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Arts & Entertainment

Presley movies making DVD debuts

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2002

"Elvis: The Great Performances" (2002)
G in nature
Three stars

Even if you didn't mean to, chances are you've seen more of Elvis Presley in the past week than you had in at least five years and maybe 25.

His voice and images are everywhere because of the 25th anniversary of his death yesterday and daughter Lisa Marie's curiously well-timed bride role opposite Nicolas Cage.

I was already buried in a new stack of Presley — Elvis, that is — DVDs.

Most notable of the many released for his anniversary is the three-disc (though only 157-minute) "Elvis: The Great Performances," which contains musical clips from a few movies but mainly his TV appearances with such hosts as Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, Steve Allen, the Dorsey Brothers and even Charles Laughton (subbing for a hospitalized Sullivan on the night of Presley's first appearance there).

Here are all of Presley's most subdued early appearances, when he was sometimes shot only from the chest up just in case he broke his agreement not to swivel, which he never did.

Polite and deferential as he was in such situations, he was obviously very uncomfortable interacting with hosts two to three times his age and in no way attuned to early rock 'n' roll.

He reportedly confided that he was selling out when he appeared in a tux on one of Allen's programs. And he could only stand by hoping to look like a good sport when Berle began a raucous imitation that ended with the usual walking-on-sides-of-shoes shtick.

Since the early kings of TV required that singers perform live, the vocal performances are raw and relatively good but expose Presley's playing to the crowd (the sly acknowledgments of fans screaming) rather than concentrating on the lyrics and seeming to mean them in ballads.

Three Presley movies are making their DVD debuts, sans any extras worth noting except the original trailers:

"Love Me Tender" (1956)
PG in nature
Two stars

A post-Civil War western-romance that was filmed as "The Reno Brothers," with Richard Egan billed first, Debra Paget second and Presley third, "Love Me Tender" underwent a late title change when Fox realized it had a tiger by the tale.

The advertising graphics emphasized Presley with guitar to the exclusion of the others. By the time the picture was released Nov. 15, 1956, the title song was No. 1 for the second of four times. The movie opened to huge attendance everywhere.

One of the middling entries in Presley's canon, it generated more hysteria than any that followed, but business slowed considerably after its first week everywhere.

In the original ending, Presley was dead and nowhere visible in the final frames. But preview audiences had such a negative reaction that months after completion of filming, but still before release, Presley, whose hair by now was a different length and color, was called back for a retake in which he's superimposed over the final scene, singing and strumming like an angel who hasn't really left the building.

"Flaming Star" (1960)
PG in nature
Two stars

Some consider "Flaming Star" one of a handful of Presley's best. (That's a short list that would include "Viva Las Vegas" and maybe "Follow That Dream," "Loving You," "Jailhouse Rock" and his favorite, "King Creole.")

I can't agree, but it's interesting to see his sincere, if unrelaxed, attempt to play the half-Kiowa son of Dolores Del Rio and John McIntire. He's caught between intolerant whites and impatient, rampaging Kiowa.

It was his sixth movie and the first to do sluggish business. The singing was too incidentally inserted to satisfy fans.

"Wild in the Country" (1961)
PG-13 in nature
Two stars

Presley's seventh movie had more dramatic potential than most of the others. He's a supposedly rebellious boy trying to go straight and to hone writing skills. (The few examples read aloud give little evidence of talent.)

But here was a film with three serious romantic interests: Millie Perkins (who had starred in "The Diary of Anne Frank") as the good girl, Tuesday Weld as the sultry married temptress and Hope Lange, several years his senior, as the psychiatrist who can't seem to temper her interest.

The songs are virtually afterthoughts here, as in "Flaming Star," and the pacing seems even more languid now than it did originally.

The picture bombed at the box office despite the co-star factor. Seldom thereafter did Presley attempt anything serious. The sameness of the interchangeable girl-chasing, auto-racing, singing 'n' brawling country boy finally killed off the singer's acting career.

"In the Bedroom" (2001)
Rated R

4stars

In an awards season dedicated to "A Beautiful Mind," "In the Bedroom" had to settle for five Oscar nominations: picture, actor (Tom Wilkinson), actress (Sissy Spacek), supporting actress (Marisa Tomei) and the screenplay co-written by Rob Festinger and director Todd Field.

You'll have to explain sometime how it lost any of them, much less all.

Intense and meticulous from first frame to last, "In the Bedroom" is one of those labors of love that's a keeper.

Wilkinson and Spacek play a comfortable, homey, 50-something couple proud of son Nick Stahl but concerned about his relationship with the older Tomei, who is estranged from volatile husband William Mapother.

The film gives us such a vivid sense of everyday life and the nuances of people who have known each other for decades that when trouble erupts we understand precisely the dynamics.

Those who have seen "In the Bedroom" can savor its exquisite rendering time after time. Those who haven't should experience it with as little information as possible going in. Because of the way it burrows into the heart, the fates of all involved matter much more than in an ordinary movie.

"Showtime" (2002)
Rated PG-13
Two and a half stars

The potential for real satire is blunted throughout "Showtime," which has a smart premise that got dumbed down in an attempt to make it more commercial than it turned out to be anyway.

TV producer Rene Russo is packaging a "Cops"-like faux-reality series called "Showtime."

The main police officers to be featured are cranky veteran Robert De Niro and precinct buffoon Eddie Murphy, who would rather be a TV star than a law enforcer anyway.

Watchable and disappointing, the film panders to the very elements it could have been skewering. It could have been the "Network" of reality TV shows. Instead it's "Beverly Hills Cop Meets the Grouch."

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