"Everything is as it should be."

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Leaving Neverland: A Review

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!****

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. See it to see and hear the truth regarding one of America’s most famous icons.

Leaving Neverland, produced and directed by Dan Reed, is a documentary that tells the story of Michael Jackson’s child sexual abuse of James Safechuk and Wade Robson from the late 80’s to the mid-90’s. The film is four hours long and is broken down into two, two-hour segments, which originally aired on HBO on March 3rd and 4th and are currently still available on that channel.

Leaving Neverland is one of those documentaries that takes a nebulous perception and turns it into an unavoidable reality. Michael Jackson, who settled a child sexual abuse lawsuit for a rumored $25 million in 1993 and was acquitted of child sex abuse involving another boy in a separate case in 2005, has long been assumed to be a pedophile…Leaving Neverland removes all doubt from that assumption.

The film is basically a collection of very long interviews with Safechuk and Robson where they describe in extremely explicit detail their sexual interactions with Jackson when they were minors, in Robson’s case as young as 7 years old. While the explicitness of their stories is uncomfortable to hear, it is very effective in shattering any illusions that might cloud the cold-hard reality of Jackson’s perverse sexual predilections. The explicitness of the language used is very beneficial, as terms like “molested” or “fondled” sound less damning and less evil than hearing the precise descriptions of what Jackson was doing to these little boys.

Director Reed wisely cuts back and forth between the explicit interviews of the grown men and footage of when they were young boys at the age when they were abused. This approach is highly effective in bringing home the point of Jackson’s disturbing depravity and the scope and scale of his evil.

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Safechuk and Robson come across as forthright and believable in the interviews. If they are lying about the nature of their relationship with Jackson then they are two of the greatest actors to have ever walked the earth. Robson is much more camera friendly and articulate than Safechuk, but Safechuk’s pure being, his posture, his energy, the look in his eye, is devastating testimony in and of itself, and is a searing indictment of Michael Jackson.

The film does not have any interviews from members of the Jackson family or any counter arguments to Safechuk and Robson, and some may see that as unfair, I do not agree. For thirty years we have heard the Jackson story while the children he abused have been silenced due to his wealth and power. We’ve heard enough from Jackson and company, and Leaving Neverland gives the side of the story we haven’t heard yet and that is what makes it so valuable.

What is so striking about the documentary is the news footage from the height of Jackson’s fame in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Jackson’s pedophilia was hiding in plain sight for all of us to see…in fact he was even flaunting it. The footage of Jackson gallivanting around the globe hand in hand with little boys is disgusting as he acts like a rock star parading around in public with a super model as arm candy and trophy girlfriend. And just like some rock star would want the status symbol of being seen in public with the latest and hottest Hollywood ingenue, Michael Jackson did the same thing with little boys, going public with his “friendship” with first Emmanuel Lewis (of Webster fame) and then later with Macaulay Culkin.

Jackson is just a despicable and deplorable human being, but his staff, family and enablers are equally repugnant for aiding and abetting his blatantly obvious sexual predation. As the documentary shows, Jackson’s staff members were actively recruiting boys to be Jackson’s companions and were complicit in keeping parents away while the abuse was happening.

Leaving Neverland is not just an indictment of Jackson, but of us all. His fans, the media and the public in general refused to see or believe what was right in front of our eyes because it was easier to ignore it, laugh about it or pretend it wasn’t happening. How Jackson did not get his head caved in by either a raging father of an abused child or by a security staffer with a conscience, is beyond me.

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The documentary is very effective in revealing how Jackson didn’t just seduce little boys but also their entire families. The interviews with Safechuk’s and Robson’s mothers are very enlightening and at times infuriating. These women, whose job was to protect their kids, fell for Jackson’s schtick hook, line and sinker and their boys paid the price for it. The mother’s, especially Ms. Robson, inability to take responsibility for their failure is mind-boggling, and the fact that Ms. Robson STILL doesn’t want to hear what happened to her son is astonishing. But this is what the allure of fame does to people, it distorts and compromises their soul, and they end up selling their son’s youth and innocence for a shot at the brass ring.

After the airing of the second part of the documentary, HBO aired a special interview with Oprah Winfrey and James Safechuk and Wade Robson. Considering Oprah herself has talked publicly about being sexually abused as a girl and the intracicies of that, you would think she’d be a good choice to host program…but you would be wrong.

Oprah is a terrible interviewer as she always makes everything about her and her opinion…but she is an even worse human being because she is so devoid of self-awareness yet is delusional enough to think that she is entirely self-aware. During the post-doc interview Oprah has the temerity to tell Safechuk that he hasn’t evolved as much as Robson, which if Oprah were half as “evolved” as she thinks she is she would understand is a really vicious thing to say to a survivor, especially one in such a vulnerable state as Safechuk.

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What was stunning to me is that Oprah spent the hour pontificating on how wise she is about abuse and how it is really seduction, but she fails to ever mention that she interviewed Michael Jackson in 1993…and it was a patty cake interview if there ever was one. During that interview Oprah never held Jackson to account or held his feet to the fire for his “bizarre” and curious behavior with boys. Oprah…like the rest of America and like Safechuk and Robson and countless other boys and their families…was seduced by Michael Jackson and the allure of his fame and power, which is saying quite a lot considering Oprah’s fame and power…and it would have been interesting for Oprah to talk about HER experience of that seduction and how she was either wittingly or unwittingly blind to Jackson’s depravity…instead of doing what she did and giving her opinion on other people’s experience of that.

The enormity of Michael Jackson’s fame and celebrity, especially back in the 80’s and early 90’s is difficult to fathom in this day and age of such a fractured and fragmented popular culture. Michael Jackson wasn’t just a superstar, he was a supernova. Jackson was the most famous and identifiable person on the planet back then and more people knew his name than any other person’s in the whole world.

When you look at Jackson’s discography and album sales it is unbelievable. Jackson was considered a performing prodigy and was a superstar with his family band The Jackson Five at the age of 11. After an awkward adolescent transition, Jackson returned to glory as a 21 year old with his 1979 hit album Off the Wall, which is a terrific album that sold 20 million copies.

The follow up to Off the Wall was Thriller, which sold an estimated 66 million copies and is the greatest selling album of all-time. Thriller undeniably made Jackson the biggest pop star in the world. No one has ever or will ever surpass Thriller’s sales numbers.

After Thriller Jackson could have sold 20 million copies of any piece of crap he threw out there, and that is kind of what he did with the awful Bad (1987) and the even more abysmal Dangerous (1991), which sold 35 and 32 million copies respectively.

The success of Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous gave Jackson enormous amounts of wealth and power and with that money and power Jackson could do whatever the hell he wanted…and sadly…what he wanted to do most of all was to have sex with young boys.

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After watching Leaving Neverland and the Oprah special I sat contemplating what I had just seen and I had two thoughts. The first thought was how striking it is to me that in the 1980’s, a decade of America’s alleged rebirth and renewal under Ronald Reagan, the biggest and most beloved music star was Michael Jackson and the biggest and most beloved television star was Bill Cosby. These two men were very similar in a lot of ways in that they were two Black men whose success crossed color lines, who cultivated personas that exuded a gentle kindness and moral purity, and who were sexual predators who preyed upon the defenseless, in Jackson’s case young children and in Cosby’s case drugged and unconscious women. I have no idea what that observation means in a broader sense, maybe something about masks and facades and how to succeed in America, I don’t know, I just thought it was very curious that these two men were so successful in their careers at that time period but also so successful at getting away with their sex crimes for so long.

The second thought I had was about Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s personal physician, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s 2009 death from an overdose of propofol. Murray served two years in prison and was pilloried by the media for being responsible for “killing” Michael Jackson. After watching Leaving Neverland, I think Conrad Murray deserves a fucking medal.

In conclusion, Leaving Neverland is a difficult documentary to watch, but I highly recommend you do watch it because we must never look away from the truth, no matter how ugly it is or how uncomfortable it makes us.

©2019

A Must Read: The Five Best Films of All Time

 

ESTIMATED READING TIME : FIVE MINUTES

Film is the most collaborative of all art forms. Writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, musicians, set designers, wardrobe, lighting designers and dozens, if not hundreds, of other artists all working together to tell a story and create a piece of art. With so many moving parts, and so many things that could go wrong, it is a minor miracle to even get a film made. To make a great film is a staggering achievement. To make one of the top five films of all time, is a testament to the incredible talent, hard work and artistry of the people who made them. 

These five films stand as the pinnacle of artistic achievement in filmmaking. They will live on as a monument for future generations to look upon and see the greatness our species has residing deep within its heart and soul. 

Let us look upon these masterworks and find our own inspiration to reach higher in our own lives, dig deeper into our own souls and artistically strive to capture the ever elusive magical perfection that is so beautifully on display in these gems.

Without further ado…I give you the top five films of all time.

5. JACK

Jack is, without question, esteemed director Francis Ford Coppola's greatest film. The film boasts one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled, with Diane Lane, Jennifer Lopez, Fran Drescher and Bill Cosby all starring alongside lead actor Robin Williams. Williams plays Jack Powell, a young boy who grows four times faster than normal due to a disease. This performance shows Williams at the height of his dramatic powers and he gives a transcendently resplendent and authentic performance. Williams unforgettable and brutally realistic portrayal, without the slightest whiff of sentimentality, is the lynch pin that makes Jack Coppola's crowning achievement.

 

4. STRIKING DISTANCE

When you put the greatest actor, and the greatest actress of a generation in a film together, magic is bound to happen. Striking Distance is living proof of that. This uncommonly original film stars Bruce Willis as a Pittsburgh Police River Rescue Squad cop, and boasts a supporting turn from Sarah Jessica Parker as his new partner. When you take two magnetic performers known for being artistically daring and committed like Willis and Parker, and add in the pulse-pounding excitement and prestige of the life of Pittsburgh river cops, you get the combustible magnificence that is Striking Distance. An absolutely heart-racing, gut-wrenching and mind-blowing film that speaks to the stoic and noble Pittsburgh River Cop in all of us.

3. CUTTHROAT ISLAND

Director Renny Harlin's swashbuckling magnum opus is, without any doubt, the greatest big budget pirate movie ever made. The film stars the luminous Geena Davis in the penultimate role of her career as pirate Morgan Adams. Legendary actor Matthew Modine's tour-de-force supporting performance as con-man and thief William Shaw is as good as anything ever captured on film. Combine the mastery of America's two most gifted actors with an incredibly intricate script, and Harlin's deft and subtle touch and you have a masterpiece of epic proportions. Cutthroat Island is such a treasure that it is universally recognized as the last word in the dramatic-action genre. There will never be another Cutthroat Island, there CAN never be another Cuthroat Island, there MUST never be another Cutthroat Island.

2. I LOVE TROUBLE

In 1994, when word came out that the two most talented actors on the planet, Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte, had agreed to work together, cinephiles were all a buzz. Then, when those same cinephiles heard the story these two masters were going to be bringing to life, the buzz morphed into an all out frenzy. The story of the film is summed up thusly, "rival Chicago reporters Sabrina Peterson (Roberts) and Peter Brackett (Nolte) reluctantly join forces to uncover a train wreck that leads to the discovery of genetically altered milk conspiracy. They bite off more than they can chew while pursuing the story, and fall in love."

This is one of those stories that is so rare and originally unique as to be pioneering. I Love Trouble is an incomparably taut drama, a raucous and laugh out loud comedy, an exquisitely tender love story and a remarkably nail-biting mystery-thriller, all impeccably wrapped up in one. Add in Roberts and Nolte at the pinnacle of their artistic genius, and you have, unquestionably, the second greatest film ever made.

1. CAPTAIN RON

Captain Ron is the story of Ron (Kurt Russell), a sailor with a quirky personality and a checkered past, and Martin (Martin Short), a middle-class family man who hires Ron to sail a yacht through the Carribean with Martin and his family aboard. Captain Ron is universally hailed as Kurt Russell's masterwork, and is the crowning achievement for the man most consider the greatest actor the world has ever known.  The film is at once a brooding character study, showcased by the intensity and mastery of Russell's performance, but also a vivid, fierce and visceral family drama, highlighted by a complex, detailed and delicate treasure of a performance by Martin Short. Captain Ron is the art of filmmaking's piece de resistance. The craft, skill, talent and passion on display in Captain Ron is so exquisite that it transcends being just a film and becomes a showpiece of that which humanity is capable. It is impossible to watch Captain Ron and not be changed. The film alters your perception of humanity, of family, of yourself. Captain Ron is not just an artistic masterpiece, it is a spiritual one, bringing to the viewer a transcendent insight of religious proportions. The perfection of Captain Ron is a sign of mankind's continued evolution and a symbol of hope for the future of our species and our planet. Captain Ron is not just a film, and not just a character, Captain Ron is us…sometimes the best of us, sometimes the worst of us…but undeniably he is ALL of us.

 

There you have it, the top five films of all time. I hope you enjoyed the list. Although, as is universally acknowledged, my list is the only list that matters, you should please feel free to add your own list and opinions in the comments section. God Bless Us Everyone. And have a safe and enjoyable April Fools Day.

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