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Elvis


I’ve never been a huge Elvis fan but have always respected his place in music history. For that matter, I’ve not been a fan of all of Baz Luhrmann’s films. I enjoyed his “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” but “Australia” bored me to death. Wait a minute, I really liked his DiCaprio “The Great Gatsby” update too. Maybe the debate over Luhrmann is over for me.

I don’t know what alchemy is behind the big, loud, splashy concoction that is ELVIS, but it’s a hell of a movie. Presley and Luhrmann belong together. Not a minute of the movie would work if you had the wrong actor in the title role. Austin Butler is astonishing as Presley. He doesn’t play Presley, he IS PRESLEY. I haven’t seen a performance like this since Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln in Spielberg’s film. Butler seems like he’s channeling Elvis.

A mid-film sequence depicting the creation of the least holiday-ish NBC Live Christmas special ever is classic film making. Watching Butler take the stage for the live TV performance, he captures every nuance of a nervous, excited Presley finally doing what he wants to do. He’s on a quest to get back to his core. That’s Butler singing in that sequence. I got goose bumps. You can’t take your eyes off his performance, its legendary.

I’m predicting now that the next Best Actor Oscar will go to Austin Butler.

But here I am hopping to the middle of the film.

Luhrmann captures every bit of Elvis glitz down to the last rhinestone, filling the screen with multiple images at once, assaulting your eyes while filling your ears with a music score as splashy as Elvis’s wardrobe. Original tracks mix with Doja Cat, Jack White and Eminem.

The film is narrated by the very unreliable Col. Tom Parker, surely a self-serving voice that becomes increasingly suspect as history unfolds. With a loose past and a con-man’s heart, Parker sees gold in Elvis and proceeds to milk every cent out of his groundbreaking talent.

Parker is played by Tom Hanks in the least likable role of his long career. Buried in a thick, bizarre accent and wrapped in a fat suit, Hanks is a cigar & scenery chomping villain. I must admire Hanks commitment to playing such a horrible man, but it feels more like an overly mannered Johnny Depp performance than a Hanks role. It doesn’t really work, but Butler is so great he drags Hanks along with him.

Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things) is a cast standout as TV producer Steve Binder. Kevin Harrison Jr (Trial of the Chicago 7) is a superb BB King and Richard Roxburgh (Van Helsing) is moving as Elvis’ father.

I loved the film’s commitment to showing the deep roots of Elvis’s music in the legendary black music of the 40’s and 50’s. Elvis was always transparent in the artists that he admired, and the film does a superb job (with Presley’s families blessing) of detailing his treasured friendships and admiration for artists such as BB King, Little Richard, and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup.

It’s hilarious watching the audiences of the day overwhelmed by the raw sexuality of Elvis’s moves. The laughs turn to drama when the politicians of the day display blatant racism in their fear of Presley bringing “black music” to the masses.

Elvis was a trailblazer, colorblind in his love of talent, artists, and music.

Its tragic watching Col Parker’s personal limitations, limited thinking and stupidity hold Presley back from what he could have been.

By the time the film gets to Las Vegas for Presley’s first ever residence at The International, relationships, drugs, and excess spin out of control.

Butler captures every stage of Presley’s all-too-short life. Luhrmann inserts real video of shots of Elvis at all the right moments for me, especially in the heart-breaking real video of one of Presley’s last performances in Vegas. Almost unable to stand, he sits bloated at the piano, bathed in sweat, and hampered by drugs. But somehow as he sings “Unchained Melody” the voice emerges, reminding everyone of just how tragic his passing was at the age of 42.

At the time of his death, Elvis was preparing to work with Barbara Streisand in her ‘A Star is Born” remake. Kris Kristofferson played that role, but watching this film, I felt like that part could have been the showcase Presley needed to escape his downward spiral.

I loved this movie. Exciting, fast paced, funny, tragic, and fascinating, this is my favorite Luhrmann film to date. Powered by a true star-making performance by Austin Butler and complimented by Baz’s flamboyant, non-stop visual assault, ELVIS hits every note to perfection and gets an A+.

See this one on the big screen. In Dolby Cinema, it assaulted our eyes and ears until the final gold curtain came down.

“Elvis has left the building….”

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