[Screen It]


(2022) (Austin Butler, Tom Hanks) (PG-13)

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Drama: A look at the life and times of the king of rock and roll.

The film takes an imaginative and creative look at the life and times of the "king of rock and roll," Elvis Presley (AUSTIN BUTLER), from his formative youth through his early performances. Those catch the eye of carnival barker, Colonel Tom Parker (TOM HANKS), who persuades the up and coming artist to let him be his manager, while Elvis' father, Vernon (RICHARD ROXBURGH), will handle financial matters.

The influence of black music on Elvis' songs and his tendency to swivel his hips during performances end up driving some women wild, but also draw the disdain of white racists who believe he's a menace to society.

That, him meeting and eventually marrying Priscilla (OLIVIA DeJONGE), his desire to give his fans his all, and Parker's continued manipulation of him ultimately shape the King's musical career, life, and, ultimately, death.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

As a movie reviewer, I'm -- not surprisingly -- always asked my opinion about any new film that's out or about to be released. I'll obviously give my honest assessment, but if I intimately know the person asking the question, I'll often supplement that with how I think that particular figure might respond to the offering.

Case in point is this week's release of "Elvis." My 85-year-old mom asked if it was any good and I said that I thought so and that I enjoyed it. But I then added that I didn't think it was likely her cup of cinematic tea.

Granted, I can always be wrong on such matters, but hyper-stylized, over-directed films don't always play particularly well with octogenarians who usually prefer less busy movies (especially where the background music and sound effects don't diminish or outright drown out the dialogue).

That directorial approach shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's seen Baz Luhrmann's previous projects such as "Romeo + Juliet," "The Great Gatsby" and especially "Moulin Rouge." The latter is a cinematic kissing cousin of sorts with his latest in that it features some fully engaging and wildly imaginative recreations of famous songs that are simply mesmerizing to behold.

Thankfully, the film doesn't include the "zany" sped-up comedy footage that spoiled "MR," and the over-direction (swooping camera shots/effects, varying split-screens, and so on) does calm down in the film's second half. Thankfully, though, the director's imaginative flair continues throughout the musical numbers that fire on all cylinders, some of which left me with goosebumps.

As written by Luhrmann & Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner, the film begins with Elvis' notorious manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, heavy in make-up and spoken accent), apparently on his deathbed, commenting via voice-over narration about his influence on Elvis and turning him into the internationally beloved superstar. The tale then rewinds to Elvis' early years where he witnesses both a sensual bluesy song through a crack in the side of some gin joint down South and then a black church revival where he definitely feels the spirit of both the Lord and the thumping music.

We then eventually see Elvis as a young man, played by Austin Butler who's absolutely fantastic in the part. He has a song on the radio and most who hear it that way assume he's a black fellow. When Parker hears he's white, he knows he can work with that rarity to their mutual (but mostly his own) advantage.

The racial issue -- including the social unrest of the '60s and related assassinations -- comes up repeatedly in the story revolving around how white society views Elvis, both from a black music-influenced perspective as well as the effects his gyrating hips have on white ladies. In short, the powers that be worry that "Elvis the Pelvis" is going to corrupt civilization as they know it and thus actively pursue hemming him in when not otherwise trying to shut him down.

Along the way, he meets various famous figures in the black music scene including B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Little Richard (Alton Mason), and then Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) who he marries, and eventually various drugs to keep him showing up on stage. After all, he has his fans to please, and that dual addiction eventually leads to his slow downfall.

We all know how things will ultimately play out, so there's no surprise there, but the journey to that point, concluding with a bring-down-the-house near-final performance, makes "Elvis" a must-see, as long as you can tolerate it being over-directed to within an inch of its own cinematic life. The film rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed June 14, 2022 / Posted June 24, 2022

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