- on Friday, 01 August 2014 17:38
- by Frank Wilkins
Get On Up director Tate Taylor faces head-on the overwhelming challenges inherent to creating the all-encompassing biopic. His story of musician James Brown could have easily become just another conventionally-told rags-to-riches story tailor made for VH1. And with such a flamboyant character in the spotlight, tipping over into comical imitation territory might have even been expected - especially considering that Mr. Dynamite often became a comical parody of himself in his later years.
But like the dazzlingly eccentric character he follows, Taylor marches to his own drum-beat with an electrifying little warts-and-all portrayal that would likely even satisfy the self-proclaimed Godfather of Soul himself.
Then there’s Chadwick Boseman who follows up his performance in last year’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42, with another memorable turn, this time not only perfectly capturing Brown’s pompadour-ed countenance and idiosyncratic manner of speaking, but – though there’s only one James Brown – also nailing those famous dance moves… and the swagger, too. Boseman is clearly the star of the show here and we should expect to hear his name much more often in the coming months.
Taylor avoids the straightforward chronological telling of Brown’s life story – and the requisite anecdotal stiffness – by shuffling the timeline of events in the singer’s life. Boseman also breaks the fourth wall with hallucinatory musings told to the audience to explain his character’s thoughts. What initially feels a bit forced and takes some getting used to, is soon folded quite nicely into a unified, well-paced, and always interesting story.
Book-ended with scenes of Brown’s gun-wielding 1988 arrest, Get On Up quickly heads to 1968 Vietnam where Brown and his band perform under enemy fire for the troops, then flashes even further back to Brown’s 1930’s soul-crushing childhood in South Carolina where he endured a violently abusive father, Joe (Lennie James) and a disinterested mother, Susie (Viola Davis). These flashbacks to early childhood contain some deeply disturbing imagery and are often difficult to watch. But, as expected, it’s these formative years that paint Brown’s future self-image as well as his determined ambition to do things his own way.
We learn that young Brown eventually lands at a Georgia brothel run by his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) and on Sundays, attends a rural church service that plants the seeds of gospel music in Brown’s soul.
But it’s a short stint in the pokey that eventually allows Brown to discover his true musical prowess after joining a jailhouse musical group led by Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) who immediately recognizes Brown’s musical genius and brings the homeless singer into his family’s home. The two would become musical partners and life-long friends until the day Brown died in 2006.
If there are any knocks against Get On Up, they’d likely originate from its butt-numbing two-hour plus runtime. Yet, in spite of its length, major portions of Brown’s life go unaccounted for. For instance, there’s no mention of Brown’s teenage street busking-years. Also, we know Brown wrote most of his songs and lyrics, and we see him breathe life into them on the stage, but where did they come from? Conspicuously missing are any meaty depictions of the Hardest-working Man in Show Business’s creative process. And if his creative side bears any resemblance to the way he lived his flashy public life, what a major oversight.
As it stands, Get On Up will go down as another in the very short list of monumental musical icon biopics. Taylor certainly pulls no punches, and a result, we all come away with a much better understanding of the man behind the music.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations.
Runtime: 138 mins
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd
Genre: Music | Biopic
Tagline: The Funk don't Quit.
Memorable Movie Quote: "You blew the roof off the place."
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Official Site: http://www.getonupmovie.com/
Release Date: Auhust 1, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 6, 2015
Synopsis: A biographical drama following the story of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, showing his rise from poverty to extreme success. It shows how he rose from an his impoverished childhood to become a world famous and highly influential R&B musician with hits in the 1960s and '70s, becoming one of the most influential musical figures of the 20th century.
Available on Blu-ray - January 6, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; Digital copy (as download); DVD copy; BD-Live
Region Encoding: A
First and foremost, the sound: As expected the DTS-HD 5.1 lossless soundtrack doesn’t disappoint with room-filling sound saturated with a robustness from piercing highs to thundering lows. Most of the dialogue is front and center but the musical performances do an admirable job of moving Brown’s singing voice throughout the room as it syncs with his position on the stage.
Colors are period-true with Brown’s outfits and stage setting screaming off the screen in vivid hues while the period scenes depicting Brown’s childhood never falter. There are many nighttime/dark concert scenes that always manage to hold together with virtually no wall-crawl and very little low-end.
- Feature commentary with director/producer Tate Taylow
The extras are exceedingly abundant, including a feature-length commentary that leans quite boring at times as Taylor struggles to maintain his enthusiasm during his scene-by-scene narration. This is definitely overcome however, by the selection of extras that will most interest music lovers.
- Long Journey to the Screen
- Tate Taylor's Master Class
- Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown
- The Get on Up Family
- Deleted/Extended/Alternate scenes
- Full Song Performances
- Extended Song performances
- The Founding Father of Funk
- On Stage With the Hardest Working Man