Elvis – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Written by Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce. Length: 159mins. 

The release date for Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ has arrived and it’s sure to get audiences dancing. We seem to be going through a phase of legendary musician biopics and this one falls slightly out of the framework pattern but that isn’t a surprise to those who know the previous work of Luhrmann. This is the story of Elvis’s dramatic rise to superstardom and the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of those he trusted. 

The film opens with a voiceover by Elvis’s former manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks (unrecognisable beneath layers of prosthetics and unflattering makeup). After sharing details of his gambling addiction, he finishes with the ominous reveal: ‘some people say I robbed Elvis … some even say I killed him’. We get the basics of Presley’s career: the early days of hardship, the profound influence of black music, the blues and gospel; a glimpse at his days on the country circuit before signing for Parker, his huge success, military service in Germany, marriage to Priscilla, a flash of Hollywood, the Comeback Special and the long Vegas goodbye…considering this is the basics and not really in too much detail, it’s an awful lot. With a run time of 2hr39 it’s a bit of a slog but having said this I would have no idea what you can cut. The challenge of a biopic is that audiences need to see a journey, but when the journey includes so much it’s inevitably going to be a lengthy watch.  

This is a very technical film that screams awards season which is unusual for a movie released at this time of year. I hope that it is recognised for what it is as the performances, scoring, editing and direction are bold and deserve acknowledgement. I do feel like some audiences might be disappointed with Elvis – not because it’s bad, it’s actually quite brilliant. It’s just that the trailer presents a movie that is very appealing to the masses. It suggests a straight forward story with a few well known songs and it’s much more complex than that. It’s full of interesting cuts, colours and a wonderfully fused score of music of the era and contemporary hits. 

Elvis is a brilliant film, it’s not one that I would watch again but I would definitely recommend that people give it a watch. It’s another reminder that the grass is not always greener on the other side and that when people appear to have it all – there’s often a lot going on that isn’t known.  

Spiderhead – Review

Rating: 15
Featuring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett and Tess Haubrich
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Length: 107mins

Spiderhead’ tells the story of the necessary once-in-a-lifetime genius for this kind of film, with the equally as expected tropical lair to match. Inside, the trials of a handful of volunteers are unfolded, as they take part in a strangely enigmatic research process that brings laughter, fear and tension in equal measure.

Miles Teller and Chris Hemworth lead the film, and despite sharing a great amount of screen time, never seem to build any form of powerful relationship that the audience is able to connect with. Their individual talents feel a little wasted on the film, with the story allowing them little more to work with than the kind of archetypal prisoner/prisonee tropes this type of narrative so often delivers. Perhaps if the writing was stronger during their shared moments, the two actors could have created some great moments of tension and intrigue.

In terms of set design, the layout of ‘Spiderhead’ seems to draw a lot of ideas from the works of early Black Mirror episodes being released ten years prior. A cold and minimalist tone rests over the design of the architecture and the clothing, and resonates further into the film itself. It never seems to find its footing any deeper than a simple overarching story, or the barebones and forgettable locations in which our action plays out.

Perhaps by moving away from attempted one-liners, vague psychological observations, or desperate requirements to show the likely already created spotify soundtrack, ‘Spiderhead’ could have resulted in a decent little thriller inspired by the likes of ‘Lord of the Flies’ or ‘The Stanford Experiment’, but unfortunately it feels a little more like another failed Netflix experiment than any major breakthrough.

Top Gun: Maverick – Review

Rating: 12a Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Val Kilmer and Glen Powell. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Written by Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. Length: 130mins. 

 Thirty-six years after Top Gun was released and became a smash hit, Tom Cruise is back doing what he does best – flashing his superstar smile and jumping into an aircraft for this brand new blockbuster that doesn’t fail to take your breath away. Top Gun: Maverick re-joins our hero – Naval captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, not quite where we left him at the end of the first movie. He’s still flying, he’s still fast and he’s still unapologetically himself. He’s recalled to Top Gun, to train the Navy’s best young aviators for an almost impossible, dangerous and time sensitive mission. While the mission is a challenge in itself, Maverick has to face (and train) the son of his ex-wingman and best friend ‘Goose’ as well as reuniting with an old flame… 

What is so wonderful about this film is that the original was a perfect standalone – it didn’t need a sequel, it was so well rounded just as it was and was released in a time where it was much more common to release a film on its own. BUT, come 2022…delayed ever so slightly due to Covid:19 the sequel lands and it is almost perfect. It embodies just the right amount of nostalgia and reference to the original, the plot is interesting and exciting – different to ‘Top Gun’ but is so well thought out and fitting with the first film. I just think it’s so difficult to create a really great sequel full stop, but to manage to create a sequel over 30 years later and for a film that no one expected a sequel for seems like an impossible task and the creative team nailed it. 

I don’t know enough about how much Tom Cruise was involved, other than I expect him to have been the driving force and quite frankly he deserves a pat on the back. This film released at the perfect time, bringing audiences of all ages back into cinemas and reminding folk what watching motion pictures on the big screen, as they were designed, is all about.  

Tom Cruise doesn’t drop a beat with his Maverick; I expect the initial role was so important to him and he seems to pick the character straight back up with ease. The casting was perfect. Particularly in the selection of Miles Teller as ‘Rooster’. Not only does Teller look like his fictional father but he brings really authentic emotion. This character ‘feels’ so much in this film and is really going through all sorts while still competing to be selected for this mission and Teller nails it. It’s really quite wonderful to watch the character develop and grow in confidence throughout the movie and see his relationships change with him. Jennifer Connelly plays the beautiful, confident bar owner Penny who, of course, captures the eye (and heart) of Maverick. My only slight comment here was that the romantic element wasn’t really necessary. It’s nice – it’s well performed, it breaks up the story a bit and of course the romantics are there for it but it didn’t progress the plot. Maybe I’m scraping the barrel for criticism, but that’s all I’ve got!  

Top Gun: Maverick is simply, a brilliant piece of cinema. Everyone should watch it, at least once, on the big screen. It has a relatively short running time but it holds its audiences from the first moment and doesn’t drop them.  

This Much I Know to Be True – Review

Rating: 15
Featuring: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Earl Cave, Andrew Dominik, Marianne Faithful
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Length: 105mins

Though the story of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s dynamic relationship may not be one familiar to too many people, the echoes of their influence reverberates out to a greater number than many may realise – whether that be through the haunting performance from Cave and his band, ‘The Bad Seeds’, on tracks such as ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘O Children’, popularised by Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter respectively, or the Cave and Ellis collaborative effort which brought to life the scores of films such as ‘The Assassination of Jesse James..’, ‘The Road’ and ‘Wind River’ to name a few.

So within this intriguing context – what is the story of ‘This Much I Know to Be True’? Sadly, it’s one born of tragedy, as the narrative documents Nick Cave’s grief-stricken attempts to find some consolation through art after the death of his son, Arthur, six years prior. From purely a listeners’ perspective, the fallout being three of perhaps the greatest art rock/chamber pop albums released this side of the millennium. 

Cave and Ellis may appear as if they’ve only recently stumbled out of some desolate Aussie landscape and only vaguely attempted to meet any societal norm – but this unorthodox perspective on life has culminated in some truly beautiful music, which the two perform throughout the documentary whilst accompanied by mesmerising lighting setups and captivating camera movements led by director Andrew Dominik (Assassination of Jesse James, Killing Them Softly, Blonde).

It would be wrong to say that this is a film for the average movie-goer, as at least a vague familiarity with these artists’ work allows for an even greater appreciation of what’s being presented here. However, the brilliance of the performances on display is perhaps matched only in quality by the dynamic and exciting visuals, culminating in something which, for me, became one of the most impactful cinema experiences so far this year. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are endlessly watchable, both as tirelessly entertaining friends, and genius’s at play.

Even if you only know the voice of Cave through his dramatic ‘Red Right Hand’ performance, or the haunting charm of his ‘O Children’ accompaniment to Harry and Hermione’s waltz in the penultimate Harry Potter film, I would highly recommend taking up any opportunity to see this film. Like D.A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ chasing after the unstoppable Bob Dylan of the mid-60’s, or Peter Jackson’s recent revitalisation of a Beatles teetering on the brink of collapse in last years ‘Get Back’, it’s not often you get to witness the whirring cogs of a working genius up close and personal, but ‘This Much I Know to Be True’ gives us this chance once again.