Tag Archives: death

Now Playing: Jackson Rattles ‘The Lovely Bones’

15 Jan

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The Lovely Bones (PG-13) 120 min. Directed by: Peter Jackson Written by: Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie Original Score: Brian Eno

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Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones is a decidedly creepy and insubstantial adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel. Recounting the after-life of young Susie Salmon, a 14-yr old Pennsylvania girl who is raped and murdered by a neighbor, Bones is being sold as a kind of bittersweet fantasy with an eye on family tragedy. Beautifully photographed, with a haunting wistful score by Brian Eno, Jackson and company bring all of their technical expertise to bear on the film and attend to its tricky narrative taboos with a  delicate hand. The acting is mostly very good, with the centerpiece being a thoughtful and sweet performance by Saoirse Ronan, who seems to have a bright cinematic future ahead of her. And yet, for all of this, The Lovely Bones falls flat on its face. Hard. Continue reading

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Movie Review: Ledger’s final performance haunts the ‘Imaginarium’

14 Jan

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The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (PG-13) Directed by: Terry Gilliam. Written by: Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown Starring: Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Heath Ledger, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell

 

  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Terry Gilliam film that has stirred in me any sense of wonder or joy.

At last then, here is a new picture from the director that does both of those things. For that reason alone The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a work to treasure. Filled with elaborate, mind-boggling visuals and moments of madcap fantasy, Parnassus is also one of the more thoughtful Gilliam concoctions; taking the concept of the storyteller trapped within a world of the mundane and tweaking it to create a film that feels like his most personal yet. Continue reading

Movie Review: ‘The Final Destination’? We Can Only Hope

1 Sep

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 The Final Destination in 3D (R)

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 The Final Destination is nothing more than an 80 minute gimmick designed to give the audience outrageous death scenes and jump-in-your seat thrills. That, however, is not the movie’s problem. The problem is that this fourth installment in the ‘tired-the-moment-it-began’ saga is a complete waste of an 80 minute gimmick featuring outrageous death scenes and it lacks any kind of actual thrills. This flick challenges Transformers 2 for the crown of most insipid and intentionally insulting summer entertainment. Most will shrug, roll their eyes and exclaim “I told you so!” but as any horror fan knows, the potential was here for a good time. Continue reading

Celebrating the Non-Death of Goldblum: Jeff’s Ten Best Roles

1 Jul

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Last week was a rough one for the celeberity world; three taken in the space of only a few days. After Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, Jackson’s death hit like a ton of bricks. The news was sad to be sure, but I hadn’t been keeping much track of Michael recently and had never been the kind of fan others were. Then, when my wife and I got home that night I was greeted by emails and news that Jeff Goldblum had died too. WHAT?? HOW? I was initially heartbroken–I’ve been following his career ever since The Fly and believed he was poised to do something big; afterall the last few projects had been some of his best work even if they flew under the radar of most. Of all the news, this one hit me the hardest. Crap. Jeff Goldlbum. People are only gonna remember him for Independence Day and Jurassic Park, I thought. Well, no they won’t. From here on out we can remember the time we thought Goldblum died. Continue reading

Death of the 80s…Goodbye Captain EO

26 Jun

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My wife and I were standing in line for Public Enemies last night, up at the Muvico Egpytian at Arundel Mills, when cellphones started going off in unison, the tap-tapping of furious texting filled the air, and people were gasping loudly. My first thought was that Kim Jong Il finally pushed the button. And then I got wind of the real issue; Michael Jackson is dead at 50…heart attack. Continue reading

David Carradine has died…Updated with link

4 Jun

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June 4th,2009-

Actor David Carradine, 72, of Kung-Fu and Kill Bill fame, died Wednesday night in a hotel room in Bangkok (he was there to film a movie). It was earlier reported that he commited suicide, while his manager Chuck Binder went on record to say he believed the death was of natural causes. Now Carradine’s rep has come forward and it appears the death was accidental. Seeing how he was naked in a closet in Thailand with a cord around his neck and, as the news reports have said, “other parts of his body” I’ll just leave you with this link to IMDB that clarifies the matter. Definitely an odder story now than it was this morning.

This is sad, sad news. Being a fan of the original Kung-Fu series from the 70s and having enjoyed Carradine’s work in Kill Bill (it was one of the few times an actor really humanized Tarantino’s pop dialogue) I was always waiting to see him spring forward again with something of worth. This is very unfortunate to hear and my prayers are with his family.

Now Playing: Oscar winning ‘Departures’ embraces life and honors the dead

1 Jun

 

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Okuribito (Departures) (2008) rated: PG-13 for thematic material. 130 min. Japanese with english subtitles.  directed by: Yojiro Takita. written by: Kundo Koyama. starring: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki. cinematography by: Takeshi Hamada. Original music by: Joe Hisaishi.

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The wanted ad says the position will help others find ‘peaceful journeys.’

Freshly unemployed 30-something cellist Daigo didn’t just lose a job when the orchestra he was playing for disbanded, he lost a direction and a purpose. When he comes across the ad during his job hunt, he thinks it describes the work of a travel agent. That will do, especially if it pays well. He has sold his cello and is ready for something new–but maybe not this. His prospective employer is eager to have him and explains that the ad was misprinted; the proper translation should be ‘departures’. Daigo is offered a substantial salary and encouraged to give this job a try, even if its different than what he expected.

The actual position is that of a nokanshi, or ‘encoffining master’ who works in tandem with the funeral homes to prepare dead bodies for burial in ceremonies that take place in front of the deceased’s family. Daigo didn’t plan to sign on for this, but he and his wife Mika, have just moved out into his family home (his mother is dead and his father abandoned him when he was young) and he has promised her a fresh start. He takes the job, but keeps its nature a secret from her. And thus begins Yojira Takata’s Departures, a japanese film that won the Oscar for best foreign language film at the 2009 Academy Awards. 

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Departures is a surprisingly moving film that combines poetry and humor with a rich sense of cultural awareness. That may sound stuffy but it isn’t. To this westerner’s eyes, the process of ‘encoffining’ seems sterile, detached and perhaps a bit morbid; the family sits in front of the nokanshi as he bathes, cleans and prepares the body and then gently but expertly wraps it for its final journey. The entire process plays out like a somber dance, one final waltz whose purpose is clearly intended to benefit not the deceased but the living. The film is helpful in drawing out and exploring the assumed stigma that Japanese culture has towards death.

What Takita and his screenwriter Kundo Kayama do is instructively draw the lines between an aversion to death and a respect for the transition between life and death. If Departures were merely a study into the process of encoffining and an observation of its intimate details that would in and of itself make for a compelling film. The uncommon strength of Departures is that it manages to be so much more than just an explanation of a ceremony; it’s a warm and thoughtful exhaltation of the joy to be found in living and the catharsis that comes from properly acknowledging grief.

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Motoki as Daigo narrates the film but never gets carried away with it. He is the neophyte into this world and through his eyes we see his own progression; not simply from a cellist to a nokanshi, but from a man without a purpose to an artist embracing a passion and a talent he never would have guessed he had. Daigo isn’t sure about the job at first and a few days are rough, like a visit to an elderly shut-in whose body has been in the house for over two weeks. But the first time he watches his boss, played by veteran Tsutomo Yamazaki, perform an encoffining ritual he is intrigued and enraptured.

There is an artistry to it, like playing the cello, and a strange thing happens to the family present. They move from inconsolable grief to a mournful but visible peace. It isn’t complete and sudden, but it does happen and in one instance, a man even credits Daigo and the job he has done with helping him accept his son as the person he was. The purpose that Daigo latches onto isn’t related to the aesthetic and precise nature of the work but to the people who attend the ceremonies. He, the typically despised nokanshi, becomes a guide of sorts, not ushering the passed away into the land of death, but leading the grieving to a place of closure and acceptance.

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Its hard to describe exactly how Departures ends up being as great as it is. A large share of the credit goes to the excellent cast who embody their characters so perfectly that they convey their essence mostly through action and only occasionally with dialogue. In a film like this that spends so much of its time immersed in imagery, custom and tradition, long conversation scenes explaining processes and protocol would be tedious and besides the point. Motoko, who has had a long career as a Japanese pop star, is excellent here as a sensitive young man searching for his purpose and struggling with the memory of the father who abandoned him. Instead of just playing as a footnote in Daigo’s painful youth, the film expands and internalizes that conflict. Motoko makes it a large part of who the character is and how his new-found profession is bringing that pain back to surface and eventually calls it to be dealt with.

Yamazaki as the old boss does top-notch work and provides much of the comic relief without really saying much. Usually a film like this would revere the old pro and give him plenty of wisdom and perhaps even make him a father figure to Daigo. None of that ever happens, explicitly. Yamazaki’s master is a professional and a man who has organized a philosopy and lifestyle around what he does;he is completely at peace with it. Being in such close proximity to the dead amplifies everything in life and he models this for Daigo; the boss and his employees eating chicken with a discernable fervor right after an encoffining is a scene both odd and insightful.

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The remainder of the cast do their jobs wonderfully and I honestly couldn’t find a single poor performance. So well crafted is Departures that even the dead have been chosen with care and the family members at the deathbed have some of the juiciest roles. The film takes it time and has a natural flow and rythym which is good for a story that tends toward the melodramatic. Instead of being mawkish, it’s moving and wise in the way it visualizes its narrative. The cinematography and score are two of the strongest elements and they are the backbone of the film; they don’t simply accentuate the story, they give it the power it has. I was reminded of the way a master like Akira Kurosawa would construct deep and meaningful structures out of simple quiet life moments. The  encoffining ceremonies are numerous and each one is presented in almost its entirety. This would almost assuredly be boring if it weren’t for the fact that when each one happens it means something different and the characters are learning and growing during them.

Not unlike Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Departures is a masterpiece of Japanese cinema and though it might be grudgingly recieved over here as solid but overly sentimental, it deals with mortality in a mature and expressive way. This is not a story of  grief but a call for embracing every facet that life has to offer, each in its own time and in its own way. We shouldn’t be surprised when it turns out that Departures is not a tear-jerker but a triumphant, humorous and satisfying drama that inspires us to consider the joys available to us that are all too often taken for granted.

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Departures is one of the very best films I have seen this year and I encourage you to check it out. It’s completely wonderful and hearkens back to the work of the Japanese masters of the 50s and 60s while embracing the same kind of big-hearted entertainment that made 1996’s Shall We Dance? such a delight.