• Get On Up

    Released By: Universal
    Released On: January 6, 2015
    Director: Tate Taylor
    Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis
    Year: 2014
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Film:

    Ha! OW! And Hey! Unless you were born in the last 5 minutes...or have been under a rock your whole life...you know who James Brown is. Soul Brother Number ONE...the GODFATHER OF SOUL. The founder of funk, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. George Clinton may be known as the founder of funk, but James Brown was there first, and way before anyone had heard of Parliament.

    Tate Taylor's film Get On Up tells the story not-so-chronologically of Brown's upbringing in rural 1930's rural Georgia, a pretty lousy place for a poor Black family to live. After his mother splits from the domestic violence wrought by Brown's father, young James is sent to live in a brothel when his dad decides he's had enough of being a father. When he's not hustling soldiers and carrying out bordello duties, James gets bitten by the gospel bug at the local church, but unfortunately doesn't learn the commandment about stealing. As such, he's nabbed by the police and sentenced to some serious time for stealing a suit.

    Not one to let imprisonment get in the way of his music addiction, James rocks out to the prison band during the inmates allotted worship time, and gets involved with his own band when he's released. Dubbed The Famous Flames, they hit their first lucky break when they crash Little Richard's stage and wow the crowd with their funky ways. Richard is down with the sound and hooks James up with King Records, where The Famous Flames become James Brown and His Famous Flames at the insistence of the record company, who recognize who the star power in the group is. A mutiny in the form of a group walkout doesn't look good for Brown, but he turns it around with a new band and discovers fame when he arranges live shows at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater to the chagrin of his record company, paying for the production of a live album out of his own pocket. Of course, Live at the Apollo went on to become legendary and establish Brown as the household name that he is today.

    The rest of Get On Up grabs various snippets of Brown's career, from performing at USO gigs for soldiers and having his plane shot down moments before the show, his work and friendship with promoter Ben Bart, and his drug-fuelled shenanigans later on in life. And truth be told, at almost two-and-a-half hours, Get On Up is a great looking, great sounding film. Sequences from different periods look as accurate as can be, the acting is strong...very strong...for the most part, and the musical numbers are incredibly well done. Although some of his performance borders on SNL-like parody, Chadwick Boseman is totally convincing as James Brown, and carries the film adequately.

    However, and this is a big however; even looking past the historical inaccuracies, and feel free to google those to cut down on the review time; the failure in Taylor's film is that it tells us next to nothing at all about James Brown. If you know that James Brown was a Black man, if you know that James Brown was a performer, if you know that the southern states were not big on racial equality during the 30's-60's....well, there's not much much to learn in Get On Up. Even the controversy that surrounded Brown...his legendary status as a wife-beater...is covered in about 8 seconds of screen time, and his run from the police in Augusta, Georgia in 1988, which the film opens with, is glossed over. Even in the commentary, Taylor makes reference to Brown, "obviously under the influence of PCP". How is that obvious? At no point, outside of an unrolled joint onscreen, do we get any indication that Brown is a serious drug user at this point. Instead, Taylor concentrates on long concert sequences in a variety of venues, and makes sure that we all know that James felt out of place working on the lily-white Ski Party movie with Frankie Avalon.

    Historical accuracy in a biopic is always nice, but it's understood that sometimes that falls by the wayside in an effort to tell a story. Period-correct sets are also dandy, but can also be overlooked. What a biopic should do, however, is educate the viewer about the subject, and Get On Up fails in this area. If you want to clap along to nice songs and glitzy musical numbers, though...you've come to the right place. Given that a film on James Brown has been in one stage of development or another for the past bunch of years, and given that some of the names on this project are pretty heavy-hitters in the film and music industry, Get On Up is a disappointing payoff.


    Universal brings Get On Up to blu-ray in a 1.85:1 transfer that looks amazing. Black levels are great, colours are off the charts, and it conveys each stage of Brown's career appropriately, with no visual artifacting to be seen. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is equally as impressive, and everything from softly-spoken dialogue to booming live music sounds fantastic, turning your home theatre into a concert hall. There are no audio issues to speak of, and everything is balanced perfectly. It's one of the best-sounding audio tracks I've had the good fortune to hear...the presentation of this film is a thing of beauty.

    A number of extras are also available, starting with ten Deleted/Extended/Alternate scenes (15:03) that are worth seeing if you like the film. One of them actually involves a little-known but well-documented incident with Bootsy Collins, and would've been nice to see included.

    Full Song Performances and Extended Song Performances are just that, more music from the film.

    Universal then carries on the somewhat annoying tradition of splitting a decent-length Making of Featurette into 700 parts, starting with Long Journey to the Screen (3:58) which features Brian Grazer (Imagine), Tate Taylor, and Producer Mick Jagger discussing the film from inception to completion.

    Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown (11:25) features the same people from the previous supplement profiling the lead actor from the film.

    The Get On Up Family (6:27) is a behind-the-scenes look at the film featuring the cast and crew, while
    On Stage With The Hardest Working Man (6:25) is a behind-the-scenes look at the different musical numbers.

    The Founding Father of Funk (13:19) breaks up the usual by featuring Ice Cube and other performers as well as the cast and crew discussing the importance of James Brown on the music industry.

    Tate Taylor's Master Class (6:57) is an extended sequence from the film featuring an uptight White Couple giving into their inhibitions and getting on down to James Brown's music.

    Finally, a commentary with Tate Taylor sheds some information on some of the actors and locations used in the film. There's some cool stuff in there, but the gaps in conversation are plentiful.

    The Final Word:

    If your parents are looking for a nice musical that won't offend, Get On Up is a pretty safe bet. For anyone looking for an accurate or educational film biography....look elsewhere.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!