Elvis: Blu-ray Collection Review
JAILHOUSE ROCK In one of his best-loved films, Elvis shows his stuff as a convict who uses his prison time to practice music and parlay his talent into big-time success. VIVA LAS VEGAS Elvis teams with Ann-Margret in the fun capital of America. He’s a Grand Prix driver, she’s a swimming instructor and radiators are on overboil from their first meeting. George Sidney directs. ELVIS ON TOUR The Golden Globe-winning chronicle of Presley’s whirlwind 15-cities/15-nights 1972 tour. Through 25+ numbers embrace the rocker Elvis, the gospel Elvis, the ballad Elvis, even the kung-fu Elvis. Between performances, montage sequences (supervised by Martin Scorsese) showcase Presley’s early career and movies.
Audio: DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Disc Spec: 3 BD50
Jailhouse Rock: The premise of the film is not a bad one, paralleling in some senses the real life Elvis’ story of a backwoods kid who has two strikes against him trying for the brass ring- and winning. Elvis (Vince), as an ex-con is up against it in trying to crash into the record business. After falling flat on his face trying to get the established record companies to give him a shot he goes on to set up his own record company (not as hard to do in those days as one would think and certainly much easier than trying to do that today, Internet or not). After some frustrations and a few fights, verbal and otherwise, he catches the elusive break. Talent, will out. Oh, did I mention that he has a partner (two, really, but I want to discuss only one)? A young, vibrant and upscale woman who sees potential in a bad boy from across the tracks. She has faith in him. A classic 1950’s teen movie cinematic trope. T he class struggle here, oops, the love struggle, forms the backdrop to the action of the film. Naturally after the now cocky Vince gets his comeuppance the couple live happily ever after making platters and making the hearts of teenage girls in the 1950’s spin.
Now one and all will agree that the movie script deserves no Academy Award nomination. Moreover, these kinds of movies were made to cash in on Elvis’ sex appeal and to promote his songs. However, except for the classic “Jailhouse Rock” scene where we get high swiveling Elvis at his best the rest of the songs are sleepers. His acting, as the alienated youth trying to find his own way in a hard world that he didn’t make, rings false. The alienated youth image was done better, a million times better, by James Dean who made an art form out of that alienation. On Elvis it seems contrived. In any case, I will give Elvis his big moment in that “Jailhouse Rock” scene. But if you have one scene to think about musically from the 1950’s doesn’t Jerry Lee Lewis playing like a crazy man on “High School Confidential” on the back of a flat top truck on the way to the local high school really represent a better iconic image of what early rock & and roll was about in the late 1950’s.
Viva Las Vegas: When one thinks of fast cars, fun women, and flashy lights – one would probably scream out Las Vegas (and I promise this will be the last joke “I call it Lost Wages”), but not our current Las Vegas, but the Las Vegas of fast cars, fun women, and flashy lights. “Viva Las Vegas”, the Elvis cinematic vehicle that serves more as a time capsule of a Las Vegas that has been nearly forgotten, was a dance riddled, climactically lacking, song powered journey that may have your toes tapping in overdrive, but the overall story allows your brain to remain in neutral. “Viva Las Vegas” was my first step into the world of Elvis cinema, and I cannot complain about his ability to sing or his chemistry with Ann-Margaret, but the film as a whole seemed like a hodgepodge of song, dance, and story (heavier on the song and dance, lacking with the missing-engine-needed-to-race storyline). Running at nearly an hour and a half, “Viva Las Vegas” did impress me with the bold colors, the wild songs, and, well, of course Elvis, but its inconsistency surrounding the central storyline was difficult to watch. Elvis did carry this film; Ann-Margaret did provide some eye-candy, but a first time viewer cannot help but laugh at the three minute race that provides both joy and shocking death right before the final credits roll across the screen.
Oh, the King of Rock and/or Roll can sing. There is no question about that. As a newbie to the world of Elvis, “Viva Las Vegas” was the perfect vehicle to introduce me to his whippy lyrics, his limber dance moves, and his abilities to impress the ladies. Elvis carried this film with ease. He was great to watch, never quite knowing when we were going to actually get to the plot, the songs he sang provided instant intermissions between points A to B to C. Coupled with his chemistry with Ann-Margaret, which was so great that even the tabloids were claiming the two were together and getting married, our characters overloaded the senses with charisma, the old-fashioned word pizzazz, and excitement – but was more needed? Elvis and Ann-Margaret were to two biggest assets to this film, but they were also the biggest liabilities. Due to the big song and dance numbers, less money/time was spent on the actual story of “Viva Las Vegas”, thus we know very little about Elvis’ character, Ann-Margaret’s story, or the non-suspenseful, yet extremely violent, Vegas race that is supposed to be in our minds, but alas, is never on the screen (except for the final ten minutes). What crumbled this film a bit was the lack of balance, between characters and plot – like saying too much singing not enough dancing – where in the long run it is the viewers who suffer. I wanted the song and dance that I had, but I wanted more development into the race that was eventually brought Elvis and Ann-Margaret together.
Elvis on Tour: Director Robert Abel and producer Pierre Adidge present a marvelous look at Elvis in this documentary, using concert, rehearsal and backstage footage, as well as clips from the early days of his career, and a montage of him kissing his co-stars while “Love Me Tender” is performed. Excellent use of split-screen techniques are used, and the cinematography is always interesting.
Elvis looks in great shape from the neck down, quite trim and with the athletic flexibility to do deep leg lunges, and delivering each song with enormous emotional and physical energy. His face shows much dissipation however, and tells another story; the feeling one gets from this film is of a desperately sad man, a hurting soul, putting a brave mask on for the world. There is also not even a flicker of ego…we see only a hard-working guy, with not a shred of arrogance. He wears his flashy clothes with grace, style and humility, and sings his heart out, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.
His voice is occasionally wobbly (and the sound quality also has its variables), but for the most part he shines, particularly in the songs with a spiritual theme. “Bosom of Abraham,” “I John,” and especially “American Trilogy” and “You Gave Me a Mountain” are very moving, and terrific listening.
His band is wonderful, and his back-up singers, The Sweet Inspirations and J.D.Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, an added delight.
“Johnny B. Goode” (film titles)
“See See Rider”
“Polk Salad Annie”
“Separate Ways” (recording studio)
“Never Been to Spain”
“Don’t be Cruel” (over early stills and clips)
“Ready Teddy” (Ed Sullivan Show)
“That’s All Right”
“Lead Me, Guide Me” (rehearsal)
“Bosom of Abraham” (rehearsal)
“Love Me Tender”
“Until it’s Time for You to Go”
“I John” (rehearsal)
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
“Funny How Time Slips Away”
“An American Trilogy”
“Mystery Train” (at an airport)
“I Got a Woman”
“A Big Hunk of Love”
“You Gave Me a Mountain”
“Sweet, Sweet Spirit” (exquisitely sung by J.D. Sumner and the Stamps)
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy”
“Can’t Help Falling in Love”
“Memories” (final credits)
Movie Content: 9/10
Audio Commentary by author Steve Pond
The Scene that Stole Jailhouse Rock
Viva Viva Las Vegas
Audio Commentary by author Steve Pond
Kingdom: Elvis in Vegas
Special Features: 5/10
“Cemetery Junction” shows us that Gervais and Merchant work quite well with each other, granted I’m not expecting them to be the next Powell or Pressburger but perhaps their next collaboration will be bring us something much more ambitious, compelling and entertaining.
Overall Rating: 7/10