By Lynn Venhaus
Baz Luhrmann’s sensational and stylish spin on the man, the myth and the legend, “Elvis” restores the luster to the once fallen King of Rock ‘n Roll.

For those who may wonder why Elvis Aaron Presley is a cultural icon, this lovingly crafted film is the definitive exhibit A. There will be no doubt about how he became the rebel yell of a generation and shook up society’s norms in prim 1950s Eisenhower America. His raw, incandescent talent made such an impact as to forever change popular music.

Through Luhrmann’s trademark kinetic, frenetic method, he depicts a young Elvis (Chaydon Jay) as a church-going mama’s boy who grew up in poverty and how early black music influences shaped him into a soulful white singer.

That unique mix of rockabilly, country, Southern gospel, blues, and pop ballads that made Elvis stand out – and breakthrough racial barriers – is an aural delight, thanks to the massive teams of sound engineers and music technicians.

In a breathtaking and brilliant performance, Austin Butler scorches the screen as Elvis from teen heartthrob to red-hot superstar to Vegas comeback to drug-addled shell of his former self.

By bringing out Elvis’ humanity and how his identity was shaped, Butler puts an indelible stamp on one of the 20th century’s brightest supernovas. Dynamic in song, movement, and demeanor, the actor is mesmerizing in a classic “star is born” scenario.

Previously, he was Tex Watson, one of the Manson family, in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and as a youth, cast in Disney-Nickelodeon television shows. It’s one of those magnetic star turns where everyone will now know who he is.

Welcome to the evolution. Luhrmann chronicles Elvis’ meteoric rise in vibrant vignettes as the singer’s sinewy sensuality electrified audiences. Oh, the scandals, the puritanical shock, and the excitement rippling through white middle-class America.

There isn’t much room for character development in the sprawling supporting cast, but the performers make the most of their brief screen time. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is memorable as a young B.B. King, hanging out with his white friend on Beale Street, while Kodi Smit-McPhee is under-used as singer Jimmie Rodgers, who helped introduce Elvis to the uninitiated.

Of significance is Sam Phillips (Josh McConville) of Sun Records, his smart receptionist Marion Keisker (Kate Mulvany) and DJ Dewey Phillips (Patrick Shearer), for without this power trio, there’d be no velvet Elvis.

Other music influences mentioned are David Wenham as country singer Hank Snow, Alton Mason as Little Richard, Gary Clark Jr. as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Yola as Sister Rosetta Tharp.

The technical work dazzles, with cinematographer Mandy Walker giving each decade a particular retro look. Editors Matthew Villa and Jonathan Redmond, who previously worked together on Luhrmann’s 2013 “The Great Gatsby,” wove news clippings, music, videos, period details and classic recreations for the ultimate sizzle reel.

Luhrmann’s wife and frequent collaborator, Catherine Martin, did outstanding work as both the costume designer and production designer, spotlighting the signature looks, humble beginnings and lavish lifestyle..

Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker

Luhrmann shows how Elvis, nicknamed “The Memphis Flash,” created a danger zone all by his lonesome. And how the naïve working-class ‘hillbilly’ and his unsophisticated parents Gladys (Helen Thomson) and Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) were taken advantage of by cagey con artist Colonel Tom Parker, who recognized a meal ticket and corralled the innocent young kid so he could pull the strings.

Part fraud, part genius promoter, Parker’s greed, power moves and deceptive practices are brought into sharper focus here, and for this sleazier damning portrait, a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hanks adopts a distinctive voice and dramatically changes his physical appearance. It’s rare to see Hanks as a villain, and takes some getting used to, as does the unusual vocal cadence.

As mastermind of the illusion, Parker is both credited and cursed in the screenplay co-written by Luhrmann, his longtime collaborator Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo +Juliet” and “Strictly Ballroom”), Sam Bromell and Jeremy Doner, with story by Luhrmann and Doner.

Luhrmann’s hyper-visual flourishes eventually find its rhythm and yields to a more conventional narrative. Now in the Army in 1958 to cool down his controversial gyrations– those swiveling hips on national television! His ‘rubber legs’! – his fateful romance with Priscilla Beaulieu is sweetly told.

Butler and DeJonge

Australian actress Olivia DeJonge, recently seen in the HBO limited series “The Staircase,” is a stable influence as the love of Elvis’ life. She was 14, he was 24 when they met while he was stationed in Germany. After a seven-year courtship, they were married in 1967 and divorced in 1973. Butler and DeJonge make the coupling work as the calm eye in the hurricane.

The movie really takes flight when it tackles how the social upheaval of the 1960s affected art and became a catalyst for pop stars wanting to be relevant. Elvis was on the verge of has-been territory as his popularity waned after a string of movie flops. His entourage, aka The Memphis Mafia, had grown unwieldy. But his trusted asset, talent manager Jerry Schilling (Luke Bracey), is an integral part of the trailblazing.

You can describe Elvis in many ways, but bland isn’t part of the vocabulary. The entertainer knew he needed a makeover, and he shrewdly enlisted record producer Bones Howe (Gareth Davies) and director Steve Binder (Dacre Montgomery) to recharge his image so he mattered again.

This is best demonstrated by the fascinating behind-the-scenes sequence of the “Singer Presents Elvis” TV special set for airing on Dec. 3, 1968. Can you imagine The King wearing a Christmas sweater and singing carols? That’s what the sponsor and Parker thought they were recording, but the hip cool people in charge pulled off a minor miracle – a thrilling combination of Elvis unplugged and off-the-charts charisma that cemented his live solo stature. Now known as the “Comeback” special, it was the highest rated show for NBC that year, and often imitated thereafter.

His back-on-top transformation reignited a fire within, and Elvis returned to live performances, establishing residency in Vegas.

But Elvis’ downward spiral in the 1970s can’t be avoided, and neither can what eventually led to his untimely death at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977.

While Elvis’ remarkable life is more material that can be contained in one feature, this film delivers the key moments for a sympathetic, complex, yet tragic, portrait. With a singular vision, Luhrmann hits the sweet spot as he achieves a new appreciation for rock ‘n roll royalty. And that’s all right.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley

“Elvis” is a 2022 biographical drama directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge and Kelvin Harrison Jr. It runs for 2 hours, 39 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking. It is in theatres on June 24. Lynn’s Grade: A

By Lynn Venhaus
We still have a race for Best Picture and Director, as we try to gauge the momentum going into Sunday. Will it be “Parasite” or “1917,” or will fading frontrunner “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood regain its luster? After all, Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood.

The 92nd Academy Awards take place Feb. 9, with ABC broadcasting red carpet live coverage at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony underway at 7 p.m. CST. This year is the second in a row where there is no host, and it seemed to speed up the proceedings last year. We shall see.

The acting Oscars were apparently sown up weeks ago, as awards season began. If there is any movement, it may be in Supporting Actress, where newcomer Florence Pugh is coming on strong.

The shoo-ins this year? You can safely bet on “Parasite” as Best International Feature, Brad Pitt as Best Supporting Actor in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” his fourth performance nomination (and he’ll likely give the best speech of the night) and Roger Deakins as cinematographer for “1917.”

Will there be surprises and upsets? Or will it be as the pundits predict? Only time will tell. Let’s just hope it’s a fun watch and deserving wins to put the finishing touches on 2019 in film.

And afterwards, we’ll have memes, fashion debates and acceptance speeches to remember.

Here are my picks for the 24 awards:

Best Picture

1917

1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and Parasite

My original frontrunner, “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” has faded, and the big momentum is with either “1917” or “Parasite.” I think Oscar voters, with the older voting block, will go with the heart-wrenching World War I epic and be content for “Parasite” to win Best International Feature. While there is always the possibility of an upset, I think the massive endeavor “1917” is deserving.

Best Director

Sam Mendes, (Photo by Richard Goldschmidt)

Sam Mendes, “1917”; Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Quentin Tarantino “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and Bong Joon-Ho, “Parasite”

I am in the “Sam Mendes is a genius” camp but Bong Joon-Ho’s work in “Parasite” is worthy too. Both are innovative, visual artists. I’d like a tie, like Critics Choice Association. I’m going with Mendes, as he won Directors Guild of America, the big prognosticator.

Joker

Best Actor

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”; Leonardo DiCaprio “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”; Joaquin Phoenix “Joker”; Jonathan Pryce “The Two Popes.”

Hands down, Joaquin Phoenix. He gave us pathos as he showed Joker’s pain behind the façade and made his descent into madness frightening. Nobody is more fearless working in film today. Adam Driver would be a close second for his acting showcase in “Marriage Story.”

Judy

Best Actress

Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”; Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”: Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”; Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”; Renee Zellweger’s “Judy.”

Not a fan of Renee Zellweger’s “Judy” but she has won all earlier awards, and I see no reason why she wouldn’t. However, my pick would be the radiant Saoirse Ronan for “Little Women.” If there is an upset, Scarlett Johansson – finally nominated – would be a worthy winner for her tour de force in “Marriage Story.”

Best Supporting Actor

Ozark’s own Brad Pitt

 Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”; Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”; Al Pacino “The Irishman”; Joe Pesci “The Irishman”; Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

Perhaps the only sure thing Oscar night, Brad Pitt is a lock as stuntman Cliff Booth. He’s not just deserving but overdue. Besides, he’s certain to give the best speech of the night, given his track record this awards season.

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates “Richard Jewell”; Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”; Scarlett Johansson, “JoJo Rabbit”; Florence Pugh, “Little Women”; Margot Robbie “Bombshell.”

While I think the acting Oscars have already been nailed down, this might be the upset category. Laura Dern as the shark lawyer in “Marriage Story,” obsessed with winning at all costs, is my pick, and she was also terrific in “Little Women,” but Margot Robbie’s ambitious Fox News staffer could edge her out or first-time nominee Scarlett Johansson could finally get Oscar love as the mom in “JoJo Rabbit.”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”;  Andrew McLaren, “The Two Popes”; Todd Phillips, “Joker”; Taika Waititi, “JoJo Rabbit”; Steve Zaillian “The Irishman.”

My favorite is Taika Waititi for the sharp social satire “JoJo Rabbit,” but the revered Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of “The Irishman” could be the film’s only win for its masterful storytelling.

Parasite

Best Original Screenplay

Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, “1917”; Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”; Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”; Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”; Bong Joon-Ho and Han Jin Wan, “Parasite.”

Best Cinematography

1917, The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

What Roger Deakins did with “1917” is remarkable and propels him to his second win in three years. He had been snubbed for decades for his tremendous work in Coen Brothers’ films, then started working with director Denis Villeneuve a few years back – and finally won in 2018 for “Blade Runner 2049.” What he achieved with making “1917” appear to have been shot in two takes is incredible.

Best Editing

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite.

How can “1917” be omitted here? I think a bone should be thrown to crowd-pleasing “Ford v. Ferrari.” This film was a challenging shot, and the editors captured both the thrill and danger of endurance racing.

Best Production Design

1917, The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Parasite.

For its meticulous research and replica of 1969 Hollywood, it must be “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” However, the house in “Parasite” and all the trenches and realistic war landscape in “1917” make the case for those films.

Best Music Score

1917, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.


Previously, I thought it was a battle between the Newman generations – Randy for “Marriage Story” and Thomas for ‘1917.” But now I’m in support of Hildur Gudnadottir winning for “Joker.’ From Iceland, Gudnadottir won the Emmy and Grammy for HBO’s “Chernobyl” and the Golden Globe and BAFTA for “Joker.” She’d be the first solo woman to win this Oscar, and I can get behind that.

Best Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away Again,” Toy Story 4; “I’m Going to Stand with You,” Breakthrough; “Into the Unknown,” Frozen II; “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” Rocketman; “Stand Up,” Harriet.

After much debate — and enjoying the Panic! At the Disco version of “Into the Unknown” a lot, I’m now resigned to Elton John winning for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” his fourth nominated song but his first with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin.

Best Costume Design

Little Women

The Irishman, JoJo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“Little Women,” of course.

Bombshell

Best Hair and Makeup

1917, Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
 
“Bombshell” for making the actresses look uncannily like the Fox women they portray, and for turning John Lithgow into a convincing Roger Ailes.

Best Sound Mixing

 1917, Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.

“1917” is the likely winner but “Ford v Ferrari” would be a justifiable winner.

Best Sound Editing

1917, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.

Ditto as to what I said about sound mixing.

Best Visual Effects

The Avengers Endgame

1917, The Avengers; Endgame,” “The Irishman,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.”

“The Avengers: Endgame” was so smooth and seamless, and the CGI not overdone, that I can’t imagine another movie winning. But there is that ninth little movie in a galaxy far, far away.

Toy Story 4

Best Animated Feature

The Hidden Link, How to Drain Your Dragon, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Toy Story 4.

The fitting and grand finale to one of my all-time favorite franchises, Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” should win, especially since “Frozen II” was snubbed. But Laika’s “The Missing Link” is adorable and the final chapter of “Dragon” is its most captivating.

Best International Feature

Corpus Christi, Honeyland, Les Miserables, Pain and Glory, Parasite.

The safest bet is South Korean’s “Parasite.” What a genre-bending masterpiece – its mix of comedy, drama, thriller and horror is one that will linger in your head for days.


Best Documentary Feature

American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland,

Without the magnificent “Apollo 11” even nominated, I’ll give “American Factory” the edge, although “Honeyland,” about ancient beekeeping traditions in has a lot of love (which I don’t share).  Netflix’s “American Factory” is about a re-opened plant in Ohio now owned by Chinese businessmen, and the culture clash that develops. It is produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s company Higher Ground.

Best Documentary Short

In the Absence, , Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone if You’re a Girl, Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman, Walk Run Cha Cha.

As much as we’d love to see “St. Louis Superman” get national attention, it does have a questionable ending – and really, “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone If You’re a Girl” appears to be headed for the win.

Best Live-Action Short

Brotherhood, Nefta Football Club, The Neighbors’ Window, Saria, A Sister.

This is one of those Oscar pool contest busters –usually the wild card. Although I’ve read “Saria” is gaining traction, I’m going with “The Neighbor’s Window” because, while its less of a gut-punch than the others, it seems the most unconventional. Overall, it’s a really depressing bunch.

Best Animated Short

Dcera, Hair Love, Kitbull, Memorable, Sister.

Often whatever Pixar short is before Disney’s blockbuster is the safe choice, but the studio didn’t put anything before “Toy Story IV” or “Frozen II.” Pixar’s “Kitbull” is hand-drawn and about the friendship of a kitten and an abused pitbull. Adorable, right? But “Hair Love,” about a dad’s effort to braid his daughter’s hair, which was shown before “Angry Birds 2,” is my choice for the gold.