Category Archives: Mini-Reviews

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.

Free Will: A response to Sam Harris

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

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

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!

Earlybird reviews of the full Atlas Shrugged movie: “Spectacular,” “Solid,” “Faithful”

Detractors of Atlas Shrugged would never be pleased with any faithful adaptation of the novel, and so this movie’s primary audience is those who enjoyed the novel, are generally sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s ideas, or both. (If their response is positive, then the word-of-mouth buzz should attract the curiosity of many people who aren’t yet familiar with the novel.)

On this front, it looks like Aglialoro & Co. have scored a direct hit. The early reviews are quite positive.

Read the details on the Atlas Shrugged movie blog.

Hans Schantz: Iâ??ve seen it. Itâ??s awesome.

Atlas Shrugged movie co-blogger Hans Schantz and I were offered tickets to the pre-release screening in Los Angeles yesterday. I was unable to attend, but Hans was there and he has posted his initial reactions over at Ã?therCzar.

He begins:

I just attended the pre-release screening of Atlas Shrugged Part One, and Iâ??d like to share my first impressions. Take this as an initial installment toward the much more thoughtful (but equally enthusiastic) review Iâ??ll compose at leisure over the next few days and publish at the (fan-run, unofficial) Atlas Shrugged Movie Blog.

When I heard my favorite novel was being made into a movie, all the available omens boded ill: a â??low-budgetâ? production, with â??no-nameâ? stars, made independently â?? without the adult supervision of a real Hollywood studio, and rushed into production at the last minute to avoid loss of rights. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Scratch thatâ?¦ it WAS a recipe for disaster. I mourned the might-have-been movie Iâ??d been waiting my entire adult life to see. I regretted the lost opportunity. I averted my eyes to avoid the painfully unfolding train wreck.

Slowly the evidence began chipping away at my erroneous conclusions.

See his full post for much more.

Also, don’t miss first full review of the movie, by Atlas Society founder David Kelley.

Mini-review of Ayn Rand’s “Ideal,” playing in NYC

From Don Hauptman:

Iâ??m not writing a formal review of Ayn Randâ??s Ideal, in part because the limited run ends soon, but several people asked me for my comments. The cast and crew, not Objectivists but young people who apparently are recent graduates of local theater schools, treated the material respectfully and enthusiastically. But the play has its problems, as even Dr. Peikoff conceded in his published Introduction. Itâ??s static, repetitive, and lacking a strong dramatic arc. Though many of the performers were admirable, the gal in the key part of Kay Gonda was miscast; she looks like a comedienne, while I suspect that only Garbo would be right for this role. Notwithstanding the negatives, the production doesnâ??t deserves the smears it received from the major New York newspapers. The play does have a brilliantly ingenious and original premiseâ??Rand came up with those in abundanceâ??and it provides some fascinating insights into her early philosophical ideas, which would be dramatized more effectively in her mature fiction. Iâ??ve always said that Rand is a far better novelist than playwright. Still, as I noted archly in my review of her play Think Twice some years ago, even second-rate Rand is superior to a lot of first-rate everyone else.