Get on Up (2014)

Get on UpReleased: August 1, 2014. Directed by: Tate Taylor. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timelines in biography films can be difficult to depict, especially when dealing with a 54-year timeline that the ambitious Tate Taylor tackles while depicting the life story of James Brown, the Godfather of soul.

Wow, though, Taylor and writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth make this unnecessarily difficult to follow. A big problem with the timeline here is that it sporadically offers one event, goes to other events, and revisits the first event in 30 minutes’ time. That’s just one frustrating and bizarre way that the film displays its narrative. There’s also very little indication of the actual point in time between 1939 and 1993, other than cues for music buffs, like when Brown’s song he’s performing was released; or important events in time, most notably the Vietnam War or when Brown performs at The Garden in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The meandering order of events finds no groove and it just feels lazily formed. Within the 149-minute run-time, it feels like it jumps around in time more than Doctor Who and Mr. Peabody combined.

This year’s Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s music biopic depicting the story of the Four Seasons, also suffers from awful timeline issues – as the make-up department did not do a good job of successfully aging the actors – which is a problem Get on Up doesn’t possess. The film is, of course, about James Brown. It depicts his rise to fame from extreme poverty, and his road to be among music’s most influential artists.

Themes of extreme prejudice in 1950s Georgia are displayed by James getting five to 13 years in prison simply for stealing a man’s suit. This does put him on a course where he meets future band-mate Bobby Byrd (a grounded and memorable Nelsan Ellis). Byrd is a reasonable man, which seems to be a reason bandmates can tolerate Brown for so long, because even though he has a vibrant energy on-stage, his personality is quite arrogant. He could be soured by fame, which seems to be the case with a lot of big stars. Brown shows a preference to his black audience, and I think that’s well-highlighted by how well James seems to react to a “Let’s not make music for the white devil” spiel by a young singer named Little Richard (Brandon Smith). One jarring scene depicts his preference to black people, where he performs in front of a white crowd, and then breaks the fourth wall and is then performing in front of a black crowd. The imagined sequence just doesn’t have a strong transition.

There are scenes that do conduct their job marvelously. A scene in James’s childhood depicts him finding a hanged black man in the woods. James steals the dead man’s shoes. This told me his poverty is so extreme, in order to get a new pair of shoes he had to steal them from a dead man. This was the film’s most powerful scene.

The acting is fine all around. Octavia Spencer performs well in her brief screen time, and Viola Davis is great as James’ mother, Susie Brown. Up-and-coming star Chadwick Boseman gives it his all as the iconic James Brown with an energetic performance. He embodies Brown perfectly, down to the persona and vocal patterns. At least we can all take pleasure that both Tate Taylor and Boseman capture the essence of Brown in their film. However, Boseman gets so involved in the role that he might not realize he mumbles constantly. It’s difficult to hear him clearly and often enough, only every few words per sentence are caught. That’s the way Brown talks, but it makes for a truly frustrating experience if what is being said will make ask “What did he say?” every so often. Due to that irritating aspect, wait for the DVD and just watch this with subtitles.

Score: 55/100

 

Reviews from my Notepad: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Reviews from my notepad will be a series of reviews coming out every Wednesday, or whenever I feel like posting it. They will just be quick reviews of films that I waited too long too write a full-out review for, so I just write a few thoughts about it. Or it may be some jot notes I found that have my thoughts of the film. Either way, they won’t be long reads. Here’s the first review: Million Dollar Baby (2004).

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Million Dollar Baby

Release Date: January 28, 2005

Director: Clint Eastwood

Stars: Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

Runtime: 132 min

Tagline: Beyond his silence, there is a past. Beyond her dreams, there is a feeling. Beyond hope, there is a memory. Beyond their journey, there is a love.

Million Dollar Baby may pass itself off as that old generic underdog story that has been done one thousand times before. It does have a few elements to make it that generic story, but this one won Best Picture. With a lot of underdog stories, the feel-good moments often outweigh those sad scenes. That is not the case here. The first half has enough happy scenes to keep you going, but the mood and atmosphere alters completely in the latter half of the film. It becomes much more ominous and depressing, and if you’re not prepared for that drastic change, you may not be open to liking this. The truth is, it’s a good film that may have a very abrupt alteration of atmosphere, but it still transitions that fairly well. The plot is fairly simple, but it uses it to its advantage – and it puts some great themes, and deep emotional content, into play. The relationship that grows between Maggie Fitzgerald (portrayed by Hilary Swank) and Frankie Dunn (portrayed by Clint Eastwood) is quite beautiful. It changes from a sort of loathing on Dunn’s part, to a deeper respect and love, where it feels like a non-condescending father-daughter relationship. This transition is well done, and it is not rushed, so it does feel believable. There are great performances from the cast: Morgan Freeman especially, Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood. The motivations of Swank’s character is easy to see. She has had difficulties in her life, and that’s probably because of her very rude and selfish family. It’s a film that’s good, but it wouldn’t be worth the price of one million dollars.

90/100

Trouble with the Curve (2012) Review

Trouble with the Curve

Release Date: September 21, 2012

Director: Robert Lorenz

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, John Goodman

Runtime: 111 min

Tagline: Whatever Life Throws at You

Gus (Clint Eastwood) is a good old fashioned baseball scout who doesn’t rely on computers to give him all the needed statistics. In a technology dominated society, this could cause problems. Gus isn’t in his glory years, and he is now having difficulty seeing properly. He goes on one last recruiting trip, and much to his dislike, his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), tags along.

Trouble with the Curve is filled with clichés and it has a great amount of predictable moments and outcomes, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. Clint Eastwood is type-cast and plays that dynamic-seemingly-unpleasant-stubborn-old-fart. Amy Adams is that all-work-and-no-play(makes Mickey a dull gal) character. The characters are pretty solid, and there are great actors coming out the ying yang – Eastwood (who came out of acting retirement to do this), Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick, and Matthew Lillard.

Some may be turned off by the baseball vibe of it all, but anti-baseball lovers, don’t threat, because it’s not all about baseball – there’s enough humour, relationship building and self-sacrifice to make it enjoyable for those who don’t like the game. Though, it does help if you enjoy it at least a little bit.

It really does offer a great story and narrative, and most of the characters have quite a few layers. The film is enjoyable, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s like a roller coaster of feel-good moments and emotional moments. There aren’t any bad scenes, but some just aren’t extremely memorable. Trouble is an experience that is very memorable and extremely enjoyable for baseball fans, but it might just offer entertainment and not make a lasting impression to non-baseball fans.

The only bad characters, really, are the baseball player that Gus is scouting, and Matthew Lillard’s. Lillard has gone from the sort-of annoying stoner Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo films to an adulterous prick in The Descendants to a young baseball scout who thinks he knows everything there is to know about the sport, in this.

Eastwood’s character seems unpleasant, stubborn and reserved; but that’s probably because of his vision going, an upcoming threat of possible retirement, and that utter need for independence that a lot of elders possess.

The father-daughter relationship seems pretty timid, but it makes for some nice scenes throughout the feature.

There are some cool visuals, like when Gus is looking at something and his vision goes awry. At first, in all honesty, I thought I only percepted the screen as blurry!

Trouble stars Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Robert Patrick and Matthew Lillard, to name a few.

There’s a lot of nice humour here and there, some great scenery and visuals, and there’s great chemistry created between the actors (even though Lillard is that one odd guy out). There are some draining moments and predictable moments, but it still is quite enjoyable, and really doesn’t overstay its welcome. Baseball lovers run out and see it, and non-lovers of the game, I give you permission to wait until it comes out on home media.

80/100