Elvis & Nixon

Yep. Actually a true, and very funny, story.

Upon seeing the trailer you may have felt a ‘Woah, that’s weirdly brilliant!’ feeling. That feeling lasts the entirety of watching the film itself.  The meeting of two of America’s then most famous/infamous men did actually occur in 1970. In many ways the men were actually quite simillar, seemingly rooted by their conservative values and working class upbringing. Yes, Elvis was the hip-swinging, gyrating King of Rock’n’Roll and Nixon was, well, Richard Nixon. but they did have some shared interests. Or, at least, Elvis thought they did and desperately pursued a meeting with the then President of the United States. The film follows Elvis on his quest and the subsequent meeting, to much audience amusement.

1970, Graceland.  Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) is watching television on his three television screens. He isn’t happy at what he sees. He sees lots of drugs, lots of protest and lots of unnecessary deaths. He decides that he can do something about it, using his celebrity for good and decides to become an undercover agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He just needs to meet with President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) first to get it all organised. Luckily he’s got friends Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) to do that. Nixon’s underlings Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Chapin (Evan Peters) are more than keen, but it looks like their boss will need a lot of persuading. 

The film uses the seemingly unlikeliness of the situation/s to advantage. Quite often (arguably too often) the laughs arise from the ‘No way! I don’t believe it.’ school of comedy. Yet that isn’t such a bad thing when you look at just how good the source material and it’s adaptation to screen is. The gags are good, well written and paced and told with great delivery.

I am a huge fan of Michael Shannon (Midnight Special was an underrated gem, click here of review) and he soars in this comedic-yet-not-really-comedic role. At times I had to remind myself I wasn’t actually watching Elvis Presley, not necessarily due to his look but due to his personality, exuding the aura and charisma of one of music’s true greats.

What helps is the film’s moments where he interacts with us mere mortals. The expressions of those he comes across, the mystification and disbelief, do not get old or less funny. His foe-turned-friend Nixon, as played by Kevin Spacey, also creates a truly memorable and hilarious persona, behaving in a way that certainly seems Nixon-esque. Shannon does steal the show though with the best lines and the fact he can truly pull of huge medallions and a massive gold belt.

The film also utilizes its supporting cast to great effect. I loved both Peters and Hanks as the acting-older-than-their-age young suits, their scenes with Spacey were standout. I also rather enjoyed an unrecognisable Knoxville in his brief but memorable role as Elvis’s close friend. Pettyfer, as Elvis’s BFF, was the only disappointment. He should have been a character played with warmth and wit. Instead he was a bit of a charisma vacuum.

All in all, Elvis & Nixon is fun to watch based on a true story movie that is more than a little bit amusing. Worth a watch.


Miles Ahead

The man, a fair bit of myth and a whole lotta legend

It what may be my favourite bit of description from the year so far director/co-writer/lead Don Cheadle describes ‘Miles Ahead’ as being a ‘metaphorical’ biopic of Miles Davies. Fact and fiction are rather skillfully blended to pay tribute to an incredible musician, a leader of the genre that should be called ‘social music not jazz’. For better or for worse (depending on your view) this is not a typical music biopic – it’s free from the cliches that come with it – instead favouring a magnificent mooch-like approach in exploring the lives and loves of a true musical legend.

It’s 1979 and Miles Davies (Don Cheadle) has been a recluse for five years. A rumoured comeback – not that Davies himself would call it that – is being heard on the grapevine. Having lost this muse Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and his ‘lip’ thanks to self-medicating a variety of drugs, word gets around that Miles has actually recorded some new music – only he’s refusing to give it to his record label Columbia. That’s when Rolling Stone journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) literally comes a-knocking on his door. The attempted interview between the pair quickly descends into utter chaos – involving drug deals, shootouts, car chases, stolen records and a few trips into memory lane.

The greatest thing about this film is the fact that when watching it it is clear that you are watching a passion project. The adoration that Cheadle clearly feels towards Miles Davis pays off completely and shines through every mannerism or rasping of dialogue. Even when high as a kite or desperately searching for his next hit he is shown to be a true man of sharp-suited cool. And even when slightly darker sides of his personality come out – such as in the flashbacks of his relationship with Francis – he is still a character we can connect with even when we may not like him at that particular moment. His self-destruction is portrayed with such affection by Cheadle – it shines through his eyes in every scene.

The events of the film are mostly fictional, inspired by the past as opposed to retelling. It’s a unique touch, a very ambitious touch at that, and one which mostly pays off in how well it reflects its subject. This is also emphasised by the construction of the film, with neat little choices of direction allowing for the present to seamlessly blend into the past. It’s not typical ‘day in the life’ fayre, nor is it rise and fall narrative. Instead the film drifts, swaggers if you will, from one moment to the next.

Like Davis the film is smooth, if occasionally rather frustrating in terms of its storytelling. It is hugely enjoyable and incredibly well-acted. And, like the man himself, never boring.