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Get On Up

Guardians Of The Galaxy

August 7, 2014

Get On Up (***) PG-13

If you’re one of those who have been salivating for a revelatory biopic of the legendary soul singer James Brown, I’m sorry to report that you’re going to have to check out one of the myriad documentaries that can be found on the subject, instead of director Tate Taylor’s (The Help) oft-times whitewashed version of events in the icon’s life. In a film with a PG-13 rating, I knew going in that most likely I wasn’t going to get the full and balanced portrait that such a towering figure in popular American culture deserves, and that proved to be the case.

Now, having said all of that, I think that the film, Get On Up, is certainly worthwhile viewing. In terms of relation to the truth, it’s certainly no worse than many other biopics—Ray, etc.,—we’ve been treated to in recent years. It’s also compelling enough that its 139 minute running time seems to rush by for the majority of the film, which is always a good sign.

And of course there is the central performance by Chadwick Boseman, which anchors the film. He’s really quite good and manages to channel the spirit of the Godfather of Soul more often than not.

Dan Akroyd & Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up

He’s got the moves and the voice down to a science, and after a while I forgot that I was watching Boseman in performance mode, or at least until the final credits scroll where photos of the real James Brown at various points in his life crop up on screen. The musical sequences are astounding as well.

The film’s structure is a bit awkward and may prove to be a bit off-putting for some audience members. This is one of those films where, instead of focusing on a specific incident in a famous person’s life, they attempt to tell the entire cradle to grave saga, shoehorning in nearly sixty years of events in the process.

The film doesn’t attempt to tell Brown’s story chronologically and instead jumps around from point to point in a rather haphazard fashion, with only a title card to alert the viewer at what time the incident in question transpired. It’s a technique that works fine in print but not always cinematically. I got used to it after awhile but other viewers may feel differently. The film is bookended with Brown’s wild brush with the law in 1988 in Augusta, Georgia, which gives the film some real adrenaline.

There are many things that the film leaves out which could have been mined for dramatic impact and it’s a real shame. For instance, there’s the fact that Brown supported Richard Nixon, which cost him much of his fan base, and there’s the huge comeback that the singer had with his hit Living in America in 1986.

Also, his role in the events following Martin Luther King’s assassination is represented but not as in-depth as I would have liked (there’s a great documentary on this subject, The Night That James Brown Saved Boston). His drug use and domestic abuse are touched upon too, but not enough. As a film, it’s fairly compelling but as a document of a man’s life...well, that’s another story. 

Guardians of the Galaxy (***) PG-13

A MacGuffin, for those who aren’t rabid cinemaniacs and thusly not as knowledgeable in the language of cinema, is a term coined by Sir Alfred Hitchcock. It is used to describe an ill-defined plot device, usually an object of which the protagonist(s) seek to gain possession. A MacGuffin serves as the focus of the plot in the latest cinematic excursion from Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy, and having this information may come in handy when venturing into the world of the film. Ultimately, the plot proves to be secondary in the pic but knowing what a MacGuffin is certainly can’t hurt matters for the uninitiated.

The most noticeable thing about Guardians of the Galaxy was how much effort it took for me to force myself to pay attention during its unspooling, mostly due to that aforementioned MacGuffin at the film’s center. Perhaps it’s because my mind was filled other, more pressing issues of the day that I had to constantly make mental notes along the lines of, ‘pay attention here, you may need this information later.’ Once I decided to let myself go and avoid purposeful attempts at keeping track of every little plot turn, I found myself enjoying things to a greater degree. I have a feeling that’s the best frame of mind in which to view the film.

As it turns out, the MacGuffin in question, referred to as an orb, is secondary to the film’s character interplay, which takes front and center.

Chris Pratt & Zoe Saldana & crew in Guardians

It’s best to just sit back and observe the shenanigans of Peter Quill, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, etc, as they attempt to keep the orb out of the hands of various evildoers.

There’s also a great selection of cheesy pop music staples to keep things moving along, always a plus in my book.

The film is set against an outer space backdrop wherein Quill (Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt), an adventurer of some sort (think low-rent Indiana Jones) has stolen the orb which is coveted by both Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Ronan (Lee Pace). After being thrown into a space prison, he teams up with assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana, oozing sensuality even in green makeup), Rocket Raccoon (yes, a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and Groot (a talking tree voiced by Vin Diesel who emotes as much as the actor does in his other films).

They do what must be done in order to keep the orb out of the wrong hands and this makes up the bulk of the film’s story. The action scenes tend to go on too long at times and some of the humor comes off a bit awkwardly every now and again but the characters are so likeable that I’ll bet you’ll be willing to forgive the film of these transgressions.

As is the case with most Marvel films, there isn’t a lot of subtlety, nuance, or emotional depth—with the exception of a scene at the beginning that’s quite moving—but that’s okay. Most die-hard fans of the Marvel universe of films are going to have a dandy time with Guardians.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at





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