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SHANNON & SPACEY IN ELVIS & NIXON

Year: 2016
Oh how much hope so many folks probably had for the potential of a political comedy/true life satire of epic proportions, but somehow, somewhere along the way, in a movie about a has-been legendary rocker, wanting to battle drug-taking hippies, planning and then having a secret meeting with one of the most hated Presidents ever, especially unforgotten in Hollywood, both Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon wind up looking... pretty damn cool, somehow...

Perhaps it's for the opposite reason that Eric Stoltz was fired from BACK TO THE FUTURE and replaced by Michael J. Fox...

The FUTURE makers needed a comic actor who could hit the right comic "marks." A mark is something not every actor can do in a comedic sense, and Michael Shannon, while speaking to Nixon about how the youths are really underground Communists; how television and drugs have made them hate the American flag; how he could actually disguise himself, like he did in a decade worth of films, to actually infiltrate the backstage touring with The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead and bust them right on the spot; and how he can use Kung Fu on lethal drug dealers...

Kevin Spacey
Saying such crazy things and, especially moments where he delves into the loneliness of being a cardboard cutout that people use for their memories instead of the real person he truly is, opening up to the film's buried lead, Alex Pettyfer as Jerry Schilling, who Elvis feels is the only person who knows him...

Michael Shannon
Actually, it's during ANY scene of dialogue with Michael Shannon as Elvis that seems like NO JOKE at all, not even one of those subliminal nods or tongue in cheek jobs, poking fun at what does turn out quite funny in particular reactions by people around The King and his bizarre, persistent daydream. And Elvis Presley, despite yearning for an actual Federal Drug Enforcement Badge and going through a lot harder task in meeting with Nixon than what probably actually occurred, taking us through a groovy modern R&B style GET SHORTY scene-to-scene shuffling glide, seems about as real a person as he was before his fame... And that's the ticket...

The Real Picture of the Real Two
Despite looking less like Elvis Presley than Kurt Russell or (for those with good memories) David Keith combined, Shannon, usually a dominating villainous type, wields that nefarious, intimidating mug that the real Presley... who was still handsome (and even "pretty") even in his later "mutton chop sideburn" years... had earned by his fame alone: in other words, Shannon, who takes some time believing... especially as young girls and random people go crazy at his very presence... winds up nailing the role during private moments so that his public persona means very little... And perhaps what the people see in Shannon's mesmerizing six-foot-plus, square-jawed menace is represented of what Elvis brought to any location he wound up in: Wouldn't a Universal Monster get the same reaction as a Music Legend?

Michael as E
And Hell, even times when he's saying absolutely nothing, the wheels are spinning inside a vulnerable man who could have been turned into pure cartoon without a great actor cast. Meanwhile, as Kevin Spacey seems the perfect fit being such a fantastically evil rags-to-riches President on HOUSE OF CARDS, he's terrific here, sure, especially his slow yield to Presley's chess-like movements within the Oval Office, turning what once was Dick's... from soda pop to candy... into his own. But like everyone else, the man simply follows Michael Shannon's lead, and what a lead it is.

RATING: ***1/2
TRIVIA/CONNECTIONS: Kevin Spacey's HOUSE OF CARDS wife is played by THE PRINCESS BRIDE herself, Robin Wright, and this film was co-written and produced by Wesley himself, Cary Elwes • Elvis goes on rants about how much he hates all young hippie musicians, and perhaps that was true, especially since they took his spotlight while he was making those movies, but all of them, including John Lennon, worshiped (having grown up mesmerized and influenced and inspired by) The King to no end, no matter what he thought of them • As Kurt Russell, soon to be director John Carpenter's stock tough guy, played The King in John's mediocre made-for-TV movie ELVIS, the more obscure movie HEARTBREAK HOTEL had a completely miscast David Keith in the role • And in closing, speaking of Michael J. Fox, who played conservative Alex P. Keaton on FAMILY TIES, and also Carrol O'Conner as Archie Bunker on ALL IN THE FAMILY... if you watch the first season of both these shows, the characters begin as being dumb as nails, and simply punchlines... But eventually, they gained the lead, the ones to root for, and was it accident that these initial cut-out parodies turned into endearing characters? Now go back, re-read the first paragraph to this review, and the question remains: can great acting turn jokes into heroes?
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