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‘Get On Up’ depicts singer’s blinding charisma Boseman’s electrifying as Brown

There’s a delicious moment in “Get On Up,” Tate Taylor’s new James Brown biopic, when Brown — played by Chadwick Boseman, in a thrillingly magnetic performance — is about to appear on the T.A.M.I. Show, a multi-act concert filmed in 1964. Backstage, the singer is informed that he and his band won’t be closing the show; that honor will be going to an up-and-coming British band called the Rolling Stones. Brown shakes off the disappointment, goes out and blows the roof off the place with the force of those growling vocals and explosive, kinetic dance moves. Then he saunters over to the Stones, just five skinny blokes who don’t know what hit them. “Welcome to America,” he says. Did he say that in real life? No matter. The scene illustrates Brown’s most important qualities: his indescribable drive as a performer, and his almost blinding charisma.
 
Influence
For that, kudos go to director Taylor and producers Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger (yes, that Mick Jagger, who’s made no secret of Brown’s influence on his own famous moves.) But none of it would work, of course, without Boseman, an actor on a remarkable run of late, playing Jackie Robinson in “42” and now this. If he was impressive as the dignified Robinson, he’s electrifying as Brown. And just as Brown, in life, upstaged pretty much everyone — including his bandmates, the Famous Flames — Boseman does that here. The always excellent Viola Davis plays Brown’s mother, Susie, but since Susie left her son as a boy, we don’t see enough Davis — just a few sad moments from Brown’s hardscrabble rural youth, and then one excruciating, wonderfully played scene later, when she comes to see her adult son backstage at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.
 
The central relationship in Brown’s life, though, was with his friend and partner, Bobby Byrd, who stuck with him even as Brown’s ego pushed many away. As Byrd, Nelsan Ellis gives a thoughtful performance that, appropriately, grounds the film. (As Brown’s longtime manager, Dan Akyroyd occasionally gets a little hammy.) Many biopics of performers follow a grating formula: Tough youth, obstacles overcome, fame discovered, more obstacles, descent into old age or worse. Here, Tate and talented screenwriters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth avoid this by jumping around in time, ditching chronology for a thematic approach. It can get confusing, but it keeps us on our toes. They also have Brown break the fourth wall at key moments. Alas, this isn’t done early or frequently enough to feel coherent. Perhaps there just wasn’t time; even at 138 minutes, the film has to barrel though parts of Brown’s long public life. (He died in 2006, at 73.)
 
Scene
Luckily, there was time for the scene where an older Brown bursts into a meeting at a building he owns, shooting at the ceiling with a rifle; he’s annoyed someone used his private bathroom. Also memorable: the scene where Brown encounters a young Little Richard (Brandon Smith, highly entertaining), and Brown’s amusingly incongruous appearance in a ski sweater in the 1965 Frankie Avalon film “Ski Party.” Much more harrowing is a scene showing Brown hitting his second wife, DeeDee — a brief evocation of the man’s darker side. Also effective is a tense scene in which Brown forces his band, in rehearsal, to change the sound they’re used to playing. They resist; he wins. And the music does sound fabulous throughout; one imagines Jagger had something to do with that. (The vocals in the film are Brown’s; as for the dance moves, of course, that’s all Boseman.) In the end, we have a portrait that is not uniformly positive — Brown was too complicated for that — yet falls mostly on the kinder side. At one point, Byrd is trying to explain to a frustrated bandmate why he sticks with Brown. “He’s a genius,” Byrd says simply.
True enough. “Get On Up,” a Universal Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America “for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations.” Running time: 138 minutes. Three stars out of four.
 
Also:
LOS ANGELES: Universal and director F. Gary Gray have found the remaining members of gangster rap group N.W.A, as Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown Jr have been cast as MC Ren and DJ Yella, respectively, in “Straight Outta Compton,” TheWrap has learned. Brown Jr and Hodge join O’Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube), Corey Hawkins (Dr Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E). Original N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr Dre are producing the drama with Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright, while Gray is executive producing with Will Packer and former Universal exec Scott Bernstein. In the mid-1980s, the streets of Compton, California, were some of the most dangerous in the country. When five young men translated their experiences growing up into brutally honest music that rebelled against abusive authority, they gave an explosive voice to a silenced generation. (Agencies) Following the meteoric rise and fall of N.W.A., “Straight Outta Compton” tells the astonishing story of how these young men revolutionized music and pop culture forever the moment they told the world the truth about life in the hood and ignited a cultural war.
 
Studio executives Jon Mone and Sara Scott will oversee the project for Universal, which will release “Straight Outta Compton” on Aug 14, 2015. Hodge is currently enjoying a recurring role on AMC’s “Turn,” and he’s a series regular on the upcoming Amazon series “The After.” His recent feature credits include “The East,” “A Good Day to Die Hard” and the Coen brothers’ comedy “The Ladykillers.” He’s represented by Paradigm and the Priluck Company. Brown Jr played Guillermo on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and has a recurring role on USA’s “Suits.” His film credits include Universal’s “Fast and Furious” and Sony’s “Battle: Los Angeles.” He’s repped by Pantheon and David Dean Management. (Agencies)
 
By Jocelyn Noveck

By: Jocelyn Noveck

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