“GET ON UP” Pops and Rocks (Film Review)

GET ON UP poster art

Impressive, the film Get on Up has a fine cast, direction and a story that’s compelling.  It entertains on two levels, a heartrending biography and the music that changed America. The film is directed by Tate Taylor who brought The Help to the screen and here he tackles a difficult bio with an uplifting win that’s pure gold. The film has an uphill battle to win the box-office against the Marvel release, but should do a very well in the long run.

Unless you lived during the 60’s through the 80’s you may not be aware of the man who brought America from mediocrity to fledgling funk, a mixture of  soul music, jazz, and R&B.  While some artists like Little Richard increased his Rock and Roll legacy by adding Funk, it was James Brown (played by Chadwick Boseman) who brought it to the forefront.  Using the rock guitars, drums and piano, Brown’s Famous Flames were brass players who blew trumpet, sax and trombones that popped the jazz/rock through the music charts.

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown with The Famous Flames

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown with The Famous Flames

Coming from a very poor family who lived off the land in Barnwell, South Carolina, James found himself heading for a life of poverty. His father Joe (Lennie James) was a wife abuser and his mother Susie (Viola Davis) left him while James was still very young.  Not being able to provide for James, his father took him to live with his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) who ran a brothel in Augusta, Georgia. There he found a way to earn a dollar or two by getting men to frequent the whorehouse. The new town’s local church also gave him the rhythm that would make him famous.

He was arrested for stealing a suit in his late teens and a prison ward became his home.  There he met Bobby Byrd leader of a band playing for the inmates.  So began his upward career as one of America’s greatest singers and founder of funk.  Director Tate Taylor uses a bounce back technique throughout the film with flashes of Brown’s early life while Chadwick Boseman narrates the sequences.  Nicely created, the technique works well here and cuts out what would be a boring biography.  Using the fine acting of Boseman who nails Brown in his older life and the Scott brothers Jordan and Jamarion to portray his youngster years, Taylor pulls off a fine piece of entertainment.

Viola Davis as James Brown's mother

Viola Davis as James Brown’s mother

Dancing on stage like the Godfather of Soul, Boseman puts on an amazing show as Brown . He busts some moves like Brown’s signature “mashed potatoes” that even Michael Jackson may not have been able to accomplish. It may be James Brown’s life, but it’s Boseman’s movie.  Every frame shows his possession of the great artist’s mojo including some very dark dramatic scenes during his rise to fame. Through the magic of movies Brown’s sync and Boseman’s real voice are all part of one of the most intricate performances on film.

Boseman as Brown with Dan Aykroyd as his manager Ben Bart

Boseman as Brown with Dan Aykroyd as his manager Ben Bart

In support, film fan greats like Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, and Viola Davis provide characters that enhance the life of Brown. But it’s rising star Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette Reynolds in TV’s “True Blood”), playing Brown’s longtime friend Bobby Byrd, that gives body to the film. Working the character, he ably depicts Byrd’s dejection and even gets behind Brown when he realizes he has to take a back seat to the funk star for the sake of everyone’s future. It’s Ellis that makes key dramatic scenes work.

Get on Up has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations. The nearly 2 and a half enjoyable hours fly by with this winner. Be very cautious when deciding to allow immature children see the film as it does have some scenes that are very inappropriate for adolescents.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A hip hot bio and an audience pleaser. (B+)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis, Lennie James, Tika Sumpter, Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Genre: Drama, Music
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations.
Running Time: 2 hrs 18 min
Release Date: August 1, 2014
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

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