Saturday, August 9, 2014

Movie: Get On Up

Get On Up:  the James Brown story.  The film allows Brown’s music to dominate the story without concealing his troubled life.  Chadwick Boseman is excellent as James Brown.  He was superb as Jackie Robinson in 42, and in Get On Up, he manages to top that fine performance.  The director, Tate Taylor (The Help), wisely allows Brown’s voice to be heard instead of substituting the actor’s voice as Eastwood did in Jersey Boys.  Both movies deal with singers whose lives were quite unique.  The treatment of their stories, however, is entirely different, including the use of Brown’s actual voice.  The film’s music producer is Mick Jagger, who has acknowledged his artistic indebtedness to Brown.  Another difference between the two films is that Taylor chooses to use a non-linear presentation.  Childhood scenes are interspersed along Brown’s path to stardom.  While I usually find time jumps an annoyance, that is not the case in this film in part because dates/places are flashed on the screen.  The film doesn’t hide Brown’s rural, violent and impoverished background.  Nor does it hide Brown’s lack of formal schooling.  Brown’s mother left when he was a young boy and his father eventually left him with a paternal aunt named Honey.  Both Viola Davis as Brown’s mother and Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey give powerful performances during the very limited time they are on screen.  Also deserving of special mention is Brandon Mychal Smith as Little Richard.  A pivotal point in Brown’s career was seeing Little Richard perform at a juke joint in 1954.  The film has Little Richard giving Brown advice as to recording a demo, which leads to his first hit, “Please, Please, Please”.  (I remember being blown away the first time I heard the song).  During the film’s 138 minutes, the longtime relationship between Brown and Bobby Boyd (Nelsan Ellis) is explained as well as the important role that Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd), Brown’s record promoter, played in Brown’s life.  The film implies that Brown’s money problems occurred after Bart’s deathI don’t know enough about Brown’s life to say whether it is factual.  What is factual is that Brown’s musical talents were unique and this film highlights his performance abilities.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movie: A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man:  a movie to see for reasons beyond the fact that it was Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last movie.  The film is based on a 2008 John LeCarre novel.  It takes place in Hamburg, Germany.  Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, a German intelligence officer with a drinking problem.  Bachmann is the head of a small outfit operating without official German government authority.  His outfit is assigned the job of forestalling another September 11 attack.  The movie opens with two plotlines:  Hoffman’s organization is to trace certain funding by an individual who is running a legitimate non-profit organization but who is also diverting some of the money to terrorist organizations; the second involves an illegal immigrant, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who is identified as Chechen.  The storylines intersect after we learn that Issa’s father deposited a significant amount of money with a Hamburg banker.  When the film opens, both Issa’s father and the banker are dead.  We are not told exactly how the funds were accumulated but we know it was not through good deeds.  The movie pivots around Issa, even though he is not on screen for a significant portion of the movie.  Issa wants sanctuary.  The story unfolds through the actions by his lawyer, played by Rachel McAdams, and the banker’s son, Tommy Brue, played superbly by Willem Dafoe.  We learn that Gunther does not have a good working relationship with the German authorities and that he is, with cause, distrustful of the AmericansGunther had headed up an operation in Beirut that was compromised due to an American “error”.  The Hoffman character is on screen for most of the film’s 121 minutes and he is a brooding presence.  The film is directed by Anton Corbijn, who sets the appropriate tone and mood for what unfolds.  The cast is predominately German but the dialogue is in English.  Under Corbijn’s direction and with Hoffman’s performance, the narrative is allowed to unfold with the typical subtleties  one expects when LeCarre is the source material.  In other words, this is not a Tom Cruise film where action rules regardless of logic.  Rather, this is a grim narrative with a moral foundation that will hold you to the end.  With the amount of cigarettes and alcohol he consumes throughout the film, Hoffman gives a fine closing performance.