "Bad," "Human Nature," "Black or White," "The Man in the Mirror," plus "I Want You Back" and "I'll Be There" from his Jackson 5 days. "This Is It" will have you dancing in your seat. It may also have you dabbing a few tears.

There's a stunning duet with backup vocalist Judith Hill for "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," a jazz-blues Gershwin-esque introduction to "The Way You Make Me Feel" and a stunning guitar solo by Orianthi Panagaris for "Beat It." Says Jackson, "This is your time to shine," and she does.

The rehearsal footage, shot in HD, with locations including Staples Center, Los Angeles, and Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, Calif., is quite good, with set pieces and lighting, fireworks and pyrotechnical effects testing shown. Jackson appears energized on and off stage and is resplendent, even in rehearsal clothes, from silver jacket, to orange pants, and those black loafers and white socks. The stage props include New York skyscraper girders, a giant spider and "Light Man," the latter two from which Jackson was to emerge in his concerts.

Dancers and musicians give emotional interviews. At the London concerts press conference, "This is the final curtain call," Jackson says with tragic prescience. Ortega (director, "High School Musical" series; choreographer, "Dirty Dancing"; three-time Emmy winner, including choreography and directing, XIX Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony 2002) is the guiding hand, ever the coach. "Welcome to the church of rock and roll," Ortega says.

Jackson is seen rehearing with dancers, singers and musicians, coaching all with meticulous, courteous but firm insistence. "That's why we rehearse," says Jackson, ever the perfectionist. At age 50, he moonwalks, glides, spins and keeps pace with dancers half his age.

In the pop culture pantheon, the death of Jackson is arguably as tragic as that of Elvis Presley and John Lennon. Each was a dominant influence on popular music. Put aside for a minute the scandal, courtroom drama, financial problems and questionable, traumatic and, ultimately, self-destructive personal choices.

Jackson melded arena rock drums, rumbling bass line and hard-rock guitar to a syncopated dance beat to create unparalleled rhythm tracks. To that he overlaid his passionate vocals, soaring from blues man rasp to angelic falsetto.

His dance moves borrowed from vaudeville buck and wing, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, James Brown and Broadway-style chorus line choreography for an amazing show. He changed the way music videos were made, concerts were choreographed and pop stars entertained. Jackson set the stage for Madonna, Jay-Z, Beyonce and all who came after him.

"This Is It" captures forever only a portion of Jackson's legacy. It's sad that "This Is It" is all there is.

"Michael Jackson's This Is It": MPAA rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for some suggestive choreography and scary images. Genre: Documentary, Music; Run time: 1 hr., 52 min.; Distributed by Columbia PicturesCredit Readers Anonymous: "This Is It" has a final scene of Michael Jackson and an animated version of his logo following the final credits.

Box Office, Oct. 30: Michael Jackson proved to be a thriller on Halloween weekend, with "This Is It" opening at No. 1 with $21.3 million for the weekend, $32.5 million since midnight Oct. 27, sending "Paranormal Activity" to No. 2, with $16.5 million, $84.7 million, after six weeks.

3. "Law Abiding Citizen," $7.3 million, $51.3 million, three weeks; 4. "Couples Retreat," $6 million, $86.6 million; four weeks; 5. "Saw VI," $5.5 million, $22.8 million, two weeks; 6. "Where the Wild Things Are," $5 million, $61.8 million, three weeks; 7. "The Stepfather," $3.4 million, $24.7 million, three weeks; 8. "Astro Boy," $3 million, $10.8 million; two weeks; 9. "Amelia," $3 million, $8.3 million, two weeks; 10. "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant," $2.8 million, $10.5 million, two weeks

Unreel, Nov. 6: Now that Halloween is out of the way and it's about three weeks until Thanksgiving, can the first holiday season movie be far behind? "A Christmas Carol," though released by Walt Disney Studios, isn't the Disney version. Director Robert Zemeckis gives the Charles' Dickens' classic "The Polar Express" treatment with an animated version sticking largely to the original storyline and Jim Carrey as Scrooge.

"The Men Who Stare at Goats," with the year's best movie title, is said to be based on a true story about a member of the Army's First Earth Battalion, which uses paranormal powers in its missions. George Clooney stars as the mindbender, Ewan McGregor is a reporter along for the story and Kevin Spacey also stars.

"The Fourth Kind" has Milla Jovovich starring as an investigator into an extraordinary number of unexplained disappearances in Alaska, starting with that of Sarah Palin - just kidding about the former governor. She has videotaped evidence of alien abduction. Again, we're talking about Jovovich, not Palin.

"The Box" promises a young couple, played by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, all kinds of things. Of course, there's a catch. There's always a catch.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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