Skip to main content

Man, this is crazy. Some guy calling me a sausage?

Elvis
aka Elvis: The Movie
(1979)

(SPOILERS) Elvis was a hero to most… John Carpenter dives into some (relatively) uncharacteristic genre-busting, the biopic being an area neither horrormeisters nor wunderkinds were yet tackling (Scorsese with Raging Bull, Wes Craven to deafening silence with Music of the Heart). Carpenter agreed to it because he “wanted to do something different” and, with regard to the King, he “liked him very much”, thank you very much. He made it for TV, although the 168-minute movie would turn up in a two-hour European theatrical cut. How well does it fit in with his oeuvre? Well, despite a spirited performance from Kurt Russell (with Ronnie McDowell providing note-perfect vocals to the hits, at least, to my tin ear), it’s a rather indifferent affair, rendered so by a combination of determinedly biopic-by-numbers screenplay from Anthony Lawrence and the vanilla demands of network TV.

The rather bland, A-Z approach can’t really be laid at the director’s door, as he had no input in the editing (or the score). Although, how much he could have made a dent on network strictures anyway is debatable. We join Mr Presley readying to play Vegas on July 26 1969 and proceed swiftly into a flashback, an earnestly bland deep dive through his childhood and career and personal life to that date; the bookend of Vegas offers the rapturous crowds and the promise that he will “go on forever”, so missing on the subsequent burgers, burgeoning waistline and drug abuse. Which, some might say, is the best part.

There’s conflict on the way, with pal Red West (Robert Gray) and the entourage. And Priscilla (future Mrs Russell Season Hubley) starts off young – fourteen, hmmm, yes; taking a leaf out of Jerry Lee Lewis’ book there, and a profound influence on Bill Wyman – and ends up stifled. Pat Hingle appears as Colonel Tom Parker (soon to be incarnated by Guantanamo Hanks in Baz Luhrmann’s doubtless motion-sickness-inducing Elvis movie), but is less of a presence in the second half of the movie. A young Joe Mantegna (in his TV debut) is road manager Joe Esposito. Shelley Winters casts a long shadow over the first section as doting, stricken momma Gladys, with Kurt’s own dad Bing less memorable as Vernon Presley. Ed Begley Jr and John Travota’s sister Ellen can also be seen.

Kurt isn’t as pretty as Presley, but he gets the snarl down pat, and in some shots he’s as close to a spit as you could feasibly expect. He’s evidently having fun with the early, hip-thrusting model (“They’re calling me Elvis the Pelvis!” he declares of his reviews, aggrieved), but once Elvis has been called up, rather like the real deal, it’s all downhill for the movie. There’s more than enough material to mine some golden nuggets, but the picture continues shallowly, dredging torpid melodrama instead, along with some fey introspection on Presley’s part (“I got it all, but I still feel like there’s something missing, you know? What’s it going to take to fill that up?”) Plus some very literal psychoanalysis (“What are you running from? What are you so afraid of?” Asks the increasingly entrapped Priscilla).

Russell mimes decently enough, and it’s understandable that a significant wodge of the running time is spent on the performances (it helps that the classic Suspicious Minds comes at the end). Cinematographer Donald M Morgan is no Dean Cundey but fortunately no Gary Kibbe either (he’d go on to lens Carpenter’s Christine and Starman). Mostly, Elvis is a conspicuously anonymous TV movie, more notable for beginning a rightly-celebrated director-star relationship than being very remarkable in its own right.



Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.