Les Miserables is magnificent

From Don Hauptman:

You can believe the hype: Les Miserables is magnificent. The achievement is especially noteworthy given Hollywood’s reputation, stretching back decades, for butchering stage musicals.

During its 16-year run on Broadway, I saw the show five times. The film is faithful to the stage version, and even improves on it in some respects. Director Tom Hooper, who directed the fine, Oscar-winning King’s Speech, deftly solved the problems of transferring a “sung-through” musical to the screen. The film has uniformly superb performances, high production values, stunning images, and some clever small visual touches.

I saw Les Miserables on opening day out of town. But I strongly recommend that New Yorkers see it at the Ziegfeld, our last genuine “movie palace,” the splendor of which matches that of the film.

Sidebar: If you stay through the credits — I always do — at the end you’ll find a lovely, thoughtful tribute by director Hooper, thanking his parents for introducing him, at the age of 12, to musical theater. But for the addition of a year, I can say the same.

First mini-review of the Atlas Shrugged Part 2 movie

Pieced together from Q&A in a thread at IMDB, by someone who saw an advance screening:

Bottom Line: Definitely better than the first. I and literally everyone I talked to and overheard agreed. It was better directed, has some decent comedy, and was even pretty suspenseful at times. But…

It’s still a TV movie. It still looks and feels extremely cheap. The acting is mediocre and “stage-like” with the exception of the new Rearden who was actually pretty damn good. Everything still feels clunky and disconnected like the writer was just trying to pack as many plot points from the book into the movie as much as possible. It gets especially bad when they try to do “big speeches” like Rearden’s trial and Fransisco’s Money Speech (even cringe worthy).

I didn’t like Samantha Mathis but others I spoke with disagreed. I don’t think she looked right for the part in the first place (age and beauty wise). I much preferred Schilling who I also thought was good in AS 1.

Morales doesn’t have much screen time but I thought he was very awkward with the “money speech” but competent aside from that.

The speeches were understandably highly condensed though as far as I could tell, much of it was verbatim or close paraphrasing. Basically they were turned into extended dialogues where the hero will say three or four sentences worth of clunky Rand dialogue (which works a lot better on paper) and then the villain will respond with an obvious looter one liner like, “But what about the public good!?” (which also sounds a lot better on paper). Then everyone just stands around staring, or in the case of Rearden’s speech, clapping.

The run time was a little under two hours. You are right about the movement and progression of the film. It seems like the director responded well to the common criticism of AS1 that it was too many slow board rooms and not enough plot progression.

I am predicting that they [reviewers] will be slightly more generous to Part II because it is a better movie and the critics will have lower expectations. The latter will probably be the bigger factor for audiences and critics alike. One of the producers (not Aglialoro) spoke before the screening and outright said, “we could never make the Atlas Shrugged movie you envisioned in your mind.” I think as long as people know they are walking into a TV movie, they can find something to enjoy.

“Does the story serve the politics, or vice versa?”

As with the book, the two are completely intertwined and inseparable. The movie has NO significant deviation from the book whatsoever aside from shortening the whole thing.

“how much enjoyment can somebody who doesn’t necessarily agree with Objectivism be likely to have watching the movie?”

As an Objectivist, I don’t think a non-Objectivist will get much out of the movie. For those who know little to nothing about Objectivism, it can be a clunky introduction to some basic political and ethical concepts, but for those who know the philosophy and reject it, I seriously doubt any minds will be changed.

Help Joshua Lipana fight cancer

From Craig Biddle at The Objective Standard:

My good friend Joshua Lipana, assistant editor of TOS Blog and a highly valued contributor to The Objective Standard, has been diagnosed with cancer, specifically T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at the young age of 20. Joshua asked me to refrain from making an announcement about this until his doctors gained a better understanding of his situation and prognosis. They now have.

Joshua lives in Quezon City, Philippines, and has been in The Medical City Hospital, in Pasig City, for 46 days, undergoing many tests and procedures. He has recently had two sessions of chemotherapy and is scheduled for several more in the weeks to come. His loving mother, Arleen Lipana, has been by his side the whole time.

Although the side effects of the chemo are dreadful, the treatment appears to be reducing the large tumor in Joshua’s left lung, and the doctors are extremely optimistic about his future. He may be able to return home as soon as next week, which would make him very happy.

If you would like to email Joshua, you may do so at jlipana@theobjectivestandard.com. But please understand that he may not be able to reply to emails at this time.

Joshua does not have insurance to cover the numerous expenses involved in his hospital stay, tests, and treatments, so I will organize a money bomb in the near future to help defray these costs. I’ll let you know when that is underway.

Joshua is one of the greatest champions of reason and technology I’ve ever known (see his blog posts for an indication). I hope the values he defends so unwaveringly will enable him to live a long and happy life. That is what he deserves.

Biddle has now set up the account to support Joshua’s medical expenses. You can make your donation here.

Free Will: A response to Sam Harris

A new e-book by Atlasphere columnist Kurt Keefner is getting good reviews at Amazon.com.

Atlasphere columnist Jeff Perren, for example, had this to say:

In 30+ pages Kurt Keefner effectively counters Harris’ supporting examples and arguments in favor of determinism. He pays him the compliment — rare these days — of taking them seriously without rancor or distortion, then rebuts them thoroughly.

None of Keefner’s arguments here are wholly original; they didn’t need to be. But he does a good job of explaining both Harris’ and his own positions and arguments without needless technical jargon. Throughout, the language is clear while avoiding oversimplification.

He doesn’t address all the arguments in favor of and against Harris’ brand of determinism. Nor does he delve into alternative theories such as compatibalism, emergent properties, or Kantianism. He honestly, and up front, acknowledges that to do the subject full justice would require a book-length treatment. But within the space available in a lengthy essay he covers quite a lot of ground. In a few compact sections he discusses Harris’ epistemological, neurological, and empirical bases for his beliefs — then demonstrates how Harris goes wrong even on his own ground. He does so without relying on religious arguments, arguing firmly from a secular point of view throughout.

He goes beyond simply showing the weaknesses in Harris’ position to offer more fundamental reasons about why and where Harris goes wrong. He shows that, far from adherence to a scientific view leading to determinism, it is the scientific view that supports a belief in free will, properly understood.

Keefner’s essay amply repays the time spent not just to read it but to digest it thoughtfully.

For more information about the e-book, see its page on Amazon.com.

Ayn Rand Institute Campus: Online courses in Objectivism

From the Ayn Rand Institute:

We at ARI are proud to announce a major new online educational initiative: The Ayn Rand Institute Campus. On January 10, 2012, we will beta launch an innovative and interactive learning environment where Internet users can study Ayn Rand’s provocative ideas in unprecedented ways, using a system of learning tools that can be found nowhere else.

ARI Campus will allow students around the world to take courses at their own pace and on their own time””for free. Students at all levels can explore the educational materials that lie at their fingertips within and around each course””from the multimedia experience of a course including audio, video, and supplementary visual and textual content to the “More to Explore” section that offers reading and viewing suggestions for students who want to deepen their knowledge on a particular topic.

Courses have interactive modules that often include quizzes and user interactions. ARI Campus will also offer a site discussion board designed to help students discuss, integrate and digest the information as fully as possible. We have endeavored to enrich the learning environment far beyond the experience of listening to a recorded lecture.

Our initial course offerings will include the following:
”¢ Ayn Rand: A Writer’s Life
Ӣ Ayn Rand: Radical Thinker
Ӣ The Ayn Rand Bookshelf
Ӣ Anthem
Ӣ We the Living
Ӣ The Fountainhead
Ӣ Moral Virtue
Ӣ Philosophy of Education
Ӣ Philosophy: Who Needs It

New courses will be added regularly””the first release post-launch will be an exciting and in-depth look at the novel Atlas Shrugged, taught by Dr. Onkar Ghate and appearing in February.

Please join us, starting January 10, and explore and try out this brand new learning environment. The full, public launch of the site is slated for September of 2012. We hope to see you soon on ARI Campus!

Mini-review of NYC seminar on Ayn Rand and architecture

A brief report from Atlasphere member Don Hauptman on the seminar on Rand and architecture last night at the Museum of the City of New York:

Rand biographer Anne Heller discussed Rand’s early life, her fascination with New York’s skyscrapers, and other factors that led to her writing The Fountainhead. Then Donald Albrecht, the museum’s architecture curator, narrated a slide show that compared actual buildings with the buildings and designs in the film.

Of course, Rand’s relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright was covered, including the abortive attempt to enlist him as the film’s set designer. Both speakers treated Edward Carrere, who was ultimately hired for that task, too charitably. I’ve read that he was a studio hack and that Rand and others deemed his “Roark” designs pretty awful ”¦ and not awful pretty!

Anne noted that, contrary to Rand’s insistence, many of the events in Roark’s life parallel those in Wright’s. (I can’t recall if she makes this point in her book.)

In the Q&A, I mentioned the favorable review of the novel in The New York Times Book Review. There was a lot of talk about how both the book and film received only negative reviews and I thought this important exception should be noted.

There was nothing really new or surprising in these presentations. The evening was also short””under an hour. Perhaps 30-40 people were in the audience, including a bunch of regulars from our monthly Objectivist Meetup group. An admission fee was charged, and some may have felt shortchanged, perhaps expecting more dancing girls or free recreational drugs!

New documentary coming Oct 7th: “Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged”

The Ayn Rand Institute has helped sponsor the production of a new documentary titled Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged. Written and directed by Chris Mortensen, it is “a feature-length documentary film that examines the resurging interest in Ayn Rand�??s epic and controversial 1957 novel and the validity of its dire prediction for America.”

The movie will be released “in select cities” on October 7th, 2011. And judging from the trailer below, it looks quite good.

According to IMDB the documentary includes interviews with John Allison, Mike Berliner, Andrew Bernstein, Harry Binswanger, Yaron Brook, Northrup Buechner, Jennifer Burns, Al Ruddy, Ed Snider, and many others. I also recognize Leonard Peikoff’s former wife Amy Peikoff, here at the very start of the trailer.

The movie’s synopsis at IMDB begins:

Ayn Rand & the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged is a feature length documentary film that examines the resurging interest in Ayn Rands epic and controversial 1957 novel and the validity of its dire prediction for America.

Set in what novelist and philosopher Rand called the day after tomorrow, Atlas depicts an America in crisis, brought to her knees by a corrupt establishment of government regulators and businessmen with political pull the looters and the moochers who prey on individual achievement.

Less a conventional work of fiction than a philosophical manifesto in the form of a romantic novel, over the course of a thousand-plus pages, Atlas tackles no less an essential argument than the one debated by philosophers and theologians since time immemorial: altruism vs. self-interest. Am I my brothers keeper – or not? For Ayn Rand, the answer is an emphatic no. To Rand and the disciples of her Objectivist philosophy, self-sacrifice is as heinous an act as murdermurder of the soul.

For more information about the documentary, check out the movie’s IMDB page, its Facebook page, the Ayn Rand Institute’s site for the Atlas Shrugged novel, and the movie’s official website, where you can sign up to host a screening or to be notified once the DVD is available for pre-order.

Steve Jobs inspired by Atlas Shrugged when he started Apple?

According to a new Bloomberg interview with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the young Steve Jobs may have been inspired by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, among other books, in his ambitions with Apple.

Excerpts:

(at around 5:30)

INTERVIEWER: Steve, give us some insight into Steve Jobs’s personality and what it is about him that made him so ambitious and so driven to turn Apple around.

STEVE WOZNIAK: I can only speak to the early days. In the early days, he wanted to have a, you know, a success, and he wanted to be an important person in the world. And he wanted to do it by having a company that was successful and made money. And it sort of like evolved in those directions over time. He didn’t lose that part of his personality.

(around 9:00)

STEVE WOZNIAK: …And he did want to have a successful company, and he had a lot of ideas. He must’ve read some books that really were his guide in life, you know, and I think… Well, Atlas Shrugged might’ve been one of them that he mentioned back then. But they were his guides in life as to how you make a difference in the world. And it starts with a company. You build products and you gotta make your profit, and that allows you to invest the profit and then make better products that make more profit. I would say, how good a company is, it’s fair to measure it by its profitability.

If true, of course, Steve Jobs certainly wouldn’t be alone. Many entrepreneurs have been influenced by Ayn Rand’s novels to push for more entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s problems.

It sounds to me like Wozniak might be a bit of an Atlas Shrugged fan himself.

UPDATE – From Bob Maloney in a Facebook thread:

Mr. Jobs was at the same screening as I on opening night at Shoreline Theatres in Mtn. View a few months ago. I doubt he would have bothered to make it out to a busy opening night showing (especially as frail as he was) unless he was a fan of Atlas Shrugged.