Tuesday, 16 August 2022

‘Elvis’ still king of rock; ‘Doctor Blake Mysteries’ on TV



‘ELVIS’ RATED PG-13

Nothing expresses the cinematic style of writer, director and producer Baz Luhrmann more than his Academy Award-winning “Moulin Rouge!,” which brought back the movie musical and cemented his cultlike following.

It’s not far off the mark to note that Luhrmann’s signature blend of fantasy, romance and decadence fuses high and low culture, resulting in a trademark theatrical aesthetic that captivates audiences and ignites imaginations.

The visionary Luhrmann’s artistic touch has turned “Elvis” into an epic, big-screen spectacle with flashy visuals and bold colors that underscore Elvis Presley’s (Austin Butler) ascent to iconic status.

As much as Elvis establishes himself as the King of Rock ‘n Roll, this Luhrmann opus (the film runs 159 minutes) is equally, if not more so, the story of Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), the carnival barker who latched on to the musical sensation from Tupelo, Mississippi.

The rise of Elvis is seen through the machinations of Parker, who proved to be so focused on promotion and manipulation of his meal ticket that he quickly abandoned his touring shows with country and western singer Hank Snow (David Wenham).

The early Elvis was captivated by Black musicians on Memphis’ famous Beale Street juke joints as well as revival tent shows. The blues and gospel music proved to be heavy influences on Elvis’ musical style.

Enamored with Black artists like B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Big Momma Thornton (Shonka Dukureh), and Little Richard (Alton Mason), Elvis took their music mainstream and used his hip-swiveling stage gyrations that made girls scream in ecstasy.

Thinking about how Elvis ended up overweight and dependent on drugs makes more fascinating his meteoric rise in the early days to sex symbol status, and credit goes to Austin Butler’s strong performance as the Elvis that should be remembered.

Though Elvis lived only to the age of 42, his life was stuffed with biographical excess that can’t be unpacked here, and Luhrmann glosses over vast swathes of his career, notably skimming over the decade of lackluster Hollywood musicals.

Since the world is populated with thousands of low-rent Elvis impersonators with minimal talent, judge for yourself how well Austin Butler revives the Elvis mystique. The young actor nails the portrayal of a legend with blazing energy in every musical number.

In the end, it’s sad to think how Col. Parker was a duplicitous, avaricious and contemptuous con artist whose scheming manipulations caused Elvis to be a virtual hostage unable to escape his greedy clutches.

The last chapter of “Elvis” are the Vegas years where Elvis took up residence at the International Hotel, mainly because Parker needed to pay off his considerable gambling debts, while Elvis was falling deeper into a life of despair.

One can’t help but think that after Elvis lost his beloved mother Gladys (Helen Thomson) and his marriage to Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge) crashed and burned, life for the King of Rock 'n Roll was destined to spiral out of control.

The dysfunctional relationship between the King and his grasping promoter that is explored is sadly essential to “Elvis,” but what is most satisfying is the singer’s interaction with the talented Black artists and his rocking musical performances.

‘THE DOCTOR BLAKE MYSTERIES’ ON OVATION TV

Ovation TV bills itself as America’s premier arts network, and yet it also features foreign mystery series. The first season of “The Doctor Blake Mysteries” will begin airing on Thursday, July 7.

This is a period Australian murder mystery series starring Aussie versatile actor Craig McLachlan as the maverick town doctor Lucien Blake, an impulsive risk-taker who’s not afraid to upset the status quo.

The setting is 1959. Dr. Blake has returned to a place he once called home to take over his deceased father’s medical practice set in the gothic gold rush town of Ballart.

Everything seems peaceful on the surface, but seething underneath are the age-old passions of a regional town clashing head-on with the tension and fears of the decade to come.

Haunted by the horrors of war, his own personal loss and changed by his experiences as a POW, the wry, yet very human Dr. Blake undertakes his other role as Police Surgeon with precision and gusto while many find his unpredictable and unconventional manner unnerving.

Ahead of his time, the good doctor looks to the science of forensics and his own understanding of the human heart and mind to help solve the mysteries that inevitably come his way.

In the first episode, when a wayward girl from the local reform school is found dead in Lake Wendouree, Dr. Lucien Blake is immediately suspicious. He shocks the police with his unconventional investigative methods.

Working beside Dr. Blake, helping and at times hindering, are his housekeeper Jean (Nadine Garner); her nephew Danny (Rick Donald), a young Constable; District Nurse Mattie O’Brien (Cate Wolfe); and Chief Superintendent Matthew Lawson (Joel Tobeck).

The original, period murder mystery series “The Doctor Blake Mysteries” will air four episodes back-to-back every Thursday, with season two episodes beginning on Thursday, July 21.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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