Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movie: Shutter Island (2010)

I love how this movie starts. A ship appears out of the mist at sea. It blows its deep horn, and the horn gets taken up by the music score, creating a theme of danger. The captain says there is a storm coming. By now every viewer knows that this is not going to be a comedy. The ship takes two FBI agents to a mental hospital on an island, and those who are familiar with thrillers know that mental hospitals are no places where people get happy, or keep their sanity.

The halls and rooms and people are just dripping with foreboding and danger. The staff of the hospital does not cooperate with them. Agent Daniels gets nightmares and the patients give signs that strange things take place on this island. From then on this movie develops into an extremely tense and unnerving experience, so much so that we, the viewers, lose the sense of what is truth, and what is fiction.

If you don’t like being messed around with, the movie might well rub you the wrong way, but at least you get to know the feeling of paranoia and isolation that the main character is going through. Shutter Island is the work of a master filmmaker who does not rely on cheap thrills or tricks, but takes lessons from old suspense-masters like Alfred Hitchcock, but then again I expect nothing less from Scorsese, who is perhaps the finest director working today. Everything about this movie is top quality, from the locations to the acting.

It wasn’t so succesful at the box office, but it is a must-see. If you feel like seeing a movie about fear, don’t see a typical slasher movie, see this one.

IMDB: Shutter Island

Monday, April 19, 2010

The New Post-Apocalypse: The Book of Eli (2010) and The Road (2009)

Eli (Denzel Washington), from The Book of Eli, acts like an action hero. The post-apocalyptic world seems to be created by the director and screenwriters just to show the audience what a hero this Eli is. He is silent and distant and has a big knife, and is the protector of the last Bible in the world. God told him to go west and so he slashes his way forward through the ranks of evil Gary Oldman, who wants to have this book so he can control the masses around him.

The movie is a bit of a moral jumble, where the Bible is simultaneously good and bad and it is somehow acceptable that this violent and distant Eli is there to protect it. Now and then it rubbed me the wrong way. The story is replete with cliches and the ending is overwrought. Still this movie has a lot going for it. It has style and a bit of dark humor and it is always a pleasure to see Oldman playing a maniac.

The Road is the bleakest and most depressing post-apocalyptic movie I have seen so far. The movie has so little colors that it is almost black and white. The story isn’t about some post-apocalyptic hero who is untouchable in this new world, like Eli from The Book of Eli, or Mad Max or some Kevin Costner hero. It is about a regular man and his son, who he tries to protect. The boy grew up in this ravaged world and has no memories of the world before, when everything was good. His father reads him stories of how it was before the bombs fell.

Their daily lives revolve around food. Food and cold and a grey world of snow, ash and dead trees. In tense moments when they are in danger from gangs of armed men, the thought of suicide is never far away. If The Book of Eli is an action/dark comedy version of the post-apocalyptic story, then The Road is the harsh, real and philosophical variant. Flashbacks to the past, to the time when his wife was still there, have a warmer tone.

It is a kind of desperation the viewer can wallow in. Both movies give us pictures of a destroyed landscape that are perfectly horrifying and fantastically miserable. It is the destruction of the world as a form of art. The Road succeeds in this even more than The Book of Eli does. Like its characters and story, The Book of Eli overdoes the bleakness by pumping up the contrast, making shadows darker and the land a dry surface with bright orange colors. The Road is grey and cold, with more impressive views of dead forests and empty roads.

Overall, The Road is the better movie. It has little plot, but at the heart lies the relationship between the father and his son and therefore it is intense and personal, but also a bit slow. If you go for action and less depressing eye-candy, The Book of Eli is very satisfying.

IMDB: The Book of Eli, The Road

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book: Clifford D. Simak - Way Station (1963)

Have you ever heard of the term space opera? To those familiar with the science fiction genre it has a history of meaning and nowadays it is broadly used to designate a dramatic, large-scale epic involving aliens, space battles and heroic adventures on other planets. Like Star Wars. Way Station is none of that. It is about an old veteran of the American civil war, living like a hermit in an old wooden house with his rifle in a country of small-minded hillbillies.

Yet it is sometimes called a space opera. It is the most unique, heartwarming, one-of-a-kind novel. Enoch Wallace lives by himself in a valley in the middle of nowhere and he is 124 years old, but doesn’t look a day older than 30. By day he recieves the mail, sometimes interacts with his redneck neighbors and their deaf daughter, and disappears again into his wooden house. Unknown to others, the back room of his house is also an intergalactic way station, that recieves alien visitors and sents them on their way again. But the CIA takes notice and begins to spy…

There is hardly any action in this book. No space battles and otherworldly adventures. Instead it is soft and quiet and Wallace is a low-key, warm character. But I could not put this book down for a second. It is a small and fast-moving story and at the same time a bit philosophical and even mystical. It is filled with alien artifacts that forever remain a mystery and now and then an alien drops by for a cup of coffee. Simak hardly explains anything, but gives us small glimpses of the wonders out there in space. He lifts the curtains only a second to show what is waiting for us when we are ready to join the rest of the universe.

If the down-to-earth Enoch Wallace can open his mind to the wonders of the universe in his own back room, then so can we all. 40 years after publication, no writer has yet published something remotely similar to this little novel, and its small number of pages is a small price to pay for such a rich and timeless story.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Movie: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Not too bad, not too bad. I happen to have read Lewis Carrol’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland two years ago and I remember that it is a book without much plot. Of all the books in the world, this is probably the book that is most like a dream, and dreams are not very coherent most of the time. The charm of the Alice story lies in subtle word jokes (that often require an explanation nowadays, 145 years later) and fancies in imagination. But modern Hollywood requires movies with a plot, a clear storyline.

I can imagine Tim Burton’s headaches as he tries to force the well-known Alice elements into a coherent story. I guess he took another look at the Disney adaptation and then made up a lot of new characters and places to glue the Alice elements together. This will make Alice purists groan, but I can forgive Burton for using his artistic licence. At least he tried to stay true to the dreamlike spirit, although the battle at the end is really stretching it. Burton also tries to get away with it by making his movie a sort of sequel to the first, and Alice is a young adult instead of a little girl (like Steven Spielberg’s Hook was a sequel to Peter Pan). The intro with adult Alice is nice, but the ending in the real world is rushed and awkward (curiously Hook’s ending was too stretched out and overly sentimental).

Burton has also sweetened the story a bit. If we compare this Alice in Wonderland with the book and the Disney version, then the latter two are much more darker and brooding and somehow better suited for adults than children. By removing the darkness, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has become childish and falls a bit flat. In the end, if you like Burton and if you like odd characters jumping through inventive CG landscapes, you can enjoy it at face value. I love the cat.

IMDB: Alice in Wonderland

Friday, April 9, 2010

Movie: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

Why am I posting a romantic comedy on this blog? That isn’t my style! It isn’t really a romantic comedy though; even the voice-over says it is not a boy-meets-girl movie, its more of a dark humor drama and a refreshing look on relationsh... blablabla. Hell, who am I kidding. It is a comedy, and it is about relationships. It is about a guy that has listened to too many British popsongs and therefore thinks “the One” is waiting out there, and about a girl who doesn’t believe in love. Then we flip through 500 days of their relationship, not in chronological sequence however.

I didn’t lie; it is a very refreshing movie with great witty editing, funny dialogue and believable characters that could live next door and even a gripping story. Expecially if you’re repulsed by regular Sandra Bullock romcoms, you should check this out. It reminds me of the more truthful episodes of the How I Met Your Mother series, but in a darker, black comedy vein.

So the voice-over says it is not a love story, but there are only a few movies about love that capture it so touchingly and charmingly as this one. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes to mind; it also feels similar with the nonchronological setup of the story. It is a beautiful and funny movie and feels like summer, the time of warmth and energy. It’s the kind of movie that stays in the back of your mind for the rest of the day.

IMDB: (500) Days of Summer

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Book: Robert Holdstock - Mythago Wood (1984)

Let me share with you a real discovery: Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood! This book came to my attention because simply everybody seems to like it; critics and readers alike. And so did I.

The central premise of this book is utterly weird and original. I am hesitant of telling you about it because if I do, you will not be able to discover it for yourself. Let me just tell you this: it is set in 1944, in England. A small piece of forest in Herefordshire, unknown to the people at large, is still primal forest, unchanged since the end of the Ice Age. You can run around it in an hour, but enter it, and there seems to be no end to it after walking a day, a week. The Wood seems to generate mythical figures from our past. But how? And what is there to be found in the deep of the wood? Stephen Huxley has already lost his father and brother to that mystery.

There is much more to it. Holdstock delves into the deep of human history, from the stories of Robin Hood and King Arthur down to the shamans of the Neolithic and the end of the last Ice Age. Mythago Wood is an exploration of myth and the primal forces of our subconscious, but set in an adventure of fantasy and horror.

Holdstock presents his story as real and rational, as a mystery that should be investigated, and when elements of fantasy suddenly strike it is scary, and should be scary. His story is a lot of things: it starts as a supernatural mystery with a 19th century feel, completely with semi-scientific diary entries, evoking Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the stories of Sherlock Holmes. Then it morphs into a horror story, and a highly emotional love story, and finally a quest of discovery, revenge and redemption.

Holdstock delivers it in elegant, neat and clear British prose. I can see this turn into a movie someday. Not often have I read such a rich and gripping novel. I recommend it to everyone.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book: Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

In the world of Guy Montag, the firemen’s hose does not spray water, but kerosene. It is a world were everything is backward, twisted, yet eerily familiar. People are discouraged to think, only talk about empty things and live like zombies, continuously entranced by empty popmusic and empty reality series on TV-walls. Books are illegal, and burned. It is the job of the firemen. Incidentally, fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns.

Just read some of the famous opening lines:

“It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black.”

As you can see already, Bradbury has a very visual style of writing, with great care of imagery and the rhythm of the words. Bradbury loves words. His poetic style is still unperfected and not as controlled as in his later works. Fahrenheit 451 was one of his earliest books, written at a young age. But it makes his novel fast, short and explosive, like a fire itself. It is also a bit quirky and over-the-top in its descriptions and metaphors, but its flaws make the novel actually more lovable. And more than 50 years after publication its messages are still glowing embers. This book refuses to be put out.

It is kind of distressing that some of Bradbury’s predictions have become recognisable in our modern times. This twisted world that he describes wasn’t the result of a twisted government, but it was the general tendency of the times. It was the overcrowded world, high on mass production and fast living. Fahrenheit 451 is about the loss of thinking, leading to the loss of books. But, predictably, Guy Montag the fireman sees the errors of his trade and starts an adventure of rebellion.

Like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World, this is a real dystopia classic and really worth reading. It has also spawned a reasonably good movie (1966), but that of course misses Bradbury’s virtuoso writing style.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Movie: Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Nick Naylor is a fast-talking advocate of the devil. He is the guy that endorses cigarette smoking on behalf of the tabacco industry. He knows perfectly well what he is doing and lives his life by constructing arguments and almost believes them. He goes out on a night with the advocates of alcohol and guns. He also has a son.

So the big question: how to be a good and honest dad while every day he walks a very very fine line between morals? He always twists the truth just the way he likes to, except with his son. Only in their interaction we see a glimpse of Naylor’s true self. But Naylor is transforming his son, to make him understand his dad’s world. His son is his only friend. But can Naylor continue down that path? This is no drama though, it is a comedy, filled with wacky characters.

Director Reitman’s filming is as flashing and fast-paced as Naylor’s talking, and he assembled a great cast of actors that give stellar performances! In short, this is a smart and funny movie.

IMDB: Thank You For Smoking

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book: Douglas Adams - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987)

As far as I know, this is the only Science Fiction Mystery Detective Comedy ever written. A unique artistic project. Douglas Adams was also the writer of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and if you like that, you will probably like this lesser known work as well.

Douglas Adams is like a loose cannon that drills itself all the way through the most diverse subjects, and then injects all his newfound interests into his stories. While he was working on Dirk Gently, he was, for instance, completely fascinated by computers (which was a wholly new thing back then) and he enthusiastically added some computer talk here and there. Among other things and other things (and other things). But that is the whole point of Adams’ novel: the “interconnectedness” of everything. It is unsurprisingly also the very belief of his esoteric detective Gently. And so Adams created a free pass for himself to drag the wildest things together and fuse them into a novel like a master smith. Wildly different storylines about telephone recorders, a misplaced sofa and electric monks start to fit only at the end like a jigsaw puzzle, and Dirk Gently, master of the interconnectedness, once again solved the case.

As a result, Adams’ novel does not feel like the kind of novel that has been worked on for a decade to perfect, but more like a recording of Adams’ interests at the time. The whole interconnectedness theme sounds a bit as an excuse for Adams to talk about what holds his mind. What saves this book is, off course, Adams sense of humor. Adams is a very intelligent man with a power over words, and likewise his British silliness is intelligent and witty.

Tall. Tall and absurdly thin. And good-natured. A bit like a preying mantis that doesn’t prey -- a non-preying mantis if you like. A sort of pleasant genial mantis that’s given up preying and taken up tennis instead.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book: J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

Please excuse the following obliquatory slimy introduction. This is one of the most famous American novels of all time and has permanently claimed a high spot on all those all time top lists. The author, J.D. Salinger, recently passed away so his masterpiece is suddenly in focus again. It’s one of those books that get ruined because students have to read it against their will on schools, but it is actually an exhilarating read for everyone older than fifteen. End of introduction.

The Catcher in the Rye is about a loudmouthed teenager named Holden, who has some real problems with the adult world. He is no child anymore but wants to protect all that is childlike and innocent, that what he has lost himself. But the adult world waiting for him is fake, phony, a goddamn joke. For about 24 hours we look through his eyes while he tells us how he raves like a cussing madman through the streets of New York, disliking everything that crosses his path.

Holden is a worst case teenager and we all recognize some part of ourselves in him. His memoir is funny as we sympathize, because yes, we have been there and we know the world can be phony place, and we admire his skill to dislike almost everything. But his view of the world is also a bit of a trap that pollutes your own, because it isn’t very optimistic. It isn’t the answer to life, but Holden has yet to learn that fact.

J.D. Salinger delivers it all in sharp, witty, crystal-clear prose. Holden is a unique character, and one of the best ever written. The story feels straightforward, simple, but the writer is a master of dialogue and hides just beneath the surface a depth and complexity that you don’t even consciously notice upon first read. It is easy to read and to relate to, funny and sad. It will not leave you unstirred.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Movie: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

To explain a film like The Imaginarium, a reviewer invariably turns to describing the unusual style of the director. Terry Gilliam is the director, and anyone familiar with his movies (try Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or the more disturbing Tideland) knows that he is unconventional, but always tries to present something wonderful.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is Gilliam as we know it: a patchy film, quick and chaotic, a bit troublesome to follow or to get the hang on, and filled to the brim with imagination. Occasionally it looks like Gilliam tries to tell more stories than the two hours permit, throwing in whatever came to his mind at the time. My guess is that this movie is Gilliam’s ode to storytelling, much like Big Fish was Tim Burton’s, but Gilliam’s is a far more trippy experience. To explain the story would take another page, and, on screen as well, remains a bit hard to digest.

In the end, this film will probably go down in history as “Heath Ledger’s last film”. He died before completing his scenes, and halfway in the movie his role is filled by no less than Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. This is done quite seamlessly as we jump from imaginary world to imaginary world. They all give great performances, as do all the members of Parnassus’s team. You will probably not be transported into a world of wonders, but if you like your films to be unpredictable, vivid and visionary as a feverish dream, the Imaginarium is waiting for you.

IMDB: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

A jolly adventure based on the famous book by Roald Dahl, complete with talking foxes, beavers and badgers in an English countryside of the Wallace & Gromit variety. It is not all fun though, there is drama too and familiar family problems. Before you watch it: you should know that this is a movie by director Wes Anderson, and Wes Anderson has a very unique style.

The ingredients of an Anderson movie are a bit as follows. His characters are witty, quirky, and often recognizable as stereotypes. His movies are very quotable. Then there is the settings and atmosphere. Every cameramove, every little piece of background has been taken care of and is often colorful and elaborate. Sometimes he contructs enormous sets to make his camera float over it, such as a house where the wall is cut away. Finally, to top it all off, Anderson has a strange sense of humor. His movies balance in a confusing way between comedy and drama. All of this goes for Fantastic Mr Fox as well. Once you get used to his style, it can be quite entertaining, so try it out.

Some like that stuff, some don’t. But perhaps all his movies so far have had more in common in style with animation than live action, and now is the first time that Anderson really turns to animation. And what kind of animation does he chooses? Stop-motion. Thats the way clay dinosaurs were made from the 1930s King Kong movie. But he succeeds bravely with an enormous production of top quality. Anderson is still growing as an artist and Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the best animations of the year.

IMDB: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book: Richard Dawkins - The Greatest Show On Earth (2009)

The Evidence For Evolution, as the second title goes. More than 30 years have passed since Richard Dawkins wrote the influential The Selfish Gene and followup books, and established himself as a brilliant scientist and educator. That was the start of his journey into popular science writing, ending up with the controversial The God Delusion. Any man changes over three decades and Dawkins’ journey is deeply reflected in his books.

Even though Dawkins explains that this book is not about The God Delusion but about science, The Greatest Show On Earth is hardly a return to the dense and high level The Selfish Gene. His stories have become simpler, using more words to explain less information, and sometimes are on the brink of being pedantic. Especially when the science he presents is interspersed with comments to and about creationists and the like (although, as a biologist, I must say that his chapter about Missing Links and likewise nonsense was very entertaining, yet also highly distressing that he needed to include it). His increasing passionate way of reasoning may have its origin in the tradition of British intellectials, but I am afraid it does not help Dawkins and instead impassionates the countermovement.

One could say that Richard Dawkins has “evolved” according to his environment during the last 30 years and is now conducting an “evolutionary arms race” with creationists. His clear reasoning is still there, and Dawkins remains one of the world’s foremost scientific minds and educators, but reading The Greatest Show On Earth is not unlike stepping into a crossfire where one is forced to pick a side. But I suppose that is what Dawkins set out to do.

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.