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Flash Movie Review: Get on Up

Music provides the means to describe one’s life with a different set of adjectives. Songs are the milestone markers during the journey. I cannot remember a time where I did not have music in my life. Anytime I hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony I am transported back to the time I was 4 years old and taken to my 1st outdoor concert, where we sat on long brown painted benches in the cool autumn air. How many of us hear a particular song that squeezes a small tear out of our heart, reminding us of a love long gone? There are so many songs in the jukebox of my mind that bring a specific date in time to the forefront of my thoughts. I cannot imagine there being a person who does not experience an emotion or feeling when they hear music. Besides the personal aspects of music there is another side that becomes political. Throughout history songs have been used to define significant moments; such as a protest, a battle, a rally or even defining a generation. One of the things I love most about musicians is the fact they can be classically trained or simply be born with the gift of music.    GODFATHER of Soul was the label given to the man in this biographical film and aptly so, for his raw talent was something that came with him when he was born into this world. Chadwick Boseman (Draft Day, 42) portrayed the iconic performer James Brown. This dramatic musical movie covered James from a childhood of extreme poverty through the time where he was called the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” The cast included Viola Davis (Ender’s Game, Prisoners) as his mother Susie Brown, Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help) as Aunt Honey, Nelsan Ellis (Secretariat, True Blood-TV) as Bobby Byrd and Dan Aykroyd (Trading Places, Behind the Candelabra-TV) as his manager Ben Bart. All of them were strong with their characters; they needed to be since Chadwick was outstanding as the sweating, fleet-footed James Brown. Familiar with a good portion of James’ life, this film tried to cover the different aspects of it but skimmed over the darkest chapters. The main issue with this film was the way the story jumped around chronologically. I felt I never got the chance to absorb the full effect of what I was watching on the screen. With things jumping back and forth, the film started to feel like a series of quick vignettes. Since I am fond of music, the musical numbers were outstanding in this picture or maybe I should say groovy. Whether or not one is a fan of James’ music; the fact remains this man was monumental in paving the way for future generations to get their groove on.

 

2 3/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Fruitvale Station

The guards go after the one that is not bloody. This was told to a friend of mine, who was doing one on one work with a prison inmate. The prisoner was told if he got into a fight he should not fight back, for the guards assume the non-bloody combatant was the instigator. I was surprised to hear the guards would act on assumptions before facts; but then, I realized so many people make assumptions solely based on a person’s looks. In grade school when teams had to be formed during gym, I was usually one of the last ones to be picked. I was large and uncomfortable with my size. However, during a game of Bombardment my classmates discovered I could throw a fast accurate ball. For all future games I suddenly was picked much earlier to be on someone’s team. Even today I am sensitive about people who make assumptions. In the scheme of things my experiences were trivial compared to the events in this powerful movie, based on a true story. Twenty-two year old Oscar Grant with his girlfriend Sophina, played by Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails, Chronicle) and Melonie Diaz (Be Kind Rewind, Raising Victor Vargas), decided to take the train into the city to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their friends. It was a ride that would shake up the California Bay Area community. Not knowing anything about this story, I do not know how accurate it was with its portrayal of the events that took place. From a movie standpoint, I thought the acting was raw and real. Michael and Octavia Spencer (The Help, Seven Pounds), who played his character’s mother Wanda, were incredible. Kevin Durand (Real Steel, I Am Number Four) as Officer Caruso was so good he scared me. The hand held filming with its shakiness did not work for me except in the scenes on the train. Overall I thought the story was well presented except for a few parts that seemed unnecessary, like the dog scene. This Sundance and Cannes Film Festival winner could be used as a case study on the effects perceptions and assumptions have on society. There were a couple of brief scenes where blood was shown.

 

3 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Smashed

In social situations where my answer to drink requests was water; more times than not, I was asked if I had an issue with alcohol. I explained to the person that no, I did not like the taste of it; preferring to use calories on a chocolate chip cookie. As a child I remember being horrified as I saw relatives acting out from being drunk. Inevitably an argument would ensue making everyone around uncomfortable. It usually was not a pleasant situation when the drunk person’s date or spouse was not in a similar inebriated state. This comedic drama gave a straight forward, unapologetic look at the challenges encountered when one person in a relationship attempts to make a change. Kate and Charlie Hannah, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad-TV, The Last House on the Left) had the best times together when alcohol was involved. From backyard games to night time drunken bicycle rides, life was a constant high. But after hungover Kate vomited in front of her 1st grade students, those good times seemed less fun. What  could replace her’s and Charlie’s favorite activity? The story was well thought out in this compelling film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul were not only believable in their raw performances; they brought a subtle darkness to the characters. I was moved to the point where I felt a twinge of anxiety, similar to what I felt as a kid. The remaining cast for the most part were secondary; I thought Octavia Spencer (The Help, Seven Pounds) as Kate’s mentor Jenny could have been a stronger character. With an outstanding performance from Mary Elizabeth, this movie transcended from a story about two heavy drinkers to a keen observation on the choices one makes in life.

3 stars

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