Priscilla

DIGITAL REVIEW:

A24;
Drama;
$19.99 PVOD; $24.99 Premium Sellthrough;
Rated ‘R’ for drug use and some language.
Stars Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Tim Post, Ari Cohen, Dagmara Dominczyk, Lynne Griffin, Luke Humphrey, Olivia Barrett.

We’re at a point in film history where shoddy Elvis biopics outnumber the negligible star vehicles in which meal ticket Presley reluctantly appeared at the behest of money-spinner Col. Tom Parker. Parker is nowhere to be seen in Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla — no one is going to top Tom Hanks’ peerless performance in Baz Luhrmann’s delusional handling so why bother trying? What are the chances of this one being even remotely factual? Surprisingly good! 

We are greeted with a trio of colorfast, distinctively vivid first impressions: the sensualness of walking barefoot across shag carpeting, tapering the corner of one’s eye with a spike of winged mascara, and what the hell is a Ramones cover doing in a Priscilla Presley biopic set at a time when Joey was barely in his teens? Attribute the anachronistic soundtrack to Elvis Presley Enterprise’s refusal to allow director Sofia Coppola the rights to any of the King’s songs. No stranger to using music before its time — Marie Antionette was a big fan of Bow Wow Wow and Siouxsie and the Banshees — Coppola layered her score with cover versions and music by her husband’s band, Phoenix. Lead instrumentals to replace the lyrics viewers have already committed to heart would have worked just as well and without jumbling the time frame.

Add Priscilla Beaulieu’s name to the list of Coppola’s poor little rich girls, advantaged young women with neither the need nor desire to be tethered to the real world. She’s a direct descendant of Marie, the unattended Charlotte in Lost in Translation, the movie star’s daughter in Somewhere, and the entire cast of The Bling Ring. Priscilla had fame thrust upon her the night Terry (Luke Humphrey), one of Elvis’ army buddies (satellite pimps?) spotted the 14-year-old army brat doing her homework in a U.S. military base in West Germany. It’s always been a firm belief that so long as one heir to the Presley throne remains alive, the truth can never be told lest litigation go into extra innings. Much to my surprise and delight, Coppola comes close, so close that there are moments in Priscilla guaranteed to set the Creep-O-Meter into overdrive. Coppola possesses the requisite wisdom and maturity needed to keep the needle peaking in the red and she does so by never once judging her subject.

A mob scene waiting to happen, rather than mingle amongst the people, the King brought the party to him. (Besides, Col. Tom wouldn’t let him leave the compound.) Elvis ain’t nuthin’ but a groomer. The brow begins its long inwardly pucker on the couples’ second “date” when an innocent discussion between the most recognizable entertainer on the planet and a withdrawn ninth-grader transpires in the master bedroom. She buys the pity pitch about his dead momma just enough to consent to a make-out session. Before long he provides pep pills for her to stay awake in class and downers to pass out in Graceland. (In the spirit of Bill Cosby, the placidyl he slipped her was so strong it knocked her out for two days.) He beats her in a pillow fight. Literally. Kings don’t lose. When Elvis realizes that she’s winning, his pillow becomes a weapon to whack her hard across the head. As for inappropriate behavior, according to Ms. Presley, upon whose memoir the film is based, she remained chaste until their wedding night. This way, the subject of statutory rape need not apply. Perhaps most punishing to her psyche was a screening of John Huston’s incoherent in-joke, Beat the Devil. My guess is the reason for the selection had less to do with the picture’s quality and more to do with its royalty free positioning in the public domain.

Don’t these characters have enough money to pay a light bill? Graceland is darker than a David Fincher library at dusk. Seated at their kitchen table, the Beaulieus can barely see their forks in front of their faces. What audiences don’t see is Elvis convincing her parents to allow her to come to Graceland. The one scene always kept from view is an exchange between Capt. Beaulieu and wife Anne concerning their daughter’s future and just what was in it for them.

With his overplayed stutter (“I-I-I love your daughter a-a-and she loves me”), Jacob Elordi’s Elvis at times borders on a Vegas impersonator, while Cailee Spaeny excels at filling in Priscilla’s blank spaces. Alas, the film doesn’t conclude so much as it quickly draws to an end. She longs to be desired by a violent, ill-tempered womanizer, and when it comes time for Priscilla’s breakdown, all the director and she can muster is a little puff instead of a volcano before driving off into an underlit sunset.

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Bad Times at the El Royale

While Drew Goddard’s latest directorial effort isn’t as memorable as his horror deconstruction The Cabin in the Woods, the neo-noir thriller Bad Times at the El Royale still offers a solid showcase for its talented cast, a soundtrack fueled by a dynamite selection of period-appropriate songs, and a quirky setting that serves the story well.

 

 

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 1/1/19;
Fox;
Thriller;
Box Office $17.84 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity.
Stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Shea Whigham.

Writer-director Drew Goddard scratches an itch to play in the noir sandbox with Bad Times at the El Royale, a breezy mystery that coasts on some nice directorial touches and the strength of its cast.

Not as engrossing or genre-bending as Goddard’s previous directorial effort, The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale is more of a Tarantino-esque thriller that brings a group of strangers into a remote location and then reveals they aren’t quite who they claim to be.

Bad Times at the El Royale

The caper takes place at the El Royale hotel of the title, a former hotspot straddling the California-Nevada border that lost its popularity after losing its gambling license. The setting is apparently based on the real-life Cal-Neva Lodge, a Lake Tahoe hotspot that has seen its own troubled history. It also brings to mind the hotel managed by Tony Curtis in 40 Pounds of Trouble that was situated close enough to the stateline so he could see the Cali detectives waiting to nab him for missing alimony payments.

In the first scene we bear witness to Nick Offerman tearing up the floorboards in one of the rooms to stash a bag of what is presumably money, then restoring everything to its original condition before he gets shot by a shadowy associate.

Several years later, in 1969, a disparate group of travelers arrive, including a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), a priest (Jeff Bridges), a runaway (Dakota Johnson) and a lounge singer (Cynthia Erivo).

Thanks to flashbacks, a non-linear story structure, and a hidden corridor that looks into all the rooms unbeknownst to the guests via a two-way mirror, we soon learn their true identities, and what brought them to the El Royale (including who is after that floorboard cash).

Things heat up a bit with the arrival of a cult leader (Chris Hemsworth) looking for some missing “property” of his own.

In a good 29-minute behind-the-scenes featurette included as the only extra on the Blu-ray, Goddard discusses several reasons why he wanted to make this film. One was to assemble a talented cast and give him an excuse to pitch something to Jeff Bridges.

Another was the chance to explore the music of the genre and experiment with ways to tie the songs into the story. Goddard even refers to the film as a love letter to music and an appreciation for the ways it changed his life.

The featurette also provides some great insights into the production design and look of the film, such as how the filmmakers built the entire hotel on a soundstage in order to accomplish the shots they needed to get. There’s also some fascinating tidbits about the film’s use of (and in some cases, omission of) color — a subtle touch that helps establish the mood for a story that at times can get extremely dark.

We also get to see some of Bridges’ on-set photography, a tradition of his dating back to the production of 1984’s Starman.

Bad Times at the El Royale

Pacific Rim Uprising

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 6/19/18;
Universal;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $59.19 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, $37.98 3D BD, $37.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Stars John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Max Zhang, Charlie Day.

The original Pacific Rim in 2013 was never going to be hailed as an artistic masterpiece. But under the guidance of director Guillermo del Toro, it proved to be a fun, entertaining sci-fi adventure with just the sort of goofy premise that could be exploited for franchise potential in a market dominated by “Transformers,” “Power Rangers” and “Voltron.”

The film’s story was a simple-enough starting point, positing a future in which the world was besieged by giant monsters called kaiju that emerged from undersea interdimensional rifts. To stop them from rampaging through major cities, mankind built giant robots called jaegers to fight them.

Pacific Rim Uprising picks up 10 years later, with the breaches closed but the militaries of the world strategizing about the best defense should the kaiju return.

Veteran TV producer Steven S DeKnight takes over directing duties from del Toro (who produced) and delivers about as much as could be expected for a sequel. The film offers a mix of new and returning characters to provide an enjoyable yet unsophisticated follow-up that delivers on the promise of more monsters and machines beating each other up while everything around them gets trashed.

It’s to the screenplay’s credit that it finds a few interesting plot twists to put a different spin on the basic premise while still delivering the kind of action the set-up would warrant. The story expands upon some of the key plot points of the original to set up future sequels (though, given the film’s underwhelming box office, future story continuations may end up being through alternate mediums such as animation or graphic novels).

The Blu-ray includes a slew of behind-the-scenes material, highlighted by a feature-length DeKnight commentary that really delves into his goals for the film, the challenges he faced, and other insights, such how how much inspiration he drew from the works of Steven Spielberg.

In addition, the Blu-ray includes 10 featurettes that runa bout 40 minutes in total and delve into various aspects of the film, with an emphasis on casting, visual effects and stuntwork. One of them “Hall of Heroes,” amusingly presents star John Boyega spending more than three minutes showing off all the new jaegers introduced in the film, describing all their amenities and weaponry in minute detail as if he were some sort of jaeger salesman.

There are also seven minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary that provide a few good character moments but otherwise aren’t glaring omissions from the film.

‘Pacific Rim Uprising’ Arrives in Homes in June

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in June will send to homes the action sequel Pacific Rim Uprising, which earned just under $58 million in U.S. theaters.

The film will become available on digital and through the Movies Anywhere app on June 5, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and On Demand on June 19. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc combo pack includes copies of the film on both 4K Ultra HD and regular Blu-ray, as well as a digital copy.

Pacific Rim Uprising is set 10 years after the events of the first film, which earned a domestic gross of nearly $102 million. In the sequel, the Kaiju return with a new deadly threat that reignites the conflict between these otherworldly monsters of mass destruction and the Jaegers, the human-piloted super-machines that were built to vanquish them.

Pacific Rim Uprising features a next-generation battleground complete with upgraded Jaegers and new Kaiju.

The film stars John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as the rebellious Jake Pentecost, a once-promising Jaeger pilot whose legendary father gave his life to secure humanity’s victory against the Kaiju. The cast also includes Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi and Burn Gorman.

The disc releases include more than 40 minutes of bonus content, including the following:

  • Deleted scenes with commentary by director Steven S. DeKnight
  • Feature commentary with DeKnight
  • “Hall of Heroes” – Boyega takes viewers on a tour of the weaponry and enhancements of the latest generation of Jaegers featured in the film.
  • “Bridge to Uprising” – The cast and crew discuss how the world of Pacific Rim has changed in the 10 years since the events of the original film.
  • “The Underworld of Uprising” – Humanity won the Kaiju War, but every war has casualties. Boyega and DeKnight give viewers a tour of the coastal “Relief Zones.”
  • “Becoming Cadets” – Viewers learn the grueling physical and mental preparation required of the young actors who portrayed the Pan Pacific Defense Corp cadets.
  • “Unexpected Villain” – Viewers discover the secret reason that turned one of the most beloved heroes of the original film into a villain obsessed with humanity’s destruction.
  • “Next Level Jaegers” – The cast and crew discuss the technological advances of the Jaeger program in the years since the events of the original film.
  • “I Am Scrapper” – Actress Cailee Spaeny shares the backstory of Scrapper, Amara’s incredible self-built Jaeger and its many unique abilities.
  • “Going Mega” – Filmmakers take viewers through the technical and creative challenges of creating the most deadly threat the Pan Pacific Defense Corp has ever faced: the Mega Kaiju!
  • “Secrets of Shao” – Actress Tian Jing shares her insights on the enigmatic tech tycoon Liwen Shao, the woman behind Shao Industries.
  • “Mako Returns” – Actress Rinko Kikuchi and director DeKnight explain the significance of Mako Mori’s return and her importance to the events of Pacific Rim Uprising.