Get On Up

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DIR: Tate Taylor  WRI: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth  PRO: Brian Grazer, Trish Hofmann, Erica Huggins, Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman DOP: Stephen Goldblatt  ED: Michael McCusker  DES: Mark Ricker MUS: Thomas Newman  CAST: Chadwick Boseman, Dan Aykroyd, Fred Melamed

Any promotional material you read/view/hear for Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, the long-awaited James Brown biopic the world’s been fawning for since Christmas Day, 2006 (the day the self-scrawled “Godfather of Soul” passed), will name the seminal soul singer as an almost deity-like figure, epitomizing the African American experience from the early 1960s onward in musical form. As the stunning Chad Boseman chimes as an elderly Brown in the film’s opening scenes, “there’s some of me in every record you own”. Similar claims have been made by many a tiresome music biopic over the last decade and a half but approximately zero actor-director combo’s have pulled off the trick so convincingly as Taylor and Boseman do in Get On Up, which easily blows the former’s mediocre predecessor The Help out of its shallow waters to the point of game-changing.

The film bravely opens with an event for which Brown is arguably better known (certainly in lower brow circles) than for his entire discography combined, that being the drug-addled police-chase he embarked on in the days following his son’s death in 1988. The sequence, which opens with a frank shot of Brown’s hand adding angel-dust to a joint, includes at least two moments when the lead breaks the fourth wall, setting a new precedent for the drug-fuelled rock biopic beyond the woe-be-me hymns hummed by the likes of Walk the Line and Ray in that, rather than ignoring the nostalgic factor filmmakers inevitably approach such subjects with, Taylor uses a device most successfully used recently in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Bronson, in that he allows his subject bear the burden of agency in the telling of the tale. If this film shies away from darkness and murk it is because it is nothing more than Brown’s own spin on things, and begrudgers be damned.

As with other biopics that have allowed their subjects agency (the best example being Andrew Domink’s Chopper) the film is held together by a powerful, cohesive lead performance. Relative unknown Chad Boseman will not bear the subtitle long. He emanates sexuality with every lunge and whelp. His performance soars to such heights it negates the relatively fluffy acting surrounding him throughout, Dan Ackroyd seeming the most oddly miscast addition.

Credit due too in large to the script also, which meanders around chronology at an easy pace, dealing anecdotes as a means to a thematic narrative rather than the more traditional model excellently lampooned in Walk Hard. It is shot with the usual High Definition glitz we’ve come to expect from any film set even a little bit in the seventies, which works a dream for the highly-charged performances but jars uneasily with the murkier aspects of Brown’s life Taylor attempts to tackle, which is perhaps why he spends so few times in those moments. It does occasionally feel it needs Scroobius Pip quoted in its general direction (“…just a band”) but at least these flaws may be logically solved by the device of Brown addressing the camera: it’s his story and he’ll tell it how he wishes; with him at the centre.

Donnchadh Tiernan

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

138 minutes

Get On Up is released 21st November 2014

Get On Up – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: In a World…

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WRI/DIR: Lake Bell  PRO: Mark Roberts, Jett Steiger, Eddie Vaisman, Lake Bell  DOP: Seamus Tierney  ED: Tom McArdle  DES: Megan Fenton  Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Ken Merino, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman

 

The second I heard the title and premise of this film my mind instantly leapt to the sublime trailer that Jerry Seinfeld crafted for his documentary ‘Comedian’. Seinfeld himself is nowhere to be seen on-screen in the inspired promo. Instead we are treated to an increasingly frustrated sound engineer trying to coach an experienced voice over artist (Hal Douglas) away from clichés like ‘In a world…….’ .

Who knows whether the same skit had a similar impact on the writer/ director and star of this film Lake Bell but I was curious whether there is more comedic material to be mined in this area. The answer is – kind of.

This specialist corner of the movie industry should be fertile territory for laughs populated as it is by rich-voiced purveyors of bombast and hyperbole. The grave and portentous intonings of a talented voiceover artist can confer gravitas on even the most creatively bankrupt project while out on the promotion trail. It’s a marketing tool fundamentally but there can also be magic in the alchemy of a truly rousing voiceover. Injecting drama where none exists. Imbuing levity in the witless. Inferring class upon trash.

And in the western world, it’s a profession seemingly dominated by a male monopoly. That’s the clever entry point for this fiction as Bell’s vocal coach Carol strives to venture into the lucrative movie voiceover market. As depicted, studio approved vocal artists are drawn from a shallow pool. A very shallow pool including Carol’s own competitive father (Fred Melamed) who is an industry legend but still as insecure as any novice. Carol is intimidated at the prospect of breaking up the boys’ club but she is encouraged by a smitten sound engineer Louis (Demitri Martin) and her older sister.

Bizarrely, as Carol finally makes inroads in her career, her father resorts to subtly undermining her at first before turning openly hostile. The prize of securing the narration for a guaranteed blockbuster franchise ‘The Amazon Games’ becomes the crucible in which family allegiances are tested to the limit.

If that sounds a bit slight, you’ll have to sift through many subplots to keep track of the film’s central spine. Bell clutters proceedings with a variety of tangents and cameos that occasionally entertain but mainly distract. The conclusion that the film is being padded out to reach ninety minutes is hard to shake. For instance, a soapy relationship crisis for Carol’s sister generates few moments that would be missed if excised in its’ entirety. Similarly, an early brief appearance by Eva Longoria displays promise as Carol is hired to salvage the star’s apparently diabolical botching of a Cockney accent. It’s a funny notion, yet the scene fails to raise a smile nevermind a laugh.

In the end In a World is amiable and often impressive. It contains a couple of rib tickling moments and several sparkling one liners. It is uneven however. Logically enough because if all her roles before and behind the camera were judged separately, Bell would receive differing grades in each discipline. As a vehicle she designed for herself, the resultant film is more sturdy station wagon than Porsche.

And still my thoughts return to that ‘Comedian’ promo and the irrefutable feeling that it achieved more in a minute and a half than this feature manages in an hour and a half.

James Phelan 

 15A (See IFCO for details)

92 mins
In a World… is released on 13th September 2013

In a World… – Official Website

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