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by Archives January 17, 2007

Perfume, The Story of a Murderer
A bouquet of rose petals and curdled blood…
Michael Frittenburg-Doyle

Perfume, The Story of a Murderer is the sixth feature length film from the ambitious German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, who is perhaps best known for his 1998 indie cult hit Run Lola Run.

In Perfume, Tykwer, never fearful of going for the filmic jugular, attempts to fuse together a grotesque potpourri of images depicting 18th century France in order to examine the nature of beauty and morality.

This exchange of the hideous and the delicate serve as the noose for Mr. Tykwer, and Perfume can be seen as either a guilty pleasure or an extreme failure, which always makes for a film that lingers in the air long after it is over.

Perfume, based on the similarly extreme novel by Patrick Suskind, begins by illustrating a vile, repulsive, cruel and merciless world (and yes, all those adjectives are necessary!)

The protagonist, an orphan named Grenouille (played stoically by British theatre actor Brad Whishaw) is brought into the world under a fish stand in a filthy French marketplace and is left for dead after being seemingly still born.

The seconds-old Grenouille lays naked and abandoned in a pile of detritus, assumedly miscarried in a world on the verge of miscarriage itself, when the camera catches the movement of the infants’ nose, breathing in all of the putridity and detail of this world he has been unwillingly borne into.

Tykwer utilizes a meandering camera and quick cutting so that the audience is privy to this unique experience.

Grenouille has a gift like no other: he can smell the ‘essence’ of every detail of life. Thus Grenouille is thrusted into a world of only extremes; the agony and the ecstasy of life apprehended.

Grenouille then spends much of the first act toiling away as an enslaved orphan, but his gift of scent nevertheless haunts him. It becomes apparent that those with a gift are destined (and doomed) for grander things.

In Grenouille’s case, he follows his nose to a position as a perfumer’s assistant. The elder statesman perfumer is played by Dustin Hoffman, who brings a levity that is much needed in this otherwise extremely glib film. But it seems that Grenouille’s gift is accompanied by a curse and everyone that he comes into contact perishes around him.

The fragility and finiteness of life becomes haunting for the young Grenouille, as he can smell the essence of a human being but discovers that when a person dies their scent fades into nothingness.

Desperate to trap the essence of being in a static form in order to cheat death and subdue the stench of a godless world, Grenouille sets out to perfect a method of bottling this human essence.

In order to do so he must strip the smell of the most beautiful women that he can find in the moment of their death.

This procedure gives way to a series of almost ritualistic murders that are for Grenouille nothing more than a necessary means to an all important end.

The very idea of attempting to make smell the front-and-center of a film seems doomed from the start, much like watching Grenouille as the misguided messiah trying to isolate beauty in time and space. All along, the role that smell plays acts like the elephant in the room.

When Grenouille uses his sensorial superpower it comes off as a bit too schlocky for the themes that Tykwer is wrestling with in Perfume.

This ridiculousness is taken to a hyperbolic extreme at the climax of the film, where a sequence of pseudo-intellectual grandeur takes Perfume beyond the point of no return. In Tykwer’s last film, 2002’s Heaven, the film enters a similar, albeit much more ethereal realm.

But where Heaven gloriously zigged, Perfume unfortunately zags. Perfume is a failure for Tykwer, but it is filled with harmonious and pungent chords of intrigue, which makes it a worthwhile failure.

Dreamgirls dazzles, but in the end, disappoints
Stephanie Patrick

Dreamgirls is a lot like eggnog. It has a really good reputation and looks tempting. But when you eventually try it for yourself, you can’t help but be a bit disappointed.

Based on the Broadway musical, this film (also a musical) tells the old, familiar rise to fame story. Effie White (Jennifer Hudson) is a big girl with a big voice to match. When fate brings her and her amateur singing group, “the Dreamettes”, into the path of manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx), Effie succumbs to his charm and reluctantly agrees to sing back-up until the time is right for them to break through.

The Dreamettes join the tour of James “Thunder” Early (Eddie Murphy) and as his star rises, with a little help from Curtis, so do theirs. Eventually Curtis decides the time is right for the Dreamettes to shed the “ettes”, Jimmy Early and obscurity. But, rather than Effie, it is the prettier but thinner (in body and voice) Deenah (Beyonce Knoles) who takes center stage. All the usual drama involving jealousy and rivalry ensues.

First things first: yes, Eddie Murphy gives the performance of his career. And yes, Jennifer Hudson delivers a show-stopping number and is remarkable for her first time out. These points have been established in every review of the film so we can move on.

Unfortunately there is not a lot left to move on to. The story is as predictable as the outcome of a celebrity marriage. The music is alright but nothing spectacular.

Beyonce’s supposedly great contribution in the form of her original song “Listen” is contrived and over-the-top (which, until last year’s upset by Three 6 Mafia, would have pretty much guaranteed an Oscar). And, in a rare turn of events, Jamie Foxx actually manages to be boring, which is possibly due to being upstaged by Murphy and Hudson throughout the film.

Yet, despite all of these flaws, the film is still enjoyable. If you aren’t too resistant, you may find yourself tapping your foot to the catchy songs and feel the tears well up when the film wants you to. Furthermore, the accolades that have befallen Hudson and Murphy are well-deserved.

They make the film infinitely more watchable and are sorely missed during their absences. The production itself, including the sets, the make-up, the hair, the costumes and most of all Beyonce herself, are stunning. Looks are not everything, but in this industry they go a long way.

Dreamgirls is certainly not the best picture of the year. It’s not even a must-see for the performances. If you don’t like melodies mixed in with your dialogue, stay far, far away.

However, if an old but dressed to dazzle story about fame and fortune, looks and talent told by some famously good-looking and talented people appeals, Dreamgirls will, at the very least, deliver an entertaining couple of hours.

Children of Men
Stephanie Patrick

Children of Men could have gone wrong in so many ways. Any film that attempts to show the inspirational side of going through labor is boldly approaching taking itself far too seriously. Luckily the talents involved, steered by the capable Alfonso Cauron, provide roots grounding the film in a soft cushion of down-to-earth, self-deprecation with a side of good, old-fashioned gore and adventure.

The set-up is quick; London circa 2027. Women have been infertile for 18 years. The world is in turmoil. Britain’s government fights an influx of illegal aliens drawn to, apparently, the most desirable place to wait out the end of civilization.

Theo, our flawed hero played effortlessly by Clive Owen, is drunkenly ambivalent toward all the horrors surrounding him because the world in his head is even darker.

One day his past, in the form of ex Julianne Moore, catches up to him.

Though lured at first by money, Theo’s inner activist hero kicks in when fate calls upon him to escort a miraculously pregnant woman to safety.

How she became pregnant and her destination are of less concern here than the journey. And what a journey it is: dodging bullets, crazy dog-ladies, and a long-haired Michael Caine as a stoner. What more could you ask for in a movie?

There are many good things going for Children of Men. The story itself is very strong as is the dialogue (with some fabulous sarcastic one-liners thrown in).

The film at times has almost a documentary feel due to the camera work throughout, especially during the impressive action sequences – I can only image how intricately planned they must have been.

The gritty, blue look of the film is another positive as is the length (no superfluous run-on scenes) and the ending. Michael Caine makes the most of his allotted screen time and then there’s Owen…

Hollywood has caught Clive Owen fever and I fear it is contagious. When an actor reaches this level of celebrity, it is difficult to see him as anything other than the “Star”.

Here, Owen has merged so perfectly with his character that I could not tell which one it was that I loved (which also reflects positively on the talent of the writer).

I don’t know whether Owen was carrying the film or if he was simply riding its wave, but either way, I was mesmerized.

Children of Men is not a sci-fi thriller on the level of Terminator or Blade Runner but it is thrilling, futuristic, and apocalyptic without inducing too many eye-rolls. This adventure will literally give you a bang for your buck, a chuckle or two and, ladies, a new appreciation for your ovaries – and not too many films can claim that!

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