Monday, April 25, 2011


Hope everybody had a great Easter. The Wife, The Kid & I celebrated in the traditional manner: Eating brunch while watching a spaghetti western starring a lizard. We went to Farrelli’s Cinema & Supper Club to see Gore Verbinski’s existential CGI feature Rango, in which a pet chameleon is accidently lost in the Mojave desert, & becomes the sheriff of a grungy town in desperate need of water.

For the first twenty minutes or so, it’s hilarious yet also curiously moving. The title character makes a compelling Everylizard, lost in an incomprehensible & dangerous world. But Rango gradually bogs down the same way that Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies do—too much talk & too many plot points which, once set up, require a wearying pile-up of resolutions toward the end. A little tightening, & it might have been a small masterpiece, but it’s just a bit much, by any standards, & especially for a kids’ movie.

The movie truly for children that I saw this weekend was Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, now in its second week at the Valley Art in Tempe.

The adaptation of about the first-third of Ayn Rand’s 1957 magnum opus is about an abrupt disappearance, in the near future, of society’s “prime movers”—the inventors, innovators, independent business tycoons & so forth. The author’s view is that if such people were to one day take their marbles & go home in a huff, the rest of us parasitical mediocrities would curl up in the fetal position & everything would fall apart.

Most of us who have led working lives have observed that this result could more easily be produced in the managerial class by the sudden disappearance of janitors, waitresses, busboys & caddies. But despite the dizzying idiocy of the premise, I truly thought that Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 might be an exciting movie, as was the 1949 version of The Fountainhead, with its possibly even stupider & more odious premise.

It’s doubtful that any significant American literary figure was ever as giddily full of shit as Ayn Rand, but I’m not able to get mad at her. It would be like getting mad at a 13-year-old—not because she wasn’t intelligent (she was) but because her intelligence was in thrall to her adolescent avidity. Dreadful though her writing is, there’s a charge to it that’s unmistakably erotic, & the obvious absurdities that arise from her “thought,” even in an un-philosophical mind like mine, seem clearly driven by her gushy passion for strong males who Don’t Care What Other People Think.

The movie of The Fountainhead, which Ayn Rand loathed, at least captured some of this swoony sexual atmosphere, & you didn’t have to wade through the laughable prose to get it. The Atlas Shrugged film has none at all.

No hot stuff here—Ayn Rand’s sensibility may have been adolescent, but the sensibility of the Tea-Party types who now fetishize her work, & to whom these filmmakers are presumably playing, is a good deal more infantile. The signature moment of the movie, perhaps, comes when industrialist hero Hank Rearden explains why he won’t share “Rearden Metal” to one of the story’s many trumped-up mealy-mouthed bureaucrat villains: “Because it’s mine. Can you understand that concept? Mine.” Behind the handsome, smooth-voiced actor in the suit, you can see the stamping feet & clenched fists of the two-year-old who can’t understand any concept except “Mine.”

Taylor Schilling, the actress who plays heroine Dagny Taggart, looks very chic, but she delivers her lines less convincingly than an infomercial hostess. Her love interest, Grant Bowler as Rearden, is possibly even a little duller.

Given the excruciating dialogue that they have to speak, I don’t know that these two can be blamed for this. There are some real old character-actor pros in the cast, like Michael Lerner, Jon Polito & Graham Beckel, & they don’t come across much more vividly. There are a few pretty aerial shots of desert landscape, & a cool-looking suspension bridge design & a rousing musical score in the manner of a ‘70s disaster movie, but otherwise Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is about as amateurish & tedious to sit through as any fiction film I can remember.

Backing up my opinion on this—I’m one of those parasitical mediocrities, after all—was the eloquent review of a fellow audience member nearby in the Valley Art: loud snoring, right around midpoint. Of course, maybe he was just tired from having to work a double shift so that moochers & looters could get welfare.

At the blessed arrival of the end credits, as I watched the elderly, Fox-News-demographic-looking audience shuffling dejectedly out, I felt pretty bad for them: I wondered if this was the first time some of these guys had taken their wives to the movies since Dr. Zhivago, & this is what they got. Terrible. Whatever your political bent, going to the movies ought to be fun.


  1. Damn! A delightfully defined and delicious dressing-down! I must also remind you of a comment you made to me regarding your hope that the remaining two chapters of this project stay unmade, leaving such a terrible film nothing more than a curiosity.

  2. Yeah, I love cinematic white elephants, which this is likely to be whether they finish it or not, but if it remains an unfinished fragment it will be an even odder & more misbegotten & thus funnier fragment.

  3. Not surprisingly, I just read that Part II and III of ATLAS SHRUGGED will not be made.

  4. Yeah, here's an article to that effect:

    I love his pouty whine of "Critics, you won." What's it say for the Randian appproach to life, if a bunch of candy-ass movie critics can kick your ass?