July 11, 2022

Elvis: This movie will be a success almost solely based on the lead actor. Playing the iconic Elvis, with his legion of fans, is an undertaking that requires not only the good distinct looks for the King of Rock ‘n Roll, but the voice, mannerisms, the whole package. Add to that, the aging process through the decades when you have young energetic Elvis, versus the more overweight, out of shape Elvis. From this standpoint, I think that Austin Butler is a home run. For the younger Elvis, and I am not that old to remember younger Elvis from the 1950s, I think that the voice, look and mannerisms are all done very well. As he ages, he is more challenged but there weren’t many scenes with a more overweight Elvis for this 30yo, who looks 18yo, to do that justice. For me, he is a thumbs up, as the young man who has an overbearing Mom and meek father. They are protective of their boy, who very early on shows a unique talent. He is a white southern boy from Tennessee singing black gospel and rhythm and blues music.

As he prepares for a radio studio live performance he meets with Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks with a fat suit, and odd European-like accent. In comparison with the real Tom Parker, I don’t really hear it (see below). The Colonel is the other parallel aspect of this story, as the early manager of Elvis and promoter. The Colonel had plenty of influence on Elvis, his choices, and his engagements. Debate continues about whether the Colonel stopped Elvis from performing internationally (he never did perform outside the US despite his desire) and he also didn’t do TV interviews on places like Johnny Carson and others. Many of the choices made were right. From a financial standpoint one can certainly debate whether the fee structure and how the Colonel was paid can be reviewed in detail.

The story in some ways I think glosses over some of the aspects of this superstar’s epic life. The women, drugs, and well known over-eating are for the most part glossed over. I can’t help but think that much the film First Man, which was a story of Neil Armstrong but told with input from his Ex-wife, that certain facts are ignored or put to the side. Priscilla comes out looking innocent and always in love with Elvis, despite all the women, the pills and the extended time in Vegas. Despite her divorcing him. The movie is 2:40 which feels too long. Early on there is an extended sequence about whether Elvis should be allowed to gyrate on stage when he sang. The camera focuses on his crotch area, which obviously many of the women in the audience did as well. But are we adding much to the story of a well known artists where we know that he carries on and isn’t jailed? I think that those scenes could be shortened. At this stage, Colonel Tom is looking to put Elvis is a tuxedo and make him more clean cut for the audiences. Sending him off to the Army was to do the exact same thing. While much time is spent with the early days, his on screen film personna isn’t given as much time. We didn’t see any real details about why Elvis wasn’t given the chance to be another “James Dean” serious actor. Instead he did the musical beach blanket films instead. Finally the final chapter sees Elvis headlining in Vegas, for many years when his intention was for a quick stint before going global. Seems Colonel Tom had his own ideas, and his own motiviations for working a deal with Elvis continuing with his residence. Even in times where Elvis was breaking records for his payment, it seems pretty obvious that there was more money on the table that should have gone to him. Colonel Tom always seemed to find a way to line his own pockets, while taking 50% of the fees before his Vegas longer term deal. It’s sad to see someone be taken advantage of, to the detriment of his craft and his wishes. On the other hand, Colonel Tom with his eye for “making it snow” was on point with merchandising and finding anything/everything to put Elvis’ face on. Elvis genuinely loved to play, and perform, and he put his heart and soul into his music, at least the music he grew up with. You can see this love in the film.

I liked this movie and would recommend. Some of the directing is choppy, and the use of split screen is reminiscent of Tom Hanks 1996 vehicle That Thing You Do. Definitely worth seeing, and if you are an Elvis fan it will bring back memories, and for those not familiar since Elvis passed away in 1977 at age 42yo, that you will be introduced to a man who changed music forever.

Dear Rider: A 2021 HBO documentary about snowboarding. More properly it is a story about Jake Burton Carpenter, and his drive to make snowboarding a sport. Today we take for granted that we share the ski slopes with snowboarders and on any given hill, you may get an equal split of riders. But in the 1980s and 1990s, this East coast guy moved to Vermont to begin his dream of making snowboarding popular. He was a manufacturer. Like surf boards and skateboards, he researched what others had done and looked to create something new. The shape and materials evolved over time, initially wood, with a hole drilled in the front tip to accommodate a thin rope to keep the tip up. Then he made changes. All the while, trying to sell the boards he made, he wanted to allow the boarders to get onto the hills. In many hills they were forbidden. There was a culture surrounding boarding, where they were more free and partied harder. Jake Burton was their champion. In time rivals come around and make innovations. Burton has to deal with these competitors in terms of finding and keeping talent to use the boards, and become part of the marketing of the boards. In Bromley and Stratton mountains in Vermont, they began Snowboarding Championships annually. Jake becomes more established, he meets his wife and they get this company off the ground and succeeding. This is a story that isn’t just about a sport, and a company, it is a very human story about the man, his drive and the company. In many ways the company was the man, and reflected his values and his life. I really enjoyed this and would recommend.

Check it out. The Who’s Who of snowboarding is in this, including Canadian Olympic Medal winner Mark McMorris.

Incidentally it turns out that personally my Mom and step-father have good friends who live in Manchester Center Vermont, where we have visited and skied at Bromley and Stratton back in the 80s. Turns out that the husband Dick was the accountant for the early Burton company, and they remember expenses coming in a shoebox full of receipts in those early days before they moved to Burlington to be closer to the airport. Pretty cool!