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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

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

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE


Get On Up

In just two years Chaswick Boseman has risen from unknown actor to stardom by showcasing his amazing acting range in two bio pics.  Last year he made an impression with his earnest portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson in “42” and this year he comes to the bat once again (figuratively speaking) transforming himself into yet another cultural icon, music legend, James Brown that will blow audiences away.  

In fact, if there is just one reason to see this movie it is because of Boseman's, committed, electrifying performance in which he becomes Brown in both body and soul, nailing his self absorbed persona, raspy speaking voice and stage moves. It is a role that has Boseman portraying Brown as a teenager to his sixties.

Tate Taylor's direction in Get On Up (his follow up to the Oscar nominated The Help) is marred by British screenwriters Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem”) and his brother John-Henry's decision to tell the story in a non linear fashion that results in a fractured, often confusing narrative.  Instead of delivering a bio pic that traces the life and career evolution of James Brown in chronological order, the story bounces back and forth in time over many decades beginning with a 1988 police chase, arrest and jail time in Augusta, Ga., than flashes back to the 1930's showing James' impoverished, troubled childhood (played by the twin actors Jordan and Jamarion Scott) in South Carolina, hooking up with longtime loyal friend ad collaborator Bobby Byrd (a standout performance by Nelsan Ellis) whose family took him in after he was paroled from prison, through his rise to fame, and behind the scenes personal trials and tribulations including several run ins with the law, conflicts with his band and domestic abuse.

Reuniting with their Help director, in small but pivotal roles are Viola Davis as Brown's absent mother Susie who abandoned her young son, leaving him in the care of her abusive husband, and Octavia Spencer, as James' paternal Aunt Honey, a brothel madam, who took him in after his father (Lennie James) joined the army. It was during this period, when after walking into a local Church, and being mesmerized by the pastor, the music and the congregation's reaction, a spark was ignited in the youngster's psyche that made him an stoppable force in the music world.  Totally driven with unrelenting determination and backed by his powerhouse talent, James Brown is portrayed as a complicated, self confident man, who was a shrewd businessman as well as a master showman. He also possessed a huge ego and the need to have total control, which masked his deeply rooted insecurities, and unleashed a bad temper often spewing put downs and ridiculing those closest to him with disregard about their feelings or personal desires.

Dan Akroyd makes a notable impression as Bill Bart, President of Universal Attraction who becomes his longtime manager/father figure, close friend and the only personal relationship in which a softer side of the entertainer is revealed.

Significant events and performances are re-enacted such as Brown's signature “act” featuring the singer faking exhaustion and being led away from the stage only to throw off a cape and return to the mike again and again. However, Brown's addiction to drugs is ignored and the relationships with his first and second wives (Jacinte Blankenship, Jill Scott) are just glossed over. As undeveloped characters, they make their mark as nothing more than sex objects to be used, abused and discarded, depending on his mood.

One of the film's  producers, Mick Jagger, a devout fan of Brown's since he first saw the him perform, has admitted that he was inspired by Brown's stage performances and has copied his moves.  As they say, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

On that note, I give flattery when it is rightly deserved and I don't like the way this story is structured. However, that doesn't lesson the impact of Chaswick Boseman's magnificent portrayal of the Godfather of Soul. Watching him get down in “Get on Up” makes the movie worth seeing.






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