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

 

Advertisements

The Campaign (2012)

The CampaignThe Campaign

Release Date: August 10, 2012

Director: Jay Roach

Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis

Runtime: 85 min

Tagline: May the best loser win

After Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) accidentally dials the wrong number and leaves a sexual message on a stranger’s answering machine, his local likeability plummets. Two CEOs, Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade (Dan Aykroyd) Motch, see this an opportunity to oust the long-term candidate and gain further influence on this North Carolina district. Brady, a man who usually runs unopposed, meets his biggest match yet: the extremely naive and all-too-kind Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis).

 
This is a decent political satire. It may be offensive to some – but it was usually very funny. However, the humour can get very obnoxious. The character of Cam Brady gets a little lame, as all he really cares about is sex and power. Granted, what else can you really expect from a Will Ferrell character? Usually, his characters are funny – but the writing just makes him come off as rude and, worst of all, usually unfunny. However, he does have his moments, and when those come, they’re pretty awesome – because we’re seeing Ferrell shine again. Brady’s campaign advisor, Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), is also rather unfunny. The only really funny characters are Marty Huggins, sometimes Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) and Mrs. Yao (Karen Maruyama), Raymond Huggins’ Asian maid who gets paid extra to talk in a 1960’s black maid voice.

 
While only half the characters are usually funny, the plot isn’t all that amazing. It’s decent, but the political battles are pretty boring. Also, Marty’s change of attitude starts to get irritating after a while – since his life and his family life gets enveloped by the campaign. He doesn’t have much time for his family any more, and he starts to act a bit like the obnoxious Brady. That’s isn’t good, as I have not subtly expressed my dislike of Brady. He is most likeable when he’s enjoying life with his family. Especially near the beginning, one of the funniest scenes is the Huggins’ dinner table confessions. After that, it resorts to a few lame jokes like punching a baby in the face. That scene may have been more effective if they hadn’t shown it in the trailer, because it would have added to the comedy shock factor. It got to a point of tastelessness because it was done in a slow-motion, boxing fashion. However, when a dog gets punched by Brady – that’s hilarious. Does that mean I’m a dog hater? No, that punch was simply done much better because it wasn’t as overdone.

 
The idea of two great comedians – Will Ferrell (who has brought us classic characters like Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy) and Zach Galifianakis (more commonly known as Alan from The Hangover because his last name is just so bothersome to spell) – working together on a rude comedy like this is so much better than the end product. And (partly) because of this, the film is not satisfying enough. The Campaign turns out to be a usually funny, but sometimes boring and lame, political satire. There are some scenes that make it worth the watch, but mostly, it’s nothing to recommend wholeheartedly. Regardless of all that, you all better vote Marty Huggins so Chinese factories can be kept out of North Carolina!

60/100