Elvis (12A, 159 mins)
Verdict: A remarkable life, all shaken up
George Michael: Freedom Uncut (15.87 mins)
Verdict: exercise in vanity
Which musical biopic is your number 1, at the top of your own charts? There have been many over the past 20 years, telling the life stories of Elton John, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie, among others.
So it was only a matter of time before Elvis Presley joined the party. After all, he’s the most dazzling superstar of the lot, measured in rhinestones alone. Director Baz Luhrmann must have said to himself: it’s now or never. If he didn’t, someone else would.
All in all, I’m glad it’s him. If, like me, you much preferred Elton John’s playful biopic Rocketman (2019) to the more conventional Freddie Mercury and Queen story Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), then you might appreciate Luhrmann’s flourishes. . . delicate editing, split screens, slow-mo, animated sequences.
It’s not as much of a journey as Luhrmann’s 2001 Moulin Rouge picture!, but it’s never less than stimulating to watch, a spectacle as much as a story. The life of Elvis, everything has been turned upside down.
Former Disney Channel favorite Austin Butler takes on the elated title role, with Tom Hanks as his overbearing manager, Col. Tom Parker.
It’s rare to find Hanks playing a character with virtually no virtue, so perhaps it helps that he’s prosthetized almost unrecognizable under a fat suit, sporting acres of wobbly jowls and an elongated nose, like a portly version of the sinister Child Catcher. by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In short, Hanks really seems to have left the building.
Those who don’t know that Colonel Tom was born Andreas van Kuijk in the Netherlands will be confused by his curious accent, as Parker’s background and his illegal arrival in the United States are only hinted at indirectly.
It’s rare to find Hanks playing a character with virtually no virtue, so perhaps it helps that he’s prosthetized almost beyond recognition under a fat suit, sporting acres of wonky jowls and an elongated nose.
But then he also acts as the film’s narrator, and why would he emphasize his own weirdness? Instead, he curtly tells us at the start that “some people make me look like the bad guy in this story here.” It is totally untrue, he adds, that his incessant demands helped to finish off his famous protege, who died in 1977 aged just 42. “I didn’t kill him,” he said. “I did Elvis Presley.”
Luhrmann isn’t known for his cinematic brevity, so over two and a half hours we come to our own conclusions. And in all fairness, Parker comes across as a brilliant entrepreneur with a bent eye for prime luck.
But the film’s message is really that no one but Elvis made Elvis, just as it wallows in influences from black artists such as Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh), Little Richard (Alton Mason) and BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr). Helpfully, though he looks more like young John Travolta than young Elvis Presley, Butler delivers a true virtuoso performance that’s more than a knockoff.
I saw it for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival last month, where it received the endorsement of Riley Keough, who was there as a director in her own right, but also happens to be the granddaughter of ‘Elvis.
Classic movie on TV
When it was released, no one expected it to become an all-time classic. Still, Michael Curtiz’s Oscar winner is arguably the all-time classic.
Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Over time. . . cinematic paradise.
Saturday, BBC2, 1:20 p.m.
As she and we well know, there are a thousand nightclub Elvises who can replicate the famous lip curl. Noticeably, Butler does not try, moving away from caricature. But he has the voice and the moves, and nails the best scene in the picture, when Elvis gives his first live performance, in 1954, and the girls in the audience start to swoon. “It’s the biggest carnival attraction I’ve ever seen,” recalls former fairground peddler Colonel Tom.
Elvis’ effect on them was like that of a charismatic young evangelical preacher, and Luhrmann gives us a glimpse of another of his influences, returning to 1947 to show us a wide-eyed child, in the boondocks of Mississippi. , watching a meeting of religious revivalists.
Yet the main focus of the film is the period between the great man’s rise to fame and his sad demise; from those early recordings at Sun Studio in Memphis and the move of his beloved mother and family to the nearby Graceland mansion (scenes with obvious echoes of The Beverly Hillbillies), to filmmaking, joining to the army, to meeting Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), and to the final, overweight, unhappy Vegas years.
Many of us already know the story, but it offers a vivid reminder.
“A modern-day Elvis,” says Liam Gallagher of the George Michael: Freedom Uncut star, but he means in life, not in death. This is the autobiographical documentary the singer was working on just before his death, and he called on many of his famous friends to make some flattering observations. The irony, of course, is that his sad death, at just 53, made Gallagher’s dubious Elvis comparison more valid.
George Michael enthusiasts will enjoy this movie, but there’s not much to get us excited. Yes, there are great clips from the heyday of Wham!, and he shares some candid thoughts about fame, heartbreak and depression, but it’s really an exercise in vanity made all the more poignant by his death on the day of Christmas 2016, but not more interesting.
As for these celebrities, do we really need to hear what James Corden and Ricky Gervais think of their pal George? Mind you, there’s a memorable line from Naomi Campbell, who admits to being more of a Culture Club fan. “We used to throw eggs at the Wham! fans,” she admits.
A longer review of Elvis was published last month.
George Michael Enthusiasts Will Enjoy This Movie But There’s Not Much to Excite Us
The black phone
Given the Mediterranean weather outside, there were surprisingly large crowds at the 6.30pm screening of The Black Phone at the Odeon Hereford (15, 102 mins) on Wednesday.
They were rewarded with some real scares, but a film that shifts a bit uncertainly from a dark kidnapped child thriller to a supernatural horror.
It’s based on a short story by American writer Joe Hill, who knows a thing or two about scary stories transitioning from page to page. his father is the mighty Stephen King.
Gwen thinks she has psychic powers, which she also needs when Finney is kidnapped; by a weirdo wearing a mask known as The Grabber, and played, somewhat against type, by Ethan Hawke
Set in suburban Colorado in 1978, the film centers on a brother and sister, Finney (Mason Thames) and Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), several of whose classmates have gone missing. Gwen thinks she has psychic powers, which she also needs when Finney is kidnapped; by a mask-wearing weirdo known as The Grabber, and played, somewhat against type, by Ethan Hawke.
Imprisoned in a basement, Finney then begins to communicate, via the eponymous black telephone, with the previous victims of his captor, who give him advice on what to do and what not to do to try to escape.
The director is horror veteran Scott Derrickson, though his most mainstream film was Marvel’s huge 2016 hit Doctor Strange. He keeps this bowling fairly watchable (aside from the moment the young woman in front of me buried her face in her boyfriend’s arm) and has the good sense to keep it fairly succinct.