Monday, June 29, 2009

Pesci, are you okay?

A movie like no other indeed. One of cinema's legendary vanity projects, 1988's Moonwalker showed audiences Michael Jackson was truly the world's greatest dancer, singer and all-around performer. But hey, 1988 audiences were pretty sure of that already before going into the theater. What they didn't know, however, was that Michael was also the world's fastest race car, toughest robot and sparkliest jet fighter.

Did you know that? I bet you didn't. But just like my last article's subject We're Back!: A Dinosaur's story, Jackson's seminal film is but a few clicks away on YouTube as well, so you can find out for yourself.

The first 45 minutes or so -- about half the movie -- are just a selection of Michael videos. Your enjoyment of it is pretty much equal to how much you like the man's music, and let's face it: you're watching a movie called Moonwalker. You're probably eating this shit up.

By the time the more traditional narrative segment rolls by, you know you're in for a real treat about one minute in. I'll refer to this bit as Smooth Criminal, after pretty much the only song that gets performed in it. Smooth Criminal tells the story of three street urchins named Sean (white, played by son of John Lennon), Katie (girl, clutching doll) and Zeke (black, dances well). Archetypes: covered! The kids are gathered on a positively marypoppinsian rooftop and express concern on Michael's lateness. The run-down old building they were supposed to meet in is filled with noting but cobwebs, creaky doors and general spookiness. What they were meeting Michael for is never explained, but why they are concerned becomes all too clear quite quickly!

We see Michael exit a terraced house on the other side of the street, and the children excitedly climb down the building. Michael opens the door to the spooky building and a heavenly light emanates from the opening. From between some trashcans, the children look upon the scene, understandably awestruck. As the door closes behind Michael by itself, the children dare to approach the boarded-up windows. As if by magic, the club has now transformed into a roarin' twenties (thirties? I dunno) nightclub and goddamn is Michael gonna rock it. There's a spectacular dance-off with dozens of gangsters and their molls which easily stands toe-to-toe with Jackson's greats. The children outside are, of course, incredibly entertained by all this and Zeke (black, remember?) shows us how uncanny his MJ-impression is. This just raises so many questions. Were they just gonna hang around and dance in that magical 30s club with Michael? Did Michael show up late on purpose so he could dance with his summoned gangsters? Mysteries abound in this Lynchian menagerie. Well, it doesn't matter when the fascist stormtroopers out of Orwell's worst nightmares starts shooting up the place and everyone gets scattered. But oh no, the children are captured, goddamn!

Flashback time, bitches. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away Michael and the three kids are playing soccer in an idyllic meadow. There's even a dog called Skipper. Oh no, Skipper's off with the frisbee! Oh no, he's gone down a skurree cave! Oh no, it's full of icky spiders! Oh no, a secret door! Oh no, Joe Pesci! Joe Pesci? Aw yeah, Joe Pesci. The erstwhile Lamotta brother is cackling, as villains are wont to do. He is also monologueing about his dastardly plan to… wait for it… deal drugs. Michael and the kids gasp from their little hideout. Truly, not since Live and Let Die was I so shocked at the sheer audacity of a villain’s plot! Near school yards! Near playgrounds! A younger customer is a loyal customer! Pesci’s Mr. Big and his whole spider-organization are pretty much Nancy Reagan’s worst nightmare: what seems like an army dedicated solely to getting kids on drugs. The stormtroopers even have little spider-logos on their uniforms. Mr. Big is nothing if not thematically coherent. For the big finale, he even turns the globe he was cackling over (!) so the United States face the camera and REAL LIFE SPIDERS ARE COVERING THE PLACES HE IS GOING TO DEAL DRUGS TO. Personal piece of trivia: this movie, for all its anti-drug advocacy, was the first time I’d heard of several drugs. I vaguely knew about drugs as a bad entity, but not that there were such varieties as heroine, cocaine, crack, speed, etc. Thinking back, I wonder if Mr. Big was going to deal cocaine at only the most posh schools. You know, the type that has executive washrooms to do the coke in. The spider-covered globe freaks Katie out so much that dumb cootie carrier just has to scream and reveal their location. They are forced to flee as henchmen fire at them, and that’s the end of our flashback.
Now, assuming Michael was always a guy who regularly dances with ghost gangsters, why did he take time out from that to go Frisbee with some kids? I mean, that’s an eclectic schedule, right there. If hanging out and playing Frisbee with kids in idyllic meadows was all he did before that traumatic encounter, one can assume he took up a different life to escape from that shadowy organization.

“They’re looking for a guy and three kids! We better split up! I’ll rent a house in the city and you guys live on the streets or something! Don’t worry, I’ll check up on you occasionally!”

Well, phooie! Michael is very bad at sneaking around, since he is caught trying to save Katie at Mr. Big’s mountainous base. Before he is executed, he will see Katie injected with DRUGS!

“You wanna know why I do this, Michael? Huh? I just… I just wanna get everybody high, man! They’re some good drugs, Michael! Heh heh heh!”

Actual quote! What a monster! I have to say, Pesci is pretty rough with Katie. He slaps her a good ten times and even puts his high-heeled (!) foot on her back. Well, this won’t do at all! Michael transforms into a robot in a downright creepy scene of stop-motion and starts blastin’ henchmen, while taking to the skies angelically. Pesci won’t have that and mounts a huge turret gun, blasting the Michaelbot over a ridge. The children have their “Oh no he is dead!” moment, until a glorious spaceship emerges from the flames to blast the evil drug lord to smithereens.
Michael celebrates his victory over the Spider Cartel by taking the children to a live performance of him doing Dirty Diana. Roll credits.

It’s a strange movie and the final number kind of illustrates it well. Michael takes these kids to one of his concerts, and the song played is quite sexual. Now, most children listen to songs with pretty sexual lyrics. I’m aware of that. It’s just that, coupled with the retardedly saccharine outlook on childhood this movie offers, it seems a bit gauche to reward these kids who still wish upon stars with a crotch-thrusting rendition of a song about a woman who is dirty.

But I guess that is the dichotomy of Michael Jackson. His songs are sweaty, sexy, made for the dance floor, and the guy himself seems to live in a perpetual loop of E.T. Still, if you like his music, this movie will likely entertain you. There’s the magic of childhood, robots, spaceships, gangsters, stop motion bunnies, and lots of awesome music. It’s a look into the weird, weird mind of the Moonwalker himself, from my personal favorite period in his career. He looked odd, but not monstrous. I like early MJ as well, but he was just a really good R&B singer back then. With the surgery came the evolution into what seemed like a singing/dancing nobleman from the realm of Faerie.

I have not insinuated anything or made jokes about pedophilia. There's a gigantic lolfest to be mined from Michael without even touching that. Besides, making pedophile jokes can be applied to any pedophile. Michael is/was Michael. He deserves satire with a certain level of je ne sais quoi. And I am wholly on that level, sir.

1 comment:

  1. One of your better blogentries so far.
    I never really saw Moonwalker, just bits of it really on MTV and whatnot, and of course these last few days on the net. And I played the game for a bit.
    Drugs do seem to be the running theme here, because man, there is some whacky (no pun intended) shit going on. I mean, how many popsingers of today transform into a robot/gangster/giant claymation bunny?