Review – Long Live The King (“Elvis”)

There have been so many movies depicting the life of Elvis Presley, from a 1973 TV bio-pic starring Kurt Russell, to the weird Bubba Ho-Tep, and a silly gangster heist pic with a bunch of Elvis impersonators (3000 Miles to Graceland). Here’s another one, but from snazzy, jazzy director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby).

This bio-pic of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is told through the eyes of Elvis’ controlling and Svengali-like manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks under some heavy prosthetics, wearing a fat suit, and uttering a weird accent). He spins a yarn about how he “found” young Elvis Presley (a jaw-dropping Austin Butler) just after he cut his first record at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. A true huckster and ‘snowman’, Parker grabs Elvis for his traveling Hank Snow (David Winham) musical tour, but soon it’s apparent all the teens are crazy for that hip-shaking, rock ‘n’ roll Elvis.

Parker quickly signs on as exclusive manager of Elvis, giving his worrisome, alcoholic mother (Helen Thomson) and lazy father (Richard Roxburgh) their son’s business contract. From there we hopscotch over key moments in Elvis’ life and his early career: his meteoric rise in the South, the RCA record deal, his near-riot concert, his induction into the Army & first meeting with his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu (Olivia DeJonge), plus his 31 feature films. Bored of doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, Elvis gets some new producers behind Parker’s back and we see his televised ’68 Comeback Special, which infuriates Parker.

As Elvis is about to fire Parker, he’s lured into signing what he thinks is a six-week contract at the brand new International Hotel in Las Vegas, but in fact, is a five-year stay that Parker has bait ‘n’ switched with Elvis. Denied at every turn in being able to tour the world, Elvis becomes addicted to drugs, exhausted after doing show after show, and constantly being under the ever-watchful domineering eye of Parker. This story, written by director Baz Luhrmann, newbie’s Sam Bromell & Jeremy Doner, and Craig Pearce (The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge) only touches on a few moments of the King’s short 42-year life.

Many Elvis factoids are missing, like: there’s only a single mention of Elvis’ famous Memphis Mafia, there’s no peanut butter & banana sandwiches, who was Dr. Nick, and no bloated Elvis is seen at the end (except for some brief archival footage). Okay, that’s nitpicking, but what story they do have is smashed together by the awesome talents of editors Matt Villa & Jonathan Redmond. Nearly every single shot lasts for only a few seconds, which is Luhrmann’s signature hyper-stylized direction, something you can see in his past films. Fast-paced, over-the-top, and dizzying at times, Luhrmann loves to play with his camera!  

The first half of this very long 160-minute film is like seeing a movie on fast-forward, but once it settles down you can appreciate the uncanny and Academy Award-winning performance of Butler who is SO much like Elvis, it’s scary! You’ll completely forget that it’s an actor portraying the iconic superstar. Hanks also gives another bravura showing with his almost demonic hold on Elvis (shades of The Devil & Daniel Webster), disappearing into his role. Everyone else is excellent, and if you’re an Elvis Presley fan you’re in for a treat, as all of his songs are sung and danced by Butler, and are thoroughly enjoyable!

**Now showing only in theaters

The New Twilight Zone, 1985 (Season 2, Ep. 25)

1985’s The New Twilight Zone (and I gag when I think of it) was just plain bad, however, they did manage to slip in a few decent episodes here and there, and THIS one was pretty darn good. Jeff Yagher, who also dabbles in SPFX make-up like his big brother Kevin, gave a crazy-good performance in this very strange Zone episode called The Once And Future King

Gary Pitkin is your A-typical Elvis impersonator singing his heart out in a dingy, dirty, smoke-filled nowhere lounge. His manager tries to book him in Vegas but, being an encyclopedia about all things Elvis, he rants about how “Vegas killed Elvis”. Driving home one night, Gary is driven off the road and smashes his car. Waking up, he’s now in 1954 Nashville, Tennessee, and hitches a ride from (you guessed it) the REAL Elvis Presley (Yagher again). On their way to Sun Records where Elvis is going to record his first record, Gary tells Elvis that he’s really Jesse, the deceased brother he never had. Convinced that “Jesse” is real (after all, they LOOK the same), Elvis believes Gary’s story.

Problems arise when Elvis goes to record a song, but it’s NOT the one Gary would like. Gary (Jesse) insists that Elvis play his famous song, That’s All Right, and even shows Elvis his signature hip movements and dance gyrations. Elvis flips out and accuses Jesse (Gary) of witchcraft, which leads to a terrible brawl and (*gulp!*) Elvis being impaled on a broken guitar neck! Oh, %$#@!! Gary, realizing that he just killed the ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, panics and does the unthinkable. He secretly buries Elvis, dresses up like him, and goes to Sun Records to record the song Elvis was supposed to record.

As the song is playing, we fast-forward to a Vegas hotel room in the 1970’s where an older, mutton-chopped Elvis (Gary) is staring out a window and recounting his whole fantastic story to an innocent fan, saying that he had to do everything Elvis did in his life because he owed him. His songs, his movies, his army duty, marriage, everything. The adoring fan, ignoring his wild, impossible tale, tells him to get some sleep and leaves him staring out the window. With a haunting script by Bryce Maritano and George R.R. Martin (yes, THAT George R.R. Martin!), this episode really could have been an entire feature film.

Jeff Yagher as Gary/Elvis is excellent, able to look and sound like a young Presley and not come off as cheesy or cartoony. And check Elvis’ boss at the Crown Electric Company, he’s played by Red West, Elvis Presley’s real-life BFF and schoolmate. FYI: this entire episode is available for free on YouTube  

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