Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Nov 27th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Feels Good

fm getonupChadwick Boseman kills as James Brown in spotty but fun ‘Get On Up’

It’s hard to get a movie biography right. If the subject is in show business, the problem becomes how to cherry-pick key moments from an entire life, let alone career highs and lows, then shoehorn them into an easily digestible two-hour-ish format while creating a story arc that makes sense, and an emotional thread that keeps viewers involved. The usual result is an all-too-predictable narrative journey from hungry youth to glitzy stardom to decline, where the characters onscreen never really come alive.

But James Brown blazes to life in the movie bio Get On Up, partly because of the filmmakers’ smart, unorthodox storytelling, but mostly thanks to an incendiary performance by Chadwick Boseman. No, Boseman doesn’t do his own singing (who would dare?); the soundtrack features mostly the recordings of Mr. Brown himself. But Boseman captures the volatility, on and offstage, of the entity we recognize as James Brown, the flamboyance, the fierce ambition, and the uncompromising determination to be treated with respect. (He also dances up a storm!)

His performance is perfect for the impressionistic approach of director Tate Taylor (his last film was The Help), and screenwriters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. Instead of laying out the usual dreary rise-and-fall scenario, the filmmakers open with a kaleidoscope of moments—an iconic James Brown marching down a tunnel to a stage, a druggy Brown entering a business he owns with a rifle during a seminar, young James in his prime, on a 1968 USO tour of Vietnam, cheering on his band as their army transport plane is practically shot out from under them.

Only in bits and pieces sandwiched between such big moments does the backstory of the impoverished little boy growing up in the rural backwoods of Augusta, Georgia, begin to emerge. We see him abandoned first by his runaway mother (Viola Davis) fleeing an abusive husband, then by his father, who leaves him at the local house of pleasure to be raised by the sympathetic madam (Octavia Spencer). We see an encounter with a revivalist preacher (Clyde Jones) that will influence his later performing style.

The gospel group, The Starlights, morph into grown-up James’ first back-up band, The Famous Flames. Women and children come and go. A demo record is cut (“Please, Please, Please”), and James brings funk to the masses. Dan Aykroyd contributes some nice bits as the unlikely “old Jew” of a manager, Ben Bart, who sticks with James through good times and bad. But the film’s main emotional hook involves James and longtime friend and bandmate, Bobby Byrd (well-played by Nelsan Ellis).

Here, they meet in a prison infirmary (teenage James is serving time for stealing a suit) after straight-arrow Bobby, one of the Starlights, is injured during a performance for the inmates. After hearing James sing, Bobby not only brings him into the group, but into the Byrd household, the only family James has ever known. Through changing fortunes, Bobby remains James’head cheerleader, official BS-detector, and conscience. He weathers all of James’ emotional firestorms except the one that finally drives him away, providing closure for the finale, when James sings a make-up song to him from the stage.

All of it plays out amid a revolving prism of James Brown stage entities (“Mr. Dynamite,” “The Hardest-Working Man In Show Business,” “The Godfather of Soul”) and the performances that go with them (not to mention the hairstyles, from extreme pompadour to modified Afro to the long, side-swept pageboy he affected in his later years). In one tasty moment, James gets some sound advice from the ‘Tutti-Frutti”-era Little Richard, played to fresh, flirty perfection by the scene-stealing Brandon Smith.

Now and then, James breaks out of a scene to speak directly to the movie audience, a stage-like device that helps keep all the balls of plot and incident spinning. Get On Up may be a bit too big and busy for its own good, but as a homage to a self-made American R&B original (it was co-produced by lifelong fan Mick Jagger), it delivers the goods.


GET ON UP *** (out of four) With Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, and Viola Davis. Written by Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth. Directed by Tate Taylor. A Universal release. Rated PG-13. 138 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Good Times Holiday Giving

Giving Where It Helps

 

Giving Thanks: The Thought-Form of Solution

We are in the time and under the influence of Sagittarius, sign of the wanderer, good food, good music, and the joy (Jupiter as ruler) that occurs from giving to others while simultaneously giving thanks from our hearts. Having the Thanksgiving holiday during the month of Sag is not a mistake. No other sign understands joy (an aspect of the Soul) as Sag (except Pisces when not in despair). “Sag is a beam of directed and focused light. The beam reveals a greater light ahead, illuminating the Way to the center of the Light,” emitting the Ray of Joyfulness. Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude; in the form of prayers, thoughts, feelings, wishes, hopes and greetings. Gratitude is something we still need to learn. Gratitude creates goodwill. Together, gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution” for humanity and our world’s problems. Gratitude and goodwill are the prerequisites for the reappearance of the Christ, the Aquarian World Teacher. In Ancient Wisdom texts it is written, “being grateful is the hallmark of one who is enlightened.” Gratitude comes from the Soul—the characteristics of which are love and wisdom (Ray 2). Gratitude is scientifically and occultly (mental, not emotional) a releasing agent. Gratitude liberates us and everything around us. Also a service to others, gratitude is deeply scientific in nature, releasing us from the past and laying open our future path leading to the new culture and civilization, the new laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarian, the Age of Friendship and Equality. The Hierarchy lays much emphasis upon gratitude. Let us be grateful this year and this season together. And so now the days of light illuminating the darkness begin (December’s festivals and feast days). Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful for all of you, my readers.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of November 28

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Round About Now

The glory of persimmons, plus Ivéta scone mix and lunch at Assembly

 

What charities would you like to see people support this season?

Judy Allen, Scotts Valley, Consulting

 

Big Basin Vineyards

I was just in the process of purchasing a bottle of Big Basin’s 2012 Homestead in Vinocruz when Matt Ryan walked into the store. Ryan manages the tasting room, sales and the mailing list at Big Basin, and, considering the popularity of their wines, he’s a very busy man.

 

Ashby Confections

Local chocolate maker talks chocolate and self control