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Stephen Schaefer’s Hollywood & Mine


Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ is a heartfelt epic salute to a phenomenal – in every sense – rock n roll icon.  The filmmaker’s affection, respect and appreciation of Elvis Presley dominates.  The film is structured by beginning with the Discovery and Overnight Fame of Elvis who stood out immediately in segregated 1950s America because he was a white kid who sounded Black.  ‘Elvis’ jumps from Presley’s Army service in Germany to 1968 when his career is, in the astute words of a young producer, ‘in the toilet.’ What follows is the Comeback when Presley took control of his career from the grasping tentacles of his crooked manager ‘Colonel’ Parker only to soon find himself, like so many artists, Robbed and Hoodwinked.  However, Luhrmann offers an inspiring final Redemption with the real Elvis on camera. This is the chance for Luhrmann to hammer home his take on the world’s biggest selling solo artist of all time:  Here was a man who lived only to entertain.

Presley’s movie career – and especially the movie he didn’t do, the Barbra Streisand remake of ‘A Star Is Born’ – rate as footnotes in ‘Elvis.’  But looking at Early Elvis in the Fifties, the movies that defined him in a sense and established him as a Movie Star, are critically important.   To go back and look at the reception Presley received with his film debut in the 1956 Civil War drama ‘Love Me Tender’ is to be reminded how vitriolic and shamelessly condescending critics were then.

Helping Elvis Presley, right, cut a straight furrow is his business manager and confidant, "Colonel" Tom Parker of Madison,Tenn. on January 7, 1957. Scene is from recent Presley movie, "Love Me Tender," which harvested some more of the green stuff the Parker-Presley team's been raking in. Parker, shrewd veteran of hundreds of carnival sideshows, peep shows, and one night stands, discovered Presley, and helped him parlay voice, sideburns, guitar, and hyperactive pelvis into fame and fortune. (AP Photo)
Helping Elvis Presley, right, cut a straight furrow is his business manager and confidant, “Colonel” Tom Parker of Madison,Tenn. on January 7, 1957. Scene is from recent Presley movie, “Love Me Tender,” which harvested some more of the green stuff the Parker-Presley team’s been raking in. (AP Photo)

Presley – and of course the ‘Colonel’ – signed a multi-picture deal with Hal B. Wallis, a legendary producer of hits who knew how to make good movies.  Wallis had been running production in the late 1930s and ‘40s at Warner Bros. for studio chief Jack Warner and had produced, among many movies, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood,’ ‘Little Caesar,’ ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘Dark Victory.’  But when the Best Picture Academy Award was announced in 1943 Warner jumped up and beat Wallis to the podium to grab the ‘Casablanca’ Oscar that was rightly Wallis’.  Infuriated, Wallis left the studio and settled in Paramount where his hits continued: Martin & Lewis comedies, ‘Sorry, Wrong Number,’ ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral,’ ‘The Rose Tattoo’ and ‘True Grit.’ 

Wallis first screen-tested but didn’t cast Presley for a supporting role in ‘The Rainmaker.’  He first lent Presley to 20th Century-Fox for his hit film debut, ‘Love Me Tender’ (’56).  Next was ‘Loving You’ at Paramount, in Technicolor, and another hit, followed by the 1957 ‘Jailhouse Rock’ at MGM.  Then came Presley’s favorite role and his best film: ‘King Creole’ (’58) directed by the ‘Casablanca’ director himself Michael Curtiz from Harold Robbins’ 1952 novel ‘A Stone for Danny Fisher.’  Wallis had optioned the book in 1955 for James Dean, an impossibility with the star’s tragic death that year.

Presley’s Danny Fisher is 19, a good kid scraping by and continually getting into trouble.  Curtiz reportedly told Presley, ‘Lose 15 pounds and shave those sideburns!’ Which Elvis did. Wallis surrounded Presley with first-rate talent: Oscar-nominated Carolyn Jones as mobster Walter Matthau’s abused mistress and Danny’s fling, and Wallis discovery Dolores Hart (her second film, she would eventually leave movies for the nunnery).  Shot partly on location in New Orleans’ French Quarter, ‘King Creole’ is the name of the nightclub where Danny sings.  Today the film has a 100% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Elvis Presley has lost one of his trademarks, his Presley length sideburns, in Hollywood on Feb. 12, 1958. His role in the movie “King Creole” required the shortening. (AP Photo/STU) NO SALES

Paramount has done a major restoration on ‘King Creole’ which Curtiz filmed in black and white to give this dark tale of down and outs a noir-ish undercurrent. Andrea Kalas worked on the Paramount restoration of ‘Creole’ and another Presley hit, the 1961 ‘Blue Hawaii.’  

Q: Why was ‘King Creole’ chosen for a Blu-ray upgrade?

ANDREA KALAS: This was one of those films where we really needed to make sure that we not only restored it, but we preserved it. Sadly, the original negative is lost, which is very common for films of this era that were black and white. Because they used to use that original negative like any other negative and just printed and printed and printed [more copies] and never worried about it, if it got printed to death. We had a fine grain, which is a second-generation element, that was in very, very good shape. But it really was the last thing that represented the really good picture quality.

So it was really important for us to make sure we capture that image of that element while we could. And then restore it. We also, of course, worked on the sound whenever we were in there. By the way, whenever we’re looking for elements we don’t just look in our own archives. We look around the world to see if anything else exists. We did and that fine grain we confirmed was the best thing.

Then we worked on the audio as well, making sure that the incredible musical numbers were well represented. It’s a mono track, like the original. There was nothing there to really create anything more than just a mono, so we made sure as long as it’s beautiful it’s coming through. Also, on both ‘Blue Hawaii’ and ‘King Creole’ we re-did the opening title sequences.



YES, TRULY GIGANTIC                       George Stevens stood tall as a towering figure in Hollywood since the 1920s, from writing and directing Laurel & Hardy silent shorts and features to ‘30s classics like ‘Alice Adams,” the Astaire-Rogers classic ‘Swingtime,’ and the WWII housing comedy ‘The More the Merrier.’ Postwar hits ranged from ‘I Remember Mama’ to Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in ‘A Place in the Sun,” Stevens’ adaptation of Dreyser’s ‘An American Tragedy.’ There was also a defining, classic Western ‘Shane.’  That’s quite a list, yet Stevens’ 1956 ‘Giant’ (4K Ultra HD + Digital Code, WB, G) is one epic of 3 generations that simply gets better and better as time passes.  Adapted from an Edna Ferber bestselling novel (Hollywood loved Ferber, adapting ‘Show Boat,’ ‘Cimarron,’ ‘Ice Palace’ and ‘So Big’), ‘Giant’ tackles racism, feminism, gender dynamics and class differences.  Taylor is the Eastern beauty brought to an enormous Texas spread by her tradition-minded husband Dick Benedict (Rock Hudson).  Ferber modeled their half-million acre ranch on the even larger King Ranch which raised livestock until the discovery of oil changed everything.  Interestingly Stevens gave Hudson the choice of leading ladies: Taylor or Grace Kelly.  James Dean, in his final film role, is the rebellious Jed Rink whose wildcat oil find changes everything. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Actor nods to Hudson and posthumously to Dean, ‘Giant’ won only the Best Director Oscar for Stevens. The fact that Mike Todd’s extravaganza ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ won Best Picture seems today like a bad joke.



CROWNING CAGE GLORY                            Nicolas Cage clearly enjoys mocking ‘Nick Cage’ the arrogant star and purpose of ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital, Lionsgate, R). In this meta-themed comedy Cage, broke (echoing his life), agrees for a cool million to attend the birthday party of a dangerous ‘superfan’ (‘The Mandalorian’ star Pedro Pascal) only to find himself recruited by the CIA (!) courtesy of Tiffany Haddish.  Naturally, ‘Nick’ must use the knowledge and expertise gained from past roles to make them not just live again but work in the real world if he’s to stay alive and become what he’s always dreamed of becoming: a real-life action hero.  Bonus: Deleted scenes, SXSW film festival Q&A, audio commentary, ‘Nick, Nicky, and Sergio,’ ‘Second Act Action’ on the stunts and F/X, ‘Cages 5 and Up’ saying iconic lines are 5 year olds, and ‘Glimmers of a Bygone Cage’ where Cage relives his journey as an actor.

Nicolas Cage gives a “Palm Hold Fist” salute as he arrives in Mallorca, Spain, in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”. (Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate/TNS)




A VIKING’S HAMLET                               Robert Eggers didn’t score a blockbuster with his critically praised, ambitious Viking epic ‘The Northman’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Focus/Universal, R). That doesn’t diminish this ambitious epic based on the same historical tale that inspired Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’  Eggers (‘The Lighthouse,’ ‘The Witch’) tells the story, which he filmed with an all-star cast in Northern Ireland and Iceland, from the Viking perspective.  Alexander Skarsgård is Amleth, the Viking prince whose mother (Nicole Kidman) has married and bore a son to her late husband’s brother (Claes Bang). This, after he murdered her husband the Viking King (Ethan Hawke). Anya Taylor-Joy is Amleth’s love interest, a witch. Björk, Iceland’s most celebrated artist, has a cameo and Willem Dafoe is the King’s doomed jester. As Amleth quests to avenge his father’s murder it will see him in final combat, naked, in front of a sputtering volcano. Mesmerizing filmmaking, destined to be a cult film. Bonus: Extended/deleted scenes, featurettes on casting, filming a key raid, the landscapes, the story’s origins, Amleth’s journey to manhood and Eggers’ invaluable audio commentary.

Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers' Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release.(Photo by Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC
Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth in director Robert Eggers’ Viking epic THE NORTHMAN, a Focus Features release.(Photo by Aidan Monaghan / © 2021 Focus Features, LLC



ANIMATED ANTICS                                     A hit at the box-office which makes further adventures probable, the animated ‘The Bad Guys’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, DreamWorks, PG) has ‘the world’s most notorious criminals’ acting like they are going straight.  Are they?  Can they?  The voice cast for the Criminal 5 of Wolf, Snake, Piranha, Shark and Tarantula: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos and Awkwafina.  BONUS: A new DreamWorks short, ‘Maraschino Ruby’ plus Deleted scenes, Making of, From the Drawing Room and the Cast Table Read.

"The Bad Guys" (Photo courtesy Dreamworks)
“The Bad Guys” (Photo courtesy Dreamworks)


STEPHEN KING REMAKE                              The new ‘Firestarter’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Blumhouse/Universal, R) is a remake of the 1984 version that memorably starred an 8-year-old Drew Barrymore as Charlie and was adapted from Stephen King’s thriller about a girl with a telepathic dad and telekinetic mother who has pyrokinesis, the ability to create fires. That version, despite a mixed critical response, was a big hit.  Now Ryan Kiera Armstrong is Charlie and Zac Efron her father. Puberty is making it harder to hide Charlie’s powers which are seemingly taking on a life of their own. A secret governmental organization DSI is after Charlie who is on the run. A bounty hunter is hired by DSI to track her down.  Certainly someone is going to catch fire. Special Features: Deleted/Extended scenes, gag reel, featurettes on adapting King’s novel, making the extreme fire stunts, choreographing and creating a key fight scene, director Keith Thomas’ feature commentary.

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie in a scene from "Firestarter." (Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures via AP)
This image released by Universal Pictures shows Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlie in a scene from “Firestarter.” (Ken Woroner/Universal Pictures via AP)



REAL-LIFE CALLING                             Mark Wahlberg’s passion project, ‘Father Stu’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, Columbia, R) is a biography of a late-in-life Catholic priest who no one, it’s safe to say, thought would ever be a priest, much less a guy who, by example, would vividly illuminate how faith and acceptance can change lives.  Stuart Long, parents divorced, was a cowboy turned boxer who went to LA hoping like so many others to become a movie star. Instead, he was stocking groceries when a chance encounter with a young woman led him to a Catholic Church. Nearly killed in a motorcycle accident, Stu surprises pretty much everyone by declaring he will become a priest. It’s a remarkable journey, unexpected in its trajectories.  Wahlberg is sensationally effective charting the change from comic self-delusion to a serious man of faith. Mel Gibson (whose ‘The Passion of the Christ’ remains one of the most successful religious-themed movies ever made) and Jacki Weaver play Stu’s parents.  Stu’s father served as an advisor.  Special Features: Deleted scenes and more about Fr. Stu.

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in Columbia Pictures' FATHER STU.
Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) in Columbia Pictures’ FATHER STU.



TOO MARVEL-OUS??                                   The Marvel vampire gets the big-screen treatment with ‘Morbius’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital, Columbia, PG-13) starring Oscar winner Jared Leto (virtually unrecognizable in ‘House of Gucci’) who becomes a living vampire alongside his surrogate brother (Matt Smith).  Dr. Morbius now has superhuman strength and speed. Could this be the most controversial Marvel movie yet? Due to COVID the film’s release was held up nearly 2 years.  Bonus: outtakes & bloopers, featurettes on the anti-hero, human to vampire visual effects, stunt work and nocturnal Easter eggs.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) in Columbia Pictures' MORBIUS.
Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) in Columbia Pictures’ MORBIUS.



SLEEPER SURPRISE                             A gem that’s surprising every step of its meandering way, Joho Kuosmanen’s ‘Compartment No. 6’ (Blu-ray, Sony Classics, R) is ultimately a character study. A young Finnish woman leaves Moscow and a desultory affair to take a train ride to the Arctic port city of Murmansk. On the train she’s forced to share the tiny sleeping car with a Russian miner. Some trips are life-changing.  For these 2, that’s true.  Charming, humorous and with unexpectedly wise repercussions. In Russian with optional English or French subtitles.

Seidi Haarla as Laura and Yuriy Borisov as Ljoha in 'COMPARTMENT NO. 6.' (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
Seidi Haarla as Laura and Yuriy Borisov as Ljoha in ‘COMPARTMENT NO. 6.’ (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)



THRILLS ABOARD SPEEDING TRAIN                  With a solid premise and able cast ‘Last Passenger’ (Blu-ray, Cohen, R) works as both character study – how do these people react under serious stress? – and a riff on classic Hitchcockian train terror.  Dougray Scott is Dr. Lewis Shaler, onboard a late-night British train with his young son. He’s on an emergency mission to help save an accident victim and befriends Sarah, a young woman traveling alone.  Very soon he realizes the nearly empty train is speeding past their stops, minus the conductor, engineer and working emergency brakes.  This 2012 feature has a surprise appearance from Lindsay Duncan (‘Le Week-End,’ ‘Made in Italy’) and featurettes on its production, visual effects, set and sound design.



ITALIAN DETECTIVE IN FRIGID ZONE                        The Italian crime series continues with ‘Rocco Schiavone: Ice Cold Murders – Season 2’ (Blu-ray, 8 episodes, 2 discs, Kino Lorber, Not rated). Firmly planted far from his Roman district in the Alpine village of Aosta, Rocco, cranky as ever, finds his past has come to, yes, haunt him.  In Italian with optional English subtitles.

BERENGER’S WESTERN CLASSIC                             Tom Berenger scored an Oscar nomination for the Vietnam War hit ‘Platoon.’ Here in the 1995 ‘Last of the Dogmen’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG) he stars as a bounty hunter in a classically constructed Western.  Filmed on locations in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, and Cuernavaca, Mexico, ‘Dogmen’ is now in a newly restored 4K scan of the original camera negative (with director and cinematographer both approving the color grading). Berenger’s Louis Gates is tracking 3 escaped convicts in the Rockies when he finds evidence that suggests a ‘lost’ tribe still exists.  He takes the evidence to an expert (Barbara Hershey, ‘Black Swan’) as they race against time to save the last of the Dogmen.  With the late Native American actor Steve Reevis (‘Dances with Wolves’).  Bonus: Audio commentary by writer-director Tab Murphy and producer Joel B. Michaels.  The box art is newly commissioned by Vince Evans.



BEE PREPARED                                    Familial rivalry and a swarm of angry buzzing bees highlight the Christian comedy ‘Family Camp’ (DVD, Lionsgate, PG).  Two families find themselves as opposing forces at, yes indeed, the aptly named Family Camp where things start all wrong when the 2 families discover they don’t have rooms, they must share a yurt. Then there’s the race for coveted competitive trophies.  And those bees.  Special Features: Optional audio commentary by co-writer & director Brian Cates, the ‘Skit Guys’ story, a Yurt tour and Behind the Scenes.


30 YEARS ON                                   The 30th anniversary of Eddie Murphy’s 1992 ‘Boomerang’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, Paramount, R) is all about a womanizing male chauvinist whose power – in the office with sexual magnetism defining what goes (or doesn’t) – finds those tables flipped when he meets his female alter ego in Robin Givens..  Today, this perceptive period piece is also a glorious opportunity to catch a truly starry supporting cast: Halle Berry, David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence, Grace Jones, Geoffrey Holder, Chris Rock and, take a bow, Eartha Kitt.  Murphy gets credit for dreaming up the screen story. Reginald Hudlin directed with the mandate to make this a different kind of Eddie Murphy vehicle.  Hudlin offers a commentary not only on the finished film but the deleted/extended scenes — included here as well.



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