|GET ON UP (director: Tate Taylor; screenwriters: Jez Butterworth/John-Henry Butterworth/based on a story by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Steven Baigelman; cinematographer: Stephen Goldblatt; editor: Michael McCusker; music: Thomas Newman; cast: Chadwick Boseman (James Brown), Nelsan Ellis (Bobby Byrd), Dan Aykroyd (Ben Bart), Viola Davis (Susie Brown), Craig Robinson (Maceo Parker), Octavia Spencer (Aunt Honey), Lennie James (Joe Brown), Jill Scott (DeeDee), Tika Sumpter (Yvonne Fair), Jacinte Blankenship (wife number 1), Jamarion and Jordan Scott (Little James Brown); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Brian Glazer/Mick Jagger/Victoria Pearman/Erica Huggins/Tate Taylor; Universal Pictures; 2014)|
|"A high energy and entertaining
film, one that avoids standard biopic clichés."
by Dennis Schwartz
Chadwick Boseman superbly played the
reserved Dodgers Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson
in 42. In Get On Up, Chadwick overwhelms playing
high wired and prickly James Brown, the Godfather
of Soul, who died in 2006 at
fine screenplay is by the British brothers Jez and
John-Henry Butterworth. The directing is in the
capable hands of Tate Taylor ("The
Help"/"Chicken Party"/"Pretty Ugly People"), who shows
he cares about the music above all else. Tate also
gives the biopic a fresh look, as he tells Brown's
incredible rags to riches story by using a
non-linear approach. The time line approach is
replaced by following a smashing beat of its own
pulse, which makes a dent in the conventional biopic
but doesn't completely remove it from being conventional.
The negative about the pic's non-linear approach is
that the jumbled time line is hard to follow. It also
skips over many events in Brown's colorful and full
life, leaving it incomplete. On the other hand, the
reward is a high energy and entertaining film, one
that avoids standard biopic clichés. It has no
trouble capturing the legend's rough childhood
upbringing, his unique singing style, his lifetime
anger and abrasiveness, his popularity among both
black and white audiences, his volatile disposition,
and his ambitious narcissistic career moves.
pic opens in 1988, in Augusta, Georgia, at a mall site
where Brown maintains a storefront business. It
depicts the middle-aged Brown at one of his worst
moments, when he threatens with a loaded rifle
a roomful of insurance agents, one of whom
accidentally used Brown’s private bathroom located in
the same building. It cuts back and forth from here-on
to Brown's impoverished backwoods South Carolina
childhood and continues following him when uprooted at
4 to rural Georgia, where he must deal with an abusive
father (Lennie James) and a neglectful
mother (Viola Davis). It then
haphazardly covers some of the major incidents in his
life that include his start in showbiz with a group
called The Famous Flames and his subsequent successful
career with him the boss.
In one scene it has Brown in 1968 flying into LBJ's Vietnam war zone under heavy enemy fire to entertain American troops. Followed by the first of several sequences depicting Brown’s troubled childhood when he was abandoned by his parents and sent to live in a Georgia brothel operated by an aunt (Octavia Spencer). How he was jailed, at 17, for theft and served three years before paroled to the family of singer Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis). The nice guy singer becomes Brown’s long-suffering best friend and musical collaborator until even he finally had enough of Brown's antics and walks out following a 1971 concert in Paris. There's a goofy scene with Brown and the Famous Flames outfitted in ski sweaters for a Frankie Avalon movie.
supporting actors of note include Jill
Scott as his second wife DeeDee, and his good friend
and loyal manager Ben Bart, excellently played by Dan
By refusing to sugarcoat the faults of Brown and by showing him at his most arrogant, the pic gets points for not being a suck-up bio. Yet for all its rousing moments and Chadwick's great performance (handles with ease Brown's signature dance moves), there seems to be something lacking about its telling of the R&B legend's story. It might be that it couldn't capture the complexities of this very perplexing man. It left its subject only superficially developed and relied too much on letting the music tell his story.
REVIEWED ON 11/26/2014 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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