Movie Review – Elvis

In the (almost) seven years he’s been blogging, ME has rarely done a movie review. Well, I’ve done several documentaries. But apart from The Wall, this is the only scripted movie. I toyed with the idea ‘coz I like movies. But for a guy as significant to rock ‘n roll as Elvis, hell yea. I went to see this flick with my Elvis buddy (sings like him, knows all the songs) Bill. Here’s a review.

Let me cut to the chase as we say – out of four stars I would give Elvis 2 1/2. I would define that as pretty good, pretty entertaining but not great. The movie is directed by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, known for his over-the top directing style in Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

I’m always a little leery about directors like that as they seem to often favor style over substance whereas I’m kind of a meat and potatoes viewer, especially when it’s a biopic. My biggest problem is that tonally this movie is all over the map. It comes across – intentionally I think – as cartoonish and then veers over into drama. So I often didn’t know whether or not to take it seriously.

You might want to watch this extended (4 1/2 minute) trailer before moving on:

The first thing you need to know is that like every biopic ever made, they just make shit up as they wish which then becomes The Truth. That whole scene with Elvis gyrating in some Southern Baptist church? Well, I am hardly THE Elvis expert but I never heard of that. Now I grant you that the great Southern singers (Aretha, Ray Charles, etc.) all learned to sing in church. And I know that Elvis was heavily influenced by church music and gospel. But for me, that scene just doesn’t ring true.

What does ring true – since it’s undeniable – is Elvis’ reverence for Black music. Hell, “That’s All Right Mama” was a song by Delta blues singer Arthur Crudup. Elvis knew where the good material was. And yes, he met B.B. King but there is zero evidence that they had more than a nodding acquaintance. Sad to say it is not bloody likely that a white guy and black guy in Mississippi were out hanging out together as peers.

I think they sort of captured it right with Elvis’ manic appeal to women. But focusing on his crotch in the breakthrough scene is only part of the story. The Beatles hardly moved and yet they got the same reaction just by shaking their heads. It was the whole essence that mattered.

Now Austin Butler – whose name didn’t ring a bell but who it turns out I previously saw in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood – is fantastic and his performance is Oscar-worthy. Bill and I were actually debating if the final concert – the Fat Elvis on Dope concert – was Elvis newsreel or Butler. (Turns out it was Butler.)

Tom Hanks is great too under tons of makeup as the smarmy “Colonel” Tom Parker. (Parker was as much a colonel as I am. He was a Dutch immigrant with no passport who couldn’t take Elvis overseas lest he be caught.)

They had Hanks (as the Colonel) narrate the thing but personally I would have found it more effective if Elvis had narrated it. Other things they seemed to get right were Elvis’ close relationship with his mother and – at least at first – with his wife. Weirdly, in my recollection, they never once mentioned Bill Black (bass) or Scotty Moore (guitar) names but later put graphics up naming his entourage whom almost no one has ever heard of.

I was kinda surprised that over and above Presley and his band appearing on the Lousiana Hayride, there wasn’t much mention of his country music influence. For my money, if you take blues, country, and gospel and mix them up in a blender you get Elvis. The term ‘rockabilly’ is a contraction of rock and hillbilly.

Some other things that don’t ring true are Elvis’ reaction to Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy’s death. Over and above the fact that Elvis was American, I doubt if MLK’s death affected him all that much ‘though I heard Bobby’s did. Why I’m not sure as Elvis was a conservative good old boy, even going out of his way to meet Nixon when the rest of us hated his guts. It would have been better I think if they’d spent Sixties’ time on Elvis’ irrelevance when the Beatles arrived. Irrelevance at least for a few years until his leather-adorned comeback special.

Some other bullshit inaccuracies – Elvis never berated the Colonel from the stage and despite some implications, Parker really wasn’t personally responsible for Elvis turning into a walking pharmacy. That shit is on Elvis as near as I can see.

As to other reactions, my friend Bill liked it more than I did because he really thought that Butler did a great job and that overcame the over-the-top aspect. And by and large, the movie gets the trajectory of his life right.

Priscilla liked it quite a bit as well as did Lisa Marie. They were astonished by Butler’s transformation. (Bear in mind that LM was nine years old when The King died.

Should you see it? I dunno. I suppose if you’re an Elvis fan, sure. If you like biopics and don’t mind fast-and-loose with facts, wait and rent it.

Thank you very much. ME has left….. the building.

17 thoughts on “Movie Review – Elvis

  1. Thanks for the review, Jim. While I no longer idolize Elvis like I did when I was a kid growing up in Germany (nor any other music artist or anybody for that matter), I still love much of his music and his singing, especially his ’50s stuff. As such, I’ve been thinking of catching this biopic. After having read your thoughts and a previous post by another fellow blogger, I think I’m going to wait until I can rent the movie.

    One of the things I find a bit irritating is some of the music in the film is performed by artists like Eminem, CeeLo Green and Doja Cat. I don’t mean to pick on these artists, but I just can’t understand why you would this in a bio pic? Is it some desperate attempt to attract younger movie audiences?

    Sure, I understand Austin Butler instead of Elvis is also doing some songs, but at least he sounds pretty similar to Elvis. Overall, his acting seems to be amazing. Did the “non-Elvis” renditions bother you?

    I can also see why you didn’t like the liberties film director Baz Luhrman apparently took with certain aspects of Elvis’ story. Again, I can see the intention to make the plot more dramatic/ attractive, but it sounds like they went too much overboard at times.

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    1. Truthfully I didn’t hear a lot of music by those other artists. Not clear to me they performed entire songs on the soundtrack. Or if they did, maybe I was too wrapped up in the story. In any event, minimal negative impact.

      As to why thy did that, doubtless it was to get a younger crowd to see the movie and buy the soundtrack. In a way you can’t blame them. The average Evis fan is probably 80 years old! Interestingly, there were a few young teenage girls there. Wonder what their motivation was?

      As to Luhrmann, I guess you either like his flamboyance or you don’t. Mixed bag for me. But no matter how it’s made, every biopic just has at least some made up bullshit. If something wasn’t dramatic enough in real life, why, they’ll just fix it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just watched this YouTube clip, which goes into the details of what the biopic got right and what it got wrong. Of course, I can’t guarantee it’s the ultimate truth, but I still thought it was worthwhile sharing:

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  2. Great truthful review, Jim S.

    Tubularsock is not one to idolize anyone, oh maybe Pete Seeger, but Elvis’ songs are still great.

    Tubularsock had forgotten Suspicious Minds but once Tubularsock heard it again, all is forgiven
    in the music world of Elvis!

    Don’t think Tubularsock will take this movie in however. But may listen to a couple records from the Tubularsock record collection and wiggle a bit.

    Thanks again for a timely blog.

    Peace Out

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    1. They played a somewhat woozy version of ‘Suspicious Minds’ in the intro to the film. A great, great song.

      As to the movie, yeah it’s not a must-see. You might be home one night, see it crop up In Demand and say hmmm. It’s entertaining enough I reckon.

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  3. Great and honest review. I do want to see this, but i figured I could wait a little while and stream it for a lot cheaper. My kids like the Austin Butler chap and so they want to see it for him…not sure how I feel about that!! LOL!!

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    1. Sounds like he’s the draw for the younger crowd. I don’t know how involved she was in the production but I know that Priscilla Presley has for years tried to get Elvis’ music out to a younger crowd before the geezers pass on. Smart marketing idea.

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        1. A very successful Disney movie named ‘Lilo and Stitch’ was released in 2002 when my kids were young. Half the songs on the soundtrack were Elvis tunes and a version of “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by some pop group was released. To this day, my kids know some of his iconic tunes. That was all Priscilla’s doing as was making Graceland a tourist attraction. Still packs ’em in. I went there a while back. Unlike Springsteen I didn’t try to climb over the gate.

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  4. The inaccuracies – especially playing with the timeline – bug me in other music biopics like the Queen one and the Elton John. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’m a bit more inclined to give Luhrmann some leeway, since he’s got his own schtick going.

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    1. That is exactly what I told my friend Bill. He had read some reviews but I explained Luhrmann’s flamboyance so his expectations were aligned. He knows more about Elvis than any 10 people I know and he totally dug it.

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      1. I liked parts of the Elton John one a lot – like the dream sequence. The Queen one annoyed me that recording Bohemian Rhapsody was like a make or break thing for them, but they were already pretty successful – Sheer Heart Attack reached #2 and Killer Queen was a hit. I don’t think their record company was about to drop them…

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  5. Thanks for the review. IT sounds a little ho hum to me but I still need to see this. I don’t love Elvis but my family does….a good Thanksgiving conversation! Thank you!

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