Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Video Game Review: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Arcade)

As much as I loved playing the Sega Genesis version of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, I was always a bit bummed that it wasn’t the same game as the arcade version, which I loved even more but barely got to play, as the arcade machines weren’t very common in my area.

Most people probably only know the Genesis version, which is a side and vertical scrolling game. The arcade version is a top-down view.

Now the gameplay and mechanics are damn near the same but the robot mode in the arcade is a lot better.

Fans of the Genesis game should remember how f’n cool it was to turn into the robot but if you just missed the shooting star on the screen, you missed out on robot mode. In the arcade version, the monkey just shows up and blesses you with the robot transformation and then you get to rain down superior laser fire on the baddies!

The game still has the special attack, which sees you break out into the “Smooth Criminal” dance, as your enemies join in and then die. Well, unless they’re super strong like some of the baddies late in the game.

For the most part, this has cool level design, it’s easy to navigate and less of a maze than the Genesis game.

Also, I think it’s fairly short. I was surprised that I beat it as quickly as I did but as a kid playing this, I never got very far.

Overall, this is the superior version of the Moonwalker video games. It’s held up well and it’s still fun to play.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the very different Sega Genesis version of the game, as well as other action arcade games of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Film Review: Moonwalker (1988)

Also known as: Michael Jackson: Moonwalker (promotional title)
Release Date: October 29th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Jerry Kramer, Colin Chilvers (“Smooth Criminal” segment)
Written by: David Newman, Michael Jackson
Music by: Michael Jackson, Bruce Broughton, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Cast: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker, Brandon Quintin Adams

MJJ Productions, Ultimate Productions, Will Vinton Studios, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You wanna know why I’m doing this, do you? I just wanna get everybody high, Man. You know, some good drugs. That’s all.” – Mr. Big

I think I’ve only seen this once and it was way back when it came out. Although, I did play the Sega Genesis game on and off for years.

Anyway, I wanted to revisit this, as it’s been so long and I didn’t remember much about it other than some specific music videos it features, as well as the story portion of the anthology film, which co-stars Joe Pesci, as some sort of strange drug lord that has no problem murdering the shit out of some meddling kids.

Overall, this is pretty bad as a motion picture. However, as a sort of collected tapestry of random Michael Jackson multimedia work, it’s interesting and kind of cool. It also feels like a time capsule back to the point in history where Jackson was the biggest star in the world and he hadn’t yet been wrecked by child molestation allegations. Plus, the film feels dated as hell now, which just adds to it being a cinematic time capsule.

I like most of the stuff in this anthology but it’s mostly just music videos and performances, other than a biographical retrospective and the short dramatic film that starts around the mid-point.

The retrospective was pretty neat and was a lot more creative and artistic in how it was edited and presented than what would’ve been typical at the time.

The short film, which is all built around the famous “Smooth Criminal” music video, is the high point of the movie. It’s written by Jackson and with that, feels like it was written by a five year-old trying to wedge in all of his favorite toys while jumping all over the place narratively without any real focus other than there’s a bad guy and Michael Jackson is cool.

I thought the short film segment was fabulous when I was a kid but seeing it as an adult, it’s a mess. That doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining, though. I kind of like the bizarre fantasy mixed with sci-fi world that Jackson created. It’s one-part gangster movie, one-part fantastical randomness, three-parts musical and nine-parts Michael Jackson.

Seeing this all these years later, I can’t say that this is a good film or even a very competent one. However, if you do like Michael Jackson, the artist, it’s still a entertaining look into his creative mind and it’s an incredibly unique experience. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, as well as other musical anthologies.

Vids I Dig 112: Defunctland: The History of ‘Captain EO’

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: Defunctland takes on the troubled 4D, sci-fi, Disney, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Michael Jackson, and Michael Eisner film, Captian EO.

Film Review: Captain EO (1986)

Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew

Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO

Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.

It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.

However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.

The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.

Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.

Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.

Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.

The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.

Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.

Documentary Review: Leaving Neverland (2019)

Also known as: Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me (UK)
Release Date: January 25th, 2019 (Sundance Film Festival)
Directed by: Dan Reed
Music by: Chad Hobson
Cast: Michael Jackson (archive footage), Wade Robson, Jimmy Safechuck

Amos Pictures, HBO, Channel 4, Kew Media, 236 Minutes, 182 Minutes (UK)

Review:

So, yeah… I had to watch this because there has been so much controversy around this documentary.

First off, if you take this documentary at face value and don’t go through the details with a fine tooth comb, it’s pretty convincing and pretty damning. But like all documentaries, this one had its agenda and it had to hit its points home without there being any counterpoints to what was presented as “fact”.

To be blunt, this is incredibly one-sided and hopefully, people are astute enough to see the forest for the trees, even if the two alleged victims that are featured in this documentary come off as genuine. And I do think they do come off as genuine or they are just damn good actors and deserve every Oscar next year.

I’m not saying that the victims are lying and I don’t want to doubt them, assuming their stories are true. But there are a lot of holes and when looking at the facts that are presented here, some of them don’t line up with details that are already public knowledge.

One example I should point out, is that Jimmy Safechuck’s mom says that she danced for joy when Michael Jackson died in 2009 because he couldn’t sexually abuse anymore children. However, Safechuck never told his mom that Jackson abused him until he was inspired by Wade Robson coming forward in 2013. And this is just one of several things that don’t add up when you take these victims’ stories at face value and look at other important factors like the actual timeline of events.

This was a compelling documentary and I am certainly not dismissing the possibility that Michael Jackson sexually abused children but if the victims’ stories are to be believed, there are a lot of plot holes and details that need to be ironed out.

The biggest problem, is that I can’t take any of this at face value because looking beyond this documentary as entertainment, which is what it is designed to be, as fucked up as that is, these stories come apart when you do any research beyond what is laid out and spoon fed to the audience for four whopping hours. But then, you can see that things don’t add up just within this movie, if you are actually paying attention to the finer points. Plus, the movie isn’t exactly clear on the dates of events it discusses, except where something happens around an event known by the mass populace like the release of an album or actual trials.

I’m not on either side of the debate here. However, it is pretty damn weird that Michael Jackson spent so much time with kids behind closed doors without parents around. But even if Jackson was a predator, the fault really lands right in the parents’ laps.

I don’t want to doubt the story of any victim but we live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty and when details don’t add up or make sense, that’s more than enough for me to dismiss whatever story is being sold to me.

This was shoddy filmmaking where the film’s own director shot himself in the foot by not catching contradicting details. It was agenda driven, didn’t offer up anything fair and balanced and presented no real evidence other than the stories of two victims, stretched to an ungodly length.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: various other documentaries about Michael Jackson.