Elvis: The Miniseries
DVD + DVD Audio
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Jonathan Rhys Meyers of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM delivers a definitive performance in the acclaimed mini series event that depicts Elvis from 50s teen outcast to worldwide sensation, through his grim decline to spectacular 68 comeback. Experience the triumphs and tragedies, excesses and affairs, madness and music of The King Of Rock & Roll, featuring a stellar cast that includes Emmy® and Golden Globe® winner Camryn Manheim as his beloved mother Gladys, Oscar® nominee Randy Quaid as the notorious Colonel Parker, Robert Patrick as Vernon Presley, and Rose McGowan as Ann-Margret.
Elvis: The Miniseries was produced with the cooperation of the Presley empire, and it shows: this 173-minute opus uses Elvis's original recordings and real Graceland locations. The official imprimatur might also account for the movie's emphasis on the good years: what we get here is the early rise to fame, the Army interlude, then a run through the increasingly dispiriting movie career. It climaxes with the 1968 comeback TV special, leaving Elvis's addled final decade undetailed (but foreshadowed, to be sure). The story of the Mama-lovin' Tupelo boy who ascended to the throne of rock has been told so many times it has taken on the contours of Greek myth: we know everything that's coming, but we gain reassurance from hearing the familiar anecdotes anyway (and then Elvis and the boys started fooling around with "That's Alright, Mama" and Sam Phillips rolled the tape, etc.). In this telling of the myth, the villain is an easy find: it's Colonel Tom Parker, the big-talking and short-sighted manager who reaped big profits from Presley's movies but kept the King out of projects such as West Side Story. Randy Quaid gives the movie's best performance as the cunning Colonel.
An intelligent script helps the movie over the episodic nature of biopics, and Camryn Manheim and Robert Patrick are nice casting as Elvis's parents. But the whole thing hinges on the central E-casting, and here Jonathan Rhys Meyers proves a mixed bag. He appears a little intimidated by the role, and never quite owns it, even if he's very good as the dewy, more-or-less innocent Elvis. Having to lip-synch to the original recordings makes Rhys Meyers look outmatched at times: how's that big sound coming out of that spindly guy? Kurt Russell's performance in John Carpenter's classic TV-movie remains the gold standard. This take on Elvis makes him out to be a pawn in a crazy game, rather than a self-directed musician with a very distinct vision of his own. --Robert Horton
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With the Elvis Presley Estate involved, I expected this to be a fairly sanitized biopic. Far from it. If anything, the superior script by Patrick Sheane Duncan showcases the darker side of Elvis' life and legend. The dramatic crux here is the gross abuse of Elvis, both personally and professionally, by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, played to poisonous perfection by Randy Quaid (Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations). Parker clearly saw Elvis as a money-making machine; and he made sure the money never stopped rolling in. Elvis was, consequently, stuck with some silly songs to sing and a lackluster (at best) movie career. Others around Elvis were quick to see right through Parker. Elvis' beloved mother Gladys (a solid Golden Globe and Emmy nominated performance by Camryn Manheim) quickly describes Parker as the type who would "sell the paint off his mother's house." Ann-Margaret (Rose McGowan), Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" co-star, sums Parker up as a "bastard." By 1968, when Elvis himself finally wises up to Parker's decades-long mis-use and abuse, in a blazing confrontational scene by Rhys-Meyers and Quaid, it is much too late. It isn't that Elvis didn't know what he wanted for himself or how to get it; and it isn't that Elvis couldn't stand up for himself. It is just that he didn't do it often enough. Musically speaking, Elvis is depicted as knowing exactly what he wants. Elvis doesn't care if it takes more than 25 takes to get a song right. "You're the boss", someone replies. "If I'm the boss, why don't you get the world off my back?", Elvis growls in response. Elvis even demands to sing an opera-inpired song, the chart-topping "It's Now Or Never," instead of the standard pop/rock stuff that RCA Records expected from him.
This biopic hits its high points when depicting Elvis' rise to fame (the potent mixture of rock and roll and Elvis' naturally strong sexuality caused quite a scandal in 1956) and his growing disenchantment with Hollywood and his movie career. Elvis had a sizzling screen presence. Sadly, only three of his movies, "Jailhouse Rock", "King Creole" and "Viva Las Vegas", are really worth watching.
At one point, Gladys Presley says, "our kind isn't meant for happiness." The biopic takes the position that Elvis took his mother's words and turned them into a self-fullfilling prophecy. Elvis' drug use, that eventually led to his tragic death at age 42 in 1977, is first shown here in an early scene between Elvis and his teen-aged girlfriend Priscilla (Antonia Bernath) and throughout the movie. Elvis is depicted as increasingly mercurial and moody; largely as a result of his drug use, I expect. Rhys-Meyers' Elvis is much more than frustrated, sad and lonely. He is a tormented soul. It is heartbreaking that Elvis felt so unfulfilled and so unhappy. Yet, Elvis had (and still has) a tremendous impact on music and pop-culture as a whole. With all that, it is interesting to think what Elvis might have achieved had he been allowed to, or more importantly, had he felt secure and self-empowered enough to, chart his own personal and professional course in life.