Elvis & Nixon - Review

R | 1h 26min | Comedy, History
Review - Matt Mungle

*In select theaters April 22*

SynopsisThe untold true story behind the meeting between the King of Rock 'n Roll and President Nixon, resulting in this revealing, yet humorous moment immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives.

Review: If liberties were taken in retelling the story of the ELVIS & NIXON meeting of December 21st, 1970 that is fine. The end result is a humorous and often endearing film that showcases two power house actors. The nostalgia of the era plus the persona of these individuals only increase the watch factor. Not a perfect film but that's alright, mama. 

No two characters in history have been as mimicked and impersonated as Elvis and Nixon. Both have such signature traits that you think it would be easy to portray them effectively; as long as the main elements are there. Performance grade aside, having recognizable actors playing highly recognizable characters tended to be more of a detriment than a benefit when it came to these roles. 

Even in his older years Elvis (Michael Shannon) had this pretty face and school boy smile that made women melt. He had a soft and gentle nature to him that won over an entire population. Shannon has none of that. He is more on the rugged end of the handsome scale and has a tendency to be far more intimidating than charming. He is arguably one of the best dramatic actors on the planet but most women aren't swooning over him. So getting past those issues takes a while in this film. In fact you never truly feel like you are seeing Elvis but instead are watching someone pretend to talk and walk like the king. That is a hard disconnect to get past. 

Nixon (Kevin Spacey) on the other hand is more about posture and voice. Spacey is able to transform easily enough and warming to him takes less time. Unless of course you are a fan of the Netflix Series House of Cards which creates an altogether different issue. Spacey plays president Frank Underwood on that show and seeing him as another White House leader is just odd. It may sound trivial but Spacey has made Underwood such an imposing character that it is hard to separate. Again it doesn't take as long to get past it but it never truly goes away. 

The supporting cast superbly aide Shannon and Spacey in this one. On the White House side you have Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters) trying to convince a reluctant and belligerent Nixon that this meeting would be a boost for public relations. At the same time Elvis' best friend and colleague Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) is trying to once again keep Presley grounded in reality. Elvis is on a mission to become an undercover drug agent and wants Nixon to give him a special badge. It was an obsession of his in the 70's as documented in many family memoirs. The film is more than anything his pursuit to obtain it. 

Director Liza Johnson does a solid job of keeping the story moving and the characters engaging. The 70's in some ways were not that long ago but in others as far removed as the stone age. The lack of technology allowed for a more organic way of interaction with people and celebrities that is beautiful to watch. It is gratifying to watch people enjoy a moment for what it is and not through the lens of a mobile device. We often forget how the public idolized Elvis. Here we get a glimpse of how huge he was. 

Of course the bread and butter of the flick is the actual meeting between the two men. If that doesn't work on screen then what is the point?  It is that moment that all others have been leading up to. And it doesn't disappoint. That is the film's main event and when we truly get to see these strong performers perform together flawlessly. 

ELVIS & NIXON is rated R for some language. Other than a few well placed expletives there is nothing even close to objectionable in this film. The story and themes are adult centered as they should be. I give it 3.75 out of 5 registered firearms. It is certainly a lot of fun to watch and a lighthearted, nostalgic look at a historical moment.


The Huntsman: Winter's War - Review

PG-13 | 114 min | Action, Adventure, Drama
Review - Kimberly Mungle

*In theaters April 22*

Synopsis: As a war between rival queen sisters Ravenna and Freya escalates, Eric and fellow warrior Sara, members of the Huntsmen army raised to protect Freya, try to conceal their forbidden love as they combat Ravenna's wicked intentions.

Review: Fairy Tales are pretty predictable, no one is going to deny that.  The Huntsman: Winter's War is no different, but it does have some redeeming features. 

Queen Freya (Emily Blunt) secludes herself in the frozen North after her sister Ravenna (Charlize Theron) betrays her.  Convinced she will never feel happiness again, she sets out to form an army of Huntsman that will protect and grow her kingdom.  Her army is made up of kidnapped children from villages whom she raises to fight and feel no emotion…until two of her top huntsman (Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain) fall in love.  Their relationship sets off a series of events that will eventually pit Freya, Ravenna, and that pesky “mirror on the wall” in a battle that will surely end in someone’s death.  There isn’t much about the story that is surprising, but then again, most fairy tales are pretty contrived. 

What makes this film worth seeing is the way it looks.  The special effects are realistic and some of the best I’ve seen in this genre.  The gooeyness of the melting people in the mirror is fantastic.  Freya hitching a ride on a polar bear?  Also really nice.  The costumes are dreamy…extravagance at its best…  The whimsy of the forest and all its inhabitants was fun to watch.  And the actors?  Who doesn’t want to watch these four perform?  There are quite a few funny parts too, the dwarfs are anything but politically correct and I found myself laughing at their outbursts several times. 

This film is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality.  There are a few steamy (literally steamy…like in a hot tub…) love scenes between Eric and Sara (Chris & Jessica).  I’m not complaining but they definitely earned the PG-13.  There is also quite a bit of violence.  This is to be expected considering the nature of the story.  And oh, the goblins are REALLY scary…yikes. 

All in all, I’d give this flick 3 out of 5.  There really isn’t a new story here, no plot twists or surprising endings.  It was a decent follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman – you’ll get more of the back story and learn more about the huntsman’s background.  It is entertaining though, and looks great.  It was the perfect selection for a fun girls’ night out with my teenage daughter. 

Interview with Ira Sachs for LITTLE MEN

Ira Sachs, director of Little Men, in Dallas on April 21 for the USA Film Festival screening of Little Men.

Angelika Film Center Thu 4/21 7pm


SynopsisWhen 13-year-old Jake's (Theo Taplitz) grandfather dies, his family moves from Manhattan back into his father's old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends the charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose single mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia), a dressmaker from Chile, runs the shop downstairs. Soon, Jake's parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) -- one, a struggling actor, the other, a psychotherapist -- ask Leonor to sign a new, steeper lease on her store. For Leonor, the proposed new rent is untenable, and a feud ignites among the adults. At first, Jake and Tony don't seem to notice; the two boys, so different on the surface, begin to develop a formative kinship as they discover the pleasures of being young in Brooklyn. Jake aspires to be an artist, while Tony wants to be an actor, and they have dreams of going to the same prestigious arts high school together. But the children can't avoid the problems of their parents forever, and soon enough, the adult conflict intrudes upon the borders of their friendship.