DVD Picks for May 2016

DVD-CK-JungleBookChip Kaufmann’s Pick:

The Jungle Book (1967)

Now that Disney’s new “live action” remake (see my review this issue) is in theaters and is on its way to becoming a worldwide megahit, it seems only fitting to revisit the original which will turn 50 next year. It was actually completed in 1966 and was the last feature personally supervised by Walt Disney before he died.

I saw it when it first came out in 1967. I was 15 and had recently read the original Rudyard Kipling stories that it was taken from. I didn’t like The Jungle Book at the time but that did not keep me from enjoying the vocal talents of Sebastian Cabot (then in Family Affair), Sterling Holloway (a childhood favorite), and the inimitable George Sanders.

What bothered me the most were the songs “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”. I knew nothing of Phil Harris and Louis Prima and was unfamiliar with scat singing. The Beatles like vultures were a nice touch. Disney wanted them but John Lennon said no so they became generic British Invasion characters.

Looking at it now I can appreciate it for the interesting time capsule that it is. It features some of late Disney’s best animation with a grace and fluidity to the movements that went missing after Walt died. King Louis jumping rope with his arms and Shere Khan chasing Baloo around a tree are still wonderful to behold.

Some elements have not aged as well as others especially the Brit vultures and (I’m sorry to say) the juvenile approach and humor. The ending where Mowgli meets the girl from the village is very much of its time and is likely to elicit groans from many women viewers today.

Nevertheless it is the last great film in the classic Disney animated tradition. Walt fought hard to get it made and had it failed the studio heads were ready to shut down the animation department as too costly and outdated. It didn’t and they limped along until revitalized by The Little Mermaid in 1989.

I watched the 2007 40th Anniversary DVD. No doubt the success of the new version will prompt renewed interest in rentals and the film’s 50th anniversary next year will prompt a more deluxe version (and an even more deluxe price), so catch it now and revisit a more naïve and carefree time.

DVD-MK-Perfume-coverMichelle Keenan’s Pick:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

After a screening of A Hologram For The King I had a conversation about some of director Tom Twyker’s previous work – Cloud Atlas, Run Lola Run, and The International. But the film I kept coming back to was [perhaps a less familiar title] Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It also happens to feature Alan Rickman (see Eye In The Sky review on this page), so it quickly seemed an appropriate choice for my DVD pick for the month. But before we got any further be forewarned, Perfume is not for everyone. It is not an easy film. It’s not even a particularly likable film, but it is a fascinating work.

Based on the novel by Patrick Suskind, Perfume takes place in the mid-18th century and tells the story of Jean Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Wishaw), a solitary, unloved misfit born with super human olfactory senses. Left for dead and orphaned as an infant, unloved as a child, sold to a tanner as a teenager, one thinks this is a natural setup to endear us to the protagonist, but we quickly learn that Perfume is not that kind of story.

On his first trip to Paris his senses are stimulated by a new array of beautiful aromas. He marvels at a perfumery and the smells of a world outside the gutter. Tantalized by the scent of a young woman selling yellow plums, Grenouille becomes obsessed with capturing her essence, which he also believes is the essence of her soul. After proving his natural born skills to a famous perfumer, Monsieur Baldini (an oddly cast Dustin Hoffman), Grenouille apprentices and eventually sets out for Grasse, the Mecca of the scented world.

There his quest to capture smell becomes a tangled tress of murder. This curious oddity of a film grows ever darker, ever more macabre, yet strangely enticing. Ironically Grenouille possesses no scent of his own. He is incapable of loving or being loved. He’s all but invisible to the world but, if he succeeds in his quest, he’ll be able to create an aromatic elixir that enraptures and enslaves anyone exposed to it.

From Grenouille’s birth scene to the film’s surprising climax, Perfume is beautifully and uniquely directed. If there are three important components to a perfume, as Monsieur Baldini teaches Grenouille, Twyker has used them in his construction of the film as well. His stylistic flourishes are the head notes, the narrative (voiced by John Hurt) is the heart note and Suskind’s bizarre tale itself is the base note that lingers in the air long after the film finishes.

Embarking on cinematic adaptation of this story was a daunting task. Twyker accomplishes what few could. His direction is complimented by his cast; Wishaw is eerie perfection as Grenouille. It is important to note that Perfume comes with a very heavy R rating, but every bit of what makes so is essential to the telling of the story. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is wholly unlikable but entirely unforgettable.