Baz Luhrmann’s epic jukebox exploration of the life, career, rise and fall of Elvis Aaron Presley is a fascinating, fantastical biopic. On the one hand, Elvis is a glittery tribute to a musical legend many call the King of Rock n Roll. But on the other, it’s a melancholic portrait of the horrors of fame and the devil in disguise. Money.
Elvis is a fantasia, a fairytale with moments of spine-tingling beauty and deep, inescapable horror. In Luhrmann’s world Elvis is a puppet from the moment he agrees to let Colonel Tom Parker (a sinister and almost cartoon-like Tom Hanks) into his life. Parker’s strings extend from every limb of our dancing and singing boy – pulling, manipulating and controlling every move. Austin Butler brings this scared, delicate, beautiful and powerful boy and man to life with such love, grace and sincerity that one could almost be watching the hip-swinging King himself.
Of course, some fairytales have happy endings, but not this one. We all know how this story ends. But that doesn’t make the final few frames of Luhrmann’s movie any less heartbreaking as the puppet master squeezes every last drop of energy from his marionette before the strings finally break.
Adapted from the stage play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter and directed by Rupert Goold, Judy is a devastating, heartbreaking, yet tender and loving exploration of a woman in freefall, desperately trying to cling on to the rock face of stardom as her nails give way one by one.
Unlike many biopic performances, Zellweger’s performance never seeks to embellish or lovingly re-draw Garland for a modern audience. Instead, she captures a voice slowly breaking yet beautiful and a lifetime of buried pain and hurt that resurfaces in fits of anxiety, doubt and nervous energy.
The result is a tender, loving and honest exploration of a woman who lived for the stage and suffered for her art. Her choices, addictions and vulnerabilities formed by a yellow brick road through Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Hollywood powerhouse of dreams and nightmares.
TOP GUN (1986)
What is Top Gun? Is it a homoerotic bromance? A brazen advert for the US military? Or an opportunity to cash in on the sex appeal of a young Tom Cruise? These questions surround Tony Scott’s military action flick from 1986. With Top Gun, every viewer comes away from the sweat-drenched muscles, pearly white smiles, tight white t-shirts and aviators with a slightly different perspective. However, for me, Top Gun is an amalgamation of all of the themes raised above while also managing to be a damn fine action flick that provides moments of pure escapism. There is no doubt that Top Gun heralded a new, Reagan-inspired vision of the American military following the anti-war movies of the 1970s. But it wrapped this new, bold, star-spangled vision of combat in MTV-inspired pop. Here Top Gun is, in essence, a feature-length music video.
Designing a movie for the new MTV generation was inspired; after all, it didn’t really need a story, just a killer soundtrack, sex appeal and an emotional hook. Here Top Gun was the first of a new wave of music video movies. These movies would prioritise their soundtrack over their story and bathe us in perfect bodies, skimpy tops, fast action and full-blooded Americana. Watching Top Gun now is a fascinating experience; after all, the triumphalism of America now seems somewhat tired, and its music video montages cover the fact that Top Gun has no real story. Yet, it remains addictive viewing over 35 years later, and that, my friends, is down to its star. Love him or loathe him, Tom Cruise is a Hollywood legend, and Top Gun is a career-defining pop culture sensation that would see white t-shirts and aviators become the must-have fashion accessories of 86.
TOP GUN MAVERICK (2022)
Top Gun (1986) ducked, dived and raced through a series of genres and pop culture tropes to achieve box office success. It had no meaningful story, dramatic hook, or clear vision beyond its flag-waving, all-American charm.
But over thirty-five years after Top Gun lit up the box office, could a sequel achieve the same thing? The jury was out when the press lined up outside Cineworld Leicester Square for the much-anticipated screening. After just over two hours, the vote was in, and it was clear Top Gun Maverick had achieved something rare in legacy sequels; it had surpassed expectations by offering us a carbon copy of the original. In fact, what is interesting is that many of the young reviewers had likely never seen the 1986 movie on its release and therefore seemed oblivious to the clear familiarities.
Does that mean Top Gun Maverick is a poor movie? Hell no! It’s a near-perfect blockbuster, which is a rare gift nowadays. But does it offer anything new? Well, here the jury is out, but who cares? It’s the big-screen film we all needed following Covid and a divine homage to the now dying 80s summer blockbuster format Top Gun helped give birth to.
DAHMER – MONSTER: THE JEFFREY DAHMER STORY (2022)
If My Friend Dahmer unnerved and upset its audience by challenging our notions of what makes a young man become a vicious killer, then Dahmer aims to revolt and enrage in equal measure. The Netflix drama is as stomach-churning in its horror as it is scathing of the institutions that were supposed to protect and serve. Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s complex and layered drama rejects the notion that Dahmer killed freely just because his victims (Black, Hispanic, Bisexual and Gay) had no one who cared about them. Instead, it squarely places the blame at the doorstep of the authorities, whose actions were laced with racism, bias, homophobia and corruption.
Like, My Friend Dahmer, Monster is keen to put a human face to the horror while not apologising for the crime; charged with this near-impossible task is Evan Peters, who not only achieves this goal but, in turn, offers us a performance of such uncomfortable depth that it must have taken a heavy emotional toll. There have been and will continue to be accusations of exploitation, with many arguing that the show should have placed even more focus on the victims of Dahmer, maybe this is true, but it also sidelines the upbringing, psychology and childhood of the man who took so many lives. Equally, some have stated it should not be labelled as an LGBTQ drama. But by stripping this away, do we not choose to ignore Dahmer’s complex sexuality and the reality that gay men can commit horrible crimes? Monster is uncomfortable to view because it should be; it’s revolting, heartbreaking, infuriating and human.
MY FRIEND DAHMER (2017)
What factors combine to create a serial killer? Are these people born evil, or are their actions rooted in their upbringing and socialisation? These questions surround our obsession with serial killers; in fact, much of the fear they hold over us is based on our inability to understand or comprehend their motivations and actions. After all, as humans, we like to place behaviour in easily defined boxes. For example, when we view the act of murder through a lens of self-defence, war or revenge, we find it easier to identify a person’s motivation. But, a random homicide based on desire remains obscure and scary. At the same time, the murder of a child remains unfathomable due to the power dynamics at play, even if it’s another child who perpetrates the crime.
Based on the 2012 graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist John Backderf, who was friends with Dahmer in high school, My Friend Dahmer places the viewer into a range of uncomfortable encounters where sympathy and even humour mix with a deep sense of unease. For some, this may prove too upsetting. But, for those willing to look into the darkness of the adolescent psychology at play, My Friend Dahmer offers a unique cinematic experience that challenges our very notion of inherent evil.
RENT OR BUY
Written and directed by William Stone, The Fence builds upon his 2018 short film of the same name as it takes us back to 1980s Bristol for a coming-of-age tale of brotherly love, motorbikes, friendship and crime. At its core, this simple story of a boy and his stolen motorbike may appear too simplistic for the one hour and thirty-minute runtime it consumes, but Stone’s film is far more than an exploration of community justice on the streets of Bristol; it’s a love letter to friendship, brotherhood and community that shines through the performances of its young cast. It’s clear from the outset that The Fence was a labour of love for the director, producer and crew; the attention to detail is exquisite, alongside a screenplay that oozes charm. But even more impressive is that Stone only graduated from University in 2017.