Clearly critics who sat in on advance screenings of the Michael Jackson concert documentary This Is It!were expecting to see a shadow of the former vibrant entertainer and a film slapped together to exploit the public frenzy that followed his death. But Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesacknowledges that "this extraordinary documentary [is] nothing at all like what I was expecting so see. Here is not a sick and drugged man forcing himself through grueling rehearsals, but a spirit embodied by music. Michael Jackson was something else." The knowledge that Jackson was receiving regular doses of a plethora of drugs before his death, Ebert writes, "makes it hard to understand how he appears to be in superb physical condition. His choreography, built from such precise, abrupt and perfectly-timed movements, is exhausting, but he never shows a sign of tiring." Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily Newsadvises those who might feel reluctant to see the former music idol trying to make a comeback at age 50 just before his death, "Rest assured, the late King of Pop delivers. ... To see Jackson working hard in the hopes of sending shivers down a future audience's spine one last time gives closure to the festival of mourning that followed his death last June." And Ann Powers, the Los Angeles Times's pop music critic, concludes in her review of the film that if Jackson's London concert performances had actually materialized and he had performed as he does in the film, "he would have accomplished the comeback for which he was so hungry." The film is debuting simultaneously all over the world. In the London Daily Mail, critic Baz Bamigboye wrote that the film reveals "Jackson was a consummate artist, a perfectionist and that the This Is It Concerts would have been just about the best music show of the year." Not all critics are so generous. Lou Lumenick in the New York Postregards the movie as reprehensible -- "a ghoulish 'event' offered just in time for Halloween ... a shoddy piece of exploitation." And Kevin Maher in the London Timessays that the filmmakers have achieved "middling" results from their efforts. "It's a strange and ultimately underwhelming way to say goodbye to a troubled, talented performer," he concludes.


The late fashion designer Yves St. Laurent has jumped to the top of Forbesmagazine's "Top-Earning Dead Celebrities" list thanks to a one-time estate sale last February that netted $443 million. With a total of around $90 million, Michael Jackson came in at No. 3 on the list, mostly as a result of the $60 million advance that Sony Films paid to his estate and concert promoter AEG for the rights to his concert rehearsal footage for the This Is It!movie. Still the figure paled in comparison with the $225 million that the legendary Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein earned last year. Coming in fourth was Elvis Presley, with $55 million. Lord of the Ringswriter J.R.R. Tolkien rounded out the top five with $50 million. Forbesnoted that several "mainstays" on its dead celebrities list fell off this year, including Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Steve McQueen. "These icons couldn't keep up with their peers," it noted.


The roller-coaster business of feature animation -- in which profits soar during the months following a theatrical release, then plummet afterwards, then rise again when the movie is released overseas and the DVD is released at home, then drop once more before the next feature is released -- nabbed the attention of analysts Tuesday when DreamWorks Animation posted net income of $19.6 million for its recent quarter, down 48 percent from the comparable quarter a year ago. Nevertheless that was far better than analysts had expected, and the company's stock rose 3.2 percent in after-hours trading and 2.8 percent in early trading today (Wednesday). Revenue from foreign sales and the first weeks of DVD sales domestically proved to be higher than expected. In a conference call with analysts, DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg disclosed that the company had decided not to produce a sequel to Monsters vs Aliens, largely because the movie failed to perform as well as expected in some key markets overseas. "I'd like to tell you there's a perfectly rational, clear and easy answer as to why not, but there isn't," he said.


Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis maintains that director Paul Haggis's letter of resignation from the organization was intended to be a private message to him and that neither he nor Haggis knows who leaked it online. He denied Haggis's allegation in the letter that he reneged on his promise to take action against a Scientology unit in San Diego which reportedly backed California's Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage initiative. The San Diego group's name was included "on a list of churches that supported Proposition 8, but it was an error that was corrected," Davis said. He went on to claim that Haggis had demanded that Scientology go further and denounce the initiative, something it could not do due to its tax-empt status as a church. (Numerous other religious organizations lined up on each side of the issue.)