‘Elvis’ screen-popping, candy-colored and highly stylized - Albuquerque Journal

‘Elvis’ screen-popping, candy-colored and highly stylized

Austin Butler in a scene from “Elvis.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

The numbers vary from internet source to internet source, but the general consensus seems to be there were something like 200 Elvis Presley impersonators in the world at the time of the King’s death in 1977 and the number has grown to at least 35,000 today. And we’re not even including all the actors who have portrayed Elvis on TV and in the movies, from Kurt Russell to Jonathan Rhys Meyers to David Keith to Don Johnson to Harvey Keitel to Michael Shannon to Val Kilmer as the Elvis apparition who advises Christian Slater’s Clarence in “True Romance.”

So one can’t help but ask: With every chapter of the man’s life and times already so deeply etched into the pop culture landscape, do we really need another movie about the man and the myth and the legend that was Elvis Presley?

In the case of “Elvis,” the answer is a resounding YES, thanks to the gloriously excessive, razzle-dazzle direction of Baz Luhrmann (“Romeo + Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge!”), a smoldering star-turn performance from Austin Butler as the title character and a sure-to-be-polarizing but fantastically eccentric spin on Colonel Tom Parker, courtesy of a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hanks. This is 2 hours and 39 minutes of screen-popping, candy-colored, highly stylized, fever-dream showmanship that serves as a Greatest Hits compilation touching on the many, many permutations of Elvis, from malleable country bumpkin to sex symbol icon to B-movie star to seemingly irrelevant near-has-been to the Comeback King to Las Vegas icon to his death at the age of 42, and it’s such a sprawling, amazing roller coaster ride that it’s difficult to process the fact Presley has been dead longer than he was with us.

If you thought the magnificently flamboyant Luhrmann was well-suited to put the flashiest of spins on “The Great Gatsby,” you can imagine what he does with the made-for-overkill mythology of Elvis – and from the moment we see a bejeweled version of the Warner Bros. Pictures logo, we know Luhrmann is going to flood our senses with a nonstop medley of arresting sights and sounds, never taking his foot off the directorial gas pedal. (Who wants to see a version of Elvis unplugged, am I right?)

“Elvis” is told through the skewed, self-serving huckster’s perspective of Colonel Tom Parker, who was not a colonel and was born Andreas Cornelis van Kujik in the Netherlands (hence the strange Dutch/Southern hybrid accent), an admittedly great showman and promoter who latched on to Presley early on and rode his show pony into the ground, allegedly bilking Presley of millions and maneuvering him into making all sorts of deals that benefitted Parker first and Presley a distant second. Parker keeps trying to convince us he’s not the villain in the story, as we see him always lurking backstage, always making side deals to line his pockets or cover his gambling debts, always in the middle of everything while looking out for himself first, always spinning things with his almost cartoonishly evil cadence.

Luhrmann employs a sparkling array of visual and aural tactics, from period-piece graphics to sepia-toned flashbacks, from nostalgic color schemes to swooping camera movements to split screens and cool and creative match-cut transitions. We know Elvis didn’t write his own material and we know he appropriated, aka stole, the sounds of gospel and blues from Black artists, and perhaps more than any previous Presley biopic, “Elvis” continually acknowledges that, with the likes of BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Little Richard (Alton Mason), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.) and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Yola Quartey) getting their moments.

Still, the film’s fate rests on the shoulders of Austin Butler, who flashed serious movie-star potential as the evil fool Tex Watson in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and is mesmerizingly strong here. Butler doesn’t do an Elvis impersonation, but he does a stunningly good job of capturing the hip-swiveling, pink-suited Elvis who makes girls swoon and scream in a comedically effective early sequence; the ’60s Elvis who starred in a series of forgettable and dopey movies; the brilliant performer who made one of the most memorable pop-star comebacks of all time in a 1968 TV special, and the lost and borderline self-parodying Karate King who sweated and toiled on the Vegas stage and only occasionally touched greatness. Butler is an electric performer who shines in the spotlight when Elvis is onstage, but he also infuses Presley with an empathetic humanity and vulnerability. We know the man was hardly a saint, but we understand his sins.

Hanks’ characterization of Colonel Tom Parker is a big swing for someone who has held the unofficial title of America’s Most Likable Movie Star for more than 30 years. Some might argue he’s miscast, but I found the performance to be suitably oily, for despite Parker’s protestations, he IS the villain of the story. Even as Parker constantly reminds us that he “made” Elvis Presley (and there’s an element of truth to that), we see that, time and again, he also contributed to the destruction of the man.

Still, for all its tragic elements and the heartbreak of an ending we know is coming, “Elvis” is a brilliant celebration of an artist who left a lasting and huge footprint on our culture.

Home » Entertainment » Movie Reviews » ‘Elvis’ screen-popping, candy-colored and highly stylized


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
The inaugural New Mexico Asian Film Festival strives to ...
Entertainment
The inaugural festival will take place ... The inaugural festival will take place from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, at Balloon Fiesta Park. The film festival is part of the two-day ...
2
Third New Mexico film partner to be based in ...
ABQnews Seeker
California-based 828 Productions will relocate its ... California-based 828 Productions will relocate its headquarters to Las Cruces
3
Gravity Bound Brewing Co. wins its first NM Brewers ...
Blogs
Gravity Bound Brewing Co. took home ... Gravity Bound Brewing Co. took home the trophy with a hazy IPA. It is the first win for the brewery and it is the ...
4
'Cave Rescue' looks at the dramatic story of a ...
Entertainment
'Cave Rescue' is currently available for ... 'Cave Rescue' is currently available for rent or purchase on digital platforms.
5
Bawarchi Biryanis delivers a solid rendition of its namesake ...
Dining Reviews
Prices at Bawarchi – ... Prices at Bawarchi – the word roughly translates into 'chef' – are comparable to those the Heights' two well-established Indian ...
6
What's happening in ABQ: Aug. 19-25
Coming This Week
Fútbol season is heating up as ... Fútbol season is heating up as we inch closer to the World Cup this year. For any Americans looking for optimism, last time the ...
7
NEEDTOBREATHE opening for OneRepublic at Isleta
Entertainment
NEEDTOBREATHE will make a stop on ... NEEDTOBREATHE will make a stop on OneRepublic's 'Never Ending Summer Tour' at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, at Isleta Amphitheater.
8
Hooveriii to make tour stop at Sister on Friday, ...
Entertainment
Hooveriii (pronounced Hover Three) released 'A ... Hooveriii (pronounced Hover Three) released 'A Round of Applause' in July.
9
Vegan festival to feature vendors, cooking demos and more
Entertainment
Red & Green VegFest will takes ... Red & Green VegFest will takes place on Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque.
10
Pasquale Esposito enjoys revealing the stories of the bad ...
Entertainment
Pasquale Esposito is a chameleon. With ... Pasquale Esposito is a chameleon. With each character, the Italian actor transforms the role into one of his own. He's currently in Croatia filming ...