Get on Up

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelson Ellis, Viola Davis
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“The Help”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”)

When making a biopic about a musician, filmmakers have two major options. One is to hire an actor to both act as the artist and to do their own singing, a feat that got Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar nomination for his role as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” and won Jamie Foxx an Oscar for his role as Ray Charles in “Ray.” The other option is to hire an actor to just play the character parts and lip-synch to the original recordings of the artist. It’s a risky and potentially distracting move, and certainly one that needs to be backed up with a dynamite acting performance. Luckily for director Tate Taylor, Chadwick Boseman delivers exactly that in his portrayal of the hardest working man in show business, James Brown, in “Get on Up.”

If Boseman was seen as a relative unknown in taking on the role of Jackie Robinson in last year’s “42,” his performance in “Get on Up” will quickly erase his anonymity. Boseman is outstanding as the larger-than-life James Brown and completely embodies everything from his speaking voice to his swagger. Where Boseman really shines is during the performance scenes. Boseman is electric in scenes where Brown is performing; constantly moving, dancing, sweating, and putting everything he has into the performance. Though as previously mentioned, Boseman is lip-synching throughout the entire film, there are only a few moments where it is truly jarring. He’s also able to mine some comedic moments from the film, though those don’t quite land as much as they should.

Beyond Boseman’s performance, “Get on Up” is a pretty comprehensive (sometimes to a fault) look at Brown’s life and career. Brown’s music is present throughout the whole film, giving the picture its pulse and sounding as good as it ever has. The issue, however, comes with the direction. Taylor attempts to cram a ton of content into this biopic and ends up with mixed results. It’s a film that comes in at over two hours, and starts to feel redundant with some of the performances by the end. It’s also told in a non-linear fashion, with stories and moments from Brown’s life ping-ponging chronologically in a way that doesn’t serve any real narrative purpose.

As a look back a James Brown’s life, storied career, and his well-earned place in music lore “Get On Up” is a successful endeavor. Still, somehow, it all feels somewhat surface. Taylor flirts with the idea of racism during the rise of Brown, but never really goes anywhere with it other than a show that happened shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Despite the occasional narrative shortcomings, “Get on Up” is a worthy journey into music history, and one that features a fantastic performance from a quickly rising actor poised for a massive breakout.

Soul Power

March 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Muhammad Ali, James Brown, B.B. King
Directed by: Jeffrey Levy-Hint (debut)

Some things just never go out of style. The saying rings true in “Soul Power,” a passionate and zesty documentary featuring some of the 1970’s most exciting soul music performers who are brought to the forefront during a complicated era to create harmony both on and off the stage.

In “Soul Power,” first-time director Jeffrey Levy-Hint presents archive footage of a historical concert that took place in Kinshasa, Zaire before the monumental 1974 bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman (most sports aficionados know it as “The Rumble in the Jungle”). The film is a respectable companion piece to the Academy Award-winning feature documentary “When We Were Kings,” which documents the actual fight between champion Foreman and challenger Ali.

Known as Zaire ’74, the three-day music event was supposed to take place as a sort-of introduction to the Foreman/Ai showdown, but when Foreman injured himself during training, the match was postponed for a month and Zaire ’74 immediately became the center of attention. Since thousands of tickets had already been sold and Zairian President Mobuto Sese Seko was financing the festival, the show went on as planned.

Whether you go into “Soul Power” with feelings of nostalgia or pure enjoyment of the musical genre, Levy-Hint’s documentary does not disappoint. Like with any other concert movie that has come before it, the impression it will ultimately have on you will depend on one of two things: your admiration of the music performed by showstoppers like a young and extremely energetic “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, The Spinners, B.B. King, and “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz or your willingness to open your mind to a fascinating piece of musical history you may have never heard before. It’s a much better attempt than director Ang Lee’s cinematic trip back to 1969 for the disorganized planning of Woodstock in the ineffective narrative “Taking Woodstock.”

Whatever the case may be, “Soul Power” is a solid, well-crafted journey back in time to see firsthand how the racial roots between Africans and African Americans linked together through music and beliefs. It’s a subject that is lightly brushed upon especially when boxer Ali gets face time with the camera, but not explored as much as socio-political junkies would probably have liked. Still, “Soul Power” is more about the memorable musical moments and unique artistic expression we rarely get to see in concert movies these days. Take note Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. This is how it’s done.