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Film Review: Get On Up

" Get On Up Tells the complete unadulterated story of the  meteoric rise of  legendary entertainer James Brown" 

In his follow-up to the four-time Academy Award®-nominated blockbuster The Help, Tate Taylor directs 42’s Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in Get on Up. Based on the incredible life story of the Godfather of Soul, the film will give a fearless look inside the music, moves and moods of Brown, taking audiences on the journey from his impoverished childhood to his evolution into one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Boseman is joined in the drama by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis, Lennie James, Tika Sumpter, Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd. Academy Award® winner Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind, 8 Mile) produces for Imagine Entertainment, with Mick Jagger and Victoria Pearman (Shine a Light) producing under their Jagged Films banner. Imagine’s Erica Huggins (Flightplan) also serves as a producer on Get on Up, while Taylor produces under his Wyolah Films label. Peter Afterman, Trish Hofmann, Jez Butterworth, John Butterworth, John Norris and Anna Culp serve as executive producers.
The film starts in Augusta, Georgia, in 1988, with an older Godfather of Soul dropping by an office building he owns and questioning a crowd there — with a rifle — about who dared to use the bathroom. He pardons the guilty woman, and the scene establishes the theme about the importance of looking out for yourself, which Brown has done throughout life.We see him as a boy in the late 1930s living in a run-down house with an abusive father (Lennie James) and a mother (Viola Davis) who bolts when she’s had enough. As a teen in the late 1940s, we see James get in trouble with the law, a path that puts him in contact with a man who will be a longtime musical partner, Bobby Byrd (Nelson Ellis), and sets him toward stardom.

As he becomes a star, Brown really starts to look out for No. 1 — his treatment of his backing musicians is a running story line — and, in the hands of Boseman, becomes his infectious personality. You  just won’t be able to get enough of him.

(Early on in the film, when James and his band land in conflict-riddled Vietnam — after the plane carrying them has been attacked and hit by enemy forces — a U.S. military man starts telling James when he’s going to play and for how long. James wants none of it, saying he’ll decide that. “You wanna be the man that killed the funk?” James asks him.)
“Get on Up,” written by brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”) with story contribution from Steven Baigelman (“Feeling Minnesota”), shows James as a shrewd businessman, a man not afraid to look at how things have always been done in the the music biz and tweak them for his benefit. Dan Aykroyd ably plays his longtime business mentor and partner, Ben Bart, who has his arm twisted by James into choices that ultimately prove smart.

The film barely touches on James’s issues with domestic violence and alleged drug use later in life; at more than 2 hours, there probably was time to delve deeper into those areas.But, ultimately, “Get on Up” works as a celebration of Brown and his highly influential music. Although Boseman worked with a vocal coach and sings a bit in the film, most of the music is performed by Soul Brother No. 1, with Boseman lip syncing. Probably the right choice — who can sound just like Brown?

Most importantly, Boseman, who played the Ohio State linebacker vying to be the Browns’ top pick in this year’s “Draft Day,” flashes plenty of charisma and clearly worked hard at getting Brown’s moves down. Tate repeatedly has him smile or wink at the camera — there’s a fun nod to Boseman’s portrayal of Robinson — but he also occasionally has James talk to us directly. The device isn’t as irritating here as it is on shows such as  Netflix’s “House of Cards,” but it is just as unnecessary.

   While this is Boseman’s show, Ellis — best known for playing Lafayette on HBO’s “True Blood” — is nice constant as Bobby, even if we could have used a bit more insight into why Byrd stood by Brown for so long.
Disappointingly, Davis and Octavia Spencer, both of whom were so memorable in “The Help,” are a bit under-used here, although Davis does have a memorable scene late in “Get on Up.” admittedly “Get on Up” feels a little out of place as a late-summer release, but it doesn't  fall a bit short of Oscar-worthiness in terms of the movie. So please don’t be surprised, if Boseman snags a nomination in the best-actor category.

   A few flaws aside, “Get on Up” works well as a primer on Brown for those who don’t know much about him and his work, and it no doubt will be a great chance for fans to reconnect with the great songs that are scattered throughout the film.

   It may not be “Super Bad,” but, thanks to Boseman, it’s actually pretty good ! One of the biggest take away messages from the film is that success does not heal your past. The running theme in the film is that James eventually had to confront his childhood and come to terms with who he really was before he could truly enjoy success and fame.

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