ELVIS & NIXON (2016)

April 20, 2016

elvis and nixon Greetings again from the darkness. The tagline nails the tone of the film: “On August 21, 1970 two of America’s greatest recording artists met for the first time.” Director Liza Johnson proceeds to tell the story of worlds colliding – an Oval Office meeting with President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley. Of course, this is a fictionalized and satirical accounting, since Nixon didn’t kickoff his recording passion until the following year.

It would be pretty easy to bash the film as heavy on cheese and light on historical accuracy, but that would be missing the point. These two public figures couldn’t have been much different from each other, but the script (Joey and Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes) finds a way to have these two icons hold a conversation … bonding over their mutual hatred of The Beatles.

The terrific opening credit sequence perfectly captures the time period and is a work of art unto itself. We first see Elvis shooting out the picture tubes in the TV room at Graceland. He’s disgusted with the news reports of Woodstock and drug use among America’s youth. Constructing a loose plot to meet with President Nixon and offer his service as a Federal Agent-at-large, Elvis is mostly interested in adding a federal badge to his collection.

Michael Shannon plays Elvis and Kevin Spacey takes on the Nixon role. Rather than a finely tuned impersonation, Shannon goes after more of an impression or re-imagining of The King. It’s a perfect fit for this setting, and there is nothing like watching Shannon give an impromptu karate demonstration for the leader of the free world in the most famous room in America. Spacey, on the other hand, is spot on in capturing the posture, mannerisms, sound and essence of a man who carried much personal baggage with his political power.

The chain of events leading up to the meeting plays a bit like a farcical comedy. Nixon’s staff of Bud Krough (Colin Hanks), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) and HR Haldeman (Tate Donovan) is equal parts incredulous and opportunistic. We get two members of Elvis’ “Memphis Maphia” with Alex Pettyfer playing Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville adding even more humor as Sonny West. There is a nice blend of “little” comedy moments and outright laughers – Elvis impersonators confronting him in an airport, the Secret Service reaction to Elvis’ gift to Nixon of collectible WWII pistols, and Elvis meeting with a DEA official played by Tracy Letts.

I found myself smiling throughout, with full understanding that this satirical look at a meeting between two famous men with little common ground has no real historical importance … other than resulting in the all-time most requested photograph from the National Archives. But for 86 minutes of smiling, I say to the filmmakers and actors … Thank you. Thank you very much.

watch the trailer:

 


THE LAST STAND (2013)

January 19, 2013

last stand2 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been almost 10 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger was last top billed in a movie. He’s remained in the headlines most of that time … some good, some not so much. If you are an Arnold fan, it’s nice to see him back on screen. And what do you expect from a Schwarzenegger movie? Big guns, big muscles and big laughs from the one-liners. The first U.S. film from noted Korean director Jee-woon Kim delivers all three … and, unfortunately, little else.

Arnold plays Sheriff Ray who has semi-retired to a quiet life in an Arizona border town after a career on an ill-fated Los Angeles police drug team. His deputies are played by screen vet and comic relief Luis Guzman, Zach Gilford, and Jaimie Alexander. An FBI Agent played by Forest Whitaker contacts the Sheriff and lets him know an last stand3escaped drug lord played by Eduardo Noriega is headed through the town on his way to cross the border. Peter Stormare‘s group is in town to clear the path. Things get messy from there.

The tongue-in-cheek parts work best, but the plot and overall script are pretty lacking in substance. This could almost be viewed as a Schwarzenegger tribute film. The self-deprecating humor keeps the film rolling, but some of it just tries too hard … especially the segments with Johnny Knoxville. Some of the action is so over-the-top it draws the desired laughs from the audience, but be prepared for lots of gun play and plenty of Chevy commercial time.

last stand5 We also get a quick scene from Harry Dean Stanton and Rodrigo Santoro has a small role as a former war hero – turned town drunk who gets his shot at redemption. But make no mistake, this is Arnold’s movie and his chance to show that he still has it. The screen presence is still there, but his skills might play better in a more limited support role. That said, I triple dog dare you to not crack a smile when he is firing guns, in a frantic car chase through the corn fields, and engaged in hand to hand combat on the border bridge. After all … he did say he would be back!

*** NOTE to Directors: when you cast Forest Whitaker, don’t film him running … it’s not a pretty sight

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Arnold the movie star and look forward to seeing him back on screen

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a serious movie about a small town sheriff – this one is closer to trashy B cinema than Oscar.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yMc9h3h9bs