Archive for April 18th, 2011

Atlas Shrugged – Part I

Susie and I went to go see Atlas Shrugged last night over at the Aurora 16.  I’m not a big fan of saying something just to hear myself blog, so I’ll limit myself here to comments that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere before.

The consensus – that the acting seemed good, the fidelity to the book about right, and that the writers picked the right parts to hold onto and the right portions to let go – seems about right to me.  The budget – a mere $10 million, shot quickly to retain the rights – should also be kept in mind.

That said, the movie could have benefitted from slowing down in a couple of ways.  Dagny’s entrance in the book – riding the train, taking control of a muddled situation on the line, musing about promoting Owen Kellogg – would have made the scene with Kellogg work better.  It’s ok to make Midas Mulligan disappear after introducing him to a really pompous-sounding John Galt.  We don’t need to know him, and we don’t know Galt.  But Kellogg isn’t a Producer, he’s a potential producer who right now is just a competent guy.  Dagny needs him because the line is falling apart all over the country, and that’s the only context in which we’re going to care about him either.

We’re told that American infrastructure is disintegrating into dust with footage from a train wreck and an opening scene that looks like it was pulled from the Kobe, Japan earthquake.  A scene where Dagny has to basically take control of a side-tracked train would show it to us, which is what movies are supposed to do.  I know $10 million doesn’t leave a lot for on-location shooting.  One of the reviewers’ favorite complaints is that the move spends too much time with people talking in offices.  But that’s true of all boardroom and courtroom dramas, including a couple of my favorites, Executive Suite, and Sabrina.

One complaint that I had about Atlas Shrugged the book is that I don’t think Rand really articulated what drives the Carnegies, Vanderbilts, and Fords to build.  She has her stand-in for them, Hank Rearden say that his only purpose is to make money.  I think this slightly misses the mark, that Arthur Brooks’s “earned success” is closer, and that making money is largely a by-product of that success.  You’ll hear that from any number of wildly successful businessmen.

The movie actually captures this notion better than the book, in a brief scene where Rearden turns down an offer for the rights to his metal, “Because it’s mine,” in a way that the iron mines and foundries weren’t.  Those were all managed by him, but his contribution is his metal.

Most reviewers will also allow their impatience with the subject matter to cloud their judgment about the movie as a whole.  There’s almost nothing to be done about that.  It’s an inherently political movie as much as an inherently economic one.  Wesley Mouch, in announcing his czar-like plans for the country’s economy, sounds almost exactly like Obama.  I’m afraid that too many reviewers will assume that the dialog was written with current Democrats in mind, without realizing that it’s Obama who sounds like Mouch.

That openning scene with Dagny would also have let us see her listening to Richard Halley’s music on her iPod or iPad3.  The train, finally on track, speeding off into the dark towards New York, to what Rand described as his “heroic” music, would not only have given us insight into Dagny’s character, it would have given the lie to the idea that only the industrial is beautiful to industrialists.

The overall per-screen take for the weekend was pretty good, (via the Charlottesville Libertarian) and hopefully, good enough to get it some additional screens this weekend when the acid test of a word-of-mouth movie comes.  (The movie’s website had actively promoted “demanding” the film, which had resulted in a more screens being added at the last minute, including one in Omaha and one in Lincoln.)

Harmon Kaslow, the movie’s producer, has said that he needs $100 million in box office to justify making Part II.  I hope he gets it.

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Unions & Civil Rights

One of the themes of April 4th’s Union Rights rallies across the country was the attempt to link state workers’ collective bargaining rights with civil rights.  The date chosen was not only just before the Wisconsin Supreme Court special election, it was also the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, when he was in Memphis on his pro-labor campaign.

Now comes evidence that It Ain’t Necessarily So.  From the heart of Unionland, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit Public Schools chief Robert Bobb, both black, have proposed unilateral cuts to union benefits:

A new state law has emboldened the Detroit mayor and schools chief to take a more aggressive stance toward public unions as the city leaders try to mop up hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink.

Robert Bobb, the head of the Detroit Public Schools, late last week sent layoff notices to the district’s 5,466 salaried employees, including all of its teachers, a preliminary step in seeking broad work-force cuts to deal with lower enrollment.

Earlier last week, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing presented a $3.1 billion annual budget to City Council in which he proposed higher casino taxes and substantial cuts in city workers’ health care and pensions to close an estimated $200 million budget gap.

Mr. Bobb, already an emergency financial manager for the struggling and shrinking public school system, is getting further authority under a measure signed into law March 17 that broadens state powers to intervene in the finances and governance of struggling municipalities and school districts. This could enable Mr. Bobb to void union contracts, sideline elected school-board members, close schools and authorize charter schools

Mr. Bobb, appointed in 2009 by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm and retained by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, pledged last week to use those powers to deal decisively with the district’s $327 million shortfall and its educational deficiencies. Mr. Bobb raised the possibility of making unilateral changes to the collective-bargaining agreements signed with teachers less than two years ago.

This linkage involved trotting out Historic Local Lefties, probably all of whom marched with Dr. King at Selma, and singing old civil rights and union songs, and served as further evidence (as though any were needed) that the Left is caught in a 1960s time warp, evoking images from an era now 50 years old.

Given the average age at the union rally I was at, this doesn’t exactly resonate with people born since then.

And in the face of fiscal realities, as opposed to political wishful thinking, it doesn’t resonate much with leaders who happen to be black, either.


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