Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas

Reel Reviews: Godfather of Soul vs. grandpas with guns

Reel Reviews Brian Taylor writes on the James Brown biopic Get on Up and the third instalment of The Expendables shoot-em up franchise.

  • Aug. 22, 2014 1:00 p.m.

There are four movies to review this week, so today’s review is a two for one.

Get On Up is the story of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) and his rise from poverty to super-stardom. Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Winter’s Bone), Get On Up promises to be a raw, unbridled film that tells the “real story” and there’s even a bit of Oscar talk buzzing.

While I feel the film is well made and Boseman (who played Jackie Robinson in 42) should be nominated for Best Actor because he disappears into the role, channelling Brown’s voice, mannerisms and dancing, the film itself is a bit light, glazing over the details.

Coming in at two hours, 18 minutes, the film has ample time to help audiences understand both where Brown came from and why he was such a hard man to know and like. Yet, with long musical numbers, including three complete performances as well as plenty of rehearsing, Get On Up is nearly wholly a musical. The remaining time is left hitting the high and low points, with subtle candour and a surprising amount of humour.

It seems like Taylor has chosen to make a film that entertains, more than it tells the truth. So it is illustrated that Brown was difficult to work for, had issues with drugs and beat his wives, but these things take a back seat so that we can come to believe that the hardest working man in show business deserves his place in musical history.

Above all, James Brown must be likeable. He really isn’t, other than as an oddity.

Finally, Get On Up is another film where the characters look into the camera and address the audience directly, which I feel is lazy filmmaking. However, I did like the way this gimmick worked out, because at first Brown is cocky and strutting, then when he starts screwing up his own life and the lives of others, he’ll only give the audience sideways glances, guilty, like he’d rather you weren’t seeing this part of the story. In the end, this helps humanize the superstar and make the story happier.

The second film up for review requires fewer words to describe. Surprisingly, I enjoyed The Expendables 3 much more than I did the previous two. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a hyper-violent cavalcade of mayhem, but as I watched it, waiting for something bad to happen, it never did. I simply don’t like these kinds of movies. However, this last one seemed to take itself a little more seriously than its predecessors. I found the characters (I can’t believe I’m saying this) more believable in this film. There were moments where I thought they cared for each other and had reasons for doing the things they do.

While it’s true that Sylvester Stallone’s acting has been reduced to walking, moving his eyes and opening and closing his mouth such that something resembling words may escape, in this film he plays an older soldier, nearing retirement, so it works.

There are so many guest stars in The Expendables 3 that I’d need another page to list them and it was fun to see them all. Some shine more than others and I don’t want to spoil any surprises by telling you too much. If you need an overdose of spine-crunching action or are a fan of the series, do not miss The Expendables 3.

– Taylor gives Get On Up 3.5 sex machines out of 5.

– Taylor gives The Expendables 3 2.5 hearing aids out of 5.

Get On Up is playing at the Vernon Towne Cinema.

The Expendables 3 is playing at the Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.

– Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are film reviewers based in Vernon, B.C. Their column Reel Reviews appears in The Morning Star every Friday and Sunday.