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Movies: This week's hottest new releases and the rest


Viola Davis plays James Brown's mother in biopic Get on Up

Viola Davis plays James Brown's mother in biopic Get on Up

Viola Davis plays James Brown's mother in biopic Get on Up

Doug Whelan reviews the films that are in cinemas this week...

Get On Up

Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Dan Aykroyd


The Oscar field is filling up at this stage and relative unknown Chadwick Boseman this week reveals himself as a potential wildcard, offering up one of the most engaging and entertaining performances of the year as the Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in show business, James Brown.

Get On Up, the latest effort from Tate Taylor (The Help) is a strange beast. On one side, it seems to shy away from some of the more notable or controversial elements of Brown's life. You could argue that for someone who scored 94 hit singles in his life, it would be impossible to cram his whole extraordinary life in to one film, but also there are things in there you would not expect to see.

Get On Up opens with two peculiar scenes that set it apart from the other Oscar-hopeful music biopics we've seen in recent years by quickly portraying Brown at his most egotistical and also at his most maniacal. First, in a scene set in 1988, he holds up a room full of businessmen with a shotgun, accusing one of using his private bathroom. He's out of his mind on drugs. The scene is amusing, but also somewhat saddening because we are being told from the outset that of all the hyperactive success and game-changing musical innovation, a drug-crazed shambles is what the future holds for our hero. Next, the picture cuts back 20 years to Brown's arrival in Vietnam under enemy fire, whereupon he exclaims to the pilot: "They tried to kill the Godfather of Soul!" Now, that's more like it.

It's in the juxtaposition of these two scenes that the strength of Get On Up can be found throughout the film. Tate isn't afraid to take the mickey out of Brown and make a bit of a show of him, unlike other biopics that often have a tendency to portray their subjects in a somewhat po-faced way, victims of their own success and of unscrupulous management/hangers-on/family/etc. But if you're a fan of biopic box-ticking, it's all there too, including the management in the form of Dan Aykroyd, the celebrity friends (a young Little Richard, played by Brandon Smith, almost steals the show from Boseman) and dirt-poor family background providing emotional resonance, personified by Brown's mother Viola Davis.

However, the playful tone throughout is disappointing in a way too - it is a well-known fact that Brown had a violent streak towards women, a fact that feels glossed over somewhat here. In fact, a quick internet search shows up any number of articles based around the premise of "things you never knew about James Brown you won't see in Get On Up". But, for sheer entertainment, creative storytelling from Taylor Tate and a flashy, star-making performance from Boseman (he has been cast in a Marvel movie for 2016), Get On Up delivers the goods.


The Homesman

Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank


Tommy Lee Jones's second outing as director (after 2005's superb The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) sees him back in Western territory, this time in 19th Century Nebraska. Hilary Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy, an enterprising woman who, for want of money, offers use of her wagon to bring three women suffering from some form of mania, back to Iowa for treatment. But it's a long, hard road, so she enlists the help of one George Briggs (Jones), who agrees to transport the women safely across the plains.

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The Homesman may exude the same grip on audiences as Three Burials, but the unique quasi-feminist theme and strong performances from Jones and Swank make it a worthy addition to the genre. The tone between the two leads veers from humorous to strained, and eventually tragic (but of course), with Jones wisely keeping the focus on Swank's character rather than his own. Watch out for James Spader, William Fichtner and none other than Meryl Street in the supporting roles.



The Imitation Game


Benedict Cumberbatch plays tortured genius and unsung World War II hero Alan Turing in this moving and energetic historical drama.



Everyman Brian Gleeson gets a second chance at love with an old what-if flame in this charming Dublin-set romantic comedy.

The Drop


Tom Hardy is typically good and James Gandolfini gives his final performance in this muddled but engaging Brooklyn thriller.



Christopher Nolan's divisive sci-fi epic equates the mysteries of the universe with pure love in this hokey but satisfying and beautifully shot adventure.

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