Tuesday, June 28, 2022

ELVIS Movie Review(s)

Here's a great shot of Austin Butler in the title role ... 

But I swear he looks more like Ricky Nelson than Elvis Presley in this picture!!!  lol



In the past, you and I have disagreed on our movie reviews. 

For instance, I liked Once Upon A Time In Hollywood a whole lot more than you did. 


There is a connection between that 2019 film and the new Elvis picture. 

Austin Butler played Tex Watson of the Manson family in Once Upon and he is a real highlight as he portrays Elvis in the just released biopic by Baz Luhrmann.

While there were several things that I did not like about the Elvis film, the good outweighed the bad. 

First of all, here are a few things that I did not care for. 

Once again songs and events are not in chronological order.  Young E. sings Blue Suede Shoes in the film during his very first concerts, which would have been about two years before it was a hit first for Carl Perkins. Several other songs are presented the same way.  

It almost seems that they show Elvis getting drafted into the Army before he has even signed with Colonel Parker. They mention other television shows, but there is not even a word about the Ed Sullivan appearances.  There are times early in the film when other singers get more time than the well-known Elvis songs.  They try very hard to show that Elvis is still relevant as they used a few hip hop songs and newer artists along the way (Doja Cat, and Kanye West???)

I found more things not accurate after doing a few searches today.  We may just have to settle for the fact that it brings his music to a new younger audience.  Like Bohemian Rhapsody or Rocketman, it is more like a musical based on the life of.  Tom Hanks is good as the Colonel.  I expected that.


What I like about the movie the most is Austin Butler. 


He sings the early songs and his voice is blended with the real Elvis on the later recordings.  The Vegas concerts are incredible.  The other theater goers were clapping along last night as if they were at the actual Elvis concert.  The portrayal of the '68 Comeback Special also is a treat. 


Olivia DeJonge plays Priscilla and does a very good job of looking and acting the part. 


Even though the film has flaws,  I really think that this might be the most accurate depiction of the King Of Rock and Roll that has been made. 


The last concert scene from June 26th of 1977 at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis is chilling.  They were able to tie in Austin Butler with the real footage very well. 


Despite my dislikes, I will recommend that my listeners see the film.  I will most

likely go see it again.  Those songs on a great theater sound system are awesome. 


Overall, I give it a thumbs up.  I will be curious to see what Kent 'Siskel' Kotal thinks.

Phil Nee



When it’s good, it’s great … so bright, so colorful, so vibrant … (and you definitely want to see it with the XQ Sound … because the soundtrack is amazing.)


Despite all the hype (and the glowing endorsements by both Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley), the late Sunday matinee that we attended was less than half full … but the film still managed to do big box office anyway.  ($30.5 million, putting it neck-and-neck with “Top Gun Maverick,” the Tom Cruise blockbuster.  Not quite “Bohemian Rhapsody” opening weekend numbers … that film did $51 million … but ahead of “Rocketman” … which grossed $25.7 million.)


While Tom Hanks is the big name star in this film (boy, he sure looks different than Kip Wilson on “Bosom Buddies!”  lol  … actually, the prosthetics make-up throughout the film is really quite remarkable), it is Austin Butler who shines in every scene he appears as Elvis, sometimes looking JUST like The King, particularly in the later scenes from the 1968 Comeback Special on.  (The footage for the Comeback Special is so riveting that you’ll want to watch the real thing as soon as you get home.  Even though I know this special note-for-note and scene-for-scene by heart, I’m still anxious to pop it in the DVD player and view it again just one more time.)


And the real-life footage of Elvis’ last show in Indianapolis, 1977, just before he died, is heartbreaking … he is in such bad shape and health physically, yet nothing can diminish that incredibly distinctive voice of his.  It’s as strong as ever … maybe even stronger as he emotionally undertakes the singing of “Unchained Melody.”  (I remember being quite surprised at the time when CBS ran this as a prime time television special as it truly portrays Elvis in a most unflattering light … but it was real … and people were hurting after the loss of their long-time idol … so it was still a relevant piece of footage to see.  That being said, I don’t think it has aired since.)


What’s wrong with the film?


Well, for one thing, at 2 1/2 hours, it’s too long.  Far too much time is spent covering the early years leading up to Elvis signing with RCA … and then when Elvis finally does make it, far more emphasis is spent on the negative press and conflicts surrounding his gyrations on stage than the string of hits and the rock and roll phenomena he was creating.  (Butler definitely knows how to sell the sex, however … the girls screaming absolutely imply that live, on-screen orgasms are happening, right before our eyes!)


Once they lay the foundation for Elvis' upbringing and love of the blues and the Black Artists he grew up listening to growing up as a child in Memphis, the decades fly by …


The ’50’s skip over all the early hits … and there were a TON of them (see our list below) … and while Milton Berle and Steve Allen are mentioned, there is nary a HINT of Presley’s appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, which is what really pushed him over the top.  (Were the filmmakers denied access to recreating this footage?  It’s readily available everywhere … at least some discussion about Elvis being on Ed’s program would seem to be in order, as this was the match that lit the fuse … and was itself surrounded by a bit of controversy, especially when it came to the “only shoot him from the waist up” episode, a pivotal moment in his early career!)


"Don't Be Cruel," the biggest hit of Elvis' career, isn't even featured.  Nor are "Love Me Tender," "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" or "Jailhouse Rock."  In fact, the films these last three #1 hits came from are not mentioned or reenacted at all.  While it is acknowledged that Colonel Tom Parker was determined to make Elvis a big box office movie star, a dream he and Elvis shared and a feat he succeeded at several times over, early on, Elvis’ prime movies are glossed over at best … "Love Me Tender" was Elvis' first role on the silver screen ... “King Creole” was the film that was supposed to prove that Elvis could act … “Jailhouse Rock” is a personal favorite … and how on earth do you leave out “Viva Las Vegas??!?!? Or "Blue Hawaii" and "G.I. Blues" for that matter ... all MAJOR successes at the box office.


And here’s another point of contention …


Elvis goes into the Army and meets Priscilla … and then the next eight years of the ‘60’s are glossed over in less than a minute with a photo of The Beatles deplaning and a montage of movie posters before he’s seen preparing for his 1968 NBC Singer Television Special.


And here is where the film explodes in all its grandeur.  


Proposed as a Christmas Special (and pitched to the network that way by Parker … probably the only way he could sell them on the idea, based on Presley’s popularity level at the time), Elvis used the opportunity to completely reinvent himself with the help of Steve Binder, who stripped away all the movie fluff, put Elvis in a leather suit and let him do what he did best … rock and roll and win over an audience.  (These are unquestionably the most exciting scenes in the movie as Butler recreates the on stage sequences step for step, move for move.  He literally BECOMES Elvis on screen.)


That's not to say that Parker’s back-story reasons for not allowing Elvis to tour internationally aren't a key part of The King’s history … but major events like the “Aloha From Hawaii” satellite television special and Elvis’ infamous trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Nixon are once again glossed over in a flash or not mentioned at all.


It’s probably just as well his death was handled as subtly as it was … we really didn’t need any more Dr. Nick back-story.  The film also makes some rather startling assumptions along the way:  Colonel Parker was the one to advise Dr. Nick to keep Elvis pumped up with whatever drugs necessary to “get him out on that stage tonight.”   It is also implied that Parker finagled some deal to get Elvis into the Army so as to change his image and bring him back as a “clean cut, All-American boy” … personally, I think the reality is simply that Elvis was drafted (which has been the story since the beginning of time) and quite honestly, him being gone for two years and out of the public eye was an INCREDIBLE risk to his career and popularity back at home.  (Fortunately, Parker was smart enough to have Elvis record several new sides to be released as singles while he was gone, so he was never really off the radio or the charts ... but this fact wasn't mentioned either.)  And the whole thing about Elvis firing The Colonel on stage??? I think if things had really gone down like this, we would have all know about it as part of the universally circulated Elvis folklore. (He may have WANTED to do that … but I just don’t think that’s the way it all went down.)  This event set-up one of my favorite scenes in the movie, however ... when early '70's "Vegas Elvis" wanted to fire Parker as his manager, The Colonel said, "OK" ... and then began to make a list of all the monies Presley owed him over the years ... tabs along the way that The Colonel had covered on his behalf ... incidentals dating back to 1955 ... $15 here, $100 there ... right on up to the current day ... eventually presenting Presley with a bill for services rendered in excess of eight million dollars!  (At this point, Elvis couldn't have bought his way out of the contract if he wanted to ... due to his extravagant lifestyle and out of control spending, he was essentially broke ... and had no choice but to keep The Colonel on as his manager yet again.)


The history of Parker making deals to benefit himself … including collecting half of Presley’s earnings above the table (and God knows what else BELOW the table) for their entire partnership … having his massive gambling debt cleared by committing his boy to five more years of Vegas shows at The International Hotel … and countless other side deals he made with RCA Records and concert venues to “deliver his boy” for any new ventures have been pretty well documented over the years.  The Colonel knew he had found his cash cow … and he milked it for everything he could.  But the simple fact of the matter is that Elvis may never have BEEN Elvis without him … and this point is made pretty clear in the film, too.


The music scenes are phenomenal … electric, in fact.  Austin Butler comes across as very believable in the title role.  (There are some scenes, especially in profile, where you can't tell the two apart.)  And he has nailed Elvis’ Las Vegas stage moves to a "T."


(Another favorite scene is of Elvis performing "That's All Right, Mama" on stage in Las Vegas in the early '70's.  In flashback fashion, we see Elvis looking back on his life and how this song and the Black Music he listened to growing up shaped him into who he was ... and who he always would be, deep in the very core of his heart and soul.  That's the beast that Steve Binder managed to release for the '68 television special ... and Elvis was an all-too-willing participant ... because that's who Elvis REALLY was.  He didn't want to make those corny movies any more ... and he SURE as hell didn't want to dress up in some ugly Christmas sweater and sing Christmas songs in front of the fireplace the way Perry Como used to do!  The '68 Singer TV Special unleashed the fire that had been burning in his soul for years ... and for a few more years, Elvis was relevant again.)

Overall, it was an enjoyable, worthwhile movie experience. (On a scale of 1-10, Frannie and I both gave it an “8”)


Best Elvis film/documentary ever?  No, not even close.  (And I'm not really sure that was this film's purpose ... Baz Luhrmann's "Elvis" was designed more as a spectacle ... as he himself has described it, "Elvis, The Super Hero" ... but if it's more of a factual experience you're looking for, there are better options out there to choose from.)


For me, that will always be “This Is Elvis.”  It tells the whole story with real-life Elvis footage along the way.  The narration is done by Ral Donner, a great Elvis sound-alike who had a huge hit in 1961 with “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It)”, and it really feels like Elvis is telling you his own story.  It is very fact-based driven and, in its original theatrical edit, takes you right thru Elvis’ final concert performance and funeral procession.  (An edited TV update eliminates the final concert scene as producers felt it was not the proper light to portray The King … they didn’t want to leave viewers with this as their final image of Elvis.)


My recommendation?  See the Baz Luhrmann film and enjoy it for all the splendor that it is … watch the 1968 Comeback Special (and maybe even the “Aloha From Hawaii” special again, too … Elvis never looked better) and then watch "This Is Elvis" for the complete story ... allow the whole Elvis experience to engulf you.


And hopefully, if the film's a success, radio will again begin to recognize all of the great music that Elvis created over the years … 167 charted hits during his lifetime (and nine more after his passing) … and this doesn’t even include any of the hits that charted exclusively on Billboard’s Country Singles Chart.  (Elvis also had 16 EP’s make the chart … and selections from these discs were regularly programmed into radio play lists across the country at the time.)  Sadly, for the past fifteen years, Elvis has been portrayed as a One Hit Wonder on oldies radio, as if "Suspicious Minds" was he only record of importance he ever recorded ... when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  (kk)




Here’s an Elvis myth (actually, more of an Elvis LEGEND) that has been circulating for the past 65 years … finally dispelled by Variety last week (after they themselves had been duped way back when, along with a handful of others!)  https://variety.com/2022/music/news/elvis-presley-fake-story-police-crackdown-colonel-parker-1235302646/



My hope is that the success of this movie (and the good buzz surrounding it) will help to make some of Elvis’ music more in demand and accessible.  (I'm thinking downloading sales will skyrocket as fans, old and new, try to update their digital collections.)  


Of course, the film’s INITIAL audience will be us fans who grew up loving Presley’s music … and remember the impact he had on rock and roll music in general when he first hit the scene.  One can argue for all eternity that The Beatles’ inspired every band to come since … and there is a certain amount of truth to that statement ... but without Elvis, there would have been no Beatles!   

With a little luck, radio will pick up on the vibe once the word continues to spread and new fans will be brought in to experience the whole Elvis Presley phenomenon.  Heck, with a little luck, maybe they’ll even start playing more than just “Suspicious Minds” from his catalog again!


The REAL shame is that the memory of Elvis’ impact on the music world is slowly being erased … and there is no bigger culprit for this fact than Billboard Magazine.


That’s why it was nice to see them recognize the Billion Dollar Enterprise that is associated with his name …




When Elvis first burst on the national scene in 1956, he turned the entire music world upside down.  We had never ever seen anything quite like him.  In 1956 alone, he charted 18 times on The National Pop Singles Charts.

These included Top 20 Hits like “Heartbreak Hotel” (#1), “I Was The One” (#15), “Blue Suede Shoes” (#2), “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” (#1), “My Baby Left Me” (#14), “Don’t Be Cruel” (#1), “Hound Dog” (#1), “Love Me Tender” (#1), “Any Way You Want Me” (#20), “Love Me” (#2) and “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again” (#19) … that’s FIVE #1 Hits, TWO #2 Hits and 11 other songs that made The Top 20.

In 1957, he added to that tally … “Too Much” (#1), “All Shook Up” (#1), “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” (#1), “Loving You” (#20), “Jailhouse Rock” (#1) and “Treat Me Nice” (#18) … that’s FOUR more #1 Hits (for those of you out there keeping score.)

1958 kicked off with “Don’t” (another #1 Hit), “I Beg Of You” (#7), “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” (#2), “Doncha Think It’s Time” (#15) and “Hard Headed Woman” (#1) …

Yet you won’t see ANY of those songs listed on Billboard’s tabulation of the All-Time Biggest Pop Hits …

Because they’ve revamped their history to begin the pop charts with their very first Hot 100 Chart issued in August of 1958 …

So Elvis’ first 34 chart hits are no longer eligible to make the list … no matter HOW big they were … or how much impact they had.

Hopefully, the film will draw attention to Elvis’ WHOLE career.  (I came late to the party … by the time I started listening to the radio, The British Invasion was in full swing … I missed the first wave of Elvis music … then he went in the Army … and then he started cranking out those ridiculous movies that all had essentially the same plot, just portraying Elvis in a different vocation (all of which always allowed him the opportunity to break into song at a moment's notice!)  I remember seeing “G.I. Blues” at the drive-in when I was about seven years old!  I fell in love with this soundtrack because my Mom also played it constantly around the house.

For me, MY big Elvis breakthrough moment was his 1968 NBC Singer Television Special.  It blew me away.  (I’ve told this story before … I didn't really know anything about Elvis at the time ... nor did I care ... the only reason I watched the thing in the first place was because I had read in some teen fanzine that Ringo Starr was going to be on it, playing drums for The King.  Of course, that never happened … but it didn’t matter … I was mesmerized by what I saw … and the very next day, I rode my bike about three miles to Kral’s Record Store in Cicero and loaded up on Elvis Gold Standard Singles featuring the original versions of most of what I’d heard that night … “One Night,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Love Me Tender,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “All Shook Up,” “Guitar Man” and a few others, including a couple of EP’s that I still have in my collection today.  (Naturally I bought the TV Soundtrack album, too!  And I even bought it at the Singer store at the Hillside Mall!!!)  Thanks to the film footage depicted in the new Elvis biopic, I fully expect there to be a huge resurgence of interest in Elvis’ Comeback Special as well!  (And just try to sit thru “If I Can Dream” with a dry eye … it absolutely tears your heart out to see Elvis sing that way.)

I was fortunate enough to see Elvis perform live three times … first in 1972 at the old Chicago Stadium.  (RCA released the “Elvis Live At Madison Square Garden” album shortly afterwards and it was essentially the exact same show I saw.  Naturally, I snatched that up, too!!!)  Then twice again in 1976.  Every time it was like a jolt of electricity shot through my body when he took the stage.  I’ve never felt anything ever again quite like it.

I hope the film does well enough to keep the Elvis flame burning for a little while longer. (Hunka Hunka Burning Love!)  I also hope that others who may not otherwise have had any interest in going to see it but now, based on good word of mouth are curious enough to check it out ... all of whom just may turn out to be newly converted Elvis fans ... will do as I did and give a listen to some of the original recordings … dig a little deeper and seek out some of the vintage performances and see what this man did to help ignite rock and roll.  (kk)