Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Return to Sender

Elvis-tinged parable of twins is bland exercise in make-believe

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The Identical

Starring Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta & Ashley Judd

Directed by Dustin Marcellino

Rated PG

The movie or its marketing materials don’t say it, so I will: The Identical is the strangest Elvis movie not about Elvis you’ll likely ever see.

It’s about a young man who grows up in the South, unaware that he has a twin brother who’ll grow up to become a hip-shakin’ singing sensation—just like Elvis. The young man shares his twin’s musical talent, his Elvis-y stage moves, his Elvis-y looks, and he even gets hired as an impersonator, becoming famous as the best Elvis-y copycat in the business.

But The Identical only makes one fleeting reference to Elvis. Instead, it pretends its characters exist independently, in a bubble, but parallel to real events and real people, including Elvis. It all makes for a curious, weirdly weightless little exercise in make-believe—especially since the movie make-believes it’s not about Elvis. (The movie doesn’t have any rights to actual Elvis music, or anything else “Elvis”—because those things cost a lot of money.)

Elvis actually had a twin brother who did not survive childbirth. What might have happened, though, had Presley’s twin lived? Perhaps something like this, The Identical suggests.

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Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd

A poor couple in Depression-wracked Alabama gives birth to twin boys, but can’t afford to raise them both. So they give away one to a traveling evangelist (Ray Liotta) and his wife (Ashley Judd), swearing them to lifelong secrecy. Then they stage a mock funeral, burying an empty shoebox behind their ramshackle house, so the neighbors won’t question why the infant is no longer around.

The years pass. Newcomer Blake Rayne (a former Elvis impersonator—for real!), making his acting debut, plays both the preacher’s kid, Ryan Wade, as well as the pop-rock sensation Drexel Hemsley, although Drexel has only a couple of scenes and one mumbled line of dialog. This is the story of the “other” brother, who’s tugged between the rock ’n’ roll DNA somehow in his genes and the wishes of his father to pursue a more righteous path.

The Identical is a modest little movie, made on a shoestring, no-frills budget of $3 million. Sometimes it feels just one rib poke away from a Saturday Night Live skit, or the kind of outright parody John C. Reilly did with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, his faux-Johnny Cash send-up. But it plays it straight—and narrow, constantly hammering its faith-and-values themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and discovering “who [God] made us to be,” and over-amping every emotional tone to eleven.

Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano provide hijinks that feel lifted from old Happy Days reruns. Judd spouts homilies like “Slap the dog and spit on the fire.” And Liotta (also one of the executive producers), best known for playing a mobster in Goodfellas, digs in to his role as a man of the cloth like it was made out of ham and cheese.

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Despite some scenes with howlingly high levels of hoke, some viewers will nonetheless likely find something to love about this bland, edge-less, Elvis-tinged parable, which has nothing to offend, shock or rub even the most sensitive of sensibilities the wrong way—like a lot of Elvis’ music, or his own movies. Come to think of it, Presley may have “left the building” long ago, but his spirit is still around, even in a strange little movie that pretends it’s not.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Courting the King

Ginger Alden tells of life as Elvis Presley’s fiancé

Elvis and GingerElvis and Ginger

By Ginger Alden

Hardcover, 400 pages, $26.95, $10.99 Kindle edition (Berkley)

Much has been written about the late, great Elvis Presley, but none of it—until now—by the woman who was his last love, his fiancé at the time of his death, the 20-year-old native Memphis, Tenn., beauty who captured his heart and became a part of his home and his entourage for nine months, up until the fateful day she discovered his unresponsive body in the bathroom. Brimming with details and dish, this fascinating tale of Alden and the King’s courtship and life together, told against a backdrop of the final arc of Presley’s superstardom as it fell apart inside his claustrophobic castle walls, is one Presley fans have been waiting for—and about as “inside” as it gets.

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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West Coast Wavelength

L.A.’s sizzling sounds in pop music’s formative years

Turn Up the Radio Final

Turn Up The Radio: Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972

By Harvey Kubernik

Hardcover, 336 pages, $45 (Santa Monica Press)

 

Fans of classic rock will flip over this treasure trove of photos, interviews and other insider info about how the sizzling sounds of Southern California spread to the rest of America—and the rest of the world. This lovingly detailed illustrated narrative shines the spotlight on the Doors, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Sonny & Cher, The Monkees, Elvis Presley and other acts that made the L.A. scene such a hotbed for performers of the era, plus the producers, recording engineers, studio musicians, DJs and others pivotal to the popular music’s formative West Coast years.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Soul Sister

Martina McBride colors outside the country lines

Everlasting_Martina McBride

Everlasting

Martina McBride

CD $15.83 (Kobalt)

The Nashville hit-maker revisits some of her favorite R&B and soul classics of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s for this cover-song project she’s releasing on her own label, an obvious labor of love that shows the her passion for great music outside the genre for which she became famous. As McBride channels the spirit, if not necessarily the style, of Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, the Supremes, Van Morrison, Elvis Presley and other artists of those previous eras, on tunes including “Come See About Me,” “Wild Night,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” it’s a testament to the durability of not only these “everlasting” songs, but also to the wide-ranging vocal abilities of a world-class artist who proves she’s capable of much more than country sunshine.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Gallery of Greatness

Robbie Robertson salutes musical movers & shakers

Legends Icons & Rebels

Legends, Icons & Rebels

By Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Jared Levine & Sebastian Robertson

Hardcover, 128 pages ($35, Tundra Books)

Robertson, one of the founders of the seminal music group The Band, collaborated with his adult son, Sebastian, and fellow music-biz veterans (and fathers) Guerinot and Levine, on this collection of tributes honoring 27 singers, songwriters and other performers across the spectrum of popular music “who changed with world” with their talent—and their tenacity. Featuring designs from numerous illustrators and including a CD with handpicked songs from each of the artists (including Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Marley and Carole King), it’s clearly geared for younger readers. But it’s a true multimedia treat for eyes and ears of any age.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Last Stand in Memphis

SONY DSCRe-released recordings show Elvis at final creative peak

Elvis At Stax

CD $24.89 (RCA/Legacy)

In a 12-day burst of creative steam, Presley hit the Stax studios in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn., for two sessions in 1973, yielding his final string of Top 40 singles (including “Promised Land,” “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” and “If You Talk In Your Sleep”) and more than two dozen other tunes that let him stretch his style across the a spectrum of rock, country and gospel. This affordably priced, 40th anniversary 3-CD commemorative set includes them all, and also 27 outtake tracks, plus and a photo-packed booklet with extensive notes about the songs and the sessions.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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