run time: 138 mins
considered: Biography, Drama, Music
director: Tate Taylor
starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer, Josh Hopkins, Brandon Smith, Tika Sumpter, Aunjanue Ellis, Tariq Trotter, Aloe Blacc
(I have never been a fan of movies that cut back and forth from present to past so my review will just follow the chronicle order of his life.)
movie summary: James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) is considered the Godfather of Soul. He had to fight and work so hard to earn that title after struggling through most of his childhood and early adult life. His chance meeting with Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) in a prison nurse’s office would change James’ life and the music industry forever.
When James was a young boy living in a cabin in the woods, his dad Joe (Lennie James) would always be gone to look for work leaving his mom Sue (Viola Davis) to care and play with him. One day Sue gets tired of their abusive relationship and decides to leave which infuriates Joe to draw a gun at her before she leaves. Frustrated with life, his dad begins to take out all his anger on James until he joins the army during World War II leaving James in the care of his Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer). James helps run his aunt’s business while spending many days and nights at church soaking in all the joyful singing while practicing his voice and dance movies. In an attempt to become a better dressed man, James steals a three-piece suit that lands him in jail for 13 years.
In prison James meets Bobby when his gospel group comes to perform. The two become friends so when James is released after good behaviour, he is allowed to move into Bobby’s house where he develops a relationship with his sister. He joins the gospel group and they begin looking for clubs to perform at. One night while watching a young Little Richard (Brandon Smith), the group jump up on stage to perform during a break. Little Richard loved what he heard and put James in touch with his record label. James suggests the group change their name to The Famous Flames and produce a record with their new manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd). The record company believe that James is a future superstar and changes the name of the group which forces everyone to quit except Bobby. In order to continue making records Ben recruits new band members which allows James to skyrocket up the musical charts and sell out arenas across the world.
Everything is running smoothly until James’ ego begins to the get the best of him. He begins to cheat on his wife and continues that trend when he marries for a second time. While on the road he drives his band mates crazy by not allowing for any days off and when they have down time he always calls a practice. The guys begin to grow tired of his act and demand to be paid more money or they will walk. James has had money issues which has forced him to stop paying the band months prior to their revolt. Instead of just paying the guys he’s been touring with for years, he lets them walk and finds new people to replace them instead. James continues to sell millions of records and defy the odds, his name and songs can be heard on every corner of the world which allow him to live a very luxurious life that only leads to more trouble.
After decades of standing by his side Bobby decides it’s time to break away and work on his own musical projects. James can’t handle rejection or things not going his way so loses his mind when Bobby leaves. Things begin to spiral out of control in his personal life while his music career begins to tank thanks to new R&B singers and the fact he’s getting old. When he runs out of money in the 1980’s James shows up to one of his many small businesses to find out that someone has used his private bathroom. Armed with a double barrel shotgun James takes out his frustrations on the ceiling which result in the cops chasing him down and he goes on to serve time in prison once again.
my thoughts: I was very skeptical about this movie but whenever I would see the trailer I’d think back to Eddie Murphy’s stand up comedy about James Brown. For days that skit was in my head so I said why not give this movie a chance. I knew nothing of James Brown except he’s a famous singer and had a part in Rocky IV, what I learnt from Get On Up is that James struggled just like every other musician who has ever made it big. The main thing I took away from this movie is that I am happy to never be a rock star because my life would just be so messed up from the potential addiction and money issues I could have.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Chadwick Boseman gave the performance of his career and should be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor. I’m not saying he’s going to win but he needs to be recognized for his amazing performance of James Brown. He nails all the funky dance moves along with the egotistical attitude and James’ famous singing voice. Chadwick does an outstanding job of telling the highlights and lowlights of James’ life while marching to the beat of his own drum and not caring about anyone but himself. Like I mentioned before I don’t like the format of the movie but Chadwick does a great job continuing the story when he bounces back and forth from past to present.
In supporting roles we find a bunch of talented actors/actresses like Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, and Craig Robinson. They all play important roles in James’ life on a personal or professional level while taking some of the focus off of James who thinks the world revolves around him. Through out his life all these people will betray him in one way or another forcing him to lose faith in his friends and develop such a negative attitude towards trusting anyone. They help move the story along about one of the world’s most famous singers who had a whole bunch of personal demons to overcome.
my final thoughts: Get On Up is not the best musical bio-pic to hit theatres but was an entertaining movie that dragged on towards the end. I wouldn’t say this is the first movie you should see on a Friday night but does deserve a watch at some point to appreciate the life and music of the great James Brown.
my star rating: 6 out 10
rottentomatoes.com: 77% out 100%
rogerebert.com: 2 out 4