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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Get On Up | Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Jill Scott, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Get On Up | Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Jill Scott, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer | Review

James Brown!  Chadwick Boseman!  James Brown!  Chadwick Boseman!  The spirit of one invades the body of the other in this undulating 138 minute biography of the Godfather of Soul.

Boseman, in a tour de force performance, portrays Brown from 16 to 60, from jail to jubilation and from brothel mascot to musical revolutionary.  Told in out-of-sequence flashbacks that jar almost as much as the events in the life of the entertainer, Get On Up (from the title of one of Brown’s many hits) is an enlightening look at the private side of the man who, it seemed was made up of song, dance and self-centered rants.

Behind the second-skin clothing, the splits, twists and spins, and the iconic cape, there was a complicated, difficult, driven artist who could inspire devotion even while being dismissive and moody, calculated and conceited.

Orphaned by parental abandonment (Viola Davis and Lennie James) to the care of brothel owner Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) the very young James Brown (Jamarion and Jordan Scott) develops determination, self-reliance, and self-confidence in the face of odds and obstacles that would astonish those closest to him on his journey to superstardom - not to mention hurt, humiliate and infuriate them along the way.

Endowed with a massive ego fueled by equally massive talent and rage, Brown’s innovations in musical arrangements, artist representation, and compensation revealed a shrewd side to the performer, who could also be an eccentric, rifle-toting entrepreneur with a private life that rivaled his energetic performances.  

Unfortunately that off-stage energy also meant verbally and physically abusive relationships with wives (Jacinte Blankenship, Jill Scott) friends, his band, and his long-time collaborator, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) whom he met as a teen while both were incarcerated. His close relationship with manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) reveals a humorous, poignant side to the performer.

Eras and hairstyles change, but Brown remains steadfast in his aggressive entitlement, eccentricities (he refers to himself in the third person) and righteous indignation over perceived disrespect from lesser beings, say, everyone else on the planet.  On stage he is a force of nature, moving at high speed with even higher hair, illustrating why he was known as the hardest working man in show business.

Performances highlight Boseman’s moves, but Brown’s voice in a seamless meld that satisfies fans and first-timers alike.  Aside from that, it’s Boseman all the way channeling Brown in speech, mannerisms, and attitude – no small task.

Director Tate Taylor (The Help) ricochets around the showman’s life in non-linear sequences that feature Brown at 60, 6, 16, 27, back to 6 years of age, building a whiplash-like momentum of instances in a jam-packed life lived at full throttle.

Mick Jagger, one of the film’s producers, admits that Brown influenced his own stage performance.  When asked what Brown thought of the Rolling Stones, Jagger laughed and said, “I don’t think he thought about us at all.”

Get On Up will make that very apparent.


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