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

 

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The Wedding Singer (1998)

The Wedding SingerReleased: February 13, 1998. Directed by: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Christine Taylor. Runtime: 95 min.

Apparently, more mediocre comedians should release their movies on the unlucky Friday the 13th, when they’re down on their luck. Maybe they’ll have a decent hit on their hands. That’s the truth with Sandler’s “The Wedding Singer,” an entertaining and predictable romp from beginning to end.

The story follows wedding singer Robbie Hart who enters a deep depression after he’s dumped at the alter by his bitch of a girlfriend Linda (Angela Featherstone). Then he meets the stunning waitress Julia (Drew Barrymore). She is about to be married to a total idiot Glen Gulia (Matthew Glave), who is so dumb, he doesn’t see what’s funny about the fact that Julia will know be Julia Gulia. Robbie thinks she deserves more, and, well, you know the rest.

This movie teaches that the only person you should plan a wedding with is the person you’re getting married to, otherwise, you’ll probably fall in love with the person you’re planning it with. It’s a traditional romantic comedy, with Sandler’s antics and a lot of angry and/or depressed singing.

The characters are funny. That’s mostly Robbie Hart and the nympho best friend of Julia, Holly (Christine Taylor). Allen Covert’s pretty good, too. There are some characters that are both creepy and funny. That’s most notably George (Alexis Arquette), the back-up wedding singer who only sings “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” It’s funny because the crowd turns on him every time.

These performers aren’t phoning in performances – you’re probably going to root for Robbie and Julia the whole way through. No one deserves to be married to a jerk right?

The movie’s really just a predictable ’80s styled movie. It’s entertaining, sometimes hilarious and always chuckle-worthy. Even though you’ll be rooting for Julia and Robbie, they don’t pass the Character Name Test; since Sandler’s characters seem to be all the same. You’ll forget half of the characters’ names within minutes. This is a movie where I’d rather refer to the characters by the person who’s portraying them. Even though Sandler has big hair in this movie, it doesn’t mean this character will be distinctive or stand out in any way.

Score75/100

Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)

Tenacious DRelease Date: November 22, 2006Director: Liam LynchStars: Jack Black, Kyle Gass, JR ReedRuntime: 93 min.

I believe in building a so-called ‘stupid comedy’ tolerance. But that’s not why I seeked out “Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny” after so many years. I remember watching it a lot in my young teens. Revisiting it now, it’s still pretty damn funny.

In Venice Beach, naive Midwesterner JB bonds with slacker KG and they form the rock band Tenacious D. Setting out to become the world’s greatest band is no easy feat, so they set out to steal what could be the answer to their prayers — a magical guitar pick housed in a Rock and Roll museum some 300 miles away.

This film is just as silly as it sounds. If that sounds like your idea of a decent time; seek this one out. If it doesn’t, don’t seek it out – because this immature ride begins with flatulence and throws immature gags and smart and funny songs at the audience at a rapid rate. The characterization is weak because there’s no focus on it – they’re essentially slackers where the actors essentially play versions of themselves. The movie feels improvised at times, but it never takes itself seriously – and you shouldn’t take it seriously, either. There are memorable rock-offs, and this film is probably most enjoyable to those who love Tenacious D and their antics. It’s also suited for Jack Black fans.

It just isn’t suited for those who can’t find it in their hearts to appreciate a little stoner comedy like this. Critics that have to watch this might be amused by a bit-sized role from Tim Robbins. This film is predictable but it leads up to one heck of a rock-off, and songs that, even after years of not watching this, you’ll remember every lyric. And that’s saying something about this film. The music is great, the laughs big, but the story mediocre. But the story isn’t is what is important, because it never leaves you bored, even if it feels familiar. This movie’s just a lot of fun. And that’s what always brings me back to this movie.

Score75/100

Airheads (1994)

AirheadsRelease Date: August 5, 1994Director: Michael LehmannStars: Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam SandlerRuntime: 92 min.

Three band members hoping for a big break head to a radio station to play their demo tape and wind up holding everyone hostage with plastic guns when the head DJ refuses to play them.

“Airheads” is a different heist film, but a stupid one. It’s a satire, but it’s never exactly clear what it’s trying to mock, to the viewers or the filmmakers. It says that one shouldn’t sell out in the music business. But the plot is silly, and something like this won’t turn out well for anyone. Adam Sandler will make you chuckle a few times, but none of this will have you on the floor laughing. It’s nice to see Joe Mantegna and Judd Nelson, even if they’re in small roles. Chris Farley is criminally underused as a police officer. This is about the same quality as the Adam Sandler movies of today. It isn’t particularly smart, or entertaining. It’ll make you smile once or twice, but the plot is better suited for an episode on a sitcom. Everyone in this movie has been in funnier things, and the premise truly grows tired early on.

Score38/100

Detroit Rock City (1999)

Detroit Rock CityRelease Date: August 13, 1999Director: Adam RifkinStars: Edward Furlong, James DeBello, Sam HuntingtonRuntime: 95 min.

Music isn’t one of my passions. I love the idea of it – but since I don’t have an iPod, or even a decent pair of headphones, I find it hard to sit down and actually listen to some good music. I do love the industry and see how it enhances everything. (When I was at a screening of “Monsters University”, and the sound cut out right at the end credits, I couldn’t help but think how bloody boring the end credits was without music.) I’d love to get into it more. (So feel free to leave any suggestions for good songs in the comment section…) All that being said, I am no rocker, so I really don’t know what I’m doing watching “Detroit Rock City”, a movie about four pals doing just about anything to get to see their idols, KISS.

That goal keeps being sidetracked by bullies, a lack of money, and a crazed religious mother and a society who thinks KISS is devil’s music.

“Detroit Rock City” is interesting in the way that it shows the social ideals of the 90’s. The movie isn’t really for me. I’m not the target audience, but I can see how it’s a favourite for some. There is some entertainment to be had under the overall poor writing. Seeing these kids stand up for their beliefs is rousing. I liked seeing Natasha Lyonne and Melanie Lynskey in here. For me, this is just a load of mediocrity.

It’s mainly a comedy, but I only remember laughing out loud once at a priest who ate some pizza with magic mushrooms on it. And I did find my suspension of disbelief being stretched too much when a MILF wanted to screw Edward Furlong’s character…There are decent chuckles throughout this flick, as the things these kids are willing to do to get into the concert are mildly amusing.

Score58/100

Sparkle (2012)

SparkleSparkle

Release Date: August 17, 2012

Director: Salim Akil

Stars: Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Whitney Houston

Runtime: 116 min

Tagline: Celebrate the legend

Sister and Her Sisters? More like the Hussy and Her Sisters.

Sparkle is a performing arts drama set in the 1960s. It follows three sisters: Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Dolores (Tika Sumpter) who mend a girl group and they soon become local sensations with major label interest, but fame brings turmoil and further struggle to the tight-knit family.

Sparkle is a fully mediocre story that simply borrows its delightful concepts from other, better films. It may be filled with clichés and owns a very predictable premise, but it is thoroughly entertaining, and I never found myself bored. However, I did find myself fairly irritated at some points in the film.

While Sparkle is the titular character, for a good majority of the flick, she does not feel like the focal point. She is mainly a reserved character who wants her music to be heard, but she is much too timid to sing them herself. The band’s manager, Stix (Derek Luke), is one character who wants her to break out of that shell. And because of all of this, Sparkle is merely placed as a background singer – and subsequently, a usual background character (with the exception of the last twenty-five minutes, or so) since she is often drowned out by waves of sub-plots.

There is a sub-plot also worked into Sparkle’s character; she does not believe in herself, but partly due to the fact that her mother (Whitney Houston, in a great last performance) does not believe in her either. The mother almost had a music career when she was younger, but it ultimately failed. She does not want to see her daughters go down that same road, but she doesn’t know of their constant sneaking out for the majority of the film. There’s a petite sub-plot of Dolores (a.k.a. Dee) only joining the music group to make enough money to go to Medical School.

However, the largest sub-plot (and really, the main plot point) is Sister’s wrestle with fame. She is also one of the main reasons of the family’s struggle. She is a character that is so enveloped by the fame of it all, that she cannot see a good man who cares for her right in front of her eyes, and one who will care for her, Levi (Omari Hardwick). Instead, she chooses the incredibly lame and annoying comedian, Satin (Mike Epps). He leads her down a road of drugs and physical and mental abuse (like no one’s heard that story before). Basically, the characters of Sister and Satin affected my enjoyment of the film. I may have never been bored, but those two characters made me feel a certain loathing. Also, they made me feel skeptical to opening up to any other characters.

Sparkle is a mediocre and average performing arts drama. It is entertaining, but it isn’t anything memorable or special. It has a great debut performance from Jordin Sparks and a great last performance by Whitney Houston. The characters of the mother, Sparkle, Stix and Dee are great; but the characters of Sister and Satin are not easy to appreciate. It’s a predictable ride, but it is nonetheless a fairly good, but forgettable, one.

63/100

Pitch Perfect (2012)


Pitch Perfect

Release Date: October 5, 2012

Director: Jason Moore

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Britany Snow, Rebel Wilson

Runtime: 112 min

Tagline: Get Pitch Slapped

TV Director Jason Moore (Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill) brings his talent to the big screen with Pitch Perfect, a great music comedy.

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an aspiring Disc Jockey, who gets forced by her father to attend college before following her dreams in Los Angeles. She ends up attending Barden University, where she soon joins the school’s all-girl a capella singing group, The Bellas. She knows that they sound beautiful together, but the (ever-so A-ca-clichéd) leader of the group, Aubrey (Anna Camp), doesn’t like to stray away from her set design, or really try anything new for that matter. Beca just may be the one to change the Bellas for the better by adding energy and pizaz to the group, help them out in the competition, and make a few friendships in the process.

Going into this film, I really didn’t know what to expect. It seemed that it had pretty sweet reception, so I guess I expected it to be a little good. It’s probably one of the last films I’d see in theatres right about now, but I saw it. And you know what, I enjoyed it a little more than I’d like to admit. It’s actually rather fun, and the hot girls help a lot, too.

In the cinema world, this is all fairly original. It’s a lot predictable, but that doesn’t keep it from being enjoyable. The pay-off is pretty great. The same premise of all those competitive dance and cheerleading films is offered here. So, in that way, it feels like the atmosphere of some Bring it On flick. The romance part of it all is offered, too. It isn’t exactly the most original atmosphere, because we’ve felt it all before. What sets this film apart is that it isn’t dancing or cheerleading (obviously), it’s singing. And I can’t really recall another film that the premise was a singing competition.* I say in the cinema world, that’s a pretty darn original concept; but in the general popular cultural world, this feels reminiscent of TV’s Glee. That’s just all the music and stuff, but this does have the tendency to feel fairly fresh and new.

*Side Note: Can you guys?

The music is really great, and a soundtrack that would be really cool to add to a collection of any sort. There’s a nice mash of rock and pop and rap, and practically whatever else. There’s catchy tunes of all sorts, which really makes the film lots of fun.

The only flaws that were presented is that it could just get really predictable, and in some scenes I just felt a little worn out.

I usually really hate boy bands, but the main rival singing group of the Bellas, The Trouble Makers, is actually pretty good.

All of the characters are actually rather good and mostly likeable. Beca is really reserved, so when she breaks out of her tender shell, it’s great. Some are really annoying, but in the end, a lot of them have changes of heart. I liked the characters, and I could only count the ones that I didn’t like on one hand. There are scene stealers all over the place. Without surprise, Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy is the largest (oops, no pun intended) scene stealer, and she brings that same comedic timing as she did in Bridesmaids. You’re going to be have to be with a name like that, anyway. Some other scene stealers include Lilly, the quiet Asian girl whose eyes make her look a little like that really creepy chick from the trailers of Frankenweenie. Also, the surprise appearance by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) and his character’s larger friend, Justin, just make a perfect team. The great thing is that every character is developed, and they all get their chances to shine at some point in the film.

At points the film does get pretty ridiculous and strange, especially when the group initiations are happening for that one scene, or like the oddball, yet hilarious, announcers for the singing competition (played by John Michael Higgins, and Elizabeth Banks [who also helped produce the film]). Like I said in my previous sentence, it’s pretty strange. Strangely entertaining, that is. The atmosphere isn’t something all that special, but it’s the characters, music, Anna Kendrick, and mostly because I didn’t have a ride home, that convinced me stay until the very end. Something Anna Kendrick’s character doesn’t like to do.* The comedy that is offered can be a little too spaced-out for my liking, but when the jokes are made, they can hit pretty hard.

*Side Note: Sheesh. I really don’t understand how some people don’t stay until the very end. That’s usually the best part!

The song mash-ups and set designs and all that are really nice and fun, and something to tap one’s foot to. The wardrobe is okay, because the Bellas’ uniform is that of a practical flight attendent. During the auditions, the filmmakers put them all together so they’re all singing the song. It’s really cool and funny; it’s something I’ve seen on American Idol (or any other singing show) before, but it’s cool to see it in a film.

Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Kelly Jakle, Alexis Knapp and Adam Devine star in Pitch Perfect.

Pitch Perfect offers a fun experience that is worth the look. It has great music, a pretty good plot, great characters, a great ensemble, and there’s just a lot of things to love about this one. It’s entertaining, and my have flaws because of its wicked predictability, but that doesn’t stop this film from being a foot-tapping crowd pleaser.

80/100