Friday, 22 August 2014

MEASURE OF A MAN: The James Brown story roars to life in Get On Up

SHOW STOPPER: Brown, centre, giving one of his famously electrifying stage performances.

From its 1980s opening sequence, the James Brown biopic, Get On Up grabs hold of you with a pull of seductive and irresistible you know right away you came to the right place for a funky good time. No surprise then that by the final credits you do, emerging from the experience with a newfound respect for the entertainment legend who was rightly dubbed the hardest working man in show business. 

If as they say, directing is 90 percent casting, then Tate Taylor (The Help) couldn't have asked for a more competent and committed leading man than Chadwick Boseman, who solidly anchors the film by mustering the requisite conviction (the vigour, the feistiness, the perm) to nail the portrayal. I feel Boseman's knockout performance is due a few noms this coming awards season and highly likely Best Actor honours at next year's NAACP Image Awards. 

For those who saw the actor's indelible turn as Jackie Robinson in 42, this uncanny transformation into yet another pioneering Black figure will make you marvel anew. Playing Brown, Boseman gets a stellar supporting framework through the efforts of costars like Dan Ackroyd, as a golf-playing show promoter; Jill Scott, as his love interest; and Nelsan Ellis (True Blood), as Brown's longsuffering backup vocalist and faithful right-hand man Jimmy, who bravely endures the temper and the tantrums. We feel for him. 

Cameos by Viola Davis (Brown's wayward mother who steps out on his father) and Octavia Spencer (the brothel-running aunt who takes him in) powers up the movie's star wattage with appearances memorable in spite of their brevity. 

In the end, Taylor's film paints a riveting, unforgettable portrait of a musician who was truly in a league all his own. As the movie attests, not only did James Brown define an era and inspire legions with his chart-topping tunes and electrifying stagecraft - he brought an untiring spirit to the African-American community (and to the entertainment world at large) at the height of the Civil Rights movement and the dawn of the conflict in Vietnam. 

To wit, a scene depicting Brown and his singers aboard a US army plane (under a hail of gunfire) heading to a performance for the troops is one of the film's most visceral moments. 

In short, Get On Up, though excessively lengthy, is a well-wrought and very well-acted look at James Brown the man, the musician - and the dawn of funk. It's sprinkled with moments so outrageous, they have to be seen to be believed. Tyrone's Verdict: B+ 

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