Friday, June 24, 2022

'Elvis' fully rocks; 'Phantom' swings for fun; 'Black Phone' rings for scares

Summer brings in a second straight weekend of fine films, with this current trio headed by "Elvis," a dazzling swirl of music, motion and emotion from director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann (of similarly flashy "Moulin Rouge" fame).

This strange brew of a biopic begins with a fever-dream kind of telling from an old and confused Colonel Tom Parker, the equally famous and infamous manager of rock 'n' roll "King" Elvis Presley. Parker (here in the form of an almost unrecognizable if beguiling Tom Hanks) looked odd, spoke in squeaky tones and yet somehow charmed his way into a wealth of riches as, perhaps, a Svengali-like con artist to a talented young man heavily influenced by family, spellbinding gospel rhythms and the sweet smells of success.

Luhrmann energetically puts all of it up on the big screen and then some by quickly touching the tentpole events in a pop-culture life that everyone knows and even including a few more that only Presley's most intimate circle could possibly recognize.  

And, through almost every minute of this lengthy, ever-rocking epic, you'll rarely pull your eyes away from Austin Butler, the 30-year-old actor who seriously becomes a star by embodying one of the brightest of all time. I mean, at the very end, you might wonder if it is the real Elvis leaving the building. Come to think of it, maybe it is.  

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: substance abuse, strong language, smoking, and suggestive material; 2:39; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Leave it to the Brits -- again -- to find an offbeat story and turn it into such a charmingly engaging film as "The Phantom of the Open," another '70s biopic, only this one involving someone you probably never heard of before.

The real name of this "Phantom" is Maurice Flitcroft, a career crane worker-turned late-in-life golfer, who amazingly gets himsef into a (British) Open qualifier to often hilarious results. (The key joke becomes Flitcroft's total ignorance about golf until he steps onto a course, and it's truly priceless.) 

Even finer, Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, himself the grand master of offbeat roles, portrays our otherwise smart and likable hero from tee to green with love, faith and humanity, while surrounded by a fabulous group of supporting -- and mostly supportive -- characters.

Ever-strong Sally Hawkins ("The Shape of Water") leads the latter batch in delightful fashion as the lovely wife who, in one grand moment, has to be told "lower scores are better." Almost unbelievably, another level of levity comes with the presence of Flitcroft's twin sons, who were real-life disco-dance titleholders, as placed here in the hands (and feet) of actors Christian and Jonah Lees.

Credit director Craig Roberts ("Eternal Beauty") and screenwriter Simon Farnaby ("Paddington 2" and the upcoming "Pinocchio"), too, for making it all happen in such a championship way.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and smoking; 1:46; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Another real relic from the past, "The Black Phone," uses balloons, baseball and bullies to ring in an occasionally disturbing supernatural thriller with some good adolescent performances and the legitimately scary Ethan Hawke playing a very naughty (apparently his word, not mine) guy.

Actually, the phone gimmick gets a little old after a few chilling occasions, but siblings Finney (Mason Thames), all athletic and shy, and streetsmart kid sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), prayerful, profane and a little spooky in her own right, remain welcome throughout in leaning on each other simply to put up with their kinda weird and tipsy widower dad (the always just a bit off Jeremy Davies). 

The major plot point, of course, involves Hawke's personification of evil and, if you really need more details about that before watching this latest little Blumhouse grabber, please don't be afraid to read someone else's review.  

Rated "R" by MPAA: violence, bloody images, language, and some drug use; 1:42; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

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