Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann’s penchant for glitzy, glitzy musical excesses finds a fitting subject in Elvis, a cradle-to-grave biopic of the king of rock ‘n’ roll whose sad and tragic end as a Las Vegas cash cow provides a Gatsby-style critique of the self-mythologized nature of the American Dream. Luhrmann’s last film was, of course, his willfully over-the-top adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald classic and he brings many of his stylistic excesses to Presley’s life, albeit in a way that not only captures the superficiality of show business when money takes over, but the thrill of a phenomenon taking shape.
Starring relatively unknown Austin Butler as Presley and a prosthetically plump Tom Hanks as his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, the film uses Parker as an unreliable narrator, beginning in 1997, with Parker near the end. of his life, full of himself – too bad as he recounts how he became the villain of this story. He probably is too. A carnival burglar of mysterious origin, he sees dollar signs as soon as he hears Elvis’s for the first time and coerces him into signing an exclusive and exploitation contract during a scene that Luhrmann puts on. scene in a fairground hall of mirrors – an ominous harbinger of the disorienting reality he is about to throw Elvis into.
Subverting his own nice-boy image to irresistibly grotesque effect, Hanks’ toad-like performance and comedic, nonsensical European pudding accent certainly contrast with the all-American boy Parker intends to sell to the world. Still, Butler’s casting as Elvis is also shrewd. He may not be as handsome as Presley in his heyday (but realistically, who is?), but as a former child actor whose biggest adult role so far has been the Charles Manson’s disciple Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood conveys the innocence and danger that made Elvis such a force to reckon with in his first appearance.
These early performance scenes are particularly good. Luhrmann uses a full arsenal of brutal cuts and crotch zooms to portray the hormonal juice, underwear dampening the arousal that Elvis and his pelvis induces in dozens of girls, women and boys unaccustomed to confront their own sexual desires. But he’s also careful to acknowledge the lineage of black performers whose music Elvis absorbed by osmosis as a dirty, poor white kid raised in a predominantly black neighborhood. Traversing performance footage throughout his career with scenes of a child Elvis sneaking into blues clubs and gospel churches, the film presents Elvis’ music not as an act of cultural appropriation (at least not on his part), but rather as an unconscious fusion of styles. by someone who respected where he came from.
Nevertheless, Luhrmann is also careful not to claim that Elvis’ music breaks racial barriers. We can go back many times to how obsessed Elvis was with comic book hero Captain Marvel Jr as a child, but he’s no savior: we see him reluctantly playing separate shows (unlike the Beatles – seen briefly in archival footage – who declined to do so). But the movie also tries to get us in the moment with Elvis as he deals with the madness of his world and the world around him. He is the first global pop superstar to walk through the door; there wasn’t exactly a playbook on how to have a career.
The film has a lot of ground to cover in its 160-minute runtime, which perhaps explains why Luhrmann does it all at such a breakneck pace – although it also feels appropriate for the life unfolding on screen. As he spins through the lightning moments of his life, roulette wheels and vinyl records become favored visual motifs for the relentless cycle Parker subjected Elvis to once he set his claws inside him. Above all, however, Luhrmann does a sensational job of capturing how at home Elvis was on stage – and, more poignantly, how lost he was.
Greek filmmaker Jacqueline Lentzou makes a promising debut with Moon, 66 questions, an intriguing portrait of a distant father-daughter relationship shot through with some of the weirdness of Yorgos Lanthimos’ early films. Feeling guilty about returning to Athens to care for her ailing father Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos) after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, 20-year-old Artemis (Sofia Kokkali) finds herself reliving the pain she felt at the teenage years, when her father’s disinterest in her and her mother created an inexplicable barrier between them. The forced physical intimacy of this new dynamic becomes something of an emotional catalyst for Artemis, who begins to work through her grievances by unknowingly acting like a teenager – at one point even surprising herself by willfully destroying the car. Paris. The film also makes creative use of a stack of VHS home movies to subtly unravel the mystery at the heart of its Artemis’ dysfunctional family. The end result is unusual and compassionate in equal measure.
French dramatic comedy A flash makes a check with its title that the film itself struggles to cash. Revolving around an actor (Kad Merad) who teaches inmates acting, the film hits all the usual inspirational teacher beats as he encourages a ragtag group of prisoners to stage a production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. . The performances are good, but its sentimental approach is at odds with its subject matter.
All films on general release from Friday