Thursday, October 8, 2009

Heath Ledger's Last Movie

Heath Ledger's Friends Complete His Last Movieby Jonathan Crow · October 7, 2009

Heath Ledger was on a break from shooting the fantasy film "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" when he tragically died in January of 2008. It was the latest and saddest unexpected turn of events for the movie's director, Terry Gilliam, who has a legendary track record of seemingly cursed film productions. In 1984, Universal Pictures refused to release the his masterpiece "Brazil" until critics dubbed it the best movie of the year. His next movie "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" was crippled by studio politics and a shiftless producer. More recently, the production of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" suffered one disaster after another until it was shut down after only a week of filming.
So when the star of his latest effort died after only about a third of the film was completed, "Imaginarium" looked like yet another casualty to Gilliam's freakishly bad luck. Yet he pulled it off, earning raves at this year's Cannes International Film Festival.
So how did he do it? If Gilliam made quiet domestic dramas, the movie would have been completely derailed. But as it happens, Gilliam makes films that are so hallucinatory and surreal that he can even change the actor playing the lead character and still make the story work. In this case, he enlisted Ledger's friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to step into his role. The three A-listers not only jumped at the chance to make sure Ledger's final work made it to the screen, but they also donated their salaries to Ledger's young daughter, Matilda.
The movie tells the story of the titular Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a thousand-year-old traveling showman who invites audience members to venture into an alternate reality through his magical mirror. He gained his unusual abilities and eternal life through a bet with the Devil (Tom Waits), and when the evil one tries to collect, a mysterious figure named Tony (Ledger and friends) comes to save the day.

The one bit of luck that Gilliam did have during the making of "Imaginarium" was that he shot all of the "real world" scenes before Ledger died. So when the character of Tony steps through the magic mirror into a fantasy world he is transformed, allowing Depp, Law and Farrell to take over the role.
It's a bold and risky way to salvage the project. The question with "Imaginarium" becomes, will these shifts between Ledger and the other actors will feel natural or they will feel forced? According to Gilliam, the transition happens so smoothly that a sound mixer who worked on the movie assumed it was always intended to be that way.
Gilliam has clearly taken out all the stops, making "Imaginarium" as visually wondrous and bizarre as anything he's put on the screen since "Baron Munchausen." To get a look at the movie's startling images, and to see how Heath Ledger's pals look in his role, watch the exclusive trailer below. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" opens on Christmas Day.

Leave Giant Squids Alone

Giant SquidDon't mess with them.By Grady HendrixPosted Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, at 1:59 PM ET
U.S. scientists accidentally caught a giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico last week, the first spotted in those waters since 1954. But perhaps we should be more careful about how we treat this terrifying beast. After a Japanese crew snapped hundreds of photographs of the Architeuthis dux in 2005, Grady Hendrix warned that we had "violated our contract with the giant squid" and urged caution. The article is reprinted below.

Is there any doubt that the scariest animal in the world is the giant squid? Just its name paralyzes my heart with fear in a way that "killer whale" or "jumbo shrimp" do not. Most of us first caught a glimpse of this denizen of the deep trying to kill Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and we all had the same question: How angry do you have to be to try to kill the recipient of an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement? The answer was instantly branded onto all of our brains: as angry as a giant squid.
The giant squid is an "eat the crew, ask questions later" kind of cephalopod, and motion pictures have rightly depicted it as a very angry animal that's not given to conversation. To see a giant squid is to be attacked by a giant squid, the saying goes. But, like Tom Cruise between movies, the giant squid is camera-shy. And, just like the diminutive actor, Architeuthis dux spends long periods lurking out of sight, surely up to no good, before bursting forth, tentacles flailing, and exercising its alternate belief system. In Mr. Cruise's case, the alternate belief system is Scientology. In the giant squid's case, the alternate belief system is a desire to wrap you in its horrible tentacles and poke you to death with its poisonous beak. There are similarities.
Usually we only see giant squid in artist's conceptions fighting sperm whales (very scary) or washed up dead on beaches (not very scary at all). But now the Japanese have ruined it for everyone. With the aid of a very long string and a bag of mashed shrimp, Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori have taken 500 pictures of the giant squid at home. Stripping all the mystery and dignity from this great beast, they got the not-very-coordinated, 26-foot-long monster to snag itself on their bait bag. No one said the giant squid was very bright, but the fact that it tried to free its tentacle for more than four hours before giving up and tearing the thing off doesn't do much for its reputation. Even the researchers' statement that the giant squid seems "much more active … than previously suspected" comes across as a little condescending.
Kubodera and his crew have taken great pains to emphasize that losing a tentacle hasn't harmed the squid, but if they knew anything about giant squid they'd cut the press conferences short and run home to protect their families from this now-livid cephalopod that almost surely wants revenge. The giant squid hates everything: It hates Kirk Douglas, it hates the crew of the Pequod, and it especially hates scientists who make it look stupid.
If man is to live in harmony with nature we must respect nature's needs, and the needs of the giant squid are simple:
a) three (3) metric tons of small fish per week, or one (1) sperm whale;
b) if giant squid is to make more than two appearances in one day, giant squid must be supplied with a rest area equipped with Bose sound system and six large, clean towels;
c) no flash photography.
We have violated our contract with the giant squid. Will any of us ever feel safe in the water again?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bad Economy = Good Health??

Could the Recession Be Good for Your Health?

TUESDAY, Sept. 29 -- The economic downturn may not be all bad - in fact, researchers say recessions may actually be good for health.
University of Michigan researchers looked at death rates during the Great Depression, the worst economic slump in the 20th century. From the stock market crash of 1929 through the early 1930s, economic activity fell sharply, dropping 14 percent in 1932, while unemployment hit 22.9 percent that same year.
Black and white images from the era of bread lines and migrant farmers make it easy to assume the economic misery would have affected public health.
But when the researchers looked at mortality rates among men, women and children from 1920 to 1940, they found death rates declined during years of falling economic activity and rose when times were better.
The study is in the Sept. 28 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
During the two decades spanning the 1920s and 1930s, overall life expectancy increased by 8.8 years. But it wasn't a steady rise, instead shooting up and falling back in a pattern that correlated with the rise and fall of economic activity.
Between 1921 and 1926, the so-called "Roaring 20s" and a time of robust economic growth, life expectancy for non-white men fell by 8.1 years. Yet between 1929 and 1933, the years of steepest economic decline, their life expectancy grew a similar amount.
Likewise, non-white women lost 7.4 years of life expectancy during the Roaring 20s, but they gained 8.2 years of life expectancy during the Depression.
Whites showed a similar pattern, though the loss in life expectancy wasn't as extreme as for non-whites.
"The basic finding of the paper is that mortality rates tend to evolve in parallel to the economy," said lead study author Jose Tapia Granados, an assistant research scientist at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "When the economy goes up, mortality tends to go up. When the economy goes down, mortality rates tend to go down, too."
Researchers did find one exception. During the 1920s and 1930s, two-thirds of all deaths were caused by cardiovascular and renal diseases, cancer, influenza and pneumonia, tuberculosis, motor vehicle accidents and suicide.
All became less deadly during difficult economic times, with the exception of suicides. But suicides accounted for fewer than 2 percent of all deaths, not enough to alter the overall trend, the study authors added.
The country's climb out of the Great Depression began in 1933. The economy grew by more than 10 percent annually from 1933 to 1936. Mortality again peaked in 1936, four years after the worst year of the Depression, even for children under age 4.
The surge in deaths in 1936 isn't just attributable to lag time, the researchers noted. Deaths from motor vehicle accidents went up, in which lag time would not play a role.
So why would the return of good times be bad for health?
More economic activity means people have money to drive cars, meaning more die in auto wrecks, the researchers theorize. In the 1920s and 1930s, cars became objects of mass consumption.
As motor vehicle use increases, so does pollution. Recent studies have linked particulate matter from cars and trucks and carbon monoxide with heart attacks and strokes.
During periods of growth, people have more money to spend on alcohol and cigarettes. And more economic activity means more factory orders, meaning people are working harder and longer and sleeping less.
Still, this is not to say that losing a job is good for your health. The study looks at the bigger picture -- fewer cars, fewer people working overtime, less pollution -- and how it may benefit public health as a whole.
A similar pattern may be at work during the current downturn, the authors suggested.
"My expectation is that mortality rates in 2008 will be lower than in 2007, and probably in 2009 will be lower than 2008," Tapia said. "There is a general improvement, even though suicides are going up."
Joshua Klapow, associate professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham's School of Public Health, said he would be cautious about applying any of the findings to today's recession.
Society has changed significantly in the past 60 to 80 years, he said. Medical advances enable people to live with chronic diseases for much longer nowadays. Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, kill fewer people today. Fewer people do manual labor, smoking has declined, and obesity has shot up.
"The only points of similarity are the economic factors," Klapow said. "You can't equate health status, health care, health costs or lifestyles with the 1920s or the 1930s. You have confounding factors right now that prevent us from drawing any reasonable conclusion about our current state."
And during this downturn, studies show that many Americans are making poor health choices, such as cutting back on medications and putting off medical care because of costs.
"We have a lot of indicators during this economic turmoil that the health status of our population is not getting better," Klapow said. "The study is fascinating, but we have to be very careful not to forecast a trajectory to our present day."
More information
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum has more on the Great Depression.