Month: June, 2022

Elvis

Verdict: A vibrant spectacle to match the legend.

Baz Luhrmann’s brash in-your-face film-making style appears to be the perfect fit for this glittery biopic about Elvis. His is the kind of vibrant kinetic storytelling that made Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby such compelling films to experience. Similarly, Luhrmann has liberally splashed his trademark sensory bombast onto the sequinned canvas of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll with confident ease.

Right from the outset this film is a blast, and Luhrmann (who also wrote the screenplay) seems to make no apologies for his film’s tenuous position on the facts. After all, this version of Elvis is described through the lens of an unreliable narrator (Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks)—which is either a genius move on Luhrmann’s part, paving the way for his outlandish cinematic style, or (as the cynically minded would have), a lazy cop-out. Either way, there is no denying that Luhrmann’s maximalist style is turned up to eleven—in fact, I think by the end of the film the dial had fallen off.

At its centre is relative newcomer, Austin Butler, who plays the titular role. Understandably, the bulk of the film hangs on his performance and thankfully (also relievingly), he nails it. From every hip shake and lip snarl to his deeply accented drawl, Butler captures the Elvis myth like lighting in a bottle. It seems heresy to say in one breath that the actor of the embarrassingly bad Shannara Chronicles outshines the multi-Oscar-winning Tom Hanks. But he does. The less impressive Hanks, as Elvis’s longtime manager who exploited Presley for every penny he could, instead appears for most of the movie to be struggling with the elephantine prosthetics he is buried beneath.

Ultimately though, the real elephant in the theatre remains Luhrmann’s delicate play between fact and myth. Sticklers for the truth might find Luhrmann’s artistic embellishments one hip-gyration too many—certainly, the film offers little insight into the lives of each character. But perhaps that’s the point, do we really get to know a legend? Whether you see Elvis as a superficially re-sequinned jumpsuit of a film, or a wonderfully unbridled love letter to an icon, will depend entirely on your tolerance for myth-making. I’m far from a Presley fan, but Luhrmann’s film left me all shook up, and in love, uh-huh.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Jurassic World: Dominion

Verdict: A formulaic and safe crowd pleaser.

There is a sweet smell of nostalgia currently wafting through the cinemas. From The Lost City which recently recaptured the Romancing the Stone romantic-adventure vibe to Tom Cruise’s Maverick reprisal, the big-flick studios are reaching back in time to tap the golden era of the blockbuster. Thankfully, these films seem to be very self-aware, blending frothy dollops of eye-winking nostalgia with light-hearted cliches. And certainly, if that’s your bag then Jurassic World Dominion will hit the spot.

Harkening back to the sunglasses-lowering spectacle of where it all began, Director Colin Trevorrow (who also helmed 2015’s Jurassic World) has brought back Park’s original cast—Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum. They, along with World’s Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are thrown into a stew of dino mayhem.

The sixth instalment in the Jurassic franchise, Dominion takes place four years after the island theme park ended in a fiery eruption causing dinosaurs to spread across the globe. Now a plague of prehistoric locusts threatens the world’s food supply. Of course, no Jurassic film is complete without a bad guy pulling the genetic strings. Enter Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott channelling, oddly, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook) who slips into frame as the locust DNA manipulating CEO of the shady company Biosyn.

Dominion’s well-worn plot progression offers plenty of room for the obligatory action sequences and tense set-pieces as the party attempt to infiltrate Biosyn and avoid dinosaurs in the process. However, as green-screen-sapiens are repeatedly pitted against dino-digitals you get the feeling that the overindulgence of digital-effects does a disservice to the original’s pioneering efforts rather than pay homage to it.

Nonetheless, the film remains engaging enough, if rather safe, and Director Trevorrow does little to bust out of Jurassic’s electrified boundary fence, choosing instead to unapologetically root the film in cliches and tropes championed by the original.

Viewers wanting a fresh direction to the franchise, such as the novel gothic horror treatment that Bayona achieved in Jurassic’s previous instalment, will find little satisfaction here. But if the warm blanket of a safe and formulaic tent-pole blockbuster is more your DNA, then go ahead, wrap yourself in amber.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.