Prior to shooting “X,” Goth had already co-authored with West the script for a potential prequel set 61 years before the events of “X,” using the same New Zealand locations. Released in September and filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic the previous spring, “Pearl” is the picture that cements Goth’s status as one of the finest talents of her generation. The extent to which Goth makes her character’s plight as a quarantined caregiver relatable causes her actions to be all the more disquieting.

Pearl’s searing regret and awareness of her demons that she struggles to mask rise to the surface in an extraordinary climactic monologue she delivers to her absent husband, Howard, in the presence of her bewildered sister-in-law Mitsy. Her view of life as “harsh, bleak, and draining” has been formed by one lived strictly in service of another, while her repressive upbringing proves to be strikingly similar to that of Maxine, whose evangelist father rages on the TV screens in “X.” It all leads to an unforgettable final shot of Pearl, her face viewed in close-up, as she welcomes her husband back from the war, hoping he won’t mind the corpses propped up in the dining room. Pearl’s grotesquely strained smile was only meant to be glimpsed in a freeze frame over the end credits, yet West and Goth spontaneously decided on the shooting day to have Pearl hold that pose for as long as possible. In this moment, she channels the personal hell every woman has endured when forced to put on a happy face. (Matt Fagerholm)

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in “Elvis

What is so strange about Austin Butler as Elvis in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is he does not look like Elvis at all. Luhrmann’s casting of Butler brought a lot of inevitable chatter. Butler’s body type, his bone structure—it wasn’t immediately apparent what Luhrmann might have seen in him. But Luhrmann was up to something a little bit different than your standard “and then this happened” biopic. There’s some use of prosthetics in the later sequences when Elvis is older and more chiseled, but in general, it’s up to Butler to suggest Elvis—not so much what he looked like, but what he brought to the table as a performer. And what he brought to the table was weird and alien in 1954: pink suits, eye makeup, dyed hair, jiggling body, and the primal connection he instantly had with his audiences. This type of thing is taken for granted, not just with Elvis, but with other massive superstar-like figures in the past, and it shouldn’t be. Luhrmann was interested in the larger context, how Elvis was different from the bigwig stars around him, and how he exploded the world around him.

Butler has said when he started the process of “becoming” Elvis, it felt at first like being a little kid and trying on his father’s suit. The suit was way too big, he had to work to fill out the suit. The persona is so imitated, the posthumous fame so bizarre and unconnected from reality … it was Butler’s job to somehow bring it down to earth, keep us emotionally connected, and yet still be able to fill out those jangling shimmering white jumpsuits. You try to move around like Elvis in an Arthurian Castle-shaped jumpsuit. Report back how silly you feel doing it. But on Butler, it didn’t seem silly.


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