By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Heather Baysa
By Calum Marsh
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Simon Abrams
By Alan Scherstuhl
Get On Up Doesn't Bother With Much Exposition
“The ’60s are an important and exciting time,” Jenna Fischer’s June Carter stand-in observed in Walk Hard, a perfect attack on the here's-what-year-it-is dialogue in most of these life-spanning flicks. There’s none of that here. The decade — and Brown — moved so fast that scenes set in1966 must feel wholly distinct from those of ’68. The movie trusts you to get this by hair and beats.
Get On Up Digs Into Great Moments Even at the Expense of Familiar Ones
The film’s longest single sequence is a recreation of a 1971 concert in Paris. The epochal 1963 Live at the Apollo gets just a couple minutes. The ’71 show — made commercially available in the ’90s on the impossibly great Love, Power, Peace album — is short on famous hits but long on the hottest funk ever laid down by his hottest band, the Bootsy and Phelps “Catfish” Collins–era JBs. You’ll sweat just watching it. “I Feel Good,” meanwhile, is represented only as something of a pop sellout.
Here's the whole album posted to YouTube. Caution: Play it at the gym, and you'll have a heart attack.
Get On Up Bothers to Make Critical Arguments About Brown and His Legacy
Ray and Walk Hard were both movies about good men who go bad and then remember that they’re good right around the time they become national treasures. Get On Up has no arc, but it does have points to make. Early on, an elderly Brown points out to the camera that every record we hear in the present bears Brown’s influence. That’s no boast; it’s stone truth, and it’s the reason Brown stands as the single most influential musician of the twentieth century — a case the movie shies away from in its end titles. Other theses are aired with some power: The white man at the head of King Records has to be told several times that “Please Please Please” — Brown's first record — is “not about the song.” He finally listens closely as Brown shouts the simple lyric over the Famous Flames’s vamp, and suddenly understands the primacy of groove, a lesson the whole world would learn over the next five decades. (That said, I wish the movie did a little more with Brown’s ferocious self-reliance rap, best laid out in the song title “I Don’t Want Nobody to Get Me Nothing (Open the Door and I’ll Get it Myself.”)
Get On Up Dares to Break With Bland Movie Realism
This is the most structurally inventive studio film since that last Wachowski siblings thing. Taylor and company arrange a playlist of moments from Brown’s life rather than a strictly linear narrative. Better still, they dare to mash moments up into each other, especially when there’s music playing: A very young Brown, forced to box blindfolded for tuxedoed white swells, watches a Dixieland band play as he lies sprawled and bloody on the canvas. Time slows, and the old-timey music somehow matches up to something inside him — suddenly, the black musicians on this ’30s plantation are ripping into the future-funk of “Super Bad.” Young Brown leaps up and kicks some ass, as if funk were to him what spinach is to Popeye. There is stranger and more daring stuff in the final reels, moments that set off some giggles in the preview audience I saw this with. To them I’ll just say: The movie’s about what moments with James Brown might have felt like, for those around him or the man himself. They’re no sillier than anything in The Buddy Holly Story — but they probably cut closer the man’s actual presence.
Again, the movie’s a mess. So is any human life, especially a globe-straddling musician’s. I can’t wait to see it — and sort through it — again.
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