Posts Tagged ‘Ayn Rand’

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I finally saw the conclusion of the “Atlas Shrugged” movie trilogy

January 17, 2015

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NOTICE: Spoilers will appear in this review! If you ever read the book by Ayn Rand, you know already how the plot progresses. If not, you may want to avoid reading this.

(ABOVE: The “gold” “Steelbook” of the Part III Blu-ray, available directly from the movie website.)

First, I have to admit that just getting this made at all is a tribute to the vision and persistence of John Aglialoro, CEO of exercise equipment manufacturer Cybex International. The story of how the films were made is very interesting reading. I’ve read bits and pieces in a variety of places, but I don’t know of one place where you can find the whole story.

The 1000+ page novel is not only too unwieldy for one film, but really, even for three, but the book breaks into three parts nicely, and that is how the films were written. Unfortunately, the limited funding available meant that each subsequent film had half the budget of the previous installment – $ 20 million, $ 10, and 5 million for the finale.

Aglialoro and company decided on something that I thought was a very poor idea: each film was made with a completely new cast. Now, there were no guarantees even Part II would be made, so I suppose securing commitments from the first cast for a project that would take five years was impossible. Still, one of the flaws of the film series is that each subsequent cast and director seemed less able than the one before.

Part I was pretty watchable. With Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart, and Grant Bowler as Hank Rearden, the main cast members were, if not A-list, certainly B list folks, all good at their craft. I didn’t really expect Schilling to be as good as she was, but she sold me on being Dagny. (Of course, she is a big star of Orange Is The New Blackshe got an Emmy Award for it last year so getting a commitment from her for all three films may have been particularly difficult.) The rest of the cast pretty much lived up to my expectations as well, with particular standouts in Rebecca Wisocky as the Lillian Rearden you love to hate, and Graham Beckel as an appropriately-blustery Ellis Wyatt.

There were problems with updating the story to the present day. Rand gave no year for the story, except that it was assumed to be in the future; some folks who have studied it and her far more than I  believe it was set in about the mid-1970s. It could have been an excellent period piece, set a few years or even a decade after the 1957 publication of the book. In that time period the railroads were the major lifeline moving goods from one end of the US to another. Today, while they certainly are still a major means of shipping, trucks and aircraft have become much more important.

Placing it in the present day, or in the near future, meant a little hand-waving for making the railroads so vital to the welfare of the country. That was accomplished by making one of the effects of the stifling socialist federal government be to raise oil prices so high as to ground planes, trucks and most personal vehicles. In Rand’s world, pretty much every country outside of the US is socialist or communist, their economies are failing, and we are shipping aid to many of them – even though our own people need things just as much, or more.

Analyzing the book’s themes is beyond the scope of this little piece. What I mostly want to talk about is how I thought the final installment was successful in achieving Aglialoro’s (and Rand’s) aims, and places where it seemed to be lacking.

On the plus side, screenwriter/director James Manera (who wrote the screenplay with Aglialoro and Herman Kaslow) did a pretty fair job of taking hundreds of pages of dialogue, plot and description and distilling it down to its essence. I think a movie of 99 minutes is too short, but whether that length was determined by money, time, or intended pacing, I have no idea. The essential themes are there. Galt’s broadcast speech (which takes about three hours to read out loud) was cut to a few minutes, but still achieves most of the intention of the original, I think. The cast – most of whom certainly are of the category of “where did I see that guy before” delivered the lines with conviction. Rand’s prose doesn’t translate to the contemporary vernacular very well, so it sounds a little stilted; but some of it reads that way in the novel, as well. Rand’s Producers are not like most film characters – they think before the speak, they can make well-reasoned arguments, and they are pretty adept at leaving emotion out of their discussions. That’s rare in TV and film nowadays, where action and emotion are the keys to success in the big blockbusters that are rolled out every summer.

Trouble is, that kind of dialogue isn’t enough to grab the audience. I knew it was coming, but I’ve read the book, a couple of times. A viewer without that experience could think the characters to be cold and dry. They are passionate people, but about their work, and the things they create – that’s harder to bring out, I think, in the time available in the film.

Pacing was odd. The movie is a series of short scenes, with some connective narration. There’s a lot of plot, and not enough time to show it to you. The narration helps to move the plot along but the depth is missing. When the Taggart Bridge collapses, we learn about it after the fact, and it is more of an intellectual problem for the cast than something that essentially cuts the entire country in two. Short-scene pacing can work, but to make the end of the film exciting, it would need to be picked up there, and instead, the final scenes feel longer and not very dramatic.

I happen to think Rand’s ending wasn’t optimal, but through the book she describes the continuing degrading of services of all kinds – food, electricity, fuel, and makes a point in the final third of the book that the skyscrapers of New York City are only lit on the lower few floors. There is too little electricity to light the upper floors, let alone run elevators. The skyline at night should gradually be getting darker over the course of the three films, and we don’t see that. In fact, the way the final loss of power to New York (and apparently, the entire eastern seaboard) is by showing a scene from the air where blocks of lights go out one at a time. It takes a few seconds instead of minutes, and was obviously much less expensive, but it doesn’t make the audience feel the darkness that is overcoming the entire country – a darkness people feel powerless to stop.

The torture scene at the end, and Galt’s subsequent rescue, was hard to watch. It wasn’t as well done as on any one of dozens of TV shows, and gave a very B-movie mad scientist vibe. In 1957 such a torture device might have been new, but making a big deal about Project F as a secret crash program and then showing it as something better done in 1970s TV was laughable. In the book, at least the rescue has a feeling of urgency and drama. This film had none of that. Of course Dangy & Co. are going to save Gault!

I think I put my finger on the biggest flaw in this film and in the other two as well – and it’s not Rand’s fault, and not really so much the fault of the writers or directors, either. Unfortunately, much of what she warns us about is already here. The story is no longer a cautionary tale about what might happen – in some ways, what has already happened is worse than what is described in the book. If over half the voters in the US are willing to vote for bread and circuses already, we’ve lost. In 1957 I don’t think that was the case. The amount of money flowing back to certain segments of American society today is almost beyond imagining. Instead of the audience thinking, “We can’t let that happen here,” at best they are thinking, “It’s happening here just like that now. How can we possibly change it?”

The use of companies named after their founders – Taggart, Rearden, Wyatt, etc. – was deliberate. Like the original US car makers and many other manufacturers, these are companies built and driven by the vision of a single man. I think Rand was watching those kinds of companies begin to disappear around her in the 1950s, and without a single founder at the head to fight for a company, the kind of mergers and acquisitions in the book (and in real life) go on at a faster rate. Nationalizing those companies is the last step before their destruction.

Rand believed strongly in the power of individuals, and the free use of their minds to create. She saw the Communist takeover of her Russian homeland firsthand, and as the Soviet Union dragged itself out of the ashes of World War II and became a world power I am sure she feared the worst for all other countries. I don’t know what would happen if all the creative people in technical and artistic fields “went away” today. The globalism we see now is both a deterrent and a curse. Of course, if our scientists went on strike, those in China or Singapore or eastern Europe would still be creating. But could the US stand it? Right now we are seeing one of Rand’s predictions coming true – Wyatt’s shale oil has been so successful in the central US and Canada as to actually drop the price of oil to less than half of what it was two years ago – despite the efforts of the Federal government. We produce enough food to feed ourselves and others as well. Our country is considered still to be enough of a beacon of freedom to attract immigrants, legal and otherwise, in great numbers. But we are engaged in a constant battle with the Nanny State and the reach of the Federal Government. Rand said the only way to break that stranglehold was for the people who were running the motor of the world to stop. Of course, we never find out if Rand’s USA rises free from the ashes of its socialist government. That is the part of the book we must help to write.

Short addendum: One thing that could have helped this film immensely would have been a better score. A composer was hired – Elia Cmiral, who also scored Part I, but the mix put the score so far down, and the score itself was so uninteresting, that it didn’t help bring the audience through the emotional points at all. For more films that we realize, the score is so important as to be essential for us to feel with the characters. Unfortunately this score didn’t do that at all.

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“Who is John Galt?” Asked. Answered.

January 25, 2014

lreganSo finally some of the cast of “Atlas Shrugged, Part III” has been announced. The previous two installments had completely different casts, and this final chapter is no different.

This time around Dagny Taggart will be played by Laura Regan (above), who is, if anything, less known that the previous two actresses who played her. I liked Taylor Schilling from Part I a lot, Samantha Mathis not so much.

And Hank Rearden will be played by, of all people…

rmorrowYep. “Northern Exposure” Rob Morrow. This guy is about as unlikely a Hank Rearden as I can imagine. He’s a well-known actor, but either Grant Bowler (Part I) or Jason Beghe (Part II) would be better. (Beghe is currently starring in a new network tv show, “Chicago PD.”)

Francisco d’Anconia, who should be a couple of years older than Dagny, will be played by experienced character actor Joaquim de Almeida. He’s almost twenty years too old, but a good actor. I liked him in “Clear and Present Danger.” He’s been in a million things before.

But the big question is: who will be playing John Galt?

This guy:

kpolahaI didn’t recognize him either. His name is Kristoffer Polaha, known for shows like “Ringer” and “Made In Jersey.” He has the look, and he is, in real life, the same age as the new Dagny. But he and Francisco and Ragnar Danneskjold were supposed to be about the same age, attending Patrick Henry University together. That part of the storyline will probably be downplayed in this film.

I liked other two films pretty well…I preferred the casting of the first one better, and the script of the second one.

The film should be out before the November 2014 elections. I look forward to how they finish it out. The book ends fairly depressingly, I cannot see how the film could end in another way. It’s a cautionary tale, after all. Too bad that generally, only those who already know that will watch it.

 

 

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Bill Kristol caves, buys in on the Obama tax meme

November 12, 2012

Now, in full disclosure: I subscribe and read The Weekly Standard, and I like a lot of the articles I’ve read over the years. But over the last few years I’ve noticed that Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol, who edit the magazine, have become bughouse nuts.

A couple of years ago I went to a downtown Chicago hotel to hear Fred Barnes speak at an event put on by the Heritage Foundation. (A group I highly recommend, by the way.) Barnes, who I enjoyed on Fox New’s opinion panels, was rambling and, I’m sorry to say, pointless. I don’t know why. Soon after, though, I noticed he was making less sense on Fox, and last I saw he isn’t on anymore.

Bill Kristol has always seemed a little more aristocratic to me, even though he doesn’t come from those roots. His father, Irving Kristol, is considered the “Father of Neoconservatism,” which means he was an influential writer but nobody but the MSM ever came up with a definition of neoconservatism. They just called it “those nuts who think we should go to war with Iraq.”

Just for background, neoconservatives are generally considered to be those who formerly were liberals, but who rejected certain parts of the liberal agenda, but not always all of it. The term got tossed around a lot post-9/11 because publications like The Weekly Standard were strongly in favor of going into the Middle East and, to put it simply, kicking some ass.

They were not alone in this, of course. However, I would be willing to bet that a lot of the folks who became neoconservatives were against the Vietnam War, and not necessarily for the right reasons, just anti-war in general. Many neocons are of Jewish decent, and Jews have been Democratic-leaning for many years. (In fact, Irving Kristol wrote a piece entitled “The Liberal Tradition of American Jews,” in which he attempts to explain why American Jews cling so tightly to the liberal beliefs of the current version of the Democratic Party, even when it rejects support of Israel. Google it.)

Whatever the reason, some former liberals became conservative at least in terms of international affairs and national defense, but they did not necessarily reject the concept of the “limited welfare state.” Of course, such beliefs were pretty much in line with Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism,” so it was no surprise that they supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Back to son Bill Kristol. His recent comments, which you can find on Breitbart.com, seem to indicate his support for increased taxes on the rich. He’s one of those fair-weather conservatives, like House Speaker John Boehner, who has decided that caving in to the so-called Obama mandate is the way to lead the opposition.

(Of course, no one is even bringing up the fact that the election might have been stolen. The people who should be investigating are celebrating Obama’s “historic” second term.)

But Kristol is so off-the-cuff, so dismissive, in his comments, as to irritate me far more. Boehner was always a weak conservative, if conservative at all. I though Kristol was smarter and made of sterner stuff. Apparently not:

“Elections have consequences… The leadership in the Republican Party and the leadership in the conservative movement has to pull back, let people float new ideas. Let’s have a serious debate. Don’t scream and yell when one person says, ‘You know what? It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.’ It really won’t, I don’t think. I don’t really understand why Republicans don’t take Obama’s offer to freeze taxes for everyone below $250,000. Make it $500,000–make it a million. Really? The Republican Party’s going to fall on its sword to defend a bunch of millionaires? Half of whom vote Democratic, and half of whom live in Hollywood, and are hostile to Republican principles?”  — Bill Kristol, Fox News Sunday, November 11, 2012

Except that Obama will begin with those over whatever limit he says, then lower it, then lower it again, knowing that nearly half the country doesn’t pay federal income taxes now and that the revenue generated by only taxing the “rich” (which includes small business owners, of course) is a drop in the bucket.

I agree that making Democrat millionaires pay more is a good thing. They want to, right? Anyone who wants to contribute more to the Federal coffers is invited to do so. But I don’t see Warren Buffett writing that multi-billion-dollar check any time soon, despite what he says publicly.

But all taxation is theft. Our “representatives” are no longer representing us. Using terms like “a mandate from the people” they systematically take more and more of our property to redistribute. Not all is redistributed to those in need, either, despite the protestations of these “representatives.” More and more often it is used to buy favor to help those people maintain their positions and lifestyles in Washington and elsewhere, and to entice individuals and companies to do their bidding.

So Kristol’s remark either shows a very shallow understanding of what this President has publicly said time and time again as to his beliefs about the distribution of wealth, or he has become a part of this conciliatory Washington in-crowd elitist Republicanism trend.

Now is a time for courage, for standing fast, for standing athwart history, yelling, “Stop!” It is not a time for bending to the will of this President. We will never be able to go back from the brink if we do. As it is I am afraid we may have gone too far and are destined to become a European-style socialist state. But if we are to stop it, or at least slow the decline, we must reject the conciliatory memes being tossed around in Washington. We will be hearing far more about how the Republican party needs to drop its opposition to abortion, to immigration “reform,” to the welfare state. But that just turns them into a weak version of the Democrats, and takes them away from beliefs about America that we hold dear. Maybe the Beltway Republicans will do it. Maybe even Karl Rove will do it. But those of us outside of the Beltway will not. We will not be turned away. If need be, we will reject the Republican party in favor of one that will support and champion our beliefs. And this time, a third party will have real influence and not merely serve as a spoiler.

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“Atlas Shrugged – Part II: The Strike”

October 13, 2012

I think in most cases, if you like Ayn Rand’s book, or even found it thought-provoking, you will like the movie. If not – especially if you respond in great horror to Rand’s ideals – you will hate it.

This cast was, by and large, at least as good as the Part I cast, except for Dagny. Samantha Mathis is no match for Taylor Schilling, sorry. Oh, and Rebecca Wisocky was a far better Lillian Rearden in Part 1.

Jason Beghe was a fine, growly Hank Rearden. I can’t think of a TV part where I’ve liked Paul McCrane, so he is a fine Wesley Mouch – even though the name seemed to fit Michael Learner better.

I think the plot modifications and updating to fit the present day worked very well. I know it must have been difficult to edit down all those great monologues, like Francisco’s at the wedding and Hank’s at the hearing. $ 40 per gallon gasoline would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago, but today it just seems prophetic. The most chilling visual to me is any of the scenes of the streets of New York. There are so very few cars on the streets that are normally jammed with traffic, yet it is midday – the first time I didn’t even notice it. When I did, it scared the bejeezus out of me.

The main threads are there – the increasing desperation of the government as the economy goes down the toilet, the opportunistic nature of Mouch and his friends (remember Rahm’s “never let a crisis go to waste”?). Of course, every decision made by the government is exactly the opposite of what should be done…in a black-and-white world like that of the film it is much easier to see the folly of the government’s directives than it is in our daily lives.

Dagny is more and more driven by trying to discover the secret of Galt’s motor and torn apart by trying to save the country singlehanded. As more and more of the men who actually keep the world going disappear she is pushed practically to her breaking point…and she escapes. Her escape is very short-lived, however, and she is compelled to come back to save the railroad once again. For those of you who have not read the book or seen the movie, yet, I won’t spoil any more of it for you.

If you have read the book, and enjoyed it, and saw how it is a cautionary tale for today, then by all means go see the film and take your friends. The really “extreme” – to use a term bandied about too much nowadays – ideas of Rand are not promoted in the film. There isn’t much in here to argue with unless you are an extremely close-minded liberal. Even conservatives of a religious bent can’t argue with the film as much as with the book. Rand promotes the idea that organized religion is almost as bad as government – she refers to religious folks as “mystics” throughout the book. None of that is present in the film. The film really promotes enlightened self-interest over “social justice,” equating required sacrifice for the good of all as a form of slavery.

The Dagny/Hank Rearden romance is downplayed somewhat in the film. It’s used as a plot point as required by the book’s plot, but it doesn’t become overwhelming. In the book the romance is based on mutual respect and an attraction forged by their shared beliefs and passions. This is not a romance that develops between “oil and water” types of people. The only thing that holds them apart is Hank’s marriage, loveless though it may be.

Of course, all of that changes in Part III…after all, at the end of Part II, Dagny looks out of the wreckage of her plane and sees…John Galt.

Is it perfect? No. Does it do a good job of presenting the main points of the book? Yes. I hope a lot of those “undecided” voters see this movie. This could easily be the America of 2016, if we choose unwisely.

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“Atlas Shrugs Part II” opens Friday!

October 10, 2012

With a new cast, the second installment of the “Atlas Shrugged” trilogy, based on the Ayn Rand novel, opens in theaters this Friday. It will be interesting how the whole “Galt’s motor” thing will be handled in the near-future setting of the movie series. (The book gives no particular date, but there is a lot of speculation that was to be set in the – at the time of the book’s publication – near future of the mid-1970s.) It will probably not be in theaters for a long time, so check it out right away. It’s important to see before the election. And if you haven’t purchased the first installment, it is available here and is on the Amazon video-on-demand service as well as  on Netflix.

https://www.facebook.com/AtlasShruggedMovie

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Life Imitates Art

May 23, 2012

I just wrote a piece about how the themes in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged are being used by liberals, and particularly by the Obama campaign. It can be found at Keep Americans Free! I invite you to read it, and to read Atlas Shrugged.

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Why we are not, technically, a democracy

April 25, 2012

Over on Keep Americans Free I posted an essay on the differences between a democracy and the republican form of government. I invite you to read it.