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Blu-ray Review Get On Up Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

Senior HTF Member
May 9, 2003
Get On Up Blu-ray Review

Get On Up jumps back and wants to kiss itself on Blu-ray with an edition that presents this passable biopic in solid gold high definition and a generous spread of special features. Billed as an Oscar-contender examination of the life of soul legend James Brown, the movie settles for showing bits and pieces of different moments in that life. Chadwick Boseman does his best to impersonate Brown, and he actually does pretty well in the brief stage performances we see. The dialogue scenes, particularly in Brown’s later years, don’t fare as well. A strong supporting cast sadly is unable to do much here, other than the always-electric Viola Davis. The period look and the song performances are quite good, a testament to the unlikely producing team of Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger. It’s just a shame that the movie built around those elements just doesn’t hold together. The Blu-ray comes with a commentary and roughly 80 minutes of featurettes and deleted material.

Studio: Universal

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DTS, French 5.1 DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 2 Hr. 19 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: ABC

Release Date: 01/06/2014

MSRP: $34.98

The Production Rating: 2/5

There is no denying that James Brown was a larger-than-life figure. The undisputed Godfather of Soul, Brown was a significant trail blazer in R&B music, particularly when it came to the development of funk. It’s no accident that James Brown is the single most sampled artist by a long shot, as modern day rappers and mixers constantly reach back to his work for inspiration and the best grooves. Brown was an electric performer onstage and, particularly during the first two decades of his career, created a library of songs that are still breathtaking when heard today. One of the interviewees on this Blu-ray says it best – Brown was ahead of his time and we’re still catching up to him. At the same time, James Brown had a checkered personal history, including multiple arrests for domestic violence and two multi-year stays in prison, the second of which following an infamous high speed chase with police all the way from Augusta, Georgia into South Carolina. He was a strict disciplinarian with his bands, enforcing a no-drugs, no-alcohol policy – and yet later in his career, he would himself wind up using some of the worst of the drugs himself. He was a father of at least 12 children, the eldest of whom died tragically in 1973 at the age of 19. At the same time, he was easily provoked to violence, as demonstrated by his many brushes with the law over it. All of which goes to show James Brown would certainly be an interesting candidate for a biopic, or better yet, a longer mini-series that could examine his life and work in detail. Based on the publicity around it, one might have expected Get On Up to be that biopic. Sadly, it falls short.

Get On Up attempts to provide a Greatest Hits travelogue of James Brown’s life, giving short glimpses into different key moments and then cutting away before getting too deep into any of them. Given how little depth is presented, director Tate Taylor tries to keep things interesting by taking a kaleidoscope approach to the narrative – whipsawing the viewer back and forth in time from Brown’s meager childhood in South Carolina and Georgia to his years of stardom to his final years and back again. And with the constant kick of Brown’s hit songs ringing in the background, Get On Up can be an exhilarating ride at times. The best moments by far are the musical performances, which do pick up the movie whenever they hit the screen. Chadwick Boseman, playing his second biographical figure in two years, does great work in learning Aakomon Jones’ electric choreography, and in presenting a passable imitation of Brown’s poise and attitude. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the matters, the movie only shows pieces of the performances, leaving the audience with only the barest of impressions of what made Brown so important to soul music. Once the movie leaves the stage, we’re left with Boseman’s dialogue, often delivered under heavier prosthetics for Brown’s later years, and much of it is simply unintelligible. Major moments of confrontation between Brown and his band simply fall flat, as we know way too little about what is happening or why. Dan Aykroyd does his best to bring some warmth to the role of Brown’s manager, Ben Bart, but the role feels perfunctory at best. Nelsan Allis works hard to bring Bobby Byrd to life, but isn’t able to do much other than, like Boseman, sport numerous costume and makeup/hair changes over the course of the film. The one supporting cast member that jumps to light is Viola Davis, as Brown’s mother Susie. She alone is able to shine both in her early scenes as the younger Susie who justifiably walks out on Brown’s father, and as the tired older woman who shows up at the Apollo in a disastrous attempt to reunite with her son. For the three or four minutes of that latter scene, Get On Up actually does show a bit of depth. And then we’re back to the travelogue.

It’s not pleasant to have to write a review this negative about a movie where the people behind it clearly tried to do something significant. I wish the movie had actually succeeded. But the problems with this movie speak for themselves. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, and some really talented people working their hardest, the project will just miss the mark. As has happened here. Fans of James Brown are better advised to watch any of the documentaries made about his life, or better yet, to watch the many films that exist, preserving some of his stage performances. Even with the best actor trying to impersonate him, there really is nobody that can play James Brown, except James Brown.

Get On Up was released in January on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes the movie in high definition, along a commentary and just under 90 minutes of bonus feaures. The DVD includes the movie and about half of the extras in standard definition. The Blu-ray includes the DVD edition in the packaging, along with instructions for downloading a digital copy.

Video Rating: 4.5/5  3D Rating: NA

Get On Up is presented in a 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode (@ an average 25 mbps) that accurately shows the details of the movie’s Mississippi shoot. A wide variety of flesh tones are accurately rendered, including when the actors are wearing extensive prosthetics. There are distinct looks to different points in the movie, and the transfer does well with each of them, including a seamless blend of CGI into various shots.

Audio Rating: 5/5

Get On Up has an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix (@ an average 3.7 mbps, ranging up to 5.0 during the big numbers) that accurately reflects the filmmaker’s intentions. There’s a surprising amount of atmospheric effects running through the surround channels, and the whole speaker system jumps to life any time James Brown hits the stage. The one thing this mix cannot do is make Chadwick Boseman’s dialogue intelligible at various points – but that is less a function of the sound mix than an issue with the direction and performance. To my ear, the sound mix is exactly what Tate Taylor had in mind. The Blu-ray also carries DTS 5.1 mixes in Spanish and French, as well as an English DVS track.

Special Features Rating: 3/5

Get On Up comes with a commentary by Tate Taylor, and what appears to be a generous array of special features. Once you actually start to examine those special features, the bounty becomes a lot smaller. A good chunk of the material is deleted scenes or extended song performances, which still don’t provide full looks at these songs. The featurettes themselves appear to be the chapters of what could have been a longer documentary, but kept to more of a bite-sized diet.

Feature Commentary with Tate Taylor– (AVAILABLE BOTH BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific commentary with Tate Taylor contains a lot of information about the production, as Taylor discusses the reality of what was happening on the set while we go through each scene. He points out a clever bit I’d missed about how he placed his title in neon into one of the opening shots. He discusses the various cameos we see, pointing out his first assistant director in a bit of a compromising role at the beginning, and noting various actors who had worked with him in The Help.

Deleted/Alternate/Extended Scenes – (15:03, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – Ten scenes are included here, many of which are extended versions of scenes already in the movie. There’s nothing particularly crucial here.

Full Song Performances – (1080p, 2.0 Sound) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – Not all of these songs get full performances, so this isn’t a completely accurate title. A second issue here is that the sound is only presented in a 2.0 mix – for a movie built around these songs, that’s a bit of a misstep.

Out of Sight (2:38) – The complete shoot for this film of James Brown’s first televised appearance, on the T.A.M.I. Show, is included. This is one where we do get the full performance. It’s nice to see the additional material (and you can contrast this with the actual footage of Brown’s performance if you do a little research.) Of course, the movie plays it that Brown only did the one song, but in reality, he did at least three numbers and stayed onstage for close to 20 minutes before turning things over to The Rolling Stones.

Steal Away (Steal Away To Jesus) (1:39) – This is just a little more footage of Boseman as young James Brown performing with a gospel choir in church. The actual song runs much longer, but only about ninety seconds was apparently shot for the movie.

I’ll Go Crazy (2:20) – Here’s another full performance, this time with Boseman doing Brown’s 1962 Live Album at the Apollo Theater. And again, with a little research, you can contrast Boseman’s take with the real James Brown’s recording, which continues to be available.

Cold Sweat (2:47) - Here’s all the footage of a rehearsal led by Boseman’s Brown of the famous song in a hotel room.

Extended Song Performances – (1080p, 2.0 Sound) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – Here we have longer looks at some song performances from the movie, including additional footage past what was used for the theatrical version. This is probably where the gospel song from the prior section should have been placed. And once again, we have the problem that these songs are only available in 2.0 sound.

Please, Please, Please (Recording Session and Montage) (4:09) – This is the complete scene of Boseman’s Brown and the Famous Flames recording Brown’s first studio session with them.

Please, Please, Please (Live Performance) (1:52) – Here’s more footage of Boseman’s Brown and the Flames performing the song live.

Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud (1:26) – Here’s more footage of Boseman’s Brown and a room full of kids recording Brown’s famous social anthem.

Long Journey To The Screen – (3:58, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This short featurette actually covers a lot of ground, as Brian Grazer, Mick Jagger and Tate Taylor discuss how the movie finally got into production. Essentially, Grazer had it for years in discussion with Brown while he was alive, but the project fell apart when Brown died and the family began fighting over who controlled the rights to the music. Mick Jagger relates that he came on board by 2012 and agreed to join forces with Grazer to make sure the movie happened. The featurette includes rewind-worthy footage of Jagger and Grazer together on set. Yes, you did just see that happen.

Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown – (11:25, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette covers the casting and preparation of Chadwick Boseman to play James Brown. Tate Taylor openly states that even after meeting with Boseman, some questions remained about whether Boseman could do the singing and dancing. After working with choreographer Aakomon Jones, Boseman was indeed able to perform the intricate James Brown steps, including the famous splits.

The Get On Up Family – (6:27, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This featurette deals with the casting of the various supporting roles, particularly Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Dan Aykroyd. All cast members are enthusiastic about the power of Davis’ performance. Spencer and Tate make clear that Spencer didn’t exactly leave Taylor a lot of room about whether she was going to be in the movie. There are some odd comments when it comes to Aykroyd, in that they seem to be treating The Blues Brothers as a genuine blues movie, rather than the expanded Saturday Night Live sketch that it actually was. It brings to mind the infamous Paul Shaffer opening to the Blues Brothers performance that began the great Steve Martin episode back in 1978: “They are no longer an authentic blues act but have managed to become a viable commercial product”…

On Stage With The Hardest Working Man – (6:25, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette covers the work involved in staging the various concert appearances by Boseman’s Brown in the movie. The largest one is what Tate Taylor refers to as “making the Apollo Theater in a Middle School” in Natchez, Mississippi. As one would expect, some time is spent with Aakomon Jones regarding the choreography. Taylor also mentions that they were able to use one of the vintage live cameras as a practical unit, giving them some footage of Boseman that appeared close enough to the real material for some viewers to genuinely think they were watching the real James Brown.

The Founding Father of Funk – (13:19, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette centers on the real James Brown, with recollections being offered by various cast and producers about when and how they first heard Brown’s music or saw his show. Of course, the footage being shown is all of Boseman’s performance.

Tate Taylor’s Master Class (6:57, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is what we call a thoroughly misleading name for what is really an extended outtake. Around the midpoint of the movie, there is the above-referenced rehearsal performance of “Cold Sweat” in a hotel. Part of that sequence is a cutaway to a pair of guests (played by Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey) who can’t resist dancing to the song. This 7 minute clip is the unedited complete take of Janney and Hickey dancing to the playback and improvising as much as they can, since Taylor has not cut the camera yet. Needless to say, we get to see every single dance move either actor has in them, along with a few new ones they are forced to invent on the spot.

DVD – The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD edition, which holds the movie in standard definition with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, Spanish and French (@448 kbps), as well as the DVS track. The DVD includes the commentary and the following the special features from the Blu-ray, albeit in standard definition: Long Journey to the Screen, Chadwick Boseman: Meet Mr. James Brown, The Get On Up Family, and Tate Taylor’s Master Class.

Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – The packaging has an insert that contains instructions for downloading a digital or ultraviolet copy of the movie.

Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.

Overall Rating: 2.5/5

Get On Up wants so badly to be a true Oscar contender that it almost hurts to watch. The movie does boast a solid production design and some truly electric performance clips, but there simply isn’t enough depth or substance to sustain viewer interest. The story of James Brown is a compelling one, but this movie simply hasn’t found a way to tell it that truly captures the spirit of the R&B legend. The Blu-ray presents this movie in superlative high definition picture and sound, along with a commentary and almost 90 minutes worth of special features. Frankly, the better bet would be to look for any of the numerous documentaries made about James Brown, or better still, watch any of the films made of his actual concert performances.

Reviewed By: Kevin EK

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