Different takes on death at the movies this weekend

This weekend Minnesota film audiences who can’t decide what to pick at the MSPIFF might want to check out two very different takes on mortality opening this weekend.

Martin Lawrence (l) and Chris Rock (r) deal with a family problem in “Death at a Funeral.” (Image courtesy Screen Gems)

“Death at a Funeral” is the latest Chris Rock/Martin Lawrence vehicle, a painfully funny tale about a family trying to deal with the demise of the family patriarch. As the guests pour in for what should be a celebration of the departed’s life, family problems and external circumstances conspire to throw the whole thing into chaos.

Now some of you may have seen the Frank Oz directed movie made in the UK in 2007. Director Neil Labute’s 2010 Americanized version hews very closely to the same plot. (The scripts is written in both cases by Dean Craig.) There is even a reappearance of the superb Peter Dinklage playing the same pivotal role as he did in the original, although his character is now called Frank instead of Peter.

Watching the new version is a like going to see a remounting of a classic play, with the cast throwing a different interpretation on the words. The first movie examined British middle class suburban angst. The new version is based on middle class African American angst in Los Angeles. It’s a tribute to the script that both takes work well.

The ensemble cast of the new “Death,” Rock, Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover and Luke Wilson, to name a few, are pitch perfect. You’ll probably never have a better time at a funeral.

If you want a much bleaker view on death, and if you are prepared to make a committment, the Red Riding trilogy also comes to town this weekend.

Sean Bean (r) is just one of the suspect characters sitting in smokey rooms in the Red Riding Trilogy.(Image courtesy IFC Films)

Based on novels by David Peace, the three movies each examine life in the West Riding of Yorkshire in Northern England, an area which has been afflicted by a series of grisly murders over the years. Each of the films is set in a different year: 1974, 1980, and 1983. Each has a different director, and each stands alone. However they also interlock and build to a conclusion which gradually reveals there is a greater evil afoot than serial killers.

This is a world of tough people living in a dying coal-mining economy, beset by violent horrors perpetrated by one of their own. We meet victims and their families, police officers and journalists all trying to make sense of what is going on. It’s a grim and compelling tale, played by host of top acting talent including Sean Bean, Warren Clarke and Mark Addy. The Red Riding experience is far from comfortable, but you’ll think and talk about it for weeks.

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