Elvis (2022)

Quick summary: Through the eyes of Tom Parker, this film chronicles the rise of one of the biggest stars in music history.

This is weird. I’m still not entirely sure about it. It’s either the best bad film, or the worst good film. It does some things brilliantly, and when it’s good, it’s very good. There are moments which will break your heart, moments which will astound you, moments which will teach you about American culture and the importance of music. Then there are moments which make you wonder if the filmmakers have ever seen a movie before. Moments where they make terrible decisions in how to display the narrative, moments where the editing is so bad it almost gives you a headache.

When I say “bad editing”, I’m not talking about complicated scenes which need editing and they’ve just made some weird choices. There are moments where two people are having a conversation and there is so little faith in the dialogue and performance that there’s a cut every few seconds just to keep things exciting. It doesn’t quite reach Bohemian Rhapsody levels of headache-inducing, but it’s the closest a big-budget film has got.

I know, you don’t expect subtlety and restraint from a Baz Luhrmann film. You know it’s not exactly going to be a calm and relaxed drama, but a little bit of restraint would help this film. There are scenes where all it needed to do was stay still, let the emotions wash over you as the conversation happens in front of you. The weird non-chronological nature at the beginning doesn’t help it either. As the film goes on it does develop into a more traditional narrative, but at the start, it jumps back and forth between different times and locations at an almost baffling pace. A lot of this film belongs amongst the worst I’ve seen all year.

But when it’s good, it’s very good. There are times where you forget you’re watching a modern film, it slips into feeling like life observation so easily. But then something breaks the immersion like hearing an Eminem song. But otherwise it all feels very real. The emotional beats it hits are pretty damn impressive, and it will make you feel things, which is difficult considering everybody going in knows how it ends.

In terms of casting, Tom Hanks is…..he’s okay. I’m not sure what would have been lost by casting someone less well-known and with a more natural accent. The supporting cast are all good without being remarkable. Really, this is all about the lead though. Austin Butler is phenomenal, he doesn’t just do an Elvis impression, the way he carries himself throughout is perfect. Elvis is a difficult role to play as everybody does an impression of him. Everybody has seen so many films of him that any missteps will be noticed. Plus, his fans are very obsessive so will notice differences. He does everything so well that you genuinely forget you’re not watching Elvis himself at times.

The familiarity everybody has with him does somewhat hurt the story too. Everybody knows a lot about him, and this doesn’t really tell you anything new. It is a LONG film, but it doesn’t have much to say. It feels like an edited version of something bigger.

I am opposed to unnatural splitting of movies into trilogies etc, but I feel that would have helped it here. Especially since the story is very episodic in nature, it has a basic narrative of “Parker is a bastard” but that’s not enough to really anchor the whole thing, so it splinters into episodic storytelling that causes it to constantly stop and start. You could easily split this into three movies, and I know EXACTLY where you could split them:

  1. The rise of Elvis, his relationship with black music (one great thing about this film is it puts the fact he was influenced by black artists out there), and how the police tried to shut him down. You end this when he defies the police and to avoid being arrested is sent to the army.
  2. Army and then his transition into an actor. End this when records his comeback special, performing songs his manager doesn’t want him too, but being so damn good that it revives his career.
  3. Vegas Elvis.

All of this is covered in the film. It’s weird as it feels like every one of those sections has it’s own three act structure within it. But because they’re all fit into one they feel rushed (even though it is nearly 3 hours long). If they were split then it would allow the effects of each story to be explored more. We saw a lot of how Elvis reacted to events, but we didn’t see how the world reacted to him. He goes from completely unknown to Biggest Star In The World in a small montage so you don’t really get a sense of how it happened.

If you hoping to use this to pass a test about Elvis, you’re out of luck. But if you were using this to UNDERSTAND Elvis, to work out why he was such a big deal, you couldn’t ask for anything better.

In summary: it’s obviously very good and has some excellence, but it feels like it’s being harmed by external forces trying to push it in a direction it doesn’t want to go in. Which is kind of perfect for an Elvis movie when you think about it

Yesterday (2019)

The basic concept of this film is a guy wakes up in a world where only he can remember The Beatles. They’re one of a few musical artists that that concept would work for. There’s them, Elvis, Queen, that’s it. There are big bands (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath), and there are influential ones, but very few are in that place where almost anybody can name 20 songs by them immediately. They’re 3 of the only bands where you occasionally forget they’ve got songs you don’t know because of how many songs you do know.

Trouble is, it takes longer than it should to get there, and doesn’t really show how different the world would be. It doesn’t seem to have removed their effects (with the exception of a quick joke about Oasis no longer existing, a very quick joke which is NEVER touched upon again, which is weird as it’s established the character sang Wonderwall at a school talent show, he doesn’t decide to then record and release that song too.) There are moments where it shows other things no longer exist for some reason (Cigarettes, Coca Cola, Harry Potter) but they’re quick one-off jokes and never built on. That feeling of wasted potential is on that I got a lot through this film. Particularly during two moments near the end.

1) There’s a scene near the end where he performs on a rooftop. A rooftop gig, in a Beatles film? This will be important. The Beatles’ rooftop gig was thought to be the end of an era, one of the true closing points of the band. In this? It’s just another gig. It doesn’t even get broken up by the police.

2) In this universe, John Lennon lives. The main character goes to see him, then decides to apologise to the woman he’s hurt. Now if only there was a John Lennon song which would be appropriate for that occasion. One where he says he didn’t mean to hurt her and he’s sorry that he made her cry. If only.

It’s things like that which make it seem like this wasn’t a passion project. It doesn’t seem written by someone with an obvious deep love for the band, it seems like someone who buys almost exclusively greatest hits and chart compilations. Someone who considers Bryan Adams “hard rock”.

On the upside; the central romance is actually believable and heartfelt. You actually want them to end up together. They play well off each other and are a cute couple. The ensemble cast itself is pretty good, although Kate McKinnon does continue to be slightly too over the top at times, which doesn’t mesh well with the other performances which are more restrained. I also question the Ed Sheeran role. He plays himself well, it just feels a bit weird. At times it feels more like it’s promoting “the genius of Ed Sheeran” rather than The Beatles. It also teases him turning against the main character and becoming the antagonist driven by jealousy and resentment, but it never happens. It also has James Corden playing himself in a scene I’m still baffled by. I think it was a dream sequence (if so it shouldn’t be in the trailer, dream sequences NEVER should be the trailer, it’s a fucking cop-out), but I’m not sure. If it actually happened then it was glossed over completely, but if it was just a dream sequence then it wasn’t needed. Just a bit weird.

I mentioned earlier how it seemed like Ed Sheeran would be the antagonist, it also performs a fake out with two other characters as well, played by “I know them from somewhere” actors Sarah Lancashire and Justin Edwards. It’s played with that they know the truth, that he stole the songs, and they do. They’re the only two other people who know the truth, but they promise to keep quiet as they just miss the music so much. It’s a very sweet moment that is beautifully built up, and leads to the John Lennon appearance which is without a doubt the emotional highlight of the film both for the audience and the main character.

So I think you should see this, but ideally in a packed screening. If you watch it in an almost empty screen it won’t quite hit as well. Failing that, gather the family around and watch it at Christmas on iPlayer (when it will DEFINITELY be on in the future)