3 Mid-Summer Movies worth a Look…from Sandy Olmstead
Get On Up, story of James Brown by Sandra Olmsted Director Tate Taylor delicately traces both the sources of James Brown’s musical influences and the reasons for his often erratic behavior, and, so that he could emphasize the reasons, causes, and sources of Brown’s failures and successes, Taylor wisely choose not to tell Brown’s story in chronological style. Although Taylor plays fast and loose with the facts of Brown’s childhood and difficult family life, he does present a theories about the emotional elements and long reaching ramifications, both good and bad, for Brown’s lonely, insecure childhood, his parents’ absences, and his musical experiences.
Early in the film, Taylor shows the adult Brown’s erratic behavior when Brown, played by the exceptional talented Chadwick Boseman, threatens people in his office building with a gun, but Taylor doesn’t explain the reason until the scene’s continuation much later in the film. Some viewer may not realize what Taylor ambitiously attempts in Get On Up. A nonlinear chronicle of Brown’s life may, however, have been Taylor’s only choice to tell Brown’s life, a life full of some many phrases, changes, and episodes, in a two plus hour film. James Brown, undoubtedly bigger than life itself, and his style, showmanship, and business acumen’s incredible influence all get loving, respectful, if passing, explanations in Taylor’s hands.
In addition to Brown’s own music, lip-synced by Boseman, Get On Up showcases exceptional performances by a star-studded cast and provides excellent roles for many African American stars. Taylor and Boseman intelligently choose for Boseman to embody the physicality of Brown but not the musicality of the Godfather of Soul. Boseman, who reportedly rehearsed Brown’s unique footwork five hours a day for months, captures the style and swagger of Brown, and also brings Brown’s psyche to life on the screen in his inflections and emotions.
Boseman’s performance has Oscar nomination written all over it. Playing the next most important character in the film, Bobby Byrd, Nelsan Ellis gives an exceptional performance as Brown’s best friend and longtime musical partner. Dan Aykroyd as Brown’s music promoter and later business partner, Ben Bart; Viola Davis as Susie Brown, James Brown’s mother, and Octavia Spencer as substitute parent Aunt Honey give nuanced portrayals of pivotal people in Brown’s life; however, they have limited screen time. Because Get On Up focuses so intently on James Brown, only two of his wives reach the screen only briefly, and only prominently Jill Scott as DeeDee Brown.
Look for solid performances in small roles by Brandon Smith as Little Richard, Mick Jagger as Nick Eversman, and Aunjanue Ellis as Vicki Anderson. From Brown’s days as a gospel singer through his years with the R&B the Avons which evolved into The Famous Flames to his Funk and Soul performances, Get On Up delivers plenty of toe-tapping music designed to make the audience want to dance. Taylor’s strong direction also brings all the disparate sides of Brown to the big screen and sympathetically explains how his past haunted and drove Brown in good and bad ways. Because Taylor focuses on the psychological rather the drugs, domestic violence, and criminal or the political and civil rights in Brown’s life, Get On Up is rated only PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations. A Universal Pictures release, Get On Up opens August 1st and runs an entertaining 138 minutes.
And So It Goes: Hollywood Wants the 60+ Audience
by Sandra Olmsted
Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton star in this romantic comedy aimed perhaps too specifically at a senior audience. Unlike It’s Complicated, the popular 2009 comedy, And So It Goes doesn’t have many younger actors or even much younger adults can relate to; however, for those trying to find their way in retirement or grieving a life partner, director Rob Reiner’s And So It Goes might be just the right movie. Douglas plays Oren Little, an ancient real estate agent intent on selling his former home for 8.5 million and not a dime less, but he constantly sabotages the sale because he wants to like who lives in his house. Meanwhile, he lives in an apartment building he owns, mistreats his neighbors, who don’t he’s the landlord, argues with his coworkers, and grieves his wife. Leah, played by Keaton, lives next door to Oren, grieves her husband, sings at a bar, and attempts to bring neighborliness and civility to the somewhat run down apartments and the people living there. The other tenants include a couple with several small boys and the young couple expecting their first baby.
Although Oren plans to retire to a Vermont cabin as soon as his house is sold, the appearance of his estranged son, Luke (Scott Shepherd), complicates those plans. Luke, a former junkie, must report to prison on a trumped up SEC charge, and desperately needs his father Oren to take care of his ten-year-old daughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins). The only problems: Oren doesn’t trust Luke and didn’t know about Sarah. Oren doesn’t want to love anyone again, so he tries palming Sarah off on Leah and even searches for Sarah’s mother, who is still using drugs. Only Leah understands how hard being placed in the care of strangers is for Sarah and tries to make Oren open his heart to his granddaughter. Even without the complication of Oren suddenly being the guardian of a ten-year-old granddaughter, Mark Andrus’ script telegraphs that Leah and Oren will develop a relationship as clearly as any contentious relationship between the female and male lead in 1930s romantic comedy, which might be just the right twist for the target audience.
Plenty of laughs in the dialogue provide the best part of the comedy although the script has several missteps. Although Keaton’s performances as a lounge singer provide a venue for her talent, the script also calls for her to cry over her husband during those performances. Because Douglas plays Oren as a cantankerous Crankshaft-esque character, the chemistry between him and Keaton never discernibly gels, and Keaton seems to need someone to play off of which Douglas’s character, as scripted, can’t be. Those who identify with Ed Crankshaft of the comic strip will probably also identify with Oren and Leah and enjoy sees how they negotiate the scary events of growing old. Look for director Rob Reiner as Keaton’s piano man and would-be lover, and Frankie Valli as the owner of a night club. Reiner has a lighter touch directing the children in And So It Goes, than he does in handling the more seasoned actors.
While And So It Goes feels a little too familiar and predictable, it promises an enjoyable escape and some laughs despite the more serious subtext. Another benefit of buying tickets for this film could be more films aimed at this audience. In theater now, And So It Goes is a Clarius Entertainment release which runs 94 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements.
I Origins: Part Thriller, Part Mystery of Life
by Sandra Olmsted
Writer/director Mike Cahill, whose first film, Another Earth, won multiple Sundance awards, uses astute cinematic style to construct what can only be called a philosophical thriller. Ian (Michael Pitt), a scientist, who aims to disprove a creationist challenge to evolutionary theory which involves the development of the human eye, falls in love with Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), an elusive, beautiful believer in the spiritual. When Ian and Sofi meet at a college Halloween party, he snaps a picture of her irises because the iris patterns, regardless of color, are unique to each individuals. Meanwhile, Kenny (Steven Yeun), his friend and lab partner, and Karen (Brit Marling), a new lab assistant, help pursue the research on eyes, looking for blind creatures without eyes but with the cells that could turn into eyes. These metaphors build slowly in the film, but stated here might provide a boost in enjoying the film. After meeting at the party and having sex, Sofi departs before Ian can get her name. In the days that follow, through a series of events tied to the luck number eleven, Ian finds Sofi, and they begin a love affair. Sofi speaks of many spiritual things and calls them soulmates. At the beginning of the second act, the plot turns on a moment torn between joy and tragedy, one of personal loss and of professional triumph. Years pass, and Ian and Karen, now married, have a baby whose irises are scanned as an identification means. The computer immediately links their son’s eyes to another man’s eye, which belong to a deceased Mr. Diary. Six months later, the hospital calls with a story about some disturbing compounds in tests from the newborn and the desire to do some followup. Ian and Karen follow the clues to evidence that challenges everything they believe about the nature of man, the universe, and God. In I Origins, Cahill lets Ian, as a character, be decidedly human in his portrayal of a grieving man by allowing him not to embody typical male stereotypes and to be vulnerable. For an interesting contrast, Cahill also gives Karen a backbone of strength and a charming practicality and lack of envy regarding Sofi, even though Sofi displays a certain jealousy toward Karen immediately on meeting her. Cahill’s cinematic talent come through in how the scenes develop the themes without explicitly stating much of them. Cahill, who also edited the film, leads his team in fine performances and a subtle use of cinematic language in the camera work, score, and production design. Pitt displays a wide range of emotions in his portrayal of Ian and his character’s huge changes, and Marling, who also starred in and co-wrote Another Earth, embraces the hype-practical Karen and brings her to life. Bergès-Frisbey captures the ethereal in her portrayal of Sofi, and Kashish, who plays the Indian girl whose eyes may prove or disprove Ian and Karen’s work, gives a fine performance. The intense cinematography of Markus Forderer, believable production design by Tania Bijlani, and powerful score by Will Bates and Phil Mossman complement the mystery and enhance thriller elements. Cahill weaves a fascinating thesis on belief and science while telling an exciting story. I Origins runs 116 minutes and is rated R for some sexuality/nudity, and language. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release, I Origins is in theaters now.
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