A new cinema movement is emerging, catered by independent studios with politically correct films about everything from Uber drivers to social activists. Think about the outcry on social media regarding films that haven’t even been made yet, and you have a clear idea of the high jump bar of political correctness that people must clear just to work within the system.
Meanwhile, major studios embracing the new zeitgeist fire anybody who ever made a politically incorrect social media posting in the last generation.
Remember all the shit you posted on MySpace in September of 2006?
The King at once becomes one of the most respectful films as well as one of the most acerbic films about Elvis Presley. Director Eugene Jarecki uses the rise and fall of Presley’s career as a metaphor for the similar peaks and valleys of the American dream.
The producers of The King bought Presley’s 1963 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce at an auction and then spent a year driving the modified-for-cameras-and-lights vehicle through America’s heartland. The passenger seat, in the back on the right side, has a convenient extendable light fixture as well as a microphone to presumably talk to the driver. The backseat must be big because Jarecki turns it into a mini-recording studio and shoots widescreen footage of performers like Emi Sunshine rocking out while the car merrily drives down the road. Some musicians like John Hyatt get very emotional sitting where Elvis sat.
A who’s who of modern Americana entertainers like Radney Foster, Emmylou Harris and Mary Gautier provide their two cents worth. Members of Elvis’ inner circle, like Jerry Schilling and lead guitarist Scotty Moore, give insight to personal quirks. Performers like Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin point out contradictions in the myth and the person of Elvis.
Obviously shot in 2016, the segment with Baldwin has him rightfully sneering that “Trump will never win.” Jarecki immediately cuts to a clip of SNL Baldwin doing his imitations of the Trumpster. The King is full of such politically charged juxtapositions, some of them involving clips of Trump-related speeches.
For all the praise, there’s the other side of the coin as seen by musician Chuck D (Public Enemy) who all but calls Elvis a racist. “Why is Elvis the king,” asks Chuck D when you also had Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley making similar contributions to rock music? A more erudite though hardly less harsh condemnation comes from author Van Jones, who describes in eloquent detail how Elvis took from black musicians yet never properly gave back to the system.
Elvis’ use of stimulants goes back to his military service when he needed something to stay up all night on guard duty. The King, however, doesn’t go into absolute specifics on a number of Elvis-related threads. It’s like Jarecki is more interested in using Elvis’ fall from grace theme to cut together some really grand montages culled from newsreels and current politics as well as little-seen footage of the Elvis era.
And the film is much better for that. It’s thoughtful and revealing about not just our time but about the last seventy-years of American social upheaval.
The King unwinds exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse La Centerra starting this weekend.
- Eighth Grade unfolds through the eyes of a sometimes confident and sometimes insecure Kayla (Elsie Fisher). This engaging film from YouTuber Bo Burnham will test your knowledge of contemporary social media as a young femme navigates her way through junior high growing pains. It’s playing at the Edwards Grand Palace and AMC Dine-in 8.
- Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot utilizes a true story that involves alcoholism and being paralyzed and having to deal with your addiction while bound in a wheelchair. Joaquin Phoenix is more than up to the task of playing real life cartoonist John Callahan. Exceptional support from co-stars Johan Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black give the wandering direction by Gus Van Sant an acceptable sheen. It’s playing in area theaters including the River Oaks Theatre.
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout breathes fresh air into the bloated franchise. Tom Cruise does some of his own stunts to great fanfare, but the meat of this spy thriller owes a debut to writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (award winning writer of The Usual Suspects), who finds a way to deliver seamless successive action sequences in a manner that demands elevated attention. M:I – Fallout opens wide everywhere this weekend.