ELVIS biopic review

The King of visually spectacular biopics! Tom Hanks and Austin Butler deliver command performances that transcend impersonations and transform them into The Colonel and The King. You’ll want to sing along with this dazzling tribute to the King of Rock ‘n Roll from visionary director Baz Luhrmann. A landmark biographical motion picture for both the technical achievement and performative elements of the mise-en-scene; however, the screenwriting (inclusive of plotting and narrative) lacks the gravitas of the visual elements. Needless to say, my initial reaction to the film was higher than it is now that I’ve had some time to think on it. That’s not to say that I wasn’t impressed by it–I was! Parts of it, anyway. The more I thought about the screenwriting, the more frustrated I became with the film. Frustrated in that it felt like a hybrid biographical film meets documentary. Furthermore, the full impact of the story is hampered by the poor pacing. Perhaps Elvis would have made for a better limited run HBO series. Of course, then you’d not likely have Luhrmann at the helm, which is ultimately why this film works as well as it does. From his humble beginnings to Graceland and Vegas, the film includes milestones in Elvis’ legendary career. The influence of rhythm and blues and gospel music on Elvis’ life is witnessed throughout the filmWhile the storytelling may be weak, the sensory explosion of the film coupled with the performances are the reasons to watch this on the big screen.

Elvis Presley rises to fame in the 1950s while maintaining a complex relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

What performances! Both Butler and Hanks are sure to wow you with their portrayal of The King and the Colonel. We could definitely see some Best Makeup Oscar nominations for both, especially for the Colonel. Other than when it was established that Elvis put on a significant amount of weight (but we cut back to Butler’s slender Elvis), he completely embodied the legendary entertainer. From his voice to his signature pelvic moves, everything about Butler screamed that he was truly Elvis. With so many impersonators out there, and some very good ones, it’s difficult for an actor to take on an iconic role such as this, and elevate it from impersonation to transformation. Fortunately for Elvis, Butler transformed with great authenticity. Moreover, Hank’s unbelievable transformation as the Colonel is on par with the Oscar award-winning hair and makeup of Jessica Chastain’s Tammy Faye last year in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Although Butler certainly has the moves to drive you wild, it’s really Hanks’ story. Oh you get lots of Elvis, but the main action plot is really told from the perspective of The Colonel. Which is why there are narrative problems.

The movie opens and ends with The Colonel, with all the Elvis in the middle. Because of the competing plotlines, the movie suffers from poor pacing and clearly misguided diegetic direction. Audiences are never able to go as deep as they would like because as soon as we begin to focus on one element of Elvis’ or The Colonel’s life, we are then thrust into a different chapter in Elvis’ life. While that may seem like the movie to too quickly paced, it actually has the opposite effect by dragging it down. Stays too long in some places, whilst not enough in other places. BioPics like this often suffer from poor plotting, because they are ultimately a visualization of a Wikipedia page. Lots of information and chronological events, but little time and room to become emotionally involved with the characters. If this movie had not been about Elvis, and was just another tragic story of an entertainer from humble beginning, hitting it big, losing themselves, just to have a major comeback before an untimely death, then I would probably not care about these characters as much as I do. I am invested in them because of who they are, not because of the journey I witnessed in the film.

The technical achievement of the film is off the charts good! The stylistic cinematography and editing choices are Luhrmann’s signature style. It’s an experiment of the apparatus of film, and how it can be manipulated and crafted to take a typical BioPic, and transform it into a cinematic experience. And that’s what Elvis is, an experience! It is a brilliant combination of stagecraft and cinema. Yes, some of the sets look like they are on a stage, but that adds to the dimension and character of the film. It gives it this other worldly feel that wouldn’t be achieved simply by using all real places (as many still exist). Several times during the film, the cinematography and editing made me feel like I was literally at an Elvis concert! A sensory explosion that only Luhrmann could dream up. The down side to this approach is that there is so much emphasis on the visual elements and the technical achievement of the film that the actually storytelling suffers….sometimes feels like a bad television limited run series.

While I have my reservations with the screenwriting, there is no doubt in my mind how much fun I had with this film! Whether you’re a lifelong fan of Elvis or not, you will have a wonderful time!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT film review

Massively fun! Nicolas Cage IS Nicolas CAGE in the hilarious yet thoughtful and action-packed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. You don’t want to miss this highly entertaining motion picture on the BIG SCREEN! On one hand, it’s a fictionalized self-referential character study, but on the other, it’s Taken. It’s a metanarrative that delivers both the exploration of the fascinating career, larger than life persona, and highly publicized financial problems of the screen legend. In other words, this film is in full Cage Rage mode from beginning to end. For the film studies enthusiast, scholar, or just film fan, there is also a running commentary on the evolution of filmmaking spanning over 100 years. This is most noticeable when the foundational work The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and contemporary works Paddington 2, Marvel and Star Wars are referenced. In an exchange between Cage and Pedro Pascal when instead of Marvel or Star Wars movies, they both want to make films that are “intelligent,” “character study” pieces. It’s that tongue-in-cheek humor paired with the bombastic screen presence of Cage that will have you rewatching (or watching for the first time) films like Face/Off, Moonstruck, Con Air, Mandy, and yes, even The Wickerman. In fact, the screenplay pulls from all Blockbuster and obscure corners of Cage’s filmography to craft a film that is grounded in character that is thoughtfully developed over a high concept action plot. At the end of the day, this isn’t a film about a fictionalized Nicolas Cage, but a film about the transformative power of motion pictures that stars Nicolas Cage as himself.

Unfulfilled and facing financial ruin, actor Nick Cage accepts a $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), an immensely wealthy fan. Things take a wildly unexpected turn when a CIA operative recruits Cage for an unusual mission. Taking on the role of a lifetime, he soon finds himself channeling his most iconic and beloved characters to save himself and his loved ones.

The Cage Mythos is alive and well in this film. Cage both embraces and pokes fun at the prolific number of myths inspired by his vast career. Moreover, regarding the metanarrative, this film reminds the audience (and Hollywood producers) of the Cage Range of his acting prowess. Few actors have inspired as many bad impressions, memes, and have left the undeniable impression that Nicolas Cage has. What the films ranging from the obscure artsy “direct to video” (streaming nowadays) titles to the Blockbusters have in common is how much they resonate with audiences. By his own admission in the movie and in real life,

Cage is a working actor. He’s never viewed acting as a career as much as it is a series of gigs with which he has had lots of fun, and will continue to do such. Perhaps he is a contemporary Christopher Lee. Sir Christopher Lee still holds the record for sheer number of roles over his storied career. In many ways, Cage is not unlike Lee. Whether the man is the myth or the myth is the man, Cage plays right into it. He know precisely what his fans and audiences want to see from him–they wanna see Full Cageness! Cage has the benefit of a distinct voice–he IS a movie star, in the classical definition of the word. Regardless of how many bad movies he’s made, he maintains a larger-than-life screen presence that is peerless.

The movie that Javi and Nick are working on in Massive Talent parallels that of this movie itself. They both speak of a character study piece that turns into a genre picture. Furthermore, the central character of the screenplay within the movie has the same struggles that this fictionalized Nick Cage has. As Cage is developing this idea-turned screenplay with Javi, he undergoes self-rediscovery and ultimately reconnects with his estranged family (this isn’t a spoiler…it’s rather obvious). But that’s the point. It is a tried and true, simple plot on which complex characters are created and change over the course of their respective arcs. Simple plots, complex characters. That is what I tell my screenwriting students makes a great story!

If you are knowledgable in Cage films, then you will absolutely love all the easter eggs, references, and clips. I attended the screening with a friend of mine that hasn’t seen many Cage films; still, he found The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to be highly entertaining and fun. Suffice it to say, just like there is a Nick Cage for everyone, there is a little something for everyone in this film–but fans of Cage will definitely get the most out of it!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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THE BAD GUYS animated film review

Highly entertaining with heart! Disney-Pixar, eat your heart out! Whether you’re typically interested in animated films or not, you don’t want to miss Universal-DreamWorks’ The Bad Guys opening this week only in cinemas. Prepare yourself for a refreshing, high octane Oceans 11 meets Zootopia heist comedy for the whole family. Honestly, this is the best animated film that I have seen in a long time. The Bad Guys delivers audiences a simple, lean plot with complex central characters that will completely delight you from beginning to end with its innate ability to find the humor in the smallest details. While the film borrows from Oceans 11 and Zootopia, it is crafted in an almost Tarantino for kids storytelling method. This atypical approach to animated film storytelling (popularized by Into the SpiderVerse), has opened the floodgates for subverting our expectations for styles we have long -since associated with animated films. Furthermore, films such as the remake of The Lion King have inspired CGI artists to go for more of a photorealistic aesthetic. What The Bad Guys does is paint a 2D world with some 3D enhancements, which demonstrates more of an affinity for stylization over realism–great! Too many animated motion pictures lean into realism therefore negating the magic of animation. In my opinion, if the animation is going to be so incredibly realistic-looking, then just make a live action picture. The advantage of the stylized approach is that there is very clearly a design to each and every frame. Perhaps it lacks the cinema stylo of hand-drawn frames, but it certainly delivers more style than anything released by Disney-Pixar in recent years. On a scale of Kubo and the Two Strings (the best animated film in the last decade) to The Lion King, I’d say The Bad Guys is much closer to a Kubo. With witty comedy and adrenaline-pumping action, you don’t want to miss seeing this film on the BIG SCREEN.

After a lifetime of legendary heists, notorious criminals Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Shark and Ms. Tarantula are finally caught. To avoid a prison sentence, the animal outlaws must pull off their most challenging con yet — becoming model citizens. Under the tutelage of their mentor, Professor Marmalade, the dubious gang sets out to fool the world that they’re turning good.

What a(n animated) picture. Seriously. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed an animated motion picture this much. Over the last decade, only Kubo, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Onward stand out to me. As I was exiting the auditorium following the screening, I talked with the general audience members that were in attendance, and nearly every one with whom I spoke said variations of the same things: entertaining, fun, and thrilling. During the screening, I heard many kids (and their families) laughing along with the characters. Although it is clearly aimed at kids, there are comedic moments for adults too. What we have here is a good story! Remembering my Sunset Boulevard

Joe Gillis: “-Ah…one of those message kids. Just a story won’t do…”

Betty Schaefer: “I just think a picture should say a little something.”

I reference this exchange between the struggling screenwriter and the aspiring reader turned screenwriter because too many animated films (mostly from Disney/Pixar) suffocate their stories under oppressive, cynical social commentary; so much so, that the story suffers because the focus is on the sermon instead of the characters. You will find the absence of overt social commentary in The Bad Guys refreshing! Does that mean there is no depth or thoughtful elements? No. But the message of the film is that we are all capable of a redemption arc. Granted, it’s not as strong a redemption message as we have in A Christmas Carol, but for a kid’s movie, they will undoubtedly pickup on it.

The screenplay is well structured and paced. While the bones of the screenplay are rather paint by numbers, the the superstructure is creative and stylish! Furthermore, in a film that looks to be one that will throw a joke a minute at you, it holds back the cards, delivering the humorous dialogue and site gags in a method that allows them room to breath. The laughs are setup, reinforced, then twisted thoughtfully.

All around, this is a solid animated feature that should be on your watch list while it’s in cinemas.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

DEATH ON THE NILE whodunit film review

You’ll want to watch it again! Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile takes everything you enjoyed about Murder on the Orient Express, and builds upon it to deliver a film that further proves that the subgenre whodunit remains timeless! Of course, much like with any murder-mystery or whodunit, it’s difficult to review without getting into spoilers. What I can tell you is that Death on the Nile boasts a stellar cast, exotic setting, and all the love and deception you want in a whodunit. Unlike the previous chapter in Branagh’s Agatha Christie adapted films, the Poirot we encounter feels more human. Contrary to previous TV and film adaptations, we witness the cracks in Poirot’s veneer, revealing his vulnerable side. Perhaps this may be another story with one of the best worst-kept secrets in literary history, but through Branagh’s direction and Michael Green’s screenplay, diegetic elements are added in order to entertain audiences with a fresh interpretation of the iconic literary work. Even after you learn who committed the murders aboard the luxury river cruise ship, you will instantly desire to watch again in order to find the clues that you missed.

Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot’s Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous river steamer turns into a terrifying search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is tragically cut short.

There may be some naysayers out there that are unfairly negatively criticizing the (and I’ll be honest, somewhat predictable) solution to the mystery, you have to remember that this literary work and previous film/TV adaptations have been around for a very long time, and have served as significant influencers for all whodunits to come thereafter. Naturally, fans of the whudunit genre may be able to completely or partially guess the who, why, and how. The best way to enjoy this film is to go in as a fan of classical whodunits; if you do that, I am confident that you will thoroughly enjoy your time at the cinema!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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BEING THE RICARDOS film review

I Love Being the Ricardos. Whether you are a fan or scholar of I Love Lucy or not, this biographical motion picture is for you! Go behind the walls of 623 E. 68th St. (an address that in real life would be in the East River), and get up close and personal with one of the toughest weeks in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’ careers and the run of the sitcom. Being the Ricardos also represents Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, and be brings with him his penchant for exploring the human condition through dialogue steeped in subtext, thus adding the dramatic dimension to the dialogue. What I appreciate about Sorkin’s approach is how he seamlessly layers two timelines and a meta narrative into one another, in a manner that is consistently driving the plot forward in terms of plot and character. While the central focus of the film is on Lucille Ball being accused of being a communist, there are ancillary stories on Desi’s affairs and Vivan Vance’s complicated relationship with Lucille Ball and her character Ethel Mertz. William Frawley is depicted as the most level-headed out of the whole cast. Other dynamics of the mother of all sitcoms include the the power dynamic between the writers Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr., and executive producer Jess Oppenheimer. Throughout the film, one theme is clear: home. What does a home mean or look like to you? Lucy desires a home, and she will fight for it.

In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face a series of personal and professional crises that threaten their careers, their relationship and their hit TV show.

With so many layers at play, it may have proven to be disastrous for many if not most writer-directors, but not Aaron Sorkin. Any reviews you’ve heard or read that suggest Being the Ricardos is too inside baseball are wildly exaggerated. Yes, there is a greater appreciation for the film by those that know I Love Lucy well, but even those that only know of the sitcom will appreciate it. The friend that attended with me had virtually no substantive knowledge of I Love Lucy, yet he laughed along with this film, and knew precisely what was going on and why it was so important. If you are a member of the creative economy that runs, writes for, or acts in a sitcom, then you will have a greater level of empathy and understanding for the ups and downs faced by writers, actors, producers, and sponsors in Being the Ricardos.

Being the Ricardos starts out “in the future” with interviews with the (late in real life) Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh about I Love Lucy and that week–and they all had the same reaction. Although I thought the three comedy writers had passed away, I was completely convinced that Sorkin was interviewing the TV legends. I actually had to check Wikipedia for the death dates. Anyway. The illusion of a documentary layer added to the authenticity of this film. Periodically throughout the film, we return to our writers and executive producer for some retrospective commentary on the “past” or “present” story. These interview segments provide a more substantive context for the conflict to follow. Furthermore, it adds come comedic relief for the otherwise serious film.

Often times, these type of biographic motion pictures work to humanize or make relatable the central figure(s), and Sorkin’s film does just that. Even though the world knows that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960 (following the final performance of the Lucy Desi Comedy Hour), we still think fo them as the madly-in-love couple at 623 E. 68th St (and later at their house in West Chester, CT). Going behind the scenes, we witness four actors with their own demons and flaws. Perhaps you can identify with the struggles experienced by Lucy, Desi, Vivian, or William (Bill). And not just them, but Madelyn, Bob, and Jess too. More than a historical biographical picture, this is a motion picture that is very much a story of what it means to be human that is paired with a deep dive into one of the most beloved TV shows of all time.

Kidman’s performance as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem’s performance as Desi are excellent! While Bardem may not disappear behind the costuming, hair, and makeup to the degree that Kidman does, he had Desi’s mannerisms and body language down pat! Clearly, he spent a great deal of time preparing for a role that has major shoes to fill, or should I say bongos to play. From her voice to her appearance to her body language, Nicole Kidman will wow you with her portrayal of the Queen of Comedy Lucille Ball. Kidman’s preparation for this role of a lifetime paid off in spades. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost believe that I was watching Lucille Ball on screen. It reminds me, in many ways, of Jessica Chastain’s outstanding performance as Tammy Faye in (my favorite film of 2021) The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

For fans of the show, you may notice some continuity errors. Now, these errors don’t detract away from the film, but may surprise you. The show is in the middle of the second season, but the apartment set is the apartment they would move into after Little Ricky was born in Season 3. The giveaway was the window in the back. And in the film when they are referring to baby the Ricardos will have, it’s actually Desi Jr. that would be born during the third season and not Lucie, which is what is depicted in the film.

While we get a flashforwards to the famous grape vat scene, we do not get the most famous scene from I Love Lucy of all time: Vitameatavegemin. It is referenced, but we do not get to see Kidman recreate this scene. Maybe it’s a bonus feature on the BluRay. I hope so anyway!

Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1