Blu-Ray Picks of the Week: Me Before You & The Jungle Book

Two good ones are new to Blu-Ray this week!

It’s great to see Emilia Clarke smile. Between “Game of Thrones” and “Terminator: Genisys,” she hasn’t had much opportunity. She makes up for that in “Me Before You” by smiling a lot. She has to have one of the sweetest, most endearing smiles on the planet, coupled with an eyebrow furrow that is unmatched by any other. It’s heartwarming to behold.

It’s a good thing she smiles a lot in “Me Before You” because the subject matter is pretty heavy. Clarke plays Louisa Clark, a friendly, cheerful, outgoing 26 year-old woman living with her family in the English countryside. She dresses in eye-popping colors that cause her to stand out. This is one of the first things noticed by Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a thirty-one year old quadriplegic. Will’s mother (Janet McTeer) and father (Charles Dance) hire Louisa to look after Will and be his companion/caregiver. All of the heavy lifting and other logistical matters are handled by Nathan (Stephen Peacocke), Will’s physical therapist.

As these movies naturally go, Will is difficult to get to know, and it’s up to Louisa to break through the walls he’s put up and reach him. This happens one rainy day when they watch a French movie called “Of Gods and Men,” which I reviewed when it came out in the U.S. in 2011. Definitely a good choice, and their mutual admiration for the movie starts them on their journey of camaraderie, friendship, and more.

Louisa and Will are the perfect yin and yang. Where she is outgoing, eccentric, and a bit ditzy, he is more restrained, controlled, and intellectual. Or to put it more succinctly, he’s more of a thinker and she’s more of a feeler. Together each one helps to make up where the other falls short. Clarke’s Louisa wears her emotions on her sleeve, and bears all without any sort of filter. Claflin’s Will is not prone to such extremes of emotion. Even his smiles are reserved, as if he’s not totally present in the moment and not fully experiencing the joy to be had. The sad part, as we soon learn, is that we are correct: he is not.

The performances by the leads are truly great, and Clarke in particular cements her position in the movie industry as a serious actress with incredible range. A scene that takes place on a beach, which in the span of about five minutes has Louisa go from experiencing the utmost joy to the most heartbreaking sorrow, is played brilliantly, made all the more impactful by Clarke’s incredibly expressive face. Even if she gets overlooked by Oscar next year, I’d like to think that at least some BAFTA recognition is headed her way. She’s too amazing in this movie to go unnoticed.

There is, of course, controversy surrounding “Me Before You” due to the subject matter and the decision made by Will. I think those objecting in that regard miss the point. It’s not a commentary on quadriplegics, many of whom adjust and have great lives, it’s simply a decision made by a character. In fairness, there are those in the movie, not the least of whom is Will’s mom, who strongly object to his choice. But they ultimately come around to respect the fact that it is Will’s life and Will’s decision. I admire the bravery of “Me Before You” for sticking to its guns and not trying to force an ending down our throats that does not stay true to the character. I’m sure it was a hard fight to keep the ending as is, and the movie is all the better for it. Buy it on Amazon: Me Before You (Blu-ray + Digital HD)
Also Out This Week

The Jungle Book

Watch out Disney princesses—this live action/CGI combo, princess-free reboot is giving you a run for your money. Directed by Jon Favreau, the story of “The Jungle Book”—much like the 1967 animated original—is about panther Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) and bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray) escorting young man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) back to the man village to protect him from the wrath of Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba). Along the way, they encounter dangerous and unscrupulous characters, like constrictor snake Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson) and oversize orangutan King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken).

The jungle landscape and the look of the animals are photo real. “The Jungle Book” is an amazing jump forward in CGI technology, as nothing in the movie looks synthetic. It’s very easy to immerse in the story of this real life boy talking and interacting with these animals, like it’s a nature documentary where the animals happen to speak English and sound like famous actors.

Whereas the 1967 version was more of an episodic journey with song and dance numbers, this 2016 version has more of a plot. The elephants and vultures make just quick appearances as nods to the 1967 movie, and the extensive presence of Kaa from that movie is reduced to a cameo scene in this one. While some may miss the elephants and vultures, since they were a hoot in the 1967 movie, ultimately it was a good idea to forgo them in favor of better developed central characters with strong motivations that propel the story from one scene to the next.

The two classic songs from the 1967 movie, “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” are included in this movie. Both are performed in fun song and dance routines, and they do what great songs in musicals do: they advance the story and/or provide insight into characters--or their motivations--while at the same time being entertaining. This is even more important given the somewhat darker, harsher tone of this version compared to the 1967 version. Still, even with all of the nods and references and call backs to the animated classic, this version of the “Jungle Book” is unique and original enough to stand on its own, and is more than worthy of the name. Buy it on Amazon: The Jungle Book (BD + DVD + Digital HD) [Blu-ray].

More New Releases: “The Night Manager,” about a hotel manager recruited to infiltrate the network of an arm’s dealer, starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie; 
“Chimes at Midnight,” Criterion release of the 1965 Orson Welles movie in which he plays Sir John Falstaff and reinterprets some of Shakespeare’s plays to show a different point of view on the development of Prince Harry of Wales; and “Disco Godfather,” with Rudy Ray more as a retired cop turned celebrity DJ who hunts down a drug kingpin distributing PCP.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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