Wednesday, August 13, 2014

GET ON UP (2014)

Directed By: Tate Taylor 
Written By: Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth 
Story By: Steven Baigelman, Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth 
Cinematography By: Stephen Goldblatt 
Editor: Michael McCusker 

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Lennie James, Jill Scott, Dan Ayckroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer, Fred Melamed, Tika Sumpter, Aloe Blacc, Tariq Trotter, Aunjanue Ellis, Keith Robinson

A chronicle of James Brown 's rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history. Of course it would be hard to summarize the life and legacy of James Brown in a single film. That is a near impossible task. Though this film has a nice overview and introduces some aspects that maybe the general public didn’t know.

The film just feels like a reenactment of anecdotes and greatest hits. As it provides performances on stage, but also plenty of behind the scenes drama.

The film has a strange structure that at first seems to jump around. Though as you watch the film it slowly becomes clear that the filmmakers have created a jigsaw puzzle out of the story of his life. Strictly for the benefit of creating a mystery to his life that by the near end of the film. Once they begin to reveal the reasons behind his decisions and behavior, they expect to be accepted by the audience as profound, but also so that when needed they can make a reveal or go to a flashback that will help add resonance to a scene emotionally. That makes the filmmakers feel smart in a certain way but cheapens the story also. it feels manipulative instead of needed or artistic.

The film is definitely a feel good story with dramatic overtones. That while trying to give a fair and balanced view of James Brown as a person, performer and character. Feels forced and leaves you confused as it might answer some questions, but leaves others way too open for interpretation. Especially for a film that has no fear in presenting the story in a non-linear way. It all of a sudden becomes conventional and rote when it comes to maybe resenting anything that isn’t easily explained. Plenty of times the film offers up a view of something challenging or different dramatically in his life and it skirts by it or leaves it hanging to be explained away in a sentence or two.

The film likes to bring up race and a interesting conundrum for James Brown by him asking. How can he exist in two communities? If he goes to the white house at the invitation of the president he is an uncle tom, But if her refuses it and throws his support behind radicals or black revolutionaries. He alienates his universal crossover appeal and can’t play places like Las Vegas. It’s a question brought up, but never really answered or presented in a satisfactory way of how Mr. Brown figured it out at least for himself.

The film does have a touching ending that you don’t see coming. That was truly effective and really showing a so called Bro-mantic relationship.

Distracting was some of the cast from the director’s previous film THE HELP. Popping up throughout this film. While Viola Davis is good in her small screen-time, showing she knows how to get to the heart of a character and really push a scene and whoever is in it with her, to up their game to be on the same level she is on. Others are used less successfully and feel like favors or crutches for the director. It’s nice to see Octavia Spencer and she doesn’t do anything wrong. There is no reason for her to really be in the film. The character is necessary, but seems to disappear. Alison Janney who I always love to see in a film, is here for a scant two small scenes and really not only does she not have to be in the film neither do her scenes. As her scenes seem to be here to illustrate the transformative power of music. They are sloppy and the point kind of pretentious. As we know music can open people up to new ideas and cultures. There is also a contingent of people who love music from other cultures and still doesn’t change their political or racial views. They just like the music.

Dan Aykroyd is in the film it seems more to be a known name on the poster. As he doesn’t bring anything special to his role other than trying to sound like he is from new York and of Jewish heritage. Maybe to convince audiences to come to a film that doesn’t necessarily have too many big name stars in it. At least outside of the audience the film seems aimed at. Aykroyd and the real James Brown appeared together in The Blues Brothers, Doctor Detroit and Blues Brothers 2000. Cast member Aunjanue Ellis also appeared with real James Brown in Undercover Brother.

Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) handcuffs the suitcase full of cash to Big Junior's wrist. Part of Aykroyd's Elwood Blues act was to walk on stage with a suitcase handcuffed to his wrist.

Which brings up the direction of the film. I found one of the biggest problems of the film to be that I felt the film lacked exactly what James brown stood for Soul. Not only that, but it felt like the filmmakers wanted to tell his story, but lacked the passion to tell it. Even as he is supposedly narrating the film at times himself. It gives insight, but we never really get to see what makes him tick or even what they think makes him tick, nor are they interested as the filmmakers seem only to care to point and go to the next scene. As the film comes off a bit stiff and by the numbers other then it’s structure it plays it pretty straight. Which I feel is the films true disservice. It also seems to tell the story with some insight by James Brown, but it seems like most of the film is the view of him by Caucasians around him and who have to deal with him. It seems to lack the community that he was born in and appealed to, who feel a certain ownership of him and his legacy as he inspired, and supported and made them feel proud. As part of that community I might be biased myself as I felt it never truly showed or showcased why other then color and performance e means so much to us and is so legendary. They hint at it in a scene where a producer tries to explain it’s not about the songs or the music it’s an essence about him and something about him that speaks to us all. I am not saying whether a black person would have been better then a white director. What I am saying is the film would have benefited from a director who had more skill and more of a passion for the project. Someone who didn't treat it like an assignment so much. So that the film would feel more polished, necessary and had a vision. As the film feel more like a footnote rather than a volume.

Another distraction is that the filmmakers here are trying to purify or simplicate his story by driving the film to a PG-13 rating. when most of us know he live a hard R-Rated life

James Brown learns that the Rolling Stones will close the TV show not him. Ben Bart advises that the band will soon be forgotten. Mick Jagger is Get on Up's producer and executive music producer; the band is still performing after 50 years together.

What really makes the film stand out is actor Chadwick Boseman, who is phenomenal this is his second time playing a legend previously in the film 42 as Jackie Robinson. Here As James Brown he has more to work with and seems possessed as he gets the vocal inflections of the way James Brown spoke and the dance moves down, as well as the performance. The vocals are obviously lip synching, though it never takes away from the power of the performance at all.

Nathan Ellis also makes an impression as Mr. Brown’s best friend and bandmate Bobby Byrd he brings a sincerity to the role and gives the film it’s heart.

Really the trio of Boseman, Ellis and Davis are what give the film it’s power and are all that is noteworthy about it. It’s a good film that has a nice overview and should prove to be crowd pleasing and enjoyable to a degree. It will probably leave you wanting to learn more about him, which i hope if anything this film manages to do.


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