Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rapid Reviews: Get on Up and Wish I Was Here

*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau

This all seems very familiar.  That’s the impression we’re bound to get by the end of the James Brown biopic, Get On Up.  It’s another in the long line of musician biographies on film, this time tackled by The Help director Tate Taylor.  The Help featured an innocuous but heartfelt story of racism and civil rights in Mississippi during the 1960s.  In Get On Up we start back in roughly the same time period in Georgia.  Chadwick Boseman, who recently portrayed other famed African-American, Jackie Robinson in 42, plays the Godfather of Soul.

Boseman, who was rather underwhelming as Robinson, really impresses with his turn as Brown.  He’ll almost certainly, at the very least, be in the conversation for Best Actor at the conclusion of the year.  It’s unfortunate, however, the rest of the film can’t match the spark of his performance.   Taylor employs every biopic trope that even the audience can imagine each one being crossed off the figurative checklist.  From the rags to riches arc, the chance meeting that leads to a big break, marital and band issues as the result of an inflated ego and/or drug abuse, we’ve certainly been down this road before.

It’s understandable that we’re covering a mostly true story of a real-life figure, but perhaps more of a light should’ve been shined on the years where Brown made his mark.  It’s not all for naught, though.  The childhood years give us some decent albeit brief performances by The Help alum, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  Nelsan Ellis is also a welcome addition on screen as Bobby Byrd.  Taylor attempts to keep up the pace by frequently switching between time periods, but few scenes seem to have a chance to really stand out.  Despite the formulaic story, the musical pieces are certainly enjoyable and that’s a credit to Boseman whose enthusiasm for this character is quite infectious.  At 138 minutes, though, I imagine those that aren’t enamored with the music of Mr. Brown may be squirming for a final number.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+ 

*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau

Much has been made over Zach Braff’s controversial Kickstarter campaign from last year.   As a huge fan of Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State, no complaints we’re made on this end, especially since it’s been ten years since Garden State was released.  It’s almost difficult to believe that much time has passed in between projects.  That, and the fact the audience funded much of this film, certainly increased expectations for the actor’s sophomore effort.

Wish I Was Here stars Braff as Aiden Bloom, a thirty something year old that discovers his father’s dying and won’t be able to pay for his grandchildren’s expensive private school anymore.  Aiden, with the help of his breadwinning wife, Sarah, played by Kate Hudson, attempts to home school the little ones and an adventure ensues.  The movie debuted at Sundance earlier this year and was met with lukewarm reception.  It’s hard to argue that Wish I Was Here isn’t a bit of a disappointment but it certainly isn’t one to avoid. 

Much like Garden State the soundtrack is a shining star here.  Even though that serves as a crutch for some potentially weak storytelling, Braff certainly knows his fair share of solid indie tunes.  We can also be thankful that Braff was able to get the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Hudson on board, as they deliver the best performances by far.  There’s a little too much pondering the wonders and tragedies of life, some of which doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.  The film also works better when it’s trying to be funny rather than when the emotion gets dialed up, which is frequently in the final act.  Even though it may not leave a lasting impression, it’s difficult not to admire the passion that Braff so evidently poured into the writing and directing of Wish I Was Here. 

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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