Elvis & Nixon: A Movie Review

elvis and nixon

Let me begin by saying I didn’t expect much from this movie, especially since it is being pushed as a comedy. There was another movie made years ago on the topic, and if memory serves me correctly, it wasn’t very good. So, when I went to see the new film yesterday, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. This is a lighthearted, feel good film from Amazon that does an amazing job of getting into both Nixon’s and Presley’s characters. In fact, I have to give a shout out to Michael Shannon: his is the best portrayal of Elvis I have seen in any film to date—short of Elvis himself of course, ha ha.

Shannon captured Elvis’s personality and charisma in a way that made me believe he was Elvis in the movie—not something easily accomplished when dealing with an Elvis fan of 50 years. And interestingly enough, it didn’t matter a bit to me that Shannon looks nothing like Elvis. I will be curious to hear whether other fans have a similar take, so if you’re reading this, please let me know via the comment section of this post.

As for Nixon, I did a tremendous amount of research on him for my book, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream (conveniently rereleased by my publisher back in November and currently available on Amazon, hint hint), and judging from all of that, I would say Kevin Spacey also did a fantastic job of playing Nixon. This was especially noticeable during the meeting with Elvis, when Nixon went from a grumpy old man irritated by Elvis taking up his time to fully enjoying his visit with the King. Having read so many books on Nixon including his own massive autobiography, I could totally envision him acting exactly that way.

As Shannon said during an interview on ABC, no documentation exists of the actual face-to-face meeting between the King and Nixon, so no one knows what happened behind closed doors until the photo shoot that happened at the end. Being quite familiar with both of their life stories, however, I found the script to be very believable. Elvis acted like Elvis and Nixon the same. Elvis’s amazing charisma could and probably did totally blow Nixon away. In the film, the two wind up chatting like a couple of old friends on the couch in the Oval Office, eating M&Ms and drinking Dr. Peppers.

There are some really funny scenes in this film, but I don’t think any of them are meant to make fun of Elvis in a mean spirited way, and that in itself is a real step forward for the mainstream media. Elvis was not your average, run of the mill celebrity. He lived life in the fast lane for the most part, but he was also a deeply spiritual, well-read, thoughtful individual who loved his country. Yes, it seems pretty crazy that he wanted a narcotics badge so he could become an undercover agent–but his thinking behind it, that he could infiltrate the Counterculture’s drug scene and help stop it–was certainly well meaning albeit pretty unlikely. Chances are Elvis knew that himself, but he had decided he wanted to meet the president of the United States and run it by him, just in case. As with most things Elvis, when all was said and done, it was mission accomplished.





Writing with emotion

Whether emotion is a plus or minus in our writing is always debatable, at least in fiction. As writers, we want our readers to feel what our characters are feeling: love, hated, anger, joy, sadness. But it’s a touchy business. Too much emotion and our characters seem more like caricatures. The hateful villain with no good qualities, the selfless hero who never thinks of himself, or the ditsy heroine who never thinks, period. None of these stereotypes make for good characters. No villain can be all bad, no hero all good. It’s our job as writers not to force the issue, to allow our characters to develop as the story progresses so that readers will find them believable.

In non-fiction, on the other hand, the less emotion the better, unless you are writing a memoir or autobiography. Our job as non-fiction authors is to present readers with a set of facts regarding our subject matter. We aren’t there to make conclusions, to judge the subject(s) in a positive or negative manner. This is the approach I used in both Hoop Lore and Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream. It wasn’t always easy, as I feel passionately about both Elvis and the NBA, but I do believe both books are better because I used a neutral approach. In the Elvis/Nixon title especially, I felt it was important to allow readers to reach their own conclusions as to whether either or both deserve the reputations they carved out in American history.

Additional note to my readers:

Given my stance on emotion in writing, I am opting to create a spin-off blog here on WordPress that will consist of personal musings on whatever topic I feel like writing about on any given day. Some of it will be vaguely writing related, though I will continue to use this space on Grassroots Writers Guild for the majority of those posts. As you can see by our sidebar, we have grown tremendously over the past year. There has to be a line drawn, and I am doing so today. I will be posting a link to my new site on the sidebar of all my pages for those of you who want a more personal look into my life, not just as a writer but as an animal lover, an Elvis fan, an NBA nut, and a gardening addict.


Since I have yet to launch my new site, I am going to use a bit of space here to post a photo of Java, our beloved boxer who crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on Monday. Goodbye, my sweet, sweet girl. Say hi to Annie for me when you get there. I hope you two girls have a wonderful time together running and jumping and barking and playing. I love you both from the bottom of my heart.

Can failure be inspiring?

I suppose that would depend on your definition of failure. For writers, failure can mean many different things insofar as its relationship to our careers. Inability to finish a project due to time constraints and/or a lack of self discipline. Failure to secure an agent and/or publisher for a completed work. Rejected contest entries. A bad review. A cancelled contract. All of those things represent an inability to reach our goals writing-wise, but it’s our reaction to those setbacks that determine how others view us as people. Do we get up, brush the dirt from our clothes, and get back on the horse, or do we lie there on the ground, yelling for someone to call 911?

On Monday night, The Lakers eliminated the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semi-finals, four games to none. Afterward, a reporter asked Jerry Sloan, the Jazz coach, how he felt, having been eliminated three straight years by the same team. Sloan said that while he would have loved to beat the Lakers, losing wasn’t the end of the world because, in the end, basketball is just a game. A job. He knew his guys did the best they could. They just got beat by a better team.

So okay, writing isn’t a game to most of us. But on the other hand, our world won’t end if we never sell a book either. We do the best we can. We write when we find the time. We learn our craft and continually work at getting better. We keep trying. Some of us will make that big sale. Some of us won’t. When all is said and done, the people we care most about, our family and close friends, will judge us by the type of person we are, not by how many bestsellers we’ve penned.

My daughter Katie often tells me that I’m an inspiration. That she admires my drive. My tenaciousness. My refusal to quit chasing my dream. I must admit there are days where it isn’t easy to keep trudging along, but then, as Nixon once said, life isn’t meant to be easy. Maybe it really is the journey, and how we choose to travel it, that matters.