Saturday, August 9, 2014

Get On Up - Review

Get On Up – Review

The feature film “Get on Up” is both the title of a popular 1960’s R & B song as well in large measure the resolving theme of the life of the Godfather of soul James Brown. And unless you were born just this very moment or you have been stranded on a remote island for the last 50 years you should know who James Brown is. If you are still not sure, then you undoubtedly you have heard his music as it has been sampled numerous times by countless Hip Hop and Pop performers over the past 2 decades.

“GOU” is directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), Executive Produced by Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and stars Chadwick Boseman (“42”). It is essentially a biopic linear tale about James’s desperate childhood of illiteracy, depressing poverty and the affecting circumstances of his parents being equally fraught with behavioral dysfunction to his eventual escape from these mired circumstances ascending to legendary musical heights garnering national fame, financial success, cultural prominence and social relevance.

There is nothing new in “GOU” that was a revelation to me that I hadn’t already heard or not chronicled in some form before his death in 2006. The central component of the film makes the concerted effort to thrash out the more intimate details of the personal relationships in James’s life, especially the two closets friends he had during his career. One being his Business Manager Ben Bart (Dan Akroyd) and the other with his very close longtime confidant Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis (aka “Lafayette” on “HBO “True Blood”). 

While Director Taylor seems to be determined to tell everything that happened to James he also tries to do it all way too safely; as there were way too many scenes that felt either rushed or simply shorten if you will, almost skimming right pass over some real significant events and subjects that could and should have been probed much further. Taylor also didn’t do the viewing audience many favors by his many random disjoined and unpredictable flash backs scenes to James’s formative youth. These flashbacks never seem to offer up anything in the story’s connectivity, leaving me a bit confused as to what Taylor was really trying to convey about some pivotal area in James’s life. Finally, Taylor also needlessly injected very sporadically James Brown voice over scenes where he begins talking directly to the viewing audience. In my estimation and for all practical purpose these voice overs offered only some benign conversations about some benign matters that were very low on the relevance meter to the film’s story itself.

Biopics are hard to do because they invariable squeeze 75 years’ worth of information into 2 hours and therefore as a film subject they require lots of discipline in editing and tight story construction. Director Taylor seemed to lack enough discipline to make “GOU” feel like one intact film. The movie had some editing moments that felt more like a myriad of “acting pieces” and “scene bits” that were simply strung together in the effort to tell everything for such a broad life’s story. But even with these directing technical flaws exposed, the real shining treasure for me that brought “GOU” across the finish line was the stellar performance by Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. Boseman is the incarnate of James, literally channeling every fiber and essence of his being ranging from the body posture, his speaking voice and the very spirit and persona of the man itself. Boseman brings an incredible array of acting skills to bare showcasing the young charismatic James as well as the more reflective aging man.

Fact is, Boseman is the real reason to watch this film as he gives it his all in making us recall James Brown in such vivid clarity and rich detail that you are almost left feeling he is still alive. And along with a revisit of some of James’s original and great music tracks in tow, Boseman’s mastery of recreating all of the facial expressions, dance moves, grunts, and even the singer’s sweat, in my opinion were flawless and should be something worthy of a possible Oscar Nomination for Boseman  as Best Actor next January 2015.

Overall, “GOU” is entertaining and holds your attention each minute throughout the 2 hour 10 minute viewing time. But when it’s over you don’t really remember very much about any particular scene or event in James’s life, you do however remember the genius of James’s music, performances, legacy and relevance. You also remember the acting prowess of Chadwick Boseman who brings “GOU” all together to viewing life and fabulously so.

3 – 1/2 Stars


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

“Guardian of the Galaxy” is silly, messy, loud, long, snarky, corny, snide, cheesy and insanely gitty. And it’s also one of the most fun times I have had watching a summer blockbuster film.

In actuality what sounds like a list of negative criticisms by me, are in fact a list of the films strengths with its high energy fast paced comedic story line of the tale of a band galactic misfits who are circumstantially thrown together to saving the universe from a villain named “Ronan the Destroyer”; but of course you already knew the universe is always in need of perpetual saving in science fiction films.

The story starts out on earth in the late 1980’s with a rather genuinely tender and dramatic scene of a small boy learning one of life’s hardest lessons. And as quickly as you can say “teleport me up”, the film leaps forward somewhere in a Star War-ish galaxy far, far away about 25+ years later where we find the same small boy all grown up into a man named Peter Quill who likes being referred to as “Star Lord”. The grown Peter is a bounty hunter now who has been hired to secure (steal) a mysterious silver looking softball sized orb call the “Orb” that has unique powers going back to the very genesis of the universe itself. Now, plot wise going forward, if an “Orb has unique powers” then there is obviously going to be a crap storm of interstellar maniacal egomaniac bad guys all lining up for the next two hours trying to secure (steal) it for themselves as well. But of course it will be the the rag tag coupling of our “Guardians“ heroes that will be given the chance to save the day for all.

With as a diverse team you will ever see in a movie we find one of the “Guardians” being a limited vocabulary talking “Chewbacca-ish” tree named “Groot”; a green sultry, sexy and fearless woman named “Gamora”; Drax an oversized bald Wrestling looking behemoth who’s skin looked like he got caught in a red slip stick factory assembly line; Rocket a fearless, sardonic, sarcastic, witty, and clever gun totting talking raccoon and of course the leader of the pack the only human in the group with a 1980’s Walkman cassette player and a Michael Jackson “Thriller” styled red jacket named  “Peter” aka “Star Lord”.

With some familiar strokes reminiscent to Star Wars, GOTG works extremely well because it doesn’t tie itself down trying to have everything in the film make specific technical sense. This is, in the purist sense, a simple adventure film which is also a very smart and comedic super hero story as well. And while there were a few scenes in the story that didn’t always have “one plus one” adding up to “two”, ultimately it didn’t matter because the Director to his credit never loses his guiding focus in “it’s about getting the orb stupid”.

There is also a lot of slap stick bantering humor ranging from a character’s lack of understanding of human irony and metaphors who literally took everything said to him literally that had me laughing out loud throughout the film. In addition there was a creative imagining of a supporting character who can only best be described as a blue skinned, orange Mohawk, part mercenary, bounty hunter, bandit, red neck cowboy.

In the end, GOTG is just simply a whole lot of movie going fun because it sparkles with the right amount of hipness, lightheartedness, ebullience, visual action, surprises and sincere goofiness that should leave a warm smile on your face from beginning to end.

Finally, I thoroughly and I mean I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack to this film. It played songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s that simply took me back that I also knew the words to, adding a surprising subtle but sweet richness to what was already a very entertaining vibrant film.

While I can’t really see paying the extra $10 for GOTG in 3D or IMAX 3D just to see stuff whizzing towards me, by all means see this in the theater, you will have so, so much fun.

3 – 3/4 Stars