So I took the time to watch Elvis (2022) in a movie theater.
Yeah, I know, before I get to the review itself, I am going to do this short rant on movie theaters and trailers.
Tortured by Trailers
Sitting through the movie theater trailers and adverts these days feels a lot more like this:
It seems movie theaters these days like having some kind of cadre of podcasters, influencers, and movie trivia guys who seem like they were tired of the Instagram influencer shtick but were told that they couldn’t act. So with those going every other minute or so between advertisements you wait for the for movie to start while some middling, someone you’d-pay-no-mind-to type of gal or some halfway effeminate melanated gentleman tells you to follow them on twitter or listen to their latest Marvel Cinematic Universe trivia podcast before the film actually begins. I don’t recall it being this bad prior to the lockdowns, although I will admit my cinema going days weren’t all that high (aside from classic film festivals) or it was me enjoying a Moscow Mule in an Alamo Drafthouse theater. Without being incessantly bitchy or groaning about getting old, does anyone remember a time when these things weren’t around? I remember during the lockdowns that drive-in theaters were making a comeback, but alas the social media addled brains of our current generation must have some kind of market for influencers and theater-heads. (Film Buffs? Movie Goers? I’m not sure. I’m not Red Letter Media, and I’m certainly not the fellas over at EFAP.) Yet come the actual trailers, it gets worse.
In the instance of watching Elvis (2022), I was probably the only person in my theater that was under 40 giving it a watch at the respective time I went. I went in the middle of the day when it’s too damn hot to do much else, which I suppose is carrying on the old tradition of what the movie theater was for back in the days of economic depression. However the trailers that were on were just atrocious. I find myself watching Gen X and Boomer reactions to some film trailer called “Bros” which is probably the most homosexual film made in recent years that would put Birdcage to shame on the sole fact that almost all of the cast are probably homosexual or at least, are straight playing a role to get ahead in their careers. Needless to say the exasperation of the older audience watching it was fitting for the perfect lamentation of American politics these days. Captured institutions showing themselves off in an exhibitionist style of flaunting the worst parts of pride and sin to those that didn’t ask for it and sure as hell didn’t vote for it.
All while you’re perfectly comfortable in your seat, popcorn and drink in hand. Most theaters have gone down to the Alamo Drafthouse pathway and have offered reclining and other mechanical features to increase the pleasure of your moviegoing experience. Yet in looking back, in some ways it’s even more of a prison not just due to comfort but also the annoyance to others getting up and sitting out the cringe before going in when the film actually starts. Perhaps in the future (aside from sailing the high seas) I’ll just purposefully wait outside the theater room and wait for the movie to actually begin before taking my seat.
Alright, rant over, time to get to the movie itself.
Going In Blind – My Review
I’ll admit I’m not much of an Elvis fan. I know a few hits, I know my aunt loved him very much while she was alive, but I went in on the recommendation of some mutuals that had said it was well worth watching. So, without knowing really anything about Elvis Presley other than a short stint in the army and his music, I went in.
The film opens with the death of his manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks, which I wasn’t expecting going into this film at all. For all the work that this film does to paint him as this sort of manipulative, devil on his shoulder bad guy of a manager (which again, I’m not familiar to the fullest extent of his practices) the film opens up trying to offer his perspective on Elvis Presley, his discovery of him, and the rise of his career throughout the young man’s life. Yet it feels tonally off from the rest of the film, as it opens with the usual “let me tell you my side of the story” it proceeds to continue to paint him as a manipulative antagonist, or at least as much as one can. The film also makes no mention of his spouses, but I suppose that was done on purpose in regards to the film.
Considering how much of an impact Parker had on Elvis’ career, I’ll start with his role and Tom Hanks’ acting. There’s much to be said in appreciating Hanks’ performance, he did do a good job at playing an older, charismatic, dare I say grooming talent manager. Fundamentally aware of the fusion Elvis’ music was between White and Black styles at the time (which the film illustrates with a Negro Revivalist Spiritual impacting an adolescent Elvis) he proceeds to bring him on and launch his career. Hanks’ years of being in the industry and working with talent managers most assuredly aided him in performing this role. I mean, as a twenty something actor Tom did a movie that was in support of the satanic panic of the 1980s, clearly he knows what it’s like to be managed around himself. It isn’t however until we get to the infamous International in Las Vegas do we see a lot more of the shadiness of Colonel Tom Parker (whose real identity is revealed to be Andreas Cornelis (Dries) van Kuijk, a Dutchman who illegally immigrated to the US,) with regards to his business practices and debts. Early on however, in managing a paternal role to Elvis, he plays up an excellent family man act, especially to the overly concerned and religious mother of Elvis.
The make-up they put on Hanks to play this role was quite impressive, including some nose work as well that just already gave it away as to what kind of character you were dealing for those who do the physiognomy checks. This was not your protagonist. After all, you’re here for Elvis.
Keep in mind, it’s not like Elvis’ vices aren’t known to us or by his compatriots during his time, and the film does show us that. However the actor that plays him, Austin Butler (who’s soon to be 31) doesn’t age at all throughout the film. From his discovery until his death, aside from the occasional bit of make-up, it’s nigh impossible to tell that he ages. I get that Elvis died at 42 years old, but for a man born in the mid 1930s you’d think that the production team would have done more to age him both visually and physically. We got Twink Elvis in this movie, even up until the end. Perhaps that’s why there’s been a fascination with him from the zoomer crowd? Butler in the film looks perfect for those wrecked by endocrine disruptors and falling t levels.
The film’s cinematography is excellent, my only complaint would be the out of place rap music during the times that Elvis is hanging out with black musicians and in the black parts of Memphis. I get it, it’s meant to hammer home where his inspiration comes from, but with such talent from other the black musicians and performers in the movie, why take me out of the film’s time and place? Alton Mason, Gary Clark Jr., and Shonka Dukureh were fantastic all on their own, but then again that is a minor complaint in the larger scheme of things. I didn’t feel rushed at any point in the movie, and for covering the man’s career from its beginning to its end, the length of the film’s runtime (a little under three hours,) was perfect for this kind of movie. Unlike say, Walk the Line, Butler does a better job with the voice of the man he plays, although I don’t know if did any of the actual singing, but it certainly was a better performance to the actual man than that of Mr. Phoenix’s with Johnny Cash. Overall, I would recommend on performances alone, but this is given with the caveat I know F-All about Elvis.
Faust for Zoomers
As I’ve said here and on Twitter Spaces giving initial impressions for the movie, the film is Nostalgia for Boomers, and Faust for Zoomers. Nostalgia because there really isn’t a pop/rock star like him with that kind of fame or renown.
The film however does operate in a very broad sense like a Faustian tale, presenting Elvis almost as a modern Faustian Man for us to examine. (Forgive me for this take.) Throughout the film Tom Parker is painted as the initially well-meaning paternal figure (while his weak willed ex convict father is away,) who will guide Elvis in a direction towards fame, finds himself controlling in an optically minded fashion to the White audience at the time, whilst “wiggling” and making teenage girls horny brings infamy. Elvis however, wants the fame and hates the humiliation that comes with being controlled by the manager, the devil on his shoulder. The true snowjob, or con, of the film is giving just enough attention to Parker to give him some arguable position compared to the horizons and fame that Elvis, in true Faustian Spirit, wants to pursue.
Even with Parker’s management, and the film showing us that he’s clearly shady, Elvis continues to want to rebel against the man who discovered him finding himself trapped in a contract at the International in Las Vegas while he deals with his own personal losses like that of his wife, daughter. In an attempt to break out, he realizes that his own manager, the devil on his shoulder more or less can make him broke and leave him trapped within the confines of Las Vegas. America, as I’m sure other places that have taken in the attitude that you really can make it from anywhere, does show the story of a world promised to you but the world is shown from its own cage that the promiser makes. However I’d argue the Colonel Tom Parkers of the world are still out there for those who are really famous, but our own devilish managers, our own Mephistopheles is far more faces, digital, algorithmic, creating prisons within ourselves that unlike Elvis, we could actually walk away from. But just like Elvis, both of the film and in real life, the question would be, at what cost?
I do recommend the film, although I’m sure someone with more than a suspicious mind could tell me that there’s a lot more wrong with it, although I did certainly find it enjoyable. Some technical and narrative nitpicks as mentioned above, but nothing that would distract you too heavily from the movie itself. And maybe those younger than me can tell me if this is a film more for Gen Z than the Millennial Ryan Gosling movies of Drive, Bladerunner 2049, La La Land, and the like. So despite Twink Elvis, it was pretty darn good.
Thank you, thank you very much.