SOUL POWER?

get_on_up_xlgBiopics are by their very nature formulaic and so it’s very hard to break out of that formula. If it’s someone in the music industry, it’s usually a story that starts with abject poverty, moves onto huge wealth and then ends in tragedy. Get On Up tells the story of the Godfather of Soul James Brown but director Tate Taylor (The Help) does try to play with the formula a little bit. Chadwick Boseman, the future Black Panther in Marvel’s forthcoming movie, plays the lead role as a larger-than-life man who managed to break out of his desperately poor South Carolina background to pull himself up by his bootstraps to become a  huge success in the world of popular music. Taylor injects some genuinely amusing scenes into proceedings, mostly keeping the tone light, which helps pass its two hours and twenty minute running time pretty effortlessly, and Boseman does have real charisma on screen, channeling the real James Brown with some skill. The director does move around from Brown’s childhood to his later life in a non-linear fashion but it does keep the structure a little more interesting. We see Brown in Vietnam, Brown being pursued by the police later in life and the singer making his name. There is an impressive supporting cast that includes Dan Aykroyd as his manager Ben Bart and Nelsan Ellis as his right hand man Bobby Byrd. Brandon Smith as Little Richard, who Brown encounters early on his career too, puts in an impressive performance too. The film is produced by Mick Jagger and there is a knowing but entertaining scene where Brown is seen supporting the Rolling Stones, a band that he dismisses as being a flash in the pan. Some of the more negative aspects of Brown’s life like his violence towards women is skirted around but mostly Get On Up is an accomplished and likeable biopic of a major player in music. Boseman is obviously an actor to watch and this film will help increase his profile…

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HAT’S ENTERTAINMENT
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a film that has been eagerly awaited for years. At one point, it seemed in jeopardy that it would ever get made but it’s out at last. This biopic, which focuses on the 16th president’s attempt to get the abolition of slavery passed into law while resolving the bitter Civil War, shows off some of the director’s most assured and thoughtful work. Rather than take the usual route of cramming in the entire life of President Lincoln into one film, Spielberg decides to focus on this very pivotal part of US history and it pays off well. He handles the various machinations that Lincoln and the rest of his party have to go through to get the bill passed with rare skill and deftness. Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant in the title role, with an unusually measured and human performance and deserves the various gongs he has already received. He inhabits the part in a way that you can’t really imagine anyone else doing. If he doesn’t win an Oscar, I’ll eat my stovepipe hat. But it would be remiss of me to neglect to mention the rest of the cast. Tommy Lee Jones as the wonderfully named Senator Thaddeus Stevens, fellow abolitionist, and Jared Harris as Yankee general and future US President Ulysses Grant, are just two of the standout members of the cast. Lee Jones is suitably irascible and Harris shows why he is becoming one of the most interesting character actors of modern TV and film. Lincoln has a running time of two and a half hours and at no point does it drag or outstay its welcome. It’s not perfect by any means: it may have been a more dramatic conclusion if it had ended when the bill becomes law rather than showing us the death of Lincoln and sometimes you wonder if Lincoln really did speak in aphorisms like he chooses to sometimes here. But these are minor quibbles: Spielberg and production designer Rick Carter have created a painterly 1860s America, beautiful on screen. But the beauty is tempered by real human tragedy like the casualties of the Civil War, an event which drove a poisonous spike through the heart of America. It is impressive that, despite the fact that Steven Spielberg has making films for five decades now, he is still able to impress with something as weighty, as light-fingered and as erudite as Lincoln. Lincoln is a bold and well-made look at one of the most important figures and periods in American history…

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POWER CORRUPTED

As seems traditional at the beginning of each year, we have a new Clint Eastwood film. He has retired from acting so he only directs these days and J Edgar, a biopic about the evil head of the FBI, has Leonardo DiCaprio in the eponymous central role. Eastwood as director has made some great films, even in the last ten years (Mystic River, Changeling). But equally, his most recent efforts helming movies (Hereafter, Invictus) have been weak and rather unimpressive. J. Edgar, which kicks off at the beginning of Hoover’s life as a young man in the bureau at the start of the 20th century, suffers despite DiCaprio’s presence. Biopics are by their very nature formulaic and convention-bound and J.Edgar is no exception. Its flaws are many: it feels like a whitewash of a figure who made himself very unpopular with people while he was heading the FBI, a man who never seemed to come to terms with who he really was but was more than happy to persecute others for their failings. DiCaprio makes a decent fist of portraying Hoover on screen but Eastwood’s attempts to paint his protagonist as misconceived and heroic in a perverse way fall on their face. The rest of the cast don’t really have anything to work with and are left feeling like cyphers. He operated during a very pivotal period of American history but watching it, you can’t help but feel that there is a genuinely interesting story to be told here but that you’re not being given it in J. Edgar. It is very tricky to make a film where the central character is unremittingly unsympathetic and so Eastwood would always have been on a hiding to nothing. J. Edgar is maudlin and ultimately unsatisfying and the prosthetic makeup on Hoover’s male companion Clyde in later life looks unconvincing. The script’s attempts at humanising Hoover fall totally flat. Perhaps it’s time for Eastwood to call it a day as he’s got nothing to prove anymore…