Monday, August 4, 2014

Heart & Soul

Two new movies have just been released that both deal with how music can save your soul, or at least anchor yourself to who you are. Aside from that, the comic-based blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy and the James Brown biopic Get On Up are very different movies, both of which deserve to be seen.

 For about a year now, audiences have been seeing trailers and advance clips from Guardians which featured a soundtrack that seemed at odds with a movie featuring outer space adventures undertaken by a ragtag group of reluctant heroes. This is due to hero Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt, who is having one heck of a year - he was Emmet in The Lego Movie earlier this year) incessant consumption of a mixtape (remember mixtapes?) given to him by his mother and simply titled "Awesome Mix Vol. 1." (You can access the playlist on Spotify here.) These were all songs his mother, a child of the 1970s, loved and wanted to share with her son. For me, the songs were one of the distinctive parts of this film, which I found to be delightful. Moviegoers are flocking to this one, which makes me glad - Guardians is not a familiar Marvel property (like Spider-Man or The X-Men) and it's good to see that Marvel is willing to take a risk. The director, James Gunn, had never had his hands on a movie this large (his gross-out B horror flick Slither is great fun, though) and he acquits himself admirably here. As with nearly any movie, not everyone is pleased - several critics have found Guardians to be a little too clever and to suffer from some plot holes. Legitimate criticism, I suppose, but then again, we're talking about a flick featuring a sentient space-faring Ent (who is literally a family tree at one point) and a cybernetically-enhanced raccoon (Bradley Cooper's best role in years), so maybe that rhetoric should be toned down a notch.

Look, it's been a while since I've come out of a movie just wanting to turn around and see it again, so maybe I'm a little defensive on this one. Guardians has humor by the truckload, but it also has heart - there are a few scenes that tug at your heartstrings (one comes at the very beginning of the movie, so the tone is set early), but I didn't find those tugs to be cheap ploys. Guardians is a great way to finish out the summer - no, you don't have to think too much and yes, enjoy the ride.

Get On Up is a different kettle of funk. There is no popular music - repeat, NO popular music - that has not been influenced by the work of James Brown. Musically, he was likely a genius. Personally, the story gets more complicated. Directed by Tate Taylor of The Help (he again teams with Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis from that film) and featuring an electrifying Chadwick Boseman of the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, this film tries to tell the story of an American original in just over two hours. Get On Up jumps back and forth in time and has Brown directly address the audience by breaking the fourth wall - techniques that not all moveigoers will enjoy, but that I thought worked well.

Boseman's performance is astounding as he brings Brown to glorious, messy, selfish, occasionally self-destructive, life. He is greatly aided by an extremely talented cast, including Spencer and Davis, as well as Dan Aykroyd as Brown's long-time manager Ben Bart (Elwood and Rev. James, back together again) and Brandon Smith playing Little Richard in a small role that jumped off the screen - he's one to watch, that's for sure! Like all biopics, Get On Up takes some liberties with the truth to tell a good story, but the harsh edges of Brown's personal life are not glossed over, nor are his triumphs, including his appearance in Vietnam with an integrated band to entertain troops at the height of the war. All in all, a good movie and if it causes horn sections to be added back to music hitting the airwaves, fantastic! If it causes anyone to seek out Brown's music, so much the better.

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