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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – Baz Luhrmann hopes to set souls on fire with Elvis

That’s where I’ve seen him before! For weeks – and resisting the assistance of Professor Google – I’ve been pondering where I’ve previously spotted the strutting star standing centre stage in this week’s biggest release.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
Austin Butler as Elvis Presley

Of course, Austin Butler – the man who would be the King of Rock and Roll – packed a superb supporting punch in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 smash, Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood. Having done ‘The Devil’s work’ here with his portrayal of American murderer Tex Watson, Butler is now stepping out with a leading turn as a far, far less abhorrent figure from US history, taking on the rhinestoned mantle of Tennessee’s finest in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.

To step into the shoes of one of the most impersonated men in the world and do a convincing job is no mean feat, but luckily Butler has the supporting power of one of cinema’s absolute finest to bolster his performance.

Taking on the role of Elvis’s scheming manager and puppet master, Colonel Tom Parker, two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks is serving as the solid Hollywood cement in Baz Luhrmann’s latest star-spangled spectacular. However, the eternal wholesome hero is stepping into somewhat unfamiliar territory as the self-described “villain of this here story”.

With the legendarily-exuberant Luhrmann throwing his trademark razzmatazz at the tale of the most famous musician the world has ever known, fireworks and flamboyance are set to take audiences across the world on a journey to Graceland.

But will Elvis be a flick that the masses can’t help falling in love with? Or will those who adore it be lonesome tonight?

New Releases

ELVIS (12A, 160 mins)

Released: Today (UK & Ireland)

Wise men say only fools rush in.

Baz Luhrmann, Australian director of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge!, appears to sing from the same hymn sheet because his visually extravagant biopic of Elvis Presley has a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on with more than two-and-a-half hours of breathlessly choreographed musical performances, impeccable costume design and nostalgia-drenched spectacle.

Austin Butler delivers a scintillating, sexually charged performance as the jump-suited showman from Tupelo, Mississippi.

Luhrmann’s camera fixates on his crotch, beginning with Presley’s first performance at the Louisiana Hayride, where “a skinny boy” in a loose-fitting pink suit metamorphoses into a pelvis-thrusting “superhero” and drives hordes of previously po-faced, unimpressed women in the audience into caterwauling harpies.

You can’t help falling in love with Butler’s sweat-soaked embodiment of a socially conscious showman, who believed in lending his voice to the youth of the era and affecting change through his music.

Presley’s rise and fall is narrated by manager Colonel Tom Parker, an invidious presence at the mercy of gambling habits, who by his own voiceover admission could be considered “the villain of this here story”.

As portrayed by Tom Hanks with a sing-song accent of intentionally curious European origin, Parker is an odious, opportunistic parasite who dazzles the Presley family with the promise of riches then turns his star talent against the people he should trust.

“If you don’t do the business, the business will do you,” singer BB King (Kelvin Harrison Jr) warns good friend Presley before the true price of fame has reduced the charismatic dreamer to a physically exhausted husk, unable to fulfil his Las Vegas residency without an injection backstage from a doctor.

When we first see Elvis as a boy (played by Chaydon Jay), he is intoxicated by gospel church music and feels the spirit of a pastor, who sermonises, “When things are too dangerous to say, sing!”

Presley takes this lesson to heart as he witnesses America’s bitter racial divisions while continuing to publicly support performers like BB King and Little Richard (Alton Mason).

He falls under the spell of Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), builds a home at Graceland for his parents Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) and Gladys (Helen Thomson) and slowly falls victim to Colonel Parker’s manipulations, rejecting a lucrative international tour because of security concerns stemming from high-profile assassinations including Martin Luther King and President John F Kennedy.

Elvis embodies Luhrmann’s filmmaking ethos of razzle-dazzling excess, energising each beautifully crafted frame with Mandy Walker’s ravishing cinematography, hyperkinetic camerawork and sumptuous period detail.

Glimpsing Presley’s story from Parker’s perspective creates a narrative tug of war between the film’s most emotionally complex and colourful characters.

The script can’t satisfyingly resolve that conflict – certain aspects are glossed over even with a luxurious 160-minute running time.

Suspicious minds won’t be soothed.

THE BLACK PHONE (15, 103 mins)

Released: June 22 (UK & Ireland)

Set in 1978 North Denver, the same year that Michael Myers materialised in the first Halloween, The Black Phone is a stylish and compact supernatural horror that promises more shocks and insidious dread than it ultimately delivers.

Scott Derrickson, writer-director of Sinister, reunites with lead actor Ethan Hawke to conjure another mind-bending nightmare, adapted for the screen from Joe Hill’s short story with co-writer C Robert Cargill.

As the title intimates, the film’s fantastical plot device is a wall-mounted, rotary dial telephone.

The trilling receiver provides an otherworldly connection between vengeful phantoms of kidnapped boys and a new victim (Mason Thames), who is being held hostage in a soundproofed cell with seemingly no hope of escape.

The Black Phone dials up palpable discomfort but there always seems to be a loose connection to skin-crawling distress.

MOON, 66 QUESTIONS (12A, 108 mins)

Released: Today (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

A long-buried secret allows a young woman to reconnect with her past in a contemplative Greek drama written and directed by Jacqueline Lentzo.

Artemis (Sofia Kokkali) has kept her distance from Athens and her estranged father Paris (Lazaros Georgakopoulos).

When the patriarch’s health deteriorates and he can no longer take care of himself, Artemis reluctantly returns home and uncovers painful truths that shed new light on the old man she thought she knew.

Armed with a deeper understanding of Paris and his struggles, Artemis salves deep psychological wounds and nurtures new love for her father in a way that she never anticipated.

FIRST BLOOD (15, 90 mins)

Released: Today (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Forty years after Sylvester Stallone first flexed his muscles as Vietnam War veteran John Rambo, based on the character created by novelist David Morrell, the opening film of the franchise returns to selected cinemas.

Directed by Ted Kotcheff, First Blood follows Rambo as he heads to Hope, Washington for a belated reunion with one of his brothers in arms.

He is intercepted by the local sheriff, William Teasle (Brian Dennehy), who drives Rambo to the outskirts of town and politely asks him to leave.

When Rambo attempts to return to Hope, Teasle arrests the outsider and his officers, including deputy Arthur Galt (Jack Starrett), dole out a brutal and unwarranted beating.

The incident is a painful reminder of Rambo’s ordeal as a prisoner of war and he escapes custody with Teasle and his thuggish men in hot pursuit.

The chase moves to nearby woods where Rambo draws upon his survival skills to punish gun-toting men, who abuse the righteous power bestowed by the badge on their chests.

POMPO: THE CINEPHILE (12A, 90 mins)

Released: June 29 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Directed by Takayuki Hirao, Pompo: The Cinephile is the debut feature film of new animation studio CLAP and a rousing celebration of the enduring power of the moving image.

Joelle Davidovich “Pompo” Pomponette (voiced by Konomi Kohara) is a tenacious and talented producer at Peterson Films in Nyallywood, film-making capital of the world. Determined to prove her worth, Pompo enlists her bright-eyed assistant Gene Fini (Hiroya Shimizu) to make an auspicious debut behind the camera by directing her next script.

The film is a knowing drama about fame and artistic genius starring legendary screen idol Martin Braddock (Akio Otsuka) and youthful ingenue Nathalie Woodward (Rinka Otani).

As a first-time director, Gene is filled with trepidation but when the production descends into chaos, he must call on every ounce of his courage and tenacity to deliver a picture worthy of Pompo’s trust in him. Pompo: The Cinephile is released in UK cinemas as the original Japanese edition with subtitles and an English language dubbed version.

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