Sunday, January 31, 2010

Movie: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Quentin Tarantino is the kind of filmmaker that reveals the hidden complexities of cinema to the viewer. Technicalities such as pacing, use of color and screen composition, normally only meaningful to specialists and not visible for the untrained eye of the average moviegoer, have become Tarantino’s trademark. He shows the audience how movies can have style, and besides all that, gives us again a heck of an entertaining story.

Clearly, Tarantino enjoys to play with his audience. He is in complete control of the tension of every shot. Scenes are often drawn out by means of dialogue, while Tarantino lets the tensions between the actors rise and fall, rise and fall again, and then in a single moment everything comes to a climax in an unexpected way (and often involves a lot of bullets). It is the technique of suspense-master Alfred Hitchcock, but where Hitchcock’s thrillers were purely focused on terror, Tarantino gives it all a twist of dark humor. Prime examples are the opening scène with the sadistic officer Landa and the scène in the basement with the drinking games.

Inglourious Basterds is much more besides. It is a jumping board for unknown, promising actors. It is a darkly comic rewrite of history with a daring and original plot. It is delightfully over the top without being cartoony, and it is an ode to the war movies of old, most notably The Dirty Dozen. All in all, it is better than 90% of all that is out there and among Tarantino’s best work.

IMDB: Inglourious Basterds

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Movie: Blade Runner (1982)

Those who do not know what to expect may leave Blade Runner in a bewildered state. It is science fiction, and Harrison Ford, but Blade Runner is definately no Star Wars-like action adventure. Instead, this movie is slow, deliberate and philosophical, with emphasis on heavy themes like consciousness, life and death. The story is an adaptation of a novel by Philip K. Dick, a writer notorious for his drugs-awakened paranoia and mindbending themes.

On the face Blade Runner is a detective story, where Ford hunts for escaped robots (Replicants) that are nearly similar to humans. As a detective story it is pretty straighforward and Ford himself doesn’t seem so eager to have some action and fun. In fact, the robots, when discovered, seem more alive than the humans. This is a very deliberate choice by director Ridley Scott (who, after Alien, apparently felt the need to handle something heavier).

The movies of the 80s are always extremely visual. It was the time that special effects were on the rise and directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were influential. So too Blade Runner. It is set in a gritty, chaotic film-noir environment in a future Los Angeles, where the skies are brown and the streets between enormous black buildings are sprawling bazars. It is a place of rampart biotechnology, where customized eyes are grown in backalleys and artists fill their houses with talking living puppets.

The film occasionally drops hits that the boundary between man and android have faded completely and that Ford’s job is useless (and that Ford himself, even, is possibly a Replicant). The ending is justly famous, and one of the most memorable endings of all times, when actor Rutger Hauer, playing a killer android, improvised sorrow for its own demise. See it, but be cautious with your expectations.

IMDB: Blade Runner

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movie: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The only thing I ever saw about Sherlock Holmes was the Disney adaptation The Great Mouse Detective. I have never read the original novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and I guess not many people have. Director Guy Ritchie has, and, him being such a fan of crime and comedy (and reaching his peak with Snatch), was the man for the job for a modern retelling.

Ritchie takes us back to the end of the 19th century, when science and superstition reigned together and the British Parliament was the center of the world. Sherlock Holmes is Doyle’s champion of science and deduction and, naturally, is pitted against an adversary with powers of black magic. What ensues is a great tale of action and adventure, a bit of love and a lot of humour in a gritty London (though not as over the top as, say, Tim Burton’s London from Sweeney Todd).

The success of Sherlock Holmes lies largely with the actors. The quirky Holmes (Downey Jr.), sober Dr. Watson and delightful femme fatale Adler (McAdams) remind me of another swashbuckling trio from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Sherlock Holmes almost turns into the Robert Downey Jr Show, as the Pirates movies almost turned into the Johnny Depp Show. Downey Jr shines in this role. Needless to say, I expect lots of Sherlock Holmes sequels and I would be more than happy to see them. Great Stuff!

IMDB: Sherlock Holmes

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movie: Collapse (2009)

Journalist Michael Ruppert is the guy that yells “don’t!” as the Trojans bring in the Wooden Horse. And no-one listens. At least, that is how he presents himself in the documentary Collapse. The film is not much more than an interview with Ruppert on oil, energy, money and food, shot over a period of five days and interspersed with archive footage of everything he talks about.

Here is the deal: Ruppert predicts the imminent collapse of the modern global industrial society. And he makes a pretty good statement. The whole world is based on oil, or, more precisely, finite resources. Not only electricity and fuel comes from oil, but products like cars itself come from oil. Oil is needed for all the plastic we use, from toothpaste to car tires. At the same time, our economy and our political ideologies are based on the false assumption of infinite growth. When infinite growth and finite resources meet eachother, collapse of society follows.

He might be a madman, he might also be a prophet. Collapse feels as a populist documentary but it presents a very clear story with no statistics, only the mention of trends that we are all already aware of. Ruppert is no scientist, and gets his opinions of what he finds out as a journalist, but his conclusions do not deviate much from the similar titled book Collapse by scientist Jared Diamond. Ruppert paints an even bleaker future than Diamond, but he might just be right. I haven’t decided yet.

At one point in the movie, after listing example after example of what is happening to our civilization, Ruppert collapses himself and starts to cry. Before the subtitles start, we are told that Ruppert has stopped writing and lecturing. He has given up, retired to his home, getting joy out of little things and holds on tight for the plunge.

Collapse is the ultimate feed-bad movie, but it is worth seeing.

IMDB: Collapse

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books: Malcolm Gladwell - The Tipping Point (2000) and Blink (2005)

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist working for The New Yorker and he has the great talent of unearthing and tracking down unseen forces that have a big influence on our daily lives. A very useful skill for a journalist. Gladwell then transformed into a sort of pop sociologist after he started to bundle his articles into books. Very succesful books, I might add; number one international bestsellers and so on and so forth.

The Tipping Point (2000) is the story about hypes. Why do certain brands have sudden succes and other don’t? Why became Sesame Street so well-known? Why did the 80s crime epidemic of New York suddenly stop? Why is it so hard to stop teenage smoking? The Tipping Point is about that crucial moment in which the momentum of change passes a threshold and cannot be stopped. According to Gladwell, ideas and messages are contagious like a virus and spread or die out.

Gladwell talks to lots of social scientists, psychologists and specialists from all sorts of branches of research, but also to CEOs and advertisers and brings all his findings together to present a sort of rulebook on social epidemics. But his story is never boring; he presents every chapter with case studies and examples out of our daily lives. Gladwell’s books, both The Tipping Point and the next one, Blink, overflow with interesting examples and fascinating people.

Blink (2005) is also about the social effects of a psychological phenomenon. This time he dives into the mysterious world of the subconscious. How does our subconscious influence our judgement, and, just as important, how can we influence the subconscious of others? Gladwell shows that it happens all around us and our free will is not as free as we think it is.

Gladwell’s books are immensely popular and not without controversy. They make great coffeetable conversation and are passed on from person to person. And while the correlations he makes are a bit pseudoscientific now and then, he opens our minds to real and unseen worlds so we can understand these times just a little bit better.