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Get On Up (2014)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/13/2015

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/31/2014

We've discussed this topic before, but this is a good time to bring it up again. What is the job of a biopic? Is it to give us every detail of a person's life? Is it give us an idea of what the person's personality was like? Should it be treated as a historical document, or is it OK to take dramatic license with the story? When you walk out of one of these movies, should you feel that you've learned everything that there is to know, or is it up to you to do more research? We revisit these questions now as Get On Up is our movie of the day. Is this the definitive story of James Brown's life or is it just a tease?

While Get On Up jumps back forth in time, most of it focuses on the middle-part of the life of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman). We do see Brown as a child, growing up in poverty in rural Georgia, after being abandoned by his Mother (Viola Davis) and Father (Lennie James). After being sent to live with his Aunt (Octavia Spencer), who ran a brothel, Brown grows into a young man who lands in prison for theft. While there, he meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who is part of a musical group which has come to entertain the prisoners. Byrd is able to arrange for Brown's release, and they soon form a band known as The Famous Flames. Their exuberant performances attract attention and they are soon have a manager, Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), who gets them gigs and a record deal. However, Brown is quickly made the main attraction, which doesn't sit well with the rest of the band. As Brown's popularity grows, so does his ego and his paranoia. Soon, the energetic showman finds himself on the way to alienating everyone around him.

Granted, the title of this film is not "Get On Up: The Definitive Re-Telling of the Life of James Brown", but just a quick internet search will tell you that a lot has been left out, glossed over or ignored. Brown was married four times, but in the movie, we only see two wives. One scene (which is very well-shot) shows that there was domestic violence, but we don't get any details on this. The movie does touch on Brown's 1988 arrest, but it only hints at the drug use involved. My biggest issue with the film wasn't something which was omitted, but something which was never explained. We are told that Brown was a dynamic showman and apparently some people thought that he could sing, but the movie never tells us where the music and lyrics came from. Did Brown compose any music? Did he write the lyrics? Is this why he kept Byrd around despite their differences? The movie never tells us. And another thing, we don't learn the origin of a cape being thrown on Brown at the end of his show.

My nitpicking aside, Get On Up is a slightly above average biopic, only because we are compelled to hang in there despite the fact that Brown is often abrasive and off-putting. The screenplay by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth has clearly chosen some central moments in Brown's life on which to focus, but it also "Tarantinos" a bit too much, as it constantly jumps back and forth in time (and there are moments where it feels as if the story forgets to complete a though that it started in an earlier scene). I won't go as far as saying that Get On Up bites off more than it can chew, but, like many biopics, it dwells too much on certain things, while not giving us enough of others. The real revelation in Get On Up is the maturation of Director Tate Taylor. He made a very solid movie with The Help, but he really shows off his artistic side here. There are some very well-designed shots in the film, and the way in which Brown breaks the fourth-wall at times works very well. There are moments which feel quasi-experimental and one can't help but wonder if the film would have worked better if it had all been done in that style.

Of course, the big question with Get On Up pertains to Chadwick Boseman's performance. Personally, I felt that he was too restrained. In 42, Boseman portrayed a Jackie Robinson who had to remain stoic and not show his emotions. This seems to have carried over here. Boseman brings the energy during the musical performances and he clearly learned Brown's dance moves, but off-stage, this Brown is all coiled-spring and no release. Even when he's freaking out, he still seems very in control. Perhaps that's what Brown was really like, but somehow I doubt it. So, in the end, Get On Up works as entertainment, as we get the funky James Brown music and a rags-to-riches story, but I feel as if I came away now knowing less about the real man.

Get On Up finally brings Darryl and Lafayette together on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild traces of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, especially some of Brown's outfits, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, as we can make out the lines in the old-age makeup and the depth is notably good in some shots. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.4 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would hope, the music sounds very good, as it fills the speakers and offers some nice bass action. The concert scenes deliver crowd noise from the rear speakers and the stereo effects show good separation.

The Get On Up Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Producer Tate Taylor. The Disc contains ten DELETED/EXTENDED/ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 15 minutes. As implied, a lot of these scenes are simply longer or slightly different from ones which exist in the finished film. Most come from the first part of the story which explores Brown's early years and there aren't any new subplots here. We get more extra footage in "Full Song Performances" for four songs and "Extended Song Performances" for three numbers. "Long Journey to the Screen" (4 minutes) is a brief piece which contains comments from Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger who explain how they joined forces (Grazer with a script and Jagger with the music) to make the film. "Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown" (11 minutes) is an examination of the casting and preparation of Boseman, as he took on the lead role. "The Get On Up Family" (6 minutes) looks at how Taylor cast his friends from The Help, as well as some of the other key roles. "On Stage with the Hardest Working Man" (6 minutes) is an odd piece, as it focuses on the various "live" performances in the film, but it doesn't contain any archival footage of the real Brown. "The Founding Father of Funk" (13 minutes) has performers like Ice Cube and Pharrell Williams commenting on Brown, while those involved in the film share their own exposure to Brown's music. "Tate Taylor's Master Class" (7 minutes) is simply a long take of Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey dancing. Weird.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long