At The Movies: Austin Butler is electrifying as Elvis Presley

A still from Elvis, which stars Austin Butler as the singer. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Elvis (PG13)

159 minutes, opens June 23

4 stars

The story: This sprawling biography of singer-actor Elvis Presley adds an extra dimension by taking in the point of view of his manager, the shrewd but mysterious Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). It traces the arc of Presley's life, from his impoverished childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his later years as a global phenomenon, ensconced in his Graceland mansion. Beside him at every step is Parker, a man who takes Presley (American actor Austin Butler) to the top, but whose help comes at a price.

Two reasons you should watch this biopic, when there are already a dozen dramatisations and documentaries about Elvis:

1. It's bold, it's big, it's Baz Luhrmann

This movie assumes you do not care or know very much about the man who ruled pop music before the coming of The Beatles and the British Invasion, and who made a comeback when the counterculture was in full swing.

Australian film-maker Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, 2001) treats Presley's life story as a superhero myth, a journey to be savoured on its own.

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In typical Luhrmann fashion, there is no subtlety. It is all surface, but even his worst surfaces are imaginative and thoughtful. While the biopic covers some of the singer's low points, it does not dwell on the dirt, and instead prefers to celebrate the successes.

Butler's Presley is electrifying. The scene in which the young and unknown Presley converts the bored and blase audience into a mob of screaming true believers is sold as a moment of triumph, and the thrill is palpable.

2. Even its flaws are interesting

At over 2½ hours, it is far too long. The ambitious final act, covering Presley's latter years and Parker's financial shenanigans and cosmic comeuppance could do with a trim. The late attempt at shoehorning a heavily dramatic, horror-tinged tale about a Faustian bargain into what had up till then been a breathless hero's journey feels jarring, but it is a heartfelt attempt.

When you have a giant like Hanks in your picture, you have to use him. But using him as a cackling supervillain might not have been a good idea. Hanks' Germanic tone and facial prosthetics makes him look like Hugo Weaving's Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).

Broker (PG13)

A still from Broker starring (from left) Lee ji-eun, Gang dong-won and Song Kang-ho. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

129 minutes, opens June 23

3 stars

The story: Young mother So-young (Lee Ji-eun) leaves her newborn in a church's baby box, so the child can be raised in an orphanage and, with luck, adopted. But two men working at the church, Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) and Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), take the child. They are baby brokers, criminals who cater to adopters skirting the legal system.

Two reasons to watch this drama-comedy:

1. Hirokazu Kore-eda replays his greatest hits

Japanese film-maker Kore-eda made his name with stories about just how elastic ideas of family can be. They can stretch to cover a group of outcasts coming together by choice (the Palme d'Or winning Shoplifters, 2018), a divorcee accepting his former wife's new marriage (After The Storm, 2016) or two sets of parents shattered by the news that they have raised children with no biological link to them (Like Father, Like Son, 2013).

Call this story Shoplifters, International Edition. The two South Korean grifters, Sang-hyun and Dong-soo, like the gang in the 2018 Japanese film, are lovable rogues. They live on the margins and attract other damaged souls to their cause. They set out on the road, discovering regional foods and theme parks while gently poking at each other's sore spots, learning, laughing and forming the bonds of family love.

2. Child abandonment in South Korea, viewed with compassion

For reasons of law, culture and history, many South Korean women are forced to give up their children. In the past, many were put up for international adoption; flights of Americans would fly in and leave with South Korean babies.

These days, unwanted children are liable to be raised in orphanages, after which they face a hard future as adults in a society that stigmatises those of unclear family lineage.

A focus is put on baby boxes. Does their existence give irresponsible adults an easy way out? Do they encourage sinful activity or do they save unwanted babies from a worse fate? Kore-eda examines the issue from both sides with his usual emphasis on compassion.

And one reason to give it a miss:

1. A thin story and not-quite-there casting

In Shoplifters, Kore-eda attained perfection in casting. No actor looked out of place as someone who has not lived a hard life and, most importantly, they gelled in a way that made audiences believe they belonged together. In Broker, the chemistry is noticeably absent.

There is a distracting crime-thriller thread featuring Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young as two detectives investigating the underground adoption trade, but their underwritten parts make their scenes feel like bolted-on additions.

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