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The Hollywood Insider Elvis Review, Baz Luhrmann, Elvis Presley, Austin Butler

Photo: ‘Elvis’

In Classic Baz Luhrmann Fashion

The glamor, the rhinestones, and the lights are all expected for your typical Baz Luhrmann film. Known for his works in ‘Moulin Rouge!’ and his previous film, ‘The Great Gatsby’, he brings all of the extravagances in his newest biopic, ‘Elvis’. His theatrical style is perfect for a biopic about a man who is as decorated as the “King” of rock and roll. Luhrmann directed, produced, and wrote the story about Elvis’ trials and tribulations towards fame. Although it is visually stunning and musically entertaining, there are aspects within the story’s writing that understand the complexity of Elvis’ life. 

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The Rise of Elvis Presley

‘Elvis’ is narrated through the perspective of Presley’s longtime corrupt manager, Colonel Tom Parker (played by Tom Hanks). The film opens up with a very ill Colonel narrating from a hospital bed alone in Las Vegas. He goes on to talk about discovering Elvis Presley (played by Austin Butler) as people have accused him of being a cheat and a liar for overworking and taking advantage of the rock and roll legend. With these accusations, the Colonel wants to set things straight. The movie jumps from montages between IV drips to Las Vegas lights to glimpses of slot machines. With all such chaos, the audience is drawn back from the shimmering lights of Vegas to the fields of Memphis, Tennessee where the star was just starting out.

Colonel worked as a promoter for the circus but was longing to find his next big thing. When a young man in a vibrant pink suit stepped on stage and belted a powerful first note, the Colonel and the crowd was taken to a whole other world. Presley’s dance moves enthralled the audience as young teenage girls were screaming uncontrollably out of their seats for him. From then, stardom was born. 

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Inspired by Gospel and Blues, the movie builds on the notion of Presley being enamored by music from the Black community. There are scenes of him going to Beale Street where the performances shape his sound and style. The performance of ‘Hound Dog’ by Big Mama Thornton (played by Shonka Dukureh) and the notable B.B. King (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) are there to bring emphasis to who Elvis constructed his music. This was during a time when racial segregation was prominent, so Elvis’ involvement in the Black community was not well received by politicians and government officials. There were times when papers would deem his performance style as dangerous or satanic. Officials would threaten to put Presley in jail if he were to ever go on stage and perform like he usually does. One scene in particular where Elvis was expected to clean up his act for a charity performance. But in Elvis fashion, he took charge of his own stage and performed in his own stylistic manner at the risk of being arrested.

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After the performance, Elvis had controversy all over the papers. To save his name, the Colonel forced him to enlist in the Army in which he was sent off to Germany. During his 2 years overseas, Presley’s mother died which became a turning point in the movie. With his mother gone and his father who is seemingly incapable of making his own decisions, the Colonel plays a significant part in guiding the young rockstar into fame but also tragedy. From that point on, the movie goes into Elvis’ success in Hollywood, his marriage to Priscilla Presley (played by Olivia DeJonge), and how he landed in Las Vegas. Although the film celebrates his life, it goes over the internal struggles he went through as an artist and the financial abuse that the Colonel profited from. The story ends with Elvis’ passing and real clips of his last performance on stage. 

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The Ups and The Downs

Despite ‘Elvis’ being a simple biopic, the film is thrilling. Just like Luhrmann’s previous works, he manages to wow you through visual cuts, musical numbers, and grand production. Similar to his direction in ‘Moulin Rouge!’, ‘Elvis’ cleverly places musical numbers that bring significant benefit to the story. Each of Elvis’ songs is carefully woven and given a spectacular number with high production in each scene. Although Luhrmann created a spectacle with this film, it was Austin Butler’s performance that truly brought the story to light. With beautiful styling by the costume designer that nails every sparkle on the iconic Elvis suits and the transformative Elvis quiff, Butler embodies him perfectly. He is a joy to watch as he nails the so-called “wiggle” in which Luhrmann depicts the moves as sexual as possible with the camera zooms on all facets of Butler’s body. In addition to how he perceives him on stage, his mannerisms embody the simple nature of who Elvis Presley was. The film was a joyous experience but the overall writing was lacking. The movie felt incredibly fast-paced as we were only 15 minutes into the film and Elvis was already a big name. The beginning moved quickly yet the pacing felt dragging towards the middle of the story. The mistakes developed yet the ending felt like it was quickly rushed.  

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One of the important aspects of Elvis’ career was the relationship between him and the music that comes from the Black community. It was built upon in the beginning where a young Elvis becomes captured by the sounds of Gospel music in a church and his journeys through Beale Street. Although the film sees Elvis being inspired by many Black artists, it tends to be polarizing as he takes the music made by them and then profits from it. The story commemorates the Black artists of the era such as Little Richard (played by Alton Mason) (and as said before B.B. King and Big Momma Thornton), yet the movie lacks in retaining substance in regards to the issues of race as it changed the narrative and viewed Presley to be this White hero of rock and roll. It is a movie that wants to celebrate Elvis’ life, but to fully recognize the fact he gained success because of Black music and artists is inherently vital. 

‘Elvis’ was out in theaters on June 24. 

Cast: Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Olivia De Jonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kevin Harrison Jr. Gary Clark Jr., Alton Mason, Shonka Dukureh 

Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner | Music: Elliot Wheeler | Cinematography: Mandy Walker 

By Anica Muñoz

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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