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Get on Up: A 2 Star Movie. A 5 Star Performance.

The Funk don't Quit
The Funk don't Quit
Image from Universal Pictures

Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations

Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:

Chadwick Boseman is turning into the king of tame African America biopics. Not to say that his performance wasn’t astonishing; capturing everything from James Brown’s raspy, sometimes undecipherable, Southern twang, to his often mimicked but never duplicated dance moves, Boseman absolutely nails it, giving an Oscar worthy performance. That said, it’s the choppy, redundant and consistently PG-13 direction from Tate Taylor (The Help) and the overall lack of emotional connection that had my enjoyment level taking a nosedive a little after the first hour.

First off, why was a movie chronicling the life of James Brown rated PG-13?! “Get on Up” alludes to Brown’s history with drug abuse, but never really goes into it. There is one scene of him striking one of his wives, but it never really goes into his womanizing or issues with spousal abuse. There is one scene where we see Brown as a boy having a minor brush with the realities of the segregated South, but we never really see any of his early physical hardships. All of this amounts to a PG-13 film about a rated R character.

This tameness is only made worse by the strange lack of emotional connection throughout. I mean, bad stuff does happen, but since there are only two or three sequences which elicit a true emotional connection, if you aren’t already familiar with Brown’s history, hardly any of the would-be powerful/tragic moments will resonate. In other words, if you enjoyed this movie, it’s either because you went in ready to “love it”, or the 10 plus musical numbers and Boseman’s strong performance were enough to win you over.

More problems:

The editing choices were undoubtedly the most noticeably distracting flaw of the film; to the point where I just gave up trying to figure out why Taylor chose to tell this straightforward story by RANDOMLY (and relentlessly) bouncing through time like some kind of Kurt Vonnegut novel. From the very beginning “Get on Up” plays as though Taylor had seen a linear cut of his finished product, wasn’t happy with it and then decided to put scenes in random order, with the thought that maybe it would make it a more entertaining watch. Guess, what? It didn’t work.

There are a few other things Taylor tries that didn’t work; namely the use of surreal visuals, which in this instance sounds like a brilliant filmmaking technique, since Brown is a character with a fragile mental psyche. But in Taylor’s hands, this technique comes off as dreadfully heavy handed. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the countless instances of annoying 4th wall breaks!

Final Thought: For about an hour, “Get on Up” was good enough; getting by on Boseman’s performance, some interesting back-story and the first few musical numbers. But as the latter half of this 138 minute movie rears its ugly head, “Get on Up” becomes repetitive with performances consisting of the same choreography (It isn’t as though Brown’s dance moves weren’t entertaining, but it’s a movie! Mix it up!) and conflicts between characters I had no emotional stake in. Make no mistake, I am a fan of James Brown aka “the hardest working man in show business”, aka “the Godfather of Soul”. And knowing how eccentric the man was in real life, I was really looking forward to a film about the life and times of this controversial and groundbreaking musical figure. And when I heard that “Get on Up” was to be directed by Tate Taylor and produced by Mick Jagger, I asked myself: “how could this idea possibly fail?” But as I sat in the theater this afternoon, even with all of the supposed funk flying around, I was absolutely shocked with how bored I was.

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