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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

DVD Review: The Last Elvis

The Last Elvis is an excellent and completely engaging film about Carlos Gutierrez, an Elvis Presley impersonator whose daily existence is one of lonesome routine, and who comes to life truly only when he is on stage as Elvis.

The opening shot is fantastic. The camera climbs an empty staircase as we hear “Also Sprach Zarathrusta.” The music gets louder as we reach the top of the stairs and enter a club, revealing people seated at tables. The camera continues to move to the wings where Carlos Gutierrez (John McInerny), dressed as Elvis, waits for his cue. It then follows him as he steps out and onto the stage and goes right into “See See Rider,” the way Elvis began his concerts in the 1970s. All in one shot. Then backstage he’s handed fifty dollars, which is supposed to cover the entire band. Carlos says nothing, but just the look on his face is heart-wrenching. And these are just the opening moments of the film.

His daily job is at a loud plant, working on appliances. He is divorced, and his ex-wife, Alejandra (but whom he calls Priscilla), takes care of their young daughter, who of course is named Lisa Marie. When Carlos is with his daughter, he tells her that he has an important gig coming up, and asks if she’d like to come to the rehearsals. The music is all that means anything to him, and so in trying to connect to his daughter, it’s all he can think to talk about. Sadly, she doesn’t answer. Later when he visits his ex-wife, she tells him that Lisa was chosen for the school choir. Carlos responds seriously, “The music world is difficult.”

He wears Elvis sunglasses whenever he drives. And wherever he is, he’s caught up in the music. That’s where he lives, where he flourishes. People on the street recognize that about him, and call him Elvis, not Carlos. A woman asks him why he does it, and he tells her that God gave him Elvis’ voice, so he just had to accept it.

It’s interesting, for he moves in a world of people pretending to be other people. In one scene there are posters for concerts by Queen and Beatles cover bands. In another scene, men are getting made up as KISS. He and the others really identify themselves as those they play. Carlos at one point says, “I invented rock and roll,” not “He invented rock and roll.” He seems to become more and more immersed in the role, until a car accident forces him to become a father again.

The scenes with his daughter are some of the best scenes in the film. He teaches her to play pool and takes her to his gigs. And he’s honest with her – when she asks if her mother will die, he answers, “I don’t know.” One of my favorite scenes features him singing and playing acoustic guitar for her as she sits up in bed. After the song, Lisa says enough, that she needs to go to sleep, but Carlos goes right into another song. It’s sweet. And what is also moving about it is that it is the daughter who learns to become involved in her father’s world rather than the other way around.

John McInerny’s performance is incredible. He has a great voice, but also just the way he moves and carries himself is expressive. This is a movie that’s going to stay with me for a long time.

The DVD contains no special features.

The Last Elvis was directed by Armando Bo, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on February 25, 2014 through First Run Features.

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