Elvis and Cha Cha Real Smooth
A Double Feature Review!
Elvis is big, bombastic, flashy, and entertaining from start to finish. Baz Luhrmann’s (Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!) electrifying style is deeply embedded into this film’s DNA. Actor Austin Butler’s commanding performance as Elvis Presley will dazzle. Splashy and bright, this is a jukebox biopic to see on the big screen. Elvis marks Luhrmann’s long-awaited return to the director's chair since 2013's The Great Gatsby. Luhrmann’s picture about the King of Rock and Roll is nonstop energy for all of its 159-minute runtime. The film doesn't give you a break, sending the audience on a roller coaster of country music and rhythm and blues. The style that Luhrmann fuses with this picture might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is a style that I have come around to love and admire.
Our story follows Elvis from his childhood growing up in the poorest parts of Mississippi to his big break into the music business in the 1950s to his military service in the early 1960s and his comeback reign/death in the 1970s. Luhrmann does touch on the race relations/controversy surrounding Elvis during his music empire. We see how Elvis, in many ways, took the sounds and harmony of African-American music and infused it into his lyrics. Yet, we also see how Elvis did have many African-American friends and artists in the music industry that he frequently hung out with. People like B.B. King (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Little Richard (Alton Mason). Butler completely transforms into Presley — gifting us with a whirlwind of a performance from start to finish. Butler will razzle and dazzle throughout the film.
We see Butler illuminate Elvis at his highs and lows throughout his starstruck career. In addition, Tom Hanks also gives a solid performance as Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' slimeball manager. I was a little worried seeing Hanks' performance from the trailer, but he turned out to be pretty good and held up well throughout. Cannot look at Santa Claus the same without thinking about Hanks demanding Elvis (Butler) to sing "Here Comes Santy Claws." Since Elvis' worldwide release, the film has made grossed $212.7 million against its $85 million budget, becoming the second highest-grossing music biopic of all time behind 2018's Bohemian Rhapsody and the 10th highest-grossing Australian-produced film. In the end, Luhrmann's Elvis is a rockin' good time.
Elvis is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Strong Language | Smoking | Substance Abuse | Suggestive Material.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about Elvis? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kelvin Harrison Jr., David Wenham, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Luke Bracey.
Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cha Cha Real Smooth is a sweet film with a lot of heart. I looked over at Glynis during the movie and said, “we are officially at Dakota Johnson’s character’s stage in life… no more nightclubs for us.” But, Cooper Raiff’s (2020's Shithouse) film is a tender-hearted dramedy. Written, directed, and produced by Raiff, Cha Cha Real Smooth is a small film that will slap a big smile on your face. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a pure-hearted dramedy, and it proudly wears that title. Andrew (Raiff) is a 22-year-old who's fresh out of college and stuck on what to do next with his life. Andrew moves back home with his mom (Leslie Mann), younger brother David (Evan Assante), and stepdad (Brad Garrett). He ends up landing a job as a DJ/motivational dancer for local bar and bat mitzvahs. While at a bat mitzvah, Andrew meets and befriends a local mom, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Cha Cha Real Smooth is a film that unveils unconventional love backed by emotional honesty. Raiff is an exciting young filmmaker to watch blossom on the screen; while showcasing his ambition in genuine storytelling. Cha Cha Real Smooth uses warm sentiment, wit, and charm to draw in its audience. Not everything works, but it doesn't give up. For that, I applaud it. So, let Andrew's charm move you onto the dance floor and "cha cha real smooth."
Cha Cha Real Smooth is rated R (Restricted). Language | Some Sexual Content.
Trigger Warning: There's a scene that depicts a miscarriage in this film.
Now Streaming on Apple TV+
Directed by Cooper Raiff
Starring Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Raúl Castillo, Odeya Rush, Evan Assante, Vanessa Burghardt, Brad Garrett, and Leslie Mann.
Review: Nope and The Gray Man
A Double Feature Review!
Jordan Peele does it again: gifting us with an exhilarating, funny, and wholly original sci-fi thriller. Actors Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, and Steven Yeun are superb. Nope is great, and it is also an exciting summer blockbuster. Since 2017, Jordan Peele (Get Out and Us) has continued to show us why he is one of the best directors in Hollywood currently making films. Peele's blend of horror and comedy continues to succeed. Get Out was a well-oiled machine of horror/comedy fueled with thought-provoking themes and social commentary, while 2019's Us let loose with sheer terror and gory thrills. Now, in 2022, Peele returns with Nope: a science fiction horror feature that dabbles with influences of The Twilight Zone and Spielberg.
Yet, Peele knows how to subvert our expectations with his movies. And if you think that this is just another standard UFO (unidentified flying object) trip judging by the trailers, then think again. Without revealing the plot, I will say that all the actors (Kaluuya, Palmer, Perea, and Yeun) in this picture excel to new floating heights. Nope is wholly original and also an incredibly ambitious piece of sci-fi storytelling. Peele digs deep into the mechanisms of showbiz, turning tragedy into profit, trainer/animal relationships, and how humans will risk everything for spectacle. As usual: Peele riddles his third outing with more symbolism and parallel storytelling. However, Nope is also Peele's most straightforward popcorn feature to date. In the end, Nope is a film that will leave you in awe while also sending chills down your spine. It's thrilling, funny, and frightening throughout. So, hang on tight because this summer movie spectacle is ready for lift-off.
Nope is rated R (Restricted) Some Violence/Bloody Images | Language Throughout.
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, and Steven Yeun.
The Gray Man
The Gray Man is a dull and sloppy action thriller. The Russo Brothers continue to struggle with directing outside the superhero realm. The cast (Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, and Chris Evans) does their best with the material given to them, but it's $200 million wasted. The Gray Man marks Gosling’s first film back in four years, and he deserved a better movie. Sigh. The Gray Man might be colorful and action-packed, but it's also an incredibly forgettable film. The story was generic and riddled with clichés from start to finish, while the action sequences were messy, flashy, and poorly executed. The Gray Man was a frustrating watch because I know that the Russo Brothers can make a good movie that's balanced with well-crafted action sequences, i.e., Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.
Unfortunately, they have struggled to make a well-balanced picture outside the superhero bubble. After the mega success of 2019's Endgame, Anthony and Joe Russo followed it up with a total misfire (2021's Cherry). Now, we have another disappointing post-Endgame picture that's all style and zero substance. Our story follows a CIA black ops assassin, codename Six (Gosling), who is forced to go on the run after uncovering incriminating secrets about the agency he works for. A psychopathic former colleague (Evans) puts a bounty on Six's head, setting off a global manhunt of international assassins. That's as far as I will go with the plot. Sadly, The Gray Man never takes ambitious leaps outside the spy world. Instead, the film stays in a very formulaic lane, overshadowed by much stronger action pictures. Some might find this type of filmmaking enjoyable. Personally, I would rather have a spy adventure with a little more depth to it; but that's just me.
The Gray Man is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Strong Language | Strong Violence.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, and Billy Bob Thornton.
Two incredible features that both receive an A- review from me. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande and Pleasure are two of the best films to be released this year.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is an utter delight! While actors Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack's chemistry is irresistible. Leo Grande is a film that is intimate, personal, and sex-positive. Director Sophie Hyde focuses on the complexities (emotional and physical) that come with sex; while discussing the misconceptions about sex work. Simply a brilliant little film. You won't be disappointed. Leo Grande is now streaming on Hulu, and it is one of the most intimate films to be released in a long time. Director Sophie Hyde's (2019's Animals) picture is utterly refreshing, shedding new light on sex workers. Taking place mainly in the confined space of a hotel room, Leo Grande listens to two people conversing and finding a human connection through sex. Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a retired teacher, and recent window. Nancy embarks on a post-marital sexual awakening and hires a sex worker named Leo Grande (newcomer McCormack).
Leo is a charismatic and compassionate being; who wants to offer Nancy a fulfilling experience. Nancy also informs Leo that she has never experienced an orgasm in her life. Nancy is embarrassed, but Leo has no qualms about this and encourages Nancy to embrace these feelings. The emotional weight and thought-provoking themes sneak up on you throughout the film's 97 minute runtime. We see vulnerabilities come out of Nancy and also vulnerabilities come out of Leo and his past. Leo Grande is like a well-written play that blossoms on the screen. It's also sneakily radical in the best of ways. You will laugh and maybe even cry as Hyde's picture explores new territories for sexual awakening stories. Lastly, the ending scene in Leo Grande really stuck with me, as it breaks new barriers by showing an older woman (Thompson) fully nude and embracing her body and embracing her beauty as a person. Like a painting, Nancy poses in front of the mirror and is captivated by herself for the first time. Beautiful.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is rated R (Restricted) For Graphic Nudity | Some Language | Sexual Content
Streaming now on Hulu.
Directed by Sophie Hyde
Starring Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack.
Pleasure is a brutally honest and unflinching look into the porn industry. Ninja Thyberg's directorial debut questions the patriarchal gaze with a shocking, realistic, and disturbing narrative front and center. Actress Sofia Kappel's breakout role is one of the most important acting debuts of the year. Pleasure is a film that knocks you down from the first frame and won't let you back up until the credits hit the screen. Pleasure is a film based on Thyberg's 2013 short of the same name and is about a young woman (Kappel) from a small Swedish town who moves to Los Angeles to become the next big porn star. Linnéa (Kappel) is 20 years old and goes by the stage name of "Bella Cherry" after she arrives in LA. Kappel's performance as Bella is raw, riveting, and resilient.
Thyberg's picture peels back the misogynistic layers of the adult film industry, showcasing the hardships that adult film actresses go through every day. We see Bella go to multiple film sets; many of them are heavily male-dominated behind the scenes. Thyberg shows us two polar opposite scenes back-to-back. The first is a BDSM scene where the director of the porn shoot is a woman. In addition, many of the people behind the scenes of this BDSM shoot are also women. The female director makes Bella feel comfortable and safe with the material they are about to shoot. Bella never feels like she is in any danger. Afterwards, Bella feels confident and sex-positive. The second shoot is with only one male director, two male actors, and no one else. The porn shoot is a rough sex scene, and the atmosphere for Bella quickly becomes hostile.
Bella breaks down and tries to leave, but she is manipulated into staying. In blurred shots and fragmented images — we see Bella's point of view — while she is raped by the two male actors. This scene is distressing, but that is the point. Throughout the movie, Thyberg does not slap an agenda onto its storyline. Instead, she leaves that up to the viewers to decide for themselves. Bella's journey through the porn industry as she rises to the top is provocative, disturbing, and determined. Yet, once she gets to the top she begins to wonder if this type of fame is worth it. We see the desire for stardom, the positivity of female-led sets, and the unfortunate power dynamics of a still heavily male-dominated industry that needs to change. Pleasure is enlightening and fully human from the first frame until the last.
Pleasure is Not Rated (NR)
Rent Pleasure on VOD.
Directed by Ninja Thyberg
Starring Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond and Kendra Spade.
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